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Posts tagged ‘writing life’

Les Edgerton about his novel “The Death of Tarpons”

August 14, 2018

BetimesBooksNow

 

“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

 

Donald Finnaeus Mayo about women’s fiction, spycops and divided societies (Interview, Part II)

June 22, 2018

BetimesBooksNow

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.

      

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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:

Francesca is available on Amazon and Book Depository

The Insider’s Guide to Betrayal is available on Amazon and Book Depository

 

Donald Finnaeus Mayo about journalism, modern history and inspiration (Interview, Part I)

June 20, 2018

BetimesBooksNow

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

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Interview with Colin O’Sullivan in Your Secret Library

Project

A few days before the release of Colin’s third novel, THE DARK MANUAL, a Trinity College Dublin graduate Polly Young interviews her fellow Trinity College alumnus for Your Secret Library Magazine:

Colin O’Sullivan is a poet and a novelist, author of Killarney Blues (2013), The Starved Lover Sings (2017), and The Dark Manual (May 2018), published by Betimes Books. His first novel, Killarney Blues, has won the prestigious “Prix Mystère de la critique” in France.

Colin O’Sullivan wins the “Prix Mystère de la critique” in France for “Killarney Blues”

March 26, 2018

BetimesBooksNow

Congratulations to Colin O’Sullivan, Winner of a prestigious crime fiction award in France: the Prix Mystère de la critique!

Previous winners include:

Don Winslow, Daniel Woodrell, Dennis Lehane, Boris Akunin, Donald E. Westlake, Henning Mankell, James Ellroy, Michael Connelly, Thomas Harris, and many other fabulous writers from around the world.

“Silk for the Feed Dogs” at the Franco-Irish Literary Festival

March 30, 2017

BetimesBooksNow

This Friday, March 31st, the 2017 Franco-Irish Literary Festival begins and will continue right through the weekend. Organised by Alliance Française and the Cultural Service of the French Embassy in Ireland, this annual festival celebrates the unique relationship between Ireland, France and other francophone nations through highlighting the work of their writers.

With fashion as the theme of this year’s festival, Betimes Books’ own Jackie Mallon had her first novel, Silk for the Feed Dogs, selected to be included.

The novel and one of Jackie Mallon’s illustrations in the window of International Books, a book shop in Dublin

Silk for the Feed Dogs follows Kat Connolly’s first steps as a fashion designer after she leaves Central St Martin’s School in London. Kat’s career brings her from one major fashion capital to another and, as an Irish girl trying to make her way in the international fashion industry, Kat not only encounters plenty of culture shock, but also finds herself having to compete for a spot with people who aren’t afraid to cut down those in their path. Based on her own experiences as a globetrotting fashion designer, Mallon humorously shares with us what it was like to work in this industry as an Irishwoman from Co. Tyrone.

As part of the Franco-Irish Literary Festival, Mallon will be speaking at a panel discussion on Saturday, April 1st at 12.15pm in Dublin Castle. We would love to see you there on Saturday to hear Mallon discuss fashion and writing with French writer, critic and film director Frédéric Beigbeder and Irish journalist Deirdre McQuillan, as well as her experience writing Silk for the Feed Dogs.

But for now, to celebrate this wonderful achievement, we would like to (re-)introduce you, to some of the colourful characters from Mallon’s debut novel.

Kat

Ever since she was a little girl, Kat has never followed the rest of the crowd. As a child growing up on a farm in rural Ireland, Kat was just as content feeding cows as crafting tiaras out of sweets and colouring pencils.

Kat and Jean. © Jackie Mallon

 “…my ‘rainbow tiara’, constructed of three tiers of Caran d’Ache pencils adorned with clusters of M&Ms and trailing ribbons. Da laughed as the calf lapped contentedly at the candy, the ribbons tickling his nose, making him snort.”

The same individualistic spirit follows her to London and Milan when she begins her career as a fashion designer. Tired of copying other people’s designs in her first job in London, Kat makes a sudden decision to follow her friend, Edward, to Milan. Kat finds Italy’s fashion capital to be teeming with artists and fashionistas – but which are friend and which are foe? In the highly competitive fashion world, will Kat be able to distinguish between who she can and cannot trust?

Edward

Edward. © Jackie Mallon

Edward and Kat did not get off to the best start. When they first met at Central St Martin’s School, Edward made sure to demarcate a boundary line on their shared desk, with none of Kat’s fly-away sketches or rolling pencils permitted to trespass.

Despite the chilliness of this first encounter, the pair strike up an enduring friendship, built on their dry sense of humour, taste for the eclectic, and determination to succeed in spite of the naysayers.

“He sparkled from wherever he was in the room. The sequined head of Debbie Harry — actual size — emblazoned the left boob and shoulder of his t-shirt, silver discs flashing like a smashed heart of glass.”

As their careers progress in Europe’s fashion capitals and they grapple with shrewd landlords, exploitative bosses, and the might of the continental male, their friendship means they always have each other to fall back on.

Ginevra

Lionesses. © Jackie Mallon

“She was one of those women: the ones that intimidated me just passing them in the street, a lioness.”

Lioness – this is Kat’s word for the beautiful, confident women she sees every day in Milan. Ginevra, her Italian roommate, is just such a creature; her dainty frame may lead you to believe she’s a delicate flower, but in fact she’s a no-nonsense woman with her eye on the prize. Her prize? A strong Italian husband.

“With her tumbling tresses and prominently displayed bosom, she called to mind a saloon madam stepping between two cowboys who were brawling over one of her ‘girls’.”

With experience searching high and low for the ideal man, and having met one too many bambinos and Lotharios, Ginevra is well-trained to be Kat’s cultural advisor on the Italian male.  Cocky or passionate? Or both? Kat’s at a loss. But Ginevra can help with that.

Massimiliano

Massimiliano. © Jackie Mallon

“They seemed to dance with a fire just behind the pupil. His black hair spiked every which way and his wide smile looked almost sinister outlined by a thick goatee like the ones people draw on posters at bus stops.”

The barman from Atomic who stares at Kat every time she’s there. Massimiliano looks like a cross between a wild pirate and a mysterious rock star, and it doesn’t take him long to grab Kat’s attention. But how will this Irish girl deal with his advances? With Ginevra’s vast wisdom at the back of her mind, can Kat work out whether Massimiliano is someone she can trust, or whether he is just another Lothario in it for the thrill?

Lynda

“She was addressing a blond, middle-aged woman in a long coat and green gloves. It was an expensive coat that had led the life of an inexpensive one.”

Having missed out on featuring her designs in the graduate fashion show, Kat doesn’t feel very confident about her job prospects after college. While roaming through a clothes market in London, Kat comes across Lynda, her first boss. At first, Lynda and her design business look like the image of success, but not long into her job at Lynda Winter Designs, Kat begins to wonder what exactly she has gotten herself into. How long can she put up with Lynda’s ever-changing mood and love of pitting employees against each other?

Adriani

Adriani, Eva and Kat. © Jackie Mallon

A visionary. A shining beacon of fashion. One of the most renowned designers in the world – and Kat managed to get a job with him.

No one, including Kat, can understand how she stumbled across a position at the illustrious House of Adriani. Rude and unreasonable, Adriani does not warm to Kat at first; in actual fact, he treats her exactly the way he treats the rest of his employees.

“He’s like a child responding to a tone of voice but paying no attention to the words. You see, he’s so removed from the real world, he has no idea what’s going on.”

The difference though is that Kat has never been one to fall at the feet of another. Stubbornly refusing to become another one of his submissive “Adroids”, Kat has to find a way of keeping true to herself while keeping her job at the same time.

“The Adroids clucked approval at Signor Adriani’s every decision: if he said ‘white’, it was met with enthusiastic nods; if he abruptly changed to ‘black’, they chorused anew in the affirmative. When he talked down to them, they agreed wholeheartedly”.

Arturo and Paola

In Kat’s eyes, Arturo, the Creative Director of the House of Adriani, and Paola, his co-conspirator, closely resemble phantoms.

“Arturo and Paola floated silently by like two characters from a Japanese horror movie, pale faces gazing alertly through the glass. Both wore black, their bottom halves billowing.”

It seems to her that they lurk ominously around every corner, intent on proving to Adriani that she is an imposter undeserving of sharing their workplace. Arturo and Paola are Adroids through and through; they shower Adriani with praise and are hostile to anyone else’s ideas. But a fresh insight was exactly why Kat was hired. How is she going to be effective at her job while fending off Arturo’s and Paola’s repeated attacks?

 

“The Death of Tarpons”: A journey into darkness

March 28, 2017

BetimesBooksNow

On the occasion of the new release of Les Edgerton’s debut novel, The Death of Tarpons, in paperback format by Betimes Books and in electronic format by Endeavour Press, we are taking a look back at what makes Edgerton’s first work of fiction so special. For something which, at first glance, seems so different from his later works, how does it fit so seamlessly in Edgerton’s body of work?

First published in 1996 as a hard cover edition, The Death of Tarpons stands out in Edgerton’s repertoire for how different in tone it is from his subsequent novels. To many, Edgerton is known as an acclaimed crime writer, but his most loyal fans will also know that he has never wanted to limit himself – or be limited – to one genre of writing: from short story collections like Gumbo Ya-Ya to young adult fiction such as Mirror, Mirror and plenty of non-fiction, Edgerton has explored writing in its many forms.

Consequently, it should come as no surprise that Edgerton’s first piece of writing is a touching coming-of-age story about a young teenage boy trying to build a better relationship with his father.

“Then, last year, I got this fantastic idea to do something totally on my own, in secret, that would show him once and for all I could do something mechanical. Manly. Then, he would love me and be proud of me and put his arm around me. I decided to build a boat. For him.”

Brazos River Bridge in 1958, Freeport, Texas

This sounds as far removed as possible from other works like The Rapist or Just Like That but, as one reviewer and fellow author has mentioned, the seeds of Edgerton’s later fiction can indeed be found here.

“Edgerton’s later novels have become Noir classics to many, and The Death of Tarpons hints at a moonless childhood that explains the author’s successful literary journeys into darkness.”

Jack Getze, Spinetingler Magazine, 2017

In The Death of Tarpons, young Corey certainly encounters many episodes of darkness. Nearly all of the personal relationships around him are afflicted with violent outbursts or psychological abuse: the regular beatings of his best friend, Destin, and his mother at the hands of his drunken father; the violent reprimands Corey endures from his own father as well as the emotional neglect he and his mother receive from Corey’s father – a neglect that has driven his mother to religious fanaticism.

“Every atom in my body was in fear. I had never seen such a look on his face as there was now, not even at his angriest. It was like the face of God Himself, the face the fire and brimstone preacher Mom listened to, conjured up, Sunday mornings.”

Thus, the darkness one would expect from Edgerton’s work is present in his debut; however, it is tempered by the sweet nature of its protagonist and the loving relationship Corey has with his Grandpa.

What allows Edgerton to write across different genres with such success is something that all his works have in common: an honesty that can only come from personal experience. Edgerton has described The Death of Tarpons as being “85% autobiographical” and as being a work which was long in the making, having started writing it at the age of fifteen. The setting of the novel – 1950s era Freeport, Texas – was a place where Edgerton spent part of his childhood and many characters are drawn from real life with, for example, the author’s own grandmother being just as successful and driven a businesswoman as the Grandma character featured in the novel. Just as Edgerton’s own experience as an ex-con gives a realistic edge to his crime fiction, the same truthfulness can be found in his debut.

Aerial view of downtown Freeport, Texas c.1955

“The Oyster Bar. The business that had sustained three generations, mine and my sister Doc’s, my parents, and my grandparents. The business that, along with the taxi cab company, my grandmother had created and ruled as her own private fiefdom. Not with some metaphoric iron hand, but with a very real Navy Colt long-barreled .45 on the dash of her taxi”.

The Tarpon Inn in 1954, Freeport, Texas

Honesty and credibility are what make Edgerton’s writings so distinctive and evocative. When reading The Death of Tarpons, one can really visualise what it was like being a young boy, just out on summer vacation with lots of great plans for how he was going to spend the holidays hanging out with his best friend, fishing with his Grandpa and getting closer to his dad.

1954 photograph of a teenage schoolboy taken for ‘The Luckiest Generation’ feature in LIFE Magazine

“All the way downtown, I used lawns, head down, alert for nettles and stickers. When I had to cross a street, leave the coolness of grass, I ran faster, landing on different parts of the soles of my feet. First-day-of-summer-vacation-tootsies were too white and thin-skinned for concrete baked at ninety-plus degrees.”

As with the rest of Edgerton’s work, the vividness of his characters and settings is a result of his personal knowledge of what it was like to be a young teenage boy growing up at this time in the American South. The credibility that comes from writing about places and situations one is familiar with is what gives The Death of Tarpons, as well as Edgerton’s other novels, a distinctive edge.

Tarpons cover with Hugh Seaver etching

Craig McDonald about the challenge of writing a series

November 29, 2016

BetimesBooksNow

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 Not the end of something?

By Craig McDonald

In autumn 2007, HEAD GAMES was published by Ben Leroy and Bleak House books.

It went on to earn best first novel nominations for the Edgar Award, the Anthony, and the Sélection du prix polar Saint-Maur en Poche in France, among others.

It also launched a series of ten novels featuring protagonist Hector Lassiter, pulp magazine writer, crime novelist and sometimes screenwriter.

Signing ARCs at Book Expo America 2007

Signing ARCs at Book Expo America 2007

Betimes Books has just published the climactic novel in the series, THREE CHORDS & THE TRUTH, set in Nashville about a year after HEAD GAMES, and bringing back several characters from that first novel.

CHORDS was always envisioned as a kind of HEAD GAMES sequel and definitive circle-closer.

I actually wrote the “last” Lassiter novel many, many years ago, much of it in situ in Nashville, Tennessee. I interviewed various songwriters and sat in on sound-checks to gather source material and atmosphere.

But mostly, I focused on putting a capstone on the Hector Lassiter saga.

Few are the mystery series in my experience that round out with the fulfillment of a charted character arc or larger story.

Most series simply trail off into oblivion because of soft sales, or the death of their author.

If the series is particularly popular, when the creator dies, some other writer is brought in to keep churning out inferior, never quite satisfying continuations, again toward no planned end.

There are very few exceptions to this rule of the never-ending series.

Most of those that occur still don’t typically deliver a unified story arc carried to a planned climax built toward across the span of the series.

More often, some poor author gets a dire diagnosis and so races the clock to close out their series before they too are “closed out.”

Others elect to do something mirroring Agatha Christie’s strategy of writing a series closer well ahead of time, then holding it in reserve for posthumous publication.

(Though in the Dame’s case, even killing off her character didn’t stop others from publishing further Poirot novels following the appearance of CURTAIN.)

I’ve long acknowledged James Sallis’ cycle of Lew Griffin novels as the inspiration for the Lassiter series.

Dublin reading, August 2016

Dublin reading, August 2016

Sallis wrote an interconnected and finite series of novels that together tell a larger story and build to a final revelation regarding his central protagonist.

With the Lassiter series, I wanted to do something similar: Construct a series toward a known end, allowing each book to stand alone, more or less, but in sum telling a much larger story regarding the character of Hector Lassiter and his eventual fate.

It was an audacious or perhaps even foolish goal to write a whole series ahead of any contract commitments. Certainly, given what I now know of the vagaries and failings of much of the publishing industry, it was a very naïve and hopeful thing for a baseline cynic like myself to undertake.

Yet I wrote first drafts of the novels in the series in the space of about three months per title, back-to-back, working toward the known conclusion of this last, Nashville-set series-closer.

The later entries in the series were mostly well into composition before the second novel, TOROS & TORSOS, was even contracted for publication by Bleak House Books.

Please let me run a highlighter over that point: Most of the series, including the last volume, was virtually written before the second book reached the galley stage some time in the summer of 2008.

There was never any guarantee the books would all see print. There was every chance the project might stall around book four or five and the rest of the novels would remain in limbo.

The first translation: French (La tête de Pancho Villa, Editions Belfond, 2009)

The first translation: French (“La tête de Pancho Villa”, Editions Belfond, 2009)

But the series has hung in there, collecting an international audience through translations in Spanish, French, Italian, Russian, Korean and Mongolian, among others.

In English language form, the Lassiter series currently encompasses four different publishers.

HEAD GAMES was also quickly optioned for graphic novel adaptation by First Second Books, prior to its Bleak House publication. I wrote the script for that project over a weekend nearly ten years ago (the art came much more slowly).

Next October, nearly ten years to the day that HEAD GAMES the novel was released, HEAD GAMES the graphic novel will at last appear.

A short story collection will also follow next year from Betimes Books, which now prints uniform editions of the entire series.

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Paris, March 2011

The short story collection will feature a never-before-published Lassiter novella set in the 1920s that roughly approaches the word count found in HEAD GAMES.

So while THREE CHORDS does represent the climax of the Hector Lassiter series as originally set forth, the Lassiter saga still has some moves left.

Hector has opened remarkable doors for me and provided international travel opportunities for my family.

He is forever there somewhere in my head, sometimes whispering in my ear. When you write this much about a single character for so long, you actually begin to see the world through his eyes.

Telling this storyteller’s story has resulted in years of wonderful correspondence and conversation with readers of all ages, nationalities and interests who’ve followed his saga.

I very much look forward to hearing the reactions to this “last” Hector Lassiter novel.

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 Contact us for a free electronic review copy!

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Hadley Colt about her second novel for Betimes Books, a reinvention of the timeless legend of Sherlock Holmes

September 28, 2016

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From Hadley Colt‘s blog:

PUBLISH OR PERISH? (THE RED-HANDED LEAGUE DEBUTS)

“I am lost without my Boswell.”

—Sherlock Holmes

The Red-Handed League, my new thriller about Sherlock Holmes, debuts this week.

Hewing to a Doylean naming strategy, this little essay might be called, The Matter of the Murdered Biographer. It could also be titled, The Case of Fearful Symmetry.

Here’s what I mean:23

My first work published by Betimes Books was the literary thriller Permanent Fatal Error. It centers on a presumed-dead cult novelist ala J.D. Salinger or Thomas Pynchon whose would-be biographers mysteriously die.

The Red-Handed League is a present-day prequel to Conan Doyle’s first-published Sherlock Holmes tale, A Study in Scarlet.

My new book spins on inappropriate relationships between students and instructors at an upscale private school. It also re-imagines and melds aspects of several noted Holmes tales, including “The Red-Headed League” and “The Master Blackmailer.”

What goes around comes around, they say.

Or as Holmes might observe, “Everything comes in circles. The old wheel turns and the same spoke comes up. It’s all been done before, and will be again.”

There’s a creepy nexus between my first and second books for Betimes, you see.

While we were working on cover designs and last touches for The Red-Handed League, my publisher ran across an article about a man obsessed with writing the definitive biography of a famous author, only to die violently under the most mysterious of circumstances.

The excellent article by David Grann detailing this real-life mystery was published in The New Yorker in December 2004.

“That’s pretty far back in the rearview mirror, Ms. Colt,” you might point out.

And I’d respond, “Yes. Yes, it is.”

And yet?

There is fearful symmetry in this. Deliciously lingering mystery, too.

The Betimes Books publisher and her author were struck by the very strange overlap between the mysterious death of a deceased novelist’s would-be biographer (the set up for an elevator pitch for Permanent Fatal Error) and the fact our second novel together centers on Sherlock Holmes.

captureYou see, the real-life biographer who met his mysterious death in his home surrounded by Holmesian books and collectibles was a revered Sherlock scholar named Richard Lancelyn Green.

His intended biographical subject was (of course) Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Apparent cause of death: (Clears throat) Self-garroting with a bit of string and a spoon.

Pray, go off now and read Mr. Grann’s superb piece on this mysterious affair. I’ll wait here, staring out the window, surely brooding, but sans pipe or violin.”

***

Hooked? Continue reading here

 

Craig McDonald’s reading in Dublin as if you were there

August 4, 2016

BetimesBooksNow

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Thanks to all who attended last night’s reading in Dublin!

For those who weren’t there, here is a recording of the event: https://www.periscope.tv/w/1ypKdPmjArRKW

If you want to read the excerpt that Craig read last night, the first chapter of Head Games, click here:

viewBook.at/HeadGames_McDonald

And here is Craig McDonald‘s speech and a few pictures of the venue and the event.

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“One character, ten novels.

Please allow me to introduce you to Hector Lassiter, author, screenwriter and adventurer.

# 2. HECTOR

He’s my primary protagonist and a guy who’s high-jacked an obscene amount of my personal head space.

At base, Hector’s a man always in pursuit of strong sensations and experiences he can lay down on the printed page.

IMAG2318For the purposes of tonight’s reading, I ask you to imagine it’s 1957. We’re sitting in a drinking establishment, not in Dublin, but rather in some dusty, sweltering cantina hard up against the Rio Grande as we call it in The States. 

The Mexican’s call the same body of water that divides our countries the Rio Bravo. You see, on my dark side of the Atlantic, even the rivers have aliases.

Tonight you’ll be riding shotgun in THE classic American car: a Fifty-Seven, Chevrolet convertible Bel Air. We’re on the road with Hector and his sidekick for this particular escapade that I’ll be reading from, a young and aspiring poet named Bud Fiske.

In his peculiar corner of pop culture, Hector’s also known as “the man who lives what he writes and writes what he lives.”

He’s the protagonist of a finite arc of the ten novels I referenced a moment ago. The last, Three Chords & The Truth, will appear this November courtesy of Dublin-based Betimes Books, who hosts our gathering this evening along this la frontera of the mind.

The novel to come this fall is a kind of sequel to Head Games, which is the first and mostly widely published Hector Lassiter novel, and one that will also appear as a graphic novel next fall. Head Games is the book I’ll be reading from tonight.

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With border tensions, Donald Trump and his hugebeautiful wallsuch a great wall—as well as all-too real, cross-border terrorism fears looming large back home, Head Games is arguably more timely than ever.

So here’s the thing: If any label best describes the Hector Lassiter series, it’s probably “Historical Thrillers.” My novels, or maybe Hector’s, always combine myth and history.

The Lassiter novels spin around secret histories and unexplored or underexplored aspects of real events. They’re set in real places. The also frequently incorporate real people.

As a career journalist—yes, I still toil in that uncertain trade, despite my swanky secret life as a published novelist—I’m often frustrated by the impossibility to definitively nail down people or events. 

Read five biographies of the same man, say, of Ernest Hemingway, or Orson Welles, and you’ll close each book feeling like you’ve read about five different people.

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So I’ve reluctantly concluded defining fact as it relates to history is like stroking smoke or tapping a bullet in flight.

History, it’s been said, is a lie agreed to.

But maybe in fiction we can find if not fact, something bordering on truth. With that possibility in mind, I explore what I can make of accepted history through the eyes of this man.

The “hero” of my series, your guide through my books, is Hector Mason Lassiter, a shades-of-grey man who’s a charmer, a rogue, a bit of a rake—a handsome rover, if you will—and, himself, a crime novelist.

Some others in the novels say he bears a strong resemblance to the actor William Holden. Hector smokes and drinks and eats red meat. He favors sports jackets, open collar shirts and Chevrolets. He lives his life on a large canvas. He’s wily, but often impulsive. He’s honorable, but mercurial.

He often doesn’t understand his own drives. That is to say, he’s a man. He’s a man’s man and a lady’s man. He’s a romantic, but mostly unlucky in love. Yet his life’s largely shaped by the women who pass through it.

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Hec was born in Galveston, Texas on January 1, 1900. He came in with the 20th Century, and it was my aim his arc of novels span that century—essentially, through each successive novel, giving us a kind of under-history or secret-history of the 20th Century.

Tall and wise beyond his years, as a boy Hector lied about his age and enlisted in the Army. He accompanied Black Jack Pershingand participated in the general’s abortive hunt down into Mexico to chase the Mexican Revolutionary Pancho Villa who attacked and murdered many American civilians in the town of Columbus, New Mexico.

Villa’s was the first and only successful terrorist assault on the United States homeland prior to the events of September 11, 2001.

Much of that part of Hector’s life figures into Head Games: You’ll catch some glimpses in the reading to follow.

Head Games originally was published in 2007.

Its follow-up in original publication sequence, Toros & Torsos, opens in 1935 and features Ernest Hemingway as a kind of sidekick. Subsequent books about Hector similarly hopscotched back-and-forth through the decades upon original publication.

The current Betimes Books releases of the Hector Lassiter series present the novels in roughly chronological order—at least in terms of when each story opens.

IMG_3573Call me audacious, or call me crazy: The Lassiter novels were written back-to-back and the series mostly shaped and in place before Head Games was officially published. Let me run a highlighter over that point: this series was largely written before the first novel was even contracted for publication.

It’s very unusual in that sense: a series of discrete novels tightly linked and that taken together stand as a single, larger story.

My approach as a writer has always been to try and describe the movie I’m seeing in my head.

Tonight’s film is a kind of mash-up of Sam Peckinpaugh, Quentin Tarantino, and if you believe several book reviewers, the Cohen Brothers.

So. Welcome to the world of Hector Lassiter.

IMG_2832It’s 1957, and we’re in a bottom-rung cantina in Ciudad Juarez—these days regarded as the murder capital of the world. We’re in this cantina with Hector and Bud. 

From somewhere, there’s a tune playing on piano or accordion. Some piece of Mexican music… Maybe it’s Volver, Volver, or maybe Cancion de Mixteca

A fight’s looming, and to coin a phrase, this is no personal brawl—anyone can join in.”

Craig McDonald, Dublin, Ireland, August 3rd, 2016

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P.S. WE STILL HAVE A FEW COPIES OF CRAIG McDONALD’S BOOKS SIGNED BY THE AUTHOR!

DON’T MISS YOUR CHANCE TO PURCHASE ONE! CONTACT US

 

Literary suicides: excerpt from PRINT THE LEGEND by Craig McDonald

March 31, 2016

BetimesBooksNow

8 PRINTx2700“Hector sat in a booth alone in the back of the Italian restaurant. The freezing rain was lashing the windows and the trees lining the streets of Georgetown looked like glass sculptures. He took another sip of red wine and pulled the letter from his pocket. He read it five times:

Poor dearest Pickle:

There is no surprise in this.

I’m awfully sorry for the mess.

The body’s been dying for some time (from the moment really, that second plane went down at Butiaba), and the rest has raced in pursuit these past months. It has all finally gone to pieces and I am beat to the wide beyond promise of recuperation or recovery.

Now it’s over and you can get on with your life.

I’ve spent my mornings since the last war working at four books I can’t finish. And all of these last, unfruitful years spent rummaging through the remise of my memory for likely material has only stirred up old ghosts and guilts. Untenable regrets that all of the bottles of giant killer I am now denied and all of the last bits of love that you might still muster towards me cannot palliate.

A writer who can no longer write can no longer live.”

The letter continues in PRINT THE LEGEND, available here.

BetimesLOGO3 blue“A novelist who has a main character first use[d] The Hemingway Review as a doorstop and later set another issue on fire and fling it out a window probably isn’t holding his breath waiting for a favorable review of his book in that particular publication. But Craig McDonald’s Print the Legend (its title taken from The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, the 1962 Western directed by John Ford) deserves the attention of Hemingway aficionados… McDonald tosses off throw-away allusions and inside jokes with apparent effortlessness… McDonald is a writer’s writer, so the book is also, improbably but effectively, a meditation on the art of writing fiction.”    —THE HEMINGWAY REVIEW

“Through Hector’s musings and actions, we are treated to an intimate view of Hemingway’s writings as well as his life. And as Lassiter tries to protect the woman he loves while pursuing a personal enemy, he evolves into a credible romantic figure. This book will appeal to readers who read outside the crime genre.”    VERONIKA PELKA, HISTORICAL NOVEL SOCIETY (Editor’s Choice Selection)

 

Interview with Richard Kalich in AM FM Magazine

March 3, 2016

BetimesBooksNow

“High Art can of course be found in all the disciplines, music, painting, all creative writing, film, etc.  For me…all that I define as High Art has but one categorical imperative.  It makes as its inherent demand and calling that we, as humans, stand before it and surrender ourselves wholly and completely to it.  It doesn’t happen often, but when it does:  That’s Art.”   –Richard Kalich

Full text here: On the Fecundity of the Unconsciousness as Inspiration

An Interview with Craig McDonald: The Hector Lassiter Series

February 29, 2016

BetimesBooksNow

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).

10 Three Chords“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…”

 

The Venetian Vase

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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Jackie Mallon about the aftermath of the Paris attacks and “A Moveable Feast”

November 23, 2015

BetimesBooksNow

We’ll Always Have Paris

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It is still difficult to comprehend what happened in Paris last weekend. Tonight as I write this there are reports of terrorist threats on cities as diverse as Brussels and Atlanta. Inside a crowded downtown Manhattan cafe, we hear a police siren and fire truck pass and all of us raise our heads and look to the window. Tomorrow I will go to work near Times Square and I can’t help imagining what if…It’s easy to fall prey to the most crippling fear when the bad guys seem to be maniacally spinning a desktop globe of the world and stopping it randomly, their only strategy of attack apparently pointing to a colored landmass with a dirty fingernail. But we just can’t allow ourselves to get mired down in the headlines… unless the headline is this one:

Hemingway’s Paris Memoir Flies Off Shelves in Show of Defiance

A Moveable Feast, or Paris est une Fête in French, first published in 1964, Hemingway’s gorgeous account of life in Paris during the 1920s, is undergoing a resurgence in popularity across France. Amazon.fr orders have increased 50-fold. Copies have been laid alongside the flowers honoring the deceased. Social media movements such as #jesuisenterasse or #everyonettothebistrot call Parisians to continue to get out and live the life that their unique city offers. Everything the book celebrates, and Paris represents, is here in these words of Hemingway’s:“We ate well and cheaply and drank well and cheaply and slept well and warm together and loved each other.”

Vive la France! I’m with you! Thanks for showing us how it’s done.

Nothing makes the heart sing like the resilience of the human spirit. By maintaining the comforting rituals we enjoy, immersing ourselves in the minutiae of daily life, we will conquer the worst of it.karl-lagerfeld-it-felt-like-there-was-a-black-veil-over-the-city-body-image-1447693364

This LOVE created by Louis Vuitton in the wake of the attacks might arouse the cynicism of those blinkered types who decry it as corporate logoing of a tragedy.

Not me.

Get out and shop, it says. Treat yourself to something nice, something you’ll love forever.

In fact, grab a copy of Hemingway’s fifty-year-old love letter to Paris, put on your most scandalous frock or loudest britches, don a hat, put the Chihuahua in your purse, and set off promenading to the nearest boîte. No, the ostrich boa isn’t too much.

Hats and Cocktails         Fashion Week! 2

I almost moved to the city once but life took me to a neighboring fashion capital instead. But it has always represented my two passions, fashion and literature, and with the two simple gestures mentioned above, Paris has assured me that it will be ok. Better than ok, it will be a feast.

 

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Jackie Mallon, author of Silk for the Feed Dogs

http://jackiemallon.com/2015/11/22/well-always-have-paris/

Translation rights news: PRINT THE LEGEND to be published in Mongolia

November 18, 2015

BetimesBooksNow

Craig McDonald‘s novel PRINT THE LEGEND (#8 in the internationally acclaimed Hector Lassiter series) is going to be translated into Mongolian and published by Bolor Sudar Publishers in 2016.

Hector Lassiter novels have been translated so far into French, Italian, Spanish (Mexico), Japanese, Korean and Russian.

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Listen to an excerpt read by Craig McDonald and read his essay about the novel.

 

“DEATH IN THE FACE is my love letter to that strange sad man Ian Fleming”

November 8, 2015

BetimesBooksNow

Craig McDonald about his new novel:

DEATH IN THE FACE: THE YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE FACTOR

(Caution: Mild spoilers ahead for the James Bond novel and film, YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE.)

In 1962, a gravely ill Ian Fleming went to Japan to research what would result in his penultimate James Bond novel, YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE.

Typical of Fleming, he planned for himself a macabre itinerary he hoped would showcase the stranger sides of Japan that might in turn inform his novel. He went in the company of two journalists with Asian expertise (more on them later).

The resulting book is one of the darker, more doom-laden of the James Bond novels, almost gothic in atmosphere, and a world away from the resulting 1967 film adaptation which became the first Bond film to jettison the majority of its Fleming inspiration’s plot.”

Continue reading here

Death in the Face

DEATH IN THE FACE: THE STRANGE LIFE & DEATH OF YUKIO MISHIMA

October 21, 2015

BetimesBooksNow

Craig McDonald about Yukio Mishima, one of the characters in his latest Hector Lassiter novel, Death in the Face:

“Yukio Mishima (born Kimitake Hiraoka) was a gifted novelist and one of Japan’s great literary figures. He was a true renaissance man who composed nearly three dozen novels, nearly as many books of essays, more than two dozen short story collections, plays, screenplays and who dabbled in acting.

He was considered a likely contender for the Nobel Prize for literature.

Mishima was increasingly appalled by Japan’s post-war Westernization and turned further and further toward martial arts studies and an embracement of Samurai codes of life and personal conduct. He practiced body-building and kendo, and, in 1968, he formed is own private militia.

His death came almost immediately upon completion of his novel, THE DECAY OF THE ANGEL, the final volume of his SEA OF FERTILITY tetralogy that many regard as Mishima’s masterwork.

Yukio Mishima shares a lunch with my fictional novelist, Hector Lassiter, in DEATH IN THE FACE, the next-to-last novel in the Lassiter series.

Lassiter is in Japan, dogging the steps of his fellow thriller writer Ian Fleming, who has come to gather materials for his James Bond novel YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE.”

Continue reading here: http://craigmcdonaldbooks.blogspot.fr/2015/10/death-in-face-strange-life-death-of.html

“A quixotic endeavour with an unclear goal”. Colin O’Sullivan interviews David Hogan.

June 23, 2015

BetimesBooksNow

 

 

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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.

The Last Island

Writing, reading, music, and “far-awayness”. David Hogan interviews Colin O’Sullivan

May 27, 2015

BetimesBooksNow

David Hogan: You’re in the long tradition of writers leaving Ireland in order to write about it.  Is there something unique about the country that pushes you away while at the same time drawing you back?

Colin O’Sullivan: The Irish have always been a migrant race as you know, for many reasons too long to get into here , and I’ve always been fascinated by those great Irish writers who left and became the geniuses we know today – I’m thinking specifically of Joyce and Beckett, two artists who loom very large in my writing life. I never understood it until I actually did it, I suppose. That is until I upped and left Ireland and spent years abroad, I never really understood the idea of exile and writing about your native country from a distance (physical and emotional). But I think it has made me a better writer. I don’t think I’d write as much or as well if I had stayed at home – I think I’d be far too busy drinking Guinness and watching football (nothing at all wrong with those pursuits, but I don’t think I’d write very much). The fact that those delights aren’t available to me here means I have to get down to work and the hard graft of writing. And following on from that, I then have, I suppose, the time and inclination to look back and contemplate my native land. That’s not to say that all my work will be set in Ireland – my new work is wildly different and has nothing at all to do with my homeland.

D.H.: What are you working on now then?

C.O’S.: I won’t go into too much detail (might jinx the whole endeavour) and even to describe it might not do it justice, but let’s for the moment say it is an: existentialist-gothic-tragi-political-satirical-absurdo-comedy…with wolves, set in Japan 2045. If that doesn’t whet the appetite I don’t know what will!! If Killarney Blues was my Blue period, then I’m just moving into my Cubist period – do you like the way I align myself with geniuses?

D.H.: Bernard in Killarney Blues loves American blues “Because it’s exotic. From far away.”  You’re an Irishman living in Japan; can this sentiment be applied to yourself in anyway? 

C.O’S.: Yes, I think that can be applied to me in many ways. Not just because I live in Japan and appreciate the “difference” in culture, but in my artistic tastes too. Growing up I didn’t like traditional Irish music at all (I’ve since changed my mind) and wanted only rock, and certainly not Irish rock music, but British or American only. The further away the better from Irish shores the more authentic, I had foolishly thought. I don’t know why this was, a form of teenage rebellion I suppose. And I went through a phase of reading loads of American literature and eschewed anything from Ireland too. Maturity in thought and a sense of balance comes with age of course and I’m not so silly and dismissive anymore. But I still have a lot of Bernard in me – been going through a jazz phase over the last few years, which has of course absolutely nothing to do with Ireland and I enjoy it’s “far-awayness”.

D.H.: Funny you should mention jazz, your writing has a jazzy, improvisational feel to it.  Are you able to get into ‘a zone’ where this flows?   Does it come in the editing?  Do you have to be careful not to over-edit?

C.O’S.: The zone. Yes, that’s a good word, I suppose I do get into it and try to go with that particular flow. It’s difficult to describe. But I do aim for that intensity of thought and concentration, whatever happens within that, whether it is jazzy or not, I don’t know. I’m looking for that voice I suppose. In Killarney Blues I was trying to get Bernard’s voice or Jack’s or whoever, yes, and improvising around them. As for editing, well, I can’t stop. I can go over pages again and again for hours, and still might miss something! There comes a stage when you have to call in another pair of eyes. Luckily I have a great editor at Betimes Books to help with that.

D.H.: Did you listen to the blues while writing “Blues?”  Something else?

C.O’S.: I did listen to a lot of blues at that time yes, while going for a walk or whatever, or just doing work around the house, not during the actual writing time though: I prefer silence. Instrumental music I can take, a little; I can’t listen to anything with lyrics when I write, I get too involved. Drone-like stuff works best. But yeah, you can’t beat silence when you’re trying to get the words down.

D.H.: There’s the great line in Killarney Blues: “The kind of person you’d release from prison on the back of songs.  As if music, and music alone was enough.”  This speaks to the redemptive power of music and, by inference, literature.  What are the respective powers of the two mediums to you?  How are they alike or different?

C.O’S.: They’ve always been there for me, that’s about as much as I know. I’ve always been fascinated by books, music, all art in fact, and have always found them to be my salvation. That sounds very pretentious, but I don’t know how else to describe it. I’ve always needed books and music around me at all times and I get antsy when they are out of reach. Music from my teenage years still gets me tremendously excited as do books that I’ve read and cherished several times. And I love that feeling of being overwhelmed and utterly excited by art. It’s thrilling, and I’ve never lost it.

D.H.: The demise of long forms (e.g. the album as opposed to singles and the novel) has long been predicted.  Are you concerned about this?  What will be lost or gained?

C.O’S.: I’m not overly concerned; I think music will always find a way. I do miss things, the long playing albums like you say, the cover art that isn’t so important anymore, sleeve notes, that kind of thing. Something like Bowie’s Low is hard to conceive as anything other than a two-sided record: listening to it straight on the iPod, it misses something; you feel like you have to turn over for the very different second “side”. But musicians are still making all kinds of great music and it’s still finding a way to get to us, so I’m happy enough about that, I guess. The novel will also endure. As an art form it’s too important not to.

D.H.: Desert island question: would you take a book or an album?  Which one?

C.O’S.: A book, something huge, like The Complete Shakespeare, or War and Peace. I already have music playing in my head 24 hours anyway. Even my dreams have a soundtrack and I wake up thinking: Wow, I haven’t heard that song in years.

D.H.: What type and color of hat are you wearing these days? 

C.O’S.: This grey one:

FullBW

D.H.: What are you reading and/or listening to? 

C.O’S.: On the current playlist: Sonny Rollins, Miles Davis, PIL, The Fall, Swans and Nick Cave/Warren Ellis.

Reading: Tim Winton’s Eyrie, Witold Gombrowicz’s Diary, and Kevin Barry’s short story collection Dark Lies the Island.

D.H. What does Colin do for fun?

C.O’S.: Music and books, what else is there? Actually I do enjoy watching football (that’s soccer to you David) movies, and good TV dramas too, the usual box set stuff that everyone loves, and if there’s a good comedy out there I’m on it, like Veep or Louie – boy, do we need a laugh in the world these days… but that’s another story, eh?

Reading when I write? by Colin O’Sullivan

April 29, 2015

BetimesBooksNow

“When something of literary merit affects you, then a sliver is naturally going to rub off on your prose.”

Read the full text here: Reading when I write?

 

Colin O'Sullivan is the author of Killarney BLues