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Dan Reles has a new house, beautiful wife, and great career as head of Austin Homicide. The past, however, has a way of catching up...

Interview with Michael Simon, Author of The Last Jew Standing

Crime fiction author Michael Simon is having a virtual book tour to promote the release of his latest book. He was generous enough to take some time from his busy schedule to do this interview. 

Why don't you start by telling us a bit about your latest novel, The Last Jew Standing

Lieutenant Dan Reles has a new house, a beautiful wife, a son, and a great career as head of Austin Homicide. The past, however, has a way of catching up with you. When Dan’s ex-con father — a Mafia legbreaker who’s spent the last twenty years on the run — shows up on Dan’s doorstep with an escaped prostitute and a stolen car, Dan gets caught on the wrong end of a mob vendetta.

Sam Zelig is the last of the Jewish crime bosses, a giant of a man with boundless rage and a passion for pain—other people’s pain. Zelig chases the old man to Austin to retrieve his stolen girl and extract his pound of flesh. But when Dan’s father won’t hand over the girl, Sam Z takes the city itself hostage, forcing Dan to run the gauntlet: a trial by fire and water, a hail of bullets, a bridge embankment and one very angry woodchipper.

In the wake of revelations about his New York past and the mother who abandoned him, Dan has to choose between his new family, his father, and the town he’s sworn to protect.

Part Damon Runyon, part James Ellroy, Michael Simon paints “an authentic noir landscape and peoples it with equally authentic characters — tarnished cops and haunted hookers,” writing with a rhythm and a soulfulness that raise the bar on crime fiction. Fast paced and suspenseful, The Last Jew Standing thrills to the very last minute.

And what inspired you to write such a story?

I’m Jewish and I grew up in an anti-Semitic neighborhood on Long Island. I felt like an outsider, but because I was a kid, I couldn’t articulate this. As an adult I’ve learned that the experience of feeling like an outsider is universal. Almost everyone has felt it, somewhere along the way. That was the seed of Dan Reles, a half-Jewish, New York-born cop in Texas.

This novel came from a need to connect Dan’s current life with his unresolved past, the mother who left him when he was ten, the gangster father who raised him without warmth or love, the mob he ran from at fifteen. I couldn’t figure out a reasonable way to get Dan back to New York, so I devised a plan for bringing his New York life to Texas, at the worst time, in the way that would create the greatest disruption of his new life.

How would you describe your creative process while writing this novel? Was it stream-of-consciousness writing, or did you first write an outline?

I always brainstorm and then outline. There are moments when I’m just riffing, but that’s within a scene I’ve already planned (at least generally) in the outline.

How long did it take you to write it?

About a year. I was under contract to finish it in that time frame.

Have you ever suffered from writer's block?

If I had trouble writing I would never use that term. It’s too self-perpetuating.

What seems to work for unleashing your creativity?

I always carry a pen. If I get an idea I jot it down. In the morning, I type in my notes from the previous day, and put them in the relevant files on my laptop. As ideas gather in one file, I spend more time on it. Sometimes that becomes my next book.

How was your experience in looking for a publisher? What words of advice would you offer those novice authors who are in search of one?

When your first book is finished, as good as good can be, pick up The Guide to Literary Agents from Writer’s Digest. There are essays in it about how to write a synopsis and a query letter. Query four to five agents, the ones who represent the writers in your genre who you admire most. If these agents turn you down, rethink your approach or your book, revise and try again.

What type of book promotion seems to work the best for you?

All I’ve learned about promotion is that a tour isn’t the way to build an audience. You’ll only bring the readers who already know you. And there’s no substitute for a publisher really getting behind your book.

What is your favorite book of all time? Why?

Catch-22 (Heller) and Blue Heaven (Joe Keenan) are up there. They make me laugh, as does Portnoy’s Complaint. Red Harvest (Dashiell Hammett) probably most influenced me to become a crime writer, a path I may or may not continue on. Lolita is my most-read book, and stands up to my test for literature: you have to be able to (and want to) read it again and again, seeing something new each time. This isn’t a necessary standard for an enjoyable read, or for a book that might improve my life.

Do you have a website/blog where readers may learn more about you and your work?

http://www.michaelsimon.info

Do you have another novel on the works?

Yes.

Would you like to tell readers about your current or future projects.

Yes, but I won’t give in to the temptation. Talking about the unfinished work kills the impetus to write it.

About Mayra Calvani

Mayra Calvani writes fiction and nonfiction for children and adults and has authored over a dozen books, some of which have won awards. Her stories, reviews, interviews and articles have appeared on numerous publications such as The Writer, Writer’s Journal, Multicultural Review, and Bloomsbury Review, among many others. Represented by Serendipity Literary.

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