Apex Reviews: Bruce and Jeffrey, thanks for joining us for this interview. We're looking forward to learning more about your book.
The storyline of Sleuth Slayer is truly unique and inventive. Where did you get the inspiration for the story?
Bruce Burton: Very casually. Jeff marinated it in his brain's creative juices. The instant he told me over a beer, I labeled it a million-dollar premise and insisted it was so strong it deserved a full novel.
Jeffrey Burton: Mystery writers have written serial killer novels for generations because those kinds of books are great fun to read—all sorts of cat and mouse, twists and turns, etc. I thought that a nice twist on this premise would be that a serial killer is stalking famous mystery writers.
AR: Is Guy modeled on a specific person, or is he an amalgamated mixture of different personalities?
BB: Amalgamated mixtures—Guy and the rest. Jeff set Guy in motion and established his parameters. I added lots of the rhythms and "non-housekeeping details" of Jeff's one-time lifestyle in his bachelor pad in St. Paul's Highland area, where his mildewed shower slowly became a Petri dish.
JB: First off, that shower was a Petri dish when I moved in. What do you expect for $300 a month? Guy's an amalgamated mixture, a third-tier mystery writer who had once, some years back, been second-tier. He's fighting writer's block, dodging an angry agent, and generally squeaking along by the hair of his chinny-chin-chin.
AR: You manage to conceal the true identity of the killer, as well as the motives for the killings, until the very end, and masterfully so. Was this a difficult task to accomplish?
BB: Not difficult. It played out quite logically from the character of each major player as the piece evolved, and the traditional rules of the genre in which Sleuth Slayer is immersed. When Jeff invented the ultimate final twist, he couldn't stop laughing for days—nor could I—because it seemed so hilariously organic to the book's fictional universe. Many readers have favorably commented on this.
JB: We had an initial outline of the general twists and turns that the novel would take. The difficult part was seeding little clues throughout the book so the reader wouldn't feel cheated at the end.
AR: Throughout the book, you make many inside references to the world of publishing, including the good, the bad, and the ugly aspects of it all. What have been some of the reactions of your friends and colleagues in the literary world to this?
BB: I suspect the publisher grabbed the book rights precisely because of this "inside baseball" aspect. A reader from Tucson recently told me she was equally entertained and educated from that part.
JB: We've been blessed with wonderful reviews (which reminds me: thank you, Renee, for the kind, kind words). The St. Paul Pioneer Press put it pretty well by stating that it's a "mystery that pokes gentle fun at the world of mystery writing."
AR: Our reviewer made special mention of the wittiness of your writing style. Is this a typical hallmark of your storytelling?
BB: Here's the inside scoop. We exchanged a least five full edits as we struggled to meld Jeff's voice and mine into a single voice. During this lengthy process, Jeff's penchant for twisted ironies—probably deep in the Burton family gene code—triggered my own. During the edits, we wound up playing co-authors' Ping-Pong as we sprinkled the book with ironies and witticisms. Luckily for me, I stumbled across Chandler's dictum about making all your analogies surprising bon bons for the reader, and to get myself in the mood I would re-read a lot of Twain's "A Pen Warmed-Up in Hell" and the Algonquin Roundtable stuff. But Jeff's ironic wit just seems to bubble up from his psyche without a need to prime the pump.
JB: I try to add some wit and dark humor to all of my writing. Our primary goal with Sleuth Slayer was to make it an engaging mystery, a suspenseful page turner. But due to the nature of the subject matter, we also wanted it to be a bit of a satire on the mystery publishing industry. As such, the interplay between Guy and Frances is a tad bit reminiscent of Nick and Nora Charles in The Thin Man.
AR: How do you craft your stories? Do you prepare outlines regarding your characters and plot developments first, or does the book tend to unfold on its own?
BB: We started with Jeff's million dollar concept. Then the traditional rules for mystery writing (three suspects; at least four milestone surprises; plausible police procedures, etc.). We did a rough outline, from which we each glommed onto initial writing segments of 50%. Then, during our multiple edits we rearranged the segments, added transitions and sometimes full chapters, sliced out or totally revised a few segments that no longer fit the evolved animal. According to the ancient metaphor, every good novel is given birth as an independent organism during the writing of it. Without twisting the old metaphor completely out of shape, in our case a father and son gave birth to a literary…hmm, let's not go there.
JB: Yes, Dad, let's not go there. In terms of outlining, Dad came to visit in the early stages, and we sat in a Panera Bread coffee shop one afternoon O.D.'ing on caffeine. By the time the day was done, we had a working outline from which we assigned each other certain storylines to pursue. For the past dozen years or so, I've written predominantly short stories. I'll have an idea, jot it down on a loose piece of paper, and then toss it in a drawer. After it ferments awhile, I'll pound out a draft and then edit it into shape. Dad has been kind enough to edit all of my short stories. I've been real fortunate to have had several dozen of my stories published in a wide variety of genre magazines (mystery, horror, sci-fi) as well as a collection of my short mystery and horror stories published as a collection a few years back (Shadow Play, 2005).
AR: Who have been some of your chief writing influences?
BB: Twain; Dickens; Shakespeare; Sophocles; Tennessee Williams; Ken Follet's histories; Buckley's CIA novels; Bill Prosser; Richard Epstein; Stephen Ambrose.
JB: Lately I've been on a steady diet of mysteries and there is no one better than Michael Connelly, followed very closely by John Sandford, Robert Crais, John Connolly, Greg Iles, and Lee Child.
AR: Please share more with our readers about your publisher, Pocol Press.
JB: Pocol Press is a well-established small publisher in Clifton, Virginia, that has a stable of first-rate authors, such as Brian Ames, Mark Doyon, and the four-time Pushcart Prize nominee Tom Sheehan. In addition, Pocol Press is the Go-To publisher for books on 19th Century Baseball. Dad and I are helping them branch off into mystery.
AR: What are your future writing/publishing plans?
BB: Two law review research pieces currently underway; first draft of a sequel to Sleuth Slayer, and a modern western about an aging John McCain-type sheriff in Wyoming ranch country who's struggling to solve a major rural murder case while getting his election year ears pinned back by an opportunistic, extremely fluent, young female lawyer who's a candidate for his job.
JB: I've been cranking out a slew of short horror stories lately, but I'm also fleshing out a political mystery/thriller that I plan to write later in the year.
AR: Where can people learn more about you, your writings, and your other efforts?
BB: My Visiting Professor's faculty bio will be posted at Charlotte School of Law during the 2008-2009 academic year.
JB: Please feel free to check out my website www.SomeHack.com for upcoming news on both my father Bruce and myself.
AR: Also, how can our readers contact you directly?
AR: Any final thoughts you'd like to share?
BB: I'm nearly 70, and over the decades I've written or co-authored a couple dozen scholarly legal research pieces with distinguished law profs, which are great fun. But for the sheer joy of creating a fictional universe in partnership with Jeff, it's been an old man's unexpected pinnacle.
JB: It was a blast working on this project with my father. A lot more fun than that backyard shed we cobbled together 30 years ago or that one time we tried to fix the wiring on my car and wound up in the ER.
AR: Thanks again, Bruce and Jeffrey, and best of continued success to you in all your endeavors!