- Interview by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery
George Weir’s latest novel Errant Knight is a a comic book story via Elmore Leonard. Shelby Knight, a former cop haunted by a bad shooting, is framed for a murder. To investigate on the streets of Austin he takes the guise of The White Knight, a costume hero in full medieval armor. With the help of a drunken sensei he searches for justice for himself and others. We caught up with George to ask him a few questions about this quirky crime novel. George Wier joins Joe R. Lansdale, John Schulian, and Jesse Sublett to read and sign at Noir at the Bar. The event will meet at Opal Divine’s at Penn Field on Tuesday, February 16th, starting at 7 PM.
MysteryPeople Scott: This is a different kind of story from your Bill Travis books. What prompted it?
George Wier: I suppose you’re right, this is a different kind of story than I’ve ever written. I did want it to be noir–and it is that. But what I wanted was to write a book that travels from the depths of the dark toward the light. I’ll tell you, I had a number of fans of my writing read the book well before I released it, and every one of them loved it. As for why I wrote it, let me just say that when the idea struck me, it didn’t just challenge me to write it. No sir, it dragged me kicking and screaming to the word processor. I mean, I’ve always been interested in the whole medieval arms and armor thing. But taking that and putting it into a crime novel–there was no way I couldn’t NOT write it. When I started on the book, it pretty much consumed me body and soul. It took over my life and wrote it from start to finish without interruption. It was one of the fastest novels I’ve ever written as well. I think it was no more than six weeks from start to finish.
“I wanted to convey the aliveness of Austin. It has its own drumbeat. The rhythm is distinctive, particularly at night. I wanted Austin–and particularly downtown Austin–to be a character in the book, and I wanted Shelby to be challenged by first, its size, and second, its connectedness.”
MPS: What did it allow you to do, that you haven’t been able to do in your other books?
GW: Errant Knight gave me, first, Austin as a playing field, but it gave me the grittier side of Austin–that side only seen by real cops and real criminals. It allowed me to throw myself into the night, and to dredge up characters–for instance. You can probably tell that I had a lot of fun with Sully Kross, an aging tough guy–both a former basketball player from the sixties, a bouncer at a whorehouse, and, as needed, a hit man. But I wanted Sully to be thoroughly likable. Then, as for Gil and Skillet, I wanted a couple of hit men who were quite capable of murder and mayhem for money, but I wanted them to be somewhat bumbling, mainly as a team. Gil I wanted to be completely heartless, and Skillet to be none too bright. But together, they are the soul of black comedy. And I think this is the first time I’ve attempted that kind of black comedy. I think it comes across. I can’t get away with that sort of thing in the Bill Travis books. Bill talks in first person, and wouldn’t be able to convey that kind of black comedy. He just wouldn’t get it. Also, I wanted to take a character and put him at the lowest ebb. So I had to do things to Shelby Knight from the beginning, that I wouldn’t ordinarily do to a character. I know the guy is fictitious, but it almost hurt me to take him as a cop and have him shoot a kid in a bad police shooting, destroy his life, his marriage, and turn him into a complete hermit who was more of a walking zombie than a man. Then, by the end of the book, I wanted him returned fully to life with a new higher purpose and a renewed lease on life. This book was the only venue where I could have achieved that.
MPS: You play with super hero mythos. What did you want to do with that genre?
GW: Yeah, I have to admit that I really wanted to play with the mythos, but at the same time, I wanted it to be real–you know, you can’t just put on armor and walk out on the streets. What I was striving for was sort of a Batman-like origin story, but the way it would have gone down in Austin, in the real world. And as you know, Austin has its share of origin stories. A number of real characters have risen from the streets, and now they are part of the scenery. I wanted to create my own Austin myth. Right now, I’m wrestling with the urge to write a sequel. So far I’m successfully resisting it. But who knows, maybe some day…
MPS: The Austin backdrop really pops in this one. What did you want to convey about the city?
GW: I wanted to convey the aliveness of Austin. It has its own drumbeat. The rhythm is distinctive, particularly at night. I wanted Austin–and particularly downtown Austin–to be a character in the book, and I wanted Shelby to be challenged by first, its size, and second, its connectedness. What I mean by connectedness is that you cannot walk down the street in Austin without tripping over someone you know or used to know–and I don’t care where you’re from. Unless you’re from the Australian outback and never made it in to town, then chances are that you’ll know someone who knows someone who knows the last person you met. Austin is far more hooked-in than any city I’ve ever encountered on Earth. We’re hooked in to LA, for instance, and we’re definitely hooked in to New York and Seattle. But I have friends here from all over the planet, including British Columbia, London, Paris, Mexico and South America. Consequently, Austin boasts far more opportunity–not just for jobs, but for real success–than any city I’ve known, and I’ve known quite a few.
“What I was striving for was sort of a Batman-like origin story, but the way it would have gone down in Austin, in the real world. And as you know, Austin has its share of origin stories. A number of real characters have risen from the streets, and now they are part of the scenery. I wanted to create my own Austin myth.”
MPS: You’ll be doing a Noir At The Bar February 16th with Joe R. Lansdale, an author you admire. What kind of influence has he had on your writing?
GW: While I knew I wanted to be a writer since I was a kid, Joe Lansdale was a huge influence on me. I read his first Hap and Leonard novel, Savage Season, and made the decision that if Joe could do it–he’s from East Texas, you know–then maybe I could do it too. Also, there was a term coined way back in the day for how Joe wrote. It was called “Lansdaling.” That is, from the first word in a book, he hits the ground running and doesn’t let up. His books read is like a mixture of lightning and mercury. I wanted to write sort of like that, but in my own voice. So, all I have to say is, Thanks, Joe! I suppose I’ve been trying to outwrite Joe ever since. How knows, one day I may make it.
You can find copies of Errant Knight on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. Come by Opal Divine’s at Penn Field on Tuesday, February 16th for an evening of booze, books, murder ballads from Jesse Sublett, and readings from John Schulian, Joe R. Lansdale, George Wier, and Jesse Sublett. The event starts at 7 PM.