Stuff & Nonsense 028: New Madrid
This week's chat is with writer Steve Weddle - who some of you may know from his excellent "novel-in-stories" Country Hardball, which The New York Times described as "dazzling." Pretty good, eh?
Not only is Steve a superb writer - Hardball was one of my favorite books of 2013 - but he also edits Needle: A Magazine of Noir and blogs at Do Some Damage. We split the Thursday assignment at DSD, though if there's a skipped post, it's usually my fault. Steve was one of the first pros to say nice things about Silent City when it was first released, and his praise really helped get some eyeballs on my first novel. It meant a lot, and though I've only seen him in person once, I consider him a friend. I'm kind of kicking myself for taking so long to chat with him here. Hope you enjoy the conversation. As usual, this interview was edited for clarity and space.
Steve, let's dive right in. I want to discuss something that jumps out at me when thinking about you and your online presence. How important is it to you to spread the word on other writers, specifically those that might not be getting the recognition they deserve?
It’s crucial, at least to me. Why else do we have a community if not to share interests? If someone I respect suggests that I might like something – music, books, whiskey – I pay attention. If Chris Holm emails me a link to a band I might like, well, I’ve gotten to where I just buy some of their songs first and then listen to whatever he sent. That’s a level of trust that takes years to build, of course, but it’s what I find helpful about knowing folks online.
You can get bombarded with product advertisements, but when you see a writer you dig saying you might like this other writer, you should check that out, I think. That’s why I worked with others to get Do Some Damage started. And Needle. Those are outlets that help get the word out about talented people who are writing.
If they’re not getting the recognition they deserve, it’s up to us to let people know about them. That’s how I have found some great writing, through folks on Twitter and Facebook saying nice things. If you dig something, say something.
Totally agree. I try to spread the word on the good as much as I can, because who knows who might be reading? That said, what's the Steve Weddle origin story? How did you go about writing your novel-in-stories, Country Hardball and what brought you to Tyrus?
I was writing some stories for publication and, as I was doing that, I was approached by editors of books and at websites asking me for stories. I’d been thinking about setting, both in terms of geography and character, of how one informs the other. I started working on how all these characters fit together and when someone asked me to send in a story, I’d write out one from that world. I’d ask myself whose story I wanted to tell next. A few weeks later, I’d end up doing the same thing for another publication. I just made each of these little pieces and, once I’d gotten enough to make the whole picture, I put the pieces together.
As for Tyrus, I’d fallen in love with Bleak House Books many years back, when Ben LeRoy and Alison Jannsen (now Alison Dasho) were putting out some amazing books. They did a thing they called the Evidence Collection for some crime fiction, which put a “rap sheet” with the author’s fingerprint in the front of the book. I thought that was pretty cool. They sold bundles of signed copies, too. I’d saved up $50 somehow and bought a bundle. I got more than I’d paid for, with a nice note from Alison saying that she’d taken some of the signed copies she had on her desk and included them. It’s one of the nicest things anyone has ever done for me.
Eventually Tyrus emerged from Bleak House, kinda sorta.
Of course, having named the main character, Roy Alison, after Ben LeRoy and Alison Jannsen, I knew Tyrus would be a great place for the book. World’s Best Agent took care of that for me.
What a book, too. Country Hardball was received so well, which leads me to my next question - one that you handle with humor each time I've seen you answer it: when's the next book coming out?
I don’t know. I promised the World’s Best Agent that I’d have it to her by 2025, though that may be optimistic. Each time I start writing on it, I realize how much more I want from this story, how much more I want to tell. I’m not under contract with anyone, so there’s no hurry.
I'm in a hurry to read it, if that affects anything...
I ask this a lot, mostly because I'm curious about what forms certain writers and their styles. Who are the writers - past, present - that get you jazzed or influence your own work?
I’m fortunate to be friends with many, many great writers and, let’s be honest, a few who aren’t very good. If you follow me online, you can see me pointing folks in various directions, so I’ll refrain from mentioning those authors I’ve mentioned a thousand times already.
I’ve been on a Marilynne Robinson kick of late. I find Gilead to be a tremendous work, grand and personal in equal measure.
In general, Per Petterson’s Out Stealing Horses. Ben Okri’s poems. Short novels from Cynan Jones and Sjon. Zadie Smith’s NW. The poetry of James Welch and of Richard Hugo.
In particular, William Stafford’s “Traveling Through the Dark” made my story “Smoke Fades Away” the type of story it is. Van Halen caused “Good Times Gone.” Drive-By Truckers gave me “Champion.”
I tend to look for tone in some work, characters in others. I read a story or hear a song and the cuff of my pants leg hangs on a bent nail there. That tug, that rip is what brings me from someone else’s work to my own.
I think one of the realities a lot of readers might not fully get is that many writers have to have a day job to make ends meet. Can you talk a bit about balancing your day job with your creative work, and how you accomplish it?
This morning I got up at 4:30 so that I had time to write. I got a thousand words down. Yesterday I got up at 5 and tinkered with a few sections. I have to get the writing done early, before work. Once I get home from work, I’ve dealt with people all day and I’m broken. My wife and I are working on getting the kids fed at that point and working at finding Youtube videos to explain to us this dumb, stupid math they’re teaching the kids now. We spent two nights learning some new multiplication thing called “lattice.” You think I can write a novel after dealing with that kind of horror? Hell, it’s all I can do to find a quiet corner I can weep in.
In terms of process, am I correct in saying you write your first drafts by hand? What happens next? What are your writing tools?
I write by hand, yeah. When people ask me why I do that, I tell them that I found writing by foot too difficult. I’m the only one who finds that funny, but it doesn’t stop me from saying it.
It's kind of funny.
I write by hand and use the right-hand side of the moleskine for the story and left-hand side for notes and ideas. I’ll scrawl out the narrative in the right and I’ll make a notation on the left of the notebook to say “Bring idea of angel as distance back in last third.” I don’t know what the hell that means, but maybe when I get to the last third I will.
When I have some pages done, I’ll type those into Scrivener. I don’t write chapters. I write scenes. So Scrivener gives me 93 cards for the 51,387 words that are in the machine for this book.
Writing by hand and then typing into the electronic box gives me a couple passes at the writing, so it helps to slow me down. If people were calling me and wanting the seventeenth installment of my detective series by next Thursday, I’d have to write quicker. But no one is calling me for anything like that. I get a call from Kohl’s every so often asking for the money I owe them, but nothing about books.
How did the Playboy Magazine short story come about?
World’s Best Agent Stacia Decker emailed to say that the nice folks at Playboy were interested in considering a short story from me if I had one I’d be interested in sending. So I wrote a story and emailed it to her. I’d been thinking about what happens to Roy Alison after Country Hardball ends, so it was good timing. She sent it to them and they bought it.
They did such a great job with the story in print, especially with the brilliant artwork from Jonathan Bartlett that ran along with it. His gallery of artwork online is simply magnificent.
Are there any shows, or other media, that you've been tapped into lately?
For the most part, the only TV I’ve been interested in since the end of baseball season has been Premier League soccer. Though we did watch a PBS documentary this weekend about TB and I learned that 1 in 170 Americans lived in a sanitarium in the early twentieth century. How bananas is that?
As for music, do you know The Wild Reeds? Chris Holm threw them in my way earlier this week and, of course, they’re staggeringly wonderful. The new William Elliott Whitmore from this spring is starting to grow on me. And Leon Bridges, the gospel-blues guy out of Texas.
I hadn't heard of them, but I did give them a long listen yesterday and was impressed. Please CC me on these music emails because you guys are onto something...
On the reading table, along with Marilynne Robinson and a collection of stories from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie that I picked up from Books to be Red in Ocracoke this summer, I've got some Ian Rankin. Having never read anything of his before, I'm in a great spot to catch up and not have to wait for his next book, like so many of his fans are forced to do. Waiting until next year to read the next book from an author you love is pretty aggravating.
Two things I want to ask you before we drop the curtain: can you confirm or deny the rumors that you'll have a book in France and a new story class next year?
Gallmeister is set to publish the French translation of Country Hardball – Les Bon Fils -- in 2016. And I’m back with the lovely people at LitReactor teaching a short story fundamentals class in January.
Steve, thanks again!
I shared my favorite books of 2015 at Do Some Damage, including a few classics that left an impression on me this year.
This is fun: Fellow Polis Books author Rob Hart and I co-wrote an e-short story titled "Bad Beat," hitting in January. It's a story set in New Jersey and featuring our series characters, Pete Fernandez and Ash McKenna, crossing over to solve a case. The story takes place before the first books in our respective P.I. series, Silent City and New Yorked. I was pleasantly surprised at how seamlessly Rob and I worked together and how well the two characters seemed to interact. You can pre-order the story now, which includes excerpts from both of our debut novels, in case you want to follow the solo adventures of Pete and Ash.
I got a nice mention in this Miami Herald pre-Miami Book Fair story about my hometown's literary scene, which was unexpected and a cool honor.
Speaking of MBF, in advance of the show last month I got to host a Twitter chat with author Cory Doctorow. Here's a Storify of the conversation. Cory's extremely smart and I had the pleasure of being on a panel with him at the show - which turned out to be a great discussion about comics, prose and so much more. Big thanks to fellow panelist Jeffrey Burandt and moderator Joan Hilty.
Reviewers: If you'd like a copy of the Silent City reissue, the first in my Pete Fernandez series coming from Polis in March, you can get it on Edelweiss. Speaking of Silent City, you can check out the great book trailer Alex Kropinak and Eddie Jenkins made for it here. Also, postcards! I handed out a ton of these (above) at MBF last month but I still have more - if you see me, let me know. Also, you can pre-order Silent City and its sequel, Down the Darkest Street now.
My LitReactor comic book pitch class, SPLASH PAGE, is in full swing - lots of great students and I'm eager to read their work. Will keep everyone posted if we decide to do another one.
I got to interview friend and author Lauren Beukes as part of my guest editor duties for the Pen American Center's #PENTen series. This'll be my final one for this year, but fingers crossed we can do more in the future.
A few more Ross Macdonald retrospectives. I have to agree with Sarah here - really hoping for a similar amount of Margaret Millar pieces in the coming year.
EW has an early peek at Megan Abbott's upcoming novel, You Will Know Me - including an excerpt and cover reveal. I cannot wait for this. July, hurry up, okay?
Looking forward to more excellent essays like this one in Naben Ruthnum's true crime Hazlitt series.
You're all reading io9's True Crime sub-site, right? Hats off to Cheryl Eddy for the great work.
This just in: dead authors still make money. (h/t The Crime Lady)
In terms of books, I'm reading Patricia Highsmith's The Price of Salt, which was written under a pseudonym when first released and renamed Carol when Highsmith admitted authorship a few years before her death. It's a magnificent book and the basis for Todd Haynes's new movie. The only thing I dislike about it is that it has to end. These two essays, timed to the movie and discussing the book, were particularly wonderful.
That's it for this week. Sweet dreams, y'all (with thanks to Lauren B!).