Fiona McVie interviews crime writer Graham Smith

Graham Smith, crime writer

Name: Graham Smith
Age: 39

Fiona Where are you from?
Smith Gretna Green, Scotland.

Fiona A little about yourself, i.e., your education Family life, etc.
Smith I left school with 8 O grades and 2 higher grades. (I failed English twice before being given a pass mark when the school appealed on my behalf.) I’m a time served joiner, and I now manage a busy hotel and wedding venue. I’m married with a 6-year-old son, and when I’m not working I enjoy to spend time with him and my wife. Otherwise, I’m usually found reading, writing, or socializing with friends.

Fiona Tell us your latest news?
Smith I have sent off submissions to several different blog sites and have had pieces shown at http://thrillskillsnchills.blogspot.com.

Fiona When and why did you begin writing?
Smith I first started writing about 18 months ago. I have been an avid crime fiction reader for many years and have reviewed books for the well respected website crimesquad.com for over two years. I always thought to myself that one day I should have a go at writing something myself. My looming 40th birthday was a shadow which prompted me to re-evaluate my goals in life and I started on my buckets list. Top of which was, “try my hand at writing.”

Fiona When did you first consider yourself a writer?
Smith I don’t actually yet consider myself a writer. I won’t ever consider myself to be a writer until I can hold a book in my hand which I have either wrote or contributed to as part of an anthology. This does not mean that I frown or look down upon the modern eBooks. It is merely an ideal held on tightly by my Luddite and pessimistic values.

Fiona What inspired you to write your first book?
Smith A combination of peer pressure, the feeling that I had a story to tell and naked ambition coupled with an understanding of what makes the difference between good books and great books.

Fiona Do you have a specific writing style?
Smith I thought I did until a friend invited me to write a noir piece. Then I found I could assume the mantle of the character in the specific genre and just let go. I found this to be greatly empowering as without her urging I would never have spread my wings and learned how things looked from above. I urge all aspiring authors like me to try something different, go out side their comfort zone and see what happens. It has worked for me and if you don’t try then you’ll never know. My first attempt at noir was fraught with uncertainty and personal anguish yet received rave reviews. With the ego boost from compliments comes the confidence to try new things. Some will work, some won’t. Until you try something you’re always in the failure camp as far as I’m concerned.

Fiona How did you come up with the title?
Smith This has two answers. Firstly, for the forthcoming anthology (get the plug in like a seasoned interviewee), 11 The Hard Way, my publisher sent me a couple of ideas for the title and I chose the one which I thought was best. For the individual stories I tend to write a working title and revise it as the story takes shape. I’m flaky up to a point and then something just clicks in my head and I know what the piece or the book should be called but I love the title ideas my publisher put forth as I had never thought of a title for the anthology as it all happened so quickly.

Fiona Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
Smith My novel The Ironmongers Error (working title) has no real message although I am trying to show the synergy and differing values associated with feminine sexuality.

Fiona How much of the book is realistic?
Smith While I try to keep the book realistic there has to be a certain element of suspension of disbelief lest the story be bogged down with mundane details like driving to work or toilet habits. (In a good exiting book, the hero never has to stop for a pee or pick up his wife dry cleaning.)

Fiona Are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
Smith I have based aspects of characters on friends and family as certain traits are amazing and worth the word count. Experiences are weaved in gently and anecdotally, as is the dialogue which is gleaned from listening to people talk in the real world. Most of the best lines are throwaway comments heard in a pub or an argument and embellished to make sense on the context of the story.

Fiona What books have most influenced your life most?
Smith That’s a tough one as I could credit so many books with having an influence. The Hobbit by JRR Tolkein was the first book I was given at school which I read ahead of the required amount. A Famous Five book (I forget which one) I was given at the age of eight really gave me a taste for crime fiction. I read the whole series followed by the Secret Seven before progressing onto other Blyton books and eventually the Hardy Boys and so on.

Fiona If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?
Smith I have spoken to so many authors about the mechanic of their craft and cannot pick out a specific mentor. I have attended workshop classes led by Allan Guthrie, Stuart MacBride and Joseph Finder which were very informative and really helped me. Sheila Quigley and Matt Hilton are good friends of mine and I have had great support from them both. Craig Russell also deserves a mention as a short interview I did with him turned into a near three hour discussion on writing and books while we sat in the sun and drank beer.

Fiona What book are you reading now?
Smith Blood Relative by David Thomas. I have followed his career avidly since his first book under a pseudonym. He really is one of my favorite authors.

Fiona Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest?
Smith Earlier this year I read The Hunter by Tom Wood and was blown away by the cinematic value of the writing. By page twenty five there were nearly a dozen people dead by the hand of the hero. It was akin to being the first to see the latest Bond Film. I knew something others didn’t and I got to tell them when Tom was made Author of The Month over at crimesquad.com. I was also lucky enough to spend time in his company at the Harrogate Crime Festival in July.

Fiona What are your current projects?
Smith I have 11 The hard way out on the 16th of November, ideas for a follow up anthology featuring my gumshoe detective Harry Charters, and I’m two thirds of the way through my debut novel The Ironmongers Error.

Fiona Name one entity that you feel supported you outside of family members.
Smith I’ve been lucky enough to have too many friends supporting me to single out any particular one person. Col Bury the editor of ThrillsKillsnChills has given me great support as have Matt Hilton, Sheila Quigley, and Colin Patterson.

Fiona Do you see writing as a career?
Smith It’s a nice idea I hold onto when times are tough.

Fiona If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
Smith I’d change the author picture to one where I have more hair and less waist. Realistically though, as it’s still a work in progress, I’m changing things all the time.

Fiona Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
Smith Through reviewing for crimesquad.com I gained a much greater understanding of the mechanics of a story. I was lucky enough to have a couple of my reviews quoted in blurbs on books and this gave me enough confidence to try writing myself In my own mind, I thought that if publishers liked what I had to say about other people’s books then perhaps they would like to hear my own story. We’ll see if that rings true when my own book is finished and sent to a few publishers and agents.

Fiona Can you share a little of your current work with us?
Smith I’m just plodding away at The Ironmonger’s Error (writing a book is a marathon not a sprint), throwing the odd story into a ”for later” pile while sneaking in the odd short story when the ideas and feel come together.

Fiona Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
Smith I have never yet had a writing challenge I couldn’t find a way around although I do find it tough to write from a female’s perspective at times. Having said that when the woman is threatened then I find it relatively easy to write about her fears and feelings. Emotional angst and sex scenes are a different ball game altogether though as I feel my wife looking over my shoulder wondering why I don’t understand her or recognize her needs.

Fiona Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
Smith There are too many authors occupying my bookshelf to single out one person. Alistair MacLean is a big favourite as are Wilbur Smith, David Baldacci, Mark Billingham, Stuart MacBride, Peter James, Michael Connelly, etc. I could go on for hours about all the authors I admire and would turn your site into a list of authors.

Fiona Do you have to travel much concerning your book(s)?
Smith I prefer to send my assistant Mr Google to do my research unless there’s a good pub where I can have a bite of lunch and a couple of pints of inspiration.

Fiona Who designed the covers?
Smith I only have one cover to date and it was designed by my publisher Trestle Press.

Fiona What was the hardest part of writing your book?
Smith Cutting out what I thought were great lines which needed to be in when they didn’t. A process known in the trade as killing your babies or friends.

Fiona Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
Smith How hard authors have to work for their money. After a hard day at work you have to discipline yourself to write something everyday or else the project never gets anywhere. That takes dedication and no author is ever handed a book deal without putting in the hard graft first.

Fiona Do you have any advice for other writers?
Smith Write daily, believe in yourself and read what others have written in the genre in which you are hoping to write. Learn from there good points and try recognize their tradecraft.

Fiona Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
Smith Just a massive thank you for the wonderful support that they have shown me in my fledgling writing career.

Fiona If you were not a writer what else would you like to have done?
Smith I get a great deal of job satisfaction in my current job and I appreciate the vale of that. I could say that I would like to be a rock star or a premiership footballer but that would be something of an understatement even if it is a cliché.

Fiona Do you have a blog/website? if so what is it?
Smith It is http://grahamsmithwriter.blogspot.com/

Noir Nation editor Cort McMeel to read at Jed Ayres’ Noir@theBar in St. Louis

Hardboiled Wonderland, the crime fiction blog of Jed Ayres

Legendary crime fiction blogger Jed Ayres writes about Noir Nation editors Cort McMeel and Eddie Vega in anticipation of McMeel’s April 28th reading at Noir@theBar in St. Louis.

Noir@theBar is not only the name of a highly respected reading series for crime fiction writers but also the title of a paperback anthology of crime fiction edited by Scott Phillips and Jed Ayres. Issue #1 featured a who’s who of the crime noir community.

Noir Nation’s first photo shoot

Thomas Wesson, Dasha Kittredge, and Alex Geana (Photo by Eddie Vega)

Some images of our first photo shoot to create original cover art for Noir Nation Books and its sister imprints Bare Knuckles Press, Hearts Diary, and Converse Books. Actors Thomas Wesson and Dasha Kittredge joined Bare Knuckles Press’ art director, Alex Geana, and Noir Nation editor Eddie Vega at The Kettle of Fish in Greenwich Village, home of the famous Jack Kerouac bar sign.

Dasha Kittredge (Photo by Eddie Vega)

Pat, the bar’s owner, regaled us with stories of the Beat writers who frequented the place. Gregory Corso, a key member of the group, was a regular there until his very last days. A photo of Corso taken by Allen Ginsberg hangs on the wall facing the bar sign. The shoot resulted in many images for covers that are in the editorial pipeline and some for books that are yet be written.

Dasha and Tom proved able to play a number of roles — from pulpy noir bar patrons to a 1930s couple brought together by a matchmaker.

And Alex showed himself a versatile and creative photographer. He improvised a number of scenes that were breathtaking in scope. Dead bodies spread out on the wooden floor, glamor poses by the open door, silhouetted against a bright street.

This shoot was a milestone in the aesthetic development of the publications associated with VegaWire, formally eVega Online Media. From the very beginning, VegaWire wanted to realize W.B. Yeats’ vision of a “marriage of the arts” while still appealing to a mass audience.

Thomas Wesson as Cass Loyola, central character of ‘Awake Now, Sailor’ published by Bare Knuckles Press (Photo by Eddie Vega)

Noir Nation No. 1 was its first effort to bring together the literary and visual arts. It included contemporary crime fiction, personal essays, a poem by Bonnie Parker of Bonnie & Clyde fame, a group of abstract paintings by Hamlet Zurita, and a Flamenco/Crime graphic novel illustrated by Danda, a Czech graffiti artist, and written by Jon Danko.

Noir Nation No. 2 will expand to include the work of tattoo artists. In the meantime, the novels we publish under the Noir Nation Books, Bare Knuckles Press, and other imprints will show the same dedication to visual appeal as our signature magazine.

Dasha Kittredge as Morgen, the Wiccan Witch that Cass falls in love with in the novel ‘Awake Now Sailor’ (Photo by Eddie Vega)

After we finished up the shoot at The Kettle of Fish, we went across the street to Christopher Park and shot images for A Suitable Husband by SB Lerner, which will be coming out soon under the Hearts Diary imprint. Hearts Diary publishes interpretive romance novels and works of nonfiction that have a strong romantic flavor. We hope to add many titles over the coming months. Readers will be seeing much more of Tom and Dasha.

Why is Georges Simenon so popular? An Interview with Tristan Davies

Tristan Davies, author of Cake  (Johns Hopkins UP) and senior lecturer at Johns Hopkins University’s The Writing Seminars discusses with Noir Nation the recent comeback in popularity of Georges Simenon’s “Roman Durs” as published by New York Review of Books Classics. Tristan Davies story “Surgeons” appeared in Noir Nation No. 1 and his collection of noir stories and novella set in Baltimore is set for publication by its sister publication Bare Knuckles Press this coming Summer 2012. Noir Nation editor Cortright McMeel conducted the interview.

Noir Nation In your view what makes a Simenon “hard novel” hard?

Tristan Davies “Dur” is best translated as “hard” but it also has the sense of tough or inclement. There is a lot of inclemency in Simenon’s hard novels. Difficulty, bitterness, callousness — these qualities suffuse Simenon’s roman durs, without ever a hint of pity or sense of victimhood.

Noir Nation Before such modern literary writers such as John Banville, William Vollman and Larry McMurtry began proclaiming the merits and genius of Simenon’s “hard novels” Ernest Hemingway, early in his writing career, mentions his love for them in A Moveable Feast. Do you think Simenon might have influenced Hem, even though Hemingway was not a crime writer per se?

Tristan Davies Absolutely. To Have and Have Not is explicitly Hemingway trying to write a roman dur. Also, think of “Hills Like White Elephants” or “The Short Happy Life of Francis McComber.” The former is about lovers running away to an illegal abortion. The latter is a crime story, even if the murder occurs at the end rather than the beginning. Nonetheless, it’s about a wife who kills her husband from jealousy and covers it up as an accident. “The Killers” and “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” owe much to Simenon.

Noir Nation What is your favorite scene in all the Simenon “Romans Durs” you’ve read?

Tristan Davies There’s something about the beginning of The Widow that I find particularly masterly. Perhaps the bathhouse scene from The Engagement: You need to read it twice to understand what happened, or, more precisely, didn’t. Simenon has that special gift of making something seedy seem at once mundane and yet spectacularly relevant.

Noir Nation Simenon was obviously well versed in the underbelly of pimps and prostitutes in Paris as he covered them in the crime beat and partook of their services…why then is Simenon so obsessed with the petit bourgeousie, many of his characters being businessmen and physicians?

Tristan Davies Please, the failure — or absence — of character in a pimp is hardly noteworthy. Simenon was interested in characters that appeared highly functioning, even if that function was merely the maintenance of appearances. Kees Popinga comes apart in The Man Who Watched Trains Go By only after realizing that his boss has calmly swindled him. In The Engagement, it’s true that Mr. Hire is a petty fraud, but we don’t learn this until mid-way through the book. It is of no consequence, anyway.

Noir Nation You and I have spoken about the bad or unsatisfying endings of certain of these books, especially Tropic Moon and The Engagement …what do you find so charming about Simenon’s refusal to end some of these works cleanly?

Tristan Davies He’s not writing romances or detective fiction, which generically have happy endings. He’s writing a special brand of novelistic psychological realism that often has greater verisimilitude than the best of Novels. In Strangers in the House, Hector Loursat, a drunk and a shut-in, rouses himself to save his daughter’s lover from prison. And after his good turn, he slips back into his withdrawn alcoholism. The only difference is he goes out to drink from time to time with another alcoholic. It’s life.

Noir Nation Would you call the “Roman Durs” crime novels or something else?

Tristan Davies Simenon could have called the roman durs crime novels, but tellingly he didn’t. It’s not that he was pretentious: he was honest about calling the Maigret mysteries. I think Simenon was an early post-genre writer. He was a genius who saw that the psychologically realistic novel was in decline. Like his contemporaries, the Cubists and the Surrealists, he was forging not just a different style but an entirely new form. His goal was to capture the world but in a different way than we were used to seeing it.

Noir Nation What is it about Simenon’s prose style that appeals to you?

Tristan Davies Its clarity and concision. Also its poetry. Simenon can write. Too many writers try to sound like tough guys in their writing, talking out the sides of their mouths. Simenon never tried to write tough. Instead, he wrote evocatively about a tough world.

Noir Nation Was Georges a nihilist or a playboy?

Tristan Davies Neither: Georges was a maniac, by which I mean, a man in the grip of a mania. During the Second World War, I sense that he allowed himself to be manipulated by the Germans because he failed to curb his mania for his work. That said, Dirty Snow is an enduring testament to the horrors of the Gestapo.

Author and professor Tristan Davies discusses the works of Simenon with Noir Nation editor Cortright McMeel. (Photo by Katrina Von Kessel)

Noir Nation What if anything do you borrow in your own writing from Simenon?

Tristan Davies The electric beginnings are an inspiration. The economy. Like Cheever, he could capture a scene with a single stirring phrase. They say metaphor lights up your brain. Simenon’s writing pachinkos your brain.

Noir Nation If you had to choose three Hard Novels for our readers to best get a sense of the flavor of Simenon, what would they be?

Tristan Davies Perhaps Strangers in the House is his most accessible now in print. Monsieur Monde Vanishes, as you mention, is a classic. I think, however, from my own view, The Widow is the most perfect that I’ve read: prose and plot form a distinct line of clarity that leaves a lasting impression.

Noir Nation Simenon’s characters all have a questionable moral compass. Yet they also take action and leave their bourgeoisie lives like Mr. Monde in the classic Monsieur Monde Vanishes. Is that why we are intrigued as readers? Because they throw their life in the trash so easily and begin anew, leaving family, homes, jobs for the underbelly of a life of petty crime or other sordid outcomes.

Tristan Davies He captures an untenable contradiction that many people are familiar with: The burning desire to escape the humdrum, contrasted by the terrorizing fear that a single misstep in daily life might lead to utter ruin. We want to escape but we fear that any attempt will lead to perdition. He explores this idea, over and over.

Noir Nation If Simenon were alive today what contemporary author do you think he would admire? Why?

Tristan Davies I suspect that we would be surprised. Simenon was an intellectual. People think of him as a sex-maniac pulp-novelist. Of course, he was a sex maniac, but he also published his correspondence with Andre Gide. I suspect that were Simenon alive today, he wouldn’t be interested in cartoon novels or novels about cartoonists. He’d have no patience for long and boring 21st Century novels of domestic manners. Whatever it would be, it would be a surprise.

Noir Nation Is Simenon closer in theme and spirit to Celine or Camus?

Tristan Davies Camus is the obvious answer vis-à-vis his intellect and the brilliance of his prose. But I see your point. Simenon did not write about paroled murderers and skip-trace cases because he thought that being a popular writer was his job. Being a writer for him was an expression of his deep anxieties and disquietude.

Noir Nation You yourself are a creative writing teacher. Has Simenon taught you anything about storytelling that you have passed down to your students?

Tristan Davies Clean writing. Honest writing. And avoid pretension like the plague.

Noir Nation Who is Simenon’s female writer counterpart?

Tristan Davies Flannery O’Connor, without a doubt and I’d also have to add Mrs. Jane Bowles. Two Serious Ladies inhabits a very Simenon-esque world.

Noir Nation And, finally, have you ever been tempted to plagiarize Simenon… if so… what line?

Tristan Davies It’s not his best book and is certainly one of the least satisfying endings of the hard novels but Tropic Moon has a lot going for it, smuggling, Africa, heat, sex, a raw portrait of colonialism gone awry… but most of all, it has this fabulous last line. It’s a last line which I puzzle over and somehow admire because the book earns the last line: “Africa, it doesn’t exist. Africa!”

Noir Nation Thank you, Tristan. We’re looking forward to reading your upcoming collection of stories and a novella with Bare Knuckles Press this summer.

Noir Nation editors at eBook panel – video available

L-R: Eddie Vega, Cort McMeel, Norb Vonnegut, Evan Ratliff, Sree Sreenivasan, Andrew McGowan

An exciting presentation at the National Arts Club on the future of eBooks. Sponsored by the club’s Literary Committee and Photography Committee, the Online News Organization, and the Yeats Society of New York, the panel included Cort McMeel (of Noir Nation and Bare Knuckles Press), thriller author Norb Vonnegut, Evan Ratliff (of The Atavist) and Sree Sreenivasin, student dean of the Columbia J-school. Eddie Vega moderated. Mo Krachmal served as video producer. To see portions of the video, click on the image above or click here.

Noir Nation’s Cort McMeel to serve on eBook Panel

Noir Nation founding editor Cort McMeel will serve on a panel exploring the future of eBooks. It will be an   exciting  look   at   how   story   tellers, fiction and nonfiction, are using new media technology to keep readers   informed  and entertained. Come learn about the economic prospects of eBooks, how they are created, their comparative advantages to print books, and their connection to online social media.

The panel will feature new media journalists Sree Sreenivasan (Columbia Graduate School of  Journalism,  DNAinfo,  WABC-TV) and Evan Ratliff (The Atavist, The  New  Yorker, National   Geographic).   They will  be  joined by financial novelist Norb  Vonnegut (St. Martin’s Press/Thomas Dunn  and  St. Martins/Minotaur Press).

The panel is being sponsored by the National Arts Club, The Online News Association, and the WB Yeats Society of New York. The panel will  be moderated by writer & journalist Eddie Vega.

Date: March 16, 2012 at 8 p.m.

Where: Grand Gallery, National Arts Club, 15 Gramercy Park South, New York, NY 10003

BLOGS FROM THE GRAVE

James Fouche

Occasionally an author’s personal notes or memoirs are discovered or released by family members after they have passed on. Many times publishers pick up the scent of money and throw it into book form without a moment’s hesitation. Letters by John Steinbeck, Jane Austen and CS Lewis now come to mind. Perhaps also the compilation of Churchill quotes, or the random ponderings of Anthony Burgess and other literary geniuses. These authors are long gone, yet they leave behind a rich and sometimes controversial view of life, written in an old voice, filled with wisdom and depth and irony.

I find myself wondering what would happen now that the world has been swooped away on a social networking cloud. Today diaries are kept in the form of blogs. Views are expressed on Facebook and Twitter and updates are seen as entries. There is no real privacy and whatever has been sent, is there to stay.

Who will possibly remember who blogged what and when they blogged it? Will there be a dedicated group of people who make a living by sifting through the musings of a possible someone? If my light finally dwindles and my fateful demise becomes a sure thing, will all my blog postings and my old tweets be exhumed from the heaps of Internet garble and incorporated in my simulated eulogy? Will it be run or posted across all social media platforms at 7-hourly intervals to accommodate for all possible time zones?

I doubt that very much. What I have to say could never compare to the treasures left behind by the names mentioned above. They were writers in a time when the written word had such value and reading was a common pastime. I probably wouldn’t even get a high number of google searches for the nonsense I thought up.

Sadly, a criminal is far more likely to get maximum search engine optimization in death than a literary professor with two PHD’s. A serial rapist’s tweets or a suicide bombers rants on Facebook will probably be revered by some and categorized as insightful by others.

Barney Rosset, heroic publisher who defied censors, dead at 89

From the New York Times

Barney Rosset, the flamboyant, provocative publisher who helped change the course of publishing in the United States, bringing masters like Samuel Beckett to Americans’ attention under his Grove Press imprint and winning celebrated First Amendment slugfests against censorship, died on Tuesday in Manhattan. He was 89.

His son Peter said he died after a double-heart-valve replacement.

Over a long career Mr. Rosset championed Beat poets, French Surrealists, German Expressionists and dramatists of the absurd, helping to bring them all to prominence.

Besides publishing Beckett, he brought early exposure to European writers like Eugène Ionesco and Jean Genet and gave intellectual ammunition to the New Left by publishing Che Guevara, Ho Chi Minh and “The Autobiography of Malcolm X.”

Most of all, beginning in high school, when he published a mimeographed journal titled “The Anti-Everything,” Mr. Rosset, slightly built and sometimes irascible, savored a fight.

More…