Monday, October 23, 2017

Joe Ide & John Sandford at The Poisoned Pen!

Denis wasn't all that sure that he wanted to see authors John Sandford and Joe Ide at The Poisoned Pen last Tuesday, but I talked him into it. I had a feeling he'd change his mind after we got there. Once again, we got there more than two hours early only to find many of the choice seats already reserved. John Sandford has always been a big draw at my favorite bookstore, but I think Joe Ide's winning the Shamus, Anthony, and Macavity Awards just a few days previously had something to do with so many people showing up early.

I did manage to spend some time reading, but at 6 PM, it was too noisy for me to concentrate, so I went to my chosen seat and sat down to wait. A few minutes later, a woman who'd driven down from Payson sat down beside me, and while we were talking about mysteries, my "Poisoned Pen pal," Virginia, sat down behind me, so that last hour flew by.

L to R: John Sandford, Joe Ide

When bookstore owner Barbara Peters introduced the two authors, she told us of a conversation she had with Sandford while visiting him in Santa Fe. Sandford said, "I've read this terrific book by this guy called Joe Ide. I'd like you to fix it that he appears with me when I come to The Poisoned Pen in the fall." Barbara checked and saw that the release dates for the two men's books were nowhere close to each other, so she wrote to Ide's publisher, saying that John Sandford would like to appear with Joe Ide at The Poisoned Pen, perhaps you would be willing to change the publication date for Ide's book so we can do that? The publisher quickly agreed, and the two authors' pub dates were also synced for this year as well. (By the way, if you're like me, you've probably been mispronouncing Ide's last name. The correct pronunciation is ee-DAY.)

When Barbara took a seat and left the two men to ask each other questions, Sandford was momentarily taken aback but recovered quickly. First of all, he wanted to know if Ide had considered writing literary novels before writing thrillers. 

Joe Ide
"I only considered writing one novel before writing a mystery," Ide said. "As some of you already know, I grew up in south central LA-- an area full of gangs and crime. My favorite character was the original Sherlock Holmes, and I read all Conan Doyle's novels and short stories multiple times. When it came time to write a book, there was no question that it would be Sherlock in the 'hood.

"So when you started writing, did you just have an idea for that one book, or did you have a whole series in mind?" Sandford asked.

"I was just trying to write the next paragraph," Ide replied. "Truly, that was the only thing on my mind. It was shut up and write the next paragraph. Don't think about the end. Don't think about publishers. Don't think about editors. This was not my element. I'd never written a novel before; I was a screenwriter, and that's a completely different craft. So every day, that was my mantra: Shut up and write the paragraph."

Sandford felt that screenwriting might be a natural step into writing a novel, but Ide said, "It didn't feel like a natural step! Screenwriting taught me brevity, it taught me to think visually, but it did not teach me to write long-form prose.

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"In a screenplay, if the next scene takes place in a nice house in suburbia, you write 'Exterior: Nice house in suburbia.' You can't get away with that in a novel. A screenplay is 105 pages triple-spaced, and it's mostly dialogue. It took me a year to learn how to write clean, decent prose, and I was reading Elements of Style and all those sorts of books just so I could get to the point where I wasn't embarrassing myself. In the next two years, I finished the book, but I also found my own style."

When Sandford asked him about going back to screenwriting, Ide said, "I never want to see another screenplay again. There was so much frustration and disappointment attached to screenwriting. I worked as a screenwriter for a number of years, and I worked for most of the major studios, but I never got anything made. Not one thing was ever put into production. I would work for months on a project only to learn that the studio had gotten fired or the budget was too big... one thing after another. I finally burned out-- and that's a good thing."

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"I will tell you two odd things that I know about screenwriting," Sandford said. "Unforgiven won Oscars for Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor, and Best Director. It took eleven years from screenplay to screen. It's a tricky business. The money may sound good, but if you space it out over those eleven years, you'd probably make less per year than an elementary school teacher.

"The other thing that I know is that my wife, who was a newspaper reporter, decided to write a screenplay because she was interested in the form. When she was finished, she asked me to give her screenplay to my agent-- who's also Joe's agent. My wife's first screenplay was produced!"

[The look on Joe's face was priceless.]

Sandford continued, "So the thing that I know about Hollywood is that it's an extremely weird place. The one thing that I like about writing a novel is that if you work hard and finish your book, with determination and a bit of intelligence, it will be published. In Hollywood, there are a lot of things that are more important than a good screenplay."

Sandford then talked about ideas. "I wrote a book about the Chippewa Zoo that was never published. It was no good. I gave the manuscript to my agent who read it and said, 'This sucks.' I still have bad ideas from time to time. In fact, I had one about five years ago. When I told my idea to my agent, his response was 'We shall never speak of this again.'"  

Ide said, "I taught an aspiring writers seminar, and most of them thought that they would write a book, and the book would be good. What most people who want to write a book need to learn is that they have to take writing as seriously as they would going to med school."

John Sandford
In talking a bit about the background for his latest Virgil Flowers novel, Deep Freeze, Sandford told us that Minnesota allows convicts inside prison to form their own companies and sell products, which can lead to problems-- mainly over price since outside companies cannot match the dirt-cheap wages the prisoners receive. 

"As a reporter, I spent two months inside Stillwater Penitentiary interviewing murderers," Sandford said. "I learned that most criminal acts are so profoundly stupid that they're hard to deal with. These are the typical crimes. Virgil is the kind of guy who runs into a lot of typical crime which allows me to insert a lot of humor.

"These books seem more real to me than the Davenports. The Virgil books are completely different from the Davenports. They're less intense, and there's more humor."

Barbara then asked him if he thought altering Barbie dolls was ordinary crime. "No, but it is small-time, and it's bizarre." Seeing the puzzled faces in the room, John and Joe clarified: in Deep Freeze, there is a group of people in a small town who are altering Barbie and Ken dolls to turn them into sex toys. Barbie has a very vocal and very loud orgasm, and "if you want to know what they do to Ken, you'll have to read the book!" Sandford said amid gales of laughter. 

Ide told us that Sandford was simplifying the Virgil books a bit too much. "It's like a tour through human weakness and frailties. There's always a subtext of satire. Is that intentional? To make fun of people's foibles?"

"To make fun of their foibles, yes, but not to make fun of the people. They're just human after all," Sandford replied. 

John Sandford
Looking at Ide, Sandford said, "You write about black people in south central LA. You're not black. How do you work all that racial stuff out without tripping over all the sensitivities there are today?"

"It's a question of treating them like real people. I write about a real human who happens to be black. I write about a real human who happens to be Latino. One of the greatest gifts a writer can have is empathy. You have to be able to get inside other people's heads."

Ide continued, "I've had characters who started out as archetypes even as stereotypes. The key is not to leave it at that. You have to give those characters an emotional life."

Talk then began moving from topic to topic. About setting, Sandford said, "I try to have all the major scenes in my books be places that I've actually seen."  

Ide spoke more of the importance of Sherlock Holmes in his life. "Holmes was my alter ego. He was like me-- a misfit-- but he could overcome obstacles and not be afraid. He was the guy I wanted to be, and he dealt with criminals by using his mind, which was so important to a kid like me."

"IQ is more physical than Sherlock Holmes. In my mind, that's the key difference between the two," Sandford commented. "I do wish he'd get laid, though!"

"You and me both!" said Ide. 

"Of course, that is Sherlock-like," said Sandford.

"That's also from my life. Isaiah does meet a woman-- The Woman-- in Righteous, but the actual relationship does not play out in the book."

Joe Ide (R)
"Is it the woman I think it is?" Sandford asked.

"It is," Ide replied.

"You know the one I like? It's Deronda!" Sandford laughed.

"Deronda was modeled after my first girlfriend," Ide said. "She lived two houses away. She was a head and a half taller than me. She outweighed me by forty pounds. One of my brothers said that she looked like a ventriloquist with a Japanese puppet. I thought that was a little harsh." At this point, everyone in the room had exploded into laughter, and Barbara pleaded with Ide, "That has to make it into a book! Don't waste it!"

After talking a bit about dialogue and saying that Michael Connelly is the bestselling author who writes the most cop-like books, both men mentioned their upcoming books. The third IQ book will be released in October 2018, and Sandford will be back at The Poisoned Pen with his new Lucas Davenport thriller next April. 

This was such a fun evening, and so much was said that there's no way I could write it all down. (I have to learn how to write and laugh at the same time.) If you're on Facebook and are interested in seeing the live feed of the evening, go to The Poisoned Pen Bookstore's Facebook page. The link takes you to their video section, and you can find Sandford & Ide from there. While you're there, it wouldn't hurt to like their page, too!

Denis and I (and the stack of books below) made our happy way out of the bookstore and on to dinner. Hopefully, these two men will be appearing at my favorite bookstore this time next year!


  1. Thanks. I felt like I was there listening to Ide and Sandford. They are hilarious.

    I haven't read their books, but I hesitate to add to the TBR lists right now.

    1. Yes, I think I've been doing a number on the size of your stacks!

  2. What a great visit this was, Cathy! And it sounds as though it was as fun as it was informative. Lucky you!

  3. Yes, adding to the stack and lists.


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