I had the pleasure of interviewing Dietrich Kalteis, the author of Ride the Lighting on Mystery Sequels. This is his debut novel and it was released April this year, published by ECW Press.
I am quite eager to read the crime story as the reviews are full of praise. Just have a look at what is being said about it:
“Dietrich Kalteis will be deservedly compared to Elmore Leonard, but he is an original voice. Ride the Lightning is a great story filled with wonderfully flawed characters.”
– John McFetridge, author of Dirty Sweet and Black Rock.
“…it sustains a breakneck pace without sacrificing character to action, or action to character. Kalteis made me care about his cast of lowlifes, screw-ups and marginals.”
– Peter Rozovsky, Detectives Beyond Borders
What is Ride the Lighting about?
Ride the Lightning centers on bounty hunter Karl Morgan as he goes after a wanted drug dealer named Miro Knotts on a skipped bond. When Karl catches up with Miro, one thing leads to another, and he ends up beating him badly enough to get his license revoked, while Miro gets off with just a suspended sentence.
So, finished in Seattle, Karl takes the only job he can find as a process server up in Vancouver, a job that pays half in a town that costs double. Meantime, Miro ducks a drug sweep back in Seattle, and because of the suspended sentence looming over him, he sneaks through the brambles separating the borders. Looking to even the score with Karl, he triggers a chain of events only one of them will walk away from.
What inspired you to write the story?
I read an article a couple of years ago that sparked the idea. It talked about the marijuana trade in BC being the province’s reigning cash crop, bigger than tourism, lumber or fishing. The article estimated, at the time, it was a six billion dollar per year industry, and that as many as one in every hundred homes had been converted to a grow-house at some point. That night as I walked my dog, I started looking at our neighbourhood differently, thinking statistically, I must have passed two or three grow houses. Intrigued, the next day I started writing.
Tell us more about Karl Morgen, what is his back story?
Karl was developed from a short story I wrote a couple of years ago about a process server who delivers divorce papers to the owner of a travel agency but has a hard time getting past the guy’s pretty receptionist. I liked the dialogue and tension between them, so I dropped Karl into a new scene and started writing, letting his character develop along with the story.
He’s a guy who likes living life on the edge, so his work as a bounty hunter suits him. I think the reader will get a sense that Karl likes to balance on that edge to keep himself from looking at his own life too closely. And bending the rules to get the job done is just part of the game for Karl, meaning that solid line between right and wrong sometimes blurs. He keeps an article the Seattle Times ran about him tacked over his desk that tells us a lot about his character: if your man’s breathing, Karl will find him; if he’s not, he’ll show you where he’s planted.
Will you turn Ride the Lighting into a series?
It was always meant as a stand-alone novel, although my next story does borrow a minor character who becomes a central character, so there is a link between the two. The new story takes place in Whistler, just north of Vancouver.
What is your writing process?
Strong coffee, loud music and a very loose plot outline. I write every morning until noon; that just seems to be the best time of day for me. I’m more focused and have more energy then.
Once I’ve finished a first draft, I take a bit of a break from the story, then I go back, look at it with fresh eyes and rewrite anything that doesn’t work or that I feel could be improved on. The story then gets a third and sometimes a fourth pass before I feel it’s ready to send out.
Is Ride the Lighting your debut novel? Have you written and published anything else before?
Yes, it’s my debut novel. Before that, I wrote a lot of short stories, many of which were published in print publications, online and in anthologies.
Is being a writer your full time job?
So when did you decide you wanted to become a writer?
I drafted a novel when I was sixteen; I wrote it longhand and kept the pages in a shoebox under the bed. I never did anything with it, just batting practice, but I knew this was what I wanted to do. Then about ten years ago, after talking and thinking about it for a very long time, I began writing short stories, finding spare time in the evenings and on weekends. I started submitting the stories and seeing them published, and my screenplay Between Jobs became a finalist in the Screenplay Festival in LA, all of which was very encouraging. Then about five years ago, my wife convinced me to focus on writing full-time. Needless to say, I didn’t need a lot of coaxing.
How easy (or difficult) was to get your book published?
With the short stories, and as soon as I finished one, I sent it out in hopes of getting it published. Then I started writing the next one and repeated the process, sending each story to two or three publications. Over the next couple of years I wrote about fifty short stories in all, and after a while I had quite a few queries bouncing around out there, so I became no stranger to the rejection letter.
When Ride the Lightning was complete, I queried several agents, looking for representation, and I also sent the manuscript unsolicited to ECW Press in Toronto who have a couple of my favorite crime writers on their roster. I thought Ride the Lightning might be a good fit, and luckily they agreed.
Who are your literary influences and what authors do you enjoy reading most today?
I read a lot, both fiction as well as non-fiction. I admire greats like Twain, Salinger, Steinbeck, Hemingway, Miller, Lee, Kerouac, Ginsberg, Bukowski, Thompson, Burroughs, to name a few. In the crime fiction genre, I love reading Elmore Leonard, James Ellroy, Don Winslow, Carl Hiaasen, Robert Crais, Richard Stark, and many others.
Where do you spend your time writing?
I have a studio set up in my home, a window with a great view, a phone that’s always off, as well as two cats and a dog that like to hang around and nap while I disappear into my stories. They’re really good at letting me know when it’s noon which is when I stop, and also their lunch time.
What are some of your main hobbies and interests, apart from writing?
I like to paint, play with cameras and guitars, watch football (soccer) and go for long walks. And, of course, I read a lot.
Do you have any tips for the aspiring writers out there?
Write every chance you get, and when you’re not writing, read what inspires you to write.