Crime Fiction Friday: HAVE CHAINSAW, WILL TRAVEL by Matthew McBride

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I had been jonesing for some Matthew McBride and was happy to find this story on Plots With Guns. If the title alone isn’t enough, Mat gives us a buffet of dark humor, splatter punk violence, and a unique style and approach that make him one of the best. Those of you who read his first novel, Frank Sinatra In A Blender, will recognize a part of this story, but it still stands on its own. McBride is also the author of A Swollen Red Sun, our MysteryPeople Pick of the Month for July 2014.

“Have Chainsaw, Will Travel” by Matthew McBride

 “In 1974, STIHL Incorporated began manufacturing the 015 chainsaws at their new facility in Virgina Beach. I, myself, had  always been a fan of their products. They don’t just make a good chainsaw, but a variety of equipment that comes in handy for a guy like me. A guy who doesn’t tolerate standing…”

Read the rest of the story.

MysteryPeople Q&A with Matthew McBride

On Wednesday, the 27th of August, at 7 pm, our Hard Word Book Club will discuss A Swollen Red Sun by Matthew McBride. The book follows a chain of violence triggered by a moment of weakness from a sheriff’s deputy when he takes $52,000 from meth dealer Jerry Dean Skagg’s trailer. The book was our July Pick Of The Month, so we can’t wait to discuss it. Matt was kind enough to take some questions from us.


MysteryPeople: How do you feel about all the favorable reactions to the book?

Matthew McBride: It’s very nice, and still kind of hard to believe. As a writer, you hope people will buy your book and you want them to like it, but I never expected to sell as many copies as I have. It’s mind-blowing, and I’m grateful. Having strangers write you and tell you they love your book is cool. Because I know how it feels to read something you love and feel that way. You want to connect with the author, so you reach out to them. I’ve done that.

MP: While meth is in a lot of rural crime fiction, it is practically a character here. How has it affected where you live?

MM: I’ve been tempted to brand the book Meth Lit, because meth really is a character in this book, and it has affected my life and the lives of those around me in various ways. In Gasconade County, if you’re sick, you can’t even buy Actifed from the pharmacy without a prescription. For some things you have to show a driver’s license. For other things you have to drive to another county. And while Gasconade County is not now technically considered the meth capital of the world as I mention in the book (that distinction now belongs to one of our neighboring counties), it has certainly been called that at times. In the 90’s and into the 2000’s—and even still to this day—meth labs are raided almost weekly. And it was much worse a few years ago. You can read about it every week in the Gasconade County Republican. Someone is always getting busted or someone’s house is getting raided. People get caught cooking meth and they go to jail and they bond out and the cops give them a few weeks to regroup and resupply themselves and then they hit them again. Sometimes guys get caught for the second time before they’ve even been to court for the first time.

It’s all about Pseudoephedrine, the active ingredient harvested from these pills; the component meth cooks need most to perfect their product. About ten years ago they started making you show your drivers license and sign a sheet of paper at the pharmacy window. Now Gasconade County prevents you from buying anything with Pseudoephedrine in it period without a doctor’s prescription. So unless you want to pay an office visit, you have to drive 40 miles to a different county, show your driver’s license, then sign a piece of paper stating you will not cook meth. While these laws are inconvenient for law-abiding, non-meth producing citizens, they were actually created to make it harder for chefs to get the pills they need to cook with, and these laws have made a difference—to an extent—but for every new law that’s made to curb the accessibility to precursors, there’s a guy who cooks crank that’s a very resourceful gentleman and he will just find a new way to make it. If such and such pill cannot be obtained without a prescription, he’ll just find the next best pill that will work, and then that pill becomes the new pill. The quality of the product may suffer, but people will still buy it. And they’ll love it. Even though the product is inferior to what they had previously known. They’ll still snort it or smoke it or shoot it and be grateful for it, while already scheming about how they will get more crank when the crank they have runs out.

But for old schoolers that have been in the game for the long haul, they remember what the good stuff was like. How pure it used to be and how easily it was obtained, and I’m sure a small part of them (guys like Jerry Dean Skaggs) will always look back with fond memories of previous product and long for the good old days.

MP: Frank Sinatra In A Blender was more along the satirical lines, while A Swollen Red Sun is a bit weightier (but no less entertaining). Was the change in tone conscious?

MM: If I had any real goal with my second book, it was to write something completely different from my first book. The characters are much deeper, and they’re drawn in such a way you can relate to them because they’re dealing with real world problems. Issues that we all deal with: Death and disease and loss. Suicide and infidelity and drug addiction. And the extremes people go to to satisfy those addictions.

While Frank Sinatra in a Blender was about embracing addictions, A Swollen Red Sun is about being a slave to them.

MP: Two of your favorite authors, Daniel Woodrell and Dan Ray Pollock, have endorsed the book. What from their work do you hope to apply to yours?

MM: They have become literary heroes to a generation of writers and if I could write half as well as either one of them I’d be walking in tall cotton. But honestly, when I wrote A Swollen Red Sun back in 2010 all I could think about was how cool it would be to meet them. Then maybe I could figure out a way to ask them to read my book without feeling like an asshole. But eventually I did meet them both, and over the years I’ve gotten to know them well, have even read and drank with them, so having their names and words on the cover mean a lot to me. The very same writers who have influenced me now believe in me, and not a lot of writers can say that—plus, there are blurbs from: Todd Robinson, Hilary Davidson, Johnny Shaw, and Ben Whitmer. Writers I genuinely care about as people and whose work I admire.

Between both books, I’ve gotten some amazing blurbs that I’ll always be thankful for. So anytime I see these people at a bar, I owe them a drink. Always. Because that’s the rule.

MP: You have a reputation among your peers as one of the best self-editors. Can you talk about your process after that first draft?

MM: Surely you’re making this up; I cannot imagine anyone saying this. In fact, I know five or six editors who are giving you the finger right now—but!—if I have become a good self-editor, it’s just because I have worked with much better editors than me and I’ve learned from them. Truth is: editors don’t get enough credit. They don’t. And sometimes they don’t get any. But they should. Because it’s the editor that really ties the book together. They polish the words and tighten everything down. The more you write and publish, the more you’ll work with editors and the more you will learn. You don’t even have to try. You just pick things up and they stick with you. Small skills you didn’t even realize you had until you found yourself using them. But I’m also very obsessive/compulsive, so that surely plays a role. It’s a curse, really. I write quickly, but I’m slow to let things go. I need to reread everything fifty times. I’ll do ten or twenty rewrites of anything before I’ll even show Stacia (my agent), who is actually my first editor.

What it comes down to is this: I loathe the thought of anyone reading something I’ve written that’s not as good as it can possibly be. If I think there’s a way to improve what I wrote and make it better I have to try. It’s all about editing: rereading and rewriting. In a way, writing books has ruined me. I look for mistakes all the time now. Even when I’m dining out. I can’t read a menu. I proofread everything.

MP: Would you tell us what you’re up to next?

MM: I don’t even know myself. Maybe nothing. Then again, I might start a new book a half-hour from now. When it comes to writing, I don’t plan a single word. Planning what I want to say robs creativity from the process. For me, writing is about total freedom.


The Hard Word Book Club meets the last Wednesday of each month in BookPeople’s cafe at 7 pm. Join us on Wednesday, August 26, for a discussion of Matthew McBride’s A Swollen Red Sun, available on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.

MysteryPeople Q&A with Matthew McBride

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Matthew McBride’s Frank Sinatra In A Blender has been a book we’ve been raving about. Hell, we’d adopt it if we could. It centers on the violent misadventures of  St. Louis PI Nick Valentine and his terrier Frank Sinatra. Both hard boiled and funny, with it’s own kind of heart, it’s a debut that announces a great new talent. Our new favorite author was kind enough to answer a few questions.

MYSTERYPEOPLE: How did the character of Nick Valentine come about?

MATTHEW MCBRIDE: I wanted to write something different. But at the same time, I wanted to write something with a familiar theme. So I ended up writing a PI novel. What appealed to me about the genre was that I could make my PI as good or as bad as I wanted, without having to worry about the sort of constraints a cop working for the police department would be subjected to. I wanted my private eye to play by his own rules. And he pretty much does.

MP: Does he have any kinship to characters you’ve read or watched in movies?

MM: Honestly, I’ve always thought of Nick Valentine as a cross between Hunter S. Thompson and Sterling Archer. So, there’s that. But I’ve never actually read a PI novel, so I have no idea how closely Nick Valentine would compare to a character like Phillip Marlowe. But I’m pretty sure he could out drink him.
 
MP: Was Frank Sinatra always with him?

MM: I came up with the title before I ever wrote a word of the story, which is never how it works for me. But in this case, that’s how it worked, though I did know I wanted to write about a dog from the beginning. Because dogs are cool, and I felt like Frank could be a great character as long as I wrote him right. We have two cantankerous little dogs at home and neither one of them really likes me—despite my best efforts at trying to force my love upon them. They bite me and pee on my stuff. So the inspiration for Frank was right in front of me the whole time.

MP: Other than John Lutz and Robert Randisi, you’re one of the few authors who uses St. Louis as a setting. What makes it different from some of the usual settings like LA, New York, or Chicago?

MM: I was born in St. Louis and I worked there for many years, so I know the area well. But St. Louis is one of the most violent cities in America. Though FSIAB is funny, I wrote a dark book. So I needed a background that reflected that darkness. There are a lot of stories set in places like New York or LA, but that’s not what I wanted. I wanted this book to feel different and St. Louis seems largely unexplored.

MP: What I loved about the book was that it had such a wild, over the top tone that you usually only find in short stories. Was it difficult to sustain that for the entire novel?

MM: (Long pause) I’ve never really thought about that. I just wrote what felt natural. It is wild and over the top. When I wrote it, I knew they would never name a library after me. And I’m OK with that. Because I never set out to do anything other than write the kind of book I’d love to read. I wanted to write a fun book, and reading about characters that come alive on the page is fun. Scott Phillips said that once and its always stuck with me.

MP: I know you’re at work on a rural hardboiled right now, but do you have any future plans for Valentine?

MM: I don’t think so. Then again, maybe.

If you have your own questions for Matthew McBride, come out to our Hard Word Book Club discussion of Frank Sinatra In A Blender on January 30th at 7PM here on BookPeople’s third floor (603 N. Lamar Blvd). McBride will be calling in to chat with us. The meeting’s totally free, no RSVP required. Just show up and talk some crime fiction with us. 

MysteryPeople Pick of the Month: FRANK SINATRA IN A BLENDER

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MysteryPeople Pick of the Month: Frank Sinatra in a Blender by Matthew McBride

Occasionally a debut book comes along that truly announces itself as well as its author. In my time, it’s been Scott Phillip’s The Ice Harvest, Craig Johnson with The Cold Dish, and Die A Little by Megan Abbott. Matthew McBride now tosses a fresh stick of dynamite into the crime fiction fire with Frank Sinatra In A Blender.

Nick Valentine is a down and out PI with an oxy and alcohol addiction, attitude to spare, and a little terrier named Frank Sinatra who is always relieving himself. He also has a keen investigative mind, which is why the St. Louis PD calls him to consult on a homicide that happened on a credit union robbery. Since the robbers got away with the money, Nick also enlists his mobster buddy Fat Tony, proprietor of Cowboy Roy’s strip club and chili parlor, to play both ends against the middle and get the cash, as well.

If you haven’t figured it out, this is not a serious, realistic crime novel in the George Pelecanos vain. It’s not morally sound or politically correct, either. It is flat out fun.

McBride takes those mean streets that Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer strode, that border on the real and pulp fantasy, and does it one better. His St. Louis is populated by the likes of characters like Fat Tony, a smart cop who’s background gives him the name of Amish Ron; Sid, an Irish hood who could be a refugee from a Ken Bruen novel; and Sid’s partner No Nuts. It has tough phrasing that would border on parody if it didn’t fit Nick’s voice so well with great lines that I can’t repeat here. The violence hangs in the air when it isn’t executed and it is pretty over the top. McBride turns it up to eleven and doesn’t stop.

It’s amazing he’s able to keep it consistent at this level. This is mainly done by using Valentine and his cold, decaying Midwest city to ground the tale. The story ends up being about survival and how hope can come out of it. Nick Valentine and his dog, Frank, are the epitome of it.

Copies of Frank Sinatra in a Blender are available on our shelves now and via our website, bookpeople.com.