Jerry's Interview with The Big Thrill
The Big Thrill
Congratulations on the new book, DIRTY WHO? What’s next for you?
I’m thinking of another Nick Polo book
TBT: Polo’s Long Shot is the eleventh outing for private eye Nick Polo. What is it about Nick that
keeps drawing you back to him?
J: I like the character. Polo is tough and savvy, but he’s also compassionate, and has a bit of
a laidback, live-and-let live attitude, something that I find that is all too rare today.
TBT: What are the challenges of keeping a series character like Nick fresh for readers?
J: Involving him in today’s fast changing world. If it takes you six months to a year to write a book, then a like-time for it to be published, so if you’re writing in the present tense, you have to be careful not to use technology that has been leapfrogged when the book comes out. I remember being on Bouchercon panels and warning that we’d all be writing science fiction soon.
TBT: Can new readers jump on board without having to worry about everything that has gone
J: Sure. You have to throw in a few paragraphs to reintroduce continuing characters and
locations – but the plot, the mystery, the suspense, hopefully carries the reader along for
TBT: When you’re dreaming up plots for Nick, what comes first? A bizarre crime, a challenging
antagonist, or a looming deadline from your publisher to produce?
J: Sometimes it can be some small fact or an interesting bit of information. I had been
brainstorming on a new Polo book, and a friend told me about a dinner he had at his
house. He’s not much into wine, but his very wealthy father-in-law is, and he came to
dinner with a bottle of wine. My friend was surprised at how much he liked the wine, a
French white Boudreaux, and after everyone had gone home, he checked out the bottle’s
label on the Web. The cost per bottle was $1, 500, and it was known as The Crack-Cocaine
of Chardonnay. Now, I’m a wine lover, but I hover around the $15 per bottle shelves. I wondered, who pays $1,500 for a bottle of wine? What would it taste like? And, would someone kill for a
case of the stuff? It became an integral part of the plot for Polo’s Longshot.
TBT: One of the most fascinating secondary characters in the book has to be Mrs. Damonte, the
witch next door. How did the idea for her come about and how fun is it to weave a
character like her into a crime novel like this?
J: Ah, Mrs. Damonte, everyone loves her, me included. I was raised in the Excelsior District
of San Francisco, an area that was predominately Italian. Mrs. D is a composite of the
many wonderful buddy’s grandmothers I’d meet, but none of them could compete with
Mrs. D. I remembered one in particular, who, like Mrs. D, was always dressed to go to a
wake, though no one in the neighborhood actually died. There was a local funeral parlor,
Valente Marini, so when someone passed, the message was, “Hey, did you hear about Joe’s
father? He Valente Marinied.”
TBT: How has being an ex-cop and a private investigator helped you in writing Nick’s
J: Both jobs were a tremendous help. We had a lot of one-man radio cars in the San
Francisco Police Department back then, and that was really an education, in life and
communication. You’d come in contact with the public by helping someone locked out of
their house or car, traffic accidents, and you’d often be the first responder to a robbery,
homicide, assault or a child molestation. I still vividly remember being a raw rookie, less than a month on the job, and responding to a call in an apartment house in the Mission District. Strange sounds coming from one of the apartments. I could hear them in the hallway. A child sobbing loudly. No response, so I kicked in the door and found a two year old boy, absolutely covered in his own filth, locked in a closet. His parents had locked him up while they went down to a corner bar. Shoving both of them into a paddy wagon – to paraphrase Mr. Eastwood, made my day.
As a private investigator, I got to know the entire Bay Area quite well. My “territory”
stretched roughly from Sacramento to Monterey. A case usually started with an attorney,
then I’d be off to talk to a judge, or a bookie, a pilot, a bartender, a hooker, or a cop.
There were a lot of those.
The job took me to some interesting places that found their way into my books: backstage
at the opera house, Pacific Heights mansions, luxurious yachts, Chinatown gambling dens,
seedy Tenderloin hotels, S&M bars, visits to interview prisoners at San Quentin, Folsom
Prison and down a few dark alleys.
Many of my cases involved civil suits resulting from a criminal act: rape, wrongful deaths,
homicides, arson. Great cases from an investigators standpoint – the crime had usually
taken place a year or two earlier, the bad guy was quite often behind bars, so the witnesses
and the police were much more likely to talk freely.
A friendly tip – keep your home owner’s policy up to date – the defendant in many of these
cases was the home insurance carrier.
TBT: After eleven books with Nick Polo and 22 overall, you must feel like you’ve got this writing
thing licked. Or is there still something new to be learned with each new book written?
What did you learn this time around?
J: I’ll never get it licked, but this was a fun book to write: expensive wine, glider crashes, and
interesting characters. And, as in all of my books, it never would have been written
without the help of my Shirley, my beautiful wife and in-house editor.
She’s a very detail minded person. I’m not. So I ramble along and she will come up with
some interesting findings, as, “Jer. The character Polo is talking to on page 223, died on