1. What inspires your writing?
Absolute necessity. In one form or other, I’ve been writing all my life. I don’t question it; I just have to do it. It’s the difference between a hobby and a compulsion.
2. How did the Jake Lydon Mystery Series come about?
I had just published The Sixth String, an historical fiction about a Gypsy flamenco guitarist getting badly fucked up in Nazi Germany. Writing it was a hard three-year slog, working in all the research I’d done on how the Romani people have been victimized for centuries and, of course, the excruciating details of the many extraordinarily horrific ways the Nazis treated non-Aryans in and outside the death camps. Not much of that was pleasant.
I didn’t want to dive right in to some other largely depressing project but I did want to keep writing. I settled on the crime genre as I’ve beach-read mysteries for years.
I did want to do something a little different as the “superhuman” status of many thriller heroes bored me stupid. How about a goof for a protagonist? How about one that wasn’t particularly likeable, somebody with a range of issues and idiosyncrasies? A character smart enough and old enough to have zero fucks to give about what he said or did? And so Jake Lydon was hatched.
3. Who is Jake Lydon?
By many accounts – including his own – Jake Lydon is – bottom line - an asshole. You could say the long-haired, Hawaiian shirt-wearing, profanity-spouting, chain-smoking, alcoholic, diabetic refugee from the 1970s simply marches to his own drummer. Except he’s too lazy to march anywhere and his drummer quit in disgust a while back.
Deep down, he’s a pretty good guy with a strong - perhaps too strong – moral compass.
Aided and abetted (and held back) by his OCD and a touch of Asperger’s, Jake has a singular talent for looking at criminal situations from odd perspectives and an equally unique talent for attracting people who would like to do him grievous harm.
4. Does John Owens the author have anything in common with Jake Lydon the fictional character? If so what?
Jake is slightly younger, slightly bigger, slightly smarter, and slightly more prone to saying the quiet parts out loud. Other than that, it ain’t much of a stretch writing him.
5. What is the appeal of the mystery novel in your opinion?
Do you mean my mysteries? Well, for one thing, they’re fucking wonderful. Oh, the genre in general? At their core, they’re all morality plays. Evil is done; evil is punished. That goes back to Cain and Abel – although the suspect list for that murder was pretty short.
6. What’s the toughest part of writing a novel?
Plugging holes. South American magical realism aside, plausibility is the basis for the most engaging writing. The reader has to believe that whatever they’re reading could’ve happened. With mysteries, I dread the “Awww, for fuck’s sake, that doesn’t make any sense!” moment (and I have lots of those moments when I’m revising/editing. Some are easy fixes – a date, a place, a timeline. And for some, the essential change ripples throughout. With my serious historical fiction, it’s the trueness of the characters. Would that guy really say or do that?
7. What’s the part you love the most?
Every once in a while you create a passage – could be a piece of extended dialogue, maybe a descriptive bit – that you honestly believe is as good as it gets. You read it and reread it and think: “Damn, that’s good.” Above all though, glowing reader feedback is precious. Not unlike the feeling you used to get in grade school when your mom pasted your shitty artwork on the fridge.
8. Who are some of your favourite writers/authors/books?
In the detective genre, James Lee Burke and Dennis Lehane. Burke is astonishing for maintaining the quality over what? - 600 novels. Post-Katrina The Tin Roof Blowdown is truly great. If I’m feeling world-weary but literate, John Le Carre.
Pretty much everything Twain, Marquez, and Vonnegut wrote. Pretty much anything Steinbeck wrote (except To a God Unknown – what the fuck was he thinking with that one?), Margaret Laurence, Patrick White’s Voss, Lowry’s Under the Volcano. For what he was doing and how he did it, Fitzgerald may have produced the perfect English language novel in The Great Gatsby.
9. Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
Real simple: Keep aspiring. Keep writing. And be proud.
10. Aside from your passport and cash in your pocket, what are the top three things you always take with you when you travel?
My shitty laptop, a selection of Hawaiian shirts (because I just don’t travel to chilly places), and unfortunately a pharmacy worth of diabetes drugs.
11. Coolest place you’ve ever visited.
Specific sites: I slept on Hadrian’s Wall. It seems so long ago that perhaps it was recent construction; Hidden Beach on the Marietas Islands in Banderas Bay – you have to snorkel though an underwater tunnel to get there.
Locales: San Pancho and Puerto Morelos in Mexico and Las Terrenas in the DR. Three small beach towns that all have just a few hotels, great people, great beaches, great restaurants and predictably great weather.
12. Closest call you’ve ever had in your life.
Country road, late at night, freezing rain. Completely lost control. Rolled my SUV several times down a steep embankment. Knocked out cold for about an hour. The next day, I went to the junkyard to retrieve my stuff from the crumpled wreck. Guy asked: “What happened to the poor fucker who was driving?”
13. Have you ever been in an honest-to-goodness, knock-down-drag-out brawl — if so was it win/lose or draw?
Bar in Ottawa. Not much of a brawl. I deservedly got the living shit kicked out of me for being a smart-ass teenager. Party at university in Peterborough. Guy decked his wife. What ensued was a two-punch brawl: one from him that missed me, one from me that didn’t. I retired, neither ashamed nor proud, with a .500 record.
14. Best concert you ever attended and why?
The Stones Steel Wheels in Toronto for the spectacle. The Who in 1971 in Ottawa’s grand 2500-seat Capitol Theatre. Fifth or sixth row, dead centre. The lads played Tommy start to finish and then all their hits. Sound level was 11; I couldn’t hear for three days. Tom Rush at Café Hibou, intimate setting for a veteran, amusing, and totally pro folk singer.
15. What are the top five albums that every writer should know all the lyrics to?
Born to Run, Songs of Leonard Cohen, California Bloodlines from John Stewart (no, not that John Stewart!), Boats to Build — Guy Clark, El Corazon — Steve Earle,
16. Foxtrot, Tango, Waltz, Disco Hustle, Line Dancing, or Head-banging Mosh Pit?
Waltz. If by waltz you mean slowly shuffling your feet in a circle. The other dances require talent and enthusiasm; I have neither.
17. Best beer or ale you’ve ever tried?
Molson Export Ale which I continue to try every day while I’m in Canada. My 50-year loyalty pin is overdue.
18. What is John Owens’s favourite drink on the beach?
I’m a “when in Rome” kinda guy. When I’m in Mexico – Dos Equis; Dominican – Presidente; The US – Yuengling Amber. Not a big fan of any drinks requiring paper umbrellas.
19. Is coffee essential to writing and why? If so – how do you take your coffee?
Not merely for writing but for life itself before noon. With a bit of milk.
20. Best meal you’ve ever had – and your answer has to include the meal, the location, and who you were with (or not).
A Mexican 5-star near Puerto Aventuras with Maggie. Perfectly done steak and lobster on the moonlit beach. Linen, silverware, torches, obsequious waiters and a mariachi band. I fucking love mariachi!
21. Teacher’s pet? Class clown? Rebel?
Mostly teacher’s pet, some class clown, some rebel. I always liked getting good grades, liked getting my homework done and out of way on the day it got assigned. And I really liked arguing with teachers..
22. If you had to describe yourself according to a character in a movie who would it be and why?
I’d like to think a magical blend of Atticus Finch and John McClane (Die Hard) but I’m probably closer to a cross between Homer Simpson and Mr. Bean. Oh, let’s settle on “Crash” Davis from Bull Durham – veteran minor-leaguer on the downside of a good career. Flashes of talent, flashes of wisdom. Above all, he kept his sense of humour and his love of the game.
23. What are the top five movies you believe every writer needs to inject into their blood stream?
The Deer Hunter, Deliverance, Casablanca, Bull Durham, Chinatown
24. Where do you do your best thinking?
“Best” is, of course, highly relative. Has to be while I’m staring at big water – St. Lawrence River when I’m in Canada or any part of the Gulf of Mexico in winter.
25. What’s on your desk at this very moment?
Not much. Just finished my bi-annual cleaning which is a lot like an archeological dig. Shitty laptop, losing lottery tickets, hideous ceramic parrot lamp, basket of sea shells, small stack of papers that seem and might very well be important.
26. Cats, dogs, birds, or goldfish?
Small dogs. Absolutely nothing wrong with unconditional love and obedience. And sometimes it’s returned by the dog. Also, they don’t eat much and, therefore, don’t crap much. I used to keep goldfish – lots of ‘em – in a big pond I built. There’s something wonderfully megalomaniacal about standing at one end of the pond watching upwards of fifty of the little bastards steaming towards you for their afternoon feeding. But also something quite saddening about burying them all in a mass grave, victims of the notorious guppy cartel (or a harsh winter).