Warren Easley is the author of the Cal Claxton Mysteries, a series that began with Matters of Doubt, continued with Dead Float, and now continues with the newly released, Never Look Down. The series is published by the popular Poisoned Pen Press.
Warren recently took the time to answer some questions for Rose City Reader.
How did you come to write Never Look Down?
I need a compelling idea or visual image to get me started on a book. Once I have this, I work on the characters I imagine could be involved. I work hard to flesh these characters out before I start, but they tend to evolve as I get into the story. In the case of Never Look Down, I had this image of a young tagger up on a building late at night who witnesses a brutal crime and barely escapes alive. Once I wrote that scene the book just took off. I couldn’t write fast enough.
Never Look Down is the third book in a series. When you wrote your first Cal Claxton book, Matters of Doubt, did you have a series in mind?
Yes, I had it in mind all along to write a series, although I was pretty naïve about the snares and pitfalls involved! I think the trick in a good series is to have some key story and character arcs that extend across several books at least, and this takes careful planning and attention to detail. I had written three books in the series before I signed on with Poisoned Pen Press, but they wanted my third book first. I had to scramble to re-align a raft of details involving timing and story arcs to ensure consistency.
What is your professional background? How did it lead you to writing your Cal Claxton series?
I have a Ph.D. in physical chemistry. I wrote a lot of scientific papers and reports in a career that spanned R&D and international business but, of course, that’s a long way from writing fiction! But I was a closet poet and a voracious reader, especially of well-written mysteries. I always harbored a secret ambition to write fiction but didn’t act on it until I retired.
What do you admire most about Cal Claxton? What is his least endearing trait?
Well, there’s much to admire about Cal. He’s an everyman who feels great empathy for the most vulnerable among us and goes to bat for them. He’s recovering from a staggering personal blow, and he’s intent on building a new life for himself (and his dog, Archie) in Oregon. He’s a pretty good cook and fly fisherman, too. But the thing I most admire is his doggedness. He gets knocked down a lot, literally and figuratively, in the series, and he always gets up and re-engages. This is a trait we all need in life.
On the other side, he’s not very good with money, a trait that sends his neighbor and accountant up the wall, he’s not very good at saying no, and he has a habit of going it alone and taking risks.
Did you know right away, or have an idea, how you were going to end the story in Never Look Down? Or did it come to you as you were in the process of writing?
I don’t do a lot of outlining, which means I have to write to know what’s going to happen. I had absolutely no idea how this story was going to end, except for the fact that justice would be served and all the loose ends I created along the way would be tied into neat bows. I’m an equal opportunity writer, so just about any character in the book can turn out to be the bad guy. It’s a mystery for me, as well!
What did you learn from writing Never Look Down – either about the subject of the book or the writing process – that most surprised you?
The tagger in the story is sixteen years old. I normally write my books totally in Cal’s voice, first person. This means we would only see the tagger’s story through Cal’s eyes. But the chapters involving the teen seemed flat, so I decided to try writing them in the tagger’s voice in alternating chapters. I wasn’t sure I could pull this off, and the fact that I did was a pleasant surprise! I have my youngest daughter to thank for helping me get the hang of a sixteen year old’s voice, and I also found inspiration in Bill Cameron’s excellent mystery, County Line.
Who are your three (or four or five) favorite authors? Is your own writing influenced by who you read?
I have so many! The top five would be: James Lee Burke, Tony Hillerman, Sara Paretsky, Michael Connelly, and James Crumley. Oh, and Elmore Leonard makes six.
James Lee Burke’s Dave Robicheaux series set on the Gulf Coast in Louisiana inspired me to try my hand at fiction. His tightly drawn plots, flawed, vividly etched characters, and use of the Gulf Coast as a character in the books enthralled me. I wanted to try something along those lines in another beautiful, atmospheric setting—Oregon.
Do you have favorite mystery series you love to read? Which ones?
All the above authors write series. I loved Stieg Larsson’s Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series and Raymond Chandler’s Marlowe series, as well…
What are you reading now?
I am just finishing Connelly’s The Burning Room. Next up on my nightstand is Disclaimer, by Renee Knight, followed by William Tapply’s Outwitting Trolls.
What do you do to promote your books? Do you use social networking sites or other internet resources?
In addition to the efforts of my publisher, I have an author site on Facebook and a website. I pen a monthly blog on writing and whatever else is on my mind. The blog appears on the 6th of each month on the above sites and on my publisher’s site, Poisoned Pen Press.
Do you have any events coming up to promote your book?
Currently scheduled book signings are:
• Sept. 26th at the Book Carnival in Orange, CA at 3 pm.
• Oct. 2 at Chapters Book Store in Newberg, OR at 5 pm,
• Oct. 10 at the Seattle Mystery Bookshop at noon.
What is the most valuable advice you’ve been given as an author?
From Anne Lamott—Get that shitty first draft down on paper…!
What is the best thing about being a writer?
Two things—first, getting to create your own world and populate it with interesting, unruly characters, and second, getting to know other authors, the most stimulating, fun, cynical, and astute group of people I’ve ever been associated with.
What’s next? Are you working on your next Cal Claxton book?
I just finished a complete draft of book #4 in the series, which has a working title of An Indecent Burial. It revolves around an infamous event in Oregon history—the flooding of Celilo Falls and the Native American village next to it with the completion of The Dalles Dam in the Columbia River Gorge. Cal is asked to find out what happened to a Native American anti-dam activist who disappeared when the flood gates were closed fifty years earlier, a stone-cold case that quickly heats up.
NEVER LOOK DOWN IS AVAILABLE ON-LINE AT POISONED PEN PRESS (MULTIPLE FORMATS), AMAZON (IN KINDLE, HB, OR PB), OR ASK YOUR LOCAL BOOKSTORE TO ORDER IT!