I have been fascinated by Amazon’s publishing service Amazon Encore since I first heard about it. At first I was under the impression that it was just a bunch of hack writers that couldn’t get published, but then I delved into a few books and realized that many of the books on Encore are really better than some of the published crap out there. I guess the best analogy is the indie music scene compared to the pop music scene. There is always going to brilliance that slips through the cracks and one of those brilliant writers is Tyler Dilts.
Tyler Dilts is a Long Beach, Ca. based writer who has crafted some of the best detective stories in a very long time. In the same vein as James Ellroy he tells stories true to life with extremely compelling characters and high drama. If you haven’t had a chance to check out A King of Infinite Space (AKoIS) I suggest you do so. You can get it here. I had a chance to talk to Tyler Dilts about his writing and a few other things, including his fantastic interpretation of how a pot pie should properly be made and the gentrification of the city of Long Beach.
Matt De Mello – You’re very specific about many things in your book (A King of Infinite Space). Danny Beckett doesn’t just drink vodka he drinks Grey Goose, he doesn’t just listen to music he listens to Bruce Springsteen (Awesome!). Is there something you’re trying to convey about your character Danny Beckett with this specificity?
Tyler Dilts – I believe there is value in specificity. The more specific a detail in a piece of fiction is, the more potential value it has to evoke particular feelings in the reader. And for American audiences using brand names is particularly effective a means to do this. We are so brand-conscious that even if we don’t share Danny’s particular tastes, we can usually relate because, like it or not, most of us have our own brand preferences, and those preferences say a lot about us. A funny thing about the Grey Goose, though.
I started writing the first draft of the novel so long ago, that few people had heard of that particular brand. I asked a friend of mine who tended bar what someone with really highbrow vodka taste might drink and he mentioned that Grey Goose was one of the best they had in his bar. Then it went mainstream and lost just about all of the specificity I’d intended. I’d wanted him to be a bit of a vodka snob, but it turned out he just liked a very popular vodka. That’s the downside with recognizable brands–you never know if they’ll hold the same meaning for readers in the future. Springsteen, though, will always be the Boss.
Matt De Mello– Your father was a police man and you, for a while, wanted to be a police man, what made you choose the route of writing a police procedural instead of becoming a cop when you were younger?
Tyler Dilts – I went to college with the idea of being a cop planted in the back of my head. But as I took classes in different areas, I found myself being pulled in different directions, mostly artistic ones. Growing up, I’d also wanted to illustrate comic books, I dabbled in drawing and painting, but my plans didn’t really change until I took an acting class, which led to a degree in Theatre, and several years pursuing a career in performance. And ultimately, it was my interest in creating theatre that led me to writing seriously. I never managed to craft a play that I was really happy with, but when I tried fiction, I never really looked back. I now know that I was much more suited to writing than I ever would have been to life as a police officer, but that interest in police work was still waiting for me when I decided to try my hand at a novel.
Matt De Mello – How long did it take you to write AKoIS and what type of research did that entail?
Tyler Dilts – I began writing the novel as my thesis project for my MFA in Fiction at Cal State Long Beach. I spent two years working on it there, and another after I graduated to finish the first draft, and a few more years working on various revisions suggested by agents and publishers. From the time I began writing to the first publication, though was ten years, and I never really stopped fiddling with it during all that time.
As for research, since I’d grown up around cops and always been interested in law enforcement, it always felt like I’d already done the most important research–learning about police culture and the everyday reality of being a cop. Most of the research I did for AKoIS was very specific and targeted, looking at particular investigative and forensic details that related directly to the plot. For me, one of the most important aspect of the novels is the authenticity in terms of the procedure. I’ve had a few compliments from cops on this aspect of the books, and I have to say that’s always particularly rewarding.
Matt De Mello -You might be one of the first authors I’ve ever read that used Long Beach as the backdrop for their story. Do you feel Long Beach is underutilized in popular culture being that is one of the largest cities in California?
Tyler Dilts – I’m not sure if I should say this because I’m worried about people discovering just how underutilized Long Beach really is and starting to write about it themselves. It really is a terrific setting. It’s close enough to LA and Orange County to use them both as more identifiable locales for readers not familiar with the geography, but it’s also big enough and set apart clearly enough to have its own very diverse character. And there is everything you could want in a setting within Long Beach–the harbor, the urban center, the suburbs, the beach communities, the gangs–all within blocks of each other. It really has a tremendous potential to evoke just about anything you could want to evoke in fiction.
Matt De Mello – Danny Beckett, like many television and literary detectives, turns to the bottle to help him wash the day away, but I never got the impression that he was an alcoholic. He seemed to drink maybe a bit too much and the signs for future alcoholism may be there, but it just seemed like an escape. Did you intend for him to be a boozer or just a drinker that knew his limit?
Tyler Dilts – Two of my biggest influences are James Lee Burke and Lawrence Block, both of whom have created legendary protagonists in Dave Robicheaux and Matt Scudder who are recovering alcoholics and I had a difficult time escaping their influence. I was never sure if Danny Beckett was an alcoholic himself, though. Now that I’ve written two books about him I’m beginning to understand that he may not be an alcoholic rather than someone who drinks more than he should. With the events that take place in The Pain Scale and in the next book, A Cold and Broken Hallelujah, Danny has to deal with his drinking in way that I didn’t anticipate at the outset of the series. At this point, I don’t think alcohol will be among the more significant demons he has to deal with.
Matt De Mello – Do you subscribe to the notion that a pot pie is encased in a pastry crust or is it ok to have a puff pastry atop to call it a pot pie?
Tyler Dilts – Man, this is probably the toughest and most thought-provoking question I’ve ever been asked in an interview. There was a time that I would have said that nothing without a crust on the bottom deserved the title of pot pie, that it was, in fact, a travesty to even suggest such a thing. But then I ate something from a place in Bixby Knolls in North Long Beach called Jongewaard’s Bake ‘N Broil that didn’t have a crust on the bottom but was never-the-less awesome. It did have a top crust that was particularly thick and flakey good, and it made me re-evaluate everything I’d previously believed about pot pies. So I guess the best I can do is to say that unless your name is Jongewaard, you should probably put a crust on the bottom if you’re gonna call it a pot pie.
Matt De Mello – How has Long Beach changed since you first got there? For better or worse?
Tyler Dilts – I went to college there even before I lived there, so it’s been close to twenty years. By and large, it’s gotten more upscale as more and more neighborhoods have become gentrified. When I was in college and for a while after I graduated, Long Beach was like a great secret with unbelievably low rents and a really unique and independent spirit that seemed to stretch across the whole city. Much of that still exists, but it doesn’t feel so secret or inexpensive anymore. There’s more of the Southern California suburbification that stretches all across the Southland now, and some of our neighborhoods have become more polarized between high and low income residents, but it’s still one of the most diverse and just plain interesting cities I’ve ever been to. I guess if I had to choose, I’d say it’s changed slightly for the worse, but I should also acknowledge that I’m at that point in my life where I’ve begun to go on and on about how good things used to be back in the good old days.
Matt De Mello – You chose to publish your book through Amazon Encore instead of going the traditional publishing route, what were the advantages and disadvantages to Amazon Encore and what led you to choose them over the traditional model?
Actually, they chose me. I tried with all my might to go the traditional route. I had an agent who collected dozens and dozens of reject letters for A King of Infinite Space and who ultimately gave up on the novel, saying it was the best novel she’d ever represented that she couldn’t sell (that’s one of those compliments that only a writer can love). I’d all but given up on the novel when a good friend who had a small press that specialized in poetry told me he’d like to make the novel the first fiction he published. After he sold out the first small print run, he decided to use Amazon’s print-on-demand service, CreateSpace, to produce future copies. This also got us on Amazon’s website which dramatically extended our sales reach.
We did well in both sales and reader-reviews, which attracted Amazon Encore’s attention. While Create Space and Kindle Direct cater to independent publishers, Amazon Encore was something new–Amazon’s own publishing company. Based on our success on the website, they made us an offer to republish the book in new edition. I’ve been very happy with them, and I know I’ll be doing at least two more books with them, and hopefully many more beyond that.
Matt De Mello – Where would you like to take this series in the future?
Tyler Dilts – A Cold and Broken Hallelujah, the third book in the series, shares the perspective of the first two, with Danny Beckett as the protagonist and narrator. Book four, This is Water, will be a bit of shift–the protagonist will be Danny’s partner, Jennifer Tanaka. After that, I plan to do something similar to what Ed McBain did with his 87th Precinct series of novels–maintain Danny Beckett as the primary protagonist of the series, but shift to other protagonists as well. I’ve also got a few stand-alone ideas in the works.
Matt De Mello – Your next book The Pain Scale continues Danny Beckett’s saga. Can you tell us what that one is about?
Tyler Dilts – Without being too spoilery, I can say that Danny is dealing with the repercussions of the incidents that occur at the end of AKoIS, and he’s also investigating a politically loaded murder case involving the daughter-in-law and grandchildren of a congressman. It’s bigger in a few ways than the first book, but there’s more Long Beach, more brooding, and maybe most importantly, more Bruce Springsteen. People who’ve like the first book seem to like this one as well. Oh, and there’s a banjo, too.