An interview on Maiden Lane

An interview on Maiden Lane

Posted on May 13 by Michael Januska in Interview
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A hard-boiled prohibition mystery, how did you come up with the idea?

It kind of snuck up on me. While picking up threads I had left dangling at the end of Riverside Drive, uninvited guests began weaving their way into the story, such as it was. And then works that I had read a while back started coming to mind. I was recalling Hammett’s The Dain Curse and1920’s pulp such as Black Mask, Magic Carpet, and Weird Tales, which often mixed crime fiction with the occult. It was either coincidence or some strange chemistry. And that was when Maiden Lane started taking shape.

What was the creative process like for you?

I conduct small, controlled experiments. I’m the only person to see the results, and the results come after reading a paragraph or a chapter the next morning or weeks later. I say ‘controlled’ but I still like to be surprised; I want the characters to drive the narrative. I don’t like formula. At the same time, there has to be faith to the concept of ‘Border City Blues.’

So I end up asking questions like, ‘Am I repeating myself?’, ‘Are my characters evolving?’, ‘Are there still surprises?’, Would I want to read this?’ And then there’s the ‘cringe’ factor.

Describe your ideal writing environment.

I can’t force it. I think there’s a formula, and I’m picturing a graph with an X and Y axis. So far all I can figure is that it has to be quiet and uncluttered. I’m easily distracted. I’m not one for toting my laptop or writing pad to a coffee joint.

Shortlist: A place north of the city in the summertime, at a window overlooking water; the fourth floor of Toronto Reference Library; actually, any very large out-of-town library; after a long walk; the house asleep and I’m wide awake at my desk, midnight or five in the morning. Way stations.

What was the hardest part of writing Maiden Lane?

It's a sequel, the second book in a series, and so the hardest part was not falling into the trap of writing the same book again. That would have been too easy, and too much like comfort food for readers. I felt like I needed to take my characters and themes and push them forward, give my readers and myself a shake. It had to be the same thing, but completely different.

What is your new project?

The new project is called Prospect Avenue. I like the idea of a ‘project’ because creatively I feel like the work has taken over now and has a life of its own. Thinking in terms of a project helps me frame things. Prospect Avenue will take the reader further into the 1920s and deeper into the personal lives of smugglers, gangsters, restaurateurs, bootleggers, vaudeville artists, and booksellers. I’ll have a foot on the brake trying to control the getaway car as it makes to jump the curb.

Michael Januska

Posted by Kendra on October 30, 2014
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Michael Januska

Michael Januska has worked with books his whole life, both as a bookseller and for several publishing companies. Stories from Januska’s Prohibition-era Border City Blues novels have won two consecutive Scene of the Crime short story prizes. He is also the author of Grey Cup Century. He lives in Toronto.