- Interview by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery
The term “normal” or “boring” will never describe Jonathan Woods’ writing. Fusing beat sensibility to crime fiction, his gonzo noir is kinky, absurd, and allows you to have a lot of fun rolling around in the dirt with him. This is no more reflected than in his latest, Kiss The Devil Goodnight. Bill Derringer, college dropout and war vet, goes for revenge against Aunt Ida, a femme fatale of operatic proportions, who set him up to take a five year stretch for a gun show robbery and took his wife.
We talked to Jonathan about the book, writing, and badass women. Joined by Lance Hawvermale and Ben Rehder, Jonathan Woods comes to BookPeople to speak and sign his latest on Sunday, November 20th, at 5 PM.
Scott Montgomery: As a writer, what makes Bill Derringer a good protagonist?
Jonathan Woods: I think of Bill Derringer as part of a long line of bad boy antiheroes from Tom Jones and Barry Lyndon to Sebastian Dangerfield in Donleavy’s The Ginger Man and Charles Highway in Martin Amis’ The Rachel Papers, to Sailor Ripley in Barry Gifford’s Wild at Heart and Ray Midge in Charles Portis’ The Dog of the South. In Bill Derringer I wanted to create an antihero who was crazed, hallucinatory, hardboiled and profane but, at the same time, sympathetic. I hope I have achieved that.
MPS: Is there something that drives him more than revenge?
JW: There is a sentimental, true-blue streak running through Bill. He wants to find and reunite with his children even as they have disappeared into the state welfare system while he languishes in prison for five years. And I think down deep he still loves his wife Edie even though she betrayed him and ran off to Mexico with the money and her old lover Aunt Ida. Bill, like most antiheros, is at heart a romantic figure, perennially optimistic at every ill-fated twist and turn in his life, believing that things will surely get better soon – that the light at the end of the tunnel is not a speeding train coming toward him.
MPS: The book starts out as a gritty, close to the ground, crime-noir, then gets a little more quirky and kinky, then moves toward a crazy, almost absurdist vibe near the end, all very seamlessly. Was this climb in tone part of the grand design while writing?
JW: Kiss the Devil Good Night started out as a longish short story. The writers group I was in at the time said that, in fact, it was the beginning of a novel. They were right. The progression from gritty noir to quirky & kinky to absurdism that you describe just sort of happened as the sentences and paragraphs and chapters unfolded on the white page. As a writer, I’m not much of a planner. Most of the time I have no idea where a particular story is going or how it will end. Bill Crider once described my work as “a fever dream of noir.” I guess that’s what I write. Just take a shot of tequila and a cold compress and enjoy.
MPS: Is there any actual truth to your McGuffin with Burroughs’ suitcase?
JW: William S. Burroughs (most famously known for his surreal Naked Lunch) lived for several years in Mexico beginning in 1950. Then had to leave suddenly after he “accidently” shot and killed his wife Joan Vollmer while allegedly engaged in a drunken version of William Tell’s bow and arrow/apple game using a revolver and a highball glass. It seemed very reasonable to me that in his sudden departure from Mexico, Burroughs might have left behind an old suitcase that would be highly prized by a collector of Beat memorabilia. Alas, as far as I know this is purely a product of my antic imagination. On the other hand in 1939 Max Brod carried a suitcase belonging to Kafka (and full of Kafka manuscripts) to Tel Aviv where it resided in the hands of Brod’s heirs unknown to the rest of the world until 2007. It is certainly titillating to image the discovery of a lost and forgotten suitcase belonging to Bill Burroughs.
MPS: Most of the women in the book and in your work are sexually aggressive – what draws you to these ladies?
JW: I’ve always had a fondness for tough cookies, women who know what they want and how to get it. This applies not only to their sexuality but to their approach to life in general. The world of crime is dominated by hardmen, schmucks and saps. I’m a fan of femme fatales and hardwomen. Women rule!
MPS: What does crime fiction allow you to do as a writer?
JW: The best crime fiction, like the best fiction, mirrors, distorts and ultimately allows us to truly see the Hieronymus Bosch world we have made – a world of madness and absurdity. Murder and mayhem is everywhere, sometimes one on one, other times on a grand scale called “war.” Our desire to slaughter each other seems as fundamental as our lust to overpopulate the planet. The crime fiction that I write is, first and foremost, intended to entertain. I hope it does that. Can there be any doubt that tales of evil desires and seductive women are far more diverting than stories of domestic angst and ennui? At the same time I hope my darkly funny and satiric tales provide some reflection on the world we live it. After all it’s laughter and satire that keep us from putting a gun to our own heads and pulling the trigger.
You can find copies of Jonathan’s latest on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.