Way back when I started in crime fiction, there were two guys I often found myself mentioned with in the same breath. The first was Ray Banks, a noir master and aficionado from Newcastle, England, and one of those guys who turned me onto Tom Waits back in the day. The other was this grad student from New Jersey named Dave White. Dave had a run with Three Rivers Press in the late 2000s, then an interesting indie standalone called WITNESS TO DEATH. He has since signed with Polis Books and brought back his creation, Jackson Donne. Because, as this interview will reveal, he’s not quite done torturing Donne yet. Not by a longshot.
It’s been a long layoff for Jackson Donne. Did you have this story in mind when you signed with Polis Books?
Yeah. This is the story I pitched Jason when he started up Polis. I needed a reason for Jackson to come back, and it couldn’t just be someone hired him to spy on a cheating wife. It had to be big and personal for Jackson. So, yeah, this is the story I had started to write when Polis came along.
What about Jeanne Baker? Her death was something that bound Donne and Bill Martin together whether they liked it or not. At what point did you realize she might not have died?
About a year before I started writing the book, I was thinking about Jackson Donne again. Other than some fits and starts with short stories that never went anywhere, I hadn’t done much with Donne. But, as I’ve told this story before, I was sitting around watching Doctor Who and in the season premiere of Matt Smith’s 2nd year as the Doctor, the Doctor gets killed (sort of). It was a truly stunning moment for me, not only because it looked like the Doctor died, but also because a show that has been ongoing for 50 years managed to surprise me.
And all of a sudden, I was thinking about Jackson Donne again and what would surprise me and the reader alike. And it wasn’t about killing someone off, but instead bringing someone back. That’s when I knew Jeanne was alive. And then the juices started flowing again. The story was marinating. The following winter I started writing the book. I’m so excited about this book and the pitch–I really think there’s stuff in here that hasn’t been in many (any) other PI novels. And it really pushes Jackson and his supporting cast into a whole new place with many more possibilities.
In every book, you utterly destroy Donne’s life. Is this guy ever going to catch a break?
Where’s the fun in him catching a break? The years that pass between EVIL and NOT EVEN PAST are his break. He’s got it figured out, he’s engaged, he’s going to college… life is good. But there’s no drama or tension there. No reason for the reader to keep turning the pages. Who wants to read about a character having a good day?
That said, he might catch a break sooner rather than later… you’d have to keep reading. I’m pretty sure one of the next few novels may feature a relaxed afternoon tea scene.
You have a passing reference to the events of Witness to Death. Are you building a Dave White Jerseyverse of sorts?
Yeah, my books all take place in the same universe. Jesus, who’s a key character in WHEN ONE MAN DIES (the first Donne novel) is in all my books so far. I’ve always liked that about Elmore Leonard, Michael Connelly and Stephen King to name a few. You can read any of my books and have a great experience, but if you read all of them, the story is bigger, rich and tied together. I grew up on Marvel Comics… how could I not do crossovers?
Did you consider going independent with this novel?
WITNESS TO DEATH was an independent success for me. So, when I originally sat down to write what would become NOT EVEN PAST, I knew going indie was an option. I also knew that going indie was a ton of work, and since I’d just taken a new job and was back in grad school for a year, I really wasn’t in a hurry to go that route and do EVERYTHING myself. If I was going indie, I’m not sure NOT EVEN PAST would be available yet, but having a publisher really eased some of my burden in terms of editing and cover copy and opened up some doors that were closed to me, like Audible.com.
So, while I’m not against doing indie (again WITNESS was a huge success for me), having Polis in my corner has made things a bit easier.
What attracted you to Polis Books?
Jason Pinter, Jason Pinter, Jason Pinter. He’s so smart and when he explained to me his Polis business plan, I was totally on board. The man knows what he is doing, and has a long term plan for success. Every time I asked him a question, the answer he gave made me happy. So glad to see him and the company doing well and creating a ton of buzz.