MysteryPeople Q&A with C.B. McKenzie


  • Interview by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery

CB McKenzie’s latest novel, Burn What Will Burn, feels is very different from his debut, Bad Country. With more of a Jim Thompson feel, it follows the ne’er do well with a dark past, Bob Reynolds, as his small town purgatory becomes Hell after he discovers a dead body. Yet Burn What Will Burn shares the same literary DNA as McKenzie’s first, unwilling to pass judgement upon its characters, and featuring a hero who lives on the margins.

Mr. McKenzie was kind enough to take some questions from us through e-mail while on tour, which includes a stop at our upcoming Noir At the Bar next Monday, July 25th, at 7 PM. Noir at the Bar is hosted by Threadgill’s off of Riverside. McKenzie joins Peter Spiegelman, Andrew Hilbert and Jesse Sublett at the event. Copies of each author’s latest will be available for purchase at the event. 

MysteryPeople Scott: Bob Reynolds is not your typical protagonist. How did he come about?

C. B. McKenzie: Not sure Scott, if you mean that “your” in a specific-2-me sense or a Universal sense.

Since I only have the one novel published previously, Bad Country, and the protagonist in that noir novel, Rodeo Grace Garnet, PI, is, let’s say, “sensitive macho like Lew Archer”, it might be assumed that that prototype is “my typical protagonist.”

Such is not the case.

I am a novelist, not a “Brand-Developer”, so I create lots of different types of protagonists, as well as a wide variety of Supporting Casts.

Bob Reynolds is a “Noir” character in the actual not the generic sense of that term/word.

Bob Reynolds is “dark-2-black w/ ?????backstory, morally ambivalent himself in morally ambivalent circumstances with an eye on the material consequences of his Action or InAction.

That’s a typical noir character.

As that type of Noir Protagonist, Bob Reynolds is perfect.

Only over/against the Sam Spade version of Noir Protagonist does he seem atypical – to say “Bob Reynolds” is not a “typical” character, as a Universal Noir Protagonist, only indicates that the genre, to you or readers, is somehow fixed.

My Next Protag, Palli Gundarsson, Chief Police Inspector of Westfjords District, Iceland, is another Protag altogether.

55, once handsome but now decaying into his late Middle Ages and only now achieving his first Major (if you want to call West Fjords Backwater “major”) posting in Icelandic Police, cuckolded by an ambitious Academic careerist who’s achieved her own professional advancements at Pallis’ expense and stuck with a semi-drug-addicted thirty-year-old Chef son who wants to start his own “Local Only” restaurant, Palli is another animal altogether.

So, that’s a Big Answer to a small question. Hope you like it.

MPS: Poe County is a fully realized setting that’s the antithesis of a Norman Rockwell painting. What did you want to convey about small town society?

CBM: Burn What Will Burn is More like Edward Hopper, I think. But beyond a Hopper painting, Burn What Will Burn goes to After “After Hours”( which is indicated throughout, but only indicated; (there’s tons of sub text in Burn What Will Burn, by the way) nobody much sees or reads the subtext.

Burn What Will Burn is a seriously creepy book w/out being an Obvious Serial Killer Creepy book.

I don’t understand why my books and “me–CB McKenzie, Author Brand” are so “regional”???? So, if I write about Orthodox Jews in NYC or surrounds, that’s not regional? If I write about Valley Girls in SoCal, that’s not Regional?

My Editor, Peter Joseph says of me and my writing:

I write The Marginal.

I always seem to write about, create characters in/on:

The Margins.

Because that’s where I’m at always have been always will be –

Northwest Arkansas South of Southwest Arizona Arctic Circle Far West of Iceland Deepwoods Vermont.

It’s all the same place to me.

MPS: Colorful and corrupt citizens populate the place. Was there one who was particularly fun to write for?

CBM: I don’t like to write, so any assumption that there’s much Fun in it, at any point in The Process, would be an incorrect assumption about me, Author.

I love The English Language.

So, naturally (as Camus would say about something else) when I turn a phrase and it hits some point I recognize as a natural rebounder towards Fine, then I feel good.

For about fifteen minutes.

MPS: What is the main difference between writing about the south as opposed to the southwest which you did for Bad Country?

CBM: My characters are persistent, wherever the Locale.

As said, I write Margins. And Margins are pretty the same, Across the Board.

MPS: What will we see from you next?

CBM: WestFjords, IceLand (I hope to buy a small house in Bolungarvík eventually and Set a Series there). ‘The Sane But White’ is a Police Procedural with a lot of “character” indulgences and Local West Fjords background. If I have a”series” it’ll likely be this one with Palli Gundarssons as my aging, but still cogent and activated, Protag.

You can find copies of McKenzie’s latest on our shelves and via McKenzie joins Peter Spiegelman, Andrew Hilbert and Jesse Sublett at our upcoming Noir at the Bar event, next Monday at 7 PM, hosted by Threadgill’s. Noir at the Bar is free and open to the public. 

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