Friday, August 7, 2009

TOWER interview #3: Allan Guthrie

The Tower Interviews by Craig McDonald

In September 2009, Busted Flush Press will publish Tower (978-1-935415-07-7; trade paperback original; $15), a collaboration between award-wining crime novelists Ken Bruen (London Boulevard; Once Were Cops; The Guards) and Reed Farrel Coleman (Walking the Perfect Square; The James Deans; Soul Patch). Tower was edited by Edgar Award-nominated crime writer, editor and literary agent, Allan Guthrie (Kiss Her Goodbye; Two-Way Split; Slammer). In a series of interviews on the BFP blog, the trio discusses the process of writing and editing a novel that Publishers Weekly calls "brutally poetic." Edgar Award-nominated crime writer Craig McDonald (Head Games; Toros and Torsos) interviewed Bruen, Coleman, and Guthrie. Craig ("a genuine expert on the history of crime fiction" — Eddie Muller, San Francisco Chronicle) is an accomplished interviewer, and two collections of his interviews with major crime writers have been published: Art in the Blood (PointBlank Press) & Rogue Males (Bleak House Books). Here is the third interview, with crime writer/editor Allan Guthrie! [Interview #1, with Ken Bruen, can be found here, and interview #2, with Reed Farrel Coleman, is here.]

Craig McDonald: My understanding is [Busted Flush Press's] David Thompson sought you out for this editing post…
Allan Guthrie: That’s right. David’s known of my editing jones for some time—over the last few years he’s been a big supporter of PointBlank Press, where I picked up the habit editing writers like Dave Zeltserman, Duane Swierczynski, Ray Banks. And David’s known that it’s something I miss. As a literary agent, I edit manuscripts to various degrees for some of my clients, but the last book I worked on primarily as an editor was Ed Lynskey’s The Big Cheer, which was two, maybe even three years ago.

CM: What was your approach as editor in tackling this unique challenge of a two-person manuscript with contrapuntal narration?
AG: I approached it as I would any other manuscript. One author, two authors—doesn’t make any difference. Seriously, it’s not the number of authors involved, it’s what’s on the page that matters.

CM: Any special parameters or objectives you set in editing Tower?
AG: Other than trying not to make a fool of myself, no.

CM: Did you have to go back to one or either of the authors to adjust something that the other’s work mandated revising or tweaking?
AG: Reed was my first contact for all the edits, so they went through him and then came back with changes accepted or declined, bits added here and there, suggestions acted on or not and explanations as to why or why not. All very thorough and entirely peaceable.

CM: Were there times you were mediating between the two authors to make sure everything married up into a cohesive storyline?
AG: I came on board after the novel was written, so the storyline was already nice and solid. This sounds really boring but the truth is that this was a painless process, with no trace of ego. Nobody bit anybody’s ear off. Which I admit was a bit disappointing. I was hoping for a spot more carnage from those two.

CM: Did you have any role in the plotting—perhaps in terms of patching story problems or continuity issues?
AG: To a very limited extent. I suggested one or two things that the guys took on board, but my main contribution—I think—was just to help polish what was there. The book was already about 99% of the way done when I first read it and my suggestions were mainly along the lines of trying to make things a little clearer or more consistent. Most of the editing I did was in the details, although there were one or two places where I suggested something a little bigger—adding a scene here or there, something like that.

CM: This isn’t your first time editing Ken. Any special demands you find in handling Ken’s work?
AG: Special demands… well, Ken’s formatting is idiosyncratic, there’s no getting away from the fact. But I really like it. I’ve never seen his prose published the way he formats it, although I’d once planned to publish a story of Ken’s just the way it was written for an anthology I edited. Unfortunately the anthology got pulled at the last minute. Would have been interesting… and possibly a first.

CM: Ken’s manuscripts do have a very distinctive… look. The published version of Once Were Cops has a very striking single-sentence formatting that is much more in keeping with the more recent original manuscripts of Ken’s I’ve seen…
AG: Yes, even the very early manuscripts have that distinctive Bruen look. I’m glad to see the books being published more as Ken thinks they should look rather than as convention dictates. The way his writing appears on the page is clearly of huge importance to Ken.

CM: Ken credits you with making one or two “brilliant” tweaks to his portion of the narrative. Can you elaborate?
AG: Hell, no, I can’t think of anything remotely brilliant.

CM: Could you preview some of your own current/coming projects?
AG: I have a new book out in the U.K. called Slammer, a prison novel about a young prison officer who can’t cope with the stresses of the job. It’s out in the U.S. in November. And in a couple of months [out now!] I’ll have a novella out in the U.K. called Killing Mum, about a guy who arranges contract killings and one morning gets an anonymous request to have his mother whacked.

CM: Anything else you’d care to get out there?
AG: Just to say it was a real pleasure working on Tower and I hope lots of people read it.


Craig McDonald is the author of Head Games and Toros & Torsos (both from Bleak House). The third novel in the Hector Lassiter Series, Print the Legend, is forthcoming from Minotaur Books in winter 2010. His current book is a collection of interviews, Rogue Males: Conversations & Confrontations about the Writing Life (Bleak House Books), featuring discussions with James Crumley, Daniel Woodrell, Pete Dexter, James Sallis, James Ellroy and Ken Bruen, among many others. Visit him online at

Allan Guthrie is the Edgar Award-nominated author of Two-Way Split (PointBlank); Kiss Her Goodbye (Hard Case Crime); Hard Man, Savage Night, and Slammer (all from Harcourt). Visit him online at


Look for a Tower excerpt soon, and even a contest to win your very own Tower galley! Tower will be published in September 2009. Ken Bruen & Reed Farrel Coleman will both appear at Bouchercon in Indianapolis! Reed will hit the road to sign Tower, with stops including New York, Minneapolis, Denver/Boulder, Phoenix/Scottsdale, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Dallas, Austin, and Houston (complete tour schedule to be posted soon).

Booksellers / librarians: Order Tower through
Consortium Book Sales & Distribution, Ingram, and Baker & Taylor!

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