Next up in The Interrogation Room… Tom Leins catches up with California crime writer Matt Phillips to discuss his new book, Accidental Outlaws (All Due Respect).
Firstly, congratulations on the publication of your new book, Accidental Outlaws. This one comprises three novellas – what appeals to you most about the novella format?
Thanks, Tom! Yep, this book is a series of three loosely-linked rural noir tales. I have to give lots of credit to Mike Monson and Chris Rhatigan at All Due Respect. Originally, I had a larger collection with many short stories, but they helped me see the sense in putting these three narratives together. After edits from Rhatigan and Chris Black, the stories work so much better as a book… The thing about the novella format is that it’s a hybrid between a novel and a short story. You need character development and a significant plot, but you can forget about all the flowery crap in a three-hundred page novel (or at least most of the flowery crap). It’s about getting to the story and convincing the reader to read one story in one sitting (or maybe two). That’s my goal—make them hunger for the story and finish it fast. In short, writing a novella means I can forget about being a ‘novelist’, and I can just tell a story in the way (and with the speed) that I want. That’s what I like about the novella as a format.
As in the classic noir tradition, your protagonists are probably best characterised as good men who are guilty of making poor decisions. From your experience, are flawed characters more enjoyable to write than typical good guys and bad guys?
Yeah – I’ve got a thing inside me that, for some damn reason, makes me write about flawed people. And, sometimes, they aren’t the most logical of people. Most of the ‘good guys’ I know are pretty damn boring. Good thing I don’t know very many… the truth is that all humans are flawed. And all humans make costly and tragic mistakes. Nobody wants to read about somebody who does everything right. That’s because nobody identifies with that—I sure as hell don’t. I write about stuff I’ve experienced. That means I write a lot about screwing up and making shit worse. Are flawed characters more enjoyable to write about? Wouldn’t want to write about perfect people so…I’ll never know if I’m missing something. If I did write about a perfect person, I’d make sure he or she met a brutal end.
Impressively, Accidental Outlaws is your fourth published book in less than three years – can you tell us a little bit about your writing routine?
I’ve been so lucky to find great publishers in the indie crime and noir genres. Part of the reason I’ve had multiple publications is because the editors and publishers at Number Thirteen Press, All Due Respect, Near to the Knuckle, and Down & Out Books know what the hell they’re doing. They know what’s good, they get it under contract, they edit and design like madmen, and they put the freaking books out. As a writer, here’s what I try to do: I write at least 1,000 words a day. No excuses. No bitching about the day job or other commitments. No sad tales of woe or chagrin. No bullshit. Write at least 1,000 words. Don’t talk about doing it…Do it. And if I don’t do it—it’s my fault. I wrote the first two novellas in Accidental Outlaws at a desk I found in an alley and carried to my apartment. I wrote the last novella at a desk I built from an old pallet. I finished line edits on the book while my baby son took his two naps over two days. If you want to write, you have to do it…That’s not a secret—it’s just the truth. My process is to work. That’s all. Read. Write. Repeat.
You have worked with All Due Respect, Near To The Knuckle and Number Thirteen Press, are your own tastes firmly rooted in the independent scene, or do you enjoy mainstream crime fiction?
My tastes are pretty firm in the indie scene, but can vary a bit. Anthony Neil Smith, Paul Heatley, Jake Hinkson… Love the stuff coming out from Shotgun Honey and ADR. I also pick up the Hard Case Crime books though. And I’m forever reading Lansdale and Highsmith and Mosley. Not to mention Goodis, Jim Thompson, Elmore Leonard. I like to read a couple books at a time. Right now I’m reading Jordan Harper’s She Rides Shotgun and Anthony Neil Smith’s Worm. Just read Eryk Pruitt’s What We Reckon. By the time people read this, I’ll have finished these books…
After Three Kinds of Fool, this is your second book with the excellent All Due Respect – do you have any favourite ADR authors or titles?
Favorites? Shit… You’re going to get me in trouble. And crime writers know how to use guns. And knives. Okay, I’ll say this:
Both of CS Dewildt’s books…Love You to a Pulp and Kill’em with Kindness.
The Deepening Shade by Jake Hinkson. I like Daniel Vlasaty’s books, too. Read Only Bones. Do it.
Which writers do you consider to be your peers?
All the indie writers I’ve mentioned above along with people like Eric Beetner, S.W. Lauden, Rusty Barnes, Grant Nicol, Greg Barth… I’d say people like Rob Hart and Megan Abbott too. Yeah, why not? Jordan Harper. Richard Lange. You too, Tom. I mean, we’re all doing this shit together – am I right?
If you could recommend one crime novel that people are unlikely to have heard of, what would it be?
Well, there’s one that people might’ve heard of, but maybe haven’t read. It’s a favorite of mine: Elmore Leonard’s Unknown Man #89.
If your career trajectory could follow that of any well-known writer, who would you choose, and why?
Tough question. I’d say someone like David Goodis really impresses me. Even when things weren’t going great, he did his work. And, after all the years, he created a phenomenal body of work. Don’t get me wrong, I’d like to make a little money and drink some decent whiskey, but I’m just happy if people like the books. As long as I can keep my family life fruitful and positive while doing my work – I’m happy as hell with that.
Finally, what are your future publishing plans?
Got a book coming out next year from Shotgun Honey. It’s a comedic noir novella called The Bad Kind of Lucky. I’ve got another couple of noir novels waiting to land with the right publisher, and I’m at work on a super-dark three-book hardboiled saga. Some detective shit.
Bio: Matt Phillips lives in San Diego. His books include Accidental Outlaws, Three Kinds of Fool, Redbone, and Bad Luck City. He has published short fiction in Shotgun Honey, Tough Crime, Near to the Knuckle, Out of the Gutter’s Flash Fiction Offensive, Manslaughter Review, Powder Burn Flash, and Fried Chicken and Coffee.