Behind the Book: the guy behind that Kepler guy, Jim Winter

I have a special treat for WANA/Writer Wednesday! Jim Winter, author of the Nick Kepler crime fiction series, has stopped by to answer a few questions, and give us some insight into the books, and what makes him (and P.I. Nick Kepler) tick.

JJim WinterMP: How long have you been writing? How many books did you write before publishing?

JW: I’ve been writing for myself since I was a kid. I did a novel-length story back in 1990 just to see if I could handle the form, but I didn’t attempt a “serious” novel until about 2001.

JMP: Sounds familiar, at least the beginning! I did the same thing, but didn’t do much with shorts after school. Have you been published by a big publisher? Small press/epub? Independently? Please share your publishing experience.

JW: Northcoast Shakedown was originally published by a small press in the Baltimore area. Long on good intentions, short on resources, they folded just as Second Hand Goods was going to be published. The sad thing is if I’d waited just another week, I could have been with an agent shopping those books to the Big Six.

JMP: Then again, with some of the horror stories I’ve read about agents, maybe you dodged a bullet! What made you decide to take this publishing path?

Compleat KeplerJW: I didn’t want to bury the Kepler books. I knew a publisher would not really want something someone else had already published unless I had a track record. So I decided to release them myself when ebooks made that feasible.

JMP: Totally makes sense, and I’m glad you did! What do you do for a day job? Has this informed or inspired your writing in any way?

JW: I do web programming for a living. Originally, I was an IT drone at an insurance company. Some of that job provided background for Nick Kepler, namely how he got his office, the type of work he does, etc.

JMP: Hehe, great how that works, isn’t it? How does you day job and other responsibilities, like family or school, impede your writing progress?

JW: The biggest impediment to writing for me is my education. I’m currently working on a dual major (because I was too lazy to do it in my late teens and early twenties), and the work involved sometimes takes time away from writing time.

JMP: I hear that! But as noted above, those day jobs can inspire us too (says the author who works at Hangar 18 :) ). So tell us about your upcoming release, Jim.

JW: Bad Religion is the third Kepler novel. Nick is hired to look into possible skimming by a young, popular minister only to discover it’s a ruse to hide someone else’s wrong-doing. We also find out what happens to Nick and Elaine after the events of Second Hand Goods.

JMP: I’m so glad you’re releasing this one! I remember reading it during a slow time at work, and my coworkers kept giving me weird looks because I kept laughing! Bad Religion is definitely the best Kepler yet. In the meantime, what’s on your nightstand or up next in your e-reader queue?

JW: Well, I’m getting ready to read John Rickards’ Winter’s End, which I’ve had for a long time, but never got around to it. I also have this novel about a mysterious hangar at Wright-Patt AFB that a very familiar author has just released.

JMP: :D I hope you like it – and thanks for reading! What’s the most recent nonfiction book you’ve read? What did you get out of it?

JW: I just finished Truman by David McCulloch. I’m a big history buff, and this was a fascinating look at the beginning of the Cold War and the Red Scare.

JMP: I may not comment on them often, but I’ve really enjoyed your posts about these books. For those who don’t (yet!) follow Jim’s blog, he’s been reading a biography of every U.S. president, in order, for about the past year and a half, then posts on his blog what he’s learned as well as what he thought of the particular book he read. In addition, he reviews fiction every now and then, and blogs about all kinds of other things in addition to his own books and short stories.

Jim, thanks for being with us! I’m looking forward to seeing the finalized Bad Religion, as well as digging into his newest release, The Compleat Kepler!



ROW80Logo175
Quick ROW80 upate:
I’ve spent a little time brainstorming my next book, but nothing concrete. I’m re-reading Holly Lisle’s Create a Plot Clinic to see if that shakes some more ideas loose. I’ve done only one workout so far, but did get around to visiting some other ROW80 blogs. And finally, I’m changing one of this week’s goals: instead of doing a chapter in the estate planning book, I need to collect all of our tax stuff for the accountant.

Does anyone have any questions or comments for Jim? Questions about his books, writing in general, Cincinnati or Cleveland, or whatever! Jim and I would love to hear from you!

Gritty in the City with Jim Winter

My friend Jim Winter is back, with a fantastic new release in his Nick Kepler crime fiction series. He agreed to do an interview here, where we discuss the book. In Second Hand Goods, Cleveland PI Nick Kepler returns, but he’s trying to leave. A routine skip trace entangles Kepler in a stolen car ring and attracts the attention of a beautiful Russian woman, who may or may not be the mistress of one or more Russian crime lords. And all Nick wants to do is go on vacation.

Now, heeeeere’s Jim!

Jennette: Jim, it’s great to have you back on Making the Mundane Magical! Tell us a little about your new release, Second Hand Goods.

Jim: Second Hand Goods takes place the summer following the events of Northcoast Shakedown. It’s the July 4 weekend, and Nick is looking to blow town for a long-overdue vacation. However, at an engagement party for a friend, he hooks up with a beautiful Russian woman who seduces him into looking for a stolen limo. When the car turns up at an informant’s chop shop, he realizes he’s in the middle of a war between two Russian mobsters.

Jennette: Ah yes, Nick’s always a sucker for a hot chick! LOL – it’s gotten my main characters in a bit of trouble on more than one occasion, too. One of the challenges of writing a series based on a single character is deciding how or if to age the character, and how he/she changes, learns and grows. Can you share some of what Nick Kepler learned in Northcoast Shakedown that influences what he does in SHG without giving away spoilers? Or if you prefer, does Nick age? And if so, how much between books? Why did you choose this?

Jim: In Northcoast, Nick was basically working a case. He gets a little battered, but he comes out on top. In Second Hand, he’s about a year older, and the consequences to what happens to him can only force some lasting changes. He’s a bit tired of doing business with the seedier side of the city, and in the beginning, actually cuts loose Lenny Slansky (“A Walk in the Rain”) when Lenny stupidly rents him a stolen van for a fugitive grab.

Jennette: LOL I remember Lenny! One of my writing friends blogged about “stale” books not long ago – books with outdated technology or cultural references that in her opinion, pull her out of a story. You wrote both NCS and SHG in the early-to-mid 2000s, and you note this fact in your Author’s Note as an explanation for these elements. Can you tell us why you chose this route, as opposed to updating the books?

Jim: I left Northcoast as is since it was already released in paperback in 2005. Second Hand was six weeks from release when the publisher went out of business. Since they were essentially done, I decided to leave them as-is. As for future efforts, I haven’t decided yet. Nick will age, but whether his birth year remains 1968 or if it slides forward to accommodate when the books and stories are written hasn’t been decided yet.

I think if I keep him on the calendar, I’m going to have to be a bit more subtle about depicting the time. Technology inevitably goes stale. In five years, people might snicker at the idea of laptops, and few Mac users actually have a tower anymore. They’re mostly iMacs and laptops. Usually, the Windows world follows suit, and we’ll probably all be working off of pads before long.

Jennette: I’m so with you. That was a challenge with my books as well. On another note, both Nick Kepler books are set in Cleveland. Aside from the fact that you lived there for much of your life and are familiar with the area, what made Cleveland your choice for a crime fiction series, as opposed to your current hometown, Cincinnati? Are there any bits of setting in SHG that you love, that would give readers a good feel for the place, and would like to share?

Jim: Cleveland, I think, has more in common with larger cities like Chicago and Philadelphia than the river towns like Cincinnati. The language is coarser, the people more mixed, and there’s a certain energy you get in Chicago and the Northeast that you don’t see further south. I don’t think Nick would thrive very well in a southern city, and Cincinnati, being a somewhat southern-leaning, white collar town, probably wouldn’t appeal to him.

There is, of course, the appeal of having a large inland sea someone mistakenly dubbed a lake nearby. And Cleveland has that gritty post-industrial vibe to it.

Jennette: Having read the books, that totally makes sense–in fact, now that I think about it, it’s hard to picture Kepler anywhere else, and I’ve only been to Cleveland twice, a long time ago. So what’s next for Nick Kepler – are you planning to release the fantastic, LOL third book in the series that I had the privilege to read several years ago?

Jim: Bad Religion will get another pass before I release it. It was in mid-revision when my publisher shut down, so I’m probably going to have to work a little harder on this one. This one, like the first two, will be “on the calendar” so to speak, taking place in 2004. After that, I’ll decide if Nick is going to live on a floating timeline or just move on to 2005.

Jennette: Cool! I think of the three, Bad Religion was my favorite. I made the mistake of reading it at work when there was nothing to do, and was getting weird looks from my coworkers because I kept laughing! So what’s next for Jim – or for his alter-ego?

Jim: Next up is a short story collection. I’m going to put all the Kepler shorts together in chronological order, including a new short where a call girl Nick once got off of heroin decides whom she wants for her final client before retiring. Bad Religion will follow after that.

The alter-ego is working on a science fiction novel and a handful of short stories. Beyond that, who knows?

Jennette: It sounds like you’ll be busy for a while! I know I’m looking forward to re-reading Second Hand Goods–and to your short story collections–both of them!

What about you, readers? Do you like series characters who age, or do you think it takes away from the story? What about outdated technology–does it bother you, or are you okay with it as long as you know what to expect?

Reading Outside Our Usual Genres: Northcoast Shakedown by Jim Winter

I first read Northcoast Shakedown by my friend Jim Winter, back in 2005, when it was first released in print by a small press. It’s a fast-paced, engaging story with a quirky main character who’s so real, it’s hard to believe he’s fictional. Upon the re-read, my original opinion stands: P.I. Nick Kepler’s a piece of work (in a good way!) and never fails to entertain.

The majority of my reading consists of romance, suspense, fantasy and science fiction; preferably a combination of two or more of these. However, it’s good to take a departure from the usual every now and then and try something different. For me, the occasional “different” is usually a cozy mystery or straight fantasy, or perhaps something more mainstream. Occasionally, I pick up something more straight-suspense, usually upon the recommendation of a friend, or in this case, something written by a friend.

Northcoast Shakedown is crime fiction, a P.I. story with a bit of noir that doesn’t cross the line into too dark and dreary. Main character Nick Kepler is a P.I. with the perfect, cushy gig of tracking down workers’ comp fraud and the occasional cheating spouse. When the book opens, he’s investigating just that, plus a questionnable life insurance claim that’s more a matter of saving an underwriter’s job than saving the company money. But the more he digs in, the more questionable the life insurance claim appears, and not for the reasons the company thinks. Before Nick knows it, he’s in over his head in a world of swingers’ clubs, political cover-ups, and murder, and finds himself next on a killer’s hit list.

What made this book really enjoyable was Keper himself. He’s a very relatable character, a regular guy who just wants to get his job done and kick back with a beer and watch baseball afterward. His quirky dislike of SUVs and ability to be distracted by an attractive female are among the little details that make him real and fun. He has certain principles that he refuses to compromise, and others that aren’t so rigid, and reading him wrestling with these choices is what really made me want to root for him, especially when he deals with the aftermath of a choice between shitty and shittier. While totally a man’s-man, his emotions are 100% real and believable, and Winter didn’t pull any punches getting them on the page.

I had a few nits with the book, although they may be more genre conventions than anything else. One thing I’ve noticed is that mystery writers sometimes spend a lot of words getting a character from one place to another, nothing street names, traffic patterns, and scenery along the way. For the most part, that stuff works in Northcoast Shakedown, as Nick’s often being tailed (or fears he is). I’ve read other books where the driving becomes a travelogue (and a place to skim).

Another genre thing is the need for suspects and red herrings in a mystery often results in a large cast of characters. Northcoast Shakedown is no exception. However, there are so many minor/extra characters in this book, I found it hard to keep track of them. In this case, I’m not talking about the long list of persons of interest – the book does very well there. But Kepler is a former cop, and has associates in several different departments in addition to other government types and colleages/customers at the insurance company – enough that they eventually ran together in my mind.

Finally, I’ve talked about dated books before here. In his author’s note, Winter mentions that the book was written in 2002. There’s definitely the occasional reference to outdated technology (Windows 2000? Firewire?). Kepler also doesn’t appear to have a smartphone, GPS, or even an MP3 player – and while I can see Kepler as a guy who refuses to use a smartphone, I can’t imagine him not owning an mp3 player these days (or at least using his computer as a stereo while he works). Knowing that the book was written ten years ago, I could deal, but stuff like this did momentarily take me out of the story. Still, these things are minor, and Northcoast Shakedown was as enjoyable a read now as it was when initially published. So if you’re looking for an entertaining, fast-paced suspense, check out Northcoast Shakedown at Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

Do you stick to mostly one genre when you read fiction? If so, do you occasionally step outside? Do you notice things that you think are probably genre conventions, but clash with what you’re used to?

Guest Blog: Jim Winter

First of all, thanks to Jim for joining us here, and helping to make the mundane magical! I’ve known Jim for a loooooong time – we met my freshman year in college, <cough> years ago, through a mutual friend. I served as an early sounding board for some of Jim’s early Star Trek fanfic (you knew I’d mention that, didn’t you?:)) and later, as a beta reader for his first efforts at publishing crime fiction. Jim returned the favor and gave me some good advice for Time’s Enemy, and assured me that, yes, Tony indeed thought and acted like a guy.

So let’s dig a little deeper, and take a look at what makes Jim – and his characters – tick:

Jim, you’ve been published before by a small press. Your novel, Northcoast Shakedown, was a crime fic piece that I really enjoyed, even though that’s not a genre I read a lot. Please share your publishing experience with us:

Well, when I signed, the publisher was full of energy, and everyone on the roster became everyone else’s cheerleader. There were some hiccups getting Northcoast out, but it was a fun ride. And at the time, I had some money to spend on travel, so I used that to beef up my networking and get to know authors and booksellers. That first year was fun.

The second year was not so fun, but when any business goes under, there’s no clean way to sever ties. It’s too bad, because I really thought they could do something or be a decent launchpad for a lot of the writers. I think that’s true of a lot of small presses when they overreach. I remember UglyTown did not go quietly, despite both the publishers’ and authors’ best efforts, and Point Blank just sort of faded away. But for a short time in the middle of the last decade, it was a wild ride.

There are two more books featuring Nick Kepler, the protagonist of NCS, both of which I also beta-read and really enjoyed. I remember reading Bad Religion at work during a slow period, and having to restrain myself from laughing out loud. IMO, these books deserve to see publication, and NCS deserves another chance. Now that you’ve gone indie, do you have any plans to (re)release them?

Northcoast will definitely be out later this year. Noir master Ken Bruen wrote me a very nice intro, and I found out it was sitting on a shelf he uses for quotes when he writes. So I was very touched by Ken’s intro. He’s been one of my mentors for years, and I have one project under wraps that will bear his name on the dedication page. I’m not saying which one.

The second book, aptly titled Second Hand Goods, is going to get a rewrite and a fresh edit. I’ve evolved as a writer, and since its collected cyberdust for the last five years, I can look at it a bit more objectively.

Bad Religion is just screaming for some fresh material based on my experiences since the early drafts. I’ll likely downplay Nick and Elaine somewhat to focus on some of the other characters.

Road Rules coverWhich brings me to your new release, Road Rules. This book has a history of its own, including snagging an agent’s interest. Can you share a bit of that with us?

The seeds of Road Rules have been around for some time. Tim Mason was the earliest. A mutual acquaintance of yours and mine introduced me to this weird coworker. I’d toyed with making him a lawyer in a standalone (picturing Seth Green in the part) and a thorn in Kepler’s side, a role eventually taken by the Eric Teasdale character.

A couple years later, my publisher and I kicked around the road trip idea. I wrote a short sketch about two guys in a stolen Cadillac trying to get to Miami. Tim Mason sort of attached himself to the story.

After I got orphaned, a few friends prodded me into doing NaNoWriMo in 2006. So I fleshed out the story, hit on the idea of the decadent, yet spiritual drug lord, Julian Franco as the cause of all this chaos, and boom! The story demanded to be written.

Road trip stories are always fun! I love your tagline, “The road to hell begins with a stolen car.” But what really pulled me in were the characters. Were there any particular events, places, things you saw/heard/read that inspired the overall premise of the book, its events, or any of the characters?

The route they took was once the “long way home” from Hilton Head, SC, over a few years last decade. And having visited Savannah a few times in the process left me longing to write something set in that city. I still wanted to write about Cleveland, where I-77 begins, so the setting fell together easily.

I saw a few shows on History about holy relics and one of those true crime things about the theft of one such relic. Put those together in a city with a large Slavic population and you get St. Jakob.

Mike is based on years of working in the insurance industry. Maybe too many years. And Cinnamon was part of my desire not to have a bunch of macho white guys hosing the freeway down with testosterone. Plus, instead of the angsty tarnished knight, she’s someone just trying to prove herself.

Back in May, you released your first indie title, a short story called “A Walk in the Rain” (also a good read). What made you decide to go indie?

Well, crime doesn’t really pay well. Of course, I’ve got a short story in West Coast Crime Wave coming out this month from Bstsllr.com, which I did get paid for, but the paying markets are few and far between. I decided to get paid for my short work. I also found out that 1.) It’s the cover, stupid (though content still rules), 2.) people don’t really buy a lot of short fiction on Amazon unless it’s a collection, and 3.) it might help if you actually market an ebook.

(Jennette: A Walk in the Rain is available at Amazon for $0.99.)

Now that you’ve tasted the control and flexibility that comes with indie publishing, are you still pursuing a traditional publishing contract, or perhaps another agent?

I think eventually, I’d like to go traditional, but only under certain circumstances. I’m in a position now where I don’t have to make this a career. So the terms have to be right, and I have to be able to keep control of material I’ve already published. But if the right deal can be worked out, sure, I’ll sign.

Are you planning to offer Road Rules in print?

If enough copies sell, I’ll put it on CreateSpace. If a publisher makes a sweet enough offer, I’ll seriously consider it.

Now that Road Rules is out, what’s next for Jim Winter?

Northcoast, as I said, will be coming out. And the other two Keplers will see revisions and fresh edits. Then there’s my “magnum opus,” which I’ve been reworking since the original draft checked in at 105,000 words.

 

Thanks again for being here, Jim! And to everyone else, Road Rules is a fantastic, fun read that you owe it to yourself to check out, even if you don’t normally read crime fiction. It’s a fast-paced caper that will keep you reading – and laughing – all the way from Ohio to Georgia, along with Mike, Stan, and Cinnamon. Road Rules is available in your choice of e-formats for a knockout price of $ .99 at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Smashwords.

Jim keeps a fun, entertaining blog at http://eviljwinter.wordpress.com where he writes about books, publishing, sports, Cincinnati, technology, and whatever else strikes his fancy.

Anyone have questions for Jim? Feel free to ask, or just comment to say Hi!