MysteryPeople Q&A with Tim Bryant
Tim Bryant came to my attention through the great writer, Joe R. Lansdale. Like Joe, his writing has a unique voice that conjures up the Lone Star State. An accomplished musician and award winning writer, he’s written a great mystery, Dutch Curridge, starring a charming ne’er do well detective in postwar Fort Worth. We are excited to introduce Tim to our MysteryPeople customers at our Lone Star Crime Writers Event on August 1st where he’ll be sharing the stage with Reavis Wortham, Bill Durham, and Ben Rehder as well as opening the night with some music.
TIM BRYANT: I’m very much a Texas writer, so I wanted to create to-order the perfect Texas character to push my stories along. And so Dutch is, not coincidentally, a good bit like me. We share a love of music. I’m a big fan of Bob Wills, Texas swing music, blues and jazz and country music from the 1940s and ’50s. I like going out and having a drink or two with friends. I like nosing around in dark corners and contemplating the great mysteries of life.
Dutch also has seen enough to have a pretty wide distrust of those in positions of power. He feels like the game’s been rigged, and his job is, for the most part, a matter of leveling it back out as much as he can. As a character, he started out in a series of short stories that I wrote while getting my Creative Writing degree. I originally thought of tying several of those short stories together into a novel, which quickly proved to be a more daunting task than I had imagined. By then, I’d gotten to know Dutch pretty well, and there were lots of other stories to tell. So the material in the book is almost completely independent of that in the original stories.
MP: What drew you to post-war Fort Worth as a setting?
TB: Fort Worth was the perfect location for Dutch because it had a thriving music scene in that era, and the music is an important backdrop to the story. In fact, it becomes part of the major subplot. Fort Worth had been home to people like Bob Wills and T-Bone Walker, as well as to radio station WBAP, which was important to the whole area in a historical sense. Fort Worth had that renegade, wild west image. It was home to Hell’s Half Acre, which earned its nickname the hard way. The whole town just had a real chip-on-its-shoulder attitude from having to stand up for itself to avoid getting lost in Dallas’ shadow. Finally, in addition to it being a western town, Fort Worth was also very much a part of the south. There was a lot of change coming to postwar America, especially in the South. Established orders were shifting, which caused a great deal of tension and turmoil. Dutch Curridge is quintessentially Texan, but he wouldn’t have been as comfortable in East Texas or the Hill Country or along the border.
MP: One thing I loved about your character’s voice is that it’s deep seated in the culture of his time and place. What kind of research did you do?
TB: I did tons. I read several books, looked at official records, photographs, talked to people who lived in that era and knew it personally. I’ve actually only been to Fort Worth a couple of times, but by the time I finished writing the novel, I’m pretty sure I knew more about the city than most people who live there. Hahaha. Having said that, I did reach a place where I made a very conscious decision to step back from the facts and figures of everything, and write the place as it existed in my head. It is a piece of fiction, so if you come up to me and say, “well, this particular thing actually went more like this than that,” I won’t argue with you. I was more interested in getting the heart of the city, of the people, the feel of the times and the language.
MP: Working on your first book, did you draw from any other writers or artists for inspiration?
TB: By the time I got down to writing the book, as far as the writing itself goes, I would have to say no. All of those things had been worked through. I have lots of influences, and most of them are probably fairly obvious. Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, Jim Thompson, Elmore Leonard, then people like Flannery O’Connor and Carson McCullers and Harper Lee. Finally, contemporary writers like Stewart O’Nan, Denis Johnson and Joe R. Lansdale. Joe was the first writer who made me realize someone from Nacogdoches, Texas could do this and do it well. Joe’s influence was fairly major, and it turned into a bit of a mentorship and a friendship as well.
The other inspiration that I drew from was the music. I was listening to lots of Bob Wills & The Texas Playboys, lots of Lefty Frizzell and Ernest Tubb while I was writing. Also T-Bone Walker and a bunch of jazz stuff like Lester Young. All of the music that’s in the book and that was thriving in Fort Worth during the forties and fifties. It really helped me to get into the rhythm of the story, into the right head space.
MP: You have another book, Keachi. Can you tell us what that’s about?
TB: Keachi is a modern day faery tale. Well, it’s part faery tale/part ghost story. I don’t think the world has enough ghost stories. It’s a tale that had been tossing around in my head for quite a while, concerning a town that was submerged beneath Toledo Bend Lake when the reservoir was made in the 1960s. The same dark, mysterious quality that Dutch has, but existing in a world all its own. I had been reading the poetry of Christine Butterworth-McDermott, a world-class fairy tale aficionado who teaches at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, and I thought if I could combine the timeless quality of that genre with the very specific East Texas noir quality of Joe Lansdale, I might get an interesting mash-up of influences.
MP: Do you think being a musician affects your writing?
TB: More than you would probably think. I wrote songs for twenty years before I wrote Dutch Curridge, recorded and performed on stages, so I brought all of that experience to my writing. It’s obvious that music is an important element to my stories. It’s what I know.
Beyond that, I have to say that there are things I learned from writing lyrics that are very much in effect when I write fiction. Getting that genuine emotional quality with the exact right combination of words. The ability to impart certain information to the reader/listener that the protagonist doesn’t yet understand. That’s all fertile ground in songwriting as well. And when we talk about writers who have influenced me, I would be remiss not to include people like Randy Newman and Warren Zevon, both of whom wrote little stories, almost entire novels, within the constructs of a pop song.