Tuesday, January 6, 2015

No Bad Deed NBtM

Private detective John Arsenal can’t tell you what terrible crime he committed to wind up in a sweltering urban hellscape, surrounded by thieves, drug addicts and murderers—only that it was very bad, and now he’s being punished. That’s because in Hell—or Brimstone, as the damned prefer to call it—your identity, your memories, even your name, are stripped away from you.

 John is relatively comfortable in his damnation, working easy cases and making himself at home in the grimy squalor of the afterlife. That is, until a mysterious woman appears in his office, begging him to find her missing sister, and promising him the impossible in return—a glimpse of his old life, before Brimstone.

 To track down the enigmatic Sophie, John must delve into Brimstone’s darkest recesses, where murderous children run wild in packs, and a strange and terrifying new drug promises to deliver the user to the heights of ecstasy, but at the risk of being snuffed out of existence altogether. All the while, John must grapple with the vivid nightmares that have haunted him since his arrival in Brimstone, and confront the thing he desires and dreads the most—the truth of what he did to deserve damnation.

“How did you get in?” I said.

“Are you going to shoot me, Mr. Arsenal?” Her voice had the slightest hint of an accent. My eyes adjusted to the light, and I could see her more clearly. She was early thirties, maybe, with a heart shaped face, and huge, dark eyes. Tendrils of black hair sprang free from the messy knot at the back of her head and stuck to the nape of her neck, and I wondered immediately, like I always do when I see a pretty woman in Brimstone, what she could have possibly done to end up here.

“Don’t want to,” I said. “You going to tell me how you got in here?”

“Your front door was unlocked,” she said. “You should really be more careful. This city is full of lunatics.”

“Mm-hmm,” I said. “You one of them?”

She smiled and sat on the edge of my desk, and I cringed instinctively, thinking about the film of crud and ash covering everything in this apartment. Her dress was the color of cream, and I wondered how she kept the thing so clean.

“If I said no, would you believe me?”

“I guess not,” I said, and sat up. “Don’t you know it’s polite to knock?”

“I did knock,” she said. “You didn’t answer.”

“So you just let yourself in.”

“I didn’t think you’d pull a gun on me,” she said.

M. Ryan, thanks so much for stopping by. So, why don’t you tell us a little about yourself?
I’m an author raised in upstate New York by a family of writers. I’ve spent the last ten years of my life in Boston, and recently moved to Chicago, where every moment not spent writing I am exploring this enormous city, finding new places to eat and drink.

How did you get started writing?
I was always a strong writer as a kid, and even wrote a few stories when I was very, very young. But like a lot of kids, I think school, and being forced to read and write things I wasn’t that interested in reading and writing kind of killed that bug for me. It wasn’t until I the end of college that I came back to it. I started with a few truly terrible plays which never saw the light of day, thank god. Then after I graduated I rediscovered reading novels for fun, which is a thing I think a lot of students lose while they’re still in school. Not enough hours in the day. Once I rediscovered my love of mystery novels, it didn’t take long for me to want to write one of my own.

What was the inspiration for your book?
It came to me in my sleep! Or rather, I was almost asleep, just starting to drift off, and I just thought, “A detective in Hell. Yeah.” I popped out of bed to write it down, and that’s how the prologue was written: In the dark, in my apartment in Boston at 1am. John Arsenal’s voice was right there, fully developed, like I’d been writing him for years. I went back to bed and didn’t think much of it until the next morning when I read what I had, and thought, wow, I might really have something here. Interestingly enough, sleep has been a huge theme throughout this book, and in the next one as well. John, my protagonist, suffers from insomnia and nightmares, and sometimes if I’m really on a roll with John, I’ll pick up a bit of insomnia myself, something that I never really dealt with before this book. I’ll wake up at 3am and not be able to go back to bed until the scene I woke up thinking about gets written, or I’ll have a nightmare, and the next morning think, “That could work in the book.”

What’s the one genre you haven’t written in yet that you’d like to?
I love short stories, but I’ve never had the discipline for them. One day I’d like to write a series of short thrillers about different groups of people, all affected by the same major event. I don’t want to give too much away, in case I decide to do it one day!

Are there any genres you won’t read or write in? Why?
I’m a really voracious reader. There was a period of time where I would literally just grab the first unread book off the shelf and take it with me on my commute. I didn’t even care what it was. There are certainly genres I come back to more than others, but if a book is well written, I don’t particularly care what genre it is. 

So, what are you working on right now? Got any releases planned, or still writing?
I’ve just finished the first draft of the next book in the John Arsenal series. This one is a serial killer mystery, which is particularly interesting because of course in Brimstone, everyone is already dead. But as it turns out, when you’re killed in Hell, there’s something even worse than death waiting on the other side. It was a lot of fun to be able to follow John into this new chapter, because of course he had to go through so much in No Bad Deed, some of those demons are still hanging around for him, and will be for quite some time. 

Alright, now for some totally random, fun questions. Favorite color?
Lately it’s dark teal. It tends to change.

Favorite movie?
Today it’s Birdman, with The Usual Suspects, and Reservoir Dogs. I also really loved Guardians of the Galaxy. I saw that one twice in the theater, which I don’t typically do.

Alright, you have one superpower. What is it?
Telekenesis. My apartment would be much tidier if I had telekinesis.

You can have dinner with any 3 people, dead, alive, fictitious, etc. Who are they?
Dennis Lehane, so I could redeem myself after how very tongue tied I got the last time I attended one of his signings (I have a bit of a writer crush. It was bad). Jon Stewart, because I believe he would make the most informative and entertaining dinner conversation. And Julia Child. I would be extremely intimidated to cook for Julia, but I suspect she would be kind no matter what I served. She just seemed like that kind of a lady.

Last question: Which of your characters are you most like and how/why?

That’s such a hard question, especially because in my case all my characters have been damned to Hell! I think I have a little something in common with all of my characters. I like to give them the qualities I’d like to magnify in myself, but also sometimes the things I know are weaknesses. John has my sense of humor, although he’s better at spitting out the one liners at just the right moment than I am. John also has my bad knees. Mireille has my volatility. She can be very passive, but then there is this temper that can come out of nowhere and surprise you. Mary and Gavett have a lot (but not everything, thank goodness!) in common with myself and my husband. They’re extremely affectionate, constantly checking in with each other and saying I love you, taking care of each other, even after centuries together. Mary also sings all the time, which is something I do.

Author Bio:
I was raised in Rochester, New York, in a house that was constantly full of writers. On nights when my parents and their friends were holding court in our living room, I would practice the fine art of evading the little kids in the next room, setting up camp among the grown-ups, and being quiet long enough that they would forget I was there, and that it was past my bedtime. All my best dirty jokes were picked up this way.

I studied theatre performance at Northeastern University, where I spent a little time onstage, and a lot of time reading plays. I fell in love with Sam Shepard, Arthur Miller, and Nicky Silver. Exposed to plays day in and day out, I honed my ear for dialogue, and learned firsthand that if the writing doesn’t ring true, no amount of brilliant acting would make it right. I wrote my first play (terrible, melodramatic, with characters whose names did absolutely nothing to mask the real people they were based on). I showed it to no one. It’s probably still on my computer somewhere.

John Arsenal and Brimstone came to me during a bout of unemployment, in between searching desperately for a job, and baking more bread than was sane or reasonable for my two person household. The idea came to me in my sleep, demanding to be written, and that’s how the prologue of the book came into existence: In my darkened apartment in Boston at one o clock in the morning, my eyes barely able to focus on the computer screen long enough to get the words down. Sleep has continued to be the place where John Arsenal and I meet up to put the pieces of his story together. I’ve never been prone to insomnia, but John, it seems, is, and has never cared much for my sleep schedule.

In my life before Brimstone, I’ve worked as a telemarketer (I’m sorry) administrative assistant, waiter (badly, briefly), clerk and occasional story-time reader in a children’s bookstore, and professional hawker of everything from magazine subscriptions to national television advertising. I was better with magazines. I now live in Chicago with the love of my life, and my snarling, seven-toed demon-cat, Clara. No Bad Deed is the first book in the John Arsenal mystery series.

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