Continuing my series of interviews to celebrate the release of the brand new All Due Respect anthology Dead-End Jobs: A Hitman Anthology, here are Michael A. Gonzales (‘City of Lead’) and Mark Slade (‘Get Born Again’) discussing their respective contributions!
Firstly, how would you pitch your story to potential readers?
MAG: I might be the only writer in the book that has ever been targeted by a hitman. Actually, my next-door neighbour’s ex-girlfriend put a hit on him, but the hired gun shot me instead. That was why I decided to write ‘City of Lead’ from the point of view of the person who knows he has a contract on him. Beside the wonderful 1976 movie Mikey & Nicky, I don’t personally know another tale that spends so much time with the soon to be deceased. In my story the main character is named Blue. He seems like a nice guy, but he actually isn’t, especially in the eyes of the women he’s dated. The killer in ‘City of Lead’ teases the lead character Blue, who knows that something bad is going to happen to him. He just doesn’t know what or when it will happen. Blue’s paranoid and afraid, but all he can do is wait for the pain.
MS: My hitman is overweight, not very smart and not really very good at his job. But he’s always lucky! What might make him unique in the genre is he’s a family man.
Themed anthologies offer a unique challenge. Did your story turn out how you expected?
MAG: It did. I’ve thought about this story for years before actually writing it. Also, in hitman books and films, they’re usually told from in the voice of the hitter; I wanted to do that was the opposite of that while still making the killer important. When I was in high-school I often got in trouble for writing papers that weren’t exactly what was asked for; with ‘City of Lead’, I’m thankful (editor) Andy Rausch let me slide.
MS: It went exactly as planned – and I can’t say that for all my stories. I kinda had the plot in my head for a few years, but I didn’t have the character – until Andy [Rausch] asked me to write a story for his hitman anthology. I recalled an episode of The Rockford Files where actor Michael Lerner played a professional snitch. I think I wrote it in a week. Maybe a few days. The ending was the hardest part to write.
Who is your favourite fictional hitman, and why?
MAG: Though I write all types of stories, my crime pieces are usually centered in Harlem and other urban environments. Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai (1999), which takes place in Brooklyn, is one of my favourite films and the hitman, played by Forest Whitaker, was just so cool. Director Jim Jarmusch is one of my favourite American directors and he made an arty Blaxploitation flick with a great soundtrack by RZA. I wanted ‘City of Lead’ to be just that. Like, what would happen if Chester Himes collaborated with Jean-Patrick Manchette on a screenplay produced by Luc Besson, but directed by Park Chan-wook.
MS: It’s hard to say which one is my favorite. I really like Lawrence Block’s Keller series. He collects stamps – how bizarre for a killer. But I really like Lee Marvin in the early ‘60s version of The Killers. I also like Alan Ladd as the professional hitman in This Gun for Hire. To be honest, there are so many to choose from. Jack Nicholson and Kathleen Turner in Prizzi’s Honor also get an honorable mention.
If you could put together an anthology focused on a different criminal archetype, which one would you choose?
MAG: I grew-up in New York City in the 1970s, when many slum lords were burning down their properties to collect the insurance. Many people know about the Bronx, but the truth is, it was happening all over the city. That said, the criminal archetype I choose are arsonists. Who are these people that the landlords hired to burn down apartment building, stores and factories? I would read that anthology in a heartbeat.
MS: I’m actually putting one together. It’s called Born Under a Bad Sign: 13 Tales of Bad Luck. Unlucky criminals. Jim Thompson-type stories. Some are mixed with horror, others are SF/noir tales. I think it will turn out really good. Screaming Eye Press will put it out. It’s a publisher I started with Chauncey Haworth, Lothar Tuppan and artist Cameron Hampton.