J. L. Abramo was born in Brooklyn, New York on Raymond Chandler’s fifty-ninth birthday. He earned a BA in Sociology at the City College of New York and a Masters in Social Psychology at the University of Cincinnati. He is the author of Catching Water in a Net, winner of the St. Martin’s Press/Private Eye Writers of America award for Best First Private Eye Novel; and the subsequent Jake Diamond mysteries Clutching at Straws and Counting to Infinity.
Abramo is a member of the Mystery Writers of America, International Thriller Writers and the Screen Actors Guild. His latest crime thriller, Gravesend, was recently released by Down and Out Books. Chasing Charlie Chan is due out this Spring.
Why Crime Fiction… by J. L. Abramo
Crime novels, films and television programs are extremely popular among readers and viewers worldwide. Fiction writers are often categorized, listed and known for their particular genre; be it crime, romance, horror, science fiction or whatever. Genre is defined by Merriam-Webster as “a category of artistic, musical, or literary composition characterized by a particular style, form, or content.” And as stated by Joyce Carol Oates in The New York Review of Books, “In genre fiction there is an implied contract between writer and reader that justice of a kind will be exacted; ‘good’ may not always triumph over ‘evil’, but the distinction between the two must be honored.”
I have often been asked why I chose mystery and crime fiction as my literary genre. It might be more accurate to say that the genre chose me; and to add that a particular genre is simply the vehicle in which the writer journeys through the landscape he or she is compelled to explore. In my experience as a reader it is the theme and not the plot of a novel that carries universal and lasting impact; making the particular genre secondary to the thoughts and feelings which the writer is consciously or unconsciously driven to express. Crime and Punishment, Les Misérables, The Count of Monte Cristo are, on the surface, crime novels; classic literary works that greatly influenced generations of readers and future writers; not as a consequence of their genre, but for their examination of the trials, tribulations and triumphs of the human experience. Similarly, the same holds for visual art and music. A timeless painting or a lasting musical composition is one that leaves a profound impression on the viewer or the listener; be it renaissance, religious, impressionist, avant-garde, symbolic, dada, classical, folk, country, blues, jazz or rock and roll.
That being said, the selection of crime fiction as my vehicle of choice was a consequence of both my exposure to literary works which examined crime and its ramifications, Dostoyevsky, Hugo, Dumas, Conan Doyle, Chandler, Hammett; and exposure to films like The Big Sleep, The Maltese Falcon, On The Waterfront, Anatomy of a Murder, Witness for the Prosecution, The French Connection, The Godfather and countless others. These crime books and films greatly affected me as a young man and an adult; and helped establish my disposition as a writer. I have always found crime to be the fiction genre that I am most adept at and most comfortable with; akin to the well-broken-in pair of shoes that you prefer slipping into.
In the initial Jake Diamond mystery, Catching Water in a Net, now out in trade paperback for the first time, I used the crime fiction genre to examine the responsibilities of friendship; and in doing so, I came to personally understand more clearly the importance of being accessible.
In the latest crime novel, Gravesend, I employed the genre to allow me to revisit the Brooklyn neighborhood of my youth and found, as T.S. Eliot said: “We shall not cease from exploration and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”
So the question arises: Are we, practitioners of the written word and members of professional guilds like the Mystery Writers of America and the International Thriller Writers, novelists or crime novelists? And the simple answer is we are writers, willing to use any means of transport which will facilitate our journey and perhaps attract the attention of fellow travelers.
Gravesend is a stand-alone crime thriller set in the Brooklyn neighborhood of the same name where I was born and raised. A crime novel on the surface, the book evolved into its present incarnation when I finally understood what I was humbly attempting to explore…namely how the manner in which human beings handle adversity will ultimately define them as persons…good or evil…weak or strong…fair or unjust…loved or despised…admired or feared.
“In our top five for best of 2012 is J. L. Abramo’s Gravesend. The discovery of a boy’s body on the roof of an apartment building sets off a chain of events that will tie together a group of people in profound ways. Homicide Detectives Samson, Vota and Murphy of Brooklyn’s 61st Precinct link the body to that of another boy; with no solid clues. As each detective works the case, each is also torn by other cases and other traumas; some very close to home. This is a remarkable book that will tie you in knots as you wait to see how it all plays out. A truly exceptional novel.”
Thanks so much for being my guest today, J.L.
Crime fiction is my genre of choice both as writer and as reader, but I’ve never really examined why. Curiosity about the dark side of human behavior, perhaps?
Readers can learn more about J. L. Abramo and his novels at his website. He can also be found on Facebook and Twitter. There’s a book trailer for Gravesend at Animoto.
J. L. Abramo says
See you again in the morning…
Patricia Stoltey says
Thanks, Joe. We’ll connect again tomorrow.
J. L. Abramo says
I’m off to the ‘other’ job. Okay. I confess. I need to be otherwise employed to make all ends meet. I am often asked, “Why do you have to work another gig when you write all those books?” I might reply, “If you bought some copies for your parents and cousins instead of asking silly questions I might not have to.” But of course I don’t. That being said, I will be back early in the morning to respond to any comments or questions. In the meantime, have a mysterious but crime-free evening.
Alex J. Cavanaugh says
We are writers is the best answer. I didn’t even know the distinctions of sub-genres when I first began writing. (Science fiction-space opera was a surprise to me!)
J. L. Abramo says
Thanks Margot…hope to see some of my fellow crime novelists at Left Coast Crime in Colorado Springs weekend after next…
Margot Kinberg says
Pat – Thanks for hosting J.L.
J.L. – I chose crime fiction too. I was exposed to it as a young person but I think the real reason is that it’s the best vehicle I’ve found for the themes I want to explore and the plots I want to develop. I don’t blame you at all for loving it as you do and I wish you much success.