NO BAD DEED
by Ryan Seaver
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.
Excerpt :In the center of camp, one kid was beating with a slow, irregular tempo on a sort of makeshift drum, patched together out of skins stretched over an old rubber tire. He wasn’t playing it so much as he was testing it, tapping this spot and that, checking it for tone. He stood and stalked around to the other side of the drum, lanky and capable looking, and older than the rest, maybe twelve. I watched him working from a distance, and when he spoke, he didn’t bother looking at me.
“What do you want, mister?”
He was still slender like a kid, but tall, and he was working hard on the voice of a young man, or at least had been before whatever had ended his life stuck him in permanent adolescence. He had a smattering of painful-looking acne studded across both cheeks, and the beginning of a patchy beard coming through here and there. It looked like he had made some sort of attempt at shaving at one point, and I felt the stirrings of one of those troubling old half memories as I looked at him—the adolescent frustration of trying to pull a blade across pimply, broken skin.
I stepped closer to the kid and his work, and noticed the other kids glancing cautiously up at him. Him, not me. The captain, I decided. Any conversation I was going to have on this trip, I was having with him.
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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Author InterviewDid you do any kind of research to determine the details of your characters’ lives / lifestyles?
I’m a really visual person, and more than anything in this book, the city of Brimstone itself impacts how the characters live, so the first thing I did when writing the book was search out images I thought best represented what living in Brimstone is really like. I used a lot of abandoned space photography, images of refugee camps, things like that. I came up with ideas from those images that I wouldn’t have really thought of otherwise—the light, the grit, the graffiti, and how places that once might have been considered beautiful can turn ugly with neglect. That research helped me define the different neighborhoods in Brimstone, and start to put together a catalog of little sensory details that make up John Arsenal’s world.
The best book/s you ever read?
I just loved In the Woods by Tana French. It’s one of those books I come back to over and over again. It’s a wonderfully crafted mystery, but there’s also this great friendship there, and a truly damaged narrator, which is something I appreciate. More than anything though I love how Tana French weaves this delicate thread of something supernatural through the story. It’s so subtle, she really makes you believe that there might be something lurking there in the woods—not in the way you do as a reader who’s suspended disbelief in a paranormal story, but more like the way you did when you were a kid, and got yourself spooked about something hiding in your closet or following you through the woods, even though you really knew better.
Who inspires you?
My mother is a novelist, and so I grew up seeing firsthand what it’s like to make a living from your writing. I didn’t discover my own love of writing until I had been out of college and in the work force for a couple of years, and I really wasn’t happy with what I was doing. I started writing in my spare time, just for myself, and then one day I realized I needed a plan if I ever wanted to get out of the rut I was in with my career. I got honest with myself, and I said, “I want what my mom has.” I want the freedom to set my own schedule, to work from my home, to get paid for doing what I love. I think a lot of people who want to write for a living, or really be creative in any capacity, struggle with this idea of legitimacy—is this really a career path, or am I just kidding myself? Is it even possible to make a living this way? In my case, I was really lucky. I could look at my mom and say, “this is a real career path, if I really focus and write my face off.” And when I talked to her about it, she told me, “of course you should be a writer. It’s the best job in the world.” Growing up with my mom let me know that what I wanted to do was possible.
Do you have strange writing habits?
I leave about 50% of the story in the hands of the characters. What I mean by that is, I don’t plot everything out ahead of time, I don’t keep a set writing schedule, and I have a tendency to talk about my characters as real people, who make real choices in the moment as I’m writing. That last part tends to get me some funny looks, but I actually find it really freeing. It means that I can walk into a scene that I’m not really sure where it’s going yet, and my characters can surprise me. It’s fun for me as a writer, because I get to see something in my story I hadn’t been expecting. On the flip side, it means that about half the people I end up talking to at parties think I’m crazy.
How did you get into writing?
I was always a strong writer as a kid, but with a novelist for a parent, you get asked a lot if you want to become a writer yourself when you grow up, to which of course, the obvious knee-jerk response is “No.” So I didn’t start writing seriously myself until I was done with school. I started with plays, because my background was in theater. They were all pretty rough, as I recall, and have thankfully never seen the light of day. Switching to novels helped keep me grounded during a period where I was really unhappy in my professional career. At one point I had left a job I wasn’t thrilled with to take a job I loved, only to get caught up in a wave of layoffs six weeks later. I had too much time on my hands, even after searching for jobs, and started writing nine, ten hours a day, just to have something to do. I finished my first full length novel that way. After that, even after I’d gotten back on my feet, I kept writing. If you can do something for ten hours straight and not feel burned out after you’re done, that’s probably what you should be doing.
What do you consider your best accomplishment?
Any time I finish the first draft of one of my books, it feels like a huge triumph. There’s always this point about halfway through when I start to think, “This is impossible. This is never going to get finished.” So every time I reach that last sentence, it’s a huge win. That never gets old. Coming to the end of No Bad Deed, though, that was really special. I was more proud of that book than I’d ever been of anything I’d written. I remember walking out of the office when I was done with an enormous smile on my face, because I knew that this would be the first book I would try to put out into the world, and not just let sit on my hard drive. It was the first thing I ever created that I knew was good enough.
What sacrifices have you had to make to be a writer?
Time! It’s so hard to lock yourself away on a Saturday when all you want to do is hang out and read a book, or watch TV. It’s so hard to tell your spouse, “I know you just got home from work, but I have at least another hour of writing to do, and you’re just going to have to wait,” but that’s what you need to do. I’ve learned that if the writing is coming, I need to make it a priority over everything else, because tomorrow it might feel like pulling teeth, and my friends and family have learned to expect that too. But in the beginning, that was a very hard decision to make.
Do you think that the cover plays an important part in the buying process?
There’s no way to get away from it, people will judge your book by its cover. As an author, particularly as an indie author who has a little more input over my cover than a traditionally published author might, I embrace that. I think a really great cover, one that’s a true collaboration between the world the author created and the work of a skilled artist, can be a beautiful marketing tool. It tells your reader what kind of a story to expect, and a high quality cover conveys to a reader that there’s a high quality story underneath. The trouble comes from when bad cover art is attached to a good book. Even as an author, who knows better, I find it hard to look past a lackluster cover.
How did you come up with the title? Names?
The title was a real struggle for me. No Bad Deed started off with a different title altogether, but as it turned out, the original title was a little too good—there were already a half dozen other books out there with the same name. I came to No Bad Deed because it had that snappy, noir feel that I wanted, and of course it came from that phrase, “No good deed goes unpunished.” In Brimstone, you’re constantly aware that everyone you meet is being punished for something, and I liked that the new title conveyed that. As far as the characters, I wanted to give everyone a name that pointed very specifically to a physical or personality trait. In Brimstone, no one remembers who they were in their old life, and this includes names, so people tend to pick up new names that have to do with what they do, or what they look like. Hence, my firebug character is named Mickey Sparks, and John Arsenal is so named because before becoming a detective, he made and sold guns.
What’s the worst job you’ve had?
The worst job I ever had should have been the best. I was doing work I loved, creating large-scale floral designs for weddings and events, but my boss was a screamer, and a micro-manager, and I used to go home and cry every night. I finally snapped after getting chewed out over the phone for not being able to drop everything and go into work during my pre-arranged vacation, while I was out of town. I quit with a long rant on his voicemail. I’ve never regretted quitting that job.
THE AUTHOR WILL BE GIVING AWAY:
a Rafflecopter giveaway$25 Amazon/B&N GC for a randomly drawn winner
(US ONLY) Signed copy of No Bad Deed for a randomly drawn host.