Posts from the ‘Interviews’ Category
August 14, 2018
“I cannot think of any need in childhood as strong as the need for a father’s protection.” —Sigmund Freud
Les Edgerton in conversation with a Trinity College Dublin graduate Kelly O’Brien:
—The Death of Tarpons takes the form of bildungsroman and is written in the first person narrative. Given that you also grew up in Texas in the 1950s, how much did your own coming-of-age play into the writing of the novel?
Les Edgerton: 100%. This is a fairly accurate account of my own experience that summer. It had to be fictionalized to better create the proper drama. Overall, most of the elements in the story are true to life. There are two elements present in every novel—an emotional element and an intellectual element. I would never pay any attention to the intellectual element-that isn’t the job of a novel. An emotional response is all I’m ever after and hopefully never in a surface or superficial manner, but in a deeper, psychological manner.
—The Death of Tarpons examines the notion of masculinity in the development of both Corey and his father’s sense of self. Would you say that masculinity pushed to its extreme – machismo – is a damaging force within the novel? What is the role of Corey’s grand-father from this point of view?
LE: Looking back in a deconstruction exercise is the only way I can answer this. This wasn’t a conscious effort on my part during the writing of it. It depends on your definition of masculinity. To my mind, the grandfather is the only true masculine figure in the story. The father subscribes to a cartoonish idea of masculinity, but Toast is honestly masculine. In fact, he’s so comfortable in his own maleness that he never tries to posture or play some kind of role formed by bad novels and bad movies. I would disagree that the father exhibits some form of masculinity pushed to its extreme. The father doesn’t represent any form of masculinity, but the grandfather absolutely does. One of the chief tenants of masculinity is the person being completely comfortable in his own skin and never considering how he might appear to others. That is the very definition of Toast and the very definition of masculinity.
—The women of the text are essential figures in Corey’s life yet it is the male relationships that are most often at the forefront of the narrative. Do you think that the women in the novel are integral or disposable? And why?
LE: All three women are important to the story, even if their characters don’t come across as disposable. The sister is a stock and stereotypical figure and certain disposable in the sense that she contributes little to the story, at least on the surface. However, she does, as she’s the one character that admires her father’s skewed notion of masculinity and mostly because he pays her attention and doesn’t judge her so long as she shows that admiration. The sister is the kind of female guys like the father are trying to influence and are the only kinds of females they value. The grandmother is little seen, but important in that she’s comfortable in her role as Toast’s wife. She’s the opposite of her granddaughter—she’s a real woman and doesn’t tolerate her son-in-law at all, but actually dismisses him as a man. The mother is crucial to the story because she has effectively abandoned her family for her religion. She’s the person Corey wishes would be on his side and in a normal family would be, but she’s missing in action. She’s simply a weak, selfish person. Her drug here is religion, but it could just as easily be alcohol, drugs, a shopping jones, adultery or almost anything else.
—I felt, as a reader, that cyclicality is an important theme in the novel. I’m referring particularly to the spatterdashes symbol. Was it intended as a meditation on the ways in which we carry the past within us?
LE: It was a literal symbol. As Toast explains to Corey, spatterdashes are an article of clothing that prevented spatter from being dashed on the man. It doesn’t get any more literal than that. In Corey’s case, they represented an heirloom passed down by the males of his family to look toward as something concrete that if he accepted the definition and the history, would see that they represented something that would prevent the crap his father tried to throw at him from besmirching his soul. Sometimes, a cigar is just a cigar, and that’s kind of what these spatterdashes are, to him.
—Forgive my curiosity, but is the spatterdashes story autobiographical and if it is, do you still have them?
LE: The spatterdashes are the fictional part I mentioned earlier. They never existed in my life but they represent everything that Toast meant to Corey.
—The Death of Tarpons almost seems mythological in the manner in which the story culminates. Is it a metaphor – conscious or subconscious – for the mysterious, contradictory and sometimes frightening adult world?
LE: I suspect it may seem mythological in that Corey’s story is fairly common, albeit with varied circumstances. Most good stories are mythological in that they’re ageless and keep recurring over and over. And of course it’s a metaphor. Metaphor is what all stories are about.
—Is it significant that your first novel is a largely autobiographical coming-of-age novel? Was is the first novel you wanted to write or did it just happen to be published before another novel? What’s its significance in your development as a writer?
LE: It’s significant in that most first novels are coming-of-age novels. Probably close to 75% are even if they’re fictionalized as mine was. It’s what we know and what we’re comfortable with. And, often they’re unpublishable simple because of that. As one of my reviewers—Sydney Lea, former editor of The Georgia Review—said, “Leslie Edgerton takes one of the hoariest of projects, the family chronicle…”. I know it’s the kind of novel I saw from nearly all my freshmen students in university classes—autobiography disguised as fiction. There’s a reason it’s considered “hoary”… because it is. And most are dismissed out of hand. It takes a level of writing that most first writers haven’t yet developed. I had, which is why it got published.
It’s significant in that it gave me confidence that not only was my own life valuable material but that I had the writing chops sufficient for publication. Just about all of my fiction is autobiographical. I can’t think of any that isn’t.
“Edgerton’s later novels have become Noir classics to many, and THE DEATH OF TARPONS hints at a childhood that helps explain the author’s successful literary journeys into darkness.” —Jack Getze
June 22, 2018
KOB: Both of your novels are driven by strong female characters. Would you consider your work to be “Women’s Fiction” and if so, how do you feel your position as a male novelist impacts your female-centric writing?
DFM: I have noticed that women seem to respond well to my work, which I’m happy about because they buy far more books than men. However, I’m not sure about this notion of “Women’s Fiction”. There seems to be this idea in publishing that men write bang-bang-shoot-em-ups, while women pick apart dysfunctional relationships over the kitchen table with a large glass of red wine. Publishers like to categorise books into genres, I guess it makes it easier for them to target the audience they think they’re after, but so far as I’m concerned there’s only good fiction and bad fiction. I don’t really mind whether it’s packaged as crime, romance or a thriller, if it’s well written and captures my imagination I’ll read it, if it doesn’t I won’t. I think one of the most important traits you need as a writer of fiction is the ability to see the world from someone else’s point of view, whether that’s a politically engaged Irish woman, a Timorese teenager or a corrupt ageing Indonesian army officer. It’s the only way, in my view, you can create convincing characters that readers will relate to and care about.
Click on the covers for more information about the books
KOB: The recent Lush cosmetics campaign against Spycops has brought the issue tackled in The Insider’s Guide to Betrayal to light. Decades after these incidents took place, do you believe justice can eventually come from the public enquiry?
DFM: To me the Spycops scandal offers a perfect example of what can happen when a group of people in a position of power who aren’t publicly accountable to anyone for their actions lose sight of what they are there for in the first place. For those who aren’t familiar with the background, what happened was that in the 1970s a group was set up within the Metropolitan Police to infiltrate political organisations that were deemed a threat to society, and in doing so gain intelligence about their activities, plans and intentions. For obvious reasons no one knew about this group, and it didn’t seem to be answerable to anyone outside the Met. There was never any proper debate about what constituted a threat to society, or how far this group could go in order to counter it. As it turned out, the targets were typically peace campaigners, animal rights or environmental activists and other groups the government of the time didn’t particularly like, but who were engaged in legitimate political protest. Even if they did occasionally cross the line of the law, by comparison to the type of terrorism we see today, their activities were benign, almost charmingly quaint. We’re talking about people breaking into a laboratory and releasing a few rabbits destined for experiments, or tearing down some barbed wire outside a missile base, not some fanatic walking into a crowded concert hall and blowing up a hundred people. What has always staggered me about the Spycops scandal is how much effort, resources and moral compromise went into these deceptions when the stakes were so low and the threats to society so trivial. Over the years undercover officers infiltrated these groups and entered into intimate relationships with female members of them, sometimes going to far as to have children with them. At weekends they might go back to their real families; then there would come a time when they would be recalled and simply disappear from the lives of the women they had betrayed, leaving them to wonder what had happened. The collateral damage to the women and their families was mind-boggling, and no one in a position of power wanted to know or do anything about it.
The campaign to bring justice to these women seems to be pretty well organised and it’s certainly very determined. The Guardian newspaper has done and continues to do an excellent job keeping the story in the public eye, so I think despite all their prevaricating there’s a good chance the British Government will eventually be shamed into owning up and paying compensation where they haven’t already. Whether that constitutes justice or not is another question, as the real damage was done years ago and can’t be undone. There was no excuse for it in what’s meant to be an accountable democracy, and it was an absolute disgrace it was ever allowed to happen. What I was interested in pressing in The Insider’s Guide to Betrayal is whether it is ever possible to justify engaging in that level of deception, when the stakes are much higher, when innocent lives really are at risk, and what happens when you decide they are and go down that road.
KOB: Both Francesca and The Insider’s Guide to Betrayal are focused on divided societies. What draws you to explore stories of such societal division?
DFM: The divisions in society, both in Europe and America, are becoming more extreme each year, and it’s something I find very worrying. It’s one of the biggest issues we are currently facing, and in my view is behind a lot of the political turmoil we have experienced, such as Brexit and the election of Trump. History tells us that whenever societies start to experience severe inequalities on the scale we are currently seeing, when people feel they have lost a stake in their society and have nothing to lose by overturning it, it generally ends badly all round. Just ask the French or the Russian aristocracy. Can we achieve a more just society through peaceful means as opposed to violent ones? I’d like to think so, but right now I’m not overly optimistic.
The other thing about divided societies is that people often end up in situations they could never have imagined in a more stable, peaceful environment. I have always been fascinated in what happens when people are pushed to extremes, how moral lines can become blurred, how they will do things and behave in ways that would have astonished and horrified them but a short time ago. How does a football mad kid who likes collecting stickers become a soldier capable of murdering innocent civilians, and what was the process that paved the way for that to happen? It’s only by exploring these threads and understanding them that we have a chance of preventing the worst aspects of our history repeating itself. You only have to look at some of the appalling things people did to each other during the Northern Ireland troubles to realise we are deluding ourselves if we think we are too civilized or sophisticated to go down that road. Bosnia was the same. These things weren’t done by animals, they were done by people like us. That’s the frightening thing about it. We can go down that road any time we choose. The camps are closer than we think. If fiction can wave a red flag and alert us to some of the dangers, then in my view it’s serving a useful purpose.
KOB: While both novels explore divided societies, they also both examine issues of family and human connection. Would you say that this is a major preoccupation of your writing?
DFM: For most people their families – and that concept can be understood in the loosest sense – constitute the arena where they engage in their most intimate relationships, where they feel free to reveal the innermost parts of themselves. And that is certainly a rewarding seam for a writer to mine, so to speak. I am fascinated by our human connections, which interestingly enough is a theme that Forster grapples with in Howard’s End. As a writer, your topic is the human condition and how that plays itself out. Connections are an inescapable part of that. Fiction is all about conflict and collision, whether it’s between world views and wills of the characters involved, or people and their external circumstances. If there is no conflict there is no drama, if there is no drama there is nothing to keep the reader with you. So, yes, I would say that’s a fairly major preoccupation of mine.
For adepts of serious summer reading:
June 20, 2018
Kelly O’Brien: Both of your novels, Francesca and The Insider’s Guide to Betrayal are set in the 1970s and 1980s, is this period of time significant to you? What interests you in the writing of historical fiction?
Donald Finnaeus Mayo: Most decades have something interesting to offer, and if you have lived through them your recollections will obviously be coloured by your own experiences. Though to hear the 1970s and 1980s described as historical fiction makes me feel very old! I tend to be drawn to subjects or events as opposed to specific decades, but I also think you sometimes need a bit of time to elapse before you can gain a proper perspective of an era. If you’re too close to an event you can end up writing reportage rather than fiction. I remember a slew of novels about 9/11 came out a few years after the twin towers came down, and people didn’t seem ready for them. They had already digested all the documentary coverage they could take, and it begged the question as to what fiction could add. It takes me a long time to percolate ideas and work out what I really think. Possibly there’s an element of nostalgia to it as well. In writing about an era I get the chance to immerse myself back in it; what music people were listening to, what was happening in the world, what they were wearing, what they feared and where their hopes lay, recreating that world for people who weren’t there or may have forgotten what it was like. Right now I’m writing a novel about the impact of the 2008 financial crash on a small town in the American South.
KOB: Francesca follows the story of a young woman in East Timor during the Indonesian invasion of 1975, a moment of history that is potentially not very well-known, is this what inspired you to tell Francesca’s story?
DFM: It was more personal than that. My father worked in the oil business, and I spent a number of years as a child living in Indonesian Borneo. This period coincided with the invasion of East Timor, which ended up costing the lives of almost a third of that country’s population. Cocooned in our expat bubble, we were completely oblivious to what was happening. That was deliberate – journalists, human rights activists and anyone else who might cause trouble were kept well away from the place by the Indonesian government. With no social media, mobile phones or internet, it was possible for a military dictatorship to effectively shut a region off from the outside world in a way that seems inconceivable today. Western powers such as the United States and Australia, who did know what was going on despite what they may have said publicly to the contrary, were happy to sit by and let Suharto’s troops embark upon this genocide because he represented a bulwark against communism, which they were terrified of spreading throughout South East Asia. Saigon had only recently fallen, and there were worries revolutions could be sparked off through Laos, Cambodia, Thailand and beyond. So poor old East Timor, who had never threatened anyone, was forgotten and left to suffer. It was only many years later, when I was working as a volunteer for Amnesty International in London, that I started coming across all these cases of human rights abuses from the region. When I examined them more closely, I was shocked to discover this mass murder had been taking place just a few hundred miles from our tennis courts and swimming pools. No one talked about it, no one wanted to upset the cosy relationship between the Suharto regime and the western oil companies. The genesis of the novel lay in the idea of what would happen if these parallel worlds jumped off their rails and collided.
KOB: You have worked previously as a radio journalist for the BBC. Do you bring any of your journalistic skills or knowledge to your fiction writing?
DFM: I’ve always been interested in politics, and in newsrooms you’re surrounded by people who live and breathe it, so you get some great conversations going with bright, witty, well-informed people. They are fairly cynical environments, and there’s a lot of cut-and-thrust between the reporters, peppered with a fair amount of black humour. It’s no place for shrinking violets. Journalism taught me discipline when it came to writing. You need to check your facts, and you need to get your point across quickly. A radio news story might be less than 100 words, so you have to make sure each one counts. On the other hand, it can be quite restrictive in what is deemed important and worthy of coverage. What’s not reported is often as significant as what is. You can end up thinking the entire human experience amounts to plane crashes, political clashes, sport and celebrity intrigue. Journalism is also very workaday and practical. There isn’t any of the mystique of the tortured writer struggling to come to grips with the essence of life as there is with fiction. Complain to a news editor you’re suffering from writer’s block and he or she will inform you the deadline’s less than an hour away and politely suggest you just get on with it. You learn very quickly to push through the barriers when the muse has taken the morning off. That helped me a lot when I was trying to juggle novel-writing with looking after young children.
KOB: You begin The Insider’s Guide to Betrayal with a quote by E.M. Forster. Was Forster a particular influence on the narrative of the novel?
DFM: Not especially, other than the quote, which came from one of Forster’s essays rather than his novels but seemed to sum up the essence of The Insider’s Guide to Betrayal. I read a lot of Forster as a teenager, but haven’t really returned to him much since they made all those Merchant Ivory films of his books. I suppose the main thing I have taken from Forster is his emphasis on creating three-dimensional characters, which is something I have always tried to do in my work. I don’t believe in goodies and baddies per se, even one of the most odious characters in Francesca, Benny Surikano, is partially redeemed by the love he has for his son. I suppose one of the most interesting things about Forster as a person is his struggle to live a double life as a gay man in an era when that could not only destroy your reputation and livelihood, but land you up in prison. You just need to think of what happened to Alan Turing to appreciate just how repressed certain aspects of people’s lives had to be for their very survival. Having made one of the most spectacular contributions to Britain’s effort to defeat the Nazis by cracking the Enigma code, he was subsequently hounded by the police for a gay indiscretion to the point where he committed suicide. How those forces played themselves out in Forster’s fiction is a matter of ongoing debate. I know some literary scholars get very irate when everything he wrote is viewed through this lens – others see it as the only way to understand him properly as an author.
To be followed on Friday, June 22nd, 2018
Click on the covers for more information about the books
July 25, 2016
Fionnuala Brennan: I studied Art History at Trinity College Dublin, so I was of course aware of the importance of Goya in European art history. Years after I graduated, I saw an exhibition of his Disasters of War etchings (Los desastres de la guerra) and that is when my fascination grew.
Here was a Court Painter in late 18th and early 19th century Spain who had painted formal portraits of Wellington, as well as of King Charles IV and Queen Maria Luisa on horseback, and yet who saw nothing glorious or triumphant in war, who depicted the cruelty and inhumanity so movingly in these small etchings. To my mind, he is one of the first and certainly one of the most influential anti-war artists. Picasso followed in these footsteps.
I went to the Prado and was struck again by his “Black Paintings”; the ones he made for himself on the walls of his country house, Quinta del Sordo, manifesting his despair of human nature. Before that, he had published his wonderfully satirical Caprichos. I went to the British Museum to see some of the originals. The society artist who mocks the hypocrisy and superstition in Spanish society – what a fascinating and enigmatic character!
JM: Why did you choose the point of view of the women in the painter’s life to reveal his character?
FB: I did not want to write a straight biography, however fictionalised, of Goya. I decided that one can learn more from slanted observation than from full frontal, as it were. And who better to have witnessed Goya’s career than the women closest to him? They can show us how he worked, what personal matters troubled or elated him, and what he thought about some of his patrons.
JM: Following on from the previous question, there seems to be an endless desire for historical novels like yours, which are often called biographical fiction, in which a fictional story is woven around illustrious figures from the past in the worlds of literature or art. I’m thinking of Tracy Chevalier’s 1999 novel The Girl with the Pearl Earring to 2011’s bestselling The Paris Wife by Paula McLain or 2014’s Mrs. Hemingway by Naomi Wood. Why do you think we like to read these types of stories?
FB: I think we enjoy biographical fiction because it is less dense and certainly less restricted than non-fiction biographies. Because it has poetic license to look behind the bald facts. Because it is the work of the informed imagination.
JM: How did you approach the historical research that is so important to your novel? I’m interested in how you strike the balance between fact and fiction: How much of the story is based around actual events and how much is the product of your imagination? Likewise the personalities you’ve given the women.
FB: Of course, I read and consulted widely to be sure of the historical events and of the dates and circumstances of Goya’s artistic output. I was always interested in trying to look as deeply as one could into the enigmatic nature of the man. I was also interested in his techniques, how he painted and etched. His letters to his lifelong friend, Martin Zapater, told me a lot. The actual events of his life, such as his commissions, his role as Court Painter, the dates of his works, his marriage, the names of five of the six women in the novel, his residences, as well as the historical events in Spain at that time are all factual.
Five of the painter’s women existed. Apart from the Duchess of Alba, however, we know very little apart from their names about the other four women. I invented Dolores, the sixth woman, in order to place her as the face of The Naked Maja and also to link Goya’s time with the Duchess of Alba in Andalusia in 1796-1797 with his fictional re-appearance in her life during the period of her illness and death in 1802.
Regarding the personalities of the women… I imagined a great deal, but based some of my characterisation on real life events. In the case of his wife Josefa, five of whose children died in infancy, such events must have greatly distressed her, as indeed they did Goya. The row he had with her brother, his first mentor, must also have been a source of distress. His reputed affairs may have disturbed her, as well as his long absence in Andalusia with the Duchess of Alba.
His mistress Leocadia was reputedly sharp-tongued. I imagined what it must have been like to have lived with a much older, difficult, deaf man and not to be accepted as his wife, nor her daughter Rosario recognised as his. According to the date she left her husband and went to live with Goya, it would certainly seem that the child was most likely his.
The character of his daughter-in-law Gumersinda is a work of my imagination. I looked at Goya’s picture of her and concluded that she was, as we say in Ireland, some piece of work. Greedy, jealous, ambitious for her husband Javier and son Mariano.
JM: The novel opens and closes with the voice of Goya’s alleged illegitimate daughter, Rosario, also a painter although lesser known. Why did you decide to bookend the story with her?
FB: Although Goya seemed to have been a courageous man, unafraid to satirize Spanish society and unflattering of his royal patrons, who mixed with the men of the Enlightenment and who was brought before the Inquisition because of his painting The Naked Maja, he had feet of clay with regard to his second family. He did not seem to have made provision for the welfare of Leocadia or of Rosario after his death, leaving everything, as far as I could ascertain, to his son Javier and grandson Mariano. I wanted to open the book with his final illness and death during which his daughter Rosario and his mistress Leocadia were his constant companions and support and to finish it with the subsequent fate of these two women, especially Rosario. This exemplifies the statement which ends the novel: “This world is a masquerade… Everyone wants to appear what he is not, each deluding the other and not even knowing himself.”
It is not possible to fully know anyone else, as we do not even fully know ourselves. So biographies, whether fictionalised or not, while casting some light on their subjects, still look through a dark or misty glass.
JM: I read somewhere that it can be difficult to put into prose the sensations that art evokes without sounding, on one hand, too precious or, on the other, too textbook. Paintings are meant to be seen to be appreciated, not read about. But your descriptions of the masterpieces he created as a result of knowing these women, or sometimes in spite of knowing them, are engaging. Did you have any concerns about this going in?
FB: This question is a bit more difficult to answer. I believe firmly that ideally paintings are meant to be seen, not read about. However, not everyone can see the paintings in the place for which they were painted, as in churches, or can go to the art galleries where they hang, so the only way they can experience the works is in art books and in the words of art critics. Also, in my novel Goya’s works are described by the women who saw them being made, so that the methods he used and the atmosphere in which he worked show us a good deal about the works themselves.
JM: Are you working on something new at the moment and, if so, can you reveal anything about it?
FB: I have just finished a book of short stories entitled Islanders, and I am writing another novel, not biographical fiction this time. It’s set more or less in the present and is in the first draft stage.
February 29, 2016
An exceptional, in-depth, interview with Craig McDonald by Steven Powell, a researcher at the University of Liverpool, UK.
Steven Powell is the editor of Conversations with James Ellroy (2012) and 100 American Crime Writers(2012). He has written several articles for the British Politics Review, blogs about crime fiction at VenetianVase.co.uk, and co-organized the “James Ellroy: Visions of Noir” conference at the University of Liverpool. His most recent work is James Ellroy: Demon Dog of Crime Fiction (Palgrave Macmillan 2016).
“If you are not already initiated, I hope this interview will persuade you to start reading the Lassiter novels. They are compelling, thrilling and darkly humorous.
Lassiter is a brilliant creation…”
Craig McDonald is an author and journalist. He has written fourteen novels, including, to date, nine books in the award-winning Hector Lassiter series. I have kept up a correspondence with Craig these past few years as we are both avid readers of James Ellroy. I’m also a massive fan of the Lassiter novels, and when Craig agreed to be interviewed by me, he also kindly supplied an advance copy of the final novel in the Lassiter series, the forthcoming Three Chords and the Truth. If you are not already initiated, I hope this interview will persuade you to start reading the Lassiter novels. They are compelling, thrilling and darkly humorous. Lassiter is a brilliant creation– a crime writer who learned his trade with Ernest Hemingway and the Lost Generation in Paris in the 1920s. He is also a man who seems dangerously prone to violent intrigue, doomed love affairs…
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June 23, 2015
Colin O’Sullivan: The Last Island covers important issues like “environmentalism, animal rights, and the costs of capitalism”. What made you want to write about these issues?
David Hogan: I believe that these are among the paramount issues of our time, and that our responses to them will shape the future. So it would’ve been hard for me not to write about them. In The Last Island the main characters are exiles and in the process of re-invention and redemption. As they struggle to re-make themselves, they are forced to ask certain questions such as: What obligation do we owe our planet and the creatures upon it? What is the nature of desire and possession? What level of cooperation or competition is appropriate? They may not find all the answers, but they are asking the questions. I believe that society too needs to undergo a process of re-invention and redemption, as many of the current answers to these questions become increasingly untenable. We don’t have the answers yet, but, like the characters in The Last Island, we need to continue to ask the questions.
O’S: What do you hope readers will take away from The Last Island?
D.H.: First off, I hope they will find the book transporting and engrossing. And I hope that they will feel that they’ve met some intriguing and thoughtful characters, who offer unconventional ways of thinking about modern life. There are many issues at play for which the novel provides no definitive answers. It does ask a good number of questions, however. In those questions, I hope that some readers might see possibilities.
O’S: Who do you picture as the ideal reader of your work?
D.H.: In Walker Percy’s The Moviegoer, Binx Bolling is on a search, which is described as “what anyone would undertake if he were not sunk in the everydayness of his own life.” Binx resists naming the object of his search; it may be God or a greater purpose or something else entirely. It’s a quixotic endeavour with an unclear goal. But what is most important, he believes, is to be aware of the possibility of the search, even if one is unable or unwilling to undertake it. My ideal reader is probably no different than the ideal reader of many other writers. It’s someone who, like Binx, is aware of the possibility of such a search and may read novels for that reason, among others.
O’S: Who is your biggest literary influence? Which writer, living or dead, would you most like to meet?
D.H.: I’ve a whole stable of writers that I keep returning to: Dostoyevsky, Joyce, Beckett, Nikos Kazantzakis, C.P. Cavafy, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ralph Ellison as well as Walker Percy, Frederick Exley, and Jennifer Egan. I read the work of playwrights Tom Stoppard, Martin McDonough, and Rebecca Gilman. I’m very much into the American poet Wendell Berry at the moment. I think his Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front speaks to what ails us.
As to meeting a writer, how about this? I’d like to have been in one of those bars in Paris with Joyce and Hemingway. We’d drink, talk books and then, if Joyce got into a fight, I’d have the pleasure of watching Hemingway step in for him. “Deal with him, Hemingway,” I understand Joyce used to say. It’s the greatest tag-team in the history of literature… or is it boxing?
O’S: What are you currently reading?
D.H.: Skippy Dies by Paul Murray, and I’m wondering why it took me so long to get to it. I’m about half-way through and, so far, it’s thoughtful, moving and very funny.
O’S: Do you listen to music when you write?
D.H.: I like to have something quiet and familiar playing in the background, especially in the first draft stage. If The Last Island has a soundtrack, it’s some of the older CDs of the Pat Metheny Group such as First Circle and Still Life (Talking). When I was struggling with one of the scenes in the Aegean Sea in The Last Island, I can remember listening to the glides and builds of First Circle and thinking ‘something like that.’
O’S: Do you have any words of inspiration on your writing desk?
D.H.: No, none, though I probably should. I do have a memo posted on my desk that reads: no ‘and then’ scenes. It’s to remind me to structure events by direct cause and effect, as opposed to episodically. Useful, I suppose, but far from inspirational.
O’S: Do you read the reviews you get?
D.H.: I probably shouldn’t – they say you shouldn’t — but I do. If someone takes the time to read my novel (or see one of my plays) and write about it, I’m interested in what they have to say.
O’S: You are involved in different kinds of writing, novels, screenwriting, etc. Which comes easiest to you? Which is most difficult?
D.H.: Playwriting seems to come easiest to me, though I’m not sure why. It might have something to do with the limitations of the stage, which demands a mere handful of characters and a single setting or two. It’s dialogue-based, and you can count on the actors, if they’re good, to bring out more than what’s on the page. There’s a tradeoff, of course, because what’s on the stage can be something entirely different from what was imagined, for better or worse. Novels are the most difficult for me, but the satisfaction is great, perhaps for that reason.
O’S: Being an Irishman I’m very pleased you wrote about At Swim Two Birds for your novel recommendation. Is there any other Irish novel or writer that interests you?
D.H.: Many of them. To my mind, the lyrical wordplay of Irish-English is unrivalled. I read anything by Colum McCann, Anne Enright and Kevin Barry. I think I’ll be adding Paul Murray to that list. I’m also a big fan of Irish crime fiction, especially when Tana French, Ken Bruen, Declan Burke, and Brian McGilloway (to name just a few) are doing the writing.
O’S: What does David Hogan do to relax?
D.H.: Less than I used to. Dinner, concerts, the occasional play. The Pacific Ocean lies only a few miles away, and I try to paddle out once or twice a week. My co-surfers call me Big Wave Dave, which, I assure you, is unreservedly ironic.
May 14, 2015
If you want to learn more about THE ANGEL OF THE STREETLAMPS from the author himself, listen to Seán Moncrieff‘s interview on RTE Radio 1 after the release of the first edition of his novel:
“There is mystery, death and love in The Angel of the Streetlamps; there are wolves and there are sheep. Seán Moncrieff presents us with a cacophony of genuine voices strutting their views on politics, religion and class wars. Moncrieff is a master of the vicious aside, the canny comment and the funny twist, and he brings insight and intelligence to this novel of a damaged, confused and all too recognisable 21st century Ireland.” —Nuala Ní Chonchúir, author of Mother America
Our edition is available here: viewBook.at/TheAngel_Moncrieff
March 9, 2015
From the interview that has just appeared in Marie-Claire Magazine and Atlas Jet Magazine, Turkey:
MC: Everybody sees The Devil Wears Prada as the book that brought the real face of fashion to literature, and many people compare your book to Devil. But actually Silk for the Feed Dogs comes from a deeper corner of fashion, where everything begins. Was it hard to write about the fashion world as an insider? What were the reactions of your fellow designers?
JM: If I was still working full-time in the industry I don’t think I would have written this book. I think a certain distance is required to recognise lunacy! The things you accept as normal when you’re deep inside the system become real head scratchers on the outside. Some designers are still trying to work out if they inspired some of the characters, in particular, the lovely Edward. I tell them all yes! Because it’s probably true. The design world has been particularly receptive to the book and I couldn’t be more grateful. They have appreciated someone lending a voice to the things they see and experience on a daily basis but which they might not have put into words. They have said that they cringed at some of the behaviours described but laughed more. While The Devil Wears Prada was essentially a fashion magazine story, Silk for the Feed Dogs goes right into the design studios and ateliers, to the beast’s lair if you like.
Read the full interview here:
Silk for the Feed Dogs is available here: http://viewbook.at/silkforthefeeddogs
February 23, 2015
“…fiction can bring us closer to truth than history or nonfiction.” Craig McDonald
This third interview, marking the new edition of HEAD GAMES, is with Sylvia Georgina Estrada (Mexico) and it appeared originally in Zócalo Saltillo:
February 22, 2015
“To mark the launch of the Betimes Books’ reissue of Head Games in trade paperback and eBook formats, I’m sharing the second of three English translations of interviews I not so long ago gave to media in Mexico regarding the release of HEAD GAMES (LA CABEZA DE PANCHO VILLA) there.
This one is with journalist Laura Luz Morales for Vanguardia (Original version in Spanish can be read here). We talk about movies, TOUCH OF EVIL, the continuing mystique of Pancho Villa, Borderland Noir, Latin American literature and poetry, among other wide-ranging topics.”
February 21, 2015
“Not so terribly long ago, I did a lot of interviews with newspapers and radio stations in Mexico in support of the Spanish language release of HEAD GAMES (LA CABEZA DE PANCHO VILLA there). HEAD GAMES is at last back in paperback and in eBook format as the seventh release in the new, definitive collection of old and new Hector Lassiter novels.
Here is the translation of one of those exchanges for the Spanish language edition of Head Games, with a couple more to follow over the next few days:
October 20, 2014
We asked Craig McDonald, author of the Hector Lassiter series and also of two books of interviews with American and European crime novelists, to interview the mysterious Hadley Colt, author of PERMANENT FATAL ERROR. They each have new novels centered by authors and informed by the craft of fiction writing. Hadley and Craig engaged in a conversation about their shared subject matter, as well as the enticements and challenges of writing about writers.
Hadley Colt: Mr. McDonald, your new book is FOREVER’S JUST PRETEND, an early and decidedly sexy chapter in the life of a twenty-something crime writer Hector Lassiter.
Craig McDonald: Ms. Colt—it’s a pleasure talking shop with you by the way—your new novel is PERMANENT FATAL ERROR, a literary thriller about the mystery surrounding “a long-missing, presumed dead cult author.”
HC: Right, but bottom-lining it and pleasing our publicists, you could say we both wrote sexy page-turners about writers in love, couldn’t you?
CM: Love, lust… Some earthy head games, if you’ll forgive the pun. And the solving of mysteries, large and small. Yeah, I think that’s a fair pitch for both our books. PERMANENT FATAL ERROR is actually chalk-full of writers of various stripes, as well as all the dubious industry figures surrounding and leeching off such writers. I’d go so far as to say your novel is a dark and erotic satire on the current state of publishing.
HC: My novel is about a biographer with his own shadowy past who is hired under odd circumstances to prepare an authorized biography of a reclusive author believed to be dead. As the biographer pokes around this dead author’s past, dark clouds gather. A body count mounts. Deals are cut. Careers are made. And, yes, many beds are wrecked.
CM: Ala Thomas Pynchon or J.D. Salinger, your legendary “dead” author, Everett Hyde, aggressively worked his recluse act while establishing himself, never allowing publicity photos or detailed biographies… Never giving an interview like this one or even a simple public reading. Everett built up a mystique to establish his so-called publishing platform. I think I admire and envy his career track.
HC: Yes, and adding to the mix is a young, aspiring female fiction writer named Ashley McKnight, as well as a snarky shark of a literary agent and a guy who writes men’s adventure novels between mercenary gigs.
CM: That guy would be your “character” Ace, the so-called “Iron Seal.” Frankly, I think I’ve brushed shoulders with that fella’s real-life counterpart in bars at about half-a-dozen Bouchercons. Even held his leather coat once outside a bar during a dustup in Baltimore. You definitely win the war in terms of populating your book with writers. FOREVER’S JUST PRETEND features a second novelist, Brinke Devlin, who is a more established genre fiction writer and the woman who more or less makes Hector into the man we come to know as the series—and Hector—matures, but that’s it for writers in my book.
Let’s return to this whole Pynchon/Salinger angle for a moment. Your timeline is such that you’re able to have most of Everett Hyde’s published works out in the world prior to the driving need or demand for author web sites, for tweeting, Facebook stalking or engagement of potential readers. All the stuff writers like you and I are expected to engage in and excel at doing. Would Everett Hyde have ever pulled off his mystery act in today’s market?
HC: Candidly, I’m pretty sure he could not. And maybe anticipating your next question, I’d venture Pynchon and Salinger would sink like stones if they tried their same mysterious author acts in our present publishing market. I’m working my own mystery thing presently, of course—Hadley Colt isn’t my real name or my first writing identity, and I’ve played with that promotionally a bit since PERMANENT FATAL ERROR launched. It hasn’t yet in any way proven to be a rocket to stardom. You’re a Hemingway aficionado of sorts, right?
CM: It’s been said.
HC: How would Hemingway have fared in today’s market?
CM: Maybe okay. He was kind of the template for Madonna or Gaga and the like in that he knew how to present a macho, adventuring public image of himself that was quite different from the real Hemingway. That invented Hemingway sold a lot of books but I’ve also ventured the opinion it destroyed the real Hem in the end. That image couldn’t accommodate an older man in failing health who could no longer drink younger men under the table, win the hearts of younger women, or clear bars in Key West brawls. As the image and man grew farther apart, the words trickled to a stall and Hemingway destroyed himself. Having said that, it’s worth noting Hem only sat for one or two meaningful, surviving interviews like this one we’re sharing now. He only gave maybe two public readings I’m aware of.
HC: As a Lassiter fan, I’ve noted the larger arc of Hector’s career—“the man who lives what he writes and writes what he lives”—is revealing a kind of evolution or impulse on Hector’s part to shed his public image, which rivals that of Hemingway’s.
CM: The crazy or audacious thing I did was to write the whole Lassiter series—at least all of the books in draft form—before the second was contracted for publication. I didn’t want to be writing annual entries in a series until they planted me under six-feet of sod. I wanted a contained arc in which quality could be sustained—probably less than a dozen books—and in which a larger story could be told. As you’ve seemingly intuited, that story will be the story of Hector Lassiter the writer: the arc of his rise, his sustained and eventually faltering success, and his determination to survive and even escape the dubious legend he’s built for himself as the world and literary culture changes around him.
HC: There’s a bit in TOROS & TORSOS where a woman riffs on a line I’ve seen others cite about Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler. In your version, it goes something like, “Chandler wrote the man he wanted to be. Hammett wrote the man he feared he was. And you, Hector? You increasingly write about the man you don’t want to be anymore.”
CM: That’s Hector’s larger journey in a nutshell. As some point, Hector even begins to write about himself as a character. And then he takes the next logical, if stunning step beyond that.
HC: Brinke Devlin is also an author. She’s Hector’s love interest introduced in ONE TRUE SENTENCE and she returns in FOREVER’S JUST PRETEND. Mild spoiler here, in the latter, she’s living on a remote island, and many presume she’s dead. She’s beginning to write under another name and… You see where I’m headed?
CM: Again, she’s the great influence on Hector’s development as a man, as an author and as a public figure. Without Brinke, there would be no Hector Lassiter as he comes to be known. Brinke is also one of Hector’s rare contemporaries, romantically. She’s actually a little older than Hector and far wiser, and she steers him around some potential career pitfalls.
It strikes me a similar but gender-inverted dynamic is at work in PERMANENT FATAL ERROR, where your heroine—I for one view your novel as really being Ashley McKnight’s story—is the youngest of your writer characters. I’ll tread lightly here: Along the lines of Brinke, one of your writer characters has also undergone a kind of career reinvention. Like you, and like Brinke, that author character has also flirted with a different writing identity and presents the possibility of a different potential mentor for Ashley as her career launches.
HC: Yes, and that writer resents the new terrain that they have to move in, now. Ashley is also strongly and explicitly cautioned against all the traps you mentioned earlier that can plague authors—all the things you listed like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
CM: I was on a panel a couple of weeks back at a literary conference. It was a decidedly multi-cultural mix. The topic was loyalty and betrayal in the context of writing. I focused on much of that promotional and cyber stuff as a potential betrayal that clearly cuts into writing time and the quality of the words on the page for too many writers. Strikingly, many of the authors from other cultures were aghast this was an issue. But as I threw out certain terms that I feel no writer of conscience should know—“SEO,” “platform,” and “digital footprints”—there were knowing head-nods from American publishing types in the audience. Suffice it to say, it’s a crazy and challenging time to be a fiction writer.
HC: You recently wrote an essay about why you write about a writer.
CM: I did. But Hadley, why do you write about writers?
HC: Partly it was the ambition to cast light on the present writing milieu we’ve talked about. Partly it was something else you wrote about in your essay: I agree with you that writers think and talk differently than other people, and I think non-writers get that. So you can write UP HERE a little more freely and readers will follow you there.
CM: What’s next for Hadley Colt?
HC: Like you, my fellow Betimes author, I’m prepping a short piece for a special Betimes Christmas presentation to come soon. After that, we’ll see. Hadley Colt is, after all, an “enigma wrapped in mystery”. Betimes is publishing your whole Lassiter series in bang-bang-bang fashion. Five are now out—two of them re-issues and three of the novels are entirely new. What’s number six going to be about?
CM: The next one is another new book, which is to say long-ago-written, but never-before-published novel, called THE RUNNING KIND. It’s set in 1950. It’s winter. The Kefauver hearings are dragging mobsters onto television to the horror of FBI director J. Edgar Hoover. Hector falls in love. It’s a road novel. It ends in the Mexican desert. It also sets the stage for a repackaged and rereleased HEAD GAMES, which put me on the map as a published novelist and netted an Edgar nomination.
HC: Mr. McDonald, it’s been a pleasure.
CM: Likewise, Ms. Colt. I’m just sorry so many decades separate our respective characters: I expect some of them would get on quite well. They’d certainly have a lot about which to talk shop.
About the authors:
Hadley Colt is the pseudonym for an internationally acclaimed author. Colt’s previous novels were published in several languages to excellent reviews and high praise from fellow writers who’ve declared the author’s work, “subtle, moving and tragic,” “non conformist,” “bold and extravagant,” “reviving,” “an explosive mix of humor and action” and who has been described as “an erudite with formidable imagination” and a “master of suspense.”
Craig McDonald is an award-winning author and journalist. McDonald’s debut novel was nominated for Edgar, Anthony and Gumshoe awards in the U.S. and the 2011 Sélection du prix polar Saint-Maur en Poche in France. The Lassiter series has been enthusiastically endorsed by a who’s who of crime fiction authors including: Michael Connelly, Laura Lippmann, Daniel Woodrell, James Crumley, James Sallis, Diana Gabaldon and Ken Bruen, among many others.
Craig McDonald’s non-fiction books include Art in the Blood: Crime Novelists Discuss Their Craft and Rogues Males: Conversations & Confrontations about the Writing Life, finalist of the Macavity Award.