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Tom Piccirilli: Award-winning Master of Suspense Pens an Instant Classic

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Tom Piccirilli is one of the hardest working writers out there, selling his first book while in college and never looking back. Over the last twenty years, he's created keen psychological portraits of people in extreme situations, mysteries as noir as they come, and suspense-thrillers that'll keep you, as they say, on the edge of your seat.

Some of the most recent of his books include The Midnight Road, The Fever Kill, and, in another week, the amazing The Cold Spot, of which suspense superstar Ken Bruen says, ""[the book] is truly dazzling. Piccirilli has taken the mystery to a whole other level."  Publishers Weekly calls The Cold Spot, "a violent and dark tale in an appealingly noirish narrative style, highly economical yet bracingly intimate." As ever, Piccirilli approaches his work with honesty, humanity, and a keen sense of the traditions he's working in and with--highly recommended for anyone who loves mystery and suspense. This may just be the book that catapults him to the top of the bestseller lists. I read a lot of suspense/mystery novels and The Cold Spot has an intensity, economy, and tough lyricism that just plain blew me away. As far as I'm concerned, it's a stone-cold instant classic of hardboiled/noir fiction. (Click here for my full review.)

I caught up with Piccirilli recently and interviewed him about his perspective on fiction generally and his own work...

Amazon.com: From your perspective, how has horror and suspense fiction changed over the last 20 years?
Tom Piccirilli: I don’t know if there’s been much of a change in form or content. New subjects come to popularity of course. At the moment it seems like readers can’t get enough of the Knights Templar or Da Vinci or historical mysteries, whereas fifteen years ago it was courtroom dramas. The topic of the hour is always changing. In the field, there’s still a lot of fine and intriguing material being produced, as well as plenty of garbage. That’s just the way of all things, and always will be. So far as publishing is concerned, I think we all know that “Horror” is a despised term. I’m not even sure that Leisure Books, who was one of the few publishers with a dedicated horror line the last ten years and who actually put the word “Horror” on the spines of their books, does that anymore. The word itself is anathema although the subject matter of ghosts, monsters, serial killers, etc. is still popular. Maybe even more popular now than ever thanks to “paranormal romances” which take vampires and werewolves and inject a little erotica and Hepburn and Tracy dialogue in order to mine a whole new extremely popular niche. As for suspense, I think that nowadays writers, readers and publishers appreciate the good old crime stuff a lot more than they once did. There’s been a resurgence in reprints of pulp, noir and hardboiled material from the 1930s, 40s, and 50s, and that seems to have had an influence in producing neo-noir stylized writing. 

Amazon.com: Do you have a favorite book of your own?
Piccirilli: I try to do something a little different every time out of the gate, so most of my books are very dissimilar. When I go back I can appreciate their different merits or be disappointed with them for assorted separate reasons. On the overall, I suppose I’m happiest with A Choir of Ill Children and The Dead Letters. I think both of them exhibit the bulk of my strengths and maybe the least of my weaknesses.

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Amazon.com: What literary influence of yours might surprise your readers?
Piccirilli: I don’t know if there is anything.  For better or worse, my loves are pretty apparent in my own work. Anyone who reads my stuff can probably see my varied influences, everything from Jim Thompson to Vonnegut to Bukowski.  I’m the bastard son of a thousand parents, just like most writers are.

Amazon.com: When you've been writing for a long time, what is it that keeps you going? What do you most enjoy about writing fiction, and is it the same as when you started?
Piccirilli: The older I get the clearer the themes and topics that make up my writing become.  I’ve discovered the sound of my voice. I find the deeper substance to my own work.  When I was young, I think I really burned with wanting to say something, and now as I look back at the arc of my life thus far, I think I actually have something to say. It’s not merely about telling stories, but the kinds of stories that teach the writer something about himself.  What his priorities are, what his values are, what his beliefs might be. The more I write, the more I’m able o put the world into some kind of a perspective.   

Amazon.com: Can you point to one way in which your writing has changed over time?
Piccirilli: Through no fault of my own, and despite my very best efforts, I’ve matured.  As I hurl shrieking into middle age, I feel a greater affinity for mainstream and crime fiction rather than dark fantasy or outright horror. I seem to be more concerned with writing more realistic, authentic material, perhaps peppered here and there with the supernatural, perhaps not. When I was a kid, I was more interested in creating my own worlds. Now, I feel much more comfortable exploring the bizarre breadths of this one.   

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