MysteryPeople Q&A with George Wier


George Wier is best know for his pulp influenced yarns involving Austin hired gun, Bill Travis. His latest, Murder In Elysium, is a bit more serious (although there is plenty of humor) following a West Texas sheriff who has to deal with a man returning to town after he got him out of murder charge that he thought was wrong, though many in town believed he did it. We caught up with George Weir before he participates in our May 23rd workshop to ask him a few questions.

MysteryPeople: Murder In Elysium has a much different tone than the work you’re known for. What drew you to the story?

George Wier: The idea of the question of guilt or innocence drew me in, initially. I’m from a small Texas town, originally, and the townsfolk seemed to be 1) a tad insular, and 2) opinionated. If, in their eyes, someone was guilty, then usually their minds were made up and they were already on to “bigger and better things.” It didn’t matter that they weren’t there when the thing happened, or what the weight of the evidence was one way or the other, or even the lack of evidence. If you were guilty, well, that was it. Game over, fellah! But from the point of view of the person on the receiving end of the justice system, I wanted to paint a picture of a guy who was on the inside–and I’m saying all that and trying not to give anything away, of course. I think I managed to do that.

MP: Shane Robeling is much more laconic and says fewer words than most of the heroes you’ve written. How much of a challenge was that?

GA taciturn character is far easier portray when you’re writing in first person. You get to give the character’s viewpoint without a lot of dialogue in the way, and you get to paint the bulk of the picture of the other characters through their dialogue; their interactions with the main character. Most importantly, I didn’t want Shane Robeling to be Bill Travis. Shane has the professional law enforcement background that Travis lacks. He’s an insider in that world and he drew the short straw with the FBI, and this has left him jaded him, somewhat. I wanted that to come out as well. Also, I wanted to take him from his federal cases and put him in a small town setting (such as that where I grew up) and see how he would do. In a small town, everything is far more personal. There isn’t a wall between you and the rest of the world. In a small town, you rely on your neighbors. You know them and they know you. And it’s always a surprise to find out how well they know you. I think Shane does all right in Elysium. I wasn’t so sure when I started out with him, but now I’m rather proud of him. You’re right, he doesn’t say much, and I wanted what he didn’t say to be as salient as what he did.

3. The book reminds me of Craig Johnson’s Walt Longmire series in the colorful deputies and townsfolk who help the characters. Was there any particular one who was fun to write for?

GThe two characters, M.L. “Mucho Love” Harper and Marlene, were my two favorites. I got to throw the kitchen sink into these two characters, even though they have supporting roles. I had so much fun with Mucho Love that I am now mid-way through the prequel, which is tentatively entitled Sentinel In Elysium. It stars Mucho Love as Elysium’s Police Chief (Shane’s role, later on), and all the action takes place in 1975, two years before the Fogel murder, which was the springboard for Murder In Elysium (even though all the action for the first book takes place after the turn of the millennium). In Sentinel, the reader gets to find out why it is that Mucho Love is no longer the police chief, and never will be again. I’m nearing the halfway point in the book, and it’s rather dark, but it’s also humorous and surprising. At this point, it’s my new favorite. Marlene is in there as well.

The town of Elysium, though, is probably the main supporting character for each of these books. In the prequel, I’m latching onto the opportunity to explain everything that’s in Murder In Elysium as far as the layout of the town and its history—how the Blitz Drive-In came about, the community college, the four-plex where the Fogel murder would eventually occur, even why the police department is no longer located in the Courthouse by the time Murder in Elysium rolls around. It’s a lot of fun. No, the town isn’t a thumbnail character sketch. This character has meat on his bones, and skin over the meat, and I did my best to give the skin some real texture. You’ll see. The book will be out, I’m thinking, sometime in May or June. I’m already planning the third book, which will be a proper sequel: the tentative title for which is Elysium Knights.

MP: What draws you to small Texas towns?

GW: I’m originally from a small town. I grew up in the East-Central Texas town of Madisonville during my formative years, and that town has left its stamp on me. I’ll never shake it. Also, there’s a good deal of mystery there. For instance (and this mystery may have long since been solved, but I don’t believe it ever was, officially), we had a firebug in Madisonville all through my childhood and into my adulthood. I believe his reign of terror lasted some thirty years. Every so often there would be a fire on the town square. First, the county courthouse burned when I was no higher than a jackrabbit. Then, spread out every four or five years, each corner of the town square would have a devastating fire. There were never, to my knowledge, any arrests for the arsons, or if there were, it never made any headlines. But…wow! I mean, you go through the town today and you may see the effects of those fires (if you knew about them) but you don’t really see it. Butlet me tell you, those effects are there. So, for me, it’s “what is going on here that nobody sees?” The short answer is, “Plenty!” That’s the real why behind Murder In Elysium. Knowing what I know, how could I not be drawn in?

MP: What is the biggest misconception about them?

GW: The biggest misconception about small towns is that the people are either slow or stupid or some combination of the two. Nothing could be further from the truth. One of the most brilliant men I’ve ever known was from a small town. His name was Paul Johnson, and he was a bird colonel in Air Force; he flew with the Blue Angels. By the time I knew him, he’d forgotten more about aviation, engineering, and physics than most people at the top of those field get to know in a lifetime, and he was still a font of hidden wisdom and he was sharp as a tack.

I think people tend to equate silence with a lack of knowledge or basic understanding. After all, the truly slow people don’t say much. But it’s sort of like looking across the surface of a tranquil pond in a pastoral setting. It looks plenty peaceful, but underneath the surface of that little lake there’s life and death struggle going on. It’s brutal and there’s a lot of motion that is unseen above. Small towns are like that. As I speak to in the book, they have a certain tempo, a beat, if you will, that you can’t detect simply by passing through. Don’t ever sell a small town or its citizens short. In a pinch you could quickly find yourself regretting it.

MP: What do you hope the reader gets out of Murder In Elysium?

GW: That goes back to the initial premise—guilt versus innocence. Nothing is cut and dry. I feel that justice doesn’t work well in the hands of human beings. Oh, we all have an innate, uncanny sense of justice, but it’s in the meting out of justice where we fall short. The death penalty, for instance, is a permanent fix for a temporary problem, and can’t be undone. A life sentence precludes the possibility of rehabilitation. Quite often, justice misfires. When it does, the effects are devastating. I wanted to plant a tiny seed, that’s all. I’m not overtly saying we have to tear it all down. I’m not saying that. But everything is subject to scrutiny. “Why” is far more important than “how.”

Thanks, Scott. Your questions, as always, make me think, and I do appreciate that. As you know, I’m basically a lazy person, and I don’t like to have to think so much, so thanks for making me articulate all of these things.


You can find copies of Murder In Elysium on our shelves, along with the rest of Mr. Wier’s oeuvre. Come by Saturday, May 23rd, for a workshop on crime writing presented by Sisters in Crime and Austin Mystery Writers, to find out more about writing from some of the most entertaining personalities in the whole detective-novel-writing world. George Wier will be presenting alongside Les Edgerton and Reavis Wortham. The workshop runs from 10 AM to 5 PM, and is free and open to the public. 

MysteryPeople, Austin Mystery Writers, and Sisters in Crime Host Free All-Day Workshop


To celebrate Texas Mystery Writers Month, MysteryPeople, along with Austin Mystery Writers and Sisters in Crime, is holding a free workshop for the public on Saturday, May 23rd, starting at 10 AM and going till around 5 PM.  Three of Texas’ top talents of crime fiction will each focus on a certain topic of writing crime fiction.


reavis worthamKicking off the knowledge at 10AM is Reavis Wortham. Reavis is a rising star in the mystery scene, due to his Red River series featuring a group of lawmen and their families in a small Texas town during the Sixties. He’ll be covering the subject of story and plot. You can find copies of Wortham’s books on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.

les edgertonAt 11:30 AM, we turn it over to Les Edgerton. Les has had stints as a burglar, convict, teacher, and hairdresser as part of his rich life. He’s put many of those experiences to use in his gritty crime novels like The Bitch and The Genuine, Imitation, Plastic Kidnapping. He’s the perfect person to explore the relationship between protagonist and antagonist. You can find copies of Edgerton’s books on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.

george wierAt 2 PM, after a lunch break, George Wier will take us through the editing process. George has made himself  an online success with his Austin “fixer” Bill Travis. His latest, Murder In Elysium, gives us West Texas sheriff Shane Robeling. You can find copies of George Wier’s books on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.


At 3:30PM there will be a panel discussion with Les and George to cover any other topics that those attending would like to learn more about. You can come in for individual portions of the workshop or stay the whole day. Books by the authors will be available for sale and signing. Join up and let these professionals teach you some of the tricks from their trade.

All MysteryPeople events are free and open to the public. Check out our newly updated upcoming events list on our blog to find out more about our summer line-up!

Top Five Texas Authors of 2014

One thing about us Texans, we have a lot of state pride. Luckily we got the talent to back it up. Here’s a list of favorite crime novels this year written by our fellow Lone Stars.


reavis wortham vengeance is mine1. Vengeance Is Mine by Reavis Wortham

Wortham’s Central Springs lawmen and their families deal with violent actions and their consequences when a mob hitman moves into their town. Works as an engaging shoot up as well as a meditation on retribution.

 


nine days2. Nine Days by Minerva Koenig

This highly entertaining debut introduces us to Julia Kalas, whose marriage to her murdered gun-dealing husband has lead her to a small Texas town under Witness Protection. When the new man she’s seeing becomes the main suspect in a murder, she cuts across the state, using her criminal contacts to clear him in this fresh, hard-boiled gem.


a song to die for3. A Song To Die For by Michael Blakely

The Seventies Austin music scene serves as a fun back drop for a guitar pickin’ country legend looking for a comeback (as well as a way to beat the IRS). When a Mafia princess turns up dead, a Texas Ranger goes looking for her murderer and crosses paths with Blakely’s musician protagonist. Blakely, a musician himself, gives us a great look at building a band.


tim bryant spirit trap4.Spirit Trap by Tim Bryant

Fifties Fort Worth PI Alvin “Dutch” Curridge investigates the pilfering of a dance hall and the disappearance of a musician accused of the murder of his family. An involving who-dunnit that gives us a great flavor of the Texas music scene back then.


ransom island5. Ransom Island by Miles Arceneux

A Gulf Coast honky-tonk gets caught between the and the Klan when they get Duke Ellington to play for New Year’s Eve. A fun trip to a lost era and place.

 


All of the books listed above are available on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. Look out for more top lists later in December!

 

Bouchercon 2014 Wrap-Up!

scott bouchercon 1
With Brad Parks and his Shamus Award

Long Beach, California is known for sunny weather and soft breezes. Thursday, November 13th it became gloomy and overcast with rain. Some blamed this on the hoard of crime fiction fans, writers, publishers, and booksellers recently arrived in town. It was the first day of the 2014 Bouchercon, the world’s largest mystery conference, where we talked about dark stories under an eventually bright sky.

The first night, I had the honor of being invited to a dinner for the authors and supporters of Seventh Street Press, celebrating their second anniversary. It was fun to hang out with my friend Mark Pryor, creator of the Hugo Marston series, and meeting Allen Eskens, whose debut, The Life We Bury is a must-read for thriller fans, and Lori Rader-Day. Terry Shames arrived late, but had the excuse of winning The McCavity Award for best first novel on her way to dinner.

With Richard Brewer and Bobby McCue
With Richard Brewer and Bobby McCue

At the most entertaining panel I attended, titled Shaken, Not Stirred, writers discussed their use of drinking and bars in their work. Con Lehane, a former bartender, opened the discussion by stating that James Bond’s vodka martini is not really a martini because it is shaken. After he described the process of making a vodka martini, no one argued. Johnny Shaw said the more his characters drink, the more they surprise him. Eoin Colfer spoke of how he loved bars because a bar is a great equalizer, where anybody can walk through the door. When asked about the new smoking ban in Irish pubs, he said “It’s horrible. You can smell the men.”

The most enlightening panel I attended was Beyond Hammett, Chandler, and Spillane. Peter Rozovsky moderated a panel of learned crime writers and scholars who picked an author they felt deserved their due. Max Allan Collins, one of my favorite hard boiled writers, talked about Ennis Willie, who wrote about mobster on the run Sand in the early Sixties. Collins described  the books as a Mickey Spillane imitation, but also discussed how these novels had a lot in common with Richard Stark’s Parker, who debuted the same year. Sarah Weinman, editor of Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives, an upcoming anthology of stories by female thriller authors of the forties and fifties, introduced me to Dolores Hitchens. Gary Phillips gave a history of Joe Nazel, who formed a triptych of Seventies African-American crime writers, along with Donald Goines and Iceberg Slim.

scott bouchercon 3

Bouchercon has proved to be a great source for upcoming books. All of us who met Mette Ivie Harrison couldn’t wait to read her new novel, The Bishop’s Wife, coming out at the end of December. Harrison, who has had an interesting history with the Mormon Church and her own faith, has written a novel based on a true crime set in her community. I also got into a conversation with Christa Faust and CJ Box as Christa talked about the research she’s doing for her next Angel Dare book, where she puts the hard-boiled ex-porn star into the world of rodeo. CJ and I were both impressed by her knowledge of the sport.

There were also personal highlights. I got to hang out with Bobby McCue and Richard Brewer, the two men responsible for hiring and re-hiring me at The Mystery Bookstore, my first book slinging job, and showing me the ropes. It was also probably one of the best Dead Dog Dinners (the meal shared by the people who remained Sunday night after the conference has closed) as we talked about the state of the industry, books that moved us, and plotted 2015 in Raleigh. And if that wasn’t enough, there was this moment with Texas Author Reavis Wortham and a cheerleading squad.

 

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.

MysteryPeople Q&A with Ben Rehder

Ben Rehder is an Austin-based author who has long been known for the humor in his books. The second book in his series is Gone the Next, featuring legal videographer Roy Ballard. Rehder’s novel follows Ballard as, during his surveillance work, he notices someone who bears a strong resemblance to a girl who has been abducted.

We are happy to have him join us for our Lone Star Mystery Authors panel this Wednesday, August 6, at 7 PM, on BookPeople’s second floor. He’ll be reading and signing his latest book in the series, Get Busy Dying. We caught up with him for this quick interview.


MysteryPeople: Child abduction is such touchy subject matter that many writers avoid it. What made you decide to take it on?

Ben Rehder: I don’t usually set out to choose a particular topic for a novel; most of the time, raw ideas just occur to me, and I start to play around with them to see if they go anywhere. In this case, the idea was this: What if an investigator had someone under surveillance for a white-collar crime, and suddenly, without any explanation, there was a little girl in the subject’s presence? What if that little girl matched the description of a girl who had recently gone missing? Worse, what if the investigator couldn’t convince the cops of what he’d seen? I saw no reason to avoid the topic of child abduction, and in fact it seemed that there couldn’t be too many more compelling subjects. How far would most people go to save an abducted child? I think the lengths might just be boundless.

MP: As serious as the subject matter is, Ballard is very funny. How do you balance the humor with the darkness?

BR: You hold the darkness in your left hand and an equal quantity of humor in your right hand. Okay, Ballard isn’t necessarily making light of abduction or missing kids, but he does appreciate the value of humor in making tough situations a little more bearable. There’s a back story there I won’t get into, but if Ballard couldn’t laugh about life, he’d be insane by now. He deals with feelings of guilt and sadness and anxiety by making jokes. Of course, he also makes jokes in the absence of guilt, sadness, or anxiety.

MP: What made you choose a legal videographer as a series character?

BR: I was doing research on insurance fraud investigators and I stumbled across that phrase, “legal videographer.” I had no idea what it meant (was it the opposite of an illegal videographer?), but when I read the job description, I realized I’d found the job title for my character. A legal videographer’s duties typically include recording depositions, accident scenes and re-creations, witness testimony, and in some cases, attempting to obtain evidence of insurance fraud. (That’s Roy Ballard’s specialty.) The bonus was that I couldn’t remember any novel revolving around a legal videographer, so it seemed like a unique way to go.

MP: What do you get to do with Roy that you can’t do with the Blanco County series?

BR: The biggest difference is that I get to use the first-person point of view. I’m writing from Roy Ballard’s perspective, so the reader can’t see into other characters’ heads as the story unfolds. That’s actually quite liberating, even though first person also carries some obvious limitations. Also, I get to swap the rural Blanco County setting for a more suburban and urban atmosphere in the Ballard novels. And Roy Ballard is a total smart aleck, whereas John Marlin (the Blanco County protagonist) is a little more serious. It’s a nice change of pace to switch between the two series.

MP: I really enjoyed banter between Roy and Mia. Do you have a particular approach to dialogue?

BR: You want to capture natural speech patterns as closely as possible and still keep it readable. Ever read a transcript of a deposition or any other recorded conversation? The truth is, actual dialog is often very awkward and hard to follow in written form, because you can’t hear inflection or see body language, and there is a lot of interrupting or hemming and hawing. So you have to strike a balance—keep it real but also keep it readable. And if there’s a choice between a straight line and a wise-ass remark, I’ll generally go for the latter.


MysteryPeople welcomes Ben Rehder, along with Reavis Wortham and Tim Bryant, to BookPeople for a conversation about crime fiction on Wednesday, August 6, at 7 pm. His latest novel, Get Busy Dying, and Gone the Next are available for purchase on BookPeople’s shelves and from our online store at bookpeople.com.

Tim Bryant Guest Post: A Grab Bag of Dismembered and Remembered Parts

Tim Bryant shares with us a little bit about each of his books, and a little more about his Dutch Curridge Series. He will be speaking and signing his new book, Spirit Trap, on Wednesday, August 6 at 7 pm.

I’ve been lucky enough to get some entertaining reviews of my books, but one of my favorites– if it wasn’t the one that said “this was the best time I ever had with three dead bodies”– might have been the one where the guy wrote something along the lines of “Bryant never uses five words when four will do.” If I never write like I’m being paid by the word (even when I am), you can probably blame it on my background in songwriting. Twenty years of telling stories in three verses, a chorus and (maybe) a bridge can have that effect on you.

My friend Joe Lansdale gave me the best advice I ever got. “When you want something done, ask a busy person.” Joe might be the busiest person I’ve ever met, but he damn sure gets a lot done. He’s been a good friend to me and my writing, and I’m certainly glad to know him, but I don’t believe the old maxim that “it’s all who you know.” Write a bunch of crap and give it to Joe, it’s still a bunch of crap. And he’ll tell you so in no uncertain terms.

My friend Elaine Ash,  who writes under the pseudonym Anonymous-9, told me that, when writing a series of novels, the second novel is always a bitch to complete and the third is an unmitigated joy. The worst thing a writer can be is predictable, but I went for that one hook, line and sinker. I spent too much time writing and re-writing my second Dutch Curridge novel (Southern Select)but the third (Spirit Trap) was magic from day one.

I wasn’t even planning to write Spirit Trap. I was writing a non-Dutch novel, called Constellations, and, by the time I’d reached the end of it, things were going so well that I was sad to end it. I turned the page and immediately started Spirit Trap.

I had the title and the first scene, and that’s it. Didn’t matter. I wrote the whole thing without ever stopping to outline, watching the story unfold as if I were reading it. Sometimes the best stories come that way. (Beware: some of the crappiest ones do too.)

The Dutch Curridge series has a great number of female fans, including readers who tell me they don’t normally read this particular genre. I don’t know what to make of that, but I like it. I do think Dutch speaks to a wide range of people and issues. He’s damaged. He’s unreliable. He’s afraid of love, and he’s afraid of death. He likes good music, Jack Daniels and Dr Pepper (together) and close friends, and he’ll never be able to tell anybody how much he cares for Ruthie Nell Parker. Especially himself.

Dutch is a lot like me. We’re both interested in Native American issues. We both like barbeque. We’re big fans of Bob Wills, and we like Jim Thompson a lot too. And yes, it’s true: both of us deal with Asperger’s Syndrome. On the other hand, he can flat out drink me under the table. And he knows even more stories than I do.

Dutch may treasure the sound of Lester Young’s saxophone, but he’ll always be an old country song. The good kind, like Hank Williams and Lefty Frizzell sang. The kind that sound like they’re full of ghosts. Where you can feel something going on in between the words, even though– and maybe because– they’re so damn simple and direct. Dutch is definitely three verses and a chorus. No bridge necessary.

 

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.