Wednesday, July 19, 2023

LOWDOWN ROAD With Scott Von Doviak

 Lowdown Road, the 70s set soon to be classic caper, featuring a pair of cousins, a psycho Texas Sheriff, a drug kingpin, a million dollars of weed, a taco truck, and Evel fuckin' Kneivel himself, has been out for a week now, which means a huge number of people now know what I understood in the late winter of this year: that Lowdown Road is the most fun you'll have reading all summer.

Scott Von Doviak, the author of Lowdown Road (and the similarly brilliant Charlesgate Confidential) is a friend. We hung out at Bouchercon last year, where, between panels and drinks, he edited pages of Lowdown while I buzzed around like the worlds most annoying hummingbird, full of questions about what he was working on and what was next and how cool is it to have books out from Hardcase and on and on and on. 

In short, he was cool. One of the coolest people there, actually. Which makes sense, because if I had to pick a word to describe Lowdown Road, other than "fun", it'd be "cool". 

Scott, cool dude that he is, thankfully had some time between stops on his book tour to visit us here at Do Some Damage to talk about Lowdown Road. Read it. You'll see what I mean. But first, make sure you have your copy of Lowdown Road. I promise you, you don't want to miss it. 

PAUL: Low Down Road is easily the most fun novel of the summer. It’s like a 70s B-Movie spread out across paper. But, in subject matter at least, it’s got some distance from your debut, Charlesgate Confidential. Can you tell me about how you chose to tackle these specific subjects and how you approached writing something so different from your debut?

SCOTTCharlesgate Confidential had three alternating timelines and took place over 70 years, and I definitely didn't want to attempt something like that again right away. My next novel took place over three days at a crime writer's convention, but that didn't sell. With Lowdown Road, I was reviving an old idea in a new way. I had started writing a screenplay about a bunch of people heading up to Snake River Canyon for Evel Knievel's famous jump attempt, but that was more in a Dazed and Confused mode. I'd also written a book called Hick Flicks, all about 70s drive-in movies with good ol' boys, muscle cars, redneck sheriffs and all those tropes. I decided to do my own version of a hick flick in book form, using that basic premise from the screenplay. I guess it might have been easier to "brand" myself if I'd stuck with the Boston noir of Charlesgate, but maybe the tradeoff is showing more versatility.

PAUL: I’m glad you did. Like everyone, I loved Charlesgate Confidential, but I might love Lowdown Road even more. One of the reasons for that, of course, is the characters. The main characters, the cousins,  they’re not really good guys, but they’re not bad guys either. How did you balance them, both against each other and against the wider cast?

SCOTT: With all the cast, I took stock characters from those B-movies and tried to make them more human and well-rounded. With the two cousins, Chuck is more of a bad guy than Dean, who's barely a criminal. Chuck has done time for aggravated assault, while Dean is a low-level pot dealer, something that's not even a crime anymore lots of places. But as the road trip progresses, a little bit of Dean rubs off on Chuck and vice versa. Really there are no flat-out good guys in the story, but everyone has their reasons, even the psycho sheriff pursuing the cousins. I probably had the most fun with Antoine, the pot kingpin, who turns out to have some unexpected facets to his character that surprised even me.

PAUL: Antoine is such a great character. There’s a scene with him where I almost stood up and cheered. It rode the line so cleanly between fun and unexpected but also a clear homage to the kinds of 70s movies you referenced earlier. But a lot of those movies have the kind of ending that Lowdown Road steps back from. I’m curious if that was that the hardest part of the book, staying true to the spirit of something the characters have no idea exists, while also staying true to them?

SCOTT: That's an interesting way of thinking about it. I really wanted to use those movies as a starting point and put my own spin on the story. There are other influences, too - from a crime fiction standpoint, there's a little Jim Thompson and Elmore Leonard in there. But also, strangely enough, some Joe Eszterhas. Before he became known for 90s erotic thrillers, he wrote a sort of gonzo journalism account of the Snake River Canyon event for Rolling Stone called "King of the Goons." He painted the event as an Altamont-like shitshow and I took that and ran with it. So the vibe definitely goes dark and nightmarish as the characters find themselves in this almost post-apocalyptic setting. As for the fate of each character, that was something more instinctive. I had a gut feeling who should make it out alive. 

PAUL: Scott, Lowdown Road has been out for a week now, but you know how it is; you read an amazing book and you can’t wait for whatever the writer is going to release next. So, can you tell us anything about what you have in the pipeline? Or, if not, can you tell me about a book you’ve always wanted to write but haven’t found a way to make work yet?

SCOTT: I've been working on and off on a big L.A. crime novel for five years now, and I think I finally see the finish line. Cue the eyerolls from people who think L.A. has been done to death in crime fiction - I get it! But I lived there in the early-mid 90s (which is when the book is set), and I think I have my own take on it. Which doesn't necessarily mean it's the next book that will see the light of day. It's a complicated multi-character story that's almost defeated me a couple of times. I can't seem to help myself from weaving real-life events into my stories, so the Northridge earthquake and the O.J. Simpson chase definitely figure into it.

PAUL: Man, that sounds incredible, and I can’t wait to read it. Okay. One more question, and then I’ll let you go. Because you obviously love taking real life events and tying them into your fiction, what is an event you really dig but haven't figured out how to put into a novel yet?

SCOTT: Every now and then I think about what a sequel to Charlesgate Confidential would involve. In my research of the real Charlesgate Hotel, I found out that Houdini once debunked a seance in the building. I think it would be fun to come up with a mystery involving Houdini and return to that world, but who knows if I'll ever get around to it.

A huge thanks to Scott for hanging out, answering questions, and, of course, putting up with me and my nervous energy at Bouchercon. But, mostly, thanks for delivering us one of the best novels of the year. I'm not kidding, if you've read this far, and you haven't already got yourself a copy? Well. We'll give you one more chance to correct that mistake

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