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Westfield native pens sharp-shooting crime novel

Date: 9/1/2009

By Katelyn Gendron

Reminder Assistant Editor

WESTFIELD -- The similarities between author Russell Atwood and his character Payton Sherwood, private investigator, are unmistakable even after just one interview with Reminder Publications.

Telephoning the Westfield native's Manhattan apartment last week was an experience ironically parallel to the first few pages of his latest novel, "Losers Live Longer."

Atwood, like Sherwood, screens his calls. While leaving a polite, yet eager message on his answering machine, I was cut off mid-sentence, interrupted by a loud, anxious voice declaring his identity, followed by an apology for his tardiness getting to the phone. "Just making sure you're not a bill collector," Atwood said with an inflection of humor or sarcasm -- too mysterious to know which.

Atwood graciously spoke with me at length about his latest novel, which chronicles 18 adventurous hours in Sherwood's otherwise dull life as he humorously attempts to sort through others' deadly sins.

"I really set myself a goal [while writing this novel] to prove that reading is fun and that it's different from watching a movie," Atwood said. "There's a thrill that you can't get from watching a movie. People should just strap themselves in and read it fast."

And that's just what I did, loving every second of it!

Sherwood is not the typical cinematic detective -- a buff, strikingly handsome 20-something with eight percent body fat -- or the egocentric know-it-all private investigator of today's formulaic crime novels. Sherwood is a struggling New Yorker beat down by the city, but amidst his self-deprecating humor is a sarcastic undertone of perseverance as he fights relentlessly for the truth.

When asked how much of himself is written into his character, Atwood replied, "Probably too much. I think it's a voice I can impersonate."

Atwood paralleled his experiences living in New York during Sept. 11, 2001 to Sherwood's motivation to remain in the city despite having to sell practically everything he owned to pay the rent.

"I promised myself that I wouldn't be driven out of the city because of that," he said. "It was then built into the matrix of the private eye character that he won't give up."

Atwood noted that 9/11 occurred while first writing this novel, the sequel to his highly acclaimed 1999 work titled "East of A."

Atwood explained that the events of 9/11 made his storyline "irrelevant," propelling him on an eight-year journey to "Losers Live Longer."

"I think if I'd written it very quickly it would have been like vomiting up cement," he said. "But it hardened inside of me and I chipped away at it."

Atwood added that support from the publishing company Hard Case Crime also aided his endeavor. The company has founded itself on the principles of quality paperback crime novels, once coveted reading from World War II to the 1960s.

The cover alone -- designed by Robert McGinnis -- is a clear indication of Atwood's sleek craftsmanship of the written word, proving that not all nice guys finish last in the big city.

Atwood will conduct a reading and book signing at the Tea Pot Gallery, 22 Elm St., on Sept. 3 at 7 p.m.

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