Howard Swindle: Keeper of a Texas Lighthouse
Excerpts from the interview by Reed Andrus in the December/January 2001 issue of Mystery News
…a staff writer for the Dallas Morning News, Howard lives close to my own North Dallas area of Plano. He’s recently transferred his considerable skill at true-crime reporting into writing hard-edged crime fiction. Two fine novels, Jitter Joint (1999) and Doin’ Dirty (2000), have seen light of day.
The central character in both books is Jeb Quinlin, Dallas homicide investigator, recovering alcoholic, and more than just a standard genre stereotype.
“Jitter Joint…is more autobiographical than it’s comfortable to admit. Jeb Quinlin is my alter ego, and in essence, I gave him all of my warts and wrinkles.”
Howard Swindle doesn’t flinch from describing those warts and wrinkles. After 30 years of asking people awkward questions, he says it would be pretty hypocritical to be thin-skinned.
In my review of Doin’ Dirty, [see page 11 of this issue], I note the raw power of the opening pages of Jitter Joint, where Jeb Quinlin is first introduced to both readers and to the world of detox during an intervention by his wife and boss. That strength of writing was born from both personal experience, and from abilities grown by producing a number of true-crime books. Before Jitter Joint was written, Howard authored Once a Hero (1989), Deliberate Indifference: A Study of Racial Injustice and Murder (1993), Trespasses: Portrait of a Serial Rapist (1996), and America’s Condemned: Death Row Inmates in Their Own Words (1998). “Trespasses was a finalist for an Edgar. But alas, no cigar.”
As you can tell, Howard has been immersed in the sociological aspects of criminal behavior. It’s a consistent thread throughout all of his books, fiction and non-fiction.
“I think reporters are like cops, child abuse investigators, and triage doctors. They’ve long lost their ability to be horrified by one man’s abuse of another. Cruelty and brutality, premeditated or random, is an unfortunate facet of our society. And reporters, I think, accept that as a fact of life. Doesn’t mean we don’t have empathy; it just means we have scar tissue.
“The Scripps-Howard newspaper chain has a lighthouse for its logo, with a saying something like, ‘Give the people the light and they’ll find their own way.’ Fully-informed people – jurors, viewers, or readers – make good decisions when they know what’s really going on.”
Might sound like a soapbox message to some. Doesn’t to me…I prefer to think it’s indicative of a genre writer who tries to keep at least on lighthouse, sitting our therein the middle of the East Texas prairie, polished and ready for service.
Read the complete interview in the December/January 2001 issue of Mystery News