Not only has has Peter Farris given us one of this year’s most exciting debuts (and MysteryPeople Pick of the Month) with Last Call For The Living, he proved he can find work as a Pentecostal preacher at Noir At The Bar Austin, when he did a reading from the passage that leads up to the book’s much talked about shoot out. We caught up with Peter on the road and he answered a few questions.
MysteryPeople: It’s very rare, even in a story about criminals, when one of the central characters is a member of the Aryan Brotherhood. What compelled you to use that background for Hobe?
Peter Farris: I’ve had a lifelong fascination with prison culture and prison gangs, and the alpha-male criminal sociopaths they can produce. Given the AB’s reputation, I thought giving Hicklin ties to the gang would make for a dynamic, complicated character.
MP: Is there anything an author needs to know about writing a book with a central character who has so many socially unacceptable traits?
PF: It’s important to write the character as dispassionately as possible, because the moment you inject any sympathies or antipathies I don’t think you’re writing fiction anymore…you’re writing propaganda. I knew it was essential to write about a white supremacist with that type of neutrality, both to serve the story and hopefully challenge the reader to accept (and maybe pull for) this outlaw despite his blind superiorities and reprehensible views. I’ve heard from a few readers who told me they couldn’t believe I had them rooting for such a despicable person. I admit I take a real satisfaction in that.
MP: This is your first novel. What did you get out of the experience?
PF: I’ve wrestled with a few emotions directly before and after the book’s release, including a strange sense of relief which was probably due to my own anticipation and eagerness.
One valuable lesson I’ve learned is that once your baby goes out into the world, there’s not much you can do about it. Just get on with the next sentence, the next gig, and don’t sweat how many reviews you have on Amazon or if somebody hated the novel on Goodreads and let everyone know about it.
MP: The book does a wonderful job of balancing a pulp spectacle with beleivable detail and character. Did you have any influences who you pulled from?
PF:I consider David J. Schow a real mentor and I’d argue next to Stephen Hunter nobody can go do gun play in a novel quite like David can. And if my house was burning down and assuming the loved ones and pets were safe, I’d probably try and save the James Ellroy hardcovers.
I have a deep love for regional fiction, too, and would definitely acknowledge Flannery O’Connor, Larry Brown and Harry Crews as a few of my Mount Rushmore writers.
MP: When you wrote the shoot out in the snake handler church did you think it would catch everyone’s imagination the way it has?
PF:I didn’t think folks would respond the way they have, but while writing that scene I did have a supsicion that it was something that hadn’t been done before. Assuming that’s the case, I suppose I do feel a little proud. If the novel is remembered as the “one with the shootout in the snake-handling church” that’s perfectly fine by me.
MP: You’re in the middle of your first book tour. What have you learned from being on the road?
PF: I’ve realized that there is a remarkable community of readers (and booksellers!) out there, folks who just love turning each other on to great fiction, writing reviews, helping spread the word for work they’re passionate about. Authors tend to be shut-ins (myself included) so when you venture out into the world and meet like-minded souls willing to spend their money on something you’ve written, that’s a pretty profound thing. I’d like to think most novelists are trying to satisfy themselves creatively with each project, but after receiving some very kind e-mails from readers and chatting with folks out on the road, I’ve gained a deepening respect for the “audience.”
MP: You hinted that your next book is a southern Mystic River. Can you give any more detail?
PF: Well, Mystic River may not have been the best comparison as they couldn’t be more different story-wise, but with a little distance from the last draft I’m starting to think of the book as maybe a kindred spirit to Larry Brown’s “Fay.” I am really happy with my next novel though, and do hope (much like Lehane’s work) that it’s not only a compelling, entertaining read but something that resonates emotionally with the reader…the kind of crime fiction that lingers with you long after you’ve read it. The book is set in south Georgia, and about a teenage prostitute who finds sanctuary with an eccentric bootlegger.