MysteryPeople Q&A with Tim Bryant

Tim Bryant is a writer attracted to the past. His Dutch Currridge series features a detective in post-war Fort Worth. His latest stand alone, Constellations, ping pongs through different historical periods. The story begins with a young reporter in the late fifties. He comes across a man telling life stories that may or may not reach back to the Civil War. Tim Bryant comes to speak and sign Constellations, Thursday, June 25th, at 7 PM on BookPeople’s second floor. Mr. Bryant joins us in conversation with Joe R. Lansdale, whose latest novel is Paradise Sky. We talked to Tim about the book, music, and and time. 

MysteryPeople: Constellations is very much a unique tale, mixing several genres. How did it come about?

You never know where you might find the seed of a story. With Constellations, it all started when I read a magazine interview with Bob Dylan, and he was talking about transfiguration. He had this bizarre idea that he’d somehow been transfigured from this other guy named Robert Zimmerman who had died in a motorcycle accident. And the way he talked about it was kind of off-the-wall, but it was spooky too, and I was drawn in by that spooky element. This idea of supernaturally taking on the spirit of another person, of projecting ourselves through time like this, just resonated with me. Then, combining it with that dark, southern Christian element, it just seemed like something to start with. And so it was. It all unrolled from there.

I read a lot of history, especially local, Texas and southern U.S. history, and I was also interested in the history of riverboat communities. It’s an era that came and passed quickly, and maybe that’s why it’s so fascinating to me. It’s almost like a mirage, this blink-of-an-eye after the industrial revolution but before the railroads. And this small Angelina River in East Texas, this river that I was so familiar with, had been a route for riverboats to take cotton down toward Houston, although, to see the river these days, you’d never think of it or think it was possible.

So I guess these disparate ideas, these ideas that dealt with what’s possible and what’s not possible, and the chance that maybe the line isn’t as definite as you would think or that we don’t know as much as we think we do; these are the things that set Constellations into motion.

As far as mixing different genres goes, it was and is a mystery to me. That’s where it begins and ends. It’s as much a mystery as Dutch Curridge is. Maybe it doesn’t rely on typical tropes, but it’s about life, and life is a mystery.

MP: How did working on a stand-a-lone feel after hanging out with Dutch Curridge in three books?

TB: It was nice to work on something that wasn’t going to be a series, because it allowed me to follow the arc of the story to its end and let that end carry its full weight. Not having to leave Art as a viable character for further novels meant I didn’t have to write consciously. My best writing is intuitive, meaning I don’t outline and chart things out. That’s true with at least the first and third of the Dutch Curridge novels, but I do have a few rules that are always in the back of my mind with Dutch. There’s a continuity of character that dictates certain things. The main one, of course, being that he has to leave the book ready for the next one.

With this one, I didn’t know if or how Art would survive the end until I wrote it, and so I was taking the same trip through the story as the reader. All the way to the end. Practically speaking, it means I had the opportunity to get the ending exactly right. I wrote it instinctively, but I had time to live with the ending, think about it, talk it over with a few people, and I found that I learned more about why it ended the way it did after I had written it. If I had projected myself onto it, it might have ended very differently.

“So I guess these disparate ideas, these ideas that dealt with what’s possible and what’s not possible, and the chance that maybe the line isn’t as definite as you would think or that we don’t know as much as we think we do; these are the things that set Constellations into motion.”

MP: As with most of your books, music plays an important part. Here it seems to have a feeling of solitude as well as connection. What did you want to explore about it this time?

TB: I’m glad you picked up on that, because that was the idea I was trying to open up. This idea of music being so intrinsically part of us that it represents both our separateness, being that intensely personal expression that identifies each of us as an individual soul – whether it be our spiritual fingerprint or the fingerprint of God on us — and our connectedness. The connectedness for the fact that we all seem to have it in common, or at least the propensity for it, and that singing or playing music together is very much a chance for dialogue, a common language and even religion.

Obviously, music had a spiritual make-up long before we got to Art and the Black spirituals of the American South. Going back to Africa, back Native Americans and most indigenous peoples, music has been seen as akin to prayer, this communication with something bigger or better than ourselves. Art absolutely sees it in those terms.

So do I. The epigraph of the novel is a line from The Waterboys’ song“Don’t Bang the Drum,” which asks a question: “What show of soul are we gonna get from you?” I wrote that epigraph at the top of page one of CONSTELLATIONS and began writing, and it was my guiding light all the way through. It makes the connection to music explicit. If that doesn’t do it, I’ll admit that I named Art after Art Blakey, the legendary jazz drummer. If that doesn’t do it, the chapter headings should, as I named them like you would song titles on an old blues album. The more I could give this story the feel of old blues and jazz music, which is what the story is filled with and, to a large extent, told through, the better.

MP: Constellations deals with myth versus fact. Do you see a place for myth?

TB: Most definitely. I think there’s a place for myth in all of my stuff. The story of Whitey Calhoun in Dutch Curridge, the wild boar in SPIRIT TRAP, both deal with finding the line between truth and myth. You know that saying, if you’re confronted with truth and myth, always go with the myth. I believe in that. Of course, my characters are concerned with finding the truth, whether it’s Dutch solving a case or Art seeking the truth of his identity and his past. It’s probably the tension between my characters seeking that truth and me seeking the myth that’s at the heart of my writing. There’s also the thought that you can tell more from a society from their myths than anything, and I think there’s a lot of truth in that. There’s often more truth in myth than people want to admit.

MP: Most of your books take place in the past. What draws you to other times?

TB: I’ve tried to figure that out, and I’ve even talked to other writers about it, and I can’t figure it out. But they all tell me to keep doing what I’m doing. I think the whole mythologizing thing probably plays into it. If I’m going to write characters into a world, I guess I’m just more interested in putting them in a place that’s a bit mysterious to me, so that I can poke around and discover it.

Having said that, I’ve always been interested in the Civil Rights era south, because there was so much tension and change and upheaval going on. Those are things you look for when you’re writing, and I guess most Southern writers end up dealing with that stuff in one way or another. With Constellations, I just backed up and took a wider view.

In some ways, it’s not incredibly different from the Dutch books. It is the first one I’ve written from the Southern Black perspective. You might think that was a major change, but, once I did the necessary research — which included talking with as many people who were there and still remember – it really wasn’t. I wrestled for about an hour with the question of how to authentically write an African-American protagonist. Once I came to the realization that you write them the exact same way you write any other protagonist, I was good to go.

MP: You’ll be doing the event with fellow Nacodoches resident Joe R. Lansdale. What about East Texas creates good writers?

TB: It’s definitely something in the water supply. That also accounts for all the misfits and oddballs, which give us plenty to write about.


Join us here at BookPeople for a visit from Tim Bryant, Thursday, June 25th, at 7 PM on BookPeople’s second floor. Bryant will be speaking and signing his latest novel, ConstellationsYou can find copies on our shelves and via bookpeople.com

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MysteryPeople Q&A with Joe R. Lansdale

Joe R. Lansdale, one of our favorite authors here at BookPeople in any section – and he’s in several – comes to speak and sign his latest novel, Paradise Sky, Thursday, June 25th, at 7 PM on BookPeople’s second floor. Paradise Sky tells the fictionalized early adventures of Nat Love, one of the first black western heroes. We caught up with him to discuss the book and the period he was writing about. Mr. Lansdale joins us in conversation with Tim Bryant, whose latest novel is Constellations

MysteryPeople: What struck you about Nat Love to make him the hero of a novel?

Joe R. Lansdale: First off, there is so little written about the black experience in the west. I also liked he was a real person. I could tell from reading it he had had a real cowboy experience. He enhanced it the way all the storytellers of that time did, and I liked the mythical aspect of him stretching the truth in the same way other frontiersmen did. I hadn’t read anything like his book about the black experience in the west.

MP: You also have other historical figures like Wild Bill Hickok and Bass Reeves. Was there one in particular you had fun portraying?

JRL: Bass Reeves. He was revered by most, but some thought him over tough. I played on that. Again, I wanted to touch on people who had done to some degree what Nat in his autobiography, claimed to have done.

MP:  What did you want to express about the place and time?

That people had to be rugged to survive, and that in most ways it was a harder experience for African-Americans, and unlike movie portrayal, they were more than cooks and maids. A large portion of the working cowboys were black.

MP:  Are there any rules you go by when writing for period?

JRL: I actually try to follow a historical timeline and I research the real people I write about.

MP:  I also think this is your first novel where written from an African American first person point of view. How do you approach writing from a different race or gender?

JRL: Except for historical situations, I just write people.

MP: In a way you create a counter legend to the standard legend of The West. Do you see a merit in legends?

JRL: I love the creation of myth. I tried to walk the line between myth, legend, and reality.

Join us here at BookPeople for a visit from Joe R. Lansdale, Thursday, June 25th, at 7 PM on BookPeople’s second floor. Lansdale will be speaking and signing his latest novel, Paradise Sky. You can find copies on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. 

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!

 

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.

Crime Fiction Friday: SHIMMIE SHE WOBBLE by Tim Bryant

crime scene
Tim Bryant will be joining us for our Lone Star Mystery Writers Panel, Wednesday, the 6th at 7PM, along with Reavis Wortham and Ben Rehder. His latest, Spirit Trap, deals with music, the past, and a unique view of things, much like his tale here.

SHIMMIE SHE WOBBLE
by Tim Bryant

Lee Ray Murvin, who most people called Sardine, was down on his knees barking like a dog, and Clement Whitaker was still trying to pour more oh be joyful into him, first from a wooden ladle and then from one of Sardine’s own boots, which along with his trousers and work shirt, were strewn across the hardwood floor. Micah Lockwood sat in a corner playing five-card stud with his friend and kettle drum player Henry Compton and trying to ignore Clement’s devilry, but you can only turn your back for so long.

“Let him alone, Clement. He’s had enough.”

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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.