If any of you read the Messy Business interview with Mick Rose I’m sure you all added a ton of books to your TBR list as a result. One Mick praised to the hilt is today’s guest, Rob Pierce. His fiction is as dark and piercing as they come, and here he is about what kind of fiction he loves.
A friend of mine doesn’t read fiction, paraphrasing Frank Skinner about it all being made-up and he has no time for any of that. What words do you have for such a philistine?
What are you supposed to do with someone like that, quote Shakespeare? “There are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy?” I’d say the imagination is a powerful tool that, unused, will die. You don’t have to write fiction, but I’d heartily suggest reading it. Or let your mind stagnate and die.
What must a protagonist have to make you read on?
Nothing is a necessity. But something has to be there. A real person, if hidden. Maybe with a shady past, maybe with dark secrets, but really, so long as they (and I use the word in the he/she/they sense, not wanting to leave anyone out) are in the middle of something, generally something they are trying to get out of. I think stories tend to be about escaping their beginning. That’s what I would probably look for in a protagonist, but that would be in retrospect, after the book is over.
Do you need a likable protagonist?
Is this a standard question? You’ve read me, right? I don’t know how likable any of my protagonists are. I write crime stories, not detective stories. Detectives are obstacles at most in my writing, rarely even mentioned. Dust was my first protagonist – a bank robber. Then Vern, who was supposed to make mob deals go quietly. After that, Vollmer – he was a total psycho. But I gave them all reasons for the reader to sympathize. Hell, the idea is for the reader to empathize. Tommy Shakes is the latest, and he’s a drunken, ex-junkie criminal. I still want people rooting for him, no matter how awful some of what he does. That’s a major point of my books – the bad guys all are normal guys who had things go wrong.
Name a great antagonist, in a novel or movie, and what they do for you.
Sounds like a “Name your favorite Jim Thompson character” question, but I haven’t read Thompson in a while. So, not my favorite, but a great one, Doc in The Getaway, a hard-boiled creep who was effective as hell in his schemes. Not the sweetheart portrayed in the films, either. They had Sam Peckinpah direct the movie, and he softened it up. Doc was flat out blood-curdling. I love that guy.
What makes you throw a book out the window?
I guess I’m more genteel than the question intimates; I walk them up to the corner book box. It’s all free to the public and I’ve taken plenty from there as well. These days I try to avoid that kind of book. The last book that really struck me as awful was Less Than Zero; I’d have given the title as my review. There was nothing real in that book. I like reality, however dismal, I like real motivations, and I like characters I can relate to. For instance, I’m not that fond of Fitzgerald but the man could write. Still, he said “the rich are very different from you and me,” which was refuted by the critic Mary Colum: ”The only difference between the rich and other people is that the rich have more money.” (Hemingway was at the table when she said this and took the line for The Snows of Kilimanjaro. He also revised it, because he was a writer.)
Do you grit your teeth all the way to the end of a dodgy novel?
Maybe if I’m writing one and it’s gotten dodgy. If I’m reading? Fuck that, the book’s at the book box before I’ll waste my time finishing it. The world is filled with great books. Who has time for one that sucks?
What gets you writing? Is it a great novel, maybe? Something you saw on the street or on TV? Something else?
Uncle Dust was inspired by a friend telling me about how he’d taken money from his step-dad, a criminal who kept his money in a suitcase in the closet. Vern In The Heat was a nine page short story but I’d introduced the female lead and abandoned her, which I didn’t want to do. That became a novella. With The Right Enemies was the sequel to Uncle Dust, but I’d been told to write one so many times that when a friend who loved Dust told me to do it, I figured out how: write it from another perspective, which made the focus a different character. Although the start of Act 2 was what I wrote first. The new one, Tommy Shakes, was inspired by real life; I was going through hard times in my marriage, I was drinking, my wife didn’t think I should drink at all: that was not going to fly, but I wanted to stay with her. That went as well for me as for Tommy.
What did you learn about writing from the last book you wrote?
I learned that I really prefer writing about fictional traumas as opposed to my own. I don’t know, Tommy Shakes was a personal story that had nothing to do with me. An early critique said the personal scenes worked a lot better than the crime ones. I think I fixed that before the book was over.
What’s your next book, in 30 words or less?
Dust and Vollmer collide in an East Bay blood bath. The usual fun story with new characters and old. And, of course, double-crosses.
Where can readers connect with you?
I’m on Facebook for now, and Twitter. I go by robpierce2verbs if you’re wondering, and tend to be photographed in my Italian leather jacket (blood falls off it, it’s great).
Uh, https://www.facebook.com/rob.pierce.503 and https://twitter.com/RobPierce2verbs
I could give my phone number and email too, but enough people hate me without me hearing about it.