Author Interview: Keith Dixon

I met Keith via my No Wasted Ink facebook page and am delighted to include him here on the blog. Welcome Keith to the readers of No Wasted Ink.

Author Keith Dixon
Author Keith Dixon
Hi, I’m Keith Dixon. I’ve had a varied career as a proofreader, copywriter, professor of English and business psychologist. I have a house in Cheshire in the UK but I’m currently spending a lot of time at my partner’s place in France. I hope eventually to sell up and live with her on a permanent basis!

When and why did you begin writing?

My first memory of taking writing seriously was as a teen, making up stories and scripting episodes of The Avengers, with John Steed and Emma Peel, on British TV. I never got as far as sending in these scripts, which is probably just as well. In my late teens I bought an old manual typewriter and started writing short stories and, eventually, novels. I think many writers have a didactic streak which comes to the fore in one’s teenage years – you think you see the world much more clearly than the ‘old folk’ around you, and want to set them straight. So you start making up stories that somehow embody the immortal life lessons you’ve learned at age sixteen …

When did you first consider yourself a writer?

I wrote 7 novels between the ages of 20-22, but of course none of them was any good. But in my late twenties I won a playwriting competition which led to the play – about Isaac Newton – receiving ‘rehearsed readings’ at two major theatres in Manchester and Chester. That was when I started to think I knew how to put words together. Unfortunately it was then a long time before I had the freedom to write books again.

Can you share a little about your current book with us?

The Private Lie is the second in my series of ‘Sam Dyke Investigations’. Sam is a tough private eye based in the North West of England who gets caught up in the malevolent activities of two thuggish twins. Sam is trying to help his son, whom he hadn’t met before the beginning of the book. The son turns up after eighteen years and demands that Sam must help him. So Sam agrees to find his son’s missing girlfriend but before he knows it is engaged in a battle with two gangland twins. Mayhem ensues.

What inspired you to write this book?

Two things: I’d read about two men in Manchester who ran a building/construction company, but were in fact gangsters smuggling dope and so forth. The construction business was more or less a cover. Secondly, I’d seen a guy in a coffee shop in a mall. He had on a tight black tee-shirt and bulging muscles, with a shaved head showing just a little hair. And he was with a delicate woman who I took to be his wife. I wondered why someone got themselves muscled up like that, and what it was like for them to be out on a shopping expedition in a mall. This became the basis for my two steroidal twins.

Do you have a specific writing style?

The genre I write in is the hard-boiled, noir private eye school, and there is a kind of style associated with that – wisecracks, first-person narration, dames and bad guys. From Chandler and Hammett through Ross Macdonald’s Lew Archer and on to Robert Crais’ Elvis Cole, there is a kind of ‘perspective’ that the private eye must take in order to justify what he does (and though there are of course exceptions, it is usually a he). So the style focuses on actions at the expense of reflection and uncovers individual motivations as the book progresses. There are helpers, comic characters, danger and moments of drama. The writer’s job is to harmonise all these elements into a ‘voice’ that makes sense as a person speaking to you, and also has some kind of moral vision or understanding of what’s going on. I’m becoming more interested in that aspect as I write more. Another wrinkle is that of course these books are usually written by Americans, with all the vivid language that entails – a challenge for me was to transfer that into the UK.

How did you come up with the title of this book?

The Private Lie is obviously a pun on Private Eye, but I also built in several references to the ways in which people lie to themselves or sometimes keep the truth from others – so it’s not an outright lie but perhaps a sin of omission instead.

Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?

I don’t actually believe in an abstract ‘evil’ as I know some people – and some writers – do. My experience as a psychologist tells me that people act on motives and drives that they’re not always aware of – they justify their actions to themselves or do things – even bad things – as a way of coping with the world they find themselves in. So I hope that some of the bad guys in the book are shown to have some redeeming features or vulnerabilities that they can’t help, any more than they can help the behaviours that we would call wicked or malicious.

Are experiences in this book based on someone you know, or events in your own life?

I think it’s true that practically everything in this book is made up! In my first novel, Altered Life, I did use my background in business psychology and consultancy to create an environment for the story. Here, it’s research and knowing the physical places in which the events happen, and that’s all.

What authors have most influenced your life? What about them do you find inspiring?

An endless list. Mostly American writers – Fitzgerald, Dos Passos, Salinger, Steinbeck, Heller. More recently, James Lee Burke. As a writer, what I find inspirational is their ability to capture lived experience in sentences. Trying to write well AND write within the constraints of a genre is an interesting task and one that needs constant study. That’s one reason I started my blog, Crime Writing Confidential – subtitled ‘What crime writers do, and how they’ve done it.’

If you had to choose, is there a writer would you consider a mentor? Why?

At the moment, it’s James Lee Burke. Every sentence is heavy with meaning. He writes dialogue that jumps off the page and grabs you around the neck. His descriptive passages add depth and resonance to his characters’ actions. And he has a moral purpose behind his books. Plus, he’s probably the greatest writer of action sequences currently writing. The last 100 pages of his new book, Creole Belle, is one extended action sequence of the sort you might find in a Bruce Willis film. Only better.

Who designed the cover of your book? Why did you select this illustrator?

I’ve used photographs that I’ve taken myself for my books because they have some relevance – for me, if not for the reader!

Do you have any advice for other writers?

The usual advice is to read and read and read. But it’s more than that. It’s read, then think. Read, then think. Look back at a page or a paragraph and analyze how it achieved its effects. How did he get from that section or thought to this one? How does the writer structure scenes? Where’s the conflict? So it’s a mixture of reading, thinking, analyzing and then trying it out.

Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?

To those who have already read the books, thank you and I hope it wasn’t too painful! To those who haven’t, please take a chance.

Private Lie Book CoverKeith Dixon
Cheshire, UK and central France (occasionally)

A writer of crime novels that are bitterly comic but deadly serious, with a hero who doesn’t know how to give up.

The Private Lie, published by Semiologic Ltd, photo by Keith Dixon.

Available as a paperback from Amazon.
Available as a Kindle eBook.

No Wasted Ink Writer’s Links

Nanowrimo season is upon us again and in honor of this, I have chosen a majority of links this week that feature National Novel Writing Month related posts for the writer’s links here on No Wasted Ink.


All new & revised: On word counts and novel length

Philip Hensher: Why handwriting matters

Do Publishers Need to Offer More Value to Authors?

NaNoWriMo Resources!

National Novel Writing Month: A Five-Year Vet’s View

How To Publish Your Blog On The Amazon Kindle

My #1 Tip For Teen Novelists

Answers to Reader Questions About Hyphens

Why Flashy Book Trailers Don’t Work

Why Book Trailers Are Now Essential to the Publishing Industry

Writing Space: Blaine D. Arden

It is always wonderful to find a fellow notebook and fountain pen lover, just like myself. I hope you enjoy reading about Blaine’s writing space and her creative style.

Blaine Arden AuthorWriting is something I do anywhere. Always have. When I was younger, I wrote in class, during breaks, at birthdays and parties. These days I write in waiting rooms, at volleyball matches–watching my kids play–on trains, and during breaks at choir practice. I never leave home without my fountain pen and my notebook. You never know when the solution to that little plot gap springs to mind, or when I suddenly know the name of my newest character.

I tried remembering, I really did. I’d go to sleep convinced that I’d remember it come morning, and would then spend all day cursing myself for believing it, and unable to remember, no matter how hard I tried reliving those minutes before falling asleep. So, I learned my lesson and don’t leave home without my writing implements.

Blaine Arden Notebook and Parker Fountain PenWhat I use? Well, last year, friends gave me this wonderful magenta Parker fountain pen, and I love writing with it. I’m a bit finicky about notebooks, though. I’ve used everything from exercise-books to different sizes notebooks to an A5-binder, which though bulky, came closest to my ideal notebook. But it wasn’t until I sat across from a man writing in an Atoma notebook in the train, that I knew I’d finally found it. I fell in love with it at first sight and have been writing in them ever since. With the ability to take pages out and put them back in again, they make me feel so organized.

Being able to write anywhere and any time, I never thought I’d need a dedicated space for writing. Sure, I had a desk in my room when I still lived with my parents, and could be found in my room most of the time–pretending to do homework while I was really acting out my stories with the barbies hidden away in my bottom drawer. But when I moved in with my boyfriend–now husband–it was just the two of us, so I was easily satisfied with sitting on the sofa or at the dining table, and later, a desk in the living room.

It wasn’t until a couple of years ago–I think I was doing NaNoWriMo for the second time–that I started yearning for a space where I could retreat from the hustle and bustle of having kids playing with friends, playing games, and asking questions at the most inopportune times–bypassing Daddy who’d be sitting not a meter away, of course.

Blaine D Arden Office SpaceThe smallest bedroom–formerly known as walk-in closet–was turned into an office, and at the end of last year my husband made me a lovely new workspace that spans two and a half walls and leaves me plenty of space to work at, read at and clutter. (yes, I tidied the desk before taking the picture). It’s a wonderful, inspirational, place, and it’s all mine. The only drawback is that I don’t have a door. We’d taken that one out years ago, sacrificing it for more closet space, and later reused it when we created a bedroom in the attic. Instead I have a sturdy pvc fly curtain with a yin-yang sign to create a sense of privacy.
As for the kids? They might not be asking my attention every couple of minutes anymore, and they’re old enough to leave me alone when I’m writing–considering that they’re almost all adults themselves now–their bedrooms are a little too close for comfort, and I often find myself grabbing my noise reduction headphones to tune them out to work. Early mornings, on the other hand, are blissfully quiet. 🙂

Blaine is a purple haired, forty-something, writer of gay romance with a love of men, music, mystery, magic, fairies, platform shoes and the colours black, purple and red, who sings her way through life. You can find Blaine at: her website, on twitter, and on facebook. You can also email her at blaine@blainedarden.com

Book Review: The Stainless Steel Rat

Book Name: The Stainless Steel Rat
Author: Harry Harrison
First Published: 1961

Harry Harrison was a writer from the world of comics and science-fiction magazines of the 1950s. An amazingly prolific author, Harrison was an extremely popular icon in the science fiction world. He was known for his self-aware wit combined with biting satire, his distrust of the military and tax officials, and above all his intelligence combined with a range of moral, ethical and literary sensibilities.

His best known work consists of fast-paced parodies of traditional space-opera adventures including the Deathworld series, The Stainless Steel Rat books, and the books about Bill, the Galactic Hero. His writing presented many interesting contradictions. Harrison wrote his novels in the parlance of a conservative minded voice, but framed his ideas with the conscience of a liberal and laced with a sharp awareness of the lack of literary values in the works he was parodying.

Harrison started out his career by being drafted into the US Army Air Corps during World War II. He became a sharpshooter, a MP, a gunnery instructor, and a specialist in the proto-types of computer-aided bomb-sights and gun turrets. During his military service, he learned Esperanto, a language that would be featured in many of his future novels. Once he was discharged, he went to study art at Hunter College in New York. By the end of the 1940s, Harrison was running his own small studio specializing in selling illustrations to comics and science fiction magazines. He thought himself as a commercial artist at this time instead of as a writer. However, he slowly moved from drawing illustrations to editing a few magazines. As the market for comics began to dwindle, Harrison began writing stories for science fiction magazines to supplement his income.

Due to the low pay involved with writing, he moved his wife Joan and their children to Mexico where living expenses were cheaper. It was the first of many international moves for his family. From Mexico, they went to Britain, then to Italy, and then to Denmark. They stayed in Denmark for seven years since he and his wife believed it a good place to raise their two children, but eventually they returned to the west coast of the United States. Later, because Harrison had an Irish grandparent, he was able to become a citizen of Ireland and took advantage of the Irish tax exemption where writers enjoy tax-free status. Harrison remained in Ireland until his wife Joan died in 2002. The blow of her death disheartened him and he moved to Britain and lived his remaining years there until he died in August of 2012 at the age of 87.

The cover blurb of Harrison’s novel The Stainless Steel Rat proclaims: “We must be as stealthy as rats in the wainscoting of their society. It was easier in the old days, of course, and society had more rats when the rules were looser, just as old wooden buildings have more rats than concrete buildings. But there are rats in the building now as well. Now that society is all ferrocrete and stainless steel there are fewer gaps in the joints. It takes a very smart rat indeed to find these openings. Only a stainless steel rat can be at home in this environment.” Harry Harrison thus introduces Slippery Jim deGriz, the self proclaimed rat of a sterile society that has bred out the criminal element among humanity. In an earlier age, he would have been a soldier of fortune with a heart of gold, seeking adventure and treasure. In this tale of the far future, he is a mastermind criminal who is recruited by a mysterious “special corps” to seek out and and fight what little crime is left in human inhabited space. His first assignment is to hunt down a serial killer, who turns out to be a beautiful woman. Naturally, the Rat falls in love, but has he met his match?

During my high school years, I had a habit of reading seven to eight books a week, more if they were shorter. I could be seen riding my bicycle with a large backpack filled with volumes at any give day of the week. I ended up “reading out” our two local public libraries in the small town that I grew up in. Harry Harrison’s novels were part of that long list of books I absorbed during this time period and the characters and humor have stuck with me down through the years. Are the stainless steel rat stories classics? Maybe not, but they have surprisingly stayed fresh down through the years. Slippery Jim deGriz and his lovely wife Angelina are memorable characters that should not be missed.

The Stainless Steel Rat series is not in the public domain. You can find copies at any well stocked book store or at your public library.

The Stainless Steel Rat Book CoverNovels:

The Stainless Steel Rat (1961)
The Stainless Steel Rat’s Revenge (1970)
The Stainless Steel Rat Saves the World (1972)
The Adventures of the Stainless Steel Rat (1978)
The Stainless Steel Rat Wants You (1978)
The Stainless Steel Rat for President (1982)
A Stainless Steel Rat Is Born (1985)
The Stainless Steel Rat Gets Drafted (1987)
The Golden Years of the Stainless Steel Rat (1993)
The Stainless Steel Rat Sings the Blues (1994)
The Stainless Steel Rat Goes to Hell (1996)
The Stainless Steel Rat Joins the Circus (1999)
The Stainless Steel Rat Returns (2010)

Comics:

The Stainless Steel Rat, 12 episodes, 2000 AD progs 140–151 (Nov. 1979 to Feb. 1980).
The Stainless Steel Rat Saves the World, 12 episodes, 2000 AD progs 166–177 (June to Sep. 1980).
The Stainless Steel Rat for President, 12 episodes, 2000 AD progs 393–404 (Nov. 1984 to Feb. 1985).[2]

All comics were adapted by Kelvin Gosnell and drawn by Carlos Ezquerra. Ezquerra drew Jim with an appearance modeled on the actor James Coburn.

No Wasted Ink Writer’s Links

NaNoWriMo is approaching. How is YOUR novel outline coming along? To rid yourself of pre-NaNo stress, here are a few writing links to take your mind off of November.


2 Free Word Count Trackers for NaNoWriMo Authors

Screenwriters and Novelists – what’s the difference?

Three Ways to Use Amazon to Sell More Books

Fill The Shelves – A Great New Initiative To Help Underfunded School Libraries

4 steps to using mind mapping for story ideas, blog topics

How Poetry Makes Us Better Business Writers

How To Prevent Carpal Tunnel Syndrome in Writers

5 Ways for Writers to Blast Through Self-Doubt

Exploding the Perfect Writer Myth

Five Motivational Techniques for Writers

Author Interviews * Book Reviews * Essays * Writer's Links * Scifaiku

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