Q&A With Jim Fusilli

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Q&A With Jim Fusilli 

Today’s Q&A is with mystery author Jim Fusilli. Jim has written the novels The Price You Pay, Narrows Gift Series, Terry Orr Mysteries, The Samaritan, as well as many short stories for anthologies. Mystery Scene Magazine praised Jim’s work. The stories Jim had put in the anthologies were edited by Lee Child, Dennis Lehane, Laura Lippman, and other masters of the mystery genre. Jim has written two nonfiction novels, Pet Sounds, his tribute to Brian Wilson & The Beach Boys album was translated into the Japanese edition by famous author Haruki Murakami. Jim has also written numerous articles for The Wall Street Journal. 

Q: Jim, would you like to talk about your books and what makes them all unique from each other?

A:  I’d like to think my novels show steady progress as a writer.  When my debut novel “Closing Time” was published, I was relying on my level of craft as a journalist.  I had very little technique as a novelist.  I could hardly write freely.  It wasn’t until “Narrows Gate,” my fifth novel that was published 10 years after “Closing Time,” that I began to feel like I was developing my own distinctive approach and writing with confidence.  Whether my 10 novels are distinct from each other:  I do have overarching themes about family, responsibility and purpose I can’t seem to escape.  But in “The Price You Pay,” which was published in January, I feel I was able to tap into those themes and yet be more of myself than before.  

Q: What made you want to write in the mystery genre?

A:  When I was a boy, I saw quite a few 1940s mystery movies on TV and someone told me they were based on novels.  Even though I was probably too young to be doing so at the time, I started reading Chandler, Hammett, Cain – that first generation of American hardboiled crime novelists.  I read them before I read Hemingway.  Also, as I moved through high school and into college, I was reading many American writers who weren’t crime writers – Sinclair Lewis and Willa Cather come to mind and, a little later, Ward Just and Kent Haruf.  Around that time, I was introduced to the novels of Robert B. Parker.  I thought Spenser was a compelling character – more well-rounded than the classic private investigators and with a healthy, relatable personal life.  I decided to try to write a family drama set in New York with a private investigator as the protagonist.     

Q: Can you reveal any details about the next novel you are writing right now? Or is it too early to reveal any details?

A:  My next novel is set in the present and also in the world of music in Greenwich Village and Nashville in the 1970s.  It’s an unconventional mystery – the man looking into the crime, if there was one, is a 65-year-old rock critic who knows nothing about how to conduct any kind of investigation.  In all the years I wrote about rock and pop music for the Journal, I had many experiences that I couldn’t use in my column.  I’m using quite a few of them in the book.

Q: What is your advice for anyone wanting to write mystery novels and short stories for anthologies?

A:  I don’t know if my advice is for everyone.  I think what’s most important is to establish a distinctive voice and a unique perspective:  Be yourself as soon as you can.  Read good writing only.  When you do, don’t limit yourself to a particular genre or market.  Become involved in a community of writers you admire.  I believe it’s never too late to get started in publishing, but it can be too soon.  That is, don’t be impatient.  Make sure your work is as good as it can be before you aim for publication.  Don’t make publication your goal.  Make your goal of constant improvement in order to write a great book or short story only you can write.

Q: You wrote a ton of articles for The Wall Street Journal. What topics are the right fit for someone wanting to submit work for The Wall Street Journal?  

A:  Unless things have changed since I left in 2018, I don’t think the Journal uses many free-lancers.  I began writing for the Journal in 1983 and wasn’t appointed its Rock & Pop Critic until 2009, but the team of arts critics was more or less the same people during all the years I was associated with the paper.  The Journal is the best written, best edited newspaper in America.  If you have a level of expertise that you think the Journal may lack, or if you want to contribute an Op-Ed, be sure it is written to the paper’s high standards.

Q: Does Hollywood have the rights to your work? Whether they do or not, who would be your dream cast to play your characters? The entertainment industry needs new material instead of constantly remaking everything. 

A:   I know some authors do, but I don’t write with adaptation in mind.  The book stands on its own.  I try to leave things somewhat vague in my descriptions of my characters so that the readers can imagine what they look like.  I think we’re seeing some exceptional movies and TV series made these days, coming from Hollywood and from all around the world.  I’d love to be involved, but my skill set may not be the best match. 

Q: What was it like having your short stories in the anthologies you wrote for being edited by Lee Child, Dennis Lehane, Laura Lippman, and other masters of the mystery genre? What was it like having Pet Sounds being translated to Japanese by the great Haruki Murakami? 

A:  Though I’m about the same age as Lee, Dennis, Laura, George Pelecanos and others, they were so far ahead of me as successful novelists that it was a delight just to be asked.  I recall Dennis, in particular, was a terrific editor – and generous:  We did some appearances together in and around Boston.  Laura was a journalist, so I was interested in learning from her.  In many ways, writing for anthologies follows similar rules as writing for a certain section of a newspaper or magazine:  be on topic; submit on time; and contribute a story that elevates the environment.  The “Pet Sounds” book had a life of its own from the beginning, largely because people love the album and love Brian, and I came up with an interesting way to tell a story.  When I heard that Haruki Murakami translated it, I was thrilled.  It would’ve been just enough to know he read it.