MP Q&A: SCOTT PHILLIPS & JED AYRES

We are looking forward to our Fathers Day Noir At The Bar Summit this Sunday. Austin founders Scott Montgomery and Jesse Sublette are meeting up with Scott Phillips and Jedidiah Ayres at Opal Divine’s  (3601 South Congress) for a night of music and crime fiction readings. Here’s a little background: Scott Phillips’ latest, Rake, is a tale of an American actor in Paris juggling four women, his violent temper, and a crime while trying to execute a movie deal. We sold out our initial run of Jed’s A F*ckload Of Shorts (there will be more at the event), and if you’re offended by the title don’t bother cracking the book. In fact you may want to avoid the interviews we did with them.

First, Scott-

MysteryPeople: I believe this is your first time to get out of the Midwest for a novel. I know you spent time in Paris, but other than experience what drew you to use it?

Scott Phillips: It was originally written for a collection of novels from a French publisher, La Branche, all of which were intended to be made as TV movies. That plan never went anywhere, but the idea was that it had to be a thriller, it had to be filmable in Paris, and it had to have Friday the 13th in it somewhere.

MP: I didn’t realize until after the book that your protagonist has no given name just the one of the doctor he plays on TV. Was there a specific intention of that?

SP: Not really, but at a certain point I realized I hadn’t given the actor his own name and I left it at that. The friend I based the character on was really a soap opera actor, the star of a show called Santa Barbara, which was enormously popular in prime time in France, and it occurred to me that almost no one in France knew his name, the fans always referred to him by his character’s name. We really did try and make a movie about the arms of the Venus de Milo; in retrospect we’re probably lucky we failed. A lot of the events in the book are exaggerated versions of things that really happened back then.

MP: As a writer, what makes him a fun character?

SP: He’s a self-deluded narcissist, always trying to convince the reader (and himself) that he’s a swell guy, always looking out for other people. And that sort of supreme self-confidence of his is amusing to write. Not dissimilar to Bill Ogden, from The Walkaway and The Adjustment.

MP: While you show the film business, warts and all, isn’t the normal skewering of it that you get with many authors that use it as a backdrop. As somebody who is involved with the industry, how do you view it?

SP: As I say above, many of the events described in the book really happened in the course of trying to get that movie made. People are always trying to get people to work for free, always trying to scam money out of backers, always trying to screw their way into the movie business.

MP: Sex plays a large part in Rake as well as your other work. What’s the best way for an author to approach it without coming off as porn?

SP: I have no idea. I love to write about sex, but it never occurs to me that anyone might find it arousing. I suppose I try and depict it in a matter-of-fact way, awkward and sometimes embarrassing and often thrilling. The worst kind of sex writing, I think, is when the writer tries to idealize it, all arching backs and glistening torsos and simultaneous orgasm. Also terrible is the sort of thing where the author gets overly hyperbolic and starts comparing genitalia to foodstuffs and planetary bodies and automotive parts.

MP: You’re doing our Austin Noir At The Bar with your friend and cohort, Jedidiah Ayres. What do you like about his writing?

SP: He has a willingness, or maybe it’s a compulsion, to go too far. Where a more psychiatrically stable writer might pull back, Jed plunges ahead, damn the torpedoes. The one about the groupie, the dead rock-star and the groupie’s boyfriend is one of the funniest and most disturbing stories ever written, and yet he manages to bring a kind of sweetness to it.

As Jed proves here, he even goes too far in Q&As. To fit the standards of BookPeople (Not necessarily MysteryPeople) some redaction was necessary.

MysteryPeople: Your short story collection is titled A F*ckload Of Shorts and you have a novella titled Fierce Bitches. Do you plan to use swear words in your titles like John D MacDonald used color?

Jed Ayres: I really don’t want to lock myself into a pattern like that. I wonder sometimes, what color Sue Grafton’s face drained to when her publisher said, “Fantastic, I guess we know what the next one will be called.” Dude, she must’ve looked awful. “How many of these f–kers do I have to write?”

I will say this, though, I had a ‘dicussion’ with someone over the title of my novel Peckerwoood. They told me that it would have to go – you just couldn’t name a book that – and I said “That’s okay, it can go back to the original title, ‘Shitbird.'”

We’ve not resumed that conversation.

Lucky for me, I guess, the publishers I’ve had had the sack to keep the titles. In fact, both Brian Lindenmuth at Snubnose and Cameron Ashley at Crime Factory are the ones who officially titled those books. I’d titled a query letter to Brian A F–kload of Shorts and he thought it was the name of my book and really argued for it when it came time to call it something (the asterisk was added to match the title of the film adaptation of one of my stories – A F*ckload of Scotch Tape), and Cameron seized on a joke I’d made that the book should be called Fierce Bitches after a line of interior monologue one of the characters has at the end (and in the context of the line, I think it’s actually a very sweet title – and why I consider it a love story), and wouldn’t let it go. I didn’t argue with him, though. That title has balls. Or, uh, ovaries.

MP: In F*ckload Shorts, what story do you consider the epitome of your brand of storytelling?

JA: The good one. Don’t bother with the others.

MP: Most of the stories deal with people on the lower rungs of the ladder. Why do losers make good protagonists for you?

JA: I’ve never been able to identify with the characters that I encounter in fiction who are cool, accomplished, scary-smart or generally good at stuff, so when I write it’s gotta be about folks I can identify with. Weakness, brokenness, pettiness, unedumacatedness – these are things I believe and understand – and I’ll follow a character displaying those like I’m reading my own diary. I’m much more easily invested in their fates.

MP: St. Louis Noir At The Bar has shined the light on some great local talent. What makes the city conductive for good crime fiction?

JA: Same as anyplace – it’s got people. People equal crime. Still, you’re right, we’ve found a lot of awfully good stuff around here (or good, awful stuff if you prefer) – maybe it’s the climate. There’s also a rich and terrible history of outlaws and crime that has passed into folklore in these parts – from The James/Younger Gang to Stagger Lee and Egan’s Rats. That’s bound to spark the dark imaginations of a few talented folk.

MP: You are not only a writer of crime fiction, but also a reviewer of it on your website Hardboiled Wonderland. Who are some talents more people should know about?

JA: I think Clayton Lindemuth, J. David Osborne and David James Keaton all have new books that are putting a foot up the ass of American words and everybody ought to take note. Same with Jane Bradley, Benjamin Whitmer, Jordan Harper, Jake Hinkson, Greg Bardsley, Johnny Shaw, Todd Robinson, Matthew McBride, J.I. Baker, Peter Farris… Some of them are pretty well known in this very small corner of the crime fiction world, but if I take a step back, I realize it’s a far smaller notoriety than they deserve. And, y’know for the life of me, I can’t understand why people like Dennis Tafoya, Roger Smith, Christa Faust and Sean Doolittle aren’t housef–kinghold names by now. Oh, and just you, the hell, wait and see who’s talking about Kieran Shea after Koko Takes a Holiday drops – that ought to be huge.

MP: Why should people take time out on Father’s Day and come out to our Noir At The Bar at Opal Devine’s on South Congress?

JA: Man, talk about a self-answering question. It’s all right there. It’s Father’s Day – skip the family dinner at Chili’s and bring the old man out for something he’ll actually enjoy. Or how about, you just spent an afternoon with your family, come chill the hell out with some nasty ass fiction and tasty tunes and we’ll raise a glass.

Or, every time you don’t support independent bookstores and authors, the terrorists, the Taliban and the NSA win. I really do hope you turn up.

To experience Scott Phillips, Jedidiah Ayres, and Jesse Sublette without a filter come out to Opal Divine’s at 7PM on June 16th.

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