- Interview by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery
Richard Newman’s Graveyard Of The Gods made our list of the Top 5 Debut Crime Novels Of 2016. The main character Gene Barnes gets rid of bodies for his criminal buddy with the help of the hogs on his Southern Illinois farm. When he recognizes a victim, he looks into what lead to the man’s fate, taking him to a town in which the small economy’s only life support is a shady casino. This a strong rural noir, lean, uncompromising, with a great action finale, that serves as an elegy for the Midwest. Mr. Newman was kind enough to talk about the book.
MysteryPeople Scott: What made this a good story for a first novel?
Richard Newman: I hope it’s a good story. I enjoyed writing it, especially the ending, which I didn’t know myself until I’d written the thing twice. It’s full of my family and geographical background, which I hope enriches the story. It’s a short novel, and not overly complicated with too many subplots, so it was definitely workable as a first novel. I’m thinking about another one set here in the Marshall Islands, where I live now.
MPS: What makes Gene Barnes a strong protagonist for you?
RN: One of things I like about Gene is that he isn’t particularly likable at first. Part of his arc is that we like him more as we get to know him and his motives and as he discovers more about himself and grows during the course of the novel.
MPS: Southern Illinois almost acts as a character and an untrustworthy one at that. What did you want to say about the area?
RN: That’s a great way of putting it. I have a strong relationship with the Southern Illinois landscape. It has affected most of my poetry, that and the Southern Indiana landscape where I grew up. Some of my family members still live in Illinois. I have spent a huge portion of my lifetime driving through the countryside. I spent much of childhood in Carmi, Illinois, or camping in Shawnee National Forest. It’s an area that can be bleak and beautiful, sometimes both breathtakingly so, sometimes at the same time. It definitely has a character, so I’m glad you took it that way.
MPS: Family also plays a large part. What did you want to say about that?
RN: The cliche goes we don’t choose our family. We don’t always even love our family members either. Sometimes loyalty is the best we can muster as a surrogate for love or even affection. I think that’s part of Gene’s growth and understanding over the course of the novel. But I grew up steeped in family stories and family lore. It made me who I am, relating my family lands and landscapes to my ancestors, and it also made me love story.
MPS: This being your first novel, did you draw from any influences?
RN: I probably drew from all kinds of influences. I love James M. Cain–one of my favorite writers ever. I’m also a huge fan of Daniel Woodrell. I think the novel I finished right before I started the first draft of Graveyard of the Gods, oh so many years ago, was Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides. I’m not sure how it influenced me, but I love that novel, so it must have influenced me somewhere along the line.
MPS: You’re mainly known as a poet. What as a novelist did you get to express, that you couldn’t in that field?
RN: I tell stories even when I write in lyric forms like sonnets or actual songs. I can’t help it. I love stories in any form–novels, short stories, film, ballads, narrative poetry, opera, television, comic books, or just sitting around talking on the back porch with friends. It was fun to stretch out in a novel and take my time to develop a character or characters and explore and discover the mysteries of that larger story in Graveyard of the Gods. I sure didn’t know those mysteries when I started with the first scene, wherever that came from, so I suppose more than what I got to express it was more about what I got to discover.
You can find copies of Graveyard of the Gods on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.