Monday, November 17, 2014

Straight Chatting from the Library - M. Ryan Seaver

This post is part of a virtual book tour organized by Goddess Fish Promotions. Seaver will be giving away a $25 Amazon/B+N GC for a randomly drawn winner and (US ONLY) a signed copy of No Bad Deed for a randomly drawn host. Click on the tour banner to see the other stops on the tour.

What is the favorite book you remember as a child?

I loved Catherine Called Birdy by Karen Cushman, and read it obsessively. In fact, I believe that’s the first novel I loved enough to re-read—and boy did I! I must have come back to that one twice a year every year until I was just simply too old for it. But even then, it held a really special place for me. I loved how Karen Cushman didn’t hold back about the time period, how truly dirty and cold and oppressive it could be, and also about Catherine herself. She was so funny, and so real and imperfect. That was also the first book I ever read that was written in that diary style, and I remember finding that very novel.

Tel l us about your current book in 10 words.

Afterlife detective seeks missing girl to discover why he’s damned.

Do you have any bad book habits?

I take them in the tub. I’m hard on my books in general, dog-earing them and cracking the spines. I do try not to get water on them, but as long as they’re still readable at the end of the day, I never feel like I’ve lost anything by letting my books show their wear a little bit. I take a strange sort of pleasure in my well-worn books, because of course those are the ones I’ve loved enough to read again and again, and it shows.

Dog-ear or bookmark? (don't worry—Librarian Judith won't hold it against you—much)

Dog-ear! I almost never have a book-mark handy. And besides, books are one of those beautiful commodities that don’t lose their inherent value just because they’re a little rough around the edges. Don’t worry though, I would never ever dog-ear a library book!

Favorite book you've read this year?

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. I love the meticulously crafted crime, the attention to detail, the twist. I loved how Gillian Flynn had me rooting for characters I started off being not so sure about, and also admiring characters who were downright diabolical. I remember the twist made me gasp out loud. I was so pleased. She got me.

Favorite book to recommend?

In The Woods by Tana French. I’m a sucker for a flawed, unreliable narrator, which that novel has in spades. I also found myself really enchanted by the thread of something supernatural that wove its way through that story. I was a child who continued to believe in magical things a lot longer than some of my peers, so having this shadow of something paranormal just in the background in an otherwise very grounded, grown-up story just hooked me from the start.

Re-reader or not?

Re-reader, for sure. I have books I come back to at least once a year, like In The Woods, or Stephen King’s On Writing. I have others that I re-read if I feel my writing tools getting a little dull, and could use a really great read to sharpen them up. I’ve re-read every Dennis Lehane novel I own for this reason, some of them five or six times. Sometimes you want to read something new, but other times you just want to read something wonderful.

What would make you not finish a book?

There is a fine line between a flawed character, which I love, and a character who is too stupid or vile to root for in any context. I love characters who make mistakes, sometimes very, very bad mistakes, but if they repeatedly do things that are clearly not in their own best interest, simply to push the story forward, I’ll put the book down. Similarly, characters who lie for no reason other than to complicate the story, and protagonists with a mean-streak. Don’t get me wrong, I will take a protagonist who curses, gets into fist fights, shoots bad guys, lies, and schemes. But if he’s nasty to his allies, or just mean for the sake of being mean, I can’t get behind that. If he’s a thug, that’s fine. But he needs to be our thug.

Keep books or give them away?

I have kept every book I’ve read in the last ten years. I hoard them, I simply can’t bear to part with them, partly because I am a re-reader, but mostly because I just love having them. I grew up in a house that was practically built on books, literally and figuratively. My mother was a novelist herself, and our home was full of stacks and stacks of books, on shelves, piled next to the sofas. There was something good to read in every room. I find it very comforting to be surrounded by books.


Private detective John Arsenal can’t tell you what terrible crime he committed to wind up in a sweltering urban hellscape, surrounded by thieves, drug addicts and murderers—only that it was very bad, and now he’s being punished. That’s because in Hell—or Brimstone, as the damned prefer to call it—your identity, your memories, even your name, are stripped away from you.

John is relatively comfortable in his damnation, working easy cases and making himself at home in the grimy squalor of the afterlife. That is, until a mysterious woman appears in his office, begging him to find her missing sister, and promising him the impossible in return—a glimpse of his old life, before Brimstone.

To track down the enigmatic Sophie, John must delve into Brimstone’s darkest recesses, where murderous children run wild in packs, and a strange and terrifying new drug promises to deliver the user to the heights of ecstasy, but at the risk of being snuffed out of existence altogether. All the while, John must grapple with the vivid nightmares that have haunted him since his arrival in Brimstone, and confront the thing he desires and dreads the most—the truth of what he did to deserve damnation.


I took the car on a drive through downtown Brimstone, watching the sky turn sulfur, then green, as billowing plumes of vapor veiled the light. It was evenings like this I wondered about the geography of our fair city.

There was a sky over Hell, that much was obvious. But there was also the sensation that baby-shit green was not a natural color for a sky to be. And of course there was never any sun, just the constant radiating light and heat. When I first got off the boat I used to wonder about the physical location of this place that had a sky and a climate, but no sun and no moon, no seasons. I’ve since learned that worrying about that stuff doesn’t make a damn bit of difference, and that it’s best to do it as little as possible. Still. That sky never failed to put a sick, uncertain feeling into the pit of my stomach.

As I drove, Tent town stretched out alongside me, nothing but bleached-out A-frames draped with sheets and tarps as far as the eye could see. I took a left and found myself in an obnoxiously artsy part of the city called Millville, where the resident frustrated artists and actors had turned the skeletons of ruined industrial buildings into a series of trendy clubs and improvised theater spaces. I pulled up in front of a bar called Virgil’s and killed the motor.


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I was raised in Rochester, New York, in a house that was constantly full of writers. On nights
when my parents and their friends were holding court in our living room, I would practice the fine art of evading the little kids in the next room, setting up camp among the grown-ups, and being quiet long enough that they would forget I was there, and that it was past my bedtime. All my best dirty jokes were picked up this way.

I studied theatre performance at Northeastern University, where I spent a little time onstage, and a lot of time reading plays. I fell in love with Sam Shepard, Arthur Miller, and Nicky Silver. Exposed to plays day in and day out, I honed my ear for dialogue, and learned firsthand that if the writing doesn’t ring true, no amount of brilliant acting would make it right. I wrote my first play (terrible, melodramatic, with characters whose names did absolutely nothing to mask the real people they were based on). I showed it to no one. It’s probably still on my computer somewhere.

John Arsenal and Brimstone came to me during a bout of unemployment, in between searching desperately for a job, and baking more bread than was sane or reasonable for my two person household. The idea came to me in my sleep, demanding to be written, and that’s how the prologue of the book came into existence: In my darkened apartment in Boston at one o clock in the morning, my eyes barely able to focus on the computer screen long enough to get the words down. Sleep has continued to be the place where John Arsenal and I meet up to put the pieces of his story together. I’ve never been prone to insomnia, but John, it seems, is, and has never cared much for my sleep schedule.

In my life before Brimstone, I’ve worked as a telemarketer (I’m sorry) administrative assistant, waiter (badly, briefly), clerk and occasional story-time reader in a children’s bookstore, and professional hawker of everything from magazine subscriptions to national television advertising. I was better with magazines. I now live in Chicago with the love of my life, and my snarling, seven-toed demon-cat, Clara. No Bad Deed is the first book in the John Arsenal mystery series.

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  1. This sounds good, but awfully frightening.

  2. Loved the excerpt, sounds good. Entering under the name of Virginia

  3. Appears to be up there with the best of them.

  4. I liked the excerpt best. This book sounds like an interesting read. I will totally have to add this book to my "to-read" list.