The Interrogation Room – An Interview With James D.F. Hannah

Next up in the Interrogation Room… Tom Leins catches up with the Shamus Award-winning James D.F. Hannah to discuss his Henry Malone series, which starts with the recently reissued Midnight Lullaby (Down & Out Books).

Firstly, congratulations on the publication of Midnight Lullaby! This is the first in your series of books about State Trooper-turned-PI Henry Malone. How would you pitch the book to potential readers?

Justified but Raylan Givens as a nine-fingered recovering alcoholic and chronic asshole.”

The series was originally self-published, but are now set to be reissued by Down & Out Books – what prompted you to initially go down the self-publishing route?

I wrote Midnight Lullaby around 2015, after the Amazon Kindle boom had begun. I knew publishing was changing, and that a lot of mid-list writers I enjoyed were moving to the e-book realm after getting dropped by their publishers. Midnight Lullaby was always a “small” story, with a difficult lead character, and it was set in southern West Virginia. None of that felt like a recipe most publishers would be interested in, and I didn’t know much about indie publishing, so I decided to chuck it out into the world and see how it went.

I believe that there are five Malone books in total. Without spoilers, how does his character arc unfold?

I say the Malone books are essentially a Pinocchio story, where the goal is for Henry to become a man. When the books start, he’s already fallen off the wagon, he’s lying to his AA sponsor, he’s popping pain pills, he’s still in love with the wife who kicked him out, and he’s lost the job that he thought defined him—he’s a toxic mess. I want to grow and develop the character of Henry Malone, and have him come to terms with the choices he made, and become the person he’d fought against becoming. Of course, that’s not a perfect journey, and there are bumps and challenges along the way.

PI fiction is responsible for some truly iconic characters. Which ones influenced Malone?

Robert B. Parker and Spenser are obvious; all PI fiction exists either pre- or post-Parker, and enough can’t be said about what he brought to the genre, both good and bad. Another is Lawrence Block and Matt Scudder; Block offers real depth and growth to the character of Scudder, and it’s probably the most consistently brilliant series of PI novels ever written. Loren Estleman’s Amos Walker novels are always worth paying attention to for remaining so old-school but never being pastiche. And obviously Sue Grafton for making Kinsey Milhone so wonderfully human and flawed and believable and funny.

How conscious are you of bringing something new to the table and not imitating classic PIs of years gone by?

I know the books carry the collective weight of their influences, but I also want them to have their own voice, and for Henry to be his own person. It’s why the Appalachian background is so important, because the culture is very different there from nearly anywhere else, and it gives a contrast for telling a PI story. Also, Henry isn’t much of a knight errant; he’s not a brawler with the heart of a poet, or he’s less about being charming and more about being an asshole sometimes.

Your book Behind the Wall of Sleep won the 2020 Shamus Award for Best Original Private Eye Paperback. How much of a boost did that give you?

It was an unbelievable surprise and just such a sense of validation for the books and the writing. It was my second nomination, and to be nominated for a self-published book, alongside authors who’d won the award previously, who’d been nominated previously and were traditionally published and who I am a fan of, that was an honor by itself. Finding out I’d gotten the award ruined my day in all the best ways, because it let me think “You know, maybe you’re not bad at this after all.”

Down & Out Books has built up an impressive stable of authors in recent years. Do you have any particular favourites?

I like publishing with Down & Out because they have such a huge list of talent, it keeps my ego in check. I really love Dana King’s Penns River novels; it’s a great procedural series that harkens back to McBain’s 87th Precinct. Beau Johnson’s Bishop Rider stories are a dark ride, and he’s building this entire mythology in bite-sized increments that demand to be read. It’s tough to find new great things to say about Angel Luis Colón and Hell Chose Me, but I’ll just add that all the good things are true, and he is not only an incredible storytelling but a wonderful advocate for writers. I really dig the A Grifter’s Song series that Frank Zafiro edits; he’s brought together a great, diverse group of writers to tell very different and fun con game stories. Plus, Chris McGinley’s Coal Black is an astonishing collection of noir stories, all set in the coal mining country of eastern Kentucky, so they obviously speak to my heart

Do you read mainstream crime fiction, or are your tastes firmly rooted in the independent scene?

Those are tough lines to call, because you have great writers like S.A. Cosby with Blacktop Wasteland or David Heska Wanbli Weiden and Winter Counts, who both bring very indie vibes in their storytelling but via mainstream publishers. They’re dealing with race and social justice and cultural identity in big ways that feel very counter to that otherwise safe, neutered norm for mainstream publishing. I’m all for that, but yeah, my tendency will always be toward indie writers like Christa Faust or Gabino Iglesias, who take huge fucking swings with every book and aren’t afraid to put it all out there.

If you could recommend one crime novel that people are unlikely to have heard of, what would it be?

Within the crime fiction community, Jake Hinkson is a known quantity, but he really should be famous. He’s one of the few writers crafting pure noir, and he often does so while also exploring the toxicity of modern religion. Any of his books are worth the time, but if you can find Hell on Church Street, grab hold of it and don’t let go. Though when you’ll done, you’ll want a shower. It’s just unrelentingly brutal noir, written to be tighter than a drum and with an ending that’s just a kick to the crotch.

If your career trajectory could follow that of any well-known writer, who would you choose, and why?

I really look up to writers like Block, who’s published for more than 60 years and still putting out new work, or Parker and McBain, who were writing to their very end. I got into this game later in life, so I’ve got some catching up to do, but I’m having the time of my life getting to do so.

Finally, what are your future publishing plans?

Right now, I’m working on the sixth Malone novel, tentatively titled Splendid Isolation, and then I’ll spend the summer working on a standalone set in 1970s Kentucky before I plunge into ideas for Malone #7.

Bio: James D.F. Hannah is the Shamus Award-winning author of the Henry Malone series; his most recent novel, Behind the Wall of Sleep, won the 2020 Shamus Award for Best Paperback Original. His short fiction has appeared in Rock and a Hard Place, Crossed Genres, Shotgun Honey, and The Anthology of Appalachian Writers, as well as the upcoming anthologies Trouble No More: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Allman Brothers and Only the Good Die Young: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Songs of Billy Joel.

Website:

https://www.jamesdfhannah.com/

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The Interrogation Room – Coming Through In Waves Special – Andy Rausch

Next up in a series of interviews to celebrate the launch of the new Gutter Books anthology Coming Through In Waves: Crime Fiction Inspired By The Songs of Pink Floyd is Andy Rausch, author of American Trash and Layla’s Score.

Author: Andy Rausch

Story Title: Wish You Were Here

Firstly, what drew you to this anthology?

I love these sorts of anthologies, honestly. I was also in a Wu-Tang Clan-inspired anthology that Clash Books put out a few years back. I love music. All kinds of music. I love Pink Floyd too. I feel that their music has such texture, so many layers. Every time I listen to them, I discover something different or feel something different. I feel like they are the personification of everything music should be—bold, creative, beautiful, thoughtful, the list goes on…

How did you first get into the band, and what was the first Pink Floyd album you owned?

I listened to a lot of Dark Side of the Moon when I was in high school. I had a friend who introduced me to their music. He wasn’t good for much of anything else, but he did that one thing. Pink Floyd’s music often takes me away to some place different in a way that few other bands have. It totally transports you. Gorgeous, just gorgeous music. I must say, the music always has a melancholy effect on me. I always said if I ever committed suicide, I’d definitely do it to a Pink Floyd soundtrack.

How would you pitch your story to potential readers?

My story ‘Wish You Were Here’ is about a wife visiting her husband in prison. He’s behind bars for committing a murder during a robbery. I think it’s a pretty compelling story about love and the different perceptions of what is and is not true.

This story aside, does music have an important influence on your fiction?

Music always plays a role in my writing. My novel Layla’s Score, especially, has a lot of music in it. That was one thing that most of the reviewers pointed out—that it had a bit of a soundtrack. I love music, but I never listen to music when I write because it’s hard for me to concentrate with it on. I’m a guy who needs absolute silence when he writes.

Finally, if you had the opportunity to put together a music-themed anthology, which band or artist would you choose, and why?

I sent an email to Gutter Books a while back pitching them a Prince-inspired/influenced anthology but haven’t heard back from them. I’d love to do that one, but as time is passing, I’m finding myself a bit busier, so I may not have time for it if they ever do get around to writing back. I have a new novel out titled American Trash and an anthology I edited titled Dead-End Jobs: A Hitman Anthology coming out soon. But I’m a huge Prince fan and I really love his music, so maybe I would make time for that one thing.

Bio:

Andy Rausch is the author of nearly fifty books, including the novels AMERICAN TRASH, LAYLA’S SCORE, and SAVAGE BROOKLYN. His non-fiction includes such books as MY BEST FRIEND’S BIRTHDAY: THE MAKING OF A QUENTIN TARANTINO FILM and THE FILMS OF MARTIN SCORSESE AND ROBERT DE NIRO.

Website:

https://authorandyrausch.wordpress.com/

Buy Coming Through In Waves!

The Interrogation Room – Coming Through In Waves Special – Bill Baber

Next up in a series of interviews to celebrate the launch of the new Gutter Books anthology Coming Through In Waves: Crime Fiction Inspired By The Songs of Pink Floyd is US short story specialist Bill Baber.

Author: Bill Baber

Story Title: Arnold Layne

Firstly, what drew you to this anthology?

Are you kidding? First T. Fox Dunham. And the opportunity to write a crime story based on a song by a band named Pink Floyd? Yeah, I was hooked! Fox’s novel The Street Martyr is one of the best crime novels I have ever read so I was excited to have him edit a story I wrote. And the fact that part of the proceeds are going to the Leukaemia and Lymphoma Society helped draw me in. It was a chance to give something to a cause that deserves everyone’s support.

How did you first get into the band, and what was the first Pink Floyd album you owned?

I was a senior in high school in San Francisco in 1973, so draw your own conclusions. KSAN, which was an underground FM station, was playing versions of songs from Dark Side of the Moon for a few months before the record was released. I bought it the day it came out. Hard to believe it’s been almost fifty years. Still my favorite of the band’s.

How would you pitch your story to potential readers?

I tried to make it fun! I based my story ‘Arnold Layne’ on their debut single from 1967. There was definitely a criminal element to the song and the potential for a story to go several directions! It turns into a heist gone wrong for reasons based on the song.

This story aside, does music have an important influence on your fiction?

Absolutely! Good songs are stories, and it doesn’t matter if it’s in a story or a song – a good line is a good line! Sometimes just the mood of a song can be an inspiration. I wrote a story based on how I felt after listening to Kind of Blue by Miles Davis.  Another was set in New Orleans after hearing The Meters. And my story ‘Turn Me Loose’ was written after hearing ‘Big City’ by Merle Haggard.

Finally, if you had the opportunity to put together a music-themed anthology, which band or artist would you choose, and why?

Robert Earl Keen. Heard his music? ‘The Road Goes on Forever’ is one of the best short crime stories ever written, along with songs like ‘(I Only Use My Gun) Whenever Kindness Fails’, ‘Dreadful Selfish Crime’ and ‘Ninety-Nine Years For One Dark Day’. Yeah, that could be fun. The songs are quite literary and that’s how I like my crime fiction to be.

Bio: Bill Baber’s writing has appeared at crime sites across the web and in print anthologies – most notably from Shotgun Honey, Dead Guns Press, Close to the Bone and Authors on the Air Pressand has garnered Derringer Award and Best of the Net nominations. A book of his poetry, Where the Wind Comes to Play, was published in 2011. He lives with his wife and a spoiled dog in Buckeye, AZ, on the edge of the desert and sometimes just on the edge.

Buy Coming Through In Waves!

The Interrogation Room – Coming Through In Waves Special – Kurt Reichenbaugh

Next up in a series of interviews to celebrate the launch of the new Gutter Books anthology Coming Through In Waves: Crime Fiction Inspired By The Songs of Pink Floyd is Kurt Reichenbaugh, author of Sirens and Last Dance In Phoenix.

Author: Kurt Reichenbaugh

Story Title: Remember a Day

Firstly, what drew you to this anthology?

I happened to see a post about it on Facebook of all places. I have a pretty fair number of Pink Floyd records in my possession and thought it would be fun to try writing a story to something by them. ‘Remember a Day’ was an easy pick, because I love the song; its mood, the way it shifts tempos and the dreamlike atmosphere about it.

How did you first get into the band, and what was the first Pink Floyd album you owned?

The first Pink Floyd album I ever owned was Dark Side of the Moon. Not a particularly daring purchase for me at the time since it was already a classic by then. This was around 1977 and I bought the album from a yard sale with lawn mowing money. I have an older cousin who turned me on to Pink Floyd among other bands. He felt sorry for me because he saw I had a KISS album, Dressed to Kill, along with two KC and the Sunshine Band records. I still have that vinyl record of Dark Side, however the poster inside it is long lost somewhere in the sands of time, as they say.

How would you pitch your story to potential readers?

I’m not good at pitching my stories. In fact I’m terrible at it. I’ve tried promoting my stories to people outside of the writing community and I’m usually rewarded with apathy or questions about how much I make, or how much it’ll cost them to buy it. I admire people who are good at marketing their work. I’m not one of them. I generally tell people, “Hey, if you like to read, I’ve got a story you might like.”I like to let the story speak for itself. Promoting a collection or anthology is easier, because then I can do it without pumping my own story specifically. Like, “Hey, you like Pink Floyd? Well then you’ll dig this book.” And then send them off on their way.

This story aside, does music have an important influence on your fiction?

Yes. I’m always inspired by music, or songs, and find that inspiration bleeding into my work in any number of ways. I often have jazz, or instrumental music of some type playing while I write. Songs almost always inspire vignettes that I enjoy writing and posting online.

Finally, if you had the opportunity to put together a music-themed anthology, which band or artist would you choose, and why?

This is kind of fun to think about because it could be anything from Jazz to Rolling Stones. Everyone has, or should have, a soundtrack to their life, and songs from that soundtrack should bring to life memories that spark a story.

Bio:  I grew up in Florida during a time you could see concerts for about the price of an album. I live in Phoenix where I work full time as a financial analyst pushing numbers from one column to another. I’ve had two novels: SIRENS and LAST DANCE IN PHOENIX published, in addition to short stories in PHOENIX NOIR, HUNGUR, SOUNDS OF THE NIGHT and others.

Buy Coming Through In Waves!

The Interrogation Room – Coming Through In Waves Special – K. A. Laity

Next up in a series of interviews to celebrate the launch of the new Gutter Books anthology Coming Through In Waves: Crime Fiction Inspired By The Songs of Pink Floyd is K. A. Laity, author of Chastity Flame, Lush Situation and A Cut-Throat Business.

Author: K. A. Laity

Story Title: Lucifer Sam

Firstly, what drew you to this anthology?

A man flew in through the window on a flaming pie and told me I was destined to write for this collection. Also, I wanted to be sure that there was at least one Syd-era song. There tends to be a huge gulf between early and later PF fans (and a lot more of the latter, I think).

How did you first get into the band, and what was the first Pink Floyd album you owned?

I think the first LP I heard was Wish You Were Here. Dark Side of the Moon was what all the cool kids played back when I was in school (and uncool). It was later that I discovered the early Syd era Floyd and fell immediately into raptures with its playful imaginative nature. And I got all the Syd solo stuff, too. I think that fascination was cemented by Tom Stoppard’s play ‘Rock-n-Roll’ which a sighting of the reclusive Syd in Cambridge becomes a symbolic motif. I believe he died during the original run of the play.

How would you pitch your story to potential readers?

A would-be psychic, her boyfriend who sees a golden opportunity for profit, and the cat who saw through him. Always trust your cat.

This story aside, does music have an important influence on your fiction?

I actually have a playlist on YouTube of the songs that have inspired stories I’ve written. There’s a variety of music including some that might seem bizarre, but there’s also an awful lot of The Fall. For some reason they fuel my imagination in a way that few other bands have. But music carries that magic. I used to always listen to music when I wrote, but now I tend to have drones or white noise on instead because music distracts me too much.

Finally, if you had the opportunity to put together a music-themed anthology, which band or artist would you choose, and why?

Of course, it would have to be The Fall. There is no band quite like them, or rather no gruppe like them. Of all the iterations they went through over decades, the band always managed to surprise.

Bio: K. A. Laity is an award-winning author, scholar, critic, editor, and arcane artist. Her books include Chastity FlameLush SituationLove is a Grift, Satan’s SororityHow to Be Dull, White RabbitDream BookA Cut-Throat BusinessOwl Stretching,and Pelzmantel.She has edited My Wandering Uterus, Respectable Horror, Weird Noir, Noir Carnival and Drag Noir, plus written many short stories, scholarly essays, songs, and more.

Website: www.kalaity.com

Buy Coming Through In Waves!

The Interrogation Room – Coming Through In Waves Special – S.W. Lauden

First up in a series of interviews to celebrate the launch of the new Gutter Books anthology Coming Through In Waves: Crime Fiction Inspired By The Songs of Pink Floyd is S.W. Lauden, author of Bad Citizen Corporation and Grizzly Season.

Author: S.W. Lauden

Story Title: On The Run

Firstly, what drew you to this anthology?

At this point, submitting stories to music-themed anthologies feels like a compulsion. I just submitted to another one in January! Which makes sense, I guess, since the collision of rock music and crime fiction is kinda my thing. Didn’t plan it that way, but “write what you know” I guess. I’ve published three books in the Greg Salem punk rock PI trilogy, two novelettes in the Power Pop Heist series, and had short stories in anthologies inspired by the Replacements, Johnny Cash and the Go-Go’s. The first short story I ever got published was called “Dead Beats” and it was about (you guessed it!) a murderous rock band. That one was recently reprinted in the Rock-N-Noirror collection from 10th Rule Books.

How did you first get into the band, and what was the first Pink Floyd album you owned?

Had to be because of my brothers. They were a lot older than me and The Wall would have been right in their wheelhouse. I was in elementary school when they were finishing high school, so I discovered a lot of heavy metal and hard rock music through them early on. Then I got into punk/new wave/power pop/glam/alternative rock/grunge/etc. on my own, a universe where being into Pink Floyd wasn’t exactly cool (at least until college when I met real life hippies). Thing was, I love The Dark Side of the Moon and have always owned at least one copy of that album. There’s just something about the songwriting and the production that is, um…music to my ears?

How would you pitch your story to potential readers?

Dude graduates from college and goes on a solo backpacking trip across Europe. He meets a beautiful Italian woman in Rome and has the absolute best day of his young life. Then the next morning he takes LSD and robs a bank to save her from a fascist biker gang. Bombs explode! Helicopters crash!

This story aside, does music have an important influence on your fiction?

My life revolved around music for many years. If I wasn’t playing drums myself, I was listening to music at home, in a bar or in the car, or on my way to or from a show. So it’s really no surprise that most of my crime fiction revolves around music, and that I’m drawn to these types of anthologies. I’ve also co-edited a couple of non-fiction music books in recent years, Go All The Way: A Literary Appreciation of Power Pop and Go Further: More Literary Appreciations of Power Pop.

Finally, if you had the opportunity to put together a music-themed anthology, which band or artist would you choose, and why?

This is actually an idea that has crossed my mind a few times, but so far brief flashes of sanity and lack of time have kept me from pulling the trigger. That said, if I was going to actually do it, it would have to be Hüsker Dü. They’re one of my favorite bands of all time, they actually wrote a song about a serial killer, and their music is high-energy, often angry and broken-hearted. So it would definitely have to be Hüsker Dü. Or maybe Taylör Swift, for all the same reasons.

Bio: S.W. Lauden is the author of the Greg Salem punk rock PI series including Bad Citizen CorporationGrizzly Season and Hang Time. His power pop-themed crime novelettes include That’ll Be The Day: A Power Pop Heist and Good Girls Don’t: A Second Power Pop Heist.

Website: http://swlauden.com/

Buy Coming Through In Waves!

Book Review: A New and Different Kind of Pain by Daniel Vlasaty

A NEW AND DIFFERENT KIND OF PAIN

Author: Daniel Vlasaty

Publisher: All Due Respect

Release Date: February 2017

David is a hard man in a savage line of work. When his boss, Anthony Benedetti – the kingpin who controls the north side of Chicago – asks him to pick up a briefcase containing half a million dollars from a local bar owner, David is happy to oblige. It’s a simple task for a man of David’s disposition, but the job quickly goes boss-eyed, and the case is snatched after a violent altercation. Understandably, Benedetti, a surrogate father figure to David, is distinctly unimpressed with this turn of events, and David is given 24 hours to find the money – if he wants to stay among the living.

Sometimes I get stuck in a reading rut and need to blow away the cobwebs with something short and nasty. Cut from the same cloth as 2020’s visceral Stay Ugly, A New and Different Kind of Pain definitely had the desired effect! While the more expansive Stay Ugly would come out on top if the two books went toe-to-toe, this one impresses with its sheer brevity. Put simply: this book does not fuck around.

A brisk tale of troubled beginnings, poor choices and brutal resolutions, A New and Different Kind of Pain is an underworld thriller that has been stripped down to the bone. There are no good guys, only bad people and worse ones, and the book plays out in enjoyably fatalistic fashion. If you are in the market for a quick, vicious book that doesn’t waste any words or pull any punches, then this should hit the spot.

Review by Tom Leins

Book Review: The Dark Earth of Albion by Gareth Spark

THE DARK EARTH OF ALBION

Author: Gareth Spark

Publisher: Plastic Brain Press

Release Date: March 2020

Gareth Spark previously featured on this site with Marwick’s Reckoning, his 2016 Spanish crime caper, which told the story of a principled thug-for-hire who found himself caught up in a murderous criminal conspiracy. His latest book, The Dark Earth of Albion, unfolds closer to home. To quote the blurb: “There’s something in the soil, down deep in The Dark Earth of Albion; storytelling that haunts the landscape, teasing the reader through the fires of folklore, along the decks of Viking boats, to the plastic chairs of seaside greasy spoons.” Intrigued? You should be!

I remember reading a handful of these short stories online in years gone by – often published by crime fiction sites – and it is only when I re-read them, collected in one place, that I realised that many of them are not crime stories at all. The Dark Earth of Albion is a genre-trampling collection that exists at the murky crossroads of Northern gothic, rural noir and folk horror.

That said, fans of contemporary crime fiction will find much to enjoy in these pages, particularly the stark stories of retribution such as ‘The English Dark’ and ‘This Notion of a Fire’. However, it’s the sense of place that looms largest in these grisly fables – Whitby and its environs – rather than any kind of genre straitjacket or overarching theme. (It should be noted that the London-set ‘Warpath’ feels distinctly out of place given the overall topography of the collection!)

Minor quibbles aside, this is a cracking collection that deserves to be re-read. As with the author’s other works, the sheer quality of his prose elevates the bleak, hard-edged stories to another level. The supernatural rubs shoulders with the mundane throughout, but even the most grounded pieces have the sombre, ominous tone of ghost stories. Impressive stuff.

Buy Here!

Review by Tom Leins

The Interrogation Room – An Interview With Trevor Mark Thomas

Next up in The Interrogation Room… Tom Leins catches up with Trevor Mark Thomas to discuss his book, The Bothy (Salt Publishing).

I had the pleasure of reading The Bothy recently and I thought it was fantastic! How would you pitch the book to potential readers?

The Bothy involves a man on the run who finds refuge with a gang in a pub located in the middle of nowhere. At first, he thinks he’s safe there, but begins to realise his hosts are as dangerous as the people pursuing him.

How did your association with Salt come about, and what are they like to work with?

My editor Nick Royle suggested that The Bothy would be a good fit with the Salt list.

Salt are great to work with. Very supportive, and they tried their best to push what could be seen as a difficult book. I was amazed at the number of reviews it got – all down to their tireless work. They also gave me some super advice after the book came out.

During the creative process, what came first: Tom’s predicament, or the queasy location where he seeks refuge?

The location came first. It’s partially based on this pub called The Ponderosa (no, really!) in Northern Ireland. It’s in the middle of nowhere and – years ago – was rumoured to be a meeting place for Republican terrorists. The pub’s been renovated now, but when I saw it was boarded up and looked terrifying. When we drove past it, I closed my eyes and could imagine wandering in there … but couldn’t imagine myself leaving again. (And not in a good way.)

I’m not Northern Irish, and I don’t have the right to set a story during the Troubles. So, I tried to think where a place like that would exist in the North of England. Once I had my ‘Ponderosa’, all the characters and situations began to fall into place.

You mentioned that spending two years inhabiting the titular pub during the writing process was a horrible experience. I have to ask: was it inspired by a real location?

Sort of. The location of the pub certainly is inspired by a real location, as I mentioned above. But the interior? It’s probably an amalgam of real pubs I’ve stumbled into. The Bothy was my idea of what a really horrid pub would be like. It’s also my attempt at Gormenghast castle. (The Gormenghast sequence of books had a huge influence on my writing.)

He may be a grotesque, but I quite liked the benevolent gangster Frank – and his long-suffering barman Ken! Frank is undeniably sinister, but never lapses into cliché. Were you inclined to dial down or ramp up his character?

I had a pretty good handle on Frank, I think. He might have said a bit too much in earlier drafts, but I knew he had to be inscrutable. Partly because of power games, partly because he didn’t know how to articulate his own thoughts.

Ken was a real treat to write though. At first, I thought he was going to be an absolute monster but I realised early on that he was wearing an apron. And I went with that because it made me smile. And it brought him to life. I knew everything about him. I always felt that a scene featuring Ken would be a good one.

The book has its fair share of grisly, violent, scenes, yet I found the idea of Tom walking around this mouldy, dilapidated building barefoot (in the dark) strangely hard to stomach. Did anything make you feel nauseous to write?

Oh, man. It was a horrible book to write. The filth, the squalor was everywhere. Quite suffocating. But I knew I was on the right track with it because I could picture it exactly when I closed my eyes. I could smell it and (brrr) taste it. It did seem a bit mean conveying my revulsion to the reader though. Sorry about that.

But I had to go for walks with my dog after writing the really grim scenes.

I always like it when writers display their Englishness in their work. Who are your favourite English writers, and why?

I love David Peace. His Red Riding books were huge influences on me. These poetic, raging examinations of corruption and evil. How mundane evil can be, how far-reaching. How difficult it is to be good in an evil world.

I’m also a big fan of Mervyn Peake – everyone should be reading his books as well as Tolkien and that Game of Thrones chap. Peake is brilliant. The descriptions, the atmosphere, are unbelievably good. Grim and funny. Everything I aspire to be as a writer.

In a similar vein, Barbara Comyns is a favourite. Sad and wonderful and packed with a gallery of grotesques. Try Sisters By A River. That’s a brilliant book.

Which writers – one alive, one dead – would you like to have a drink with at The Bothy? And what would you serve them?

Alive writer: Zadie Smith. I want to talk to her about Chris Ware. Drink-wise, I like to think we’d have Manhattans but I’m not sure why that appeals.

Dead writer: James Joyce would be interesting. I think he’d be on the beer. Quite a lot of it. I’d have a pint of milk before we got started, just to line my stomach and remain relatively coherent.

If your career trajectory could follow that of any well-known writer, who would you choose, and why?

This is a really difficult question because it’s tempting me into revealing my fantasy career which I know is utterly unrealistic and a bit daft. So, I’ll go to the fringes of realism and say, I’d really like to be an author who gets decent feedback from readers … and maybe sells enough books to pay the bills.

The only author I can think of whose career is similar is probably Jim Thompson or Terry Southern. But then they got work in Hollywood … Argh. And … well … That’s all a bit fantastical, isn’t it?

Finally, what are your future publishing plans?

I’ve written a book linked to The Bothy which has had a bit of interest but I need to have another go at it. It’s too bleak as it is. I was in quite a nihilistic mood when I wrote it.

I’ve finished a first draft of another book which I think is more accessible. It still has a lot of my preoccupations but I’ve added a bit of (figurative) ice cream to make it a bit more palatable. Let’s see. Published or not, I’ll keep going until I run out of steam.

Bio: I live in Manchester with my girlfriend. We have a dog called Columbo. I cook, I read, and when I can afford it, buy and build Lego.

Website: Twitter:  @LeroyKeats

The Interrogation Room – An Interview With Andy Rausch

Next up in The Interrogation Room… Tom Leins catches up with Andy Rausch to discuss his new book, American Trash.

Congratulations on the publication of your new book! How would you pitch American Trash to potential readers?

My publisher is calling it Goodfellas with white trash rednecks. That’s pretty accurate. It’s about organized crime in the Ozarks and features some exceptionally lowlife characters. The crime organization operates out of a stationary carnival near Branson, so they are sort of part-time carnies, part-time criminals. Their leader is a man called Reverend Sammy, who is both a minister and a crime boss. It’s very down and dirty. Certainly the grittiest thing I’ve ever written.

The truth of the matter is, I owe a lot of that grit to you, Tom. After stumbling across your book, The Good Book: Fairy Tales for Hard Men, I fell in love with the extreme level of grittiness you write, so I decided to try and step up my game in that area. It’s essentially my normal writing but trying to go a little deeper and farther into the dark, gritty aspects. As you know, I actually dedicated the book to you. In some ways, you were its spiritual father.

When I tell people it’s about hillbilly gangsters, they always ask, “Like the show Ozark?” No, not at all like the show Ozark. Ozark is like a fucking Pixar movie compared to this. Also, the characters on Ozark look like they take showers. My characters aren’t like that. The characters in this book are the kind of guys who live on the three M’s – Marlboros, Mountain Dew, and meth.

This was really my attempt at Donald Ray Pollock meets Tom Leins meets Joe R. Lansdale.

What do you hope that readers take away from the book?

I hope they have a good time with the book, and I hope they walk away saying, “That motherfucker Andy Rausch can write.” Then maybe they’ll track down some of my other novels, like Bloody Sheets, Layla’s Score, The Suicide Game, or Until One of Us Is Dead. I’ve had three of my novels optioned for film now, and I don’t think that’s a coincidence. I don’t mean that in a cocky way, but I do think I can tell an entertaining story. I might not be good at much of anything else, but I think I do a decent job with that. But I work hard and I’ve been writing for many, many years.

You’ve notched up a lot of books in quick succession. Why is it so important to keep producing new work and moving forwards? 

I had a heart transplant almost three years ago. My life expectancy is shorter than most people’s, so I want to write as much as I can while I can. But I’ve always been like this. I write a lot. I have almost forty-five books with about twenty publishers. Some of it’s fiction, some of it’s nonfiction. And the one thing I’ve always had is an obsessive need to create and write. That passion fuels my writing, which in turn fuels the rest of my life.

If you could recommend any one book from your back catalogue to a new reader, which one would you choose?

Layla’s Score is, I think, a good introduction. It’s a story of a hitman and his little girl traveling across the country so he can do “one last job”, the job of a lifetime. That’s the first in what will be a trilogy of books if I can ever get back to that, and it also features the protagonist from my first novel, The Suicide Game, in a supporting role.

Layla’s Score is important to me because Layla is based heavily on my daughter, Josslyn. I was awaiting my transplant and it looked like there was a good chance I wasn’t going to make it, so I wrote that for her to have if I didn’t make it.

Do you read mainstream crime fiction, or are your tastes firmly rooted in the independent scene?

I read both. My biggest influences have been Elmore Leonard, Quentin Tarantino, and Joe R. Lansdale. Like them, my work is dialogue-driven crime (although Lansdale writes a lot more beyond those things). I also love writers like Max Allan Collins, Lawrence Block, George V. Higgins, Don Winslow, S. Craig Zahler, and now, more recently, S.A. Cosby, whose big-league debut, Blacktop Wasteland, was the best book I read this year by a country mile. I also love the Bust series written by Jason Starr and Ken Bruen. And also Charlie Stella. I really like his stuff, too.

In the indie world, I read a lot of folks like yourself, who have also become a huge inspiration/influence: Paul D. Brazill, and Chris Miller, among others. As you know, I edited a forthcoming anthology of hitman stories for All Due Respect that features 18 writers I absolutely love, including Lansdale, Collins, yourself, Brazill, Miller, and many, many others. I stand by every single writer who appears in that anthology and I am insanely proud of it. It’s going to be a knockout. It’s the best project I’ve ever been associated with.

Which contemporary writers do you consider to be your peers?

There are a lot, but I’m the closest to Chris Miller, Clark Roberts, Chris Roy, and Mark Slade. I talk to them frequently. I adore your work and you and I talked about doing a book before COVID, but we don’t talk routinely. But I definitely consider you a peer and someone I’m a fan of. T. Fox Dunham and I were going to collaborate once. Another guy I would kill to collaborate with is Paul D. Brazill. Other peers include Daniel Vlasaty, Rob Pierce, Nikki Dolson, Michael A. Gonzales… The list goes on and on.

I also talk to guys who write other stuff, like David C. Hayes, Tyson Blue, Stephen Spignesi. Those are guys who can write anything. Doesn’t matter what kind of book or story, they can write it.

If you could recommend one crime novel that people are unlikely to have heard of, what would it be?

It would be your book, The Good Book: Fairy Tales for Hard Men. I don’t mean that as a knock in saying they wouldn’t have heard of it. Judging from how few reviews it has at the moment, that’s the only answer I can think of, because it’s pure fucking brilliance. One of my very favorite books this year and the only one that made me reconsider things about my own writing. And I’m not just saying that because I’m talking to you.

You know how much I loved that because I wrote you immediately and told you and also posted about it and reviewed it. That’s a good book, no pun intended, and if there is any fairness to be had in this world, it will be noticed and read by many more people. I’ve read it twice now and it was just as good the second time. That book just struck a chord with me in a way that very, very few have ever done.

If your career trajectory could follow that of any well-known writer, who would you choose, and why?

Joe R. Lansdale. Now this would require me to live a long life, but Joe did everything his way. He’s become a friend, but he’s definitely my hero and was even before. Lansdale is a guy who defied the so-called rules by writing whatever he wanted. Publishers and editors want writers to write one genre so they can pigeonhole them and make them a product. That way when people see their names, they will go after the new book because it will essentially be like their last ten. But he didn’t do that. He wrote everything. Whatever the fuck he wanted. So, he built a solid readership, but it took him longer to really explode than it would have had he followed the rules. But like the song says, he did it his way.

Beyond that, he also chooses to sometimes publish with smaller publishers just because he can. He’s published with a lot of the really big houses, but most of his books are with Subterranean. There’s nothing wrong with Subterranean, but they’re not as big as, say, Doubleday or Little, Brown and Company, whom he has also published with. But he’s loyal and they do right by him. As a result of Lansdale and Subterranean treating each other with respect, they’ve both grown.

He’s my favorite living writer, no two ways about it. But beyond the writing, he’s a good man. He’s kind and he treats people well. His books are entertaining as all hell, but he’s also spent his entire career writing about issues that were important to him, like combating racism. If Lansdale isn’t someone to look up to, I don’t know who is. If I ever “made” it, I’d want to be a down-to-earth nice human being like he is. There is a reason writers love him, and it’s only fifty percent because of his writing, which is fucking magnificent anyway.

Finally, what are your future publishing plans?

I’d really like to break out of the indie world, but I don’t really try to hard to do that either. I just write. All the time. I have nonfiction books coming out about both Lansdale and Elmore Leonard. I have a lot of nonfiction coming out. I helped actress Erica Gavin write her memoir, I have a biography of the cinematographer Gary Graver coming out. As for fiction, I’m doing some different things. I’m actually working on a comedy right now with Charles E. Pratt Jr. I may also have projects with Chris Miller and Clark Roberts coming.

But mostly my plans are just going insane from all of the different projects I’m trying to finish.

Bio: Andy Rausch is a film journalist and author who has written more than forty books. His novels include Savage Brooklyn, Layla’s Score, and Let It Kill You. He recently published a novelization of the classic film, Carnival of Souls, titled Nightmare Pavilion, and his newest nonfiction book is My Best Friend’s Birthday: The Making of a Quentin Tarantino Film. He writes a regular column in Screem magazine and is a web editor at Diabolique.

Website:

https://authorandyrausch.wordpress.com/