The former Executive Vice President of Mystery Writers of America, Reed Farrel Coleman has been called a hard-boiled poet by NPR’s Maureen Corrigan and the “Noir Poet Laureate” in the Huffington Post. The author of sixteen novels and two novellas, along with several short stories, essays, and poetry, Reed is a three-time recipient of the Shamus Award for Best PI Novel of the Year and is a two-time Edgar Award nominee. He has also won the Macavity, Audie, Barry, and Anthony Awards. He is an adjunct instructor of English at Hofstra University and a founding member of MWA U.
I met Reed a few years back at NoirCon, a creative conference and celebration of all things noir. After hearing him discuss the elements of hard-boiled fiction and chatting with him at a break, I grabbed some of his books and was immediately hooked. His Moe Prager series is one of my absolute favorites. If you don't know Moe, you really should. And by getting to know Moe, you'll get to know Reed Farrel Coleman as well.
As Reed says on his website, reedcoleman.com: "There is a superficial resemblance between Moe Prager and Reed Farrel Coleman. We're both from the same neighborhood in Brooklyn (Sheepshead Bay/Coney Island) and we went to the same high school (Abraham Lincoln), but Moe is older than me and would be about my oldest brother's age. Moe is better looking than me, but I'm smarter. On a deeper level, Moe and I share the same struggle with our Judaism."
A friend to creatives, a teacher, and one of my favorite writers, Reed Farrel Coleman stopped by the blog today and I couldn't be more thrilled.
Hi Reed, please tell us: when did you know you wanted to be a writer? When did you know you were one?
If you count poetry as writing, I wanted to be a writer since I was thirteen. That was the year I began writing bad adolescent boy poetry about loving girls who didn’t love me back and death. I suspected from the day I attempted writing my first poem I knew. The charge I got out of writing, out of being able to express myself in words that were unlike the words I spoke, was a revelation. Although I never hoped or expected to have a career as a writer, I knew I would always write even if only a very few people ever saw my work.
Who or what inspired you as a child? … as a teenager?
I was a child of the 60s. If the turmoil and music and social upheaval and Vietnam and the space program couldn’t get your juices going … But the fact is that I was guided into writing by family circumstance. My dad was diagnosed with a rare type of bone cancer (which he lived with for a further 36 years) when I was four. And in my family, we communicated with screaming and anger. After a while, no matter how angry you are or how loud you scream, no one hears you. Writing and poetry gave me a way to express myself that allowed me to be heard.
What creative work most recently inspired you?
Great question. I think the public at large believes that writers stop being influenced and inspired once they’ve established themselves in their careers. For me, at least, nothing could be further from the truth. I am constantly inspired and influenced. Most recently I’ve been rereading a lot of Robert B. Parker and I’ve been juiced by the seeming simplicity of his language and his plotting. (Robb's note: Reed's essay on Parker and his work in the collection IN PURSUIT OF SPENSER is not to be missed.) And on the exact opposite side of the spectrum, I just finished Daniel Woodrell’s THE MAID'S VERSION. Amazing. Amazing stuff. The book is like 160 pages long, but is so rich and textured that the reader never feels cheated or overburdened. His work cries out to be read and reread.
The most underrated creative (writer, musician, artist) is …
Daniel Woodrell would be top of the writing list for me. Peter Spiegelman would be a close second. These are two great writers whom everyone should know and read.
In moments of self doubt, how do you push through?
Self-doubt? A writer’s life is almost nothing else, so what choice do you have but to push through? Laymen misunderstand writers. Think of the hubris a writer has to have to believe people will spend money they could otherwise spend on food or gas or to go to the movies or a ballgame for a book. A book, which was once an idea in someone’s head that became words on a page. You think that might cause you to have doubts? I could go on about this, but I think you see the point.
Have you ever abandoned a creative project?
Yes. Not frequently, but yes. Sometimes the creative idea doesn’t support the project when you translate it from idea to reality.
Which of your works comes closest to the way you heard/saw it in your head?
My favorite character in fiction is …
Can’t say. I can tell you who they aren’t: Gatsby or Holden Caulfield.
The next book on my reading pile is …
A MAN WITHOUT BREATH by Philip Kerr
Does The Great American Novel exist (yet)? If so, what is it?
Yes, but there are many. To think there is one great anything is silly. Think of it in terms of golf. Does anything Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson do diminish what Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, or Bobby Jones did? Of course not.
What creative work might we be surprised to find on your bookshelf or TiVo?
The DVDs of the Abbott and Costello television series.
Facebook and Twitter: friend or foe to a creative?
Facebook-friend. Twitter-foe. They are both giant time sucks.
In addition to writing, how do you express your creativity?
The most difficult thing about the life of a creative is …
Watching the sacrifices my family has made for me to chase my career.
The Coney Island attraction I miss the most is ...
The Cyclone. Although I can still travel into Brooklyn to ride it, I am no longer the sad kid who found solace and romance and joy in it.
What was the best writing advice you ever received?
My poetry writing professor at Brooklyn College, David Lehman, said that to be a writer you had to think of yourself as a writer. He made us take a pledge—raising our right hands and reciting—that from that moment forward we swore to think of ourselves as writers regardless of what we did to earn a living. It may seem silly to you, but that moment changed my life. Years later, after I had published several novels, I went to a reading by David and we discussed that moment. He’d totally forgotten it. Figures.
My thanks to Reed Farrel Coleman for visiting us today. Be sure to grab Reed's latest Gulliver Dowd mystery, VALENTINO PIER, or any of the terrific Moe Prager series. ONION STREET, the penultimate Moe Prager novel, was chosen by Publishers Weekly as one of its Best Summer Reads for 2013. (ONION STREET and THE JAMES DEANS are particular favorites of mine. Oh, and HURT MACHINE. Hell, they're all great.) And don't miss the final Moe Prager book, THE HOLLOW GIRL, coming in June 2014. You can find Reed on Facebook and reedcoleman.com.