Author Frank Zafiro - too many books and series and collaborations to mention - was kind enough to submit to some gentle questioning......
Is the book writing full time? If not, what’s the day job and can you give us a quick biography of yourself?
It is now, as of 2017. I was a police officer from 1993 to 2013, and wrote a number of books during that time frame. Upon retirement, I taught police leadership all over the US and Canada for about four more years before going full time as a writer.
*I’m about to read your latest collaborative offering – No Dibs on Murder, co-authored with Lawrence Kelter. Can you pitch it to a potential reader in 50 words or less? *( book now read and enjoyed - thoughts on No Dibs on Murder)
Five college friends. Four of them want to kill the fifth, Tanner Fritz. Why? Because he did them wrong – stole love, money, health. So they plot. But as each tries to do the job, the others thwart the effort. Dark comedy. With a meta twist.
unfair. Seriously, each one was great in his own spectacular way (and you left
out Bonnie Paulson, who was also great). I mean, the hardboiled nature of the
Wilsky books was a blast, the range of the Kelter books always interesting, the
dark romp of the Beetner titles was fun as hell, and the Conway titles feel
like a great story with some literary weight. How the hell do I choose?
You’ve written a ton of solo books and collaborated with a few authors as well – Lawrence Kelter, Jim Wilsky, Eric Beetner and Colin Conway.
Unfair question, do you have a favourite co-author? Who is the most difficult to work with?
Recency bias is probably the only tie-breaker. Over the past couple of years, I’ve worked the most with Colin, and we have a mutual editing partnership for our solo work, too. So if Sophie has to make a choice, that’s the most pragmatic.
But damn you.
Hardest to work with? Literally none of them. It’d be a photo finish if I had to choose.
Have all the collaborations worked the same way? I’m always curious to understand how it works. Writing a solo book, seems like climbing Everest to me, a collaboration seems to be
potentially twice as difficult.
This is part of why the previous question was impossible. While each experience has had some similarities, they’ve been pleasantly different. But to your latter point, I’d say that writing a book with the right collaboration partner is actually twice as easy.
The process has worked in two distinct ways. Early on, we utilized a dual first person narrative with alternating chapters. So I wrote one character and my partner the other. We both wrote in first person and the chapters alternated back and forth between these two characters. This was the process we used for my first collaboration (Some Degree of Murder with Colin Conway), all four Ania books with Wilsky, all three Bricks & Cam Jobs with Beetner, and my one-off with Paulson (The Trade-Off).
The Lawrence Kelter threw a wrench in the works. He was okay with first person but wanted a single POV character for The Last Collar. I agreed but was a bit concerned that this character would end up sounding schizophrenic. In the end, that didn’t happen, though. I’d credit a little bit of planning but mostly the fact that both of us edited with a heavy hand. So, by the time we got a finished draft, the voice was distinctly its own, a melding of our two voices.
With that experience working out so well, I was on board for doing the same with a multiple viewpoint third person approach for Fallen City. And when Colin approached me about Charlie-316, I was comfortable in using that same format for that series (which was the only way it would work).
Nuts and bolts, Colin and I use a write-and-revise method that looks something like this: Say I write chapter one (or chunk one, whatever our detailed outline dictates). I send it to him. He revises chapter one and writes chapter two. I review the chapter one revisions, accepting, revising again, or commenting (or arguing). Then I revise his chapter two. Then I write chapter three. This back and forth continues through the first draft. The result makes for a more consistent tone and voice, as well as a tighter first draft.
Out of all your books, which is your favourite and the one you are most proud of? Which would you press into the hands of a new reader first?
My favorite? I guess I have a soft spot for Waist Deep. Most proud, though? Tough call. I feel like Code Four, the culmination of the Charlie-316 arc, stands up against anything in its weight class. First book for a new reader? Honestly, the first book in whatever series fits their favorite subgenre. I’ve got the mystery field covered there, except for cozy (but I’ve got a suggestion for you there).
Can you remember what your first published piece was and when?Published? I really don’t, although I think I still have a submissions log in a box in the closet somewhere. But paid publication, I do recall. On 7/5/1990, I received $2 for a poem (I’d have to go check that aforementioned log to see what it was), and about a month later, on 8/9/1990, I was paid $15 by Wide Open Magazine for a short story called “Bill’s Son.”
Do you have a typical writing schedule?
I never used to. Summers are always a little loosey goosey, as my wife is off from teaching. I like to spend time with her during that opportunity. But outside of that, I’ve started to instill more a schedule into my writing life. Up early, write for several hours, take a break, do other writerly work. That’s about the size of it.
Thing is, for the majority of my career, I had to carve out time to write, so it was never on a schedule. It’s taken me a while to figure out I can be on one now and to implement it.
Do you insert family, friends, and colleagues into your characters?
I try not to. Maybe a quirk or a turn of phrase but never a wholesale character.
There are two glaring exceptions. I based a main character in the River City series, Thomas Chisolm, on an idealized version of a veteran officer I admired. When I told him about it, he was flattered and gave it his blessing. It was something more than an homage, as there are a ton of similarities. Of course, once the character hits the page, he takes off in his own direction.
The other instance was intended as a minor homage to one of the best detectives I ever knew. He had a couple of small scenes in Charlie-316. When that turned into a four-book arc, the role of that detective increased significantly. While the fictional version is his own man, I’d say he is about eighty percent the same as his real-life counterpart.
But you’ll notice both instances are favorable. Any negative quirks or behaviors that made it into the books have been disguised beyond recognition.
When you have an idea and you sit down to construct your story – do you know what the end result is roughly going to look like?
A majority of the time, yes.Are you a plotter, or do you make it up as you go along?
I used to fly by the seat of my pants more often. Even if I knew the destination, the route getting there was left to the muses. For the last six or seven years, though, I’ve been more of a plotter. Not a granular one, though.
Are there any subjects off limits?
I don’t think anything is off limits, per se, if the story or the character is there. I guess the only thing that would make something off limits would be if it simply didn’t interest me.
How long from conception to completion did No Dibs on Murder take? Was it a smooth process or were there many bumps in the road along the way?
Oh, man. This was one of the toughest books, actually. We finished up an outline in April 2019, and had been talking about it for a long while before that. The first draft wasn’t done until January 2020, and a final draft took until December 2020.
This was a different kind of book for me – to emphasize humor. While the Beetner titles had humor, they were action titles first – a dark action comedy – whereas this book was a dark comedy with some action, if that makes sense.
Humor is so hard, and so subjective. Getting something we were both happy with took a lot of work.
Did the end result mirror both your expectations at the start of the process, or is it a very different book to what you both imagined?
It actually ended up being pretty close to what we originally wanted. There’s the straightforward character(s) journey, with some humor and action in it, and then there’s a bit of a meta tale happening, too. I think we pulled it off.
Was there one spark or germ of imagination which started the story off in your minds?
Not that I recall. We decided to write a third title together and even started some outlining on a project I intended to be a solo work. Ultimately, I felt like I needed to write that one myself, and even more pressing, I needed to work on something a little lighter. So the idea of a black comedy came up and we just started brainstorming.Are there any unpublished gems in your bottom drawer?
Unpublished, yes. Gems, no.
What’s the current project in progress?
I’m writing something called THE RIDE-ALONG. It will be set in the Charlie-316 universe a couple of years after that four-book arc ends. I’m writing the first draft of this one before we tear into it as collaborators.
The premise? A good cop gets a ride-along who is also a good person, a community activist for police reform. Sparks fly, and not of the romantic kind. Eventually, some ideas are shared. And, because I write crime fiction, some bad shit happens. The theme, hopefully, will touch on the concept of listening to each other, something that isn’t happening a lot these days.
What’s the best thing about writing?
Taking a story that’s in my head, making it live outside of my head, and then seeing someone else connect to that story and those characters.The worst?
Trying to be heard in an
increasingly large field.
Last writing/publishing question….. Scalise? Zafiro? I’m assuming Zafiro is a pseudonym, but you’ve published under both. How come?
I’ve used Zafiro for my crime fiction and Scalise for mainstream work (which is basically some hockey books at this point). I chose to use a pen name because I was an active duty cop at the time I started getting published. I simply didn’t know how my agency would react. There were some employment agreements in place that may have given them some footing to say, “We don’t like what you’re doing. Stop it.” I figured using a pen name and changing Spokane to River City at least gave me something to argue back if it came down to it.
Any particular reason for Zafiro? When I browse the local bookshelf the Zs are my last stop. Wouldn’t you have been better going for Frank Aardvark or something similar?
It would have! But Zafiro was the name a number of us used for our film production group in high school, so it had some sentimental value to it. Plus, while Z is last, it’s also not a crowded field. And while some may struggle to pronounce it, they don’t mistake it with anyone else.
What are the last five books you’ve read?
SPQR by Mary Beard
The Value in Our Lies by Colin Conway
The First Law trilogy by Joe Abercrombie (okay, that’s a cheat)
Later by Stephen King
Black Label by James L’Etoile
And I’m currently reading Apprehension by Mark Bergin
Who do you read and enjoy?
I tend to alternate between a history book and some good fiction, usually crime fiction or fantasy/sci-fi. I’ve been staying away from what’s hot lately because I’ve frankly been disappointed in books not living up to the hype. I also listen to a fair number of audiobooks and podcasts in the car or while exercising.
Is there any one book you wish you had written?
Stephen King’s 11/22/63 had it all – crime, history, time travel.
Favourite activity when not working or writing?
I’ve been trying to get better at playing guitar for the better part of two decades. I enjoy it even though I’m not very good at it. I also like working out, whether that’s the gym, walking/running, or getting a chance to go kayaking. And, of course, reading and watching good TV.
What’s the last film you watched that rocked you?
Good question. It’s been a while. I used to watch way more films than TV but the ratio has gradually shifted to television to the tune of 90/10. That said, I was pleasantly surprised by Triple Frontier.
TV addict or not? What’s the must watch show in the Scalise (Zafiro) household?
Absolutely. This is where it is at for me in terms of visual entertainment. The quality of shows out there now is high. There are some that fall into the overlap portion of the Venn diagram of my wife’s and my own preferences – shows like Ozark and Dead to Me come to mind. Lately, I’ve discovered Justified and Letterkenny, both of which I enjoy for very different reasons. And we just did a re-watch of The Sopranos for the first time in a decade or so, and boy, does it hold up.
What are the last three pieces of music you’ve listened to?
I’d have to check my Spotify list but I can pretty much guarantee you it’s classic rock, and almost certainly two of the three will be from Bruce Springsteen (though probably not the songs you’d expect).
RANDOM TRIVIA FUN QUESTIONS
What’s your favourite vegetable?
I like peas but I’ve been told that doesn’t count anymore.
When did you last have a fist fight?
Oh, man. Gotta be at least before 2007. I’m a peaceful man, Col.
Have you ever been thrown out of a bar or a club?
No, though I probably should have been tossed from the Riviera in Vegas back in 2008 or so. White Russians are a dangerous drink, my friend.
Do you have any tattoos?
One. I have a Springsteen lyric on the inside of my left forearm.
What was your first pet’s name?
First I really remember was Kilo, a shepherd/coyote mix. Yes, we lived in a small town in the Pacific Northwest. And yes, my dad partook of the leaf.
What’s the worst meal you have ever eaten?
My ex-wife’s grandmother made French toast once. It was pretty gross and whenever the cook’s back was turned, my ex was slipping her toast onto my plate.
Do you have any irrational fears?
Snakes. The poisonous ones. But that’s not irrational, is it? If not, I’d say I’ve got a weird thing about my eyes.
What’s your favourite vacation destination?
So far, I think Ireland has been the best, though Italy was a blast. And we keep making the return trip to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.
When did you last tell a lie?
Somewhere in this blog, I’m pretty certain. Can’t help it. I write lies for a living.-------------
Many thanks to Frank for his time.
You can catch up with him at the following sites....
Website - FrankZafiro.com
Twitter - @Frank_Zafiro
Facebook - FrankZafiroAuthor
Instagram - frankzafiro370
Details of two of Frank's latest books below. Check them out.
No Dibs on Murder (2021) (with Lawrence Kelter)Tanner Fritz has it all—he’s good-looking, well-liked, fabulously wealthy, and has a beautiful wife. He’s a veritable well of goodwill and happiness.
So why do his four best friends want him dead?
Each of them believes they have a genuine reason—he stole Marty’s wife, swindled Carson out of a fortune, caused Barry’s traumatic brain injury, and… well, no one is exactly sure why Serena wants to kill him.
The foursome’s grievances quickly escalate into something truly terrifying, planning Tanner’s murder—only to run into a seemingly insurmountable hitch. Who actually gets to do the deed? Who has suffered the most at his hands?
A cacophony of bumbling exploits follow as each tries to off Tanner Fritz, while the other three sabotage those efforts. Sprinkled with site gags and belly laughs to tickle both the cultured and the philistine, No Dibs on Murder pulls no punches… and neither do these harebrained would-be killers.
From the authors of Fallen City and The Last Collar.
Hallmarks of the Job (2021) (a PI Tales double feature with Michael Bracken's Aloha Boys)Two thrilling detective novellas in one exciting volume!
In Frank Zafiro's Hallmarks of the Job, Meticulous private investigator Stanley Melvin likes to keep his work grounded in reality, not at all like the classic detective novels he has read incessantly since childhood. But his best friend and annoying neighbor Rudy quickly points out that his routine "cheater" case is rapidly taking on all of the features that Stanley steadfastly insists are mere fictional tropes of the genre.
In Michael Bracken's Aloha Boys, Private investigator Morris Ronald “Moe Ron” Boyette is still adjusting to his new digs above Millie’s Tattoos and Piercings when a homeless woman hires him to find her missing half-brother. Searching for the young man sends Boyette through the depraved underbelly of the local university, reunites him with a mob boss best left in his past, and leads him to question everything he thought he knew about families.
ABOUT THE P.I. TALES DOUBLE FEATURE SERIES
Each installment of the P.I. Tales Double Feature series consists of two lightning-fast detective mystery novellas, some featuring beloved P.I. Tales series characters, others operating as standalone stories featuring new protagonists. The goal of the series is to combine the elements of a long-form mystery with the speed and precision of short-form narratives. Every Double Feature volume contains two independent stories that can each be read in one sitting without skimping on the essential elements of mystery and suspense that discerning readers adore!