Please welcome Tom Kakonis to Book Reviews & More by Kathy. Mr. Kakonis is chatting with us today about his latest release, Treasure Coast, one of the first releases from the new publishing company, Brash Books. Bestselling authors Lee Goldberg and Joel Goldman created Brash to publish “the best crime novels in existence. You can read more about Brash Books HERE.
It’s been more than a decade since you’ve published your last novel. What was it like to get back in the game with TREASURE COAST?
I have to say it’s been exhilarating, maybe because it was so unexpected. A year ago at about this time I went to my mailbox and discovered a package containing an autographed copy of THE HEIST by Janet Evanovich and her co-author, Lee Goldberg. I’d never met Ms. Evanovich but Lee I remembered from a writers conference years ago when he was just getting his start in crime fiction. We’d not stayed in touch, so I was naturally rather puzzled by the gift. Tucked inside the book I found a letter from Lee reintroducing himself and explaining a new venture he and his partner were embarked upon. That venture was Brash Books, a publishing company specializing in the revival of out-of-print crime novels, and since I had six such books, long since out of print, he invited me to participate. With nothing to lose, I readily agreed. Once the project was underway I mentioned to Lee that I had a manuscript languishing in a drawer, and he invited me to send it along. Happily for me, he liked it, and thusly was TREASURE COAST launched. It’s been available now in e-book and trade paperback formats since early September, and so far it’s been quite a ride.
It has been said that you’re a “master of the low-life novel.” What draws you to writing your darker characters?
Over the course of my life I’ve been thrust into environments almost exclusively male: the army (of my day), swinging a sledge on a railroad section crew, and, perhaps most useful of all for fiction writing, teaching inmates at Stateville Prison in Joliet, Illinois. In all these settings I was exposed to the uninventable vernacular of clusters of men absent the civilizing influence of females, so I had a share of the dialogue for such characters handed to me like a gift. But with the villains (as, I hope, with all the other types of characters) what I wanted to do was avoid the stereotypes of villainy by investing them with qualities I can only call human. In TREASURE COAST, for example, Junior Biggs, the most despicable of villains, still plans to use part of the money he hopes to come by with their big score to buy a proper headstone for his mother’s grave. The introduction of such seeming incongruities can add what I like to believe is a certain comedic element to a narrative, as when the character Hector Pasadena, an equally unregenerate villain in TREASURE COAST, submits almost meekly to the instructions of the kidnap victim herself and joins without complaint in the group’s house cleaning and cooking chores. Juxtaposing such comic scenes with those of brutal violence helps me create an atmosphere of ambiguity I’m striving for in both narrative and characterization.
Of all the characters you’ve created, which is your favorite?
If I exclude the villains, many of whom I’ve certainly enjoyed creating, I’d have to say my favorite is the protagonist of the three “Waverly novels,” Timothy Waverly. He appeals to me because of the qualities that comprise his character: intelligence, focus, loyalty, shrewdness—a cynic with a streak of romanticism, a stoic fatalist with an abundance of courage. For me it’s easy to like, if not to identify with, such a character, maybe because he’s the man I wish I were.
Describe your writing space and how it inspires you.
If by “space” is meant the room where all the work gets done, there’s not a whole lot to describe and even less to say about it in the way of inspiration. It’s small, cramped, untidy, cluttered with all the paraphernalia of a writing enterprise. There’s a brace of windows along one wall that offer me glimpses into the human comedy of the outside world; inside, it looks like a mess, but it’s my mess and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Seven novels got penned on the battered desk that dominates the room, and I’ve got a sentimental attachment to the place.
What are your hobbies/interests outside of writing? Do any of these activities find their way into your books?
I’ve never been much of a hobbyist, but I have been a lifelong fitness addict, beginning by lifting weights in a grungy basement at age 15 and still hoisting them today, though with poundages more suitable for a nursing home. That activity was useful in developing the character D’Marco Fontaine in DOUBLE DOWN, a narcissistic bodybuilder who happens to make a living maiming and killing people.
How much of you or your experience is in your book? (Are any characters in your book based on people you know? Are any of the situations in your novel based on real events?)
The opening scene in TREASURE COAST, the central character Jim Merriman engaged in a deathwatch over a dying sister, was taken almost intact from a similar personal experience. Many years ago my older sister was diagnosed with a particularly virulent strain of cancer. Miraculously, she survived almost 20 years till finally the malady caught up with her. I spent the last few days of her life in a bumbling effort to comfort her, and during that difficult time I must have absorbed some of the peculiarly repellent ambience of a hospital, for a great deal of it emerges in that first chapter. The difference between the fictional and actual events is that in real life there was no hapless nephew in a world of trouble or a tempting seductress down the hall. Those two and all the other characters in TREASURE COAST are purely products of my overheated imagination. Same with the events in the novel, the kidnapping plot and all the sub-plots, though I might add that all of the Palm Beach Gardens venues cited and described are faithful to the book’s time setting.
At this point in your writing career, what has been your most memorable moment as an author?
My most memorable moment, as I suspect is the case with many writers, was the day I learned my first novel, MICHIGAN ROLL, had been accepted for publication. I was 57 years old and had been trying for decades to break into print with a work of fiction. When it finally happened I’m not sure if I felt joy or vindication of all my efforts or simply an immense relief. All I know for certain is it was one of the highlights of my life.
If TREASURE COAST were to be turned into a movie, who would you have in the starring roles?
Daniel Day-Lewis is, in my opinion, the finest and most versatile actor of his generation. I’m not sure the Jim Merriman character would be challenging enough for him, but it would be an honor to have him portray it. Other male actors whose work I admire include Edward Norton and Viggo Mortensen, either of whom would do justice to the role. For the Billie Swett character I can think of no one better suited for that part than Sandra Bullock.
What was the best writing advice you’ve ever received?
My mentor at the U. of Iowa Writers Workshop was the novelist Vance Bourjaily. I once timidly submitted a short story to him, and to my intense gratification he seemed to like it very much. He encouraged me to submit it to some of the literary magazines of that era, which I did but with no success. When I expressed my frustration and dismay at not instantly breaking into print, his response was neither new nor particularly original: persistence, he maintained, was what finally carried the day. I believe my experience bears out the simple truth of this advice.
Who among modern writers in the genre of crime fiction and suspense do you most admire and why?
I’ve always liked the work of Ross Thomas and George Higgins, both sadly deceased. But it was Dutch Leonard, also abruptly departed, whose fast-paced novels, both crime and western, and memorable characters first captured my interest in the crime fiction genre. His plotting, in particular, defines that over-used term “page turner.” And while she is hardly limited to that genre herself, I have to mention here the work of Flannery O’Connor, who blended comedy and violence in an unforgettable mix, as in her peerless short story, “A Good Man Is Hard To Find.”
What is next for you?
Next year Brash Books is bringing out the last two of my out of print novels, FLAWLESS and BLIND SPOT. What will follow for me depends on the reception of all six books and, of course, TREASURE COAST. If there’s an audience out there for these kinds of stories and characters, I’d be tempted to pick up my pen one more time and see what flows.
Title: Treasure Coast by Tom Kakonis
Publisher: Brash Books
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery
Length: 304 pages
“A darkly humorous caper novel that offers strong entertainment,” Publishers Weekly
A compulsive gambler goes to his sister’s funeral on Florida’s Treasure Coast and gets saddled with her loser-son, who is deep in debt to a vicious loan shark who sends a pair of sociopathic thugs to collect on the loan. But things go horribly awry…and soon the gambler finds himself in the center of an outrageous kidnapping plot involving a conman selling mail-order tombstones, a psychic who channels the dead and the erotically super-charged wife of a wealthy businessman. As if that wasn’t bad enough, a killer hurricane is looming…
It’s “Get Shorty” meets “No Country for Old Men” on a sunny Florida coast teeming with conmen and killers, the vapid and the vain, and where violent death is just a heartbeat away.
A reviewer for Up and Down these Mean Streets says: The bottom line is that Treasure Coast is a page turner, but you don’t just find yourself turning the pages. You savor the language, the mordant, unpleasant insights into human nature, fate, chance…the whole damn ball of wax.”
Purchase Link: Amazon