Our Favorite MysteryPeople Moments

mysterypeople panel
From the left, Scott Montgomery, Jesse Sublett, Hopeton Hay, Meg Gardiner, Mark Pryor, Janice Hamrick, and Molly Odintz.
  • Introduction by Scott Montgomery

This past weekend, MysteryPeople celebrated our fifth anniversary, with a panel discussion featuring local authors Mark Pryor, Jesse Sublett, Meg Gardiner, and Janice Hamrick, and local critic Hopeton Hay. Molly and I moderated the discussion. Afterwards, we all enjoyed celebratory cake, beverages, and most importantly, trivia with giveaways.

After our anniversary party on Saturday wrapped up, we decided to share some of our favorite event moments throughout the history of MysteryPeople. Below, we’ve shared our favorite memories of the fantastic authors who came through and the fun times we’ve had with them during and after our events. Molly and myself picked six standout moments each. As you will learn, Craig Johnson in particular has gotten to be an important part of our store.

Read More »

Advertisements

Down and Dirty in the Country: A Quick Look at Rural Noir

Noir is a genre usually identified with the city. Concrete and steel cut off our anti-hero, throwing an endless shadow over him or her. At the same time, however, authors were also looking at the darkness, isolation, and evil in small towns or farms. When we weren’t looking, the sub-sub-genre of rural noir took over like kudzu.

The roots of rural noir come from the Southern Gothic authors. One could argue that William Faulkner was an early practitioner. As I Lay Dying uses many noir tropes with a stylized point of view, family secrets, dark humor, and a bleak look at class. Flannery O’Connor is another author whose influence shows itself in the works of current rural noir authors. Her use of religion and perspective of evil can be seen in the work of Jake Hinkson in such modern classics as Hell On Church Street

“Noir is a genre usually identified with the city…at the same time, however, authors were also looking at the darkness, isolation, and evil in small towns or farms.”

One of the first great examples of rural noir is James Ross’ They Don’t Dance Much. Using Southern speech, much like Chandler used the Southern California dialect, Ross tells the story of jack McDonald, a failed farmer who ends up running a road house owned by schemer Smut Mulligan, who later pulls Jack into a robbery and murder. A power play ends up between the two involving Lola, the wife of the town proprietor Smut is having an affair with. It took the James M. Cain noir structure and themes and put a country spin on it.

Jim Thompson wrote many tales from the city, but some of his best dealt with shady small town lawmen. The Killer Inside Me, still one of the most chilling books ever written, features West Texas deputy and psychopath, Lou Ford. Lou pretends to be a dim hick, who mainly tortures the town citizens, many with their own dark secrets and agendas, by talking in cliches and platitudes. When he develops a brutal relationship with a prostitute, he and the town both violently spiral downward.

“…the violence almost becomes redemptive in this black satire on small town culture and bigotry…”

Thompson took the bad lawmen to new heights in the Sixties with Pop. 1280. MysteryPeople screens Coup de Torchon, French director Bertrand Tavernier’s Algerian-set film version of the Pop. 1280, on Sunday, July 7, as part of our Double Feature Film Series. Screenings will be followed by a discussion of the book and film, and all screenings are free and open to the public. Nick Correy is the lazy, philandering sheriff of a small Southern town during the Nineteen-Teens. When he’s challenged in an election and kills to stay in the lead, we learn how smart and dangerous he is. What is odd is how Nick keeps his genial tone and how the violence almost becomes redemptive in this black satire on small town culture and bigotry. It is interesting to note that Thompson’s father was an Oklahoma sheriff who was caught embezzling when the writer was young.

The author who truly opened the door for rural noir was Daniel Woodrell. Originally writing about Rene Shade, a police detective in a corrupt Louisiana parish, in his Bayou Trilogy, he later moved his settings to the Ozarks, were he was born and raised, in such novels as Winter’s Bone (screened last year as part of our Noir Double Feature Film Series) Woodrell’s novels are somewhat the country cousins to George Pelecanos’ D.C. novels, including the recently released and critically acclaimed The Martini Shot: A Novella and StoriesWoodrell and Pelecanos both create character-driven stories, where criminals are motivated by extreme poverty and drugs (crack for Pelecanos, meth for Woodrell) plague an entire community. Woodrell dives into his stories on a personal level with a poetic prose style. The beginning paragraph of Tomato Red, with its page-long, run-on sentence, is work of great humor and craft. He delves into the lives of the working class and the poor from his area, inspiring a wave of other writers to use their rural background in their noir.

“…rural noir has a strong lineage, an established canon, and the manifest destiny to travel down every back road and tell its story…”

Several of these writers inspired by Woodrell have already established themselves in the rural noir cannon. Frank Bill built a reputation through his short stories dealing with hard men and harder women pushed to the brink of violence and beyond, exemplified in the collection Crimes In Southern Indiana. His debut novel, Donnybrook, is about several characters and the trail of blood they leave behind as they head to a bare knuckle fight. Donnybrook shows how meth in the Midwest has fused the drug and culture together. Another great take on the subject is Matthew McBride’s relentless A Swollen Red Sun. McBride sets a Missouri county aflame when a deputy takes seventy-two thousand dollars from a meth dealer’s trailer in a moment of weakness. The book is reminiscent of Dashiell Hammett’s Red Harvest in its look at how a corrupt society destroys itself. Benjamin Whitmer’s anti-heroes get ping-ponged from their country homes to the city, trapped by their violent compulsions, developed of necessity but leaving his characters isolated and alone. Both of his books, Pike and Cry Father, are emotional gut punches.

the genre of rural noir is expanding rapidly, and it has room to do it. Both David Joy and Jamie Kornegay have shown new back roads with their novels Where All Light Tends To Go and Soil. Jamie Kornegay joins us Monday, May 4, for Noir at the Bar at Opal Divine’s. Frank Wheeler, Jr.’s debut, The Good Life, set in rural Nebraska, hopefully ushers in a long career writing great rural noir set in Midwestern wastelands. We also have yet to see many female writers and authors of color embrace the sub-genre. As rural noir grows in self-confidence and acclaim, I hope to see many more diverse voices in the genre, but already, rural noir has a strong lineagean established canon, and the manifest destiny to travel down every back road and tell its story. Like Hank William’s country boy, the genre can survive, and even thrive.

MysteryPeople Q&A with David Joy


David Joy’s Where All Light Tends To Go delivers everything a rural noir reader loves with a fresh take on the genre. With a subtle, poetic look Joy follows an eighteen-year-old Appalachian boy during one summer where he faces a difficult choice: move further into his father’s meth ring or escape his town completely. Both nuanced and brutal, it is our MysteryPeople Pick of the Month, and a must read. David was kind enough to answer some of our questions and talk about the process of his writing, the people he writes about, and the importance of both Daniel Woodrell and alt. country.


MysteryPeople: Jacob is such a fully realized character. How did you approach writing someone younger?

David Joy: I lived with an image of Jacob in my head for nearly a year before I ever got his voice right. There was an image that’s actually in the book of this young boy standing over a hog he’s killed and realizing just how much power he had over life and death at a very early age. That was the birth of Jacob, that single image. But I tried to write his story two or three different times before I ever got it right. I actually had about 35,000 words of a manuscript that I burned because it was wrong. Sometimes you just have to start over. You have to be brave enough to burn it and start from ashes or the work won’t be any good. There was a long stretch afterward where I lived with his image, but I couldn’t hear him. Then one night I woke up from a dream about him and he was talking. That may sound like hokum or something, but that really is how it happened. I think I’d just been living with him in my head for so long that when his voice finally presented itself it was well defined. I knew everything about him at that exact moment and then it was just a matter of trying to keep up with the story he wanted to tell and do him justice. Hopefully I did that.

MP: You did a wonderful job of expressing the weight Jacob feels to stay in his town and work for his father. Why do you think people stay in their circumstances, no matter how bad they are?

DJ: I think it’s easier to stay put. That’s true for all of us. We get comfortable in our lives even when those lives may not be what we envisioned for ourselves, and that comfortability creates stagnancy. It’s easier to just deal with something you’ve already learned to confront than it is to walk out into the unknown. That’s what the end of that book is all about. At the same time, I think following in your father’s footsteps is something indicative of Appalachian culture. If your father lays stone for a living, you learn to be a mason. If your father works on cars, you become a mechanic. If he farms, you farm. If he runs equipment, you might be on the sticks of a trackhoe at seven or eight. That’s something that’s indicative of the region where I live. A lot of times that is a great thing. There are families here who are known for their work. For instance, there’s actually a really famous family of stone masons from Jackson County, the Hueys, that have been laying rock for generations, a family so regarded they were actually asked to go somewhere in Japan to teach their craft. So I think there’s that type of familial legacy that exists in Appalachia, whether it be a good thing or a bad thing. And on that same note, there are families here who have always been outlaws, every generation that was born. Like the book says, “Blood’s thicker than water,” and Jacob McNeely was drowning in it.

MP: You are getting a lot of comparisons to Larry Brown, Daniel Woodrell, and Frank Bill, but rural North Carolina has a different feel coming off the page. What makes the area unique to write about?

DJ: The thing that I think all of us have in common is that we’re writing about working class people who are scraping by. When you have absolutely nothing to lose, you’re a lot more willing to do just about anything to make ends meet. That’s what Larry Brown wrote about, Daniel Woodrell, Harry Crews, William Gay, Ron Rash, Donald Ray Pollock, Frank Bill, all of them. So the similarities arise out of the people we’re writing about. These are the people we know. They live right down the street from us. They’re our people. The only difference is that all of the writers I just named are a lot better at it than I am, but I’m learning, I think, and they’ve left a wonderful set of footsteps to follow. But as far as Appalachia being different, Ron Rash has always said that landscape is destiny, and I think that’s absolutely right. There are two ways of feeling about the mountains that you hear over and over when you ask people, and what they always say is either that they feel nestled, like God is holding them in the palm of His hand, or they say they feel trapped, as if these mountains are walls. For Jacob, I think it’s the latter. I also think because this is such a harsh place to survive–the climate, the lack of opportunity, everything–I think all of those things come to govern how we view our lives. So while the circumstances these characters are facing are similar to a lot of Southern grit lit writers, the story is very much Appalachian in the sense that the McNeelys are a part of this mountain.

MP:This being your first novel, did you draw from any influences or did you simply apply what you learned from your memoir and short fiction?

DJ: I think a lot of what I was doing came out of an obsession with Daniel Woodrell. I think he’s one of the best writers in America, especially that stint from Tomato Red, Death of Sweet Mister, Winter’s Bone, and The Outlaw Album. I remember the first time I ever read Tomato Red I spent the entire day reading that opening chapter over and over trying to figure out just what he was doing. That book opens up and you’re at the end of the first chapter before you take a breath. That type of propulsion makes for great fiction. That’s also why it meant so much when he praised the pacing of this novel. The pacing was something I’m trying to draw from him. Larry Brown and Donald Ray Pollock are two more who I think did this really well. So what I’m trying to do on the page is very much rooted in the style of writers that I enjoy. What I tried to do was have a setup that in 30 pages forced the reader to keep going. So within 30 pages of this novel, I tried to set the hook. I think most readers will allow you that much space, or basically an hour of reading, before they decide whether or not they’re vested. For me, it’s very important to fit the crux in that space. Larry Brown said that. He said you start with conflict, and he’s right. It’s like if you were shopping in the grocery store and all of a sudden a fight broke out or someone pulled a gun, you’d just freeze and nothing else would matter in that moment. A lot of what I write, I want to grab you just like that. I want to force you to read whether you intended to or not.

MP: You seem to be a big alt country fan. Is there anything about singer-songwriters you envy and would like to apply to your own work?

DJ: I’m interested in songwriters in the same way that I’m interested in poets and short story writers, and I think that’s because of the emotional weight they’re able to create within a very small space. I was listening to an interview with songwriter Josh Ritter recently, which I think he’s a good example because he’s also written a novel, Bright’s Passage, but what he said is that, “writing a song is like trying to write a novel on a grain of rice.” There’s a lot of truth to that, and I think that also pinpoints one of the reasons I’m so drawn to them. I’m really picky about what I listen to, not picky in the type of music, but picky in the quality of the language. For me, Townes Van Zandt was the greatest songwriter to ever live. The emotion he captures in a single song is an emotion that it takes me an entire novel to reach. I don’t necessarily think that one is better than the other, rather it’s just an element of form, but what I am saying is that it absolutely blows my mind what really great songwriters are able to do in three minutes.

MP: I know you have another book slated for next year. Can you tell us what that’s about?

DJ: The catalyst for the new novel is that two best friends and addicts go to buy methamphetamine and the dealer has been taking in all of these stolen goods as payment, something that happens a lot where I live. So he’s been taking in everything from stereos to firearms and he’s showing off these guns when he accidentally kills himself. So all of a sudden these two addicts are sitting on a couch with a pile of drugs and money at their fingertips. That’s how the book starts. But at the same time, the story has a lot bigger scope than anything I’ve ever done before. This book really became a work about trauma. It’s about how the things that we witness, the things that we carry with us for the rest of our lives, come to govern every action we make. So while the hook is similar in a lot of ways to this first novel in that its about crime and its about methamphetamine, the reality is that both of these novels are about things a lot bigger than that. I want every single thing that I do to shed light on the human condition. I want the reader to empathize with people that they would never come into contact with, people they’d dismiss if they saw them on the nightly news.


You can find copies of David Joy’s magnificent debut, Where All Light Tends To Go, on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. Look out for more great interviews with authors!

Crime Fiction Friday

bill

Frank Bill is one of our favorite new voices. His brand of rough and tumble, visceral country crime fiction has a fresh hard boiled style that has landed him respect with the literary set as well as crime fiction fans. His books Crimes In Southern Indiana and Donnybrook have received some great praise. If you haven’t experienced his work, here’s a taste from a story published in Beat To A Pulp earlier this year.

 

“Life of Salvage” by Frank Bill

“Tobar Hicks and Molly Sellers’d led a life fueled by blistered hands of bad luck and the greasy-boned labor of living below the poverty line, scrapping everything from spent trailers, fridges, washing machines and A/C units to barter an existence from salvage yards in and around southern Indiana and northern Kentucky. With the windows down and the 10 a.m. sun bringing the burn of another thick day, sweat bucketed down Tobar’s forehead as he wheeled the ’88 Ford Ranger with four slick treads from Freedom Metals’ tin-sided exit. Chris Knight blared from the CD player singing “Jack Blue.”

The truck coughed, jerked and lost power….”

Read the rest of the story.

MysteryPeople Interview: Frank Bill

Donnybrook by Frank Bill

With just two books, including our Pick Of The Month Donnybrook, Frank Bill has become one of our favorite new authors. Frank seems to like us too, since he was willing to talk to us about fighting, writing, and movies.

MysteryPeople: Is it true you got the idea for Donnybrook by talking to a fellow martial arts student?

Frank Bill: Part of the idea came from a student I ran around with and studied with, yes. This was back in the mid-90’s. He worked for a printing company and the rumor around his work was that men were hosting these underground fights at unknown locations, but none of us ever went, that is if they even existed. But that rumor stuck in my head.
MP: The story has a loose and rollicking style, but it comes to a logical conclusion. How much of it had you planned out before you started writing?

FB: I never outline, so I never really plan anything. For me everything starts with a moving description. Followed by ideas and scenes I scribble down in my journal. Then type them out to hardcopy. Print them. Line edit and build everything from there by re-writing and revising obsessively.
MP: One thing that’s remarkable about the book is how, you have several characters and plot lines, but there’s an incredible momentum to the narrative. Do that many characters make it a challenge or do they actually help you keep it moving?

FB: For me, the multiple plotlines/characters keep things moving. I have a hard time with attention, so my mind tends to bounce and wonder back and forth, hence my multiple story lines and the movement within them.
MP: Donnybrook has some of the best fight scenes I’ve read. What do you try to keep in mind when writing these kinds of moments?

FB: I break everything down the same as we did with my teachers when I studied and trained in martial arts. Its like choreographing the fight. Looking at the details of a situation and how one acts and reacts. Footing. Body mechanics. In some cases I actually stand up and go over it in mind, and in front of a mirror. Reflecting on how the body moves.

Crimes in Southern Indiana by Frank Bill

MP: You wrote a great novel and one of the best short story collections in recent memory. Do you have a preference of either form?

FB: Thank you. I dig each of them, but I do like the novel, as there’s a bit more room to build the tension and offer backstory and characterization.
MP: There’s a visceral feel from your books you generally associate with film. Are there filmmakers who inspire you as much as authors?
FB: Tarantino, Rob Zombie, PT Anderson, Xavier Gen, Nicolas Winding Refn, Alejandro Gonzalez, Takashi Miike, David Ayer, Neil Labute, just to name a few.

What Scott’s Reading

This week I’m reading books that will soon be coming into the store. The first two will be on our shelves next week. The third goes on sale in March.

Standing In Another Man’s Grave by Ian Rankin

Rebus returns, and this time, the retired inspector gets pulled into a missing persons case and set in the sights of Rankin’s new character, Complaints Detective Malcolm Fox. The book has great deadpan exchanges, like this one between a criminal and Rebus:

Criminal: “You’re pretty much the same, except a little older and fatter.”

Rebus:”I can’t argue with that.”

The Heroin Chronicles edited by Jerry Stahl

A mix of crime and general fiction authors, some recovering users themselves, tell short fiction stories revolving around the the drug, providing an interesting meditation on addiction. If you can handle the first story, Tony O’Neill’s Fragments Of Joe, you can probably take on the rest.

Donnybrook by Frank Bill

Frank Bill delivers on the promise of his debut collection, Crimes In Southern Indiana. It is like a great psycho-billy album in book form, with several deranged hard cases all heading to a bare knuckles contest. Both the action and dialogue pack a wallop.