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Wednesday, April 24, 2013


J. L. Abramo is a man of many experiences and many talents. He has lived all over the country. Born in Brooklyn, New York on Raymond Chandler’s fifty-ninth birthday, he earned a BA in Sociology and Education at the City College of New York and a Masters in Social Psychology at the University of Cincinnati. He has worked as an educator, arts journalist, film and stage actor, theatre director, and novelist and is a member of the Mystery Writers of America, International Thriller Writers, and the Screen Actors Guild. His first novel, Catching Water in a Net, featuring fast-talking, antacid-chugging, former screen thug turned PI Jake Diamond, won the St. Martin’s Press/Private Eye Writers of America Award for Best First Private Eye Novel, and was followed by two additional Jake Diamond novels, Clutching at Straws and Counting to Infinity. A prequel to the series, Chasing Charlie Chan, will be published in June, and the fourth Diamond mystery is due next year. Joe Abramo's latest venture is a stand-alone thriller, Gravesend, touted by Crimespree Magazine as “a remarkable book that will tie you in knots as you wait to see how it all plays out. A truly exceptional novel.”

To meet Joe is to encounter a person who is both thoughtful and passionate about writing and about how writers can best connect with their public. I had the privilege of being in a critique group with Joe for a short time. He always brought exceptional work for us to consider, and his comments on the efforts of others were insightful, helpful, and encouraging.

Welcome, Joe, to Writers Who Kill.

How has your background in education, the arts, and theatre influenced your writing life?

I have always been possessed with an artistic impulse, the need to express myself in creative ways. Music, drawing, acting and journalism were all exploratory steps toward ultimately discovering the medium in which I felt most comfortable and most adept; writing fiction.

Your publication break came with the St. Martin’s Press/Private Eye Writers of America Award for Best First Private Eye Novel. What made you decide to enter the competition and how has winning the award benefited you as a writer?

I had received a number of thanks but no thanks form letters from Literary Agents I had queried about representing my work. In order to get past feelings of rejection, I chose to keep writing. I wanted to try my hand at writing first person, and the PI genre was a perfect vehicle. I wanted to include more humor and smart narrative and dialogue, inspired by masters like Chandler and Westlake. I wrote twenty pages of a private eye novel. A few days later, I learned about the contest and decided it was more than a coincidence. The deadline was less than a month away. I rushed to complete a PI mystery, having no real idea about how to write one. I completed the book, Catching Water in a Net, and literally did so when it captured the award. The publication of the novel gave me legitimacy and confidence which has carried me through all of the literary efforts that have followed.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of writing a PI series?

The advantages and disadvantages are related. You have the opportunity to flesh out characters from one book to the next, which is both a challenge and a responsibility. It can only be successfully achieved if the writer remains interested in the characters, and is inquisitive about who they are and who they may become. If the writer loses curiosity about the recurring inhabitants of the series, so will the reader. In Catching Water in a Net, Jake Diamond’s friend and mentor, Jimmy Pigeon, is deceased before the story begins. Jimmy is referred to in all three of the Diamond books, through Jake’s recollections. I became curious about who Pigeon was. In Chasing Charlie Chan, a prequel set in 1994, Jimmy Pigeon is alive and is the main protagonist. It was a journey of discovery for me, which I hope will interest readers as well.

In hindsight, are there any changes you would make to your approach to series writing? What advice would you give to a writer just starting a PI series?

When you are writing a series, in which one or many characters appear in subsequent books, you need to remember they will necessarily age. Jake Diamond turns forty in Catching Water in a Net, which is set in 2000. The next Diamond installment is due out in 2014. I had to decide whether I wanted Jake to be 54, or wanted to have the book set earlier than present time to keep him younger. In beginning a PI series, I would advise keeping the march of time in mind.

What made you decide to write a stand-alone thriller? How has it been different from writing your series? Do you intend to continue alternating thrillers with your series?

Jake Diamond is a San Francisco private investigator. Although he does do some travelling in the course of the first three books, Los Angeles, Denver, Chicago, I felt compelled to write a novel set in my little town. Gravesend is the Brooklyn neighborhood where I grew up, and the novel was a way to revisit my roots. As T. S. Eliot said, “We shall not cease from exploration and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.” Writing Gravesend also allowed me to create fresh characters, unlike Jake and his crew, full of possibilities; and to attempt a more ambitious work of fiction. In doing so, I have become interested in these new characters and expect I will want to continue exploring their lives in a future project.

Do you write fulltime or do you balance writing with a day job? What’s your writing routine?

I do have the obligatory day job, and write around it. I am usually more productive very early in the morning or late at night, which often results in lack of sleep.

While you were in Columbia, S.C., you participated in our critique group, the Inkplots. How can these groups be most valuable to writers and what should a writer consider when joining?

Writing is a very solitary endeavor, unlike theatre which is a collaborative effort. And feedback on your written work is delayed. It is often a year after a book is completed that it becomes available to readers; whereas in theatre the audience can be exposed to your artistic efforts four to six weeks after rehearsals begin and will give you immediate responses. Therefore, to be with a group of writers, artists who understand what being a writer is about, and who can give you timely feedback, can be very beneficial. You can find support, inspiration, constructive criticism and encouragement. In choosing a group to participate with, it is most valuable to be in the midst of other writers who possess a level of talent, accomplishment and commitment close to your own.

What have you learned from attending writers conferences and what advice would you give to aspiring writers who are attending them?

Conferences like Bouchercon, Thrillerfest, Left Coast Crime and others give you the opportunity to meet and interact with fellow writers as well as fans. Participating in panel discussions allows the opportunity to get out in public, in collaboration with fellow artists, which you cannot do sitting alone at the typewriter. It is another way to come out of your shell, and prove there is a living, breathing person behind your creations.

How can social media be most beneficial for writers?

No matter how excellent a novel may be, you need to do everything you can to help prospective readers find it among the millions of titles out there. At the same time, shameless self promotion is often frowned upon. I believe the best way to get someone interested in reading your book is to give them a clear idea about what the book is. I always guide people toward reading sample chapters or excerpts, with the hope it will inspire them to want to discover where the journey goes. Using social networking, and a well-constructed author website, can be very useful in creating an interest in taking a closer look at the work.

Are there any words of wisdom you would offer aspiring writers for planning their careers?

I don’t know that you can plan a career in writing, as some plan careers in law or medicine. Writing is not so much an aspiration as it is a passion, a creative drive. As Van Morrison said, “I can’t not write.” If you do it well, with honesty, and are lucky enough to be noticed, and can make a living doing it, you may call it a career. Or divine providence.

What is your next challenge as an author?

I have goals as an author, and they remain constant. To surprise myself. To free it from inside. To learn more about myself and my fellow humans. To inspire readers to do the same. To gain a small bit of immortality.

E.B. Davis always likes to ask our guests if they prefer the mountains or the beach. Do you have a preference?

I live in the mountains. I was raised on the ocean. I miss the ocean.

Joe, thank you for taking the time to visit with us. Best wishes for your continuing success.

To learn more about J. L. Abramo and his work, please visit:

We Writers Who Kill are often asked: WHY CRIME FICTION?
J. L. Abramo addresses the question here:


Jim Jackson said...

The whole aging thing of a series character is interesting. Sue Grafton has aged Kinsey Milhone accurately and consequently finds herself now writing historical fiction (albeit recent history.)

Robert B Parker allowed Spenser, Hawk and Susan to age much slower than real time.

Because I started writing about Seamus McCree many years before his story was first published, I’m tending to do the Parker trick since I want to maintain the characters closer to their original ages. I’ll see if readers complain, but I don’t expect much of a problem.

~ Jim

Gloria Alden said...

I enjoyed this interview, Joe. My characters aren't aging much, because I'm writing on a slower timeline. That being said, I am having my characters learn and grow with each book - I hope.

Warren Bull said...

Thanks for sharing with our readers. I agree that you cannot plan a writing career. I keeping writing in the hope that something like a career happens.

J. L. Abramo said...

James and Gloria...thanks for your comments. As I mention in the interview, Jake Diamond turns 40 in CATCHING WATER IN A NET, set in 2000. In CHASING CHARLIE CHAN (due in June) it is 1994, and although it is a Jimmy Pigeon story (where Jake is a supporting character) Diamond is 34 years old and just beginning in the PI business. Writing a series book set at an earlier time (a prequel if you will) can allow a writer to keep the character from aging too quickly.

Warren...I think of writing more as a vocation than a career. As defined in the dictionary, a vocation is 'a strong impulse or inclination to follow a particular activity' (whether it earns you a living or not). The other question we all need to answer for OURSELVES is WHAT DEFINES SUCCESS. If it is how much we earn or how well we are known we may be subject to feelings of failure. If it is achieving set goals, we can be successful even in poverty or obscurity. Vincent van Gogh is one of many cases in point.