MysteryPeople Q&A with Edward Wright
Edward Wright is simply one of the best writers of crime fiction out there. Those who have gotten hold of his criminally neglected series featuring black balled B-movie cowboy John Van Horne became instant fans of his atmospheric and deeply emotional series. He entwines people and plot like no other. His latest, From Blood, deals with Shannon Fairchild, a woman who learns about her parents past as ’60s radicals after they are murdered. Ed was kind enough to talk about the book, history and his approach to writing with us.
MYSTERYPEOPLE:What got you to look at the ’60s, particularly with a character who hadn’t experienced it?
EDWARD WRIGHT: Every now and then I get the itch to write a suspense novel with political overtones. The other example was my third book, “Red Sky Lament,” which looked at the Hollywood Red Scare of the late 1940s. In From Blood, I wanted to write a contemporary story that looked back at one of America’s most turbulent decades. Since the ’60s seem far away to many readers, I chose to view that period through the eyes of a young woman who would function as a stand-in for the average reader. The ’60s are foreign to her, but because she’s a historian by training, she has the skills to reassemble that era piece by piece. And because her murdered parents were active participants in the radical politics of that age, she has a very personal reason for her quest.
I had my own personal reason, and here I’m giving away my age. During the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, I was a low-level editor at the Chicago Tribune and was intensely curious about what was happening in the streets. I was tear-gassed, along with hundreds of demonstrators and a few of my co-workers, in Lincoln Park on the second night of convention week. So some of my memories of the ’60s are still very fresh.
MP: What did you want to get across about that generation?
EW: That the members of the radical fringe of the anti-war movement — people who were roughly my age back then — were frighteningly committed to their goals and willing to use violence to achieve them. It was the kind of all-or-nothing politics that has almost disappeared today. In the novel, I wanted to ask the questions: What if two militants went deep underground after a fatal bombing — but what if, unlike real-life figures such as Bernardine Dohrn and Bill Ayers, they never resurfaced and were still in hiding today? What would they be like? Would they have lost their youthful passion, or would they still be committed to overthrowing the government by force? The young protagonist of From Blood, Shannon Fairchild, asks the same questions and sets out to find the answers.
MP: You’re mainly known for atmospheric mysteries. How different was it doing something more in the thriller realm?
EW: I never thought of myself as a thriller writer, and I didn’t set out to write one. But, as often happens, the book took over. I found out pretty quickly that this one was going to need a different pace and style than my others, and I just did my best to deliver.
MP: Much like John Ray Horn, Shannon is a damaged individual. How important are flaws to your characters?
EW: All-important. I could never write about a well-adjusted person, in the same way that I could never write about an authority figure such as a policeman or some kind of investigator. I like my characters deeply flawed, because I like writing about someone who has the odds against them, someone who starts out with a glaring disadvantage. I want each story to be a long, difficult journey for them. If they can make the journey, overcome the odds, and solve the crime, I feel proud of them.
MP: From Blood builds on one twist and revelation after another. How much do you plan your books before writing them?
EW: I try not to outline in too much detail, because I enjoy the process of discovery that writing can be. Some of the nicest surprises come during that process. But,as you’ve noted, “From Blood” fits more in the thriller category, and plot weighs heavily in that kind of book. I don’t think it’s possible to write an effective thriller without planning your twists and turns very carefully. So yes, I did more outlining with this one.
MP: You’ve looked at the Civil War, post-World War II, and the Sixties. Is there another era you’d like to delve into?
EW: Yes; two, in fact. One would be a contemporary story set in a small town in California’s Gold Country that would deliver a heavy dose of Gold Rush history — what kind of people came to the mountains back in the 1850s, what they did to the land, and what the land did to them. The other would be another John Ray Horn-style story actually set in the past, in this case the South of the 1930s. I have an idea for a story about a teen-age boy who goes on a long journey through the landscape of the Great Depression in search of his missing sister.
Copies of From Blood are currently available in-store and from www.bookpeople.com