Tuesday, April 01, 2008

And Now for Something Completely Different...


By Cornelia Read

I'd like to introduce you all to Gregg Olsen. He's published six true-crime books, and has just released A Cold Dark Place, his second novel.

Olsen was inspired to write A Cold Dark Place while reading a magazine article about Hurricane Katrina. A body found in the aftermath of the storm might actually have been murdered, he explains, "not killed by the hurricane. The idea was somebody had used the hurricane to cover up a crime."

Alex Kava, author of Whitewash, called it "A stunning thriller - a brutally dark story with a compelling, intricate plot. The rare bonus is a heroine so genuine and engaging you'll immediately connect and root for her against a dark, evil character who's bound to scare the hell out of you."

Lee Child cut to the chase with the summary, "As good as it gets."

Here's my question for Gregg, longwinded as usual:

When people ask me why I'm drawn to mystery novels as both a writer and reader, I often answer with a quotation from D.H. Lawrence that I copied into a notebook during college lo these many years ago:

"The essential function of art is moral. Not aesthetic, not pastime and recreation. But moral. A passionate, implicit morality. Not a didactic. A morality which changes the blood, rather than the mind."

--D.H. Lawrence, Studies in Classic American Literature

I think that the torch has been passed, in this respect, from literary fiction to genre fiction, and that crime-fiction novels in particular are now providing the sort of incisive and meaningful social commentary we once only expected to find in literary novels.

Do you feel this is true for your work, and do you have any ideas about what prompted this shift in the zeitgeist?

And here's Gregg's answer:

Cornelia, this is very much a thought-provoking question as you've surely meant it to be. I certainly can see what Lawrence is saying here but not in the form of my work in the world of fiction. It better fits what I've done with my nonfiction career.

When writing about real people and the complexities of their real and often messy lives, I came to see the world as it was, not as I imagined it to be. The people in my nonfiction crime books were frequently those of modest means, trailer park inhabitants, the oft-maligned underbelly of society (that's why they select murder as an option, when those who have more to lose are better able to resist the urge).

Genre fiction (most of those in the top ten NYT don't really take me where DHL -- the author, not the parcel service--would have me. How many more stories of savvy CSIs do we really need? And, for the most part, what do we learn of them that we could get from an hour-long TV episode? But within the world of a "sub-par" genre like true crime, I feel I've actually created something of value. It might only be the people of a trailer park caught up in a terrible crime, but, they are living, breathing people.

Except for the victim, of course.

So, Cornelia, having said that, let me add that I am often amazed at the depth of today's very best crime fiction. I sometimes finish a book with the idea that what I read was about something greater than a murder. Isn't that odd? Something greater than a murder! But anyone
who has dug into the psychology of criminal behavior knows that the road to murder starts at birth. The best books reveal that truth, in carefully chosen words, by a person smarter than me tapping on a keyboard.

To keep going with this interview round robin, you'll want to skip over to Michelle Gray's "In Cold Blog"

Here's Michelle's question for Gregg, as a teaser, with a little taste of his answer...

What's the story behind your infamous tattoo? And do you have any others?

Gregg responds:

I'd been thinking about getting a tattoo for awhile when I went to Slave to the Needle in Seattle a few years back. I toyed with having something done to commemorate the men who'd died in the Sunshine Mine fire (the subject of my book The Deep Dark), but nothing seemed appropriate. I didn't have the biceps for a pick-and-shovel motif, to say the least. I decided on a simple band with the names of my wife and daughters woven into it.

People say tattoos and names are a bad idea, but hey, I know that I'll never have any more kids and I know that I'd never marry again if Claudia dumped me. There are spaces for grandchildren, too. I might add them in. That is, if I'm so lucky.


  1. It sounds like Gregg brings a wealth of real life experience into his fictional writing career. I find this intriguing.
    It will certainly make people wonder, while reading him, what experience he might be drawing from in each character.

  2. Blog etiquette tip:

    When pointing your readers to the next blog in this progressive interview, it's fine to write about the next question. However, you should not include the complete answer- or any part of it- on your own blog.

    Even though you called it a "a little taste of his answer" it was his complete response. Boo! on you.