overweight, ugly, big hearted, generous, hot tempered with homicidal/suicidal tendencies, but most often a happy drunk.
In one sentence, your best friend would describe you as…
overweight, ugly, big hearted, generous, hot tempered with homicidal tendencies.
Crime fiction is at its best when…
It’s in the street and raw.
The worst literary vice is:
politics, sycophancy, review and award seeking.
The highest order a writer can aspire to is:
Being true to themselves; write what you want, not what they tell you to write.
Plot or character?
What’s your favourite word?
If you could remove one word from the parlance of our time, what would that be?
If you could remove one celebrity from the planet, who would that be?
If you could remove one profession from the planet, which would that be?
Lawyers. Like the one above about “to thy own self be true” that Shakespeare fella, knew his shit.
Which fictional character is going to be shot in the literary revolution?
Robert Parker’s ‘Spenser’. I was not a fan.
Which fictional character would you most like to meet in real life?
What’s your favourite pickup line?
What a rack!
An American, an Englishman and a Scotsman walk into a bar…
The Englishman says, “Our parliamentary system is the best. We have true democracy and a Queen.”
The Scotsman says, “Ha, we have your Queen and home rule!” The American says, “We have Obama.”
The Brit and Scotsman say, “Yeah, so?” The American says, “He’s bi-racial.” – “Yeah, so?” – “He won the noble peace prize.” – “Yeah, so?” – “He vacations on Martha’s Vineyard!” – “Yeah, so?” – “He’s the Messiah!” – “Yeah, so how’s that working out for you?”
Your five favourite party guests are:
Norman Mailer, Ken Kesey, Truman Capote, William Buckley and Gore Vidal. Because nothing can possibly suck more than a boring dinner party.
Which book do you wish you had written?
Sum up your latest book in no more than 10 words:
Witness protection, cutting, Miss North Dakota, lots of violence, Pavlik.
What’s the most amusing situation your writing has got you into?
It isn’t so much amusing as it is frustrating. Wherever I work, the most common statement I hear (probably every writer working for a living) is “You write books? Then what are you doing here?”
What’s your angle on crime fiction?
I’m a dinosaur as I usually deal with traditional organized crime (which is seriously on the wane here in the states). Johnny Porno, Stark House Press, takes place in 1973 and touches on the politics and some of the social norms of that time. I prefer reading history based novels (crime or otherwise), which is why Craig McDonald’s Lassister series strikes such a terrific chord with me.
How do you feel about the recent popularity of genetics in the CSI school of crime fiction?
The only genetics I ever wonder about are the lousy set of knees I inherited. I don’t have a clue and wouldn’t read a CSI type novel with a gun to my head.
What’s your verdict on detective fiction at large?
I think Detective fiction blows. I don’t read it. I don’t like it. I don’t believe it … not unless the detective is flawed (and I don’t mean he smokes or drinks too much) and/or there’s some sense of history I can relate to.
Do you see crime fiction as an archive of social history?
There are some crime novels that deal with the social issues of the day (or days past), but for the most part (at least that which I see selling), it’s just nonsense (private investigators, journalists solving murders—pure bullshit). I find it very difficult reading modern stories of that vain. I can look back at past private-eye novels if they contain something I cling to (a sense of history, especially American history). I’ll read pretty much anything that presents a past I see slipping away, but the new stuff that seems to top the bestseller lists I find mostly boring horseshit.
That’s not to say the writing is bad. I’m sure some of it is wonderful, but if there is no or little basis in reality or some sense of history (i.e., the first three George V. Higgins novels – The Friends of Eddie Coyle, The Digger’s Game and Cogan’s Trade – and James Ellroy’s American Tabloid), I can’t bother wasting my time reading novels about super sleuth journalists/private eyes. You can take a look-see at Craig McDonald’s first two books (Head Games and Toros & Torsos) for something I’ll read again and again. Both are very well written, loaded with lost Americana, culture, the famous or infamous and history. I think books like The Friends of Eddie Coyle (my personal favorite crime novel of all time) are incredible statements of an American subculture that is both tragic and real and should be classified – as the author had insisted – as literature.
Does the crime writer still sit at the table of literature like a transvestite cousin at a family gathering? Does political correctness pardon him while studiously ignoring his fabulous hat?
Dangerous question to answer, so thanks for dropping it in my lap. As someone who isn’t shy on paper/email/blogs, I’ll give my two cents. Crime and Punishment is a crime novel that transcends crime fiction but let’s face it, the average crime fiction reader today (i.e., those who support the more popular novels such as A is for this, B is for that, etc.) isn’t getting through the first 50 pages of Dostoevsky’s masterpiece. Does that mean the writer(s) of A is for this, B is for that doesn’t belong at the same table? In my opinion, yeah, but old Fyodor probably wouldn’t be welcome (or feel comfortable) at the A, B table (unless he was being asked for a blurb). I read a lot more literature than crime fiction, but I’m trying to catch up on a lot of misspent years. I’d also invite anybody to MY table, but would make a distinction between the two types of writing. While there are crime writers out there who nail social situations (i.e., a George Pelecanos, Jess Walter, Vickie Hendricks, etc.) and thus belong at the adult table, the more popular brands (to include some of the purely entertaining shlock that isn’t very popular by sales standards, such as my own) should probably be seated at the kiddie table and not make too much noise about it.
You write about the unusual heroism of facing savagery with perseverance. Do you outline your work before you start writing or do you follow the dictates of psychological plausibility?
I don’t have a clue what my characters are going to do once I start writing a novel. It/they play out one way or another over the course of the project. Whatever happens reflects what is going on in my head at the time I write it. Editors (my wife and Peter Skutches) get to mould the messes I start with (so maybe they should answer this question). My writing is probably more cathartic than I sometimes like to believe (I claim to write from revenge and much of what motivates me comes from that warped form of justice), but I doubt I could stop writing if I wanted to (and I often have thought I should). I write what I know and what I fantasize, I guess. Perhaps what I’d like to see?
Would that be some form of ersatz justice?
I have no doubt a lot of people find the justice they’d like to see in crime fiction. Whether or not they’re looking for it there I’m not so sure about.
What do you look for in crime fiction?
Not to get political, but capitalism doesn’t work on so many levels, it’s frightening … but it’s mostly frightening because it facilitates crime like no other economic system. America’s social structure is burdened by the disparities inherent in capitalism, and in some segments of our society we’ve returned to the Wild West (except now they use Uzi’s and AK-47’s in place of six-shooters). I tend to favor crime fiction that deals with organized crime (which at one time was a response to the injustice of corrupt policing—probably why it was first so easily romanticized). Organized crime is nothing more than capitalism without restraints; essentially what we’ve just witnessed in the banking world; sometimes we really do reap what we sow.
Given your own experience, what do you think makes criminals – their means and motives – so interesting to millions of readers?
Having once been a criminal for 18 years of my life, I tend to agree with Willie Sutton – they do it for the money. Well, probably most do it for the money. I sure did. I think people understand some criminals and/or criminal activity. In my case, it was simple math: I was working 2 and 3 legitimate jobs after I left my first wife (and three kids). I had a family to support and I could kill myself working legit or make a lot more money taking risks. I chose the risk/money. Eventually, I very briefly became infatuated with the life (and the power) of stepping up into organized crime’s limelight—becoming a wiseguy. Getting further involved in that world ended those thoughts almost instantly and I came back down to earth—to do it for the money; as an ends to a means (again, capitalism fosters this—it’s a lot easier to enhance one’s greed when the golden ring is staring them in the face).
I suspect readers often root for the “bad guy” for the same reasons. Certainly, if no violence is involved, we still tend to smile at thieves (and the like) that pull off a great score. “Good for them,” is often the sentiment. I know I often find the criminals more fascinating than the guys who nail them.
Has this affected recent trends within the genre?
I think there’s been a recent influx of really harsh literature (of which I’ve taken part twice now in one such publication) that offers an extreme versions of what’s going down in our world today; much like some of what Hip-Hop offers in the music world. I wouldn’t want to read it exclusively and I doubt most others will jump on the ‘I Love Extreme’ bandwagon. That said, I suspect it will evolve and become as polished as everything else over time. I’ll bet dollars to donuts that’s how Selby’s Last Exit to Brooklyn was perceived by some when it was first published. We’ll probably find a few gems amidst all the cathartic spewing and bullshit inherent to anything written to shock for the sake of shock (and I certainly include one of my entries to the shittier mix).
Speaking of your own work, how would you describe it to a newcomer?
I write about characters who are just trying to make ends meet; who are involved in a dangerous world (organized crime usually) where they are ultimately in way over their heads. The crimes I present are usually the everyday generic murders associated with organized crime.
Whose work do you read and reread?
Daniel Woodrell (because he writes about a world unfamiliar and fascinating to me) and James Ellroy (because of the way he deals with certain male types in a historical context). I can read everything by Woodrell over and over and just some of Ellroy the same way; there is some of Ellroy I can’t read at all (when the relentlessness gets annoying). His earlier works are riveting and certainly thought-provoking. The further away from a brutal state of nature we drift, it seems to me, the more fucked up things ge, so perhaps intelligent civilization will prove itself an oxymoron over time.
Have you read any Scottish crime fiction?
Recently I reread Russell McLean’s debut, The Good Son. Understand, I had read this book in its infancy and demanded (in my charming way) the author inject more violence from his protagonist. As it turned out, he didn’t need to go Roman after all (it’s a very good book). I’m also a fan of Allan Guthrie’s works. The Scottish author/work that stands out for me (and probably doesn’t get labeled a crime fiction writer, but could), is Alexander Trocchi’s Young Adam. This is/was FUCKING BRILLIANT. I saw the movie first (had never heard of the book), then read the book and went amazon crazy buying everything by Trocchi in one lump sum. Then I’m on the subway going to work reading one of the many books I’d bought and I had to close it from fear someone would see it and the erection it was giving me. My wife and I had a great laugh over it, but Young Adam is a masterpiece of literature, crime fiction, or however one wants to label it.
What do you know now that you wish you’d known when you started writing?
That the publishing industry (my first two publishers) has as many incompetents running it as every other industry; when it comes to incompetence, we are a true democracy!
If God exists, what will you say to him when you crash the pearly gates?
Would it have killed you to let Norwood make that field goal?
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