MysteryPeople Q&A with Peter Farris

Not only has has Peter Farris given us one of this year’s most exciting debuts (and MysteryPeople Pick of the Month) with Last Call For The Living, he proved he can find work as a Pentecostal preacher at Noir At The Bar Austin, when he did a reading from the passage that leads up to the book’s much talked about shoot out. We caught up with Peter on the road and he answered a few questions.

MysteryPeople: It’s very rare, even in a story about criminals, when one of the central characters is a member of the Aryan Brotherhood. What compelled you to use that background for Hobe?

Peter Farris: I’ve had a lifelong fascination with prison culture and prison gangs, and the alpha-male criminal sociopaths they can produce. Given the AB’s reputation, I thought giving Hicklin ties to the gang would make for a dynamic, complicated character.

MP: Is there anything an author needs to know about writing a book with a central character who has so many socially unacceptable traits?

PF: It’s important to write the character as dispassionately as possible, because the moment you inject any sympathies or antipathies I don’t think you’re writing fiction anymore…you’re writing propaganda. I knew it was essential to write about a white supremacist with that type of neutrality, both to serve the story and hopefully challenge the reader to accept (and maybe pull for) this outlaw despite his blind superiorities and reprehensible views. I’ve heard from a few readers who told me they couldn’t believe I had them rooting for such a despicable person. I admit I take a real satisfaction in that.

MP: This is your first novel. What did you get out of the experience?

PF: I’ve wrestled with a few emotions directly before and after the book’s release, including a strange sense of relief which was probably due to my own anticipation and eagerness.

One valuable lesson I’ve learned is that once your baby goes out into the world, there’s not much you can do about it. Just get on with the next sentence, the next gig, and don’t sweat how many reviews you have on Amazon or if somebody hated the novel on Goodreads and let everyone know about it.

MP: The book does a wonderful job of balancing a pulp spectacle with beleivable detail and character. Did you have any influences who you pulled from?

PF:I consider David J. Schow a real mentor and I’d argue next to Stephen Hunter nobody can go do gun play in a novel quite like David can. And if my house was burning down and assuming the loved ones and pets were safe, I’d probably try and save the James Ellroy hardcovers.

I have a deep love for regional fiction, too, and would definitely acknowledge Flannery O’Connor, Larry Brown and Harry Crews as a few of my Mount Rushmore writers.

MP: When you wrote the shoot out in the snake handler church did you think it would catch everyone’s imagination the way it has?

PF:I didn’t think folks would respond the way they have, but while writing that scene I did have a supsicion that it was something that hadn’t been done before. Assuming that’s the case, I suppose I do feel a little proud. If the novel is remembered as the “one with the shootout in the snake-handling church” that’s perfectly fine by me.

MP: You’re in the middle of your first book tour. What have you learned from being on the road?

PF: I’ve realized that there is a remarkable community of readers (and booksellers!) out there, folks who just love turning each other on to great fiction, writing reviews, helping spread the word for work they’re passionate about. Authors tend to be shut-ins (myself included) so when you venture out into the world and meet like-minded souls willing to spend their money on something you’ve written, that’s a pretty profound thing. I’d like to think most novelists are trying to satisfy themselves creatively with each project, but after receiving some very kind e-mails from readers and chatting with folks out on the road, I’ve gained a deepening respect for the “audience.”

MP: You hinted that your next book is a southern Mystic River. Can you give any more detail?

PF: Well, Mystic River may not have been the best comparison as they couldn’t be more different story-wise, but with a little distance from the last draft I’m starting to think of the book as maybe a kindred spirit to Larry Brown’s “Fay.” I am really happy with my next novel though, and do hope (much like Lehane’s work) that it’s not only a compelling, entertaining read but something that resonates emotionally with the reader…the kind of crime fiction that lingers with you long after you’ve read it. The book is set in south Georgia, and about a teenage prostitute who finds sanctuary with an eccentric bootlegger.

MysteryPeople Pick of the Month: LAST CALL FOR THE LIVING


Last year at Bouchercon, Peter Farris was one of the most buzzed about authors, with word being good on his debut novel, Last Call For The Living. There was a lot of great talk, and he was touted as the next great thing in rural noir. After reading Last Call, with its one-two punch of pulp crime and southern masculine Harry Crews-style prose, you soon realize Peter walks the walk, as well.

The book starts with a violent bank robbery, igniting a destiny both bloody and cathartic for everyone touched by the event. Hobe Hicklin, a member of the Aryan Brotherhood, fresh out of prison, kills a teller and takes another hostage, dragging him to his mountain hideout. The teller, Charlie Colquit, is a soft young man who has practically given up on life until he finds himself fighting for it. As Charlie deals with his situation and develops a relationship with Hicklin and his meth-addled girlfriend that puts a new spin on Stockholm syndrome, a steadfast sheriff and Georgia Bureau Of Investigation agent are on Hobe’s trail, as well as some Brotherhood members Hobe crossed. It’s a mean and greasy tale that builds up to one hell of a confrontation between lawman and outlaws, with Hobe and Charlie in the middle.

Farris demonstrates a great sense of craft. He knows how to balance the relationship of Charlie and Hobe with the closing-in of Hinklin’s adversaries. Everything has an unforced, forward momentum. He also knows how to deliver an action sequence any Hollywood director would envy, like one of his apparent idols Walter Hill. John Woo may give you a shoot-out in a church, but was it in a church of snake-handlers? Farris has creates a mood where death lingers and can strike anyone.

He also understands that what carries a book, especially one about criminals, is character. His people have a rough and course humanity about them that forces you to take them on their own terms. That said, you get to care for most everybody, including the worst of them. One of the most memorable passages in the book is when Hicklin tells Charlie how only convicts truly know love. Even so, even when Farris shows us the heart of a character, he never lets us forget how dark he is.

Last Call For The Living is a debut that demands attention. Farris fuses a hard-boiled plot and pace with characters from an outlaw country song. Peter Farris knows what a hard core crime fiction fan wants, and he delivers the tropes with a fresh take.

Peter Farris is one of the featured authors at this month’s Noir at the Bar happening Thursday, June 7, 7pm at Opal Divine’s (700 West 6th St.) We’ll have beer, live music, and crime fiction. What else do you need? 

Peter Farris’ 5 Favorite Southern Crime Novels

 

Peter Farris has gained much attention with his debut Last Call For The Living, a gritty crime drama that incorporates his Georgia background. He’s already been recognized as a noteworthy member of the rural noir movement that includes the likes of Daniel Woodrell and Frank Bill. We’re pleased to have him join us at Opal Divine’s on June 7th, 7pm for Noir At The Bar. If you like Peter’s work, he was kind enough to suggest five other Southern set crime novels you might also enjoy.

The Night of the Hunter by Davis Grubb

Although set along the Ohio River, it might as well have been the Mississippi in Grubb’s riveting rural suspense novel. The Night of the Hunter is beautifully written, surprisingly dark even by today’s standards, and features one of my favorite criminal sociopaths in “Preacher” Harry Powell. In fact, I’d argue Powell is one of the most artfully drawn (and dastardly and manipulative) antagonists in all of crime-suspense fiction—even if you can’t help but hear Robert Mitchum’s voice in every line of dialogue.

In the Electric Mist with Confederate Dead by James Lee Burke

My favorite of the Dave Robicheaux novels, and might just take the award for most mystical crime novel ever written. But one of the reasons I love Burke’s writing is for his descriptive powers, his sense of place, and nowhere in fiction (except for Woodrell’s St. Bruno) is the Louisiana bayou more alive and alluring than in Electric Mist. There is not a page in my worn paperback copy that doesn’t have a highlighted passage.

Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin

Crooked Letter works on so many levels: a crime novel at its core, a coming-of-age story full of estrangement and tragedy that could appeal to a mass audience, and a commentary on the lies and misunderstandings that can haunt a life spent in the “country”…all written by a guy firmly rooted in the southern literary tradition. Nobody has captured race relations and rural decay in the 21st Century South quite like Franklin has with this novel, the fringe existence of folks in his Mississippi no different from what you might find in Georgia, South Carolina or Alabama and no less depressing. Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter has heart and soul, an authenticity you can’t teach, and that magic that the finest storytellers are able to perform.

Muscle for the Wing by Daniel Woodrell

My favorite of the “St. Bruno” novels and a work that reinforced my enthusiasm for southern noir. Muscle for the Wing is inventive to the point of intimidation, and so sophisticated, so loaded with attitude, it left me jealous after every goddamn sentence. And as rich and complicated as Detective Rene Shade is, it’s outlaw Emil Jadick that steals the show in my humble opinion. Let’s put it this way: if they made posters for crime fiction characters like they did for professional athletes, I’d have one of Jadick on my wall. (Muscle for the Wing can be found in the compilation The Bayou Trilogy.)

Sanctuary by William Faulkner

Centered around the kidnapping and rape of a young girl, Sanctuary could probably be considered a horror novel as much as a potboiler. And speaking of criminal psychopaths, I’d argue Faulkner’s “Popeye” is as monstrous as any character in southern fiction. But it’s the tragedy (and corruption) of Temple Drake that to this day chills me bone deep. That tragic element excites me the most about crime fiction— the notion that characters good and bad can be transformed so drastically over the arc of a story—and the reason Sanctuary has made such an indelible impression on me.