David Swinson has captured our cold, twisted hearts with his Frank Marr trilogy. Marr is a drug-addled former cop who first appeared in all his complicated degenerate glory in The Second Girl, wherein he becomes an accidental hero after a trip to buy drugs becomes a rescue mission for a kidnapped woman. In Swinson’s second tale to feature the character, Crime Song, Marr takes on a more personal case. We sent him a few questions about his latest.
- Interview by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery
MysteryPeople Scott: This time Marr is pulled into a more personal case involving family. What made you want to explore that part of him, particularly for his second mystery?
David Swinson: I’ve always seen the Marr series as a trilogy. For the second book I wanted to get into his past a bit more, and his history with not only his aunt, but music. He needed something more personal to disrupt him.
MPS: This novel has several twists and reveals. How much had you worked it out before starting the first chapter?
DS: I knew where I wanted to take the story when I began writing. I don’t outline, but I do take a lot of notes, usually when I’m in bed and near sleep. It can drive my wife crazy, but that’s when the ideas come. And it’s usually while writing the first few pages when I take the most notes. A lot will change, though, when the story takes a life of its’ own.
A lot of the twists and turns is a result of that. Some of them even surprised me.
MPS: I felt a subtle change in Frank from The Second Girl, particularly in the way he looks at his addiction. Are being thought of a hero in the first book and what he is facing in Crime Song effecting him, more than he is admitting?
DS: Definitely. Again, that happened when the story started taking on its own life. I think his young cousin had a lot to do with that too. Frank was selfish, thinking he could grab a little something for his stash. It didn’t work out that way. In fact, it turned bad for his cousin. Frank knew he should have intervened so that tore him up emotionally, and when he started to question not only his motives, but the beast that controls him.
MPS: One of the things I love about your writing is I feel the emotion of the story, yet it never overwhelms or feels manipulative. How do you approach emotion without being overwrought?
DS: When Frank Marr first came into my head and started to come to life, I knew he would be a character that would never feel sorry for himself, and would rarely complain. Brooding was out of the question. Sometimes I forget and interject myself into him, my own anxieties. That isn’t Frank. I usually catch it in the first draft. If I don’t, my editor Josh Kendall will. He understands Frank Marr as much as I do. The tension and the emotion that happens should be something natural so I am very conscious about not overdoing it.
MPS: I’ve noticed if things become really bleak in your work, there will be a spark of humor to lighten the events. Are you looking for the humor or is it organic?
DS: It is organic. When it’s not, then it doesn’t feel natural. For me, a lot of the humor happens through dialogue, and that’s not planned out.
MPS: The music of Bread plays an integral part of the plot. Any particular reason you went with them?
DS: That is a bit of my history. I know I said I don’t interject myself into Frank Marr, but so much of it is based on life experience. There’s a difference between that and putting my emotions into Frank Marr’s head. When I was a teenager, my mother used to listen to Bread. It was after my parents’ divorce, and was always something she listened to when she was feeling sad. I’m a devout fan of bands like Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Social Distortion, and most early punk rock and alternative music, but I admit I grew to like Bread, as corny as they were. That part of Frank is also me. Only that part.