Thursday, November 16, 2006

Highlight Doolittle's
The Cleanup

Sean Doolittle has some new neighbors, but they’re kind of a shady bunch. He only has himself to blame. He invited them. Heck, he invented them. We will say this for them, while a few may be of questionable character, they all have one thing in common — they’re compelling.

Doolittle, an Omaha-based writer, has set his fourth published novel, The Cleanup, in his hometown.

“Honestly, after spending the amount of time with them that I did, they sort of feel like neighbors. I guess I live on a questionable street.” Doolittle said of his Cleanup characters.

This is the first time that Doolittle, whose previous books include Dirt, Burn and Rain Dogs, has set a novel in Omaha.

“Local readers will probably recognize real and loosely fictionalized locations all over town. The book ranges from midtown to the Old Market to the river, into the bluffs across the river and back, out to the west side, around the southeastern and northeastern police districts. There’s even a car chase on Saddle Creek Road,” Doolittle said.

The book takes place in the aftermath of a fictional October blizzard.

“The weather definitely complicates the plot” Doolittle said. “I really wanted this book to have an authentic, specific feel, like the story was happening in this part of the country as opposed to any other. I’m not sure how to quantify it with specific locations. It’s just a quality that’s woven into the basic fabric of life in one place versus another.

“I did a lot of general driving around, and I rode with the Omaha Police Department, and I did my usual poking around on the Internet for various tidbits. But this book is, now that I think about it, the first novel I’ve written wherein the main character is actually FROM the area where the story takes place. That probably says it all right there.”

The book follows Matthew Worth, a cop whose been busted down to patrolling a supermarket that’s been a recent victim of robberies. The Cleanup references something a little messier than spilt milk in aisle nine.

“A tender love story about a cop who hides a body to help a girl” is how Doolittle describes it.

Doolittle grew up in Nebraska graduating from Norris High School in Hallam. (The school was destroyed in a tornado in 2004, but has since been rebuilt.). He has both an undergraduate and graduate degree in English from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Doolittle credits several teachers for inspiring him to pursue a career as a writer.

“Three English teachers in particular: one in 5th grade (Ruby Russell), one in high school (Ed Baker, rest easy), and one in college (Gerald Shapiro),” Doolittle said. “The latter was the person who told me, in a way that made all the difference, that he saw in me the raw talent to make a go of it as a writer. But all of these people played some critical role or other in fostering my love of books and encouraging whatever raw knack they saw. I’m in debt to all of them.”

Doolittle published his first book, Dirt, through a small press, the now-defunct UglyTown of Los Angeles. UglyTown also published a hard cover version of his second book, Burn. Bantam Dell republished Burn and put out his third novel, Rain Dogs, before The Cleanup hit the shelves.

“I’m one of those stories you seem to hear more and more these days, a writer who started out in the indie press and moved to a larger New York publishing house,” Doolittle said.

“I think all writers, aspiring and veteran, would do well to accept what a large, inevitable role luck plays in any publishing career. Having said that, in my personally opinion, determination and doggedness and hard honest work remains the best way to place yourself in luck’s path.

“You'll find a lot of advice out there about how to "market" yourself. I say, keep your head down. Read everything you can. Work hard on improving your craft, and strive to grow. Keep writing. Thicken your skin and push yourself. Keep writing. Read some more. Read like a writer. Write some more. Write like a reader.

“And just keep doing all of those things. It’s a tough business—tough to break in, even tougher to stay. If you can be discouraged or turned away, you probably should be.

“If not. . .well, you don’t need my advice anyway.”

Doolittle is already hard at work on his next book, “a still-untitled suburban thriller about a college professor, a retired cop, and a shallow grave.”

He will be at Lee Booksellers in Lincoln, Saturday, Dec. 9 at 2 p.m. and at The Mystery Bookstore in Omaha, Saturday Dec. 16 at 5 p.m.

For more information on Doolittle and The Cleanup check out and


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