Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Joan of Arc and the Black Marshall of Oklahoma

Though it first aired on HBO late last year, I'm just now going through the series Watchmen.  I'm eight of nine episodes in and looking forward to the season finale.  After reading and hearing such positive things about it, I have not in the least been disappointed. It's exciting and trippy and it's thought-provoking in the best way.  And in how it explores, among other things, the history of racial strife in the United States, and ongoing racial conflict, and the determined intransigence of white supremacists, it is perfectly in sync with what is happening right now in this country.

Any series that opens with a depiction of the 1921 Greenwood Massacre in Tulsa, Oklahoma has guts.  That event I knew of before watching the show, even though it's not something I learned of till well into my adult years.  I certainly never heard a whiff about the "Black Wall Street" or its destruction while in school.  The opening episode also presents us with old West black marshall Bass Reeves, and he is someone I did not know at all previously.  Since Watchmen mixes real history with alternate history, I thought Reeves might be a fictional character.  Now as it turns out, Reeves is of course an actual historical figure, the "Black Marshall of Oklahoma", the first black deputy US Marshal west of the Mississippi River, born into slavery in 1838 and who later worked for 32 years as a federal officer.  Basic Wikipedia research turns up startling facts: that when he retired in 1907, Reeves supposedly had made over 3,000 arrests, shot and killed 14 outlaws, and once had to arrest his own son for the murder of his son's wife.  I learned, too, that I had come across references to Reeves earlier; in season 3 episode 2 of Justified, two US Marshals bring Reeves up when discussing their favorite US Marshals of all time.  I didn't recognize his name at the time, and when watching Watchmen, failed to recall the reference.

You look up Reeves online, and the word "legendary" keeps popping up.  "Hero" does as well - "frontier hero".  It's not surprising to see these words, and they are standard ways to describe a person who lived such a noteworthy life. But these words, when you think about it, serve to describe nothing specific and tell you nothing you'd truly want to know about Reeves himself.  Reading those stock words somehow reminded me of a review I once read of French film director Jacques Rivette's film about Joan of Arc: Joan the Maid (Jeanne la pucelle), from 1994.  There have been numerous movies about Joan, not least being Carl Dreyer's great silent film The Passion of Joan of Arc, but the Rivette film, as the review I'm talking about pointed out (I don't remember who wrote the review), stands out in part because it explores and foregrounds a basic question about Joan that other depictions of her don't, at least not as much.  How exactly, on a basic day to day level if you will, did an illiterate, peasant teenage girl wind up leading the armies of France, let alone successfully?  If you tell this story in a "realistic" manner, its strangeness becomes even more pronounced.  Rivette's film is six hours long so he has the time to give layer after layer of detail, and he brings Joan to life in what you might call a down to earth way.  The approach is not to portray a "legend", but a fully dimensional flesh and blood person who accomplished exceptional things. That's an approach to historical depiction that I prefer and find most illuminating, and I'd love to see a film or series about Bass Reeves that does it this way.  

Joan of Arc and Bass Reeves. On the surface, they have nothing in common.  They are entirely different personalities.  But when I read about Reeves, the "facts" of his life -- born a slave, man who escaped his slaveowner and lived for years among the Cherokee, Creeks, and Seminoles, who then worked for over three decades in the "Indian Territories" as a deputy US Marshall, who was actually appointed to that post by James Fagan, a former Confederate General who President Ulysses S. Grant made US Marshall in 1875 -- I find myself eager to know in as unglamorous and anti-heroic a way as possible what this person's life was like.  The story needs no embellishment because it's unusual as is.  How did an illiterate peasant girl wind up leading the armies of France? Good question.  And what kind of people skills and personality did Bass Reeves have that he could thrive and have the respect of his peers (white as well as black) in such a way back in the post Civil War US?  Did he laugh frequently?  What kind of temper did he have? How did he deal with insults?  Racial insults.  Depending on the type of white person he was dealing with, how did he conduct himself?  Did he disarm sometimes through the use of jokes or was he a stern and forbidding lawman?  Did he, as we now call it, code switch when he got away from white people and was hanging out with black friends or acquaintances?  What was he like when dealing with Native Americans, which he must have, often.

I don't want to know about Bass Reeves the legend or hero but about Bass Reeves the human doing his job and living his life.  In a series or film or any sort of depiction, that would be fascinating enough for me.

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Of Course It's Palm Beach County

Palm Beach County, Florida is back in the news —and not for its beautiful beaches or its business or even its baseball spring training camps. No, it’s in the news because it’s crazy. Again.
A county commission meeting on Tuesday went viral after a series of speakers protested the commission’s decision to make face masks mandatory. Some were calm and reasoned. Some were the opposite. Name-checked by the second group at various points were: God, the devil, 5G technology, Bill Gates, the Constitution, psych wards, pedophiles, and high school drama queens. (I was hope someone would give a shout-out to alligators. No such luck.)
I used to work and live in Palm Beach County. My first job after college was reporting for the newspaper in Boca Raton. Yes, that Boca. It’s the southernmost city in Palm Beach County, on the state’s Atlantic Coast about an hour north of Miami. The county stretches from the ocean beaches east to the edge of the Everglades and the shore of Lake Okeechobee. It has rural poverty and one of the richest and most exclusive enclaves in the world.
And man, was it a great place for news. The crime was weird and the politics were weirder. It just seems to be a nexus for the bizarre.

I covered a contract killing attempt with a high-powered rifle at a busy intersection; accusations of matzo price gouging; and the theft of one of the Aston Martin DB5 sports cars used in the James Bond movie Goldfinger (the guns did come up out of the fenders but weren’t operational).
I sat in a city council meeting and listened to the mayor tell a property developer that she was sick of pink buildings (“Boca pink” is very much a thing), and she’d be much more inclined to vote for his proposal if he agreed to paint it a different color. The developer, not stupid, immediately agreed. I listened to heated meetings about airport expansion, crosswalk placement, and traffic problems caused by Snowbirds, the New Yorkers who spend their winters in Florida.
I covered an encephalitis scare out on the fringes of the Everglades where people couldn’t avoid the mosquitoes because they lived in mobile homes with no air conditioning and wide open windows. I met a tuxedoed Roger Moore while writing a story on an international film festival held at a (pink) luxury resort. 
And I covered the race for county sheriff and various events throughout the county, including one in Palm Beach. That Palm Beach. The Town of Palm Beach sits across the Intracoastal Waterway from the city of West Palm Beach. It’s a strip of land bordered by the Waterway on one side and the Atlantic on the other. It’s no more than three-quarters of a mile at its widest point. This is pertinent, trust me. At this candidate forum, a man in a cravat (I am not making this up) asked the candidates at a sheriff’s campaign forum if the town could issue IDs to domestic workers so it could let only them over the bridge and into town, instead of having to allow everybody in. (The candidates, stuttering in dismay, explained that no, that wasn’t possible—seeing as all the roadways in the Town of Palm Beach are public and open to everyone.)
I left there in the late 1990s, before the weird that had just been local burst onto the national stage. Perhaps you remember hanging chads? Those were the pesky messed-up ballots in what became the critical county in the critical state during the 2000 presidential election. No one I’ve ever spoken with who lived or worked there was surprised that such absurdity came out of Palm Beach County.
As for this anti-mask blowup, I’m sadly sure this is happening all over the country. Palm Beach County certainly isn’t the only place where some residents don’t believe in science. But it was the one that went viral. Because no place has that touch of crazy fairy dust like Palm Beach County does.
Further weird resources, highly recommended:
The @FloridaMan_ Twitter account, with as always the request that readers check out the source material for accuracy.

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Three Cheers for an Indie: James D. F. Hannah Wins the Shamus

Scott D. Parker

I read Jeff Pierce’s wonderful blog, The Rap Sheet, everyday. Y’all read that, don’t you? I mean, he’s nothing less that one of the most comprehensive sources of the goings on in the crime fiction world. His site should definitely be on your daily reading list.

On Thursday, he posted the winners of the 2020 Shamus Awards. They are sponsored by the Private Eye Writers of America, a group started by prolific author Robert J. Randisi way back in 1981.

I always enjoy awards season when finalists and winners are announced because it gives me new books to add to the never-ending TBR pile. On Jeff’s post, he also lists the publishers of the books.

In the Best Original Private Eye Paperback category, the winning book is BEHIND THE WALL OF SLEEP, by James D.F. Hannah. I know the author and now he gets to put Shamus Award winning author behind his name. This is a great win for Hannah, but what I zeroed in on was the listed publisher: Self-published.

Yes, an indie writer won a major award!

I sent a text to Hannah and asked the question: to the best of your knowledge, are you first indie writer to win a major award? The answer was a resounding yes.

I ended up peppering him last night with a few more questions.

He has a day job. He works in government, public relations department. BEHIND THE WALL OF SLEEP is the fifth novel in his Henry Malone series. He has a spiffy cover and I asked him if he hired a designer. Actually, with his design background in the newspaper business, he created the cover himself. He quickly said it wasn’t something he’d recommend for most folks.

James D. F. Hannah is a pen name. His real name is pretty much out in the world. About the pen name, he wrote this: “The pen name came around because I’ve always jokingly said that I never wanted to see my name attached to a one-star review on Amazon.” If you glance at his Amazon author page, you’ll see he’s in no danger of any one-star review. But, he continued, his pen name contains his children’s names. As a dad, I love this.

Finally, I asked the big question: why indie?

His answer:

I wasn’t sure I could find a publisher interested in publishing what’s hoped were these funny redneck PI novels. Also, I wanted to be able to tell the stories the way I wanted to do it. Now do I necessarily think it was the best way to go? Probably not. But I’ve gotten to write these books and stay true to my own voice. That’s not to say I wouldn’t go with a publisher and adapt because I would. End of day, it’s always about getting to tell the story, and hoping others will like them.

While he is in the process of redoing his website, he is quite active on Twitter (@JamesDFHannah).

Congratulations to James for the award! Keep that indie banner flying.

Friday, June 26, 2020

Another look at the nook

It's time for some Marietta Miles this week from Beau.

“Every page has a lovely line, something to savor, even as the story uneasily slips under your skin. There’s beauty in the violence in this novella about loneliness and the lengths people go to free themselves from its grasp. You read May and imagine Marietta Miles sitting at the edge of the abyss, peering into it and scribbling into her notebook.” —E.A. Aymar, author of You’re As Good As Dead

“Marietta Miles is a unique voice in modern noir, a writer of such dark scenes that only the power of her words can provide the light that releases the reader into a world where hope remains. Showcasing a Southern sensibility that reminds at times of Flannery O’Connor, Miles continually reveals further breadth (and depths) to her characters. A book of dark charms, May adds to the staggeringly beautiful intoxication delivered by last year’s Route 12.” —Rob Pierce, author of Uncle Dust and With The Right Enemies

“May will haunt you long after you close the cover. Its every page is fraught with peril. Its every word oozes with tragedy You know it’s coming, but you won’t dare look away, lest you miss one of the freshest, most scintillating voices in Southern crime fiction.” —Eryk Pruitt, author of Dirtbags and What We Reckon

“May is gripping and yet poignant. May Cosby and the people around her struggle against the present and the past, trying to piece together a life that’s worth living. Set along the fragile Folly Island of North Carolina as a frightening storm approaches, May looks back upon her choices and does her best to come to terms with them. Extremely atmospheric and at times heart-wrenching, May is a story of choosing to leave the wreckage of the past and search for hope in the future.” —Jen Conley, author of Cannibals

“Marietta Miles’s May is an unfiltered, provocative deep-dive into the bleak life of an extraordinarily complex woman. Utterly engrossing and relentlessly heartbreaking, Miles’s sharp, powerful storytelling will have you rooting for May fiercely right up until the very end.” —Jennifer Hillier, author of Creep, Freak, and Wonderland

Thursday, June 25, 2020

The Bleak, Inspiring Noir of Pablo D’Stair

"A Public Ransom" (2014), directed by Pablo D'Stair

By Matt Phillips

My ‘search’ has always been for books/music/art/moments that have a deep impact on my own soul. As a writer, these ‘deep impacts’ fuel my own work and—I hope—lead to similar impacts on others. When I find work that inspires me I have a great urge to share it with others. I read Pablo D’Stair’s Man Standing Behind in one sitting during the summer of last year. I find it hard to describe why I immediately loved the book: It could be the sparse prose, the in-the-moment feeling of the narrative, the cruel twists on implications of deviance…Or some combination of all that. Toss in my own doubts about whether the novella has a place in modern noir (of course it does!). Yes, I thought as I finished the book, this is a work of art—and in my own genre. As I began to read D’Stair’s Trevor English books, I wondered more and more about the writer himself. Call it a desire for a comrade-in-art. Or maybe a fascination with a noir enigma. Either way, I thought an interview with D’Stair might call attention to his work. And I hope—deeply hope—that through this interview some others, too, can connect with his work in the way that I have. For those who may not know: I share an editor with D’Stair (Chris Rhatigan), and we also share the same publisher (All Due Respect Books). This fact in no way—I pray—should diminish my sincere opinion that D’Stair stands on his own pedestal as a writer of modern noir. As D’Stair himself says, “This is worm’s-eye-view noir,” and it works both within the broader noir tradition and outside of that…Somewhere far out in the badlands of the great expanding human territory we call ART. This is a long, rambling interview of the sort I find both enthralling and of value to the study of noir (both today and tomorrow).

You can find Pablo D’Stair’s books here. All Due Respect Books will publish the fourth Trevor English book on July 10: The Akerman Motel/Apartments per week. The first three books are already available.

My first introduction to your work was last year’s Man Standing Behind. To me, the book is a study in narrative patience, but the prose contains an urgency that evokes in the reader a kind of paranoia to race through the story. I’m curious how long the book took you to write. What is your general writing process for a novella? How do you create such an organic feel for the plot?

Man Standing Behind has become such a peculiarly storied novella of mine, really — sometimes I don’t know what to make of the various (and varied!) response and interest in it (despite, of course, just being chuffed and full of myself).

As to your question, I suppose it is most important to note it was the final of four thematically connected novella I wrote in short order for a project cumulatively titled “they say the owl was a baker’s daughter”: four existential noir. None of the novella share characters or anything like that, but rather are permutations of the same set of elements, filtered through and teasing out variations of certain moralistic and (obviously) existential conundrum until an overall “idea” has been come at from all sides. All four were written “as a whole” and with the collected set in mind (these were, in order Kaspar Traulhaine, approximate; i poisoned you; twelve ELEVEN thirteen; and Man Standing Behind).

While all of the books were very to the point, internal point-of -narrative -view, and “state proposition and explore” in their setup, by the time it gets round to Man Standing we have the most stripped down, succinct, and “theoretical” of the victim/victimizer scenarios. Meat and potatoes, a book like the pistol Jesse James would use, you know?

In a lot of ways, it was the easiest because of this — the rules of engagement (incident and exploration) are immediate, absolute, and irrevocable and very little by way of setup needs be gotten into. This is a bit of trick, of course, when in conjunction with the other novella — in those it might “take awhile to get the idea who is cat and who is mouse” or however one wants to say it (“who We (reader) are to more directly identify with as Us and who as The Other”) — but in Man Standing, due to the scenario and the voice, it seems rather clear-cut from the jump who is Good (Us) and Bad (Other). As the book proceeds though, in (I hope) myriad bracing and disquieting ways, our gut association becomes quite damning and the very notion of who we respect and why goes topsy-turvy.

In (I hope) myriad bracing and disquieting ways, our gut association becomes quite damning and the very notion of who we respect and why goes topsy-turvy.

As to how long — well, not very long. None of the four novellas (nor much of my noir work) really ever took more than 2–4 weeks to be finished. I think Man Standing was a clean two weeks from conception to finalized book. I doubt it would have been written (any of the novella, actually) if things had come up in life to not allow for this compressed composition (I already had work and a newborn to be tending to — hahaha — so my writing at that time needed to find its way between any available crack even more than usual — I was also penning Trevor English and some other projects all in the same few month period).

But Man Standing — any noir — needs to have a real immediacy to me. I can’t “step away and come back.” No. The voice would be kaput and the voice is everything. Too much thinking in advance kills it — it has to be written like it hasn’t already happened or it doesn’t get the cadence it requires, something would go wonky. Especially something so on the skin, in the head, something so cutthroat and blunt.

Like anything I write (be it noir, literary, satire, etc) I write entirely linearly — first word to last word, no jumping about, no real prep or outline to speak of beyond, “I have this idea, here’s the voice, it’s gonna X Y and Z … GO!” (worst comes of worse? I lose the thread and, well, that’s what having other ideas is for, right? hahaha) I have a notion and know how to feel it out (like music) and was a smoker at the time so would use cigarette breaks to do the planning, intricacy, make sure I knew where I was at in the piece at any given time and so knew what and when to have happen next.
Man Standing (as with the other three in the set) are such linear, “real time” stories it was kinda a cinch. And it has such an imperative track that it was blissful to not even have to be tempted to deviate — coming only through the aperture of the one character, it was more like cataloguing what happened and how it influenced his next thought rather than lacing in too much to give a “bigger picture” to the events. There is no bigger picture. This is worm’s -eye-view noir. This is the depiction of the trauma with none of the processing (that is for the reader to sort through, if they please, later).

This notion of immediacy is interesting to me — I’m reminded of reading narrative theory from Seymour Chatman. He implies that narration resides on a spectrum…The reader/audience at one end, the ‘author’ at the other and, somewhere between on the spectrum, the ‘narrator/narration.’ That is to say that a ‘narrator’ can invoke various degrees of closeness to either author/reader. But is altogether separate (and apart even from first, third — person, etc.). How close do you — as a writer — feel to your readers? How close are you to your characters? In what ways does this closeness (or not) influence the impact of an artwork (okay, literature piece) on broader society?

I have to come at this question in an odd assortment of ways, so must beg an indulgence (we’ll see if I eventually land on an answer to the actual question — I suppose I’m notorious for not! Hahaha):

To me, it’s always been a heartache that literature is not believed to have (or even *allowed* to have, in the minds of many readers) a Live aspect to it. Quite the opposite! Music, theater, even painting, sculpture are allowed to have a Live aspect (for simplicity we’ll stick with music — there is the Live and the Studio version of a particular song) — while other things which are certainly Art cannot have such a trait (for the easiest example, let’s pick Architecture — one sees it is Art, yes, but would not much want some structure just “built on the fly” even a little bit — “measure twice, cut once” as it were, quite literally!).

Writing/Literature, it always felt to me (in the eyes of audience) got lumped in with Architecture. “The author should draft and then redraft and then smooth down and then model and then dismantle and rework and then reconsider and then blueprint and have someone read it and think about what they said” and on and on — the belief being that, like how a building would be made more aesthetic AND structurally sound/safe/ purpose — serving, a story (or novel or what have you) would somehow get *better/more to its aim* the more it was schematized, poured over, reverse engineered etc.

What does this lead to?

Well! The surface parts of the building can be allowed a virtuosity — the façade can be an artwork (much like on a concert hall there can be details to the walls or what have you, the immediately visual portions) but those are *little to do with* what the architect actually *did.* Those respects are, however, what the “audience” (the public) will *judge* the structure on. Hell, a squat little apartment block could have a virtuosic plumbing system — oh, a journeyman could have redefined the game as it came to how they rigged electrical conduits or whatever (I obviously know nothing about architecture, I beg pardon) but no one is gonna look at a generic block of flats and say “What a triumph!”

Where am I going with this? Somewhere, I promise.

Now — with music what is interesting is the Live/Studio break allows for two easy camps and ways of showing appreciation. Namely “I prefer the studio version” and “There is nothing like seeing it Live!” And, of course, one can have BOTH opinions, at the same time, and no one thinks odd of it.
Does the band/performer “hit every note right” “get every lyric” “perform a seamless thing” down in the pub? In no sense! But they do something the album can never do. And the band members, well, without fail (almost) would rather play live on stage than just play their album over the PA! And to most fans of a given band/performer a bootleg tape of a different version of a song or a certain live show or something is the grand prize as far as “what the band can really do!”

A writer/author is the live band.

Writing the book isn’t the same as tinkering with the song to get it ready to play, it is being on the concert stage, in the pub, right there in the immediate moment. The honest, rough hewn, cannot be redone or replicated verve of the performer-in-person isn’t just in “the first draft” (or whatever) of the novel, to be discarded as rehearsal artifact — it has to exist in the final, bound version. And that does not mean “make the final sound like a live performance by tinkering for days in studio” it means, more or less … well … record the fucking live version and use the studio to shape just a tad — but the final all has to be of a single take.
A writer/author is the live band.
How to do this? Well, it differs artist-to-artist, of course. But to me, the shortest way to immediacy for both audience and artist is to play by the same rules — no matter the “voice” of the book, the rendition of the voice has to be vulnerable, conversational.

So: I write linearly. That is my principia number one. Every novel, story, anything I have ever written (even if some forethought or note jots at an overall structure are scribbled someplace) has always been written “from the first word to the last.” Once something is down, it stays down. It is the actual and cannot be altered. It can be copyedited, typos can be touched up, little things like that — to a reasonable and very specifically pre-decided degree, individual to each work — but for the most part the order of events, sentences, ideas, cannot be changed. And to make it all the more vital — to get close to the Author as Live Performer — each sequence, sentence, paragraph, what have you, needs to go down “in real time” — as though the written word is the voice of a raconteur — “rules of writing” are mingled with “manners of speech” — ways something could be “said” that fly in the face of the “way things would need to be written to express the full of what was said” start bleeding into each other, forming a voice not exactly *spoken* but certainly not *written.*

A book will never be better or more vital than the feeling of first having the idea and haphazardly explaining it to a mate — but that is the feeling the book should have. “I want this forty thousand page novel to sound and feel exactly like the three hundred words idea I spit out to my pal — that sensation to exist in every aspect of every page.”

So, one has to get and stay in that head. You need to feel the eyes of the audience leaning over your shoulder, watching you type (like that Monty Python sketch about Thomas Hardy writing Return of the Native). There needs to be in one’s mind while one writes a sensation of immediate reaction, judgment, just like one speaking to a room, flirting with a potential lover, has that high wire suspense — the room/individual listener is felt out, the style tweaked to fit the atmosphere, the mood, the eyes of the listener.

I always say “Every reaction that can be had to a piece of art will be had — and infinite times over” so there is little sense in “tidying up for one person in particular. You don’t want to alter yourself to fit the desire of the person you’re flirting with, you want the person you’re flirting with to be brought over to exactly how you flirt, so to speak.
Every reaction that can be had to a piece of art will be had — and infinite times over so there is little sense in tidying up for one person in particular.
An author cannot be bothered with thinking to defend against specific judgment the way an architect *absolutely has to* think about a fucking building not collapsing. No — instead the author has to risk like the live band inserting a tone of voice, a new lyric, an improvisation, a hip swivel, live on stage, in person, there and then, risk of belly flopping in front of people who already adore them, losing all that was built.

To keep a piece of writing immediate for author and audience, the author needs to write like they are improvising but not be — and at the same time be improvising in a way that comes across as though they aren’t.

(take even this correspondence interview: I answer in real time: read the question, spit out response, go once through to clean up some punctuation — as close to “we’re sitting here talking” as possible. As I read through the one time I allow myself to, sure I see things I could add “if I were writing an essay” other points to make, things I maybe feel I slightly muddied or even mis-expressed — but I don’t change them — because them being there is magic of an answer — what makes them an answer is they never will be — don’t change what you said just say something new later)

To challenge you in some way: I’m thinking now of this letter to Norman Court. Trevor English is presented with an ‘opportunity,’ we might say. BUT, his larger grift evolves through a series of decisions. How to leverage the letter? What to do with the letter? What to do with the letter (and its copies) once you’ve done what you’ve done with it? Point is, the story largely evolves as a series of key decisions. I contrast this with, say, a traditional craft approach: Inciting incident — this happens — that happens — another thing happens and so on. Instead, we experience the decisions about what will happen as not only plot points, but also as climaxes in and of themselves. If, as you say, “A writer/author is the live band,” how do/did you (Pablo) experience the decisions of Trevor English to hurt/harm/con other characters? I’m reminded now of one of my favorite stories from Borges, “Borges and I.” He writes, “Little by little, I am giving over everything to him, though I am quite aware of his perverse custom of falsifying and magnifying things.” What does the writer’s experience mean? What can it mean? Does his/her experience matter in the context of the ‘reader’s’ experience?

Before tucking into the meat of your question/s, I feel I must (rather amusedly) point out how a little … how to say? Pet peeve? Observation? Pebble in my shoe? — of mine has been in how I’ve noticed that while ‘auteur’ of course *means* ‘author’ there has become (in my share of experience) a rather cultish (or at least zealous and obstinate) insistence in ‘circles literary’ that an author be anything *but* an ‘auteur!’

More and more I’ve felt an encroaching insistence (and the requisite, accompanying dread) that the composing of a novel is, of necessity, to be a joint/group effort. The “author” exists as a capacity, an entity serving one function (to keep with our motif let’s say the “author is the front man”) but is, when the situation is examined in wide angle, little more than the “idea man” or the “spark” of some onerous collaboration between at — least — multiple if not dozens of parties. So much so that an author saying “No, I merely wrote what I wanted, the way I wanted” is seen as a simp, at best, a preening pariah at worst! Hahaha…

And while, maybe a decade past, this was a view which seemed to come not directly from authors, but from readers, from commentators, from “the industry” or what have you, I have (with quickening apprehension) seen it become a principia espoused directly from authors, themselves, in conversation with each other more often than not. “Your novel isn’t finished until it has been ‘beta read’ and you see how people react and then how they re — react to what you’ve tempered and rejiggered based on learned (I would say ramshackle and piecemeal, no matter how much respect one might have for the people giving comment/suggestion) response.”

It’s as though nowadays authors’ teeth chatter and fop sweat forms at the idea of putting their actual voice out there, their actual ideas — individual authors hulk restrictions on themselves to not fully express but rather to “become talented at executing what other people might like to read” (or, to voice this a bit nearer to how I personally feel, better to say “what other people would write if they were the writers they wished they were”).
It’s as though nowadays authors’ teeth chatter and fop sweat forms at the idea of putting their actual voice out there, their actual ideas…
But … anyway … hahaha — perhaps that is neither here nor there, in the long run. To each their own and money makes the mare to go and words to those effects and all …

As to your question about Trevor — how I went about achieving the feeling I wanted, how I experienced his decisions: first of all, I agree with you that this is the precise kink of the novella/s and, in many ways, the central tenet to the majority of my work ‘genre’ or ‘literary’ — not to come up with a series of events and to manipulate them to be as titillating as possible or (worse still) to arrange the events themselves as ‘thematically meaningful’ based on arrangement or sequence, but instead to trace the genesis of an idea, from sensation to execution, similar to Knut Hamsun’s desire to ‘track the strange whisperings of the blood.’ Because, really: I feel more suspense and intrigue can be built up by wondering, so to speak, if one could, themselves, stop a runaway train — of — thought rather than halt the runaway train. Because it is in the minutia and the particulars of the moments-within-a-moments, the thoughtscapes where the passion of our actual existence dwells, that one can fuse with a character, understand and (however perversely) root for or at least go along with them — not because one agrees or disagrees, not because the character ‘represents some ideology’ or anything like that, but through the pure inertia of knowing what it feels like to think, knowing the sensations of urgency of a thought which has taken rein, straining toward fruition.

Then? It doesn’t matter the stakes — low stakes become high, the struggle becomes so precise as to transmute into abstract and, from there, to being understood by all comers.

In specific, though: Trevor was originated to be “made up as I went along.” The first novella was conceived to be a freewheeling serial — I zapped down the opening sequence, top of my head, and sent it to the author Nigel Bird, asking if he would post it on his site — attached to it was an invitation: if folks like what they read, they could offer me a spot on their site and I’d send them the next bit. Thing was: I absolutely would only write another bit if requested and would not “pre-think’ the tale in any truly specific manner. After all, I was, meantime, working on several other projects!

As it turned out, the “twenty — two sections” I had arbitrarily claimed the full story would be comprised of had to be written rather quickly, seeing as more than twenty — two offers to host poured in, straight away. It became drastically important to me with Trevor that I not write a novel/novella, exactly, but rather that I compose a series of ‘songs’ as though the tracks on an album — treating each, while part of a whole, not as a ‘build to next cliffhanger’ but to, as much as possible, eschew ‘cliffhangeriness’ altogether. Each ‘exploration’ though in the midst of a sequence needed to be taken as standalone and worthy of being, in a way, as much a beginning as the first installment (and it dawned on me I had decided there would be five novellas which would need be self-contained though absolutely component to a single Novel, in large). If it struck me an entire section would be Trevor on a train getting shyly drunk, I would have to make that ‘song’ be perfect and gripping as that, as though ‘What if the thing started here — wouldn’t that be great if this was the first we met Trevor?” (much like with an album, each song should have the feeling ‘it would be amazing if this was the first one someone heard on the radio even though I’d never start the album with it!”). The gig was to forever explore Trevor in that context, trusting the ‘sequence of songs’ would give the overall effect I was after rather than ‘crafting everything for plot effect’ (aka ‘this would all fall apart if read/listened to out of order’). And, of course, I wanted to keep the momentum I desired of having, somehow, what goes on in the scant 1200 words allowed of each section inform an unraveling narrative.

My other driving principle, especially in noir, was then added to the mix — that being ‘always try to write one’s self into a corner’ — the ‘next idea should rightly end the story and leave nowhere precisely to go’ — and, imperative to say, no unintelligent decision or sudden, hitherto unknown aspect can just be tossed in to ‘get things churning again’. So that’s what I started with: a ‘plot’ hellbent on, much like life, piddling out every 1000 words! What to do? All that’s left to truly explore the character and, moreso, the very mechanism of what makes anyone do anything.

The special trick with Trevor, then, was to (as with all characters, in a way) write him as Pablo. Top-to-toe, though dressed specific to story, what drove him had to be what drove me — even if he takes a path I would stay myself from, it is a path I know I would consider and, thus considered, the exploration is genuine. That takes some strutting and it takes some humility and it takes an honesty — ‘I’m interesting’ ‘I’m witty’ ‘I’m put upon’ is the easy part … ‘I’m amoral’, ‘I’m out of my element often’ ‘I solicit and therefore deserve my misfortunes’ is the sterner barrel to look down.

Trevor was an artiste written as a petty thief and I am a petty thief pawned off as an artiste — this is undeniable, no matter that those who know me well would brush off the stickier parts of me as folly and exaggerate the more tidy bits as who — I — really — am.

Trevor was an artiste written as a petty thief and I am a petty thief pawned off as an artiste — this is undeniable…

And this maybe is the best place to fuse to your second set of questions — that is: what does the writer’s experience mean, can it mean anything, does it affect in any tangible way the ‘reader’s’ experience…

My gut answer is to say flatly ‘No — it means nothing, it affect the reader in no way.’

But by this, I mean it affects in-no-precise-way the ethereal notion of “the reader” (ALL READERS) because it disavows them as necessary. A novel should be written as exploration, like a map jotted by a cartographer as they go along, and should be true only to the traveled experience of the one jotting, no matter if someone can come along and point out how the topography is incorrect or incongruous or what have you (the map of the moment will never match the map corrected by research and retread).

I have a thing I keep in mind always: “every reaction which can be had to a work will be had” and add into the bargain that “if infinite experiencers of the work are imagined, it means, in the end, every reaction which can be had will be had, infinite times over” — so who could give a toss what one or the other might be?

But: moving past my gut, I think the author’s experience of the writing has pronounced affect on the reader because if “done right” what a reader should be reading is the Experience — the breathing, writhing, ups — and — downs of the very physicality of contriving and rendering a self — informed exploration.

‘Do they like the plot?’ I’d hope so, but that’s just a personal quirk. If I had choice between them remembering the way some reaction felt, precisely (even if it was boredom or derision, so long as it is *precise* boredom or derision!) to recall the pace of their pulse, the weight of their clothing, the exactness of the moment and sensation of reading something or, instead, to have them always recall the story or details of some intrigue contained in it, well I’d choose the former, always.
‘Ideally, doesn’t one want the two mixed?’ I sometimes find myself questioning. And I tend to think “Naw — ideally one just doesn’t want to give a fuck and only is writing something to get on with writing something else, so who cares!?’

Hahaha — but with less cheek, maybe I can answer the following way: there is a special synthesis which should go on in performing the act of a novel much like performing the song on stage — and it should always be informed by the notion and experience of one’s self as audience. I listen to Dylan, I know I don’t hear Dylan how Dylan hears Dylan, I hear Dylan how I hear Dylan — my experience will be richly nuanced, poured over, informed by a history and by trivia and what have you and, in effect, the more I feel a song, the more it seems to touch on my life, get in my blood, the more absolutely certain I can be I am far far far from the experiences that birthed the piece — I become closer to the song by departing from its origin and I depart from its origin by, in a way, attempting to get nearer.

…I become closer to the song by departing from its origin and I depart from its origin by, in a way, attempting to get nearer.

There is a vast mystery and, to me, a certain romantic sadness in this, so far as artist to audience (even audience — of — artists to audience — of — artists) as thus: while I am composing a piece, the more voluptuous I am with myself in rendering whatever my impulses reveal of me, conscious and unconscious, the more pure an experience I express, the more apart from me, specifically, the reaction will be from an audience, and the more heartfelt and personalized that reaction, the more distant still.

If I have elicited a notable reaction in someone, they have, in essence, experienced the soul of what I experienced while writing that which they reacted to — yet they possess absolutely no way of accessing where I was coming from. And this is good, I think. An author should want to create distance by doing everything they can to obtain intimacy.

Humorously enough, this is what I have always felt was the treacherous ground of the interview (I’ve done a bit of it myself) — it might be a dangerous thing for an author to understand the motivations of audience, audience to glean the engine of author. Anecdotes, ideas, methods; reactions, queries, explorations. We can annihilate ourselves with our trivia.

I just finished Helen Topaz, Henry Dollar and, in looking back at your books, I’m beginning to spin more and more on victimhood, victimization, et al. Without giving anything away to potential readers, I have noticed a toying with these roles in your work. One begins to wonder who the real victim is in each story. What at first seems clear becomes more and more muddled, as if the very notions of cruelty (in both the victim’s and victimizer’s senses of the word) are a collective mirage somehow…Let’s not “annihilate ourselves” here, but can you talk about your ideas of victimization/being victimized? How do these ideas/words/concepts fit into your notion of noir? Can being a ‘victim’ be empowering?

You use language very close to how I think of things, actually. Victim/Victimizer is never *precisely* how I go about terming, but the labels serve well enough (or as well as any) and so I will express some thoughts through that lens.

I look at the collective encounter of the characters-at-tension-with-each-other as something of an Electron Cloud Model. There is a fog. A vital haze. These characters are two (or how many ever) charged particles we know are moving in intricate, energy generating, gravity maintaining ways not around each other but in a kind of concert around some defining nucleus. So: there is an absolute artificiality to our eyes (the observers) ever holding one character in isolation, pausing it for a moment, being able to regard it individuated rather than as part of the diffuse resonance and weight of the cloud and whatever is at its core. As with the Uncertainty Principle, when we as readers consider (for whatever reason, be it ‘where we are in the story up to a certain point’ or else through the aperture of our own life experiences, predilections, fantasies, prejudices) a character and seek to give the character identity (this is like saying an electron is There as opposed to There or There) or to even label specific characteristics of the character, as individual, it is only natural to, when we take another sample of that character anywhere else in a novel’s trajectory, to come away with an altogether other impression.

BUT! It is very important to me not to confuse this with saying the character “changes” over “the course” of a story. Nobody changes. Linearity is false and, sadly, novels do a disservice of giving the impression that things actually happen this-to-this-to-this is a one-way causal linking.

No — we don’t change. Which is not to say “we are one thing and stay one thing” but instead is to vigorously reinforce the Heraclitus-ian notion of Flux. It is a mistake to take one impression and linearly compare it to another (“the character “starts as” and “ends as” after “going through” etc etc) Why a mistake? Because we have no idea if it a pressure Toward or Away, a desire Forward or Back, which is possessing the actions of the character. The one thing life teaches anybody who pays attention is that what’s going on today has next to nothing to do with today! Today is an agitator — it may very well be that events (or impressions of events) long past are the current which informs what we do now or next; and it just as well might be the (perhaps phantasmal) concoctions of hoped for futures, desired events which to our psyche are equally as real as memories (which are never accurate) which drive us. Flux is all of the oscillations of a single moment, in a single moment, nothing ever leaving the moment just cataloguing the moment’s contents — so the very notion of change is mooted.
In noir pieces, especially, I like to use this kind of “freewheeling philosophical bunk science” of mine, as outlined above, to allow the truest portrayal of “encounter” I can.
In noir pieces, especially, I like to use this kind of “freewheeling philosophical bunk science” of mine, as outlined above, to allow the truest portrayal of “encounter” I can. Of course of course of course there are many many many things which inform each work I write — but at the core is: to never “define exactly a character” but to full sails plumb and delve and excavate “how many ways I can precisely define a character” with no written-about-moment of them seeming foggy or imprecise even while the overall work when reflected on generates exactly that: fog, imprecision.

In less ethereal ways of saying it: sure, we are all Victim and Victimizer. But it’s not just a duality I am interested in, because that can become just as much stacked-deck poppycock as saying one character is Good and another Bad “for reasons.”

With Trevor, the secret is this: I side with him. I side with him because I like him (and I am him) and for zero other reason. I empathize with everyone else I write, with their nuance, their ideas, their fumblings, their tricks and traps and desires — Hell, man, I even think the worst of them are Better and More Right than Trevor … but I side with Trevor. I infatuate with him. I spoil him with my attentions as author and it is impossible this does not unconsciously make its way into the prose and enforce the effect I want the reader to explore.

No person is defined by what happens to them. This is the other thing. No one is. We are affected. Sometime irrevocably. Sometimes without knowing. But it is never external event which defines a person. And so this is where a true danger comes from (at least in so far as Trevor being fucked). Assuming the mantle of Victim, it means one is allowing that a third — party event has the driving wheel, has defined them. People do that. And when they do, they become volatile. Dangerous. Because their fluxion is starting to solidify — or, at least, they are starting to actively believe it can, to fight for the wheel to stop. Pressure is starting to build. An inchoate instability creeping through to the entire molecule’s construct. The cloud starts thinking it isn’t a cloud but a bunch of particles which can be stopped and observed and known individually — and, well, that just is not so! And Victimizer? No one (at least in my writing or experience) ever defines themselves as such — not at all! It is either victim or third — party who assign this — the very notion of Victimizer a further disintegration of the stability of a world (the victim needs it to prove their individual, self — contained existence against another fixed point).

The tension in the Trevor books (and in many of my books) if I had to give an over simplistic way of naming how I write noir, is in our trepidation, as observers, that EVERYTHING is going to fall apart — and often because of NOTHING.

While it’s noir and so I play fast and loose with relative Right and Wrongs, a reader, I think, can inherently feel the initial Stability of the world of a given novel which is unhinged (in Trevor’s world especially) when “someone starts looking too hard” “thinking too precisely” insisting on assigning a non — fluxing morality to the obviously self — constructed haze which is human experience.
The people Trevor encounters, in one way or another, all do this. Trevor? He never does. He’s incapable of anything but bliss, flux, being. And in that, his pre-assumed “villainy,” the more time it is reflected on in relief of any other character (let alone in the situations he causes or stumbles into) the more it becomes, for readers, only naturally to shift our focus to the Other, to the Not Trevor and to see them (perhaps perversely) as agitators, aberrant. Because Trevor doesn’t change, everyone else (to us reading) have no choice but to do all the changing — and we have no purpose in reading but to start seeing them in all the multifold ways they exist and to… well…blame them. Blame them for not understanding the complexity of their own nature. We hate them for wanting to be them — singular rather than the them — plural they are.

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All Due Respect Books will publish the fourth Trevor English book on July 10: The Akerman Motel/Apartments per week.

The first three books are already available.