Thursday, August 21, 2008

Coleman Back on Top

If there are second chances in life, few are more deserving of one than Reed Farrel Coleman. He garnered well-deserved attention in 2002 with the first book in his Moe Prager series, Walking the Perfect Square. From there, it seemed he was on track to become the next breakout star of the private-eye genre. But like Ross Macdonald, to whose work Coleman’s bears an occasional resemblance, success wasn’t happening overnight. Unlike Macdonald, Coleman didn’t have an Alfred A. Knopf patiently waiting for him to blossom, after first putting together a sizable backlist. Coleman continued to gather raves for his subsequent Prager novels, Redemption Street (2004) and the Anthony, Barry, and Shamus-award winning The James Deans (2005), the latter of which was picked up by Viking after Perfect Square’s splash. However, Viking passed on another Prager, prompting outraged fans (myself one of them) to cry, “Save Moe!”

Moe Prager was ultimately saved. But for a time there, it looked as if his Brooklyn-born creator would have to start all over again from scratch. In 2006, Coleman slipped on the enigmatic identity of Tony Spinosa, the alleged bastard son of a wiseguy and a rabbi’s daughter, to write Hose Monkey, his first book with upstart independent press Bleak House Books. It appeared Coleman was rebooting his career with a new name.

But the Bleak House folks liked the follow-up to The James Deans. And they liked Reed Farrel Coleman as Reed Farrel Coleman. So in 2007, Moe returned in his 1990s-based Soul Patch. That novel had a George Pelecanos vibe to it, rooted as much in the early ’70s as it was in the “present” of the 1990s. The Mystery Writers of America thought highly of it, too, nominating Coleman for an Edgar Award.

Not content with seeing Moe’s life story simply continue while the early Moe books all went out of print, Busted Flush Press went back and obtained rights to reprint Coleman’s first three Prager novels. So with the publication of this year’s Empty Ever After, Moe is not only saved, but his 52-year-old “father” is thriving. And so is his alter-ego, Tony Spinosa.

Of Empty Ever After, Bleak House says:
There are no second acts for the dead ... or are there?

For over twenty years, retired NYPD officer and P.I. Moe Prager, has been haunted by the secret that would eventually destroy his family. Now, two years after the fallout from the truth, more than secrets are haunting the Prager family. Moe Prager follows a trail of grave robbers from cemetery to cemetery, from ashes to ashes and back again in order to finally solve the enigma of his dead brother-in-law Patrick. He plunges deeper into the dark recesses of his past than ever before, revisiting all of his old cases, in order to uncover the twisted alchemy of vengeance and resurrection. Will Moe, at last, put his past to rest? Will he find the man who belongs in that vacant grave, or will it remain empty, empty ever after?
Coleman recently took a few minutes out of his writing schedule to answer my questions about Moe Prager, Tony Spinosa, and poetry, among other things.

Jim Winter: Your first Bleak House effort, Hose Monkey, was published under the name Tony Spinosa. Was that a one-shot deal? Or do you see yourself doing different types of books under that name, like Stephen King and Richard Bachman?

Reed Farrel Coleman: Actually, I’ve written a short story under that [pseudonym], “Killing O’Malley,” [which appears] in the short-story anthology I edited, Hard-boiled Brooklyn. And I have a second novel coming out as a follow-up to Hose Monkey. This October, The Fourth Victim will be hitting the shelves. I plan to pull Tony Spinosa out from time to time when it suits the situation.

JW: Soul Patch was a great slice of Brooklyn and goes into the past almost as much as it brings Moe to the eve of the 1990s. Have you ever thought of visiting Moe’s days as a cop for an entire novel?

RFC: That’s a great question. Unfortunately, the whole point of Moe’s career in uniform was that it wasn’t very exciting. The one memorable thing he did on the job was to rescue Marina Conseco from that water tank. That issue is so thoroughly explored in the last two Moe books [Soul Patch and Empty Ever After] that I don’t think I could turn his rescue of Marina into a new book. I’m also not a big fan of revisionism, so I don’t want to go back and create a life for Moe that isn’t true to the books I’ve already written.

JW: In Empty Ever After, you’ve pretty much knocked Moe down as far as he can go, then you knock him down further. Is this the endgame for Moe Prager?

RFC: That depends on whether I get a new contract for more Moe books. Are there more Moe books in me to be written? Absolutely. I simply needed to turn the corner with the series, because the original arc ... had run its course. In order to change course in such a well-established series, I had to resolve most of the open questions and to rid the series of most of the old cast of characters. In the new Moe books, there will still be a connection to his past, but the thrust of the newer books will have a new emotional touchstone.

JW: You once edited a poetry magazine that actually turned a profit. Do you still do poetry?

RFC: I just wrote a poem for the second edition of Gerald So’s The Lineup. But mostly I spend my writing energy on prose.

JW: Tell me about Bleak House. You have three novels with them now. How have they been to work with?

RFC: Well, by this October, it will be four novels, one short-story anthology as editor, and two as a contributor. It’s been a very interesting ride. I think we’ve grown together, and with growth comes growing pains. There have been some rough moments, but there always are. In spite of the rough patches, I can never say a bad word about Ben [LeRoy] and Alison [Janssen]’s commitment to their authors and the work. And one of the great parts of doing work with an up-and-coming publisher is the level of involvement the author is permitted. Bleak House never acts as if they know everything about publishing and marketing; they use my experience, all their authors’ experiences, as a resource. They also let me have input on everything from cover design to release date. It’s a relationship that’s been very good for both parties.

JW: What else are you up to these days?

RFC: I’m working on the “big” novel. I would tell you about it, but then ...

JW: What’s next for you?

RFC: Hair growth! In reality, there’s a lot going on. David Thompson at Busted Flush is reissuing all the early Moe books with new forewords by Megan Abbott, Peter Spiegelman, and Michael Connelly. The James Deans will be reissued later this year or early next. Also coming out next year is Tower, the novel written by Ken Bruen and me. I’m very excited about Tower, because it is a very different kind of novel and a departure for me.

READ MORE:Reed Coleman Writes of Crime and Brooklyn,” by Michael Wilson (The New York Times); “Reed Farrel Coleman Revealed” (Behind the Black Mask); Reed Farrel Coleman Interviewed by Barbara Peters of Poisoned Pen Press.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I’ve just finished the fifth in the excellent Moe Prager series, Empty Ever After.
Whether or not, it is the final novel in the series, I would argue that these novels
should be read from the first, sequentially, through the fifth, because each reflects
on the events that occur in its predecessor. I attempted to write Mr. Coleman
re his web site but I get an error message that indicates that the site (presumably
his email address link on the site) no longer exists.
Here’s a question for those who may be familiar with his non-Moe
Prager novels, including those written as Tony Spinoza: can these
novels be read as “stand-alones” (a la Lee Child, for example), or
should they be read in the order in which written because of
references back to preceding novels?

I have purchased "life Goes Sleeping" on EBay and it should arrive within the next few days).