Crime Fiction Friday: “Born Under a Bad Sign” by William E. Wallace

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  • Selected and Introduced by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery

I was saddened to hear William E Wallace passed away a couple of weeks ago. Wallace was a former crime reporter turned crime fiction writer and advocate; his work was seen often in anthologies or online. Here is a great example of his voice in a piece for Shotgun Honey.

“Born Under a Bad Sign” by William E. Wallace

“To the average gomer sitting in the stop-and-go, it was just another Central Valley commute snafu…”

Read the rest of the story.

Moments of Incredible Brutality: MysteryPeople Q&A with David Joy

  • Interview by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery

David Joy caught our attention with his brutal and poignant debut, Where All Light Tends to Go, hailed as a modern classic in the growing genre of rural noir. His next book, The Weight of the World, is our MysteryPeople Pick of the Month, and comes out today! David Joy was kind enough to answer a few questions about his latest book and his philosophy of writing. 

MysteryPeople Scott: The Weight Of This World deals with three characters on the bottom rungs of society who’ve made some bad life choices, but you never feel like your look at people in a white trash zoo, you have an understanding of them. Can you talk about how you approached Thad, Aiden and April?

David Joy: I remember one time hearing George Saunders say, “Fiction is empathy’s training wheels.” That idea has always stuck with me. I think the most important job I have is to show the humanity of every character I write. When you’re telling the kinds of stories I tell about the types of people I’m writing about, you carry a tremendous obligation to get to that humanity, and that’s not an easy thing to do. We’re talking about drug addicts and thieves, people capable of committing horrifying acts of violence. We live in a world where we’re able to put a great deal of distance between “us” and “them” for the sake of comfortably. We live in a word where it’s easy to demonize those people, to say to ourselves, “I’m nothing like them.” The problem with that is it leaves little room for dislodge, and without conversation you can never address a problem. I was reading a review recently and a woman said, almost angrily, “He made me care about these people!” That’s about the highest compliment I could ever hope for. I made them care. The reality is, as much as I wish it weren’t true, that’s a very hard thing to do.

MPS: Relationships are the driving force in your novels. What is important to you about how your characters interact with one another?

DJ: I think it’s one thing to be inside the head of a character, but another thing altogether to see how a character reacts to others. A lot of times people can lie to themselves, but when they’re backed against the wall and they either have to do something for someone or don’t do it, tell the truth or lie, that’s when you really get to the deepest part of the human condition. At the end of the day, it’s a matter of how we interact with the people around us, the people closest to us and the people we don’t know from Adam. I think that’s the role relationships play in a novel, and as a writer those are the moments when we get to see our characters stripped down to exactly who they are. That’s sort of the ultimate test.

MPS: Thad is a war vet who is finding peace more difficult to deal with than combat. What did you want to get across to the reader about the men who have returned from our recent conflicts?

DJ: This book is very much a story of trauma and post traumatic stress, and not just Thad’s, but April’s and Aiden’s as well. These are three lives governed almost entirely by their pasts. With Thad, I knew that he would commit an extreme act of violence, but I didn’t know why. As I sat with that, I started to realize that he had a lot of similarities with a really good friend of mine who came back from war and wound up walking into his house, shooting his father and brother, and then killing himself. In an attempt to understand why, I read a lot of books on combat veterans. I remember reading a story about a Royal Marine who was being tried for murdering a Taliban insurgent. They described how paranoid he became in trying to survive in a place where he knew if he were captured he’d be skinned alive and beheaded. The testimony talked about patrols where the Marines would encounter body parts of soldiers strung from trees. All of these stories hit hard and I think I just kept wondering how a person could witness something like that and not have it affect the rest of their life. I couldn’t imagine it. What happened to my friend or to that Royal Marine, that’s not the truth of every veteran, or even combat veterans, and that’s part of what makes trauma such a hard thing to understand. It’s so individualized. I was interested in what happens when a person can’t cope with their past, can’t rectify the things that they’ve done and seen. That became Thad’s story.

MPS: The violence in your work is believable and brutal. What do you think is most important in depicting it?

DJ: I read something recently, an interview with a visual artist named Alfredo Jaar in the Los Angeles Review of Books, and he said, “Violence is our present condition.” I think that’s an incredible statement. If a book’s not confronting issues of racism, misogyny, and violence then I have hard time recognizing it as modern American realism. Turn on the nightly news and convince me otherwise. So with this novel I was very interested in the idea of violence as an affect, in that Martin Luther King Jr. notion that, “violence begets violence.” This story is filled with moments of incredible brutality. Some readers won’t be able to take it and that’s okay. That’s part of what I was trying to do was to play with that idea and to test that threshold. One of the things that interests me most is how we see a story on the news and can’t imagine what would bring someone to kill another person, but when it comes time for punishment we respond with a ruthless retaliation that mirrors the very nature of what we’re condemning. There are moments when we’re disgusted by violence and moments when we cheer it on with a murderous vengeance. I’m interested in where that line lies, and that’s one of the biggest chances I took with this book was to test that boundary. I want to know when you turn away, and I want to know when you applaud. In regards to how the violence is portrayed, I think that’s a very fine line to walk. You show too much and the reader turns away. You show too little and they dismiss the horror of it. I try to think about what’s needed to accomplish what I want a scene to do, and that’s how I decide whether to go all in or pull back. I don’t want anyone to ever say that what I put on a page is gratuitous. If a reader can say that, I’ve failed.

MPS: What do you hope the reader sees about Appalachia in your writing?

DJ: This is a really big question for me, one that I don’t think I can capture in a paragraph or two, but I’ve written about it before. I’d like to share this essay I wrote titled, “One Place Misunderstood,” that first appeared at Writer’s Bone and was later republished at the Huffington Post. I think it answers this question about as openly as I could hope.

MPS: I’m already looking forward to the next book. What can you tell us about it?

DJ: Most of my work tends to start with some sort of narrative trigger. In The Line That Held Us, a poacher goes out into the woods after a deer and accidentally kills a man who was digging ginseng. He recognizes he’s killed a member of a family notorious for vengeance and violence. With nowhere to turn, he calls on the help of his best friend, but when the victim’s brother comes looking, a blood trail leads to a nightmare of revenge that forces each to recognize what they’re willing to sacrifice and for whom they’ll lay down their life. Ultimately, another feel-good book is what I’m getting at. I’m doing my damnedest to wind up on some sort of “Twelve Books That Will Lift Your Spirits” list.

You can find copies of The Weight of this World on our shelves and via bookpeople.com

 

From the Web: William Boyle on Daniel Woodrell

One of our favorite rising stars of crime fiction is William Boyle. His status in the states, while high, may be eclipsed by his popularity in France, where he’s in the running for several prizes and his novel Gravesend has been published as part of the prestigious Rivages/Noir collection. Recently, for LitHub, a website that agglomerates the best of the literary web while also bringing readers original, provocative content, he wrote this piece about a favorite author of his (and many), Daniel Woodrell.

As fans of both Boyle and Woodrell, we suggest getting one of the Woodrell books mentioned in Boyle’s article, then getting his own novel, Gravesend, and see how Woodrell’s tales of the Ozarks influence Boyle’s gritty new York burrough. Rural noir has been perfected and defined by Daniel Woodrell, and we’re glad to see growing interest in his work. Tomato Red, Woodrell’s most famous contribution to the genre, soon hits the big screen, so start with this one before you see the film and work from there!

Read William Boyle’s ode to Daniel Woodrell. 

You can find copies of Boyle’s Gravesend on our shelves and via bookpeople.com

You can find copies of Woodrell’s works on our shelves and via bookpeople.com

MysteryPeople Q&A with Tim Dorsey

  • Interview by MysteryPeople Blogger Meike Alana

Tim Dorsey, known for his mischievous characters and their bizarre adventures, comes to BookPeople to speak and sign his latest novel of Floridian high-jinks, Clownfish Blues, on Sunday, March 5th, at 5 PM. Our Meike Alana interviewed Tim via email to give us all some insight into the weird, wonderful world of Dorsey’s novels.

Meike Alana: Your books include a lot of Florida history, but not the textbook kind–you are a master at revealing the weird and wacky side of the state.  How do you manage to unearth so much fascinating material?

Tim Dorsey: It’s simply a matter of wearing out a lot of tire rubber. I get a map and look for all of the most remote roads. It’s a labor of love driving and poking around at these places.

Read More »

Three Picks for March

After the spree of events this past February, now’s the time to take a breather and catch up on new reads. March is another busy month for mystery new releases – we recommend starting with the volumes below. 

9781617754982The Painted Gun by Bradley Spinelli

Set in 1997 San Fransisco, researcher for hire, David Crane is handsomely paid by a low rent private eye to find a missing artist only known as Ashley. The only clue- all of her paintings are of David. A trail of shoot-outs, quips, crazy characters takes him all the way to Guatemala and a deadly conspiracy in this fun, funky ode to classic hard boiled novels with an absurdest touch. The Painted Gun comes out March 7th. Pre-order now!

9781616957841Lucky by Henry Chang

New York police detective Jack Yu is pulled back to the Chinatown streets to end the crime spree of street gang leader and Jack’s blood brother Tat “Lucky” Louis before he is done in by the triads. Chang delivers a an engaging cop thriller that features some great robbery set pieces that delves deep into Chinatown lives and customs. Lucky comes out March 7th. Pre-order now!

9781455563319Down City: A Daughter’s Story of Love, Memory and Murder by Leah Carroll

Reminiscent of James Ellroy’s My Dark Places and Maggie Nelson’s The Red Parts, Leah Carroll’s new memoir details a murder in the family and the profound consequences to follow. Carroll’s parents both met untimely deaths – her mother was murdered when she was a young child; her father drank himself to death by the time she was 18. Both her parents loved her dearly, yet each faced a combination of bad luck and runaway addictions. This is the best kind of true crime story – one which mourns, and explores, but does not exploit. Down City comes out March 7th. Pre-order now!

MysteryPeople Pick of the Month: THE WEIGHT OF THIS WORLD by David Joy

  • Post by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery

9780399173110David Joy got our attention in 2015 with his debut Where All The Light Tends To Go. The searing rural noir proved there was still a lot to mine from the subgenre. Now Mr. Joy picks up his tools and goes down down even deeper into that dark hole with The Weight Of This World.

Like Where All The Light Tends To Go, this book deals with the double edge sword of friends and family, upping the stakes in complexity of those relationships. A triangle between three people serve as the base for this tale. Thad Broom returns from Afghanistan, finding combat easier to deal with than returning to life in his Appalachian town, even though he struggles to come to terms with his wartime experience. To survive he takes copper from derelict homes and pulls a few petty crimes with his life long buddy Aiden. Soon enough, one of those crimes gets them in the middle of a shoot-out that drops a bunch of drugs in their lap. When Broom’s mother April, who is also Aiden’s lover, hears about this, she tells them to go back to the trailer where it happened, since there should be money. All three see the narcotics and cash as a way to escape their circumstances, but it just puts them all way over their heads.

Joy takes the blueprint for a crime fiction plot done many times and spins something unique and poignant through his damaged characters. Thad may be the one you hope to escape the most, but he seems to be looking for an excuse to go down a dark road. Aiden comes off initially as a charismatic hustler who can’t see life beyond the mountains, proves to have more depth in revealed history and action. April could have simply been an interesting back woods Lady Macbeth, but we see a woman whose choices in youth and the society she born into lead her to be trapped. These characters do feel the weight of the world, yet theirs is a small one in the mountains, pressing on them from every side with one bad opportunity for escape.

The idea of kin and loyalty runs through The Weight Of This World. Each character has each others back, but it only serves to push each other of them closer to the edge. Like most rural noir, it looks at inertia of setting, however it argues it has more to do with people than place.

The Weight of This World comes out March 7th. Pre-order now!

MysteryPeople Review: CLOWNFISH BLUES by Tim Dorsey

  • Review by MysteryPeople Contributor Meike Alana

Tim Dorsey, known for his mischievous characters and their bizarre adventures, comes to BookPeople to speak and sign his latest novel of Floridian high-jinks, Clownfish Blues, on Sunday, March 5th, at 5 PM

9780062429223Florida author Tim Dorsey has gained a zealous following for his hilarious series featuring Serge A. Storms and his perpetually baked sidekick Coleman. In Clownfish Blues, the pair’s 20th outing, the duo hit the road in a vintage silver Corvette to shoot their own episodes of Serge’s favorite classic TV series “Route 66”. (Route 66 doesn’t pass through Florida, you say? Doesn’t matter, as it seems that about a dozen episodes near the end of the series were actually filmed in Florida—a fact that only Florida history buff Serge would be sure to know.)

In usual fashion, Serge and Coleman encounter one gut-busting adventure after another while crisscrossing the state. From worm-grunting (yep, it’s a thing) to dabbling in high tech to hostage negotiation, the twosome try their hands at a number of avocations they know nothing about yet fake admirably. Their trip threatens to go off the rails when they inadvertently get tied up in a lottery corruption scheme that puts them crossways with everyone from people laundering money for drug cartels to shady convenience store owners and crooked investors. But Serge always comes up with a plan, and things fall in place when Coleman manages to save the day (albeit usually accidentally and despite his liberal use of mind-altering substances.) Some characters from Dorsey’s previous works—Serge’s former flame Brook Campanella and journalist Reevis Tome—also join the hilarity.

Tim Dorsey was a reporter and editor for the Tampa Tribune from 1987 to 1999, and has been gifting his readers with a zany and highly original Serge A. Storms novel annually since 2006. He is a master at writing about the insanity and weirdness that can only be found in Florida. Comparisons to fellow Florida author Carl Hiaassen are inevitable, but Tim Dorsey is in a class of his own and his latest is not to be missed.

You can find copies of Clownfish Blues on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. Tim Dorsey comes to BookPeople to speak and sign his latest on Sunday, March 5th, at 5 PM.