Next up in The Interrogation Room… Tom Leins catches up with Chris Roy to discuss his new short story collection, Her Name Is Mercie (Near To The Knuckle).
Firstly, for anyone unfamiliar with you and your writing, can you tell us a little bit about your background, and how your situation has influenced your fiction?
I’ve been in quite a few interrogation rooms. Never thought I would feel privileged for it. Thanks for having me, Tom.
I grew up on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. We didn’t have much, my mom, brother and sister and I, but we were happy.
I was in trouble a lot as a kid, for stealing (the first time I was in an interrogation room I was 10). I escaped from a juvenile detention center and went to military training school. I never really straightened up. Started pulling parts at my uncle’s junkyards when I was 12 and kept a full-time job as a mechanic during summers, and part-time every day during high school. Made a bunch of money selling drugs and got my own place when I was 17. Attempted 12th grade a second time and was expelled for possession of LSD. When I was actually home I didn’t watch much TV; I was likely outside working on cars, 4×4s, or motorcycles.
When I was 18 I worked at a transmission shop. I was also working with a Vietnamese dealer named Dong (also 18). We sold cocaine, ecstasy and weed. He supplied, I distributed. A disagreement over money escalated into threats, then, later, a fistfight. He died from injuries. A friend and I covered it up. Literally. And were charged and convicted.
I’m 36 now. I’ve served 18 on a life sentence, housed in maximum security on High Risk since 2005 for two escapes. A couple of my best friends are on Death Row.
Art and fitness are what I’m known for as a convict. I’m serious business when it comes to tattooing (though, oddly, I have none). Rise Tattoo Magazine in France featured my work last year – what an honor that was. I’m very passionate about boxing. Currently training a couple of youngsters that have developed quickly. They won’t shut up about how tough they are and never pass up a chance to flex. I love it.
Your question makes me think back to when I was arrested, in the county jail as a teenager. When I got serious about art, and very serious about fitness and boxing training. If, back then, someone told me I would become a professional writer in prison I would have pointed and laughed at them. My writing skills were non-existent then.
Writing home and to pen-pals – combined with personal criminal experience, crimes I’ve studied and the hundreds of novels and non-fiction books I’ve read – gave me what I needed to start writing crime fiction in 2007. As a necessity I’m a very physical person. That carries over into my writing, too.
In the beginning I sensationalized crime with highly amoral protagonists. I would fabricate crimes that used the poor to steal from the rich, say, or the state and government. I was still very much a criminal then, involved in some of the crimes I created stories from. I was driven to create crimes that I could carry out from my cell. The victims never knew who I was or where I was. The plan was to make enough to buy my freedom. I learned so much – that I could potentially make a lot of money, that I was a danger to a lot of people, and then, no matter how I tried to rationalize it away, I learned I had a conscience. There are guys in the system making a killing running scams and want me on their team. I know I could make a pile of cash and maybe get out with it. But I won’t go back to that life.
In a world of criminals where the most criminal enjoys the highest status, I was known. The person I once was is a different animal than the person writing this now.
Writing adds a significant healthy purpose to my life. So far it’s not rewarding in profits, though it’s rewarding in a way I would never experience as a crook.
Turning our attention towards your new book: congratulations on the publication of Her Name Is Mercie. How hard was it to select the stories – and indeed the running order?
Coming up with the themes for each took some thinking. My short stories in the past were centered around crimes. The job, the heist or scam was the thing. Her Name Is Mercie is about the characters, the tribulations they experience from crimes committed against them. Each story is vastly different, though each has an element of wrongdoing, characters doing awful things to other characters. Mercie is the main feature, the longest story, so it gets pole position. Marsh Madness is the shortest, a cliffhanger, so it’s last.
Do you have a favourite story in the collection? If so, why is it your favourite?
Marsh Madness is the first in a new style. It marks a change for me. I had been writing for a decade, worked on my thrillers for several years, and they weren’t well-received. The handful of reviews were sincere though were mostly courtesies. A writer I respect greatly critiqued Shocking Circumstances and gave advice on how to improve that would make some writers quit. I took it as a challenge, and changed my style and my entire approach to crime fiction. Marsh Madness was an exercise after a lot of studying. A test, written during a dark time. It impressed the right people and took me in a creative direction I didn’t see coming.
What is the oldest story in the book? How do you think your style has evolved since then?
I’ve mentioned Marsh Madness was the first in this collection. The style progressed into a variable one. Tension and emotional descriptions aren’t applied with just action or danger of some kind. There’s more story involved now. More linking of emotions to the setting. The narrative doesn’t tell readers a character is feeling a certain way – it shows the characters expressing it so that readers get the feeling themselves.
Do you read mainstream crime fiction, or are your tastes firmly rooted in the independent scene?
Most of the crime fiction I’ve read has been mainstream. Novels in prison are, by far, written by New York Times bestselling authors.
Your collection has been published by Near To The Knuckle – do you have any favourite NTTK authors or titles you would like to recommend?
Paul Brazill is great, right? Brit grit specialist. Richard Godwin has an otherworldly style that will keep you on your toes. I’ve read some of your work, too. Damn brilliant stuff.
If your career trajectory could follow that of any well-known writer, who would you choose, and why?
Possibly Greg Iles. Each of his books are so well put together, a shit ton of brain power thrown at each page. His style is top shelf. So are his sales – I would like to be able to afford an attorney some day and get back in court!
Chris Roy was raised in South Mississippi, in the midst of ugly Gulf Coast beaches and spectacular muddy bayous.
Chris lived comfortably with the criminal ventures of his youth until a fistfight in 1999 ended tragically. Since January, 2000, he’s been serving a life sentence in the Mississippi Department of Corrections.
Nowadays he lives his life of crime vicariously, through the edgy, fast-paced stories he pens, hoping to entertain readers. When he isn’t writing, he’s reading, drawing or looking for prospects to train in boxing.
Her Name Is Mercie
Shocking Circumstances Book I: Last Shine
Shocking Circumstances Book 2: Resurrection
Sharp as a Razor Book I: A Dying Wish
Amazon Author Page: