Reading your avid reviews and interviews, not to mention seeing how big a response I get whenever I post something about you, the response is so palpable that I find it difficult not to see you as a cult figure, if not quite at the level of Charles Bukowski, getting there. Like Bukowski you’re not immediately part of the major presses. To what can we chalk it up to? your famous father (even though you two write nothing alike and would be unlikely to attract many of the same readers)? an unfortunate personal life (though you don’t exactly write memoir)? your particular flavor of contemporary noir? something else?
I honestly don’t know. I suppose there’s some truth in the cult status thing, though I’m not sure I could say how I’ve managed to achieve it, nor could I say why I’ve only achieved it. So many things can play a part in somebody’s career, and often talent or lack thereof is only a small piece of the whole puzzle. My father being who he was has helped in certain aspects and very much hurt in others. People often comment or tell me I wouldn’t have a career had my father not been who he was. I personally think that’s an ignorant and asinine statement. One to which I can say, bullshit. They haven’t had to experience the few ups and the multitude of downs that have come with it. If I was writing Amber novels or something, a la Brian Herbert or someone like that, I think the statement would have a lot more validity. But in my situation, I think it’s an easy dismissal for people who are threatened or jealous, or who just plain don’t like me. But if you wanna get down to the simple core of the matter, if my father being who he was was really such a big help, then how come after over fifteen years in this business I don’t get better book deals? If it’s because I’m not that good, then fine, but that also would cancel out the name being the reason I have a career. Any angle I look at it from, it makes no sense.
As for my personal life, I think a lot of people want honest authors, but not too honest.
I think the noir angle is one reason I have a career at all. I don’t wanna come off as a snobby prick, but like most any genre, noir is packed with stereotypes, and while I love the stereotypes and often use them, I think I also kind of break the mold, in the sense that I don’t really consider myself a noir writer. I just think of myself as a writer (or, more accurately, a guy who writes) who happens to have been heavily influenced by noir and the old pulps. So I’m just writing my stories. I’m not telling myself that I need the tough guy, the femme fatale, etc. I don’t sit down and say, “Okay, I’m gonna write a noir story.” I’m just writing, and the cliches and stereotypes often jump in due to the influence, sometimes more strongly than others.
Long and short of it, really, I don’t know how I have a career at all, nor do I know why I’m not a best seller. But you never know what’s gonna happen. George R.R. Martin was a very well respected author for years and years and years, though certainly by no means a household name. Then he wrote Game of Thrones. Whoomp! Pop culture phenomenon. Conversely, Richard Bradford wrote the immensely popular 1968 novel, Red Sky at Morning, then a few years later he wrote So Far from Heaven and—whoomp!—career over. Things can go any which way and can change at any moment, for better or worse or both simultaneously.
Easier said than done, of course, but I try to just write and not pay too much attention to what people say or think. But let me reiterate that first part: easier said than done.
In most of your interviews, your interviewers are very keen on your personal life. In some readers' minds, the two appear linked. Is it in yours? How do you feel about this?
I think often—not always but often—my personal life is very linked to my work. Usually it’s the more introspective titles (Fractal Despondency, A Crack in Melancholy Time, Shadowboxer, Butterfly Potion) that are a direct result of my personal life. Whatever I’m writing, I just do my best to be honest with and about myself. There are direct facts from my life in my fiction, but I’ve found that, especially non-writers, often think I’m writing a biography. “Did that really happen to you?” “Did you really do that?” More often than not my answer is no. While I base most of my stuff on my personal life, it’s still fiction.
So is "living life" your muse? And/or is it wrestling with personal demons on the page as we humans often do in dreams?
A muse is an unexplainable thing that seems to border along the lines of something ethereal. I’d say my muse is likely much closer to wrestling with personal demons than it is to living life, though they’re both in there, as are other things.
How does your real life inform your literary life? Do you see this continuing to change?
The old adage, write what you know. It changes all the time, sometimes from day to day or even hour to hour. After my fiancé’s suicide and my own attempt and my battle with alcohol, my stuff was incredibly gloomy, but of course, it would be. You never get over stuff like that, but you can eventually shift it from constant blistering pain to a constant dull ache.
Growing up loving dark fiction and movies and so forth, that’s usually gonna be a part of my work, because that’s what I most often love to read. But as I’ve found more hope in my life, I’ve noticed that many of my characters are finding more, too.
With Aaron Smith, you said that the opening scene in A Crack in Melancholy Time began as a memoir. Was that unusual or is there usually some reality blended into your fiction?
There are lots of bits of true events in my stories and books. Sometimes little things—waking up with my ear filled with blood in Fractal Despondency, for example, and sometimes long scenes, like the part in A Crack in Melancholy Time that takes place in Ocala. Getting out of jail in a town I’d never been in in my life, walking for at least a few miles in flip-flops just trying to find a motel, all the way down to the guy at the motel and the screwed up television in the room and the phone that didn’t work. All of that stuff is complete fact. But there is another scene that seems like I could have drawn very much from real life, when the main character drinks himself into a blackout while living with his fiancé. That never happened, though it struck such a deep chord in me that it almost feels like it did.