"Estleman turns Amos Walker loose in a plot and itís pure private eye all the way... No one does it better."
"I thought Never Street (1997) might release me from my obsession with film noir," Loren D. Estleman says of the novel that revived the Amos Walker series. "It just made it worse."
To say Estleman is a movie buff is like saying Philip Marlowe smokes.
Amos Walker's creator has 1300 videos -- from Abbott and Costello to Zulu Dawn -- and his books about film number in the hundreds.
Recently, Estleman took his fixation one step further and created a short story series featuring film archivist and amateur sleuth, Valentino.
Estleman has worked hard to get where he is, beginning in the unheated upstairs of the 1867 Michigan farmhouse where he was raised. He's written (as as March 1999, when this interview was conducted) 44 books (three were published in 1998, three more are being published in 1999) and hundreds of short stories and articles since the appearance of his first novel in 1976. He recently finished writing the seventh novel in the Detroit Crime Series. Current to-do list: two more historical westerns, the 14th installment of the Amos Walker PI Series, and no telling how many short works and proposals for more novels.
All of this on a manual typewriter, no less.
Estleman, who has been writing full time since 1980, often says he's not a fast writer. He is, however, consistent, spending an average of six hours a day at his typewriter.
When he was 15 years old, he sent out his first short story for publication. Over the next eight years, he collected 160 rejections. He attributes his tenacity to ego, and he's earned that, too. He and his brown-bag lunch commuted to Eastern Michigan University for four years to cut expenses after his father was disabled and his mother went to work to support the family.
He graduated from EMU with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English Literature and Journalism, and went to work as an investigative reporter for newspapers in the Ann Arbor, Michigan, area.
"Ironically," Estleman says, "after being in police units during chases and arrests -- even as backup with a shotgun at one point -- my most potentially dangerous situation was when I was working at the Dexter Leader in my small hometown. A 16-year-old kid had been fire-bombing cars from the second story of his mother's house. He even blew up a police car. He was too young for Vietnam, but obsessed with war and played the part-dressing in jungle
"We did what small-town papers did at the time: taped the front page of the paper in our office window.
"I had covered the story. The kid -- and he didn't look like a kid -- stood at the window and read the article. Then he walked through the door and asked me, 'Did you write that?'
"I knew how dangerous he could be, so I told him I just worked there.
"There was a long pause. Finally, he said, 'I'll take six copies.'
"A couple of months later," Estleman remembers, "he burned down the house with his mother in it. Last I heard, he was in a hospital for the criminally insane."
An authority on both criminal history and the American West, Estleman has been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, the Mystery Writers of America Edgar Allan Poe Award, and England's Silver Dagger Award.
He has received 14 national writing awards: three Shamuses from PWA, two American Mystery Awards from Mystery Scene Magazine, two Outstanding Mystery Writer of the Year awards from Popular Fiction Monthly, four Golden Spurs and two Stirrups from Western Writers of America, and the Western Heritage Award from the National Cowboy Hall of Fame. In 1987, the Michigan Foundation of the Arts presented him with its award for literature. In 1997, the Michigan Library Association named him the recipient of the Michigan Author's Award.
In 1993, Estleman was Guest of Honor at the Southwest Mystery Convention in Austin, Texas, and in July 1999 he was Honored Guest of Eyecon in St. Louis, Missouri.
Estleman has received fan letters from such notables as John D. MacDonald, The Amazing Kreskin, and Mel Tormé. He has acquired a loyal cult readership across the United States and in Europe and Japan, and his work has appeared in 23 languages.
Writing fiction isn't Estleman's only contribution to the literary scene. He has reviewed books for many newspapers, including The New York Times and The Washington Post, and in 1988 he covered the filming of Lonesome Dove for TV Guide.
His favorite writers-and those who have inspired his work-include Jack London, Edgar Allan Poe, W. Somerset Maugham, Ernest Hemingway, Raymond Chandler, and Edith Wharton.
As an admirer of London's work, Estleman visited Glen Ellen, California, in 1985. He'd been corresponding with London's daughter, Becky, and meeting her was the highlight of the trip. She presented Estleman with a bottle of wine from her father's vineyards and it remains, unopened, on display in Estleman's study. The two corresponded until her death in 1992.
There's a chance that Estleman will be venturing into a new facet of writing. He was recently asked to write an original screenplay for the big screen featuring a private eye, and negotiations are under way. Most writers know that one has to stay grounded when The Dream Factory comes calling. But, Estleman confesses, "It would be nice to get a lot of money out of Hollywood. I've sure put plenty into it."
NON-FICTION BY ESTLEMAN
Report respectfully submitted by Deborah Morgan, with additional info by Kevin Burton Smith. Many thanks to Deborah for her permission to use her interview, which originally appeared in the March 1999 issue of the PWA newsletter, Reflections in a Private Eye. By the way, besides being Loren's publicist, Deborah's a writer herself, having published non-fiction and western shortfiction. She's also dabbled in P.I. fiction (see Mary Shelley). She's also writesr a mystery series featuring antiques dealer Jeffrey Talbot.
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