MysteryPeople Q&A with Tim Bryant

Tim Bryant’s latest book featuring post-war Fort Worth private eye Dutch Curridge, Spirit Trap, involves theft and the murder of a family, with members of a western swing band as suspects. Tim will be joining us with Ben Rheder and Reavis Wortham for our Lone Star Mystery authors panel this Wednesday, August 6, at 7 pm on BookPeople’s second floor. Tim was kind enough to answer some questions beforehand.


MysteryPeople: Music always plays a big part in the book and this time, Dutch has to deal with a lot of them in this mystery. Being one yourself, what did you want to get a across about a band?

Tim Bryant: There wasn’t a lot of planning that went into Spirit Trap. I experienced it, in some ways, as I would if I were reading it. Still, I brought my history in music to it. I would have to say what came out of that was the dichotomy that, if you look at a band from the outside, it appears very much as a family, a unit that works together. Seen from the inside out, though, it’s made up of a bunch of individuals, each of whom will have their own motives and may see what they’re doing in completely different ways. Both of those things can be useful in writing about life, especially when you’re talking about mystery.

MP: Dutch’s voice is so unique and it carries the book. How did you develop it?

TB: There’s a lot of myself in Dutch, so I didn’t have to invent him from whole cloth. Obviously, we share a dark and rather twisted sense of humor. There’s also a good bit of my grandfather in him, and  people that I remember from my grandfather’s era, men who hung around him. I have an ear for how those kinds of people talk. Not just what they say, but how they say it. I had written a series of short stories with a character called Cold Eye Huffington. Cold Eye was a good bit like Dutch, although he was set in New Orleans. The very first story I ever wrote with Dutch as a character was published in REAL literary magazine, and his voice was pretty much fully formed from the beginning.

MP: Which came first to write about, Dutch or Fort Worth?

TB: After the Cold Eye stories, I wanted to develop a Texas character, because I do consider myself to be a Texas writer. Of course, with Cold Eye, I had the whole New Orleans music scene as a backdrop, and I very much wanted to keep music in the picture. It’s something I know well and enjoy writing about, and there’s endless fodder for storylines. So, looking at Texas, and being a huge fan of both western swing music and jazz, Fort Worth became the obvious setting for Dutch. Fort Worth has such a rich music history, and a lot of people aren’t aware of just how rich it is. I mean, Bob Wills and Milton Brown are both  associated with Fort Worth, but so is Ornette Coleman. Plus, I knew that Dutch would be a little guy going up against bigger foes, and Fort Worth, always being in the shadow of Dallas, fit into that psychology.

MP: One of the things I Iike best about Dutch is his sense of humor. How important is humor in a story when you’re dealing with somber subject matter?

TB: I think it’s important as a writer and a reader to have that spark of humor there in the dark, but it only works because it’s important for Dutch himself to have that humor. It’s a survival mechanism for him, as much as anything. And he’s no longer a churchgoer, but he remembers from childhood that a joke is always funnier when you’re in a place it doesn’t belong or isn’t expected. The humor just comes naturally from what’s going on. I suppose they all come from my mind as I’m writing the story, but it honestly feels as if they come from the mind of Dutch as he goes about things. That’s what makes it natural, what makes it work.

MP: For an author, what makes Dutch Curridge a character worth coming back to?

TB: The fact that I know him like a friend. I not only know what has happened to him in the three novels, but, at this point, I know the day he was born and I know the day he dies. Elvis hasn’t arrived on the scene in the books yet, but I know what he thinks about Elvis. He’s like any friend. I may need a break from him every once in a while, because he’s pretty intense in a lot of ways, but after a while, I start to hear him whispering in my ear, and I start to miss the guy.


MysteryPeople welcomes Tim Bryant, along with Reavis Wortham and Ben Rehder, to BookPeople for a conversation about crime fiction on Wednesday, August 6, at 7 pm. His latest novel, Spirit Trap, is available on BookPeople’s shelves and via bookpeople.com.

Writers, Magicians & DUTCH CURRIDGE

~Guest Post by Tim Bryant

Fiction writers are people who never stopped believing in magic. We can’t stop throwing these characters, names, words and ideas into the hat to see what might come out. How does the magic work, you ask. If we try to answer, we’re just making that up, too, because we never really know for sure. Here’s the secret, as much as it can be told: The magic lies as much within the reader.

In 2010, I published my first novel, Dutch Curridge. At that point, I had lived with Dutch— a private detective— and had come to know his world— 1940s/50s Fort Worth, Texas— inside and out. Dutch was a man who identified with and fought for the downtrodden even as he fought his own personal demons.
Says everything/says nothing.

You can’t really know the man behind the words until you read your way into his mind and his heart, and then he’s as hard to capture with language as any of us. I carefully outfitted Dutch to be an antihero I could work and play with. He’s like me in many ways, but not all. I like him in most ways, but not all. However, I didn’t know what kind of life he might or might not have until the first novel came out and started getting feedback. That was magic.

I began to get emails and messages from people in faraway places like Washington state and Cape Girardeau, Missouri and the United Kingdom— readers who weren’t related, who had no reason to get in touch other than to tell me how much they enjoyed my novel, my character, and by the way, how soon will you have more out?
A good portion of the readers were women, telling me that they weren’t normally fans of hardboiled detective novels. In truth, neither Dutch nor Southern Select are standard pulp novels. They’re also music histories. Psychologies. Ghost stories. Love stories. Like true Texas tall tales, I just wanted them to be bigger.
Some readers were history buffs who were happy to see Fort Worth’s colorful history used as a backdrop. Cowtown, as Dutch’s home, had a rich musical background — western swing to jazz— to draw on. It had a gangster reputation to rival that of Chicago’s. Most importantly, it had a chip on its shoulder for being continually pushed into the Big D’s shadow, and that mirrored the one on Dutch’s shoulder.

As sales of Dutch Curridge climbed higher than I had realistically hoped, and as more people began to look for more Dutch, there was a short time when the magic began to feel like pressure. Could I pull a rabbit from the hat again? Would the smoke and mirrors work? Would Dutch, the character, come through for me again? That’s when I came to the realization. It’s not down to me. It’s not Dutch.

We all believe in magic. It’s what makes us pick up one book and then another and another. It transports us from the lives we know. It allows us to see through new eyes. It gives our lives a richer, more empathetic context. My grandmother used to tell me that people who read are smarter than those who don’t. Now I know that she was instilling that magic in me.

And now there is Southern Select, the second Dutch Curridge novel. Maybe a simpler story, perhaps better told. Another look inside the man and the place he calls home. Another stab at righting wrongs that he doesn’t want to live with. At making a hard life just a little more easy for people he doesn’t want to live without.
My grandmother would have loved Dutch Curridge, the man and the book. She would have loved Southern Select atching me become a writer. Watching as a group of writing friends and I started a small publisher, Behooven Press, to better pass the books along. As long as there is someone to read, we will continue to put out more stories. It, I finally realized, will never end. If it did, it wouldn’t be magic.

MysteryPeople Q&A with Tim Bryant

Tim Bryant came to my attention through the great writer, Joe R. Lansdale. Like Joe, his writing has a unique voice that conjures up the Lone Star State. An accomplished musician and award winning writer, he’s written a great mystery, Dutch Curridge, starring a charming ne’er do well detective in postwar Fort Worth. We are excited to introduce Tim to our MysteryPeople customers at our Lone Star Crime Writers Event on August 1st where he’ll be sharing the stage with Reavis Wortham, Bill Durham, and Ben Rehder as well as opening the night with some music.


MYSTERYPEOPLE: Dutch has such a unique voice and outlook. How did he come about?

TIM BRYANT: I’m very much a Texas writer, so I wanted to create to-order the perfect Texas character to push my stories along. And so Dutch is, not coincidentally, a good bit like me. We share a love of music. I’m a big fan of Bob Wills, Texas swing music, blues and jazz and country music from the 1940s and ’50s. I like going out and having a drink or two with friends. I like nosing around in dark corners and contemplating the great mysteries of life.

Dutch also has seen enough to have a pretty wide distrust of those in positions of power. He feels like the game’s been rigged, and his job is, for the most part, a matter of leveling it back out as much as he can. As a character, he started out in a series of short stories that I wrote while getting my Creative Writing degree. I originally thought of tying several of those short stories together into a novel, which quickly proved to be a more daunting task than I had imagined. By then, I’d gotten to know Dutch pretty well, and there were lots of other stories to tell. So the material in the book is almost completely independent of that in the original stories.

MP: What drew you to post-war Fort Worth as a setting?

TB: Fort Worth was the perfect location for Dutch because it had a thriving music scene in that era, and the music is an important backdrop to the story. In fact, it becomes part of the major subplot. Fort Worth had been home to people like Bob Wills and T-Bone Walker, as well as to radio station WBAP, which was important to the whole area in a historical sense. Fort Worth had that renegade, wild west image. It was home to Hell’s Half Acre, which earned its nickname the hard way. The whole town just had a real chip-on-its-shoulder attitude from having to stand up for itself to avoid getting lost in Dallas’ shadow. Finally, in addition to it being a western town, Fort Worth was also very much a part of the south. There was a lot of change coming to postwar America, especially in the South. Established orders were shifting, which caused a great deal of tension and turmoil. Dutch Curridge is quintessentially Texan, but he wouldn’t have been as comfortable in East Texas or the Hill Country or along the border.

MP: One thing I loved about your character’s voice is that it’s deep seated in the culture of his time and place. What kind of research did you do?

TB: I did tons. I read several books, looked at official records, photographs, talked to people who lived in that era and knew it personally. I’ve actually only been to Fort Worth a couple of times, but by the time I finished writing the novel, I’m pretty sure I knew more about the city than most people who live there. Hahaha. Having said that, I did reach a place where I made a very conscious decision to step back from the facts and figures of everything, and write the place as it existed in my head. It is a piece of fiction, so if you come up to me and say, “well, this particular thing actually went more like this than that,” I won’t argue with you. I was more interested in getting the heart of the city, of the people, the feel of the times and the language.

MP: Working on your first book, did you draw from any other writers or artists for inspiration?

TB: By the time I got down to writing the book, as far as the writing itself goes, I would have to say no. All of those things had been worked through. I have lots of influences, and most of them are probably fairly obvious. Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, Jim Thompson, Elmore Leonard, then people like Flannery O’Connor and Carson McCullers and Harper Lee. Finally, contemporary writers like Stewart O’Nan, Denis Johnson and Joe R. Lansdale. Joe was the first writer who made me realize someone from Nacogdoches, Texas could do this and do it well. Joe’s influence was fairly major, and it turned into a bit of a mentorship and a friendship as well.

The other inspiration that I drew from was the music. I was listening to lots of Bob Wills & The Texas Playboys, lots of Lefty Frizzell and Ernest Tubb while I was writing. Also T-Bone Walker and a bunch of jazz stuff like Lester Young. All of the music that’s in the book and that was thriving in Fort Worth during the forties and fifties. It really helped me to get into the rhythm of the story, into the right head space.

MP: You have another book, Keachi. Can you tell us what that’s about?

TB: Keachi is a modern day faery tale. Well, it’s part faery tale/part ghost story. I don’t think the world has enough ghost stories. It’s a tale that had been tossing around in my head for quite a while, concerning a town that was submerged beneath Toledo Bend Lake when the reservoir was made in the 1960s. The same dark, mysterious quality that Dutch has, but existing in a world all its own. I had been reading the poetry of Christine Butterworth-McDermott, a world-class fairy tale aficionado who teaches at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, and I thought if I could combine the timeless quality of that genre with the very specific East Texas noir quality of Joe Lansdale, I might get an interesting mash-up of influences.

MP: Do you think being a musician affects your writing?

TB: More than you would probably think. I wrote songs for twenty years before I wrote Dutch Curridge,  recorded and performed on stages, so I brought all of that experience to my writing. It’s obvious that music is an important element to my stories. It’s what I know.

Beyond that, I have to say that there are things I learned from writing lyrics that are very much in effect when I write fiction. Getting that genuine emotional quality with the exact right combination of words. The ability to impart certain information to the reader/listener that the protagonist doesn’t yet understand. That’s all fertile ground in songwriting as well. And when we talk about writers who have influenced me, I would be remiss not to include people like Randy Newman and Warren Zevon, both of whom wrote little stories, almost entire novels, within the constructs of a pop song.