An Interview with John T. Davis and Manning Wolfe

losers-gumbo-kindle-360x570-1In Loser’s Gumbo, the latest Bullet Book, Manning Wolfe picked music journalist John T. Davis—and one of the three writers who make up the Miles Arceneaux pseudonym—for a tale of a road weary musician who discovers a body in a drum case. As he has to clear his own name, he gets involved in a fast moving plot tied to a historic lost recording. Manning and John were kind enough to talk to us about collaborating, music, and murder.


Scott Montgomery: How did the both of you come up with the idea of Loser’s Gumbo?

John T. Davis: Given that the over-arching idea was for a murder mystery, we wanted to give it a memorable setting. Because of my experience as a music journalist and affinity for Louisiana and New Orleans and that musical climate, we decided to set the story in that environment.

Manning Wolfe: Growing up in Houston it was a common road trip to scoot down I-10 to Breaux Bridge for the Crawfish Festival or New Orleans for Mardi Gras. When J.T. and I set our reluctant hero on a path back and forth between the high rises of the Houston Medical Center and the cypress knees of the Lafayette Swamps, it was easy to visualize Mack traveling up and down the highway with his band.

SM: John, I’m assuming you’re the one who provided much of the details about a musician on the road. What did you want to get across to the reader about that life?

JT: I wanted to express the uniqueness of that lifestyle, and the commitment it requires to be successful in it. Musicians have a whole other way of relating to the world. To paraphrase a line in the book (which I originally heard from singer-songwriter Ray Wylie Hubbard), the world is divided between the “day people” and the “night people,” and it’s the job of the night people to take the day people’s money. Back when I was committing journalism for the daily paper, I naturally developed an affection for late nights and larger-than-life characters.

When I moved to Austin in 1975, it was (and still is) an incubator for all sorts of music and artists. Back then, the longhairs and the rednecks were eyeballing each other’s music with a certain wary curiosity. As a result, rock and country bred a natural, Texas-specific offspring.

As my own musical horizons began to expand, I soon became aware of fascinating sounds emanating from fabled, far-flung regions—zydeco and swamp pop from South Louisiana…greasy, horn-driven rhythm and blues from the inner city wards of Houston…Bouncing soul and street parade sass courtesy of the hoodoo piano professors and marching brass bands from New Orleans…hardcore honky-tonk country from the oilfield towns of Beaumont and Port Arthur, and ancestral country blues from East Texas.

Over the years, mostly in the line of duty but sometimes just for fun, I went out on the road with Jerry Jeff Walker, Marcia Ball, Rodney Crowell, Delbert McClinton, Asleep At the Wheel, Rosie Flores, Stephen Bruton, Ray Wylie Hubbard, and others. All of these guys were lifers. It was music or nothing. No one had a Plan B.

I got to see The Life from the inside of the bus, so to speak. The big festivals and tiny roadside honky-tonks. The shitty motel rooms and the steady diet of convenience store cuisine. The shady promoters and sketchy backstage hangers on. The all-nighters and the mornings after. Jerry Jeff used to say he played music for free; he got paid for all the weary miles traveling the endless highway. “Every place you go,” he once remarked, “You’ve got to be everybody’s Saturday night.” That’s a sentiment to which our protagonist, Mack Mouton, would drink a toast.

SM: As with all of the fiction you’re involved with John, the gulf area really comes alive. What makes it a great location for fiction, particularly crime fiction?

JT: The Gulf Coast region really resonates as a setting for a mystery. There’s something about the coast—the heat and humidity, the colorful characters, the quirky regional culture—that really makes a great venue for a story. Obviously, we’re not alone in this perception as great writers from James Lee Burke to John D. MacDonald to Carl Hiaasen and others have worked the same territory.

SM: Manning, you say you always learn a little from the Bullet Books authors you collaborated with. What did you get from John?

MW: When I wrote my second legal thriller, Music Notes, I incorporated a lot of the history of Texas music and musicians that I loved. I had also enjoyed a lot of jazz around Louisiana. Working with J.T. expanded my musical knowledge further to include the blended sounds that developed between Texas and Swamp country.

SM: John, was there a difference did you have in working with Manning as you did with the Miles Arceneaux crew you’ve known for decades?

JT: The main thing is that Manning and I have a professional relationship, versus the longtime personal  friendship I have with the other two “Miles” authors. That being said, her insights and perspective made for a very rewarding and enjoyable collaboration.

SM: This is a very fun read, what made it a fun one to write?

JT: As for me, I really enjoyed working in the Bullet Books framework—a fast-paced format designed, as Kinky Friedman memorably said of his own mysteries, “designed to entertain Americans in their airports.”

MW: I enjoyed the sassy dialogue that J.T. is so good at writing. Trying to match his voice was challenging, but fun, as I dug deep for my inner Cajun.


Loser’s Gumbo and other titles mentioned in this post are available to purchase from BookPeople in-store and online now.

Interview with Mark Pryor, author of ‘The French Widow’

9781645060239Mark Pryor’s latest Hugo Marston novel, The French Widow, has the head of our Paris embassy’s security involved in a public incident where he takes down a gunman firing into the public, the matter becomes more controversial when evidence points to the man being an American citizen. He also has to deal with a murder on an estate of a family that takes dysfunction to new heights. Mark was kind enough to talk about the book and his hero.

 

Scott Montgomery: You have Hugo involved in a shooting that pushes him into the public spotlight. As someone you have described as “a watcher’ how does this affect him?

Mark Pryor: He hates it. He’s fine being a hero if no one knows but, as you point out, he does NOT want to be in the spotlight. That makes this plot rather mean, I know, but it’s very intentional: because Hugo is a harder person to get to know, in each book I try to drop him into a new situation, one that makes him uncomfortable and gives us a closer look at a different aspect of his character (in previous books I had him find a recording of his dead wife’s voice, for example). It also allows me to put him in conflict with his best friend, Tom, who just LOVES attention and to that end sticks his oar into Hugo’s business, purporting to make things better for his friend but actually making them worse.

SM: Once again you have him up against two different killers. How does this structure help you as an author?

MP: In this book I wanted to give the Lambourd family a reason to dislike Hugo, and while I didn’t plan it necessarily, his involvement in a high-profile incident like a shooting gave the secretive family every reason to want nothing to do with him (quite apart from protecting each other from law enforcement and consequences). I also think it ups the pressure on Hugo because whichever storyline I’m telling, the other one is hanging like a sword over his head. His attention is always being dragged away from what he’s doing toward the other thing, and I think that tension and pressure helps keep the plot moving along.

SM: There are a handful of chapters in the point of view of one of the killers. How did that decision come about?

MP: I think the only other time I did this in a Hugo book was in The Crypt Thief. Honestly, it’s just plain fun. It’s also a personal challenge to me, in that first chapter which I tell from the killer’s perspective I want to include little nuggets of information, some relevant and some distractions, that the reader can latch onto and begin to figure out who the killer might be. Mostly, though, it’s just good fun writing from the point of a view of a psycho…!

SM: The main mystery is a play on the murder on a country estate. What made you want to play in that sandbox? 

MP: Several reasons, really. First, it’s what I grew up reading — Agatha Christie and Sherlock Holmes books, where country estates were ten-a-penny. In this case, the chateau is based on a real place, both the building and its location. Even the history of the family is taken from a real Parisian family, and I plumped on them because I visited what is now a museum but what used to be their home. It’s the Musee Nissim de Camondo for anyone who wants to look it up. Lovely house with fascinating furniture and art, and nary a tourist in sight!

SM: You have some wonderful moments with Hugo’s girlfriend (though he’s not ready to admit that) Claudia. As a writer what do you enjoy about her as a character?

MP: I like how what we think of as the traditional courting roles are reversed. Here’s the reticent, laid-back Hugo chasing the girl instead of the pretty girl chasing the handsome hunk. I think he likes it that way, too, that’s part of her attraction for him and he doesn’t really mind. I also love that she’s not dependent on him in any way, except when she wants to be — she has more money than him, a bigger house, a great job… yet she’s like him in that these things are accoutrements to her life, not part of her personality. They are both very real, honest, and strong people and they have a genuine admiration and respect for each other. Sure, there’s a physical attraction but their friendship/relationship is so much more than that.

SM: Am I reading (no pun intended) more into this or is Hugo coming out of his shell more in the previous books?

MP: I think that’s a smart observation, and a couple of people have asked similar questions, but I have to admit to that not being intentional. Maybe it’s the natural arc of a series, where the main characters reveal more and more of themselves as the series goes on, such that a point comes where the reader puts down a book feeling like they suddenly know the person better. Again, I’m not clever enough to conjure that process intentionally, let’s be clear about that!


The French Widow is available now from BookPeople in-store and online. You can shop Pryor’s other titles here.

About the Author: Mark Pryor is the author of the Hugo Marston novels The Bookseller, The Crypt Thief, The Blood Promise, The Button Man, The Reluctant Matador, and The Paris Librarian, as well as the novels Hollow Man and the forthcoming Dominic. He has also published the true-crime book As She Lay Sleeping. A native of Hertfordshire, England, he is an assistant district attorney in Austin, Texas, where he lives with his wife and three children.

Crime Fiction Friday: Scott Montgomery Interviewed by S.W. Lauden

S.W. Lauden of Bad Citizen Corporation & Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery On The Origins of MysteryPeople, the Secrets of Bookselling, and Scott’s Top Ten Mysteries of All Time

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Ever wanted to know more about MysteryPeople and what we do? Our crime fiction coordinator Scott Montgomery was interviewed by author and blogger, S.W. Lauden on his website Bad Citizen Corporation. Scott tells a little bit about what he does and shares a top 10 list. You can read all about it here.

“It’s very important to me that we have independent publishers. It makes us stand out since we’re often the only store in town to find the cool, funky crime fiction, and personally I think it’s a great way to serve the genre. We simply choose what to showcase by what we like or discover.” – Scott Montgomery

Read the full interview. 

Crime Fiction Friday: “Vikings” by Scott Montgomery

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  • Introduced by Molly O.
MysteryPeople’s very own Scott Montgomery has a new story up on Shotgun Honey. Below, you’ll find the link to 750 words of pure sleaze, inspired by a chance conversation between Scott and author Laura Lippman at Bouchercon one year, as the two speculated on how a not-so-dynamic duo might form. This story is seriously creepy, y’all – but on this site, and to our fine friends at Shotgun Honey, creepy is a compliment. 

“Vikings” by Scott Montgomery

“The Blonde brought their beers and took their wing orders. Bob wished they had the brunette with the glasses. He eyed the babe with the red hair…

Read the rest of the story.

MysteryPeople’s Guide to the Texas Book Festival

Hey Folks! Overwhelmed by the number of amazing panels at this year’s Texas Book Festival? Can’t see the forest through the trees? Never fear, MysteryPeople is here with a guide to mystery, thriller and true crime happenings at the fest. Here’s a link to the full schedule, but in the following schedule, you can see we’ve picked out some of the highlights for crime fiction fans.

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Countdown to the MysteryPeople Top 100: Scott Montgomery’s Top 20 Mysteries

We’ve posted just about every Top 20 list from the contributors of our Top 100 Crime & Suspense Fiction List. We’ve seen just as many takes on the genre as we’ve received lists. To paraphrase an old adage, it’s difficult to define a great detective novel, but you know it when you see it.  Tomorrow morning, we’ll put up the link to the full list, but until then, it’s only fair to put up each of our lists. Scott Montgomery’s list is below.

Scott Montgomery’s Top 20 Mysteries

Scott Montgomery is BookPeople’s Crime Fiction Coordinator and the founder of MysteryPeople, Bookpeople’s mystery bookstore-within-a-bookstore. MysteryPeople includes author events, workshops, book clubs, online content, and skilled recommendations. 

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Crime Fiction Friday: “You Just Might Get It” by Scott Montgomery

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You may recognize the name of this week’s Crime Fiction Friday author. Scott Montgomery, as BookPeople’s Crime Fiction Coordinator and founder of MysteryPeople, BookPeople’s Mystery Bookstore-Within-A-Bookstore, has been Austin’s authority on all-things-mystery for years. Scott also writes, and below, you’ll find a good example of his humorous and gleefully bloodthirsty style.

Come by BookPeople on Tuesday, August 11, at 7 PM, for a celebration of the crime writing anthology Murder On Wheels, with authors Scott Montgomery, Reavis Wortham, and Kathy Waller in attendance. You can find copies of Murder on Wheels on our shelves. Part of the sales proceeds for Murder on Wheels will go to Meals on Wheels.

“You Just Might Get It” by Scott Montgomery

The girl came first.

It had been two hours since Vedder clocked in and counted the drawer. He cracked open his textbooks for American Lit, but there were always some customer interrupting him the first few hours to truly focus.  Half of them wanted to tell him about their day, life stories, or, god forbid, how to improve business. All you could do was dip your toe in shallow thoughts and daydreams between transactions and stocking Skittles until around 3AM when foot traffic faded at the Grab N’ Go. There were two things Vedder always thought would break the monotony behind the counter, a hot girl or a robbery.

When the red head walked in, she woke everything up in him. Her shoulder length tresses didn’t fit the face. Somehow, the small mouth with the full lips did, at least when he pictured her giving him a blowjob. Her skin wasn’t that death pale a lot of reds had. No freckles either, which was kind of a disappointment. She wore pink, trendy glasses that didn’t go with the rest of her outfit. A cutoff denim skirt fit her ass tight enough to give him a clear picture of some x-rated scenarios. Two tattooed butterflies flew out of the waistband. A good mix of cute with just the right amount of trashy. Who wants the girl next door, if all she knows is the missionary position?

Her purse was larger than the usual pocket book on a g-string that the club tramps carried. The training video told him to watch for patrons with large bags. What would he do if he caught her lifting? What would she do for him not to call the cops? More scenarios. He had to quit reading the Penthouse Forum off the adult rack.

She bent down for some energy bars. Vedder thanked God he was behind the counter from the waist down. Her eyes caught him. “Do you have Vanilla Coke?”

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Austin Mystery Writers Present: MURDER ON WHEELS edited by Ramona DeFelice Long

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– Post by Molly

Come by the store on Tuesday, August 11, at 7 PM up on BookPeople’s second floor, for a great home-grown event. Presented by Austin Mystery Writers, and edited by Ramona DeFelice Long, Murder on Wheels: 11 Tales of Crime on the Move has deliciously dangerous tales contributed by many of our favorite authors. Kathy Waller, Reavis Wortham, and MysteryPeople’s own crime fiction coordinator, Scott Montgomery, will all be present at BookPeople’s Murder on Wheels event to speak and sign this collection. A share of profits goes to Meals on Wheels.

Murder on Wheels contains many different settings, subgenres and approaches to its theme. Kaye George, in her forward, details the collection’s origin: “The genesis was a ride my husband took…on the Megabus…I started thinking that the bus would make a good setting for a murder…There was one problem – where to hide the body. So I asked the group, Austin Mystery Writers, for suggestions.” From this initial discussion, sprang enough ideas for a collection, and thus Murder on Wheels came to be on our shelves.

“A Nice Set of Wheels,” by Kathy Waller, delivers a Great Depression-era story of longing and wanderlust in a small Southern town. “Family Business,” by Reavis Wortham, relates the twists and turns of an unlucky family of bootleggers through the generations. V. P. Chandler’s “Rota Fortunae” gets mystical with a tattoo of a ship’s wheel and a story of transatlantic unrest,  while Gale Albright’s “Mome Rath, My Sweet” sends a private eye down the rabbit hole in a hard-boiled retelling of Alice in Wonderland.

Kaye George and Earl Staggs shift the focus to public transportation with their respective stories, “The Wheels on the Bus Go Round and Round” and “Dead Man on a School Bus.” Laura Oles looks at how a “family business” deals with outsiders in “Buon Viaggio.”  Gale Albright’s “Apokalypse Now” tackles the dangers of bicycle obsession, especially in a marriage. Scott Montgomery’s tale of generosity gone sour, “Red’s White F-150 Blues,” is a properly Texan tale of trucks, Conan the Barbarian obsession, and increasingly bad decisions. Each story fits with the theme of wheels in a different, unique, and often funny way.

You can find copies of Murder on Wheels on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. Come by the store Tuesday, August 11, for a speaking and signing event with several of the collection’s authors, including our very own Scott Montgomery!

Painting it Black: Bouchercon 2013

On the town with Detectives Without Borders blog founder Pete Rovovsky and author RJ Ellory.
On the town with Detectives Without Borders blog founder Pete Rovovsky and author RJ Ellory.

Albany is a quaint city, with rolling hills (I swear I was always walking uphill, even on the way back), historic buildings and friendly people who say, “Absolutely,” when you ask them for a favor. Into this bucolic atmosphere descended thousands of crime fiction writers, publishers, booksellers, and fans like a plague of dark, drunken, philosophical rats from September 19th – 22nd. I can say this because I was one of the them attending this year’s Bouchercon, the world’s largest mystery conference.

Debate went into high gear during the New Noir panel. Moderator Reed Farrel Coleman introduced the idea that there are now two different kinds of noir fiction. One is traditional that relies more on mood and psychology. The newer form relies on violence and shock value. It was probably the most engaging discussion at the conference, with Duane Swierczynski defending the new form along with Jason Starr admitting that his works tend to fall into this category. The discussion wrapped up with a few jokes about Reed’s age and a quip from Hilary Davidson that would make any femme fatale proud.

Les Edgerton’s Pulp Fiction, Baby! panel also discussed playing on the dark and moody side of the street. As happened last year, Les had the best line of the year: “Paint your character black and the light will shine through.”

Josh Stalling talked about how he enjoyed hiding real ideas and social commentary in pulp fiction. He also cited James Crumley’s Dancing Bear and the original Winnie The Pooh as the books most influential in his process. When asked which Pooh character he relates the most with, he answered, “I’m always Eeyore.”

The Shameless Dead Cats & Bad Girls panel hosted by Laura Lippman dealt with taboos in crime fiction. Megan Abbott cited Gone Girl as proof that the mainstream has embraced the type of dark fiction that was more marginalized in the past.

0921131611Discussion of what is taboo in noir fiction was the theme amongst most panels at Bouchercon. Taking advantage of that, David Corbett turned his I Go To Extremes panel into a drinking game with the words, “noir,” “taboo,” “transgressive,” and “Tarantino.” Unfortunately for David, he forgot Todd Robinson, Glenn Gray, and I were in attendance. We’re three guys known for being loud and opinionated even when we’re sober.

The panels definitely covered a lot outside the question of what has become taboo.

I learned more about Austin author Mark Pryor at The Liar’s panel, where they played a game with the audience to guess when Mark was telling a lie, the truth, or a half-truth.

At the WW2 and Sons panel, Martin Limon spoke about how the culture clash he witnessed as a GI stationed in Korea between the locals and the US military lead to writing the Sueno & Bascome series.

In a discussion about writing unreliable narrators, Megan Abbott talked about how she believes noir protagonists will always be unreliable, since they are always attempting to justify their actions. Laura Lippman agreed, adding that the

y are also trying to convince the reader that they would have done the same.

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With party hosts, Reed Farrel Coleman, Tom Schreck, and Jon and Ruth Jordan.

You couldn’t let this group of dark, philosophical rats go without a night of revelry. On the first night of the con, authors Reed Farrell Coleman, Tom Schreck and Crimespree magazine’s Jon and Ruth Jordan threw a spectacular party. The Franklin Towers Bar was all shook up with classic rock n’ roll covers flowing from the stage, with Johnny Rebel And The Jail House Rockers at the helm. It was overwhelming to see such a who’s who in crime fiction. The place was so packed, even the sidewalk outside was crowded.

I would love to share more details, but it might be a little too risqué for the blogosphere.

I hung on until the bitter end, so I was able to see every dark nook and cranny of this year’s Buchercon. I went to the annual Dead Dog Dinner with those left over on Sunday night. Then, the next morning, it was breakfast and sightseeing with author RJ Ellory and bloggers Ali Karim and Peter Rozovsky before we had to catch our trains.

I don’t know if we attendees ever answered the question about whether or not we’ve gone too far in noir fiction. Maybe we have.

Will we push it further? Absolutely.

What Scott’s Reading

This week it looks like l’ve got something from the past, present, and future, all written by some of the best in the genre.

Dance Hall Of The Dead by Tony Hillerman

I am reading this for our History Of Mystery class, which is this Sunday (March 3rd), and am enthralled. Navajo tribal officer (and possibly one of the coolest literary cops ever) Joe Leaphorn takes on a case of two missing boys, one from the Zuni tribe and one from his own. His investigation gives us a tour through the Four Corners area with it’s hippies, scientists, and of course Indian tribes. Only his second book, Dance Hall Of The Dead proves that not only was Hillerman creator of the Native American mystery, but he was the master of it. I can’t wait to talk about this book with the class and call in guest, author and Hillerman’s friend, Margret Coel.

Dead Aim by Joe R Lansdale

This recently released limited edition novella, featuring Lansdale’s Hap and Leonard, is a hoot. The two get hired by a pretty woman to keep her violent ex away from her. Obviously for fans of the series, it’s not that simple. The Hap and Leonard takes are literary comfort food with a solid helping of humor and gunfire.

Onion Street by Reed Farrel Coleman (Coming In May)

Coleman visits his series character Moe Prager’s college years with a mystery that leads him to becoming a cop. He intertwines plot and emotion that are both involving, as well as delivers a meditation on youth, friendship, and the Sixties. This will be the second to last Moe Prager book, so I’m savoring every page.