Q&A with Ace Atkins

Michael Barson: Ten years ago you were carving out your career with a series of historical crime novels that revisited iconic events and characters from the past, beginning with WHITE SHADOW in 2006. Those were very good books, but each one was a battle for attention and sales. Now here you are a decade later with not one but two successful series, the award-nominated Sheriff Quinn Colson, and Robert B. Parker’s Spenser. Did you ever see this coming?

Ace Atkins: At that time, I actually vowed to never write a series ever again. I was pretty happy working on my true crime novels and saw that being my career path for a long while. But after INFAMOUS, my “Machine Gun” Kelly novel, I was asked by my long-time editor to consider writing something contemporary next. It seems that while a core audience loves to visit the past, a far greater audience likes a modern hero to follow. I took the request as a real challenge and sought to create a series unlike anything else out there — a series more about a county, a place than just one one hero. And Southern. I knew there wasn’t anyone writing about the Deep South. The closest we have is the brilliant James Lee Burke. But Louisiana is another culture entirely.

And a year later, I was asked to keep Spenser working. And I gladly accepted.

Working on a Northern and Southern series has been a challenge and a lot of fun.

MB: THE FALLEN finds Quinn embroiled in a stew involving corrupt politicians, local crime operations, missing teenagers, and a gang of ex-Marine bank robbers. If this were made into a movie, name your director and cast. (And yes, Robert Mitchum has aged out of the role…)

AA: It’s funny talking about Mitchum at the centennial of his birth. I know Robert B. Parker and I both wish we could’ve had him to play our heroes.

I don’t know about casting for THE FALLEN but there’s been a serous discussion about potential casting for The Ranger. It’s in development know by director/producer Jeremiah Chechik. In addition to directing some iconic films like “Benny and Joon” and “Christmas Vacation,” he’s directed a huge amount of action shows for television. We both share a very common vision for Quinn. Gritty and authentic 1970s film making.

I just finished co-writing the screenplay with Emmy-winner and Oxford, Mississippi pal, Jack Pendarvis.

On casting Quinn, I really don’t know. There aren’t a lot of Mitchums out there. Or Coburns, Garners, or McQueens.

But then again, few knew Burt Reynolds when he starred in White Lightning — a film we continually go back to when discussion The Ranger as a feature.

MB: Having spent many of your formative years in Mississippi, how well acquainted are you with the actual rural area that you have named Tibbehah County?

AA: Extremely. When my wife and I moved to Oxford we bought an old farm in the most rural area of Lafayette County — the model for Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha. We also lived at the crossroads of two other counties — Yalobusha and Calhoun. I promise you the world and folks in my “Tibbehah” came straight from the source.

MB: Writing two series as you do is a serious demand on your time and energy. How do you approach that task? Do you work on one six months of the year and the other during the next six months?

AA: It

 ain’t easy. I just finished three weeks of promotion on THE FALLEN and I’m now immediately back on the Boston beat finishing up the 2018 Spenser. I can’t write the books at the same time. But the editing process often overlaps. Usually it’s a pretty even split of six months of the year. With little room for vacation or book conferences. 

MB: Who would you name as your all-time top-five crime writers from the past? And select one book from each that you deem irreplaceable.

AA: Easily done. This is my Mount Rushmore. And if I may add a seventh, it would be George V. Higgins. FRIENDS OD EDDIE COYLE, of course.
 
Dashiell Hammett — RED HARVEST
Raymond Chandler — FAREWELL MY LOVELY
Richard Stark/Donald Westlake — THE SCORE
John D. MacDonald — THE DROWNER
Elmore Leonard – THE HOT KID
Robert B. Parker — EARLY AUTUMN