Listening In is a series of author interviews, featuring authors whose works have been transformed into audiobooks! Reed Farrel Coleman has been described as “a hard-boiled poet” and is the best-selling author of thirty-one novels. His latest, Sleepless City, was recently produced as an audiobook featuring acclaimed voice actor Peter Giles as the narrator.

Listening In #13

Reed Farrel Coleman

Reed Farrel Coleman, called a hard-boiled poet by NPR’s Maureen Corrigan, is the New York Times bestselling author of thirty-one novels including six in Robert B. Parker’s Jesse Stone series. His new novel, Sleepless City, will be released by Blackstone Publishing later this year. He is a four-time recipient of the Shamus Award and a four-time Edgar Award nominee in three different categories. He has also won the Audie, Scribe, Macavity, Barry, and Anthony awards. Reed lives with his wife on Long Island.

Audiobooks by Reed Farrel Coleman on Kobo

Please tell us more about Sleepless City! Why should we listen to it?

I wrote Sleepless City, as I do all my novels, to work on several different levels. My first job is to entertain the reader and Sleepless City is jam-packed with action, a plot full of surprises and reversals, and characters readers will latch onto, especially Nick Ryan. As some early readers have described him, Nick’s an urban James Bond or Jack Reacher. For readers who want more than to just go along for the thrill ride, there are deep moral dilemmas that Nick has to deal with. I want readers to ask themselves  what they would do faced with these situations. And, having been born and raised in Brooklyn, I show a side of New York City, that may be a revelation to some readers. The audiobook is great because I can almost hear my own voice in Peter’s voice. The best audiobooks are those in which the narrator sounds as if the words he’s reading are words he or she wrote. When I listened to Sleepless City, it was hard for me to remember I wrote those words. That’s how good the audiobook is.  

Could you please tell us about your career as an author? What first drew you to writing?

I began writing as a poet. I was published in my teens. Believe it or not, I quit the football team to become the editor of the high school literary magazine! After college, I continued publishing poetry and worked as a freight forwarder at the World Trade Center and the cargo area at JFK International Airport. While at the airport, I took a night class back at Brooklyn College, “American Detective Fiction.” It was a class that just happened to fit my schedule. Odd, I was never much of a mystery reader, but the first three books we read were The Continental Op and The Maltese Falcon by Hammett and Farewell, My Lovely by Chandler. The night I got home from discussing Chandler, I told my wife I was quitting my job at the airport to write crime fiction. I saw in Hammett and Chandler all the things I loved about poetry: the power of image, the economy of language, the rhythm of smart writing, the strength of emotion. Thirty-two novels, dozens of short stories, and thirty plus years later, I think I made the right move. 

We’d love to hear about your writing process. Please elaborate!

Process comes partly out of routine. I write in the morning after breakfast for about three hours. After that, I start to lose focus. I edit in the afternoon. I begin writing every day (and I do write every day) by reading what I wrote and edited the day before. It builds momentum like a running start. I never outline. Never! To me, outlining would take all the fun and surprise out of my work. I feel that if I’m not sure what’s coming next, neither will the reader. It’s like going along for the ride together. If I outlined, I feel like I would already have written the book. I don’t want to write books twice. It’s worked for me because I have never written two novels exactly alike. I’ve gotten halfway through a book and changed who I originally thought the “bad guy” might be. It’s working on the high wire without a net, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

You have written both standalone novels and series. Do you know when you start a new book which it will be? How do you decide which characters and worlds need to expand into series?

I know this sounds delusional, but I let the book and the characters tell me if they can sustain a series or if the idea is more suited for a standalone. For instance, when I wrote my first Moe Prager novel, Walking The Perfect Square, I didn’t know it would be the first in a nine novel series. As I wrote the novel, my mind began to see all sorts of future possibilities for Moe and the other characters in the novel. It was as if Moe told me he had no intention of going away after one book. I listened and I’m glad I did. That series won me a lot of critical praise and many awards. On the other hand, when a book appears in my head as a complete plot from beginning to end, that screams standalone.

What drew you to Crime Fiction and Poetry? When did you know these were the genres you wanted to write?

Part of that answer I discussed previously. I believe my attraction to crime fiction grew not only out of my love of language, but largely out of real world tragedy. I grew up in Brooklyn in the ‘60s and ‘70s. Back then, even safe neighborhoods were dangerous. One of my school friends was stabbed to death on a bus when I was in 8th grade. When I was fifteen, I saw a man die in front of me from a gunshot wound. At JFK, I worked with a whole bunch of “mobbed-up” guys. If you’ve ever seen “Goodfellas”, those are the type of guys I worked with. Crime was kind of a low level white noise that never ever went away and was always there just below the surface during my childhood. So, even when I was unaware of it, I must have been formulating my beliefs that serious crime reverberates into the future. As I once wrote, “There are victims of the Holocaust yet to be born.”

Where is your favourite place to write?

I have an office in my house. It’s really the only place I can do serious writing. I need quiet and familiar surroundings to do my best. And, let’s face it, it’s a very short commute to work.

Describe your writing style in five words or less.

A lyrical gut punch.

Any advice for emerging writers?

There’s no such thing as wasted writing. You only get better by doing the work. Read a lot and never close your mind to inspiration or improving.

What do you do when you experience writer’s block or reader’s block?

I never get writer’s block. I don’t believe in it. Do teachers get teaching block? Do surgeons get scalpel block? Look, we all have bad days. They’re just that, bad days. If writer’s block does exist, I think it’s a function of something else going on in the writer’s life that is holding them back. I do, however, occasionally suffer from reader’s block. It was a real issue during the pandemic. I leave it alone and wait to be excited for a favorite author’s book to come out and then that breaks the trance.

What has been the most exciting part of having your novels transformed into audiobooks?

Everything. You know, when you’re writing, you hear your own internal voice, but it’s a revelation to hear your words outside your own head. Even when I sometimes read my work aloud to check on its rhythm, it’s still my voice. It also makes it easier to judge how well you’ve done your job hearing it aloud. It makes it more real somehow, even more real than holding the book in my hand. It’s that added emotional element of hearing it read that just makes it a wonderful experience.

Well-known voice actor Peter Giles was cast to narrate Sleepless City. Did you have any say in his initial casting? What made Giles right for the job?

I did not have a hand in it, but I can tell you I would have picked him if I did. He nailed it. His voice is not dissimilar to mine. Look, I don’t know if Peter studied poetry, but he seemed to have understood exactly when to read to the punctuation. That’s a major part of reading poetry. He also seemed to intuit when to stress what I wanted stressed and to ease off when it was appropriate. I can tell you from other writer friends’ experiences, that is not always the case. I tip my metaphorical hat to Peter.

Please recommend an audiobook you absolutely adored!

Dr. Knox by Peter Spiegelman, read by Keith Szarabajka.

What are you reading (or listening to) right now?

City of Dreams by Don Winslow.

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