Q&A: Keith Gilman

The Haverford Township police officer talks about his award-winning first novel, Father’s Day.

Photo by Jared CastaldiEarlier this year, Haverford Township police officer Keith Gilman scooped up Private Eye Writers of America’s coveted Best First Novel Award for Father’s Day (Minotaur Books, 272 pages). Locally, he was named Haverford’s Distinguished Literary Voice for 2009. Not bad for a guy who never took a writing class. Gilman’s short stories have appeared in a variety of crime fiction publications. Rife with stark imagery and psychological depth, his writing is reminiscent of 1930s-40s noir. Meet the author at Barnes & Noble in Broomall on Nov. 28, and at Borders in Bryn Mawr on Dec. 5. To learn more, visit keithgilman.com.

MLT: How much of your writing is based on real-life experiences?
I’ve been asked this question a lot, but the answer is, none. I came up with the main character—the detective—before I devised the plot. He’s been a detective for 24 years and so have I, but neither my short stories nor this novel are based on any cases that I’ve been involved in.

MLT: Will readers be able to pick out specific locations from descriptions in the book?
Yes, definitely. Capturing a sense of place is really important. I really tried to characterize Philadelphia as best I could—despite growing up in Scranton. Even though I didn’t have certain experiences, I had similar ones, like going to an old-fashioned barbershop with my dad. [I’ve] heard the stories and gotten to know the neighborhoods.

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MLT: What do you enjoy most about noir-style fiction?
I think it’s the darkness that can be reached through the characters—particularly a down-and-out detective who’s not only wrapped up in a puzzle, but also experiencing personal frustrations. There’s always some nagging frustration, and the underlying, raw truth that bad things happen to bad and good people.  

MLT: How long did it take you to write the book?
Two years to write, and one to revise. I had one of the best editors in the genre—“Ms. Mystery.” She’s the toughest 80-year-old woman I know. She had me writing characters out of the book. I’ve never taken a writing class, so it was definitely work.

MLT: Which came first: your passion for crime writing or crime fighting?
Actually, it was reading. I started with Sherlock Holmes when I was a kid and just kept going. I loved pouring through all the old pulp fiction, too. That all predated my cop venture, and my writing.

MLT: Is writing cathartic for you?
I guess it is, but I don’t really think about it much. I work in Haverford, so what I do isn’t necessarily dangerous. But when someone dies, someone always calls the police department. No matter where you’re a cop, though, you see things others wouldn’t normally see. Too much death does get to you.

MLT: How much of a boost is a book deal to a cop’s salary?
As a first-time author, not much—not now anyway. I got a $10,000 advance against royalties, but now that the book is out, it’s all about how well it sells. My goal is to be an A-list author. But whether my books sell or not, I’ll still be writing.

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