Crime fiction author interview–Don Simkovich

Today, read part of the backstory to the crime story Book 3 Tom Stone Day of the Dead.

Lon Casler Bixby asks questions of his co-author Don Simkovich about his views on the Tom Stone stories. (Click here to read Lon’s interview).

More author interview links are at the end of this post.

Don Echo Mountain
Don imagining crime story possibilities at Echo Mountain above Pasadena.

When did you decide to become a writer and how did you know that’s what you wanted to do?

Being a crime fiction author never occurred to me. Writing about action did and in grade school, watching news reports on the Vietnam War caught my attention and I’d tune in every night before watching the game show Truth or Consequences. I wanted to be involved in significant events and that planted the desire to be a journalist and report on the events happening around me. I scribbled a few pages of notes about the Watergate trial and called it my own newspaper. But that did it. I wanted to write, interview people and make sense of the world.

My parents wrote short pieces, exploring what they could. My father, a metallurgical engineer, wrote a very good essay on surviving on a bridge (a trestle) as a freight train passed and nearly struck him and his brother.

My mother wrote various short pieces and one was published in a Sunday supplement of the Pittsburgh Press. She also wrote a very good biographical novel on the woman who founded the Daughters of the American Revolution that took her 8 years to research and write. It was her only novel.

Writing may seem to have come naturally to me but it’s been a lifetime of improving. As Hemingway says, The best writing comes from rewriting.

 

What prompted you to write the Tom Stone series – which is based on an original screenplay – Stone Cold?

I had written a few romance stories through a small press and decided I’d take on the challenge of writing a detective story. For the readers, you and I had produced a stage version of a 30-minute comedy script, Apartment Zero. Maybe we should write short story versions of it. And adapting Stone Cold was a chance to work together.

I felt it would let me develop as a writer in a new area.

I want readers to see there is hope—that good can come from the challenges we face and the pain we endure.

What intrigued you about the screenplay?

Don holding Tom Stone nitty Gritty XMAS

The Tom Stone — Anthony Angelino conflict took 3 years to finish.

It was a full-length screenplay that read fast. I liked how the characters took shape and I began seeing their traits and mannerisms. I saw the potential for exploring them in depth, especially the relationship and inherent conflict between Tom Stone and Alisha Davidson.

Were you worried about taking another writer’s vision (or story – whichever sounds better) and turning it into a novel with your own ideas and vision?

My first area of concern was that the script and character seemed “cold” to me or impersonal. I wanted to warm them up. So the challenge was staying true to the original intent of the screenplay and making it so I was personally involved.

I got 13 chapters in to the first draft and I stopped. It was September 2015 and I told Lon—that’s you—that we need a Christmas story, a quick one. You came up with a number of ideas that turned it from my thoughts of a 7,000 word story into a novella.

My need for “warmth” and personal connection shaped Chapter One of Nitty Gritty Christmas. Police give toys to kids at Christmas and I’m a dad who’s adopted his kids from the foster care system. An idea struck.

Jake pulls Tom along to hand out gifts to boys in a group home and Tom sees one boy who’s unruly and doesn’t fit in. That boy, Andrew, gets Tom’s attention. Now I’m personally invested in the story.

Fortunately, Lon, you went along with it.

What have you learned in writing the Tom Stone series?

Handling multiple points of view and sub-stories has been rewarding. We did this in Book 2, Tom Stone Sweltering Summer Nights, and more in Book 3 Tom Stone Day of the Dead. The Tom Stone stories was my first complete trilogy I’ve written—and I—and you—see at least one or two more books in this particular story line.

The other technique I’m improving is the cause and effect that leaves the reader hopefully wanting more. It’s how you lead up to a point in a chapter and end it with the answer to be revealed later.

What is your favorite genre of book to read? To write?

I can read multiple genres if they have strong characters that are “warm” to me—sorry to sound so artistic. I like Lee Child’s Jack Reacher character and I like romance, too. I want to find and experience the tension. Anita Shreve’s The Pilot’s Wife is a very simple story but with tension going throughout. This was what kept me turning the pages in John Grisham’s The Firm more than in his later novels. He did an incredible job creating tension with the details of a law office in Memphis.

Among my favorite stories remains James Herriot’s books from the late ‘60s and early 70s—a veterinarian from Yorkshire who wrote terrific memoirs and his experiences delivering cattle and horses and treating dogs and cats. He caught the significance of the moment and how each event impacted the people.

Real life, in other words. Oh, and I’m so sorry. I’ve just never gotten into Sci-Fi. Although, in junior high I read a story about a colony on Mars and really liked it. I think it was because the boy in the story got to skate for miles on the canals.

What are 1 or 2 things you’d like the readers to know about the Tom Stone stories?

They are real life, like you mentioned. I want them to sense the subtle humor in each one and get a feel for the characters. I hope that at the end of Book 3 Day of the Dead, the readers feel torn about Anthony Angelino and who he is as a person and what could have been for him.

I want readers to see there is hope—that good can come from the challenges we face and the pain we endure.

Want more author interviews?

Please read S.N. Bronstein with crime fiction set in Miami and wellness writer Colleen M. Story.

 

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