Today, I have the distinct pleasure of speaking with a talented author who is also a former actor, playwright, and Texas probation officer. Michael Simon's first novel, Dirty Sally, was published by Viking in 2004. Dirty Sally, introduced readers to half-Jewish, New York Mafia-born Texas homicide detective Dan Reles, who is also the main character in Michael's latest novel, The Last Jew Standing. Michael will be telling us more about The Last Jew Standing and the entire series featuring Detective Dan Reles.
Welcome to The Book Connection, Michael. It is a pleasure to have you with us.
Glad to be here.
Before we talk about the book, can you tell us a bit about yourself? How long have you been a writer? What is it that got you started along this career path?
I started writing stories as a kid, as soon as I was old enough to make words on paper, but I wanted to be an actor. I studied acting in high school and college, then decided to become a professor. By the time I was in grad school and writing plays with my brother, some drunk at a party suggested I write thrillers, that thrillers were the way to fame, fortune, and more importantly, immortality. So I began what became Dirty Sally.
Did you draw on your career as a probation officer to inspire your writing?
Yes. The office where I worked was in the poorest section of Austin, the Spanish ghetto. So the first thing I noticed was how geographically segregated the town was. And I was introduced to a lot of small-time criminals. But what affected me most was the desperation, often inspired by drugs and alcohol, poverty, or all of the above. I was seeing a different Austin than the one I lived in, where poverty always seemed transitional.
What affect has being an actor had on your writing?
As an actor, then director, then playwright, I had to learn how to prepare for an audience. On the stage, you get one shot at the audience but you get lots of time to prepare. So the written word gets to be read, interpreted, through the director, designers, technicians, and finally, actors. I had to translate that process to write for a reader, who is doing all the designing and staging instantaneously, while reading. You have to give a reader a whole lot so see, hear, even smell, and still make the experience of reading close to effortless. But I still feel as though I’m scripting a play, one that’s going to be staged in a reader’s head.
So that readers can get a better feel for your latest novel, can you tell us a bit about this series of thrillers?
While the main character’s life develops through the series, each of the books is self-contained, so you can read them in any order. They’re all about one man’s struggle in a town which is first in a recession, and then experiencing uncontrolled growth, to do what’s right in a world where the police are forced to protect the powerful, and not the innocent.
The Last Jew Standing brings some changes to Dan's life. He has a new house, a wife, and a son. Is he missing the single life?
Dan hated being single, even in the periods of his single life where he was juggling multiple girlfriends. Part of this is because he doesn’t understand the concept of “friends.” He thinks friends are people you work with, who do favors for you. The only person he’ll ever be close with is the woman in his life, and later, his child. So he’s glad to have a wife and a son. But he has other problems and so do they.
Dan's father, Ben, used to work for the Mafia. He's been on the run for a long time and suddenly appears on Dan's doorstep. Does that sound a bit strange when his son is a homicide detective?
Very strange. But Ben comes from a world where cops and criminals drink together, and often do business together. (There are many stories of real cops who come from criminal pasts.) So Ben isn’t shocked when he learns his son has become a cop (the salary and benefits would appeal to anyone.) He’s shocked when he learns Dan takes the job seriously. And throughout the book, Dan is confronted by people who assume he’s corrupt.
After reading Chapter One, I get the idea that Dan has a lot of internal conflict to deal with. Does he blame anyone for that--his father, his wife Rachel, some other element from past?
Dan blames his father for his horrible childhood, although his mother is the one who took off when Dan was ten. Still, Dan idolizes her and can’t blame her for anything.
That he blames his father for everything and is forced to spend a few days facing hell with him, is the core of this book.
You've written three books about Dan Reles. Does it ever get old? Would you like to see Dan slink into the sunset so that you can concentrate on fresh projects?
I wouldn’t say “old,” but I’ve spent eight years writing these four books. (The first one took five years.) And he won’t slink. He’ll ride. ;) This is it for Dan, at least for now.
Tell us where we can get our hands on a copy of The Last Jew Standing and the other books in this series.
What's up next for you? Are there any ongoing projects you would like to share with us?
I’d like to, but I won’t. I’m working on a new project, which, like the Reles books, will probably take a while to see daylight.
Is there anything you would like to add?
No, but here are a few last words from reviewers:
“The fourth excellent offering from lit noir master Michael Simon” Texas Monthly
“Outlandish and highly entertaining” —Austin American Statesman
In his trademark neat, almost noir prose, Simon perfectly conveys the dilemmas facing a perpetual outsider determined to do the right thing. His hero is subtly drawn, his problems plausible and his colleagues… are smart renderings. A graceful thriller. —Kirkus Reviews
Fast, furious and anarchic. —Booklist
Thanks for spending some time with us today, Michael. I am looking forward to reading and reviewing The Last Jew Standing. I wish you much continued success.
Thanks for having me.
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