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An interview with Jonathan Selwood.

January 25, 2012 \pm\31 12:01 pm
Jonathan Selwood captured our attention a few years ago with his debut novel The Pinball Theory of Apocalypse. The book was a wildly funny, shaggy dog tale  of the LA art world and the end of our own world.

His latest, Die Like a Girl, works together Selwood’s singular wit with his home city, Portland, OR, drug dealings, movie stars and a surprising amount of violence. (The book opens with the heroine/dope dealer, Fiona Blacklock, being punched in the face).

Selwood answered our questions about writing women well as a man, making the leap from major publishing house to self publishing, and how killing bad guys on a page takes the edge off child rearing.

*[It’s also worth noting there’s an eerie coincidence between the recent finding of a head in a bag in LA and Chapter 75 of Die Like a Girl. Yikes.]

Both of your novels feature female protagonists, which, I think, is rare for male writers. Even better is that your female protagonists are strong and vulnerable and driven in ways that render them fully real.  (to my Y-chromosome brain, at least). What draws you to female leads?
It’s a question that comes up a lot.  And the answer is… I have no fucking clue.
The first time I wrote a female protagonist, it was just as an exercise.  I took a story I’d written with a male protagonist and used the “find and replace” function to change his name from Zach to Chloe.  Somehow it worked.  In fact, it significantly improved the story (well, except for the sex scene, which just got… weird).
I should point out that the female protagonists of my novels (especially, Fiona Blacklock in Die Like a Girl) are pretty far from the average Chick Lit heroine.  Fiona’s hardboiled to the point of being sociopathic–although I’m sure she’d deny that.  I also have my wife and at least two other female readers go over every story to make sure my protagonist is not accidentally peeing while standing up or anything.
Any secret to getting under a woman’s skin? A spray of perfume on your neck, wearing a sundress, slapping on a wig?
I have been known to watch the occasional BBC Jane Austen adaptation.  But only for research purposes, I assure you.
Portland (in DIE LIKE A GIRL) and LA (in PINBALL THEORY) are vividly drawn in your two books. Are you a stickler for scenic accuracy?
 Back when I was in grad school in New York, writers would turn in stories to workshop that supposedly took place in Manhattan, but utterly failed to capture the uniqueness of New York City.  They could have just as easily changed a few street names and put their “Lower East Side” story in Omaha or Anchorage.  It drove me crazy.  Portland is likewise a very unusual city–if not a flat-out absurd city.  Failing to take advantage of such a bizarre locale would be unpardonable.
One of the most exciting aspects about your books is how one problem being solved seems to lead to a bigger, more unexpected dilemma. What’s one thing you (personally) have to do when plotting a book?
I’m an outline whore.  I love outlines.  I write them by hand on yellow legal pads, type them up, scribble them down on the back of grocery store receipts.  In fact, I often prefer the outlining to the actually writing.  Of course, since I love outlines so much, I keep writing new ones and changing the damn plot midway through the novel.
I have no clue how some writers work without outlines.  Especially crime novelists.
Your last book came out on Harper and DIE LIKE A GIRL is a self published ebook. Why the change?
 The traditional publishing industry is falling apart.  It’s been limping along for decades, but the industry’s inability to adapt to the ebook revolution is the death blow.
It’s obviously an uncertain time for writers, but I’m hoping that in the long run, this change to ebooks and a self-publishing model will be a positive one.
What’s been the most rewarding part of ebookery?
Hands down, it’s the ability to publish IMMEDIATELY.  With the traditional publishing model, it can take up to two years for a novel to come out.  If you’re like me and tend to write “timely” fiction, the ability to have your novel up for sale as soon as you finish it is… just freakin’ fantastic.
What do you miss about print?
 I miss the book tour.  I had a blast traveling around the country, meeting people, and speaking at bookstores.  But from what I’ve heard, publishers aren’t really springing for book tours anymore.
What don’t you miss about print?
The distribution.  With so few bookstores left around the country, it can be hard for people to actually find your novel.  And when you have a foreign audience, the problem is even worse.  Sure, you can order it online, but then you have to wait… and wait.
As an ebook, it takes less than a minute to download Die Like a Girl from just about anywhere in the world.
I ask every writer who is a parent about that balancing act. I stay home with our 3 month old. Give me one piece of advice to help ensure that I stay a productive writer, but also avoid leaving Junior leashed to the heat register.
Write crime.  At some point during the first three years of your child’s life, you WILL snap and want to kill someone.  Ideally, this “someone” should not be your infant child.  When you write crime fiction, you get to kill people on the page whenever you want… A lot of people.

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