Author Archives: mysterypeoplescott
On Wednesday, the 27th of August, at 7 pm, our Hard Word Book Club will discuss A Swollen Red Sun by Matthew McBride. The book follows a chain of violence triggered by a moment of weakness from a sheriff’s deputy when he takes $52,000 from meth dealer Jerry Dean Skagg’s trailer. The book was our July Pick Of The Month, so we can’t wait to discuss it. Matt was kind enough to take some questions from us.
MysteryPeople: How do you feel about all the favorable reactions to the book?
Matthew McBride: It’s very nice, and still kind of hard to believe. As a writer, you hope people will buy your book and you want them to like it, but I never expected to sell as many copies as I have. It’s mind-blowing, and I’m grateful. Having strangers write you and tell you they love your book is cool. Because I know how it feels to read something you love and feel that way. You want to connect with the author, so you reach out to them. I’ve done that.
MP: While meth is in a lot of rural crime fiction, it is practically a character here. How has it affected where you live?
MM: I’ve been tempted to brand the book Meth Lit, because meth really is a character in this book, and it has affected my life and the lives of those around me in various ways. In Gasconade County, if you’re sick, you can’t even buy Actifed from the pharmacy without a prescription. For some things you have to show a driver’s license. For other things you have to drive to another county. And while Gasconade County is not now technically considered the meth capital of the world as I mention in the book (that distinction now belongs to one of our neighboring counties), it has certainly been called that at times. In the 90’s and into the 2000’s—and even still to this day—meth labs are raided almost weekly. And it was much worse a few years ago. You can read about it every week in the Gasconade County Republican. Someone is always getting busted or someone’s house is getting raided. People get caught cooking meth and they go to jail and they bond out and the cops give them a few weeks to regroup and resupply themselves and then they hit them again. Sometimes guys get caught for the second time before they’ve even been to court for the first time.
It’s all about Pseudoephedrine, the active ingredient harvested from these pills; the component meth cooks need most to perfect their product. About ten years ago they started making you show your drivers license and sign a sheet of paper at the pharmacy window. Now Gasconade County prevents you from buying anything with Pseudoephedrine in it period without a doctor’s prescription. So unless you want to pay an office visit, you have to drive 40 miles to a different county, show your driver’s license, then sign a piece of paper stating you will not cook meth. While these laws are inconvenient for law-abiding, non-meth producing citizens, they were actually created to make it harder for chefs to get the pills they need to cook with, and these laws have made a difference—to an extent—but for every new law that’s made to curb the accessibility to precursors, there’s a guy who cooks crank that’s a very resourceful gentleman and he will just find a new way to make it. If such and such pill cannot be obtained without a prescription, he’ll just find the next best pill that will work, and then that pill becomes the new pill. The quality of the product may suffer, but people will still buy it. And they’ll love it. Even though the product is inferior to what they had previously known. They’ll still snort it or smoke it or shoot it and be grateful for it, while already scheming about how they will get more crank when the crank they have runs out.
But for old schoolers that have been in the game for the long haul, they remember what the good stuff was like. How pure it used to be and how easily it was obtained, and I’m sure a small part of them (guys like Jerry Dean Skaggs) will always look back with fond memories of previous product and long for the good old days.
MP: Frank Sinatra In A Blender was more along the satirical lines, while A Swollen Red Sun is a bit weightier (but no less entertaining). Was the change in tone conscious?
MM: If I had any real goal with my second book, it was to write something completely different from my first book. The characters are much deeper, and they’re drawn in such a way you can relate to them because they’re dealing with real world problems. Issues that we all deal with: Death and disease and loss. Suicide and infidelity and drug addiction. And the extremes people go to to satisfy those addictions.
While Frank Sinatra in a Blender was about embracing addictions, A Swollen Red Sun is about being a slave to them.
MP: Two of your favorite authors, Daniel Woodrell and Dan Ray Pollock, have endorsed the book. What from their work do you hope to apply to yours?
MM: They have become literary heroes to a generation of writers and if I could write half as well as either one of them I’d be walking in tall cotton. But honestly, when I wrote A Swollen Red Sun back in 2010 all I could think about was how cool it would be to meet them. Then maybe I could figure out a way to ask them to read my book without feeling like an asshole. But eventually I did meet them both, and over the years I’ve gotten to know them well, have even read and drank with them, so having their names and words on the cover mean a lot to me. The very same writers who have influenced me now believe in me, and not a lot of writers can say that—plus, there are blurbs from: Todd Robinson, Hilary Davidson, Johnny Shaw, and Ben Whitmer. Writers I genuinely care about as people and whose work I admire.
Between both books, I’ve gotten some amazing blurbs that I’ll always be thankful for. So anytime I see these people at a bar, I owe them a drink. Always. Because that’s the rule.
MP: You have a reputation among your peers as one of the best self-editors. Can you talk about your process after that first draft?
MM: Surely you’re making this up; I cannot imagine anyone saying this. In fact, I know five or six editors who are giving you the finger right now—but!—if I have become a good self-editor, it’s just because I have worked with much better editors than me and I’ve learned from them. Truth is: editors don’t get enough credit. They don’t. And sometimes they don’t get any. But they should. Because it’s the editor that really ties the book together. They polish the words and tighten everything down. The more you write and publish, the more you’ll work with editors and the more you will learn. You don’t even have to try. You just pick things up and they stick with you. Small skills you didn’t even realize you had until you found yourself using them. But I’m also very obsessive/compulsive, so that surely plays a role. It’s a curse, really. I write quickly, but I’m slow to let things go. I need to reread everything fifty times. I’ll do ten or twenty rewrites of anything before I’ll even show Stacia (my agent), who is actually my first editor.
What it comes down to is this: I loathe the thought of anyone reading something I’ve written that’s not as good as it can possibly be. If I think there’s a way to improve what I wrote and make it better I have to try. It’s all about editing: rereading and rewriting. In a way, writing books has ruined me. I look for mistakes all the time now. Even when I’m dining out. I can’t read a menu. I proofread everything.
MP: Would you tell us what you’re up to next?
MM: I don’t even know myself. Maybe nothing. Then again, I might start a new book a half-hour from now. When it comes to writing, I don’t plan a single word. Planning what I want to say robs creativity from the process. For me, writing is about total freedom.
The Hard Word Book Club meets the last Wednesday of each month in BookPeople’s cafe at 7 pm. Join us on Wednesday, August 26, for a discussion of Matthew McBride’s A Swollen Red Sun, available on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.
The Ice Bucket Challenge to raise awareness and donations to combat ALS is starting to run through the crime fiction community.
Alifair Burke, author of two mystery series, one starring NYPD Detective Ellie Hatcher, and the other driven by Portland, OR, Prosecutor Samantha Kincaid, accepted the challenge from Michael Connelly, author of the Hieronymus “Harry” Bosch series and the Mickey Haller novels, who also dumped the ice water on her.
Two of the people she challenged were McKenna Jordan, owner of Houston’s Murder By The Book, and her dad, James Lee Burke, winner of the Edgar Award and writer of the Dave Robicheaux mysteries.
He challenged SJ Rozan, Hilary Davidson, and Gary Phillips. Gary accepted the challenge on Reed’s facebook and Hilary and SJ are good sports, so look forward to more videos.
Ed Kurtz joins us this Friday, August 22nd, at 7 pm, to speak about and sign his new book, The Forty-Two, set in the Times Square of the early Eighties with the feel of the grindhouse movies that played there. Kurtz started out writing horror but has since expanded into noir, and we hope he keeps writing in the mystery section for quite some time. After the event, we will screen Vigilante, a classic of the genre. Ed was kind enough to take some questions from us about the book and the films that inspired it.
MysteryPeople: Which came first, the story or wanting to set one in Times Square?
Ed Kurtz: I’d been wanting to write about the 42nd Street scene the way it was for some time, and between reading Bill Landis’s Sleazoid Express and Jimmy McDonough’s terrific biography of Andy Milligan (upon whom Andy Donovan is based), I decided it was time. The set-up seemed a natural fit to me—a grindhouse fanatic getting involved in a murder right in one of the Forty-Two’s most infamous theaters.
MP: Times Square exists in the story as another character and a complex one at that. How did you go about writing about a place in a previous era?
EK: Quite a lot of research—and quite a lot of maps and photos. As I state (apologize about?) in the acknowledgments, I was born in the wrong time and place to have experienced the Deuce firsthand, but as a lifelong exploitation addict it’s in my blood. That said, I needed to know late 1970s/early 1980s New York well, so I read voluminously, studied all those maps and photographs, and kept my writing space strewn with all of that stuff to completely immerse myself in the milieu. I even got my hands on old copies of the Village Voice so that the films playing in the book are accurate. My biggest fear was messing it all up, of course, so I sent it to a friend and colleague, a dyed-in-the-wool New Yorker, to give it a brutal analysis once it was done. To my delight he told me I’d only flubbed one minor detail. I’m not saying which.
MP: At times the book has the feel of a grindhouse film to it. What did you want to take from those movies to apply to your own work?
EK: The down-and-dirty electric energy of the best—or at least most entertaining—of the exploitation pictures from that period is what I wanted to emulate in The Forty-Two. I hope when people read the book they can see the grain and spots and cigarette burns on the celluloid, hear the crackle of the overused film print. I love this stuff every bit as much as Charley does in the novel, and I wanted that little obsession of ours, mine and my character’s, to bleed through the narrative. You have to wallow a little bit to really get what makes the sleazehound tick, I think, and the novel allows the reader to slum with Charley without all the danger he faces!
MP: You’ve been writing a lot of crime fiction lately. What attracted you to it?
EK: I have always loved crime fiction, particularly with a noir bent, for its attention to darker impulses among human beings that tend to be more subtle than that found in a lot of horror. Themes like obsessive love and revenge, for example, strike such deeper chords than buckets of blood—though I’m certainly attracted to that, too! I started out in horror, and I think that much is evident in a lot of my crime output like The Forty-Two, but I also don’t think the two are all that different. I’m interested in the choices people make, good and bad, and how it can change them and affect their circumstances. How choices can bring out the best or worst in a character, which seems to me a crucial part of crime fiction storytelling.
MP: As someone who has written in several genres, do you see the point in those divisions or is a story a story to you?
EK: For the most part, the latter. When I wrote A Wind of Knives, I set out to create a story about love and revenge, and found myself puzzled that to most commentators it was a “gay Western.” I can’t see the need in ghettoizing literature to that extent, apart from pointing out those aspects that might be most interesting to particular readers, I suppose. My love for grindhouse and the Times Square scene comes directly from my love of horror, so the two are inseparable in my head—so although The Forty-Two is a crime novel, the horror aspects are there, too. Sometimes I like to say I write about people doing bad things to each other, if I’m forced to categorize. But even that is probably oversimplifying. It reminds me of how aggravated I get when I hear someone refer to a novel as “literary,” when a novel is by definition literary, whether it’s William Faulkner or Edgar Rice Burroughs.
MP: If someone was wanting to understand grindhouse cinema what three films would you have them start with?
EK: Just three? I could give you three hundred, and I’d be happy to do it, but I’ll play nice. Just to spread things around a bit, I’ll touch on some different genres that were common to the place and time Charley McCormick is haunting the Forty-Two.
Five Fingers of Death, aka King Boxer — Cheng Chang Ho’s 1973 kung fu classic got a bit lost in the shuffle when Enter the Dragon was released the same year, but it was a mainstay on 42nd Street and one of the very best examples of the sort of violent martial arts extravaganzas that opened the door to the kung fu craze…and was a perfect fit for the grindhouse scene and tastes. Highly recommended.
Ilsa, She-Wolf of the SS — Don Edmond’s infamous 1974 smorgasbord of sleaze and poor taste introduced Dyane Thorne in her first turn as the sadistic Ilsa, classlessly using the Nazi era as the backdrop for as much nudity, violence, and kinky sex as he could get away with. By no means suitable for everyone, the film nonetheless was a major presence on the Deuce and paved the way for countless mimics. Predecessors from Italy like Pasolini’s Salo and Cavani’s The Night Porter may have set the stage for this sort of WWII-era degeneracy, but no one did it more outrageously than Ilsa. (Fun fact: it was shot on leftover Hogan’s Heroes sets! Bob Crane probably loved it.)
Zombie, aka Zombie 2 — Intended as a cheap, unofficial sequel to George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead (which was released in Italy as Zombi), Lucio Fulci’s made this gut-munching gore masterpiece a classic all its own and filled it with so many wild set pieces—from the underwater zombie/shark fight to one of the most stomach-churning bits of eyeball violence you’ll ever endure—that the picture is every bit as unforgettable as the American counterpart it was meant to capitalize upon. Bleak, unrelenting, and gritty as hell, it may not be Fulci’s best outing (which is probably The Beyond), but an unbelievably entertaining piece of trashy 70s Eurohorror and another pillar of the Forty-Two.
MysteryPeople welcomes Ed Kurtz to BookPeople Friday, August 22, at 7 pm on our third floor. He will be speaking and signing his new book The Forty Two. The signing will be followed by a screening of Vigilante, a grindhouse classic. Copies of The Forty Two are available on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. All BookPeople events are free and open to the public.
This Wednesday, August 20, MysteryPeople is proud to present the latest and last installment of our summer Noir Double Feature series. For those of you new to the series, each event is a two-parter: we screen a film based on a book available on our shelves and then discuss the book and movie together. For our last screening, we present to you Winter’s Bone, director Debra Granik‘s 2010 adaption of Daniel Woodrell’s book of the same name.
Winter’s Bone, both as a film and as a novel, presents an icy, poetic portrait of Ozark strength and suffering. The film and novel have much the same plot. The story begins as Ree Dolly, teenage caretaker for her younger brothers and mentally ill mother, finds out that her meth cooker father has put their house up as collateral to make bail. When he fails to appear for a court date, Ree must go on a quest to find him – a quest that proves more dangerous than she could have imagined, as she works her way through relatives and members of the community in an increasingly desperate quest.
Daniel Woodrell lived the world he portrayed, and he understands that teens like Ree Dolly have few options. Ree plans to join the military, something Daniel Woodrell himself did at the age of 17. If she loses her property, she can foist her younger brothers and her mentally ill mother off on relatives. However, she knows that by doing so, she will condemn her brothers to a life of criminality and most likely prison, and she doesn’t trust others to take in her mother long-term. Knowing that she must ensure her family’s safety before she herself can leave means that she will risk any danger to ensure their future well being, and her future escape.
Winter’s Bone portrays a world where men are either obstacles or absent, and women are the forces that preserve their near-destroyed community. As Ree goes from relative to relative looking for her father, she must approach any man through their woman, and it is the women of the community that decide what information to pass on and what to hold back.
Winter’s Bone contains a beautiful reversal of noir tropes – instead of an irresponsible, violent man who has created many of his own difficulties, Woodrell has written a strong young woman who tackles challenges head-on, no matter how insurmountable her difficulties may seem. Winter’s Bone passes the Bechdel test in spades. Ree exist within a fully realized female world where topics of conversation run the gamut. She also has strong bonds of friendship that give her the courage to continue dealing with her extraordinarily difficult life.
Winter’s Bone takes place in a community where predefined roles govern each life from cradle to grave. There are no options other than to mimic the lives of those who have come before, and standing in the community is determined solely by how well you fulfill those roles. Happiness, therefore, can come only through succeeding in your role or in leaving the community entirely.
Winter’s Bone has found universal acclaim both as a novel and a film, and although the film is mostly faithful to the novel, the two compliment each other rather than acting as redundant. Winter’s Bone as a book comes in a long line of critically lauded works by Woodrell. The film catapulted Jennifer Lawrence to fame with her powerful performance, as well as bringing director Debra Granik to prominence. The film does not use sets, but uses actual Ozark houses, and this is just one part of the authenticity of Woodrell’s story and Granik’s production.
Come to BookPeople’s third floor, Wednesday, August 20, for a near-perfect movie and a perfect novel. Our screening starts at 6, and discussion of the book and film will follow the screening. As always, our events are free and open to the public. Copies of Winter’s Bone can be found on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.
Double Feature Stats
Adherence to book:
4.5 [out of 1-5]
Ride with the Devil, In Country, Cold Mountain, Harlan County, USA
Post by Molly
This month in international crime fiction, we travel to the rain-soaked streets of Edinburgh in the 1970s. Europa Editions, through their World Noir imprint, has brought Laidlaw, the first of William McIlvanney’s Laidlaw Investigations across the water for their debut on American soil. McIlvanney is considered the father of “Tartan Noir,” which, admittedly, describes a wide variety of Scottish detective novelists whose main commonality seems to be their country of origin rather than any unified style. Still, before McIlvanney began writing his trilogy of novels starring DI Laidlaw and DC Harkness in the mid-1970s, crime fiction was virtually nonexistent in the highlands or the lowlands, and most detective novelists in Scotland today, including Ian Rankin, Val McDermid, and Denise Mina, have been strongly influenced by these early works.
In McIlvanney’s first novel, simply titled Laidlaw, a young woman has been brutally murdered. DI Laidlaw, a detective of unusual methods and dour visage, must go in search of a killer. To complicate matters, the girl’s father is also searching for his daughter’s murderer. If Detective Laidlaw finds him first, he has the hope of a fair trial and a life in prison. If the girl’s father finds him first, his brief and tortured existence will come to a sudden end. To complicate the matter, the father has strong connections to the local mafia, some of whom take a moral stand against sex crimes despite numerous other criminal activities and are willing to give as much aid as necessary to make the father’s revenge complete.
McIlvanney has written in many genres and mediums during his lifetime, including poetry and screenwriting. He has an innate understanding of how to use the framework of a murder to draw attention to wider divisions and dysfunctions in society. Laidlaw uses each point in the narrative as a chance to reflect on the wider implications, and McIlvanney deliberately structures his narrative to allow for these moments of reflection. Laidlaw, despite a length of around 250 pages, manages to delve into homophobia, class conflict, drug addiction, religious divisions, and terrible weather, and each pause for thought is more beautifully written than the last. In particular, McIlvanney creates DI Laidlaw – intuitive, working class, and voice of humanistic tolerance – and then writes DC Harkness – college educated, young and handsome, bigoted and superior – as the perfect foil. Their debates contain many of the divisions of Scottish society that still exist today.
Much of what comes to mind when we think about Scotland – rain, lack of humor, depressed introspection – lend themselves particularly well to the noir genre. While reading Laidlaw, I got the sense that noir coming to Scotland was noir coming home. Europa Editions, as they continue to release McIlvanney’s novels, do a great service to the American reading public, and I, personally, cannot wait to read the next one.
If you liked this, check out:
Laidlaw, by William McIlvanney, is available on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. Molly blogs on international crime fiction every third Thursday of the month. Her last post took a look at Adrian McKinty’s Troubles Trilogy. Look for her next post on September 19.
The Forty-Two by Ed Kurtz
Setting has always been an important element in crime fiction. Whether Hammett’s San Francisco, Chandler’s LA, Hillerman’s Four Corners, or Pelecanos’ DC, the protagonist has an intense relationship with their hometown. Ed Kurtz shows his understanding of this in his novel, The Forty-Two.
The title refers to New York’s Times Square of the early Eighties. Kurtz brings it to life in all of its sleazy glory with the hookers, junkies, peep shows, and questionable dining establishments. Most important to our hero, Charley McCormick, is The Forty-Two‘s
grindhouse theaters that crank out exploitation films from their projectors. The first chapter is a beautiful introdution to Charley and the Square on a Friday night as he looks for his film fix, the bloodier the better.
Charley gets more blood than he bargained for. A young woman sits next to him during a slasher double bill, even though the theater is half empty. When the first feature is over, Charley discovers she’s been murdered. He’s plunged into a nightmare involving mobsters, arson, an archaic form of porn, and the future of his beloved Forty-Two. Kurtz uses his tools as a horror writer, ratcheting the dread and tension like a dark craftsman and delivers the emotion and Charley’s observations with the skill of a veteran hard boiled poet.
It is in the depiction of Times Square where the book really shines. Kurtz transports you back to a time and place with details that pop, but never overwhelm. We get the sights, sounds, and (be forewarned) smells of the place which express Charley’s love for it.
The Forty-Two terrorizes, entertains, and transports us. Ed Kurtz hits all the genre tropes with a fresh, lurid spin. He gives us an involving read that serves as a look, both subtle and deep, at the places we attach ourselves to.
Ed Kurtz will read from & sign his new novel here at BookPeople on Friday, August 22nd at 7PM! You can pre-order signed copies of The Forty-Two now via bookpeople.com, or find a copy on our shelves in-store.
Last week, the crime fiction world lost rising talent James Thompson. Born in Kentucky, oddly enough he was known to the Scandinavian mystery scene with his series following Finnish inspector Kari Vaara. The Vaara series mixed American punch with the sub-genres mood. Thompson was working on a fifth Vaara novel when he passed.
Our own Chris Mattix wrote this profile of James Thompson a couple years back.
This Wednesday, August 6th, at 6 pm, MysteryPeople will host a screening of Carl Franklin’s 1992 noir classic Devil in a Blue Dress, based on Walter Mosley’s book of the same name. The screening is part of our ongoing Noir Double Feature Film Series, a biweekly MysteryPeople event where we screen a film adaption of a noir classic and follow with a discussion of the film versus the novel. Each screening begins at 6 pm and takes place on BookPeople’s third floor.
Devil in a Blue Dress, Walter Mosely’s first novel to star unlicensed private detective Easy Rawlins, follows Easy as he first enters into the finding-things-out-for-money game. A sinister white gangster hires Rawlins to find a blonde bombshell who likes to frequent black clubs, but when Easy gets a little ways into the case, people around him start showing up dead, and it is up to him to find out whodunit before the law decides to go the lazy route and just frame him instead. Easy Rawlins, as a proud veteran of World War II and the mean streets of Houston’s fifth ward, is up to the task. By the end of the book, he may just have found himself a new career and a permanent outlet for snappy one liners.
Mosley’s novel takes place in 1940s LA, like many a neo-noir, and the book is so cinematically written as to form a perfect bond with Franklin’s jazzy interpretation. With a 20 million dollar budget, Franklin creates a vibrant depiction of African-American neighborhoods in mid-century Los Angeles. This, combined with a tight narrative and stunning early performances from Denzel Washington and Don Cheadle, make this a film not to miss.
As a film, Devil in a Blue Dress shares most symmetry with Chinatown – they both take a modern perspective and delve deeply into LA’s sordid history, and the city plays as large a part as any single character. Walter Mosley and Carl Franklin use the groundwork already laid for LA noir, and Devil in a Blue Dress adds a welcome layer to the cosmopolitan patchwork that is representations of Los Angeles in literature and film.
Devil in a Blue Dress is firmly grounded in the hard-boiled detective novel conventions. Corruption, murder, greed, deviance, prostitution, small-time gangsters – Easy Rawlins does not find post-war LA to be a particularly wholesome world. Easy also has all the particular problems of dealing with racism as an African-American in 1948, including police violence, potential lynching every time he talks to a white woman, and a constant stream of indignities and casual racism from almost every white man he meets. Although Rawlins is well established as a hard-working homeowner in a community in which he is known and respected, the admiration of his peers and the constant booze and sex cannot obscure his place at the bottom of society’s totem pole. The film was made shortly after Compton exploded in the aftermath of Rodney King’s beating, and the film struck a particularly heart-wrenching cord upon its release through its portrayal of issues from an earlier time that to this day pervade society.
Detective novels have long been dominated by voices writing from within mainly white communities, where the majority of minority visitors are represented as the other. Devil in a Blue Dress provides welcome relief from such literary tunnel vision – any white visitor to Mosley’s spot-on recreation of 1940s black LA is immediately viewed as a potentially dangerous anomaly. Mosley is, however, certainly not the first detective novelist to represent the African-American experience, and noir set in black communities has a long history stretching back to Chester Himes in the 1950s. Carl Franklin had Denzel Washington read some of Himes’ novels, including Cotton Comes to Harlem, so as to give him a sense of the time and place the film aimed to recreate.
Mosley is one of the most intriguing authors writing now in any mystery subgenre. His detective novels, like his sci-fi and general fiction, have all enjoyed wide renown and crossover appeal. Luckily for us, he is also one of the most prolific authors writing now, and you can find his work all over our shelves. Mosley himself will be coming to BookPeople this fall [DATE? - i wanted to promote his visit with the post but i wasn't sure when he is coming], so keep an eye out on our events calendar.
MysteryPeople is proud to offer a screening of Devil in a Blue Dress, Wednesday, August 6, at 6 pm, up on BookPeople’s third floor. You can find Devil in a Blue Dress on our shelves and at bookpeople.com. Our next MysteryPeople Noir Double Feature will be Wednesday, August 20. We will screen Winter’s Bone and discuss Daniel Woodrell’s book of the same name.
Double Feature Stats
Adherence to Book [scale of 1-5]: 4
Chinatown, LA Confidential, Long Goodbye, In the Heat of the Night, Boyz N The Hood
Tim Bryant’s latest book featuring post-war Fort Worth private eye Dutch Curridge, Spirit Trap, involves theft and the murder of a family, with members of a western swing band as suspects. Tim will be joining us with Ben Rheder and Reavis Wortham for our Lone Star Mystery authors panel this Wednesday, August 6, at 7 pm on BookPeople’s second floor. Tim was kind enough to answer some questions beforehand.
MysteryPeople: Music always plays a big part in the book and this time, Dutch has to deal with a lot of them in this mystery. Being one yourself, what did you want to get a across about a band?
Tim Bryant: There wasn’t a lot of planning that went into Spirit Trap. I experienced it, in some ways, as I would if I were reading it. Still, I brought my history in music to it. I would have to say what came out of that was the dichotomy that, if you look at a band from the outside, it appears very much as a family, a unit that works together. Seen from the inside out, though, it’s made up of a bunch of individuals, each of whom will have their own motives and may see what they’re doing in completely different ways. Both of those things can be useful in writing about life, especially when you’re talking about mystery.
MP: Dutch’s voice is so unique and it carries the book. How did you develop it?
TB: There’s a lot of myself in Dutch, so I didn’t have to invent him from whole cloth. Obviously, we share a dark and rather twisted sense of humor. There’s also a good bit of my grandfather in him, and people that I remember from my grandfather’s era, men who hung around him. I have an ear for how those kinds of people talk. Not just what they say, but how they say it. I had written a series of short stories with a character called Cold Eye Huffington. Cold Eye was a good bit like Dutch, although he was set in New Orleans. The very first story I ever wrote with Dutch as a character was published in REAL literary magazine, and his voice was pretty much fully formed from the beginning.
MP: Which came first to write about, Dutch or Fort Worth?
TB: After the Cold Eye stories, I wanted to develop a Texas character, because I do consider myself to be a Texas writer. Of course, with Cold Eye, I had the whole New Orleans music scene as a backdrop, and I very much wanted to keep music in the picture. It’s something I know well and enjoy writing about, and there’s endless fodder for storylines. So, looking at Texas, and being a huge fan of both western swing music and jazz, Fort Worth became the obvious setting for Dutch. Fort Worth has such a rich music history, and a lot of people aren’t aware of just how rich it is. I mean, Bob Wills and Milton Brown are both associated with Fort Worth, but so is Ornette Coleman. Plus, I knew that Dutch would be a little guy going up against bigger foes, and Fort Worth, always being in the shadow of Dallas, fit into that psychology.
MP: One of the things I Iike best about Dutch is his sense of humor. How important is humor in a story when you’re dealing with somber subject matter?
TB: I think it’s important as a writer and a reader to have that spark of humor there in the dark, but it only works because it’s important for Dutch himself to have that humor. It’s a survival mechanism for him, as much as anything. And he’s no longer a churchgoer, but he remembers from childhood that a joke is always funnier when you’re in a place it doesn’t belong or isn’t expected. The humor just comes naturally from what’s going on. I suppose they all come from my mind as I’m writing the story, but it honestly feels as if they come from the mind of Dutch as he goes about things. That’s what makes it natural, what makes it work.
MP: For an author, what makes Dutch Curridge a character worth coming back to?
TB: The fact that I know him like a friend. I not only know what has happened to him in the three novels, but, at this point, I know the day he was born and I know the day he dies. Elvis hasn’t arrived on the scene in the books yet, but I know what he thinks about Elvis. He’s like any friend. I may need a break from him every once in a while, because he’s pretty intense in a lot of ways, but after a while, I start to hear him whispering in my ear, and I start to miss the guy.
MysteryPeople welcomes Tim Bryant, along with Reavis Wortham and Ben Rehder, to BookPeople for a conversation about crime fiction on Wednesday, August 6, at 7 pm. His latest novel, Spirit Trap, is available on BookPeople’s shelves and via bookpeople.com.