Bryon Quertermous’s debut, Murder Boy, follows struggling writer Dominick Prince, who attempts to kidnap his instructor in order to pass his class. The initial kidnapping leads to a crime spree involving the professor’s mistress, her psychotic bounty hunter brother, a criminal who writes better than Dominick, and a few killers in wedding dresses. It is an all out pulp-crime explosion that also looks at the life of the mind (feeble or otherwise). We caught up with Bryon to talk about the book and his own writing life.
MysteryPeople Scott: What made you want to write a violent crime novel about writing?
Bryon Quertermous: For a long time I didn’t and it drove me insane. I was writing violent hardboiled PI novels that sucked and didn’t have any spirit or heart while I was also writing these twee literary stories starring writers that didn’t have any structure and couldn’t get past 2-3k words. It was a handy metaphor for how I was feeling as a writer at the time. I was in a graduate creative writing program but not fully committed to an academic writing career and then at night I was writing crime fiction that I wasn’t respecting and was trying to knock out for the money (ha!). It wasn’t until I started reading the online crime journals from guys like Neil Smith and Victor Gischler and others who did a great job of mixing transgressive crime fiction with the fun of meta literary stories. Once I finally went all in on merging all of my experiences and influences and ideas into one book instead of several I hit my stride and finally had a novel I think really represents my whole self as a writer.
MPS: What kind of effect does academia have on writing, genre writing in particular?
BQ: I don’t think it has as big of an affect as some would like to believe. I was lucky to be in a good program that really wanted writers to grow, regardless of what they were writing, but like I said, part of the reason I was able to find my voice was this wealth of transgressive fiction coming out of really prestigious writing programs like Columbia and Iowa. I think crime writers get a little bent out of shape too easily (and I’m just as guilty as anyone) about being snubbed in the broader literary scene instead of focusing on the fact that genre writers, for the most part, are in a much better place for making a living writing and having fun writing than literary writers. I will say though that unless a writer has an interest in teaching or publishing, majoring in creative writing or going to grad school for creative writing is probably a waste of time. If you want to be a genre writer, read great genre writing and crappy genre writing and write a lot of your own genre writing.
MPS: The plot has a careening momentum with more than a few absurdist moments. How much was planned out before writing?
BQ: Not a lick of it. This is why it took my 8 years to write. I’ve tried outlining and it just sucks the joy out of it for me. I know I need to work more on this because I get distracted easily and I tend to really veer off course a lot, but also, I’d say that is one of the things that makes my writing unique so I’m not too keen on fixing it so much that I ruin that style. I’m in the final stretch of completing the sequel that has only taken me 18 months to write, so I’m getting better, but I need to get A LOT better if I’m going to make a career of this I think.
MPS: We are never quite sure how good a writer Dominick is, there is even some doubt planted. Was that intentional for a reason?
BQ: Yes, that was intentional, though in my own mind I’m pretty convinced he’s a mediocre writer: better than a lot of bad writers, but not as good as he thinks he is or wants to be. That was important to me because this is something I love in my characters in general. I don’t like characters who are awesome at what they do. I like failures or has-beens or almost-weres. I like ballerinas who couldn’t cut it and became strippers and musicians who weren’t good enough to be stars and work the dive bar circuit and cops who couldn’t cut it and end up as bouncers. So when it came time to write about a writer I always knew he’d be on the bottom rung of the literary world.
MPS: This being your first book, did you draw from any influences?
BQ: I drew from everything. Once I realized that spreading my influences across multiple books wasn’t working I poured everything I had seen and experienced and heard and eaten and done and imagined over the course of my life. This book was influenced as much by Catcher in the Rye and Dave Barry as it was by the work of Jim Thompson and Donald Westlake. It’s also influenced heavily by theater and film. I started as a playwright and that’s how I learned dialogue and how to bring people into a story in an interesting way. The quick and brutal violence of guys like Quentin Tarantino and Sam Peckipah was also really influential. I’ve never liked long drawn out action scenes in novels and love the idea that no character is off limits from a violent death.
MPS: what advice would you give a would-be author like Dominick?
BQ: Get a real job. This business sucks.
You can find copies of Murder Boy on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.