Monday, February 29, 2016

You're Wrong About True Detective Season 2

"The war is lost. The treaty signed. I was not caught. I crossed the line" - Leonard Cohen (Nevermind)

Finally caught up with the sophomore effort of HBO's Nick Pizzolatto anthology crime series True Detective. Coming on the heels of the cultural juggernaut that the first season proved to be there was a lot to live up to and the consensus I picked up on whilst avoiding spoilery territory was that it had not. Worse, that it was just embarrassingly bad. Awful. Stupid. Cringe-inducing. Doubling down on the rip-off thing season one had been accused of. Off-balance on many a politically correct posture. Disappeared up its own asshole and unable to be heard over the feedback loop the characters generated.

This all made me very eager to see it. First - I root for success always. I want the film makers to make something I'll enjoy. I rarely hate-watch anything. And I may have a bit of a contrarian streak in me - so when the overwhelmingly bad reviews were hittin the Twitters, I burrowed in to my non-cable-having cave to hibernate and rest up for a DVD appraisal several months later.

And oh the dreams I had during my sleep. All that delicious hate nourished my anticipation so that I was primed for either  a sly and subversive success or a colossal failure of legendary proportions.

I began my watch early in January and finished a week later, dazed, but not confused and pretty certain I'd seen something special that will be the subject of critical reexamination a few years down the road. Give it a third season and I think season two will be reconciled to the first more clearly. The through-lines obvious.

In fact... I may even prefer season two to season one. May. Might. We'll see, but it's a possibility.


Spoilers ahead.........

Those through lines for one.

Both seasons are about little folks getting ground up in the big machinery, fed to the gods of (capital-P pejorative) progress, suicidal social stability and filthy fortunes. The difference - season one featured a couple of detectives attempting to nail the smallest, but only vulnerable, perp part of that establishment. In the end they succeed and live and the corruption roles on unabated and sure to crush more innocents along the way.

In season two the concerned parties chose a suicidal take-the-fight-to-them, burn-it-all-down strategy unsatisfied to let some low-level creeps get thrown under the bus on behalf of their overlords. In the end they die disgraced, and the corruption roles on unabated and sure to crush more innocents along the way.

Through line number two - locale as character. Dude. Dude. Yeah, season two proved that the show's run was not going to be focused on the South, but it confirmed that locale was muy importante to the whole affair and that for all the dirt beneath its fingernails, the feel of the show was going to be decidedly otherworldly and ethereal whether set in the lush and spooky, swampy rural south or the glitter-gritted, So-Cal, tin-machine urban sprawl.

That feverish reality is nourished and given some psychic lived-in atmospheric bolstering from that other man behind the curtain T Bone Burnett whose musical guidance set the scene for season one with The Handsome Family's Far From Any Road and counted down the self-destruct of season two with Leonard Cohen's Nevermind. The sound textures of each song coupled with almost embarrassingly on the nose lyrics that speak to each season's particular themes. In fact, if you pay close attention during season two the intro changes slightly each time to use different lyrics from Cohen's song that best match the episode its preceding.
For the second season Burnett doubles down on musical cues by introducing a Greek Chorus girl of sorts in Lera Lynn whose moody dirges fill the empty room of the bar where Vince Vaughn's gangster Frank and Colin Farrell's kept cop Ray regularly try to use the other as a father confessor. Her presence is one of those slightly surreal touches that feel Lynchian -her voice is to TDS2 what Julee Cruise's was to Twin Peaks- and so inform and aid the digestion of the text.

And those ridiculous rap sessions - they point to another through line...

...the philosophical mumbo jumbo the main characters are fond of speaking or perhaps simply incapable of not spouting into the void. It's not as singular as Matthew McConaughey's because this time we've got two or three characters given to this trait, sometimes exercising it in concert, and  -I think this is key- they have no Woody Harrelson on the other end to listen and be alternately devastated by or to deflate it with a pithy rejoinder. There is no one listening.

 Which is... Tragic? Funny? Exactly the point?

Beside the point anyway. Because all of this is simply character and not worthy of nor, I believe, intended to be invested in by the audience. Rust Cohle's first season soliloquies  were simply more costume that described the character and helped set a tone - it's always a character's action or inaction that defines them - don't be distracted. Easy to be, sure, because it's well-written and performed - no Deadwood-level shit here, but c'mon it sounds nice and maybe familiar...

...So that other thru-line - Play-giarism (yeah, I spelled it that way intentionally). The cribbing of other writers' and artists' schtick from Thomas Ligotti or Alan Moore to David Lynch and James Ellroy, intentional or not, is just another fun part of many a popular entertainment and I enjoy playing spot the reference or influence.

Be like me, or don't.

But let's contrast the two seasons. Here are some reasons I dig S2 apart from S1.

Season one was a standout for many reasons -consistency in Pizzolatto's writing and the singular vision of director Cary Joji Fukunaga for fucking starters- and I, for one was pleased with its version of the rough south, but there's another element that it succeeded in spite of and not because of, and it's the essence of my potential preference to season two...

Season one: Serial killer.

Season two: No fucking serial killers.

Wha? A major crime teevees production not about a serial killer? In what universe? In this one, motherfuckers. The gods smiled and delivered us from that cheapest of used up conventions. Y'know what? This one doesn't even have a hacker or tech genius in the story. None of those magic devices. What we're left with is bad shit going down all around and through the agency of our cast of characters.

Those things include brass knuckle beatdowns, lots of drugs, gangster shit - like running errands for gangsters... actually that's all Colin Farrell.

Who and what else has S2 got going for it?

Daddy issues. All kinds of daddy issues. Taylor Kitsch as a veteran and closeted motorcycle cop trying like hell to make a hetero-relationship work with the lady he's knocked up. Rachel McAdams as a wobbling broken survivor - the only survivor amongst her childhood friends including her younger sister who were brought up in a hippie cult under the guidance, or lack there of, of her charismatic father (David Morse). Colin Farrell whose shitbag of a cop sold out his ideals for personal revenge earlier in his career and now wallows in self-destructive behavior while losing grip on the only thing of value he has left in his life - a chubby, sad, redheaded son he's increasingly close to discovering is not his own (Farrell's desperation to imbue the kid with some self-confidence and a sense of self-worth is pretty moving - especially as his methods are as fucked up and broken as his intentions are good). And Vince Vaughn is king of a crumbling kingdom without an heir and having difficulty conceiving one as well as justifying bringing a child into the world he's made.

It's Vaughn's by-his-own-bootstraps gangster Frank who has the most engaging story line this time around - and no, it's not the fertility issues. We've seen plenty of stories of the rise and fall of empires of various kinds, but his trajectory felt unique to me. He's a small timer about to vault into a much larger strata, semi-legit and aside from the fact that his business is illegal and brings misery to many, seems to be a person of some character and convictions. When the big business opportunity he's been building up for years blows up in his face and he's left to watch the already fat cats get fatter off of his efforts while he's left to eat shit, his blue-collar work ethic kicks in, he sucks it up and descends the ladder strategically rather self-destructively, humbly rather than in a blaze of glory.

Of course he reaches the terminus of the range of his ability to back down by season's end and the fight that's left in him is something to see, but it's that slow, measured descent that I found so compelling and unique.

Structurally, the seasons have similarities too. Both stretch out over eight episodes covering a much longer time span than your typical procedural (S1 was what, 20 years? And S2 almost a year) which is key to the show's success in my eyes. Super condensed timelines are a stumbling block to me in books and films and it's refreshing to have the freedom to explore a single story over the length of time that story needs rather than have to cram everything in to a terrible 24 hours or some arbitrary deadline like that (a strength of an anthology show that doesn't have to have twenty new episodes a year - or the reverse of the problem The Killing ended up having - stretching a couple month's of story into multiple years of storytelling). I'll be looking for S3's 4th episode to have a show-stopping action sequence in it tho... won't be a surprise this time.

Each cast member got at least one moment to do something fucking badass and memorable too - Farrell beat the shit out of an unsuspecting citizen in front of his kid, Kitsch put his armed forces training to damned good use in an abandoned subway shootout, McAdams got to knife murder a giant fucker who was strangling her and Vaughn mixed arson and shooting somebody point blank in the face with aplomb.

Finally, the season's climax has some amazing sequences. Farrell and Vaughn shoot the shit outta some gangsters and steal their shit like they were Buzz Meeks in The Big Nowhere, and then there's their respective desert and woodlands showdowns that are just beautifully staged and handsomely shot.

I'd love to watch both seasons again, but I feel S2 will reward second viewing far more than S1's "mystery" storyline. Sorry, America. You got it wrong. True Detective Season 2 was good.

Friday, February 26, 2016


It's vote with your wallets weekend, kids. John Hillcoat's Triple 9 is the type of adult fare, hardcore and high-gloss crime film we don't nearly enough of. Grade-A talent in front of and behind the camera, a budget to make it look great, but not enough to make em fuck it up with a nice ending. No sequels, kids. Everything got left on the mat and I hope it gets enough support to keep Hillcoat and more folks free to make this kind of thing.

After last year's Son of a Gun came and went completely unnoticed, I'm hoping Triple 9's attempted February box office burial is thwarted. It's cold outside - Go see a movie!

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Grant Jerkins Interview

Bought my copy of Abnormal Man, the latest from southern psycho noirist Grant Jerkins, last week, and all the other books on the shelf are kinda backing away, giving it some space. I don't blame em. After all, Jerkins' debut - the innocuously titled A Very Simple Crime - featured one of the sickest voices I've ever read and this one - this one - he's admitting in the title that the guy is off. So yeah, I'm expecting dark things. I've been looking forward to Abnormal Man since I first heard about it several years ago when I interviewed Grant on the release of his third novel, The Ninth Step.

The site this interview originally appeared on ain't around any longer, so I'm re-publishing it here. If you've never read him, buckle up, it's an experience.

Grant Jerkins is the author of three very distinct crime stories. His debut, A Very Simple Crime was a murder mystery featuring one of the most sinister and beguilingly spider-to-the-fly first-person narrations I've had the pleasure of reading, while his second, At the End of the Road was southern gothic, steeped in autobiographical detail capturing the small town Georgia of the mid seventies, and casting a wide narrative-point-of-view net, that made us privy to the rationale of a child, a monster and a policewoman too (it also made my list of favorite books of 2011). His latest, The Ninth Step, is a love story, and a dark-secret, blackmail thriller that takes his everyman and everywoman to some very dark places.

Grant was kind enough to answer some questions I had.

Jedidiah Ayres: One of the pleasures of The Ninth Step is that each character behaves as if they are the central one, which of course, they are in their own story - everyone, even the minor players, are engaged in the forward momentum of the plot for their own ends and therefore behave like people rather than the author's pawns. I wondered then if Helen was always your main character or if the story went through any versions where Edgar, or even Mr. Slick Back were the central figure?

Grant Jerkins: I actually had this story optioned for film at one point. The producer had funding, a director, and a screenplay (by me.) Next step was to go out to talent. They made offers to quite a few female actors, but never to any male leads. They wanted to cast Helen first. Most of the notes I got had to do with Helen. And it just sort of dawned on me that everybody considered this Helen's story. They were building the film project around her. I was surprised. In my mind, Edgar and Helen are of equal importance, dual leads. But it's cool if readers think of Helen as the protagonist. I like that idea of what it might look like from one of those other vantage points. I doubt Edgar or Helen would have come off as very sympathetic.

The film deal fell apart. But the book got published.

JA: You've written three books now that deal with the darkness beneath unassuming exteriors... Like, really dar. Where does that come from?

GJ: The dark thing. Yeah. Hell if I know. It's not purposeful. They really don't seem dark to me. Especially The Ninth Step. I know it would be wrong to call it lighthearted, but that's really the way it kind of feels to me. That's probably crazy.

JA: That, sir, is crazy. So let's talk about A Very Simple Crime for a moment. Adam Lee's voice, in that book, is one of the most electrifying and unnerving first-person accounts I've read. There's a point where the book takes a side-step and tackles the story from a new angle and the tone is much lighter for it - how deliberate was that?

GJ: There were really two reasons I switched narrative point of view like that, neither of which was purposeful. The first was that I'd simply written myself into a corner. I couldn't figure out how to tell the rest of the story from that limited perspective.

(I remember at the time scouring my bookshelves for other novels that made a similar abrupt narrative shift. I was obsessed with whether or not it was "okay" to switch from first person to third so late in a novel. I found several examples - including Christine by Stephen King.)

Secondly, I just couldn't keep writing in Adam Lee's voice. It was just too . . . It was really affecting me in a bad way.

In retrospect, I regret the narrative switch, because even if the Leo Hewitt section is okay on its own terms, it's never as powerful, I think, as the Adam Lee first person POV, so it feels like a bit of a letdown.

JA: Wow, Adam was affecting you... Now, that does sound like a Stephen King novel. In At the End of the Road your canvas seemed to open up with many different point of view characters. Is it a bigger challenge to keep a large cast like that corralled or to tell a whole story from a single or at least more limited point of view?

GJ: At the End of the Road was something of a cheat. It actually started off as a memoir. Excluding the prologue, just about every word in the first 50 pages or so is autobiographical, completely true—including me causing a woman to roll her car in front of our house. It really is a larger cast (for me, anyway), but I already knew most of the characters. It's me, my sister, my brothers, my parents, my bullies, my green pond, my summer of '76. So, even though the characters in the book are completely fictional, I had a real life starting point for many of them.

The only characters that I conjured from nothingness are the Paralyzed Man, and Deputy Dana Turpin. To write Turpin, I channeled Lawrence Block. From him I learned that investigation is mostly mundane grunt work, but you can learn a hell of a lot about somebody by how they do their job, how they tackle that mundane work. And it can be compelling.

JA: That's interesting about the mundane-ness of police work being something you were mindful of, as the anything but mundane-ness of the 'average' people in your books seems essential. Is there a reason that it's the 'average' non-professionals of crime (not cops, detectives, career criminals) that you use? Or the flipside - is there a reason you don't seem to use the professionals as your main characters?

GJ: Nice insight. I should be paying you for this stuff. Yeah, I seem to have not as much interest in actual criminals. Even though people are breaking laws left and right in my stories, these people are crossing a line. Either personally, or culturally—they are crossing a line. Actual criminals live on the other side of that line (and cops too, really). The rest of us just visit there. We transgress. We are changed by the crimes we commit. So our internal and external world changes—police and lawyers and criminals and a burden of guilt inhabit our new reality. And it seems that if we are punished for what we did (by law or ill fate,) the real punishment still comes from inside.

Even Kyle Edward from At the End of the Road. He transgressed. He did wrong. We forgive him because he was only ten years old. But I doubt he ever forgave himself. Thirty years later, he still stands accused, reminded of those who reached out to him for help. I imagine he has some problems.

JA: Of your three books, At the End of the Road, is the only one where the southern setting really seemed to flavor the story or color the atmosphere, how interested are you in writing about the South or Georgia in particular?

GJ: The Southern thing. Yeah. I don't know. Part of it is, The South isn't southern anymore. I still live in the same Georgia county as the one portrayed in At the End of the Road. It's not the same anymore. Now it's just strip malls, Super Walmarts, and suburbs where people raise their kids, mow their lawns, and get high in their finished basements. It's a pastel wonderland. I had to go back thirty-six years to write something southern. That South seems to exist now only in isolated pockets.

You'll notice that with The Ninth Step, I set it in New England. I could just as easily have set it Georgia. I'm almost exclusively interested in what's going on in my characters heads, to the point that what region they hail from just seems like window dressing. This is probably a great weakness of my writing.

JA: Tell me what's up with Barbet Schroeder?

GJ: The film project of A Very Simple Crime is still alive. Schroeder is still attached to direct. I've read the screenplay and thought it was fantastic. Last I heard, funding was in place and things looked good. In the end, though, who knows? There are so many ways for a film project to go off the rails. Still, I'm optimistic.

JA: How important would it be to have a film made at this point?

GJ: Uh, it’s pretty fucking important. For me, anyway. For the continued existence of the universe? The film would likely have little impact on that. There are no lives in the balance. The world will continue to turn. But yeah, I would love to see it come together.  As James Ellroy pointed out, even bad movies sell books. So there is that aspect to it. And this project seems to have the ingredients for a pretty good movie. And then there is the fact that moving pictures are our main cultural currency—the way most people like to be told stories. Plus, you know, it would just be really cool.

JA: Have you written any screenplays yourself? Are there other mediums you'd like a crack at?

GJ: I've written several screenplays. I prefer writing novels. My publisher has never changed or asked me to change a single word in any of my published work. With Hollywood, the exact opposite has been true. Breaking into screenwriting is hard, and if you get lucky enough to option a script, then that's when the real hell begins. Development. The land of development is populated by these seductive creatures called Development Executives. These guys wear masks. They camouflage their true nature. They seduce you. Charm you. In fact, film development is a lot like the stone soup fable, with your spec script being the stone. So it starts out that your screenplay is perfect as-is. Everybody's certain that it's going to be an award winning blockbuster. Then the notes start coming in. Yes, this screenplay is perfect, but do you know what would make it even better? Even more perfect? And they tell you exactly what would make it better. And everybody's been so nice to you, and you feel so honored that they would even consider your work, so that even if you don't necessarily think these changes are for the best, you do it, because you're a team player, right? And besides, these guys are professionals and they know what they're doing. And the notes just never stop. And you start to notice inconsistencies, like that the sixth round of notes contradicts most of the stuff in the third round of notes. And you look up three years later realizing that none of these people know what they're doing.

Yet still, movies do get made. I've just found that I don't have the stamina for it.

JA: What can we look for next from you?

GJ: I have an unpublished manuscript called Abnormal Man that uses a shifting 2nd person POV, so that the "you" in one chapter could be an overweight manager at Shoney's, then a teenage runaway in the next chapter, then a child pornographer shopping for adult diapers at Walgreens. I know that sounds like it would be disorienting and hard to follow—not to mention gimmicky—but it's really not.

I think you would be in the minority of human beings, but I think you would like it.

JA: Sure, I'd love to get my mitts on that.

GJ: I'd like to see that get published. I really would. But it seems unlikely. Beyond that, I have two projects I'm circling. One is a sequel to A Very Simple Crime. The brothers Lee would be back. As would Leo Hewitt. It feels like it might be a story of redemption.

The other project would be collaboration with writer Jan Thomas. It's essentially a week in the life of a police sniper. A man who makes his living killing people. The genesis of the story comes from Jan, who is married to a police sniper (technically, a counter sniper). What draws me to the story is the mundaneness of their existence (Hi honey, I'm home. How was your day?) juxtaposed with the peculiar fact that his day could easily have included putting a high caliber round through someone's orbital socket—not in a heated, kill-or-be-killed exchange, but with meticulous, prolonged purposefulness. And trying to hold onto this idea of being an ordinary guy, when you are anything but ordinary. I'm excited about it, but there's a long ways to go.

............................. End Repost.................................

Since this interview both Done in One and finally Abnormal Man have been released (and check out the short story Eula Shook available for cheaps on Kindle). If you, like me, are into the basement crazies of crime fiction do yourself and your unsuspecting neighbors a favor and vent into the void a little with Abnormal Man. Also, if you're near Atlanta pop into McCray's Tavern on April 3 for a rare chance to spot Grant in the wild. Eryk Pruitt is hosting N@B-ATL featuring Grant and fellow Georgian rare-bird Peter Farris plus Alec Cizak, James Tuck, Warren Moore, Ashley Erwin and Ed Brock. Sounds like a damn good time.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Picture Books: Charles Willeford (a conversation with Johnny Shaw)

Johnny Shaw is the author of the Jimmy Veeder fiascoes Dove Season and Plaster City, as well as Big Maria and his latest Floodgate. He's also the editor of Blood & Tacos, the brains (God help you all) behind N@B-PDX and the kept man of artist Roxanne Patruznick. I've spent several hours at several Bouchercons shooting the shit with this guy and let me tell you, he knows the shit he shoots. He's an encyclopedia of crime and pulp fiction in general, B-movies and C-list performers of various stripes. I've been trying to get a Picture Books piece out of him for a while, but he's one of those gentle artistic types who needs his hand held sometimes, so the following is a shaggy dog version of the series - more of a conversation about the films based on the books of Charles Willeford. And if you think the back and forth is insufferable now check out the interview conducted between us from 2014.

Jedidiah Ayres: How did you find Willeford?

Johnny Shaw: If we're just talking movies, I saw Cockfighter first. But I didn't see it in English until after I was out of college. I caught it on one of the Mexican TV stations when I was a teenager. I actually think it works better in Spanish. 

I got back and forth on my favorite movie based on Willeford's books. But even though I have a soft spot for The Woman Chaser, I'll probably stick with Miami Blues as my favorite. I love the idiosyncratic insanity of The Woman Chaser and Warburton's performance, but give me Fred Ward as Hoke Moseley and I'm good. He was born to play that part. Miami Blues captures the balance of funny and dark that is the quintessence of Willeford.

I'm assuming Cockfighter would be your pick between the three. Just for Warren Oates.

JA: If I had to pick a still frame from any of the films it would be from Cockfighter and contain Oates, Harry Dean Stanton and Charles Willeford himself, but I too think Miami Blues is my pick of the films. I think everybody is terrific in that movie. It was my first exposure to Jennifer Jason Leigh and made me an instant and life-long fan. Hers is the performance that I keep coming back to in that film. It's hard to play somebody who is not very smart well. She's got so much heart, it hurts.

The movie Miami Blues was also my first exposure to Willeford and of course I've read the book since and love it, but I was wondering how you first found Willeford at all.

JS: My Pop was a huge mystery reader. He especially had a soft spot for Black Lizard books and anything published by Dennis McMillan. Certain names kept popping up and by association I just assumed they were people that I should be reading too: Willeford, Charles Williams, David Goodis, James Crumley, Jim Thompson, Harry Whittington, etc.  I think the first book of Willeford's that  I read of his was Pick-Up and from there I made my way to the Hoke Moseley books.

I only recently found out the hero of his novel The Hombre from Sonora (also titled: The Difference) is named Johnny Shaw. How awesome is that?

JA: Wow, that's probably how I felt when I found a character described only as a lanky douchebag in Plaster City was named Jed!

lanky douchebags
JS: I stick by that description. Although, considering that people often confuse us, I'm not sure I came out on top.

JA: So then, to the movies again - Monte Hellman, Geroge Armitage and Robinson Devore - three fairly different and distinct film makers who've adapted Willeford and each seemed to focus on a different Willefordian thing. Do you think that reflects more on the film makers or on the books they were adapting? How many types of Willeford novels do you think there are?

JS: It reflects more on the filmmakers. As you said, each one chose to focus on a different Willefordian thing, but mostly they each found their own level of realism and their own tone.  Considering that Willeford is credited with writing the screenplay for Cockfighter, it's interesting to me that it's the one that plays the closest to naturalism. The Woman Chaser goes broader, including the decision to shoot in black and white with that stylized 1940's look. I guess it's why I lean toward Miami Blues. It does something that I'm a huge fan of, dramatic tone shift. It has the widest range between comedy and drama.

I don't know how many types of Willeford books there are, although The Burnt Orange Heresy is probably the most different than the three we've been discussing. At least among the books of his that I've read. It's practically an art theory thesis posing as a crime novel. 

Also, very divisive among crime readers. People love it or hate it. I find it flawed, but I admire the moxie. And it's short enough to not press.

JA: So then for the purposes of a Picture Books piece, where we look at the film adaptations and see what we can tell about the author's voice, taken all together (the three films) what links them? What do they all posses that seems it comes from the same author?

JS: It's the characters.  Frank Mansfield, Richard Hudson, and Junior are all cut from the same cloth.  Men who can't change who they are. Frank is a cockfighter, but what has it given him? It doesn't matter, because that's not how Willeford characters decide their actions. They don't do things based on choice or the best option, but on their destiny.

Once Hudson gets it in his head to make a movie, he's obsessed. That's who he is. There's no turning off that road, regardless of whether or not there's a cliff at the end of it. Which is also essentially the plot of the movie he wrote.

Junior playing house with Susie is the most fascinating, as we're never really sure how into it he is. There are hints that he's trying, but also that he's still just the same old psychopath. That he wants things to be a certain way, because that's how they're supposed to be. It's almost a childlike quality in all the characters that once they decided what they wanted to be when they grew up, they couldn't veer away from it if they wanted to. The way he plays with Moseley's badge is at the same time criminal and childish.

In class story structure, there is often that moment when a character seizes control of their own destiny. In these characters, they seize control of the destiny they believe they are fated to, not necessarily the one they want, the one that's best for them, or even the one that's sane.

JA: Any speculations on what we missed out on with Paul Giamatti's Hoke television pilot not getting picked up?

JS: If they did it right, it probably would've had a small audience. I can't help it, but I generally associate popularity with mediocrity. While not always true, that's my initial prejudice. The fact that it didn't get picked up could have easily been a sign of its quality.

I haven't seen the pilot, but I was optimistic because of Scott Frank's ability to adapt Elmore Leonard and with slightly less success, Lawrence Block. His obvious affection for crime fiction and noir suggests he could approach the material with regard to Willeford's idiosyncratic style. Giamatti's hang-dog, already-defeated face works, but I never buy toughness from him. It always comes off as posturing to me. I'd be interested to see how he played it. Although, I would have just cast Fred Ward again.

JA: I was very excited to hear of Giamatti's casting, though I agree it's hard not to picture Ward who seems like such a natural for the role. With Ward being an executive producer on Blues, I assumed he'd wanted to do a whole series with himself as Hoke, but apparently he was originally cast as Freddie with Gene Hackman playing Hoke.

I think it's interesting to note that of the four film makers who've adapted Willeford, two of them (Scott and Armitage) have also done Leonard adaptations. Armitage did arguably the best job with Willeford and one of the worst Leonard adaptations (The Big Bounce), while Scott has done really terrific work translating Leonard for the screen (Out of Sight, Get Shorty) and his Hoke is the least successful Willeford (in that it's not even getting released at this point).

Willeford and Leonard are linked by Miami and I think Leonard is weirder than he's generally given credit for, but I don't tend to think of them as similar writers. What other writers or films you would immediately link to a Willefordian sensibility?

JS: The first author that came to mind was Donald Westlake. While not the most obvious choice, because I think it's in the parts not the whole. I don't think there's a book that's too Willefordian, but if you took a Dortmunder book and a Parker book and jammed them together, you'd get something pretty close to a Willeford novel in tone and nuttiness.

It's hard not mention John D. MacDonald. Not just because of the Florida locale again, but Travis McGee. While he's closer to a familiar detective archetype than Hoke Moseley, they could hang.  Particularly true in the later books in the series where McGee is getting older.

It might be a leap, but James Sallis's Lew Griffin novels give me the same feel, although I can't necessarily put a finger on why. The style is obviously way different, as well as the story and approach. Maybe it's the constant balance between bleakness and hope that circulates through the stories.

I'd have to think more about movies, but the movie Night Moves always felt like it could have been a Willeford story. It's got the Florida setting. Gene Hackman could have crushed it as Hoke. And it's tonally a little all over the place, which is the way I like it.

JA: So give me a quick rundown of each film and we'll wrap this up.

JS: If there's someone reading this that hasn't seen these movies, I would recommend that you see them in the order they were released. It's the way I saw them, but it also follows a tonal progression that I think really works.

I'll admit that I think of Cockfighter more as a Warren Oates movie than a Charles Willeford movie. The same way I think of The Getaway as a Steve McQueen movie, not a Jim Thompson movie. And that should be all you need to know. That said, it's true to the book and captures all of the dirt and sweat. I would love to see this movie on the big screen.

I'm trying to think of a movie to compare Miami Blues to, but I can't. The easy thing to do would have been to make Hoke Moseley the hero of the story, and technically he is, but structurally Freddie drives the story and goes through the most change. We get to watch Twister from the tornado's point of view. In many ways that's true with all three of these movies.

And The Woman Chaser is flat out bananas. Patrick Warburton's performance makes me smile every moment he's on screen and I love the style of the film. Although, that artificiality limited how absorbed I was emotionally in the story, it's a pleasure to see it unfold. Again, another movie that's hard to find a comparison to. Which is a good thing.

Johnny Shaw is the Anthony Award-winning author of Big Maria and the Jimmy Veeder Fiascoes, Dove Season & Plaster City.  His new novel Floodgate introduces the world to the fictional Auction City and its criminal justice system. He placed third in the Jedidiah Ayres Lookalike Contest Southwest Regionals, but that was only because he refused to pluck his eyebrow. 

 JA: Oh shit - only 3rd? Meaning there were at least 3 competitors? 

JS: The shaved orangutan placed a lot higher than most people thought it would.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

The Weight of Their Own Fictions: Narrative Music by S.G. Redling

photo by Toril Lavender
-->Today S.G. Redling, author of several books including the Dani Britton series, drops by for a Narrative Music conversation and touches on a topic I don't think we've covered yet: music to create narrative to. Tunes that leave psychic impressions - like a Rorschach for writers... and characters. Give it a read, then check out her latest novel, Baggage, and keep up with her at her website.

The Weight of Their Own Fictions
by S.G. Redling

It’s possible I am the curator of the least noir soundtrack ever compiled. My favorite story songs include The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, 500 Miles, and that Jim Croce classic, Roller Derby Queen. Not exactly gritty gumshoe stuff.

But when it comes to songs that move me to create story, the selection gets a little less corny. One of my favorites right now is Waitress Song by First Aid Kit. It starts off with a classic escape fantasy –

I could move to a small town and become a waitress.
Say my name was Stacy and I was figuring things out.

They sing of the childish fantasy of running away to the circus. They talk about sleepless nights in Chicago over a loud bar that are still the result of a fiction.

Girls, they just want to have fun. And the rest of us hardly know we are.

As a writer, what I love about this song is that she isn’t telling a story, she’s singing about the stories we tell ourselves, the narratives we dream about escaping to. The song returns over and over to the hard lamentation.

It’s a dark, twisted road we are on, and we all have to walk it alone.

But then ends on a soft, wistful hope of walking along the ocean, being awed by its power and realizing how small our lives are. The song closes with this revelation:

And we’ll never feel lost anymore.

The gorgeous vocals on this track cast this line in the same tone as the stories of the waitress and the circus, bringing up the fear that this philosophical realization is just another fantasy we hide behind.

For me, songs like this throw light into the corners of what makes stories work. It’s more than selling a believable lie. Dark fiction that satisfies readers requires characters who stare down, not only the Villain, but also the weight of their own fictions.

S.G. Redling is a fifteen-year veteran of morning radio, an avid traveler, and a so-so gardener. S.G. Redling currently lives in West Virginia. Her last book, Baggage, can be purchased at Amazon.