Interview with Dennis Norris

What do you read for pleasure?
I enjoy reading biographies of famous people and stories about famous historical events. I was a history major at Cal Berkeley and I often found myself enthralled by stories of the American Revolution and the struggles faced by new colonists. Every once in a while, however, I crack open a good detective novel just to keep the juices flowing.
What is your e-reading device of choice?
I'm a Kindle man. Best invention since baseball.
What book marketing techniques have been most effective for you?
My ebook, The Northern, will be followed up by several more books all in the same format, weaving a story around a 10-hour shift at one of the San Francisco Police Department's stations. My best marketing technique is word-of-mouth by my brother and sister cops. They're my primary audience. I'll admit that my books aren't for everyone--they're pretty rough, raw and realistic. Cops, military folks, and public service first responders will "get it" right away. Others may be a bit shocked. Either way, word-of-mouth through that extensive network is best from a marketing standpoint.
Describe your desk
Organized. Everything in its place by threat of death to wife and kids. Iced tea nearby, far away from the keyboard. iPhone dancing across my papers while it vibrates. One of these days I'm going to chuck the goddamn thing off a bridge.
Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
I grew up during the Baby Boom in Richmond, Indiana. My mother used to join these book clubs, so every month we would get the latest in some series, like The Hardy Boys, or Funk & Wagnalls Encyclopedias. I ate them up. I learned early on that the more you read, the better you write. After high school I went into the military, and then a police career, and it wasn't until I became a San Francisco police officer that I decided to go to college. When I did, many of my professors encouraged me to write, but work and life got in the way and it's only been recently that I've had the time or inclination to give it a shot.
When did you first start writing?
I started writing stories when I was kid. I had/have a pretty vivid imagination, but I have always been intrigued by leaving little nuggest throughout a story so that it all gets woven into a nice, comfy-fitting shirt in the end. That's probably why I liked The Hardy Boys books when I was kid. Reading them meant paying attention, because you never knew when that seemingly meaningless little clue was going to actually resurface later on and help bring it all together. I have probably 20 unfinished novels lying around--all good stories in my mind. Don't worry, they're coming.
What's the story behind your latest book?
I worked at The Northern for several years, and I loved every second of it. Our goal on any given night was to mess with each other ruthlessly while we protected the citizens of San Francisco. Northern Boys are the best bunch of people I have ever worked with my entire life. We were dedicated, tough, and the best practical jokers ever born. I just had to bring back to life some of the more interesting partners and incidents. It has all been festering in me for several years. Now that the first one is out of my system, I can't seem to stop. Next up will be The Ingleside, and I plan to write a complete series that covers each and every SFPD station, because they each have very unique players and types of criminal activities.
What motivated you to become an indie author?
A year ago I wrote a book proposal to an agent in an attempt to go the traditional route for an author. The agent sent it to all the great publishing houses in New York, and got the same response back from each--this guy can write, but his book (about working in Afghanistan) will not sell. The positive reinforcement about my writing was very cool, but frankly, I didn't believe a word of the "this won't sell" rhetoric. That led me to research indie writing and self-publishing. The conclusion I arrived at was this: who needs an agent, and what the hell do they know? My book about Afghanistan, Outside the Wire, is quite unique and a terrific story. Selling it is less important to me than telling it.
How has Smashwords contributed to your success?
A Smashword author told me about this great site and extremely helpful resource for someone just getting started in the biz. I followed all the Smashword advice and studied the various help sheets on formatting, and dang it if it all didn't work out quite nicely.
What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
Kurt Vonnegut played a prominent role in forming my writing style. While I would never be so bold as to compare myself to his genius, whenever I write and feel myself getting a bit too wordy or fancy pants, I just grab one of his novels and read a few paragraphs and get immediately knocked off my high horse. The man was a master at forming sentences that said everything there was to say in the fewest amount of words. That's what I strive for (not always successfully), and my greatest joy is when I feel I've done just that. You just "know" it when a sentence gets put together correctly and its subject is relayed in the most economical, yet profound manner possible. Man, it's hard to do, but when it happens it's pretty bitchin'.
What are you working on next?
My book about my experiences in Afghanistan, Outside the Wire, will be published within the next two months, followed closely by the 2nd book of the SFPD series, entitled The Ingleside. I had a unique job in Afghanistan, requiring me to live and work among the Afghan people, learn their language, and actually "be" one of them for many years. It's not a war story--it's a human interest story, with a lot of humor, in a war setting. The Ingleside, on the other hand, will be very similar to The Northern in that I will focus on a 10-hour watch at that station, the interactions between the cops and the criminals, and I will also bring in more character back stories to the mix.
Who are your favorite authors?
Kurt Vonnegut, John Irving, Joseph Wambaugh, John Grisham, to name a few. I do the same thing with books as I do with recording artists--if I like them, I buy everything they've ever done.
What inspires you to get out of bed each day?
I've been in a few situations in which I found myself hoping the life insurance premiums were paid. When that sort of thing happens to you, then it is "life" that gets you out of bed each day. I truly wake up each morning wondering what I can do to be the most productive, and trying to ensure that when my head hits the pillow that night I have no regrets. I get rid of stress by training for triathlons (I've done 3 Ironmans), and just hanging out with the family, horses and dogs. Life is good. Friends and family are everything.
Published 2013-11-23.
Smashwords Interviews are created by the profiled author, publisher or reader.