The Coping With Sanity Interview: Jeff Shelby

I first met Jeff Shelby in person at the Chicago Bouchercon in 2005. At first I thought we were going to be best friends because Jeff mentioned how much he liked my blog.  But since then he has waged a campaign of harassment and negativity against me that has taken a toll on me. The interview below is the result of a court ordered mediation session.

You’ve written some PI novels about surfers and some PI novels about a guy looking for his daughter and some books about dancing. Wait. That’s not right. I’m confused. Who are you again?

Half right and all wrong. Okay – here’s the breakdown: four books in the Noah Braddock (he’s a PI in San Diego) series (Killer Swell, Wicked Break, Liquid Smoke, Drift Away); three books in the Joe Tyler (he’s a pseudo PI working out of San Diego, but travels frequently) series (Thread of Hope, Thread of Suspicion, Thread of Betrayal); and three books in the Deuce Winters (he’s a stay at home dad, part-time PI in small town Texas) series (Stay At Home Dead, Popped Off and the forthcoming Father Knows Death.) I write the Deuce series under the pseudonym Jeffrey Allen and as it turns out, there is some guy named Jeff Allen who is a ballroom dancing expert and has written a book/books about ballroom dancing. His bio appears on all of the listings for the Deuce books online. It’s led to a genuine amount of confusion, I’ve complained about it for several years to both the publisher and the retailers and it’s never gotten fixed. It’s one of those things that makes writers want to pull their hair out, but I’ve just given up at this point and pretend I’m also a professional ballroom dancer. Seems easier.

 So we can agree you’re kind of a JV Don Winslow. Is there a field you’re still itching to try? Anything you have no desire to write? Did I hear something about you writing a cozy?

I’m not even sure I’m a 9th Grade Don Winslow, but I’ll take the JV Don Winslow title as a huge compliment because I think he’s about the best writer in the business at this very moment. The Deuce books are absolutely cozies, so I’ve stepped into that world and been pleasantly surprised by the reaction to the books, as they feature a male protagonist and probably too much slapstick humor. I’d very much like to try my hand at a male POV in YA because I remember being a teenager and thinking they didn’t write books with male teen POVs. I have no desire to write about vampires or the color gray.

 Tell me more about your social media habits. Why is it important in these days of tweets and privacy-whoring billionaires to have a presence out there?

I’m absolutely the wrong person to ask about this. I gave up Twitter last summer. I’m sporadic at best in keeping up with my Facebook author page. I blog once every three or four months. I keep saying I’ll get better about this, but I don’t. I don’t have a good excuse for this nor do I have a reason. I spend a fair amount of time on my personal FB page, but after spending the majority of my day perched in front of the computer, working on books, the last thing I want to do is go out and create a “presence.” It feels forced to me and I don’t think I’m good at it. Am I missing out on some opportunities because I’m a slacker in the social media world? Probably. Are those opportunities more important than maintaining my sanity and giving myself some time away from the computer? Probably not.

 I mentioned before your stuff has a distinct PI bent, which has not been a real trendy genre these days. Talk about that because I NEVER get tired about hearing how dead the PI novel is.

I think writers, editors and publishers obsess over labeling things, while readers could care less. Your average reader will have no idea what you’re talking about if you ask them about the “PI genre.” But they’ll then tell you how much they love the latest book from Sue Grafton/Laura Lippman/Robert Crais. Readers just want an authentic voice and a good story. So I don’t know what’s dead and what’s alive. When I created the Noah books, I wanted to write a very traditional PI series where the protagonist had a PI license and was hired to look for people and things. With the Tyler series, I had this idea about a guy who helped other people look for their missing kids because his own had been abducted years before and never found. He’s not an official PI, but he does all the things a PI does. With the Deuce books, I thought it would be funny if a stay at home dad had to work with a PI (who also happened to be a midget) and had to solve crimes in a nutty Texas town. Is he a PI in the traditional sense? No. But does he do the things a PI does? Yeah. Does that make it a PI book? I have no idea. I just know that for me – both as a reader and a writer – I’m most engaged by stories where a protagonist has to go and find something. I don’t care what genre we file it under.

 According to most published reports you have a daughter and convinced some woman in Minnesota to let you live with here. How? What’s being a parent and having a partner who is also a writer meant to you as a writer?

TMZ is ALWAYS following me, so I’m not surprised at these reports. Yes, I have an almost ten year old daughter. Yes, I’ve convinced Beth Balmanno to not only let me live with her (for two weeks out of the month – I now officially live in TWO states – one state can’t contain me) but also to marry me. But that really isn’t the most amazing part. The most amazing part is that I broke up with her right before the prom 25 years ago and after 22 years of not speaking to me, she gave me a second chance. So far, I haven’t screwed it up. As far as being a parent, I think I’m aware of two things as a writer: one, I’m conscious of the fact that she’ll read everything I write one day and I’d like her to be proud of what her dad’s written; and, two, I’m grateful that writing has given me the chance to be my own boss and spend an inordinate amount of time with her. I haven’t missed many moments and I feel very lucky. With Beth also being a writer, it’s meant not only is she my first reader, my first editor and my first motivator, but she just gets it. She gets the ups and downs, the frustrations and the business as a whole. She’s not just a source of support – she’s a peer. She’s made me a far, far better writer and is, without a doubt, the main reason I didn’t give up writing. And it also means we can write contemporary romances under the pen name Shelby Gates, which we’ve done twice so far. (One Last Chance, Second Chance) And I’ll answer your question before you even ask – yes, that’s me on the cover…

 Finally, tell me one thing you’ve never told any other interviewer.

I’m not wearing any underwear as I type this. You’re welcome.