Next up in The Interrogation Room… Tom Leins catches up with Jason Beech to discuss his new book, City of Forts.
Firstly, how would you pitch City of Forts to potential readers?
All thirteen-year-old Ricky Nardilo wants is a fun summer before he and his friends part for school again. But, when he and Liz fall through the floor of an abandoned house and come face to face with a dead man, the hot months become charged with danger.
The City of Forts is the name Ricky and his friends have given a crescent of abandoned homes at the edge of Town. Lying in the shadow of a disused factory it is their refuge from the Town’s rust, its drug dealers, and the Ghost Boys.
It’s not a refuge for long. The dead man has triggered a gangster’s warpath. Tarantula Man wants to know how his man has disappeared. And he wants to use the City of Forts for his own purposes.
Ricky, Liz, Bixby, and Tanais will not give it up without a fight – and maybe with the help of Floyd, Mr Vale and his son, Charlie, they’ll rid themselves of the invaders.
City of Forts is a dark coming of age crime drama where every street and alleyway is loaded with menace.
As a Brit living in the US, when you start work on a new piece, is your natural inclination to write an American story or a British one?
I don’t know anymore. I write the first paragraph and see which location it takes me. I set City of Forts in Yorkshire at first, but Ricky’s tone came out all American, so I switched it quickly to the US hinterland, even though much comes loosely from my own childhood.
I set the one I’m writing now, Never Go Back, in the US, but that has shifted back to my Sheffield hometown, maybe because it’s about an expat coming back to his roots. This bugger is all made-up, but is full of dee-dars as well as Spaniards.
Getting the American tone right for City of Forts proved a challenge. I initially called it City of Dens, but an American pal noted that a den on this side of the pond is where you put your office, so that title went out the window head first.
I’m not a native, but when I first came over here I lived with dozens of American families from all political backgrounds – hardcore Republicans and live-and-let-live liberals, as well as independents in between. I’ve sat at their breakfast tables in my shorts, been to their churches, slid off their double-decker boat slides into lakes outside John Mellencamp’s house.
And I’ve lived here for years now, so I felt comfortable writing from an American perspective, from all their perspectives. I hope I got it right, and I hope I’ve scrubbed all references to shopping trolleys away.
You have produced short stories as well as novels – which format do you enjoy writing the most?
I prefer short stories when I’m writing a novel, until I get past about 20,000 words in a novel and then I prefer the novel. Once you’ve lived inside it a while it’s easier than a short story, which is over almost as quick as you started.
What are the main positives behind self-publishing – and what are the chief drawbacks?
The freedom to write what the hell you want is the top selling point of independent publishing. As long as you iron out all the work’s deficiencies and get other eyes involved, it is brilliant for creativity.
The biggest drawback is getting your work seen. I’ve sold a few, but I’m a terrible marketer and I’m sure I could reach a lot more readers with the skills pro publishers have in their hands.
Do you think crime fiction is too safe? Do you read mainstream crime fiction, or are your tastes firmly rooted in the independent scene?
There’s a market for any taste nowadays, so I don’t think it’s safe if you know what you want and know how to get it. You’ve got to be careful not to buy any old guff just because it’s ultra-violent. That veers towards torture or misery-porn. But there have been many mainstream crime fiction books I’ve read where I got to the end and wondered, “is that it?”
I’m mad for James Ellroy, which scares me half to death. But I also like Ian Rankin, who’s nowhere near as off the rails. I can mix it with the independent stuff. If I want a laugh I’m all Paul D. Brazill. Ryan Bracha comes up with some off the wall crackpottery I enjoy. Ray Banks, Keith Nixon, Thomas Pluck, Paul Heatley, Gareth Spark, Kate Laity/Graham Wynd, Aidan Thorn – loads to enjoy.
Which contemporary writers do you consider to be your peers?
Bloody hell, I don’t know if I can answer that until I have a wider readership. I’d love to say Aidan Thorn, Paul D. Brazill, you, Paul Heatley, Sonia Kilvington, Ryan Bracha, Keith Nixon, and a whole bunch more, but they are all way ahead of me.
If your career trajectory could follow that of any well-known writer, who would you choose, and why?
I’d want to mix James Ellroy and Iain Banks in a stew and have that career. I don’t know where I am with Ellroy – is he a right wing nut or an Obama supporter? – but his books make your head spin. I love Banks’ characters and could live in his The Crow Road world, easy.
I could live with their success, though I’d find Ellroy’s public persona hard to keep up with, and I couldn’t pull off his bullshit pronouncements.
Finally, what are your future publishing plans?
My new novel, City of Forts, is out on 15 April this year – out for pre-order right now. I hope to get Never Go Back out for Christmas.
Jason Beech hails from Sheffield, England, but now lives in New Jersey with his wife and daughter. He’s the author of Moorlands and the Bullets, Teeth, & Fists Collections. His next novel, City of Forts, is out soon, and he has a number of shorts in various digital magazines.