INTERVIEW: BERNARD SCHAFFER (SUPERBIA)
(Note that this interview will contain some SPOILERS of Superbia so BE WARNED)
(Please also note that the review I posted on Amazon follows at the end of the interview)
FS: Firstly, congratulations on Superbia. It was a fantastic read.
B: I appreciate it Tony. The early feedback has been amazing. As I write this, the book is finishing up its second day of free promotion on Amazon via the Kindle Direct Select program. So far it’s been downloaded over 17,100 times and reached the #11 spot on all of Amazon. That’s mind-blowing. It goes back on sale tomorrow. Wish me luck.
(Note, Superbia is now back on sale at the regular price)
FS: What are you doing to promote it?
B: The KDS program is my first, best promotional tool at this point. I’m a believer in the program. I never experienced much luck with the Nook or Smashwords, so I don’t miss being able to list my books there. Aside from that, there’s Twitter. One of the best things about being a smaller independent author is that people can reach out to me anytime they want. You can read my book and go right on Twitter and start talking to me. I’m not hard to find.
I opted to only do two interviews for the book, one here, and one with David Hulegaard. I would rather have two heartfelt discussions rather than find myself repeating the same things twenty different places.
FS: I think that Superbia should really reach the widest possible audience, it was such a satisfying read.
B: I’d love to see it happen. I feel a great responsibility for the people I’ve chosen to speak for. It is a very diverse group and some of them might not appreciate what I have to say, but they’re probably the people I took shots at in the book anyway.
FS: It’s one of those things I’d like to see picked up for TV. Wouldn’t that be a boon!
B: I keep hearing the words “HBO series.” I’d like to let the fine people of HBO know, should any of them be reading this, that I’m available to discuss it. Unless Showtime calls first, at which point I will shamelessly deny ever saying anything nice about HBO.
FS: Reading Superbia, I was reminded a lot of John D Macdonald, and some of the different books published via HARD CASE CRIME. I wouldn’t call Superbia pulp, but I would say it was sort of in the same vein. I’d like to say the realistic policing world of LA Confidential, too, but I’m only talking about the movie, not the book. There is certainly something about the way you’ve painted the setting of Superbia that doesn’t leave room for doubt that it’s a real story taking place before your eyes. I explained it to my wife as being “like a documentary, following real cops around as they experience the ups and downs of the job.”
B: My whole intent was to create a fictional world filled with fictional people who experience real things. I’ve been a cop for fifteen years and grew up with a dad who was on the Job as well. I’ve been around it my entire life. It was a matter of referencing all of the stories from all of the cops I’ve ever known.
FS: There were great references throughout to different cop shows and movies. As a cop yourself, how much of what you see on TV today correctly represents what you see day in, day out?
B: As cops we actually reference the movies and TV shows ourselves on a daily basis. That’s all part of the group dynamic. The dialogue in Superbia is something you would hear in any precinct around the world. I’ve worked with cops from the UK, from the Canadian border, and all across the United States. We’re all pretty much the same sort. This is the Cops, mind you. The working man, or woman. Not the REMF’s.
That being said, what you see on TV is total bullshit. The plague of CSI-type shows has completely bamboozled the public into believing we’ve all got crime scene units following us around with NASA-grade technology. I did a temporary assignment with Philly’s Crime Scene Unit for two weeks and met some of the smartest, most dedicated professionals I’ve ever had the privilege to know. Most of them had to buy their own gear.
FS: The scene halfway through the novel, with the guy who hung himself, was another one of those scenes where I thought “He hasn’t made this up.” Is that instinct right? It just didn’t feel like you’d sat at your desk and created that scenario out of thin air.
B: The entire book is completely made up. I have no idea what you’re talking about. I don’t even think I wrote the damn thing. Who are you and why are we talking again?
FS: I’ve read your interview with David Hulegaard, and the subject of the humour present in the novel came up. I found Superbia VERY funny. As David noted, it’s the funniest thing you’ve written yet. Your off-the-wall humour, which we all come across via twitter and your blog, really shines through in Superbia.
B: Writing Superbia was a completely different experience for me. The other books were a matter of building up the worlds and structuring them in a specific manner. Paying attention to every little detail. Were zippers invented in the era of Sherlock Holmes? What was a common expression for people who suffered Tuberculosis in the Wild West? Those sort of things.
For Superbia, it was matter of me getting out of the way. Opening up as a writer and shaking off the fear that I would face serious reprisals for what I had to say. For cops, it is common to crack jokes in the face of danger and horror. Maybe the humor in the book is me doing the same thing.
FS: In my review I say that you have a very British sense of humour, and by that I think I mean that it feels familiar. Vic’s banter back and forth with Frank had me in stitches, really. It was like the banter my Dad and I might have with each other. For example when Vic says something, and Frank says “Vic, you would have been 10 years old” or something to that effect. Vic replies with “Yeah, then I was a 10 year old genius detective.” Amidst the darkness present in the novel, that humour offers a counter-point that I think really works.
B: I’ve literally been standing in rooms that are covered in blood and guts. Brain matter dripping from the ceiling. One eyeball stuck to the television set across the room and the other one under the refrigerator in the kitchen. I’ve been standing in those rooms with other young men who cannot possibly find a rational way to deal with the reality of what we are seeing, so we start to make fun of it.
The thing about most cops is that they’re excellent communicators. They survive on the street by being able to talk to people, by being quick witted and sharp-tongued. If you can talk a guy into putting a knife down and surrendering so you don’t have to shoot his stupid ass, chances are, you’re a gifted bullshitter.
FS: You’ve mentioned more than once that this book could end your career. Surely, releasing Superbia regardless of that possibility means that you’re prepared if that does indeed become the case…
B: I think there are several ways it could end. Some of them are positive, some negative. I would rather leave police work on my own terms than be forced out. Joseph Wambaugh was forced out when people kept turning up at his station house asking for autographs.
FS: The ending was strange for me. It felt concluded, and yet it also felt like there was this whole other book waiting to be written about a man with a mission to fight corruption. Is there a sequel in the works? Perhaps something along the lines of The Insider?
B: Superbia 2 might preempt the other books I have slated for 2012. Maybe. It depends what comes over the telepathic wire. I can tell you I’ve got the second book plotted out.
FS: The sense of there being corruption within and above… is that something you’ve experienced yourself? Surely every organisation has its dark side that the public never see or hear about.
B: Whenever there is a police suicide, there is much discussion about the mental breakdown of officers based on what they see and experience. How the horror of the Job gets to them. How it affects their family life, causes substance abuse, and so forth.
You never see anyone question the workplace’s impact on him. It’s always some nefarious encounter with death or tragedy that pushed him too far. Nobody ever says, “What were his bosses like? How was he being treated?”
FS: I think that the kind of writing you’ve shown in Superbia would go well with other crime fiction, perhaps something along the lines of Elmore Leonard. Can you see yourself dipping your toe in the genre again and incorporating more from a criminal viewpoint? One of the things about that type of fiction is that the bad guys are never a cut and dry case of good and evil. They’re more about people who have made a choice to protect honesty and order (the law) and people who’ve chosen a life that ignores rules and limitations (the criminal element).
B: I’ve only ever met a few evil sons of bitches. I mean, really evil. Most of the people I’ve arrested were ordinary dudes who made dumb decisions either out of greed or desperation. I tend to have good reports with the people I arrest, as long as whatever they did doesn’t violate my moral compass.
I just ran into a drug dealer I arrested a few years ago at the local bar and we sat down and talked about the old days over a few beers. My personal philosophy is that my life could have easily gone in a different direction and I’d be in that other person’s position. The Job does not grace you with any kind of moral superiority. When I see cops who think it does, I could vomit.
FS: You said on your blog that you’re aiming to make a million dollars this year from your writing. Obviously, that is a phenomenal figure to make. Do you think you’ll do it? Is there indication in your sales to date that you will?
B: All I can do is keep plugging away. Hopefully, something breaks loose.
FS: So what do you plan on releasing in 2012, and of those titles which ones remain to be written?
B: The Magnificent Guns of Seneca 6 and Whitechapel 2: Inspector Lestrade and the Torso Killer are two big projects that I intend to tackle. The Widow Sword is already written, but I’ll need to do an overhaul before it gets released. Codex Leicester is a collection of short-stories that are written except for two. And now, while I should be working on all of them, I’m preoccupied with continuing the world of Superbia.
What could possibly go wrong?
FS: You’ve touched on this before, but what’s your work ethic? What is a day of writing look like for Bernard Schaffer? You seem to be able to churn out one great novel after another. And in between that you’re writing short stories and erotic fiction. How do you do it? Or will we see a “How I Sold XXX Books On Kindle” from you similar to what Locke has done?
B: Since I was a child, I’ve always read multiple books at once. Now I tend to write them simultaneously as well. When I finish one project, I’m already tidying up the next one and getting it ready.
Many years ago I saw a cartoon in Mad Magazine of Stephen King racing a word processor to see if it could print the books as fast as he wrote them. My goal is to have them recycle that joke with me and a Kindle.
I can tell you this now, you will never see a “How to Sell” or “How to Write” book from me. The greatest book about writing, ON WRITING, is already written. I have nothing to add to what Steve said. People who want to pretend that the craft has somehow changed because of e-books are delusional. The delivery system might change. The craft does not.
“How to Sell” books on Kindle would be infinitely harder, and it’s not something I’m willing to write. Mainly because it can’t be written or taught. At least, my personal method can’t be. There are people like John Locke who can tell you how they sold books and steps you can take to do the same.
I’m the same writer whether I’m selling a million books or not a single one. I walk it, breathe it, live it, am willing to sacrifice sleep for it, willing to sacrifice my career for it. I have an insanely competitive streak that makes me want prove things to the entire world. Things I can’t explain, let alone jot down for sale.
FS: Do you see yourself remaining Indie? Would you accept a contract from a big name publisher if it was offered? To my eye, it seems like you’re doing okay as you are. And when you’ve got authors like JA Konrath making $100,000 in only 3 weeks at a time, I just don’t think that the big pub houses can offer anything to match that can they?
B: Konrath is like the guy who’s been in the Navy for twenty years and knows you’re getting ready to ship out to Singapore. He puts his arm around you and says, “C’mere kid. When you get to port, go find this one-eyed whore named CiCi and ask her for the Goosegrease Basket Trick. Tell her Uncle Joe sent ya. She’s gonna ask you for twenty, but only give her an extra five. And also, never eat anything called the Beef Special.” Independent publishing is better for having him around. He’s one of the few people in the industry that I’d like to meet.
I think that the future of independent publishing can be found in other mediums. Take music for example. Why can’t an independent publisher have his own imprint at a larger label? A distribution deal for the bookstores and Walmarts of the world, released under mutually beneficial terms. I’d consider that.
FS: Before we finish, I know from your interview with David how you sort of started Superbia as a response to John Locke’s work ethic, whereby he basically writes shit books but somehow markets them just right and gets them selling. Somehow it turned from being a beach read to being, in my opinion, THE Bernard Schaffer book to start with. And yet it wasn’t too long, and felt like a satisfying, quality read that you could take to a beach. So funnily enough, I think you got what you went for in the beginning. Only, your idea of a beach read is a little different to Locke’s. It’s like comparing economy burgers with gourmet quarter-pounders, you know?
B: Funny you should say that. I often think of John as the McDonald’s of the independent publishing movement. Clearly, there is a market for his work. I’m just trying to achieve something slightly different with mine.
FS: You’ve mentioned to me before about Widow Sword. When can we expect that to hit the Kindle Store? And how do you see it faring against the plethora of other Fantasy titles on there?
B: Honestly, I’m hesitant. People seem extremely interested in the book and expectations are high. The fantasy genre is my home turf. I grew up on Tolkien and Mallory and CS Lewis and all of the other amazing authors who inspired and delighted me. WIDOW SWORD is not the next great fantasy epic. It’s a simple story about a father journeying to recover his son. The boy has been stolen, and Treasach is going to do whatever it takes to get him back.
FS: You’ve conquered the Sherlock Holmes category, and are on your way to conquering the Western category with Guns of Seneca 6. Is there another genre, other than what you’ve tackled already (including your book of short erotica) that you’d like to write in? I’m thinking chic-lit myself…
B: If and when I ever make enough money to leave police work and write full-time, I intend to explore America by train. I want to see the country from the ground. There are so many places I’ve never been, so much history that I’ve never experienced. I would write as I went and probably post things to my blog so that people could follow my adventures.
The other super-secret longing is to try my hand at a comic book. I’ve got a kickass comic series inside of me that’s ready to come out whenever the opportunity arises.
FS: Well it’s been a pleasure as always. I can’t wait for Widow Sword. I want to see how you tackle sword and sorcery. I see it as Schaffer v Hicks. The Don v The Demi-God. (The term Demi-God for Hicks isn’t from me, btw…)
B: I can’t argue with that. Mike is an amazing author, teacher, and mentor. Unfortunately for him, I eat Demi-Gods and it’s been awhile since I fed last. I’m just kidding. Swear to God.
Here is the review I posted on Amazon for Superbia. I’d like to take this oppurtunity to say that when leaving a review on amazon.co.uk I will ALWAYS hop on over to amazon.com and paste in the same review. Amazon allows you to, so why not? If you read a book you like, leave a review for it, but do so at both sites. Support your indie author’s.
And remember, you don’t need an e-reader to be a READER! Download the Kindle App for your pc, android phone, iphone, ipad or tablet for FREE and get reading!
Superbia is the best book that Schaffer has written so far, by a mile. Don’t get me wrong, his genre efforts are fantastic, and great fun to read. I loved Whitechapel, and The Guns of Seneca 6… but Superbia takes top spot for me.
I read it in less than 24 hours. I’m quite a slow reader at times, or I can be, but there was something about Superbia that made it stick in my head. It wouldn’t leave me. I literally couldn’t put the book down.
Primarily it’s the story of Frank and Vic, two cops who are thrown together as partners. They have different approaches to their work, however they are both grounded in the same ideals of fatherhood and their mutual disgust of those who bring harm to children. They’re both Fathers who love their children. Frank seems to be in a stable relationship, whereas Vic’s has gone down the toilet, with his children being used as weapons by his ex-wife.
Superbia is brutal in places, and you get the distinct impression that so much of it has a truthful element to it. It’s a case of ‘you couldn’t really make this up’. The idea of reading a fictionalised account of events that may have happened in real life is a major draw to keep reading through it, as you find yourself wanting to know what happened next. In this respect I didn’t want the book to end. I wanted it to keep on going. However that’s not to say that it reached a naturally fulfilling conclusion; I’m merely saying that it is so well written, and so honest in its subject matter, that I didn’t want the experience to end.
I was going to list my favourite scenes here in this review, but you have to go into the book cold. You have to be open to the experience.
Also something should be said here about Schaffer’s sense of humour. It really comes through in Superbia, although it is present in his other work. Strangely, for an American, he has a very British sense of humour. I found myself chuckling along quite a few times. The pitter-patter between Frank and Vic, especially early on, was fantastically written.
Superbia is dark and funny. It is honest. It is literally, as someone elsewhere has said of Schaffer, a ‘cop bearing his soul’.
He says this could be the book that ends his policing career. I say let it. Don’t worry.
I implore you to read this book. If you liked Whitechapel or Guns of Seneca 6, then you’re going to love this book. If you haven’t read either of those two, why not start here? It truly is his best book to date.
I don’t know how he’s going to top it… but the funny thing is, I know he will.
Schaffer isn’t a writer to watch. He’s not an up and coming star. HE IS THE REAL DEAL.
It’s about time you acquainted yourself with him.