Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Lou Berney Interview, by Jess Lourey

Acclaimed screenplay and short story writer, raconteur, and self-proclaimed liar Lou Berney has just imagereleased his first novel, the humorous thriller GUTSHOT STRAIGHT, and it’s burning up the charts (Really. Check out those Amazon ratings). He was kind enough to cyber-sit down with me for an interview to discuss writing, promotion, and filthy bird rescues.

1. GUTSHOT STRAIGHT has earned raves from the big boys, including a starred review from Booklist. Describe this novel in five or fewer words, and one of them has to be a preposition.

LOU: Luck love larceny Panama of.

2. Nicely done. On to the next question. I like to play the "what did the publicist take out?" game where I read blurbs and use my imagination to replace ellipses. For example, the San Francisco Chronicle wrote, "Lou Berney's fiction...sings with modern slang and timeless insight." I'd like to imagine the original blurb was, "Lou Berney's fiction…is the best out there, but I'd rather listen to Neil Diamond, who…sings with modern slang and timeless insight." Please play this game with me by replacing the ellipses in this Publisher's Weekly review of GUTSHOT STRAIGHT: "A fast-moving caper...smoothly blends humor, action, and romantic frisson."

LOU: First of all, can I just say how unfair it is to have to go funny to funny with Jess Lourey? Unfair. I should get some kind of head start, or she should have to crack wise while using only vowels. OK, fine, anyway:

“A fast-moving caper…with teenage vampires, boy wizards, cute photos of dogs, recipes for tasty three-minute meals, fascinating Civil War history, and lots of valuable coupons that…smoothly blends humor, action, and romantic frisson."

(*Interviewers note: Sorry, busy looking up “frisson.”)

3. You wrote GUTSHOT STRAIGHT during the Hollywood Writer's Strike image (that's what we call it here in Minnesota. The Hollywood Writer's Strike.) Can you tell our readers more about your experience writing for the big and little screen?

LOU: Unfortunately, nothing I’ve written for Hollywood studios and networks has gone into production yet. I have, however, written quite a bit for Hollywood studios and networks – original feature scripts and one-hour TV pilots, plus feature adaptations of novels and stories – and the pay has been handsome. Or if not exactly leading-man handsome, at least not comedy-relief homely.

Most recently I adapted a literary thriller by Pete Ferry, TRAVEL WRITING, for Rob Reiner to direct at Warner Brothers. Around the same time I adapted a family-friendly Christmas novel, WHEN ANGELS SING, by Turk Pipkin, for independent producers in Austin, Texas. How’s that for diversity?

4. You are a man of many hats. Is there a GUTSHOT STRAIGHT screenplay in the works? If so, who's gonna play Shake? Gina?

LOU: Negotiations for an adaptation of GUTSHOT STRAIGHT are currently afoot. I don’t know if I’ll be doing the screenplay, but I amimage more than happy to take this opportunity to play studio honcho and cast the movie. If George Clooney, Brad Pitt, and Clive Owen are unavailable, I’d like to snap up Nathan Fillion to play Shake. As for Gina, she sometimes gets mistaken for Sienna Miller, so that might be a smart play. Though Michelle Monaghan would be really good too.

5. Excellent choices, particularly Fillion, whose is that rare credible funny/action hero. You are currently on the road promoting GUTSHOT STRAIGHT. What is the most memorable signing experience you've had, and what promotional advice can you give other writers?

LOU: I don’t know if it was my most memorable signing experience, but the one that pops to mind occurred in Seattle, where I had an event at the wonderful Seattle Mystery Bookshop. A woman wandered in off the street and over to the desk where I was signing. I started telling her image about my book, but it turned out she’d come in because she’d spotted a pigeon outside with an injured leg and was worried about it. After lengthy and involved negotiations with JB, one of the booksellers at SMB, she agreed to buy one of my books if JB agreed to call the city and have them rescue the pigeon with the injured leg. So it was win-win for everybody – me, JB, woman, pigeon! From then on my touring slogan has been: One book at a time, one bird at a time.

Oh, wait, there was that other signing experience, in Vegas, when the three showgirls showed up late and drunk and half-naked with the illegal –What? OK, sorry, sorry. Jess is telling me I’m out of space, cut to the chase.

My promotional advice: get promotional advice from people smarter than me. That was the best thing I did. I went to Bouchercon in Indianapolis and threw my dumb-ass self on the mercy of incredibly generous writers such as Jess Lourey, Julie Hyzy, Sean Chercover,image JT Ellison, Derek Nikitas, Andy Gross, and Keith Raffel. I learned, for example, to concentrate a book tour on independent mystery bookstores, an approach that has really worked out well for me. I’ve had the opportunity to get my book and myself in front of the terrific people who really know crime and mystery fiction, and who spend all day selling it. That’s been invaluable.

Mainly, my advice about the promotional process is to enjoy it. See it as a chance to meet lots of great people, have lots of great conversations, maybe save a bird here and then. If you sell some books along the way, that’s cool, but I don’t think it’s a good idea to dive in focused only on that, on selling selling selling. It’s not healthy and it’s probably not effective.

6. I agree completely. Where can we find your remaining tour schedule, as well as more information about you and your writing?

LOU: You can get more information about me and my writing (Excerpts! Contests! Free stuff!) at

(*Interviewers note: Thanks for joining us at the Midnight Ink blog, Lou! The experience imparted a frisson of joy.)


Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

Love this interview, Jess! Thanks for introducing us to Lou. I'm looking forward to "Gutshot Straight."

Mystery Writing is Murder

Alan Orloff said...

Great interview! Gutshot Straight has just landed on my TBR pile.

Anybody know where I can hire a few stunt pigeons for my signings?

Keith Raffel said...

Wisecracking aside, you gotta read Gutshot Straight. It's the 21st century's answer to Elmore Leonard's best. A terrific read, that's clever, insightful, winning, and gripping. I'm ready to bet real money you can't read the first 25 pages without finishing the whole thing right then and there.

G.M. Malliet said...

We're quite sure the pigeon was ok, are we? Frisson of alarm here.

Sorry to have missed you at Bouchercon, Lou! Congrats on the great reviews.

Wonderful interview, Jess. (Where do you come up with this stuff?)

Deborah Sharp said...

A really great interview, Jess. You're funny, girl ... and Lou sounds like a terrific writer and all around nice human being. (Love the pigeon story!)
Just wondering, since Sleuthfest conference in S. Fla. this year (Feb 25-28) has a section devoted to screenwriting, whether Lou is planning to attend? (I'm a board member for MWA/Fla, which puts on S. Fest each year.)

Jess Lourey said...

Thanks for reading the interview, gang! Deb, that's a great question. I have a screenwriting question for Lou that I forgot to ask him--how does a writing professor in Oklahoma City become a successful screenwriter?

G.M. Malliet said...

p.s. I notice in the photo of you you seem to be surrounded by body parts. Can you explain this?

Jess Lourey said...

Yes! Make him explain this.

Lou Berney said...

First off – Keith, you're way too generous, but that's not gonna stop me from using your comment as a blurb. Sue away!

As for the pigeon in question, I had to fly out of Seattle soon after the incident, so I can't answer definitively. I do know the situation was in capable hands.

G.M., yes, good question – where DOES Jess come up with this stuff?

Deborah, I hadn't planned on attending Sleuthfest, which now seems like a grievous mistake, since it's about 40 degrees warmer in Florida than Oklahoma City.

As for the author photo, I really hate those overly posed, artificial author photos, so I wanted to do something very off-the-cuff – my, you know, typical Tuesday afternoon.

Just kidding! The photo was my wife's idea. She wanted something that would reflect the tone of the book and be funny and memorable. We had a lot of fun doing it, except that I hate having my picture taken. The body parts, to answer your question, are a shoulder, part of an arm, another arm, and part of a leg.

Jess Lourey said...

I don't have anything new to say. I just wanted to underscore the fact that I have an overly posed, artificial author photo (right there. to the right). Next time, I'm bringing in pigeons and monkeys.

Lou Berney said...

Jess, you have a great author photo! But I will admit I'm intrigued by the monkey idea.

Keith Raffel said...

Lou, what would be the point of suing? You can't get blood froma turnip. (I know how much novelists get paid.) Jess, terrific interview of a difficult subject.

Jess Lourey said...

I will have a sea of monkeys! A barrel of monkeys! Or just two saucy men in gorilla suits dancing around me.

Keith, you're hilarious! :)

I'll miss you, Lou! Have a great rest of the tour. Thanks for joining us.