Writing With … Wallace Stroby

The next writer to tackle the Wednesdays With questionnaire is Wallace Stroby, another veteran of The Star-Ledger. He spent 23 years working in daily newspapers, ending in 2008. He’s the author of four novels — COLD SHOT TO THE HEART, GONE ‘TIL NOVEMBER, THE HEARTBREAK LOUNGE and THE BARBED-WIRE KISS, which was a finalist for the Barry Award for Best First Novel. A graduate of Rutgers University, he’s a lifelong resident of the real Jersey Shore. (Don’t get him started on that.) Visit his website at www.wallacestroby.com.

Q. Tell us about your book and what inspired you to write it.

I’ve always wanted to write a novel where the hero, for want of a better word, was a career criminal. I came close a couple times, especially in GONE ‘TIL NOVEMBER, where half the book was told from the POV of an aging black hitman. But with COLD SHOT TO THE HEART I was able to go all out in that direction, with a lead character — Crissa Stone — who was not only a professional thief, but a woman struggling to make her way in a man’s world.

Q. Did you need to do any special research for the book? If so, what’s one of the most interesting facts you discovered?

Research was tough. I read some magazine/newspaper articles about high-level thieves, and I found a couple books, including a scholarly text titled “Armed Robbers in Action,” that were very useful. I  learned that in almost all cases, women who were in the criminal life had been led into it by a man, usually a lover. That gave me another insight into Crissa — that she would have an older lover in prison whose freedom she was trying to buy. And that relationship made it all the more interesting for me.

Q. Many people are content to just be readers. How did you become a writer?

When I was a child, I was obsessed with classic Universal horror films (still am, to a certain extent),  which were then airing late at night on New York-area TV. In those pre-video days, once you saw the film on television, that was it. You had no further contact with it until they decided to air it again one day — if they ever did. So the first writing I can remember doing — which would be about age 8 — is taking sheets of white, lined paper, one per movie, and writing a synopsis of each film, just to relive it in my head. I think the first one I did was “The Wolf Man.”

By age 10, I was publishing a little mimeographed fanzine called “Speaking of Monsters,” which featured film reviews, trivia quizzes, etc. A mention of it appeared in the legendary FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND magazine, and I got about 100 letters in response, from monster fans all over the world who wanted to subscribe. I published seven issues over about a year and half, and then eventually had to give it up. It was just too much work (hey, I was only 11). I still have a couple copies around somewhere.

Q. What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

I don’t know, but I’d love to find out.

Q. What are you reading right now?

Jean-Patrick Manchette’s FATALE, a semi-comic existential French noir. On deck are Lawrence Block’s A DROP OF THE HARD STUFF and an ARC of George Pelecanos’ THE CUT. They’re two of the best crime writers working today.

Q. If you were stranded on that proverbial deserted island, what five books would you want to have with you?

Baltasar Gracian’s THE ART OF WORLDLY WISDOM, to help guide my relations with other people, if any should happen to come along. MOBY-DICK, because it would fit the maritime theme, and last a while. The other three would be THE U.S. ARMED FORCES SURVIVAL MANUAL, BOAT-BUILDING FOR DUMMIES and a flare gun manual, preferably with flare gun attached.

Q. What’s your favorite movie?

TAXI DRIVER. I have an original one-sheet poster from it framed in my living room. You thought I was going to say LOVE, ACTUALLY?

Q. What’s your favorite food?
Chicken and sausage gumbo, if it’s prepared well. Other than that, almost anything southern that’s guaranteed to clog my arteries.

Q. Cats or dogs?
Dogs, though I don’t own either. You can wrestle with a dog, make friends with it. All they want is attention. Cats couldn’t care less.

Q. Name one thing that people would be surprised to learn about you.
I’ve been to more than 100 Springsteen shows over the years, but I’m also a huge fan of minimalist composer Philip Glass. I have dozens of his CDs. His music – especially his film scores – was almost all I listened to while writing COLD SHOT. It seemed to fit the mood.

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