Mark, welcome to Collected Miscellany.
How does a nice guy like you wind up as a hard-boiled novelist?
Actually, Iâ€™m not that nice. As B.B. King says, nobody loves me but my mother, and she could be jiving too. Anyway, I got into writing crime fiction by accident, really. I sat down with a friend in grad school to work out a story, originally intended to be a screenplay. We didnâ€™t have any set genre in mind, but what we came up with was a noirish mystery/thriller. I let the notes for that sit in my desk for a couple of years, and then one summer decided to turn it into a novel. Whatever the merits of the final product, I enjoyed the process of writing so much that I started a second one right away and havenâ€™t stopped writing since.
Who do you enjoy reading?
In the crime/suspense genre? My favorites are Raymond Chandler, David Goodis, Jim Thompson, James Ellroy and Elmore Leonard. Theyâ€™re my heroes.
What was your road to publication?
It took a while. I tried to find an agent first, and what I learnedâ€”eventuallyâ€”was that the only agents who are willing to represent an unpublished author are unable to place the book with any decent presses. The straw that broke the camelâ€™s back was when I got a note from a publish-on-demand house telling me that they were willing to publish my novel. Well, you could put a monkey in front of a typewriter, and that kind of a house would publish whatever he produced. So, I asked myself, what good was this agent doing me, sending my work to a place like that? After that, I fired the agent and started looking for small, independent presses that would accept direct submissions from the author. Thatâ€™s how I eventually found Uglytown.
You have a non-fiction work on film noir coming out. Tell us about that.
A good deal of my academic work is in the area of popular culture and philosophy. Iâ€™ve done several film interpretations that you can read on metaphilm.com, and Iâ€™ve co-edited two volumes in a series by Open Court Press, The Simpsons and Philosophy, and Woody Allen and Philosophy (which just came out). The idea behind these books is to introduce people to philosophy, using popular culture. The film noir book is being published by a different press, The University Press of Kentucky, but it has the same goal in mind, to use film noir as a way of explaining certain philosophical issues, and hopefully at the same time the volume will add something to the literature on the topic. Itâ€™s an anthology, a collection of essays by some really fine scholars. Iâ€™m excited about it.
How about future novels?
I have two other novels under contract with Uglytown. The next to be published is called Williams Bucket, and it will be out in the spring. Itâ€™s set in a small, fictional town in Ohio. Itâ€™s suspenseful, but itâ€™s also character-driven. The main character is an underemployed writer named Id Willings, and his new girlfriend, Josie. The story is populated by lots of interesting, quirky peopleâ€”a traveling preacher, a transvestite, a heavy-handed Sheriff in a small county, etc. The second book under contract is a sequel to Williams Bucket, and should be out next fall.
Dark as Night has a chef as a character. Are you a foodie?
I really have a passion for good food. New York is one of the great restaurant cities in the world, so Iâ€™m lucky to be here.
Your title is from a Shakespeare sonnet. Does it capture the theme of the novel?
The quote is: â€œFor I have sworn thee fair, and thought thee bright/who art as black as hell, as dark as night.â€ I had a particular relationship in the story in mind when I chose that, but I think it captures nicely the idea of deception and betrayal generally, which is obviously a key theme in noir literature.
Almost everyone in the book world has an opinion on the state of affairs in commercial publishing. Give us your take.
Honestly, I donâ€™t really have an opinion, except to say that itâ€™s remarkable how much crap gets published. Given what goes on in Hollywood, I always like to say that there isnâ€™t any idea so stupid that someone wonâ€™t make a movie out of it, and I suppose the same goes about writing. Paradoxically, I suppose, itâ€™s also remarkable how difficult it is to get published. I suppose the paradox disappears, however, when you consider the general publicâ€™s taste for crapâ€”just look at the popularity of reality TV shows. I donâ€™t worry about that stuff, though. I just want to write, and I try to avoid the business end of it as much as possible.
Tell us about your experience with Uglytown. Did your editor want major changes to the manuscript or was it more of a they liked it, they published it scenario?
The guys at Uglytown liked the book pretty much as it was. Besides line edits, there were two changes that they suggested, neither one of which was huge, but they were important. And, in the end, they were right. The story is better with those changes in place. Uglytown has been unwaveringly supportive, and I really appreciate that.
What are your thoughts on literary blogs or blogs in general?
I donâ€™t have any experience of blogs. Iâ€™m slow in adapting to new technology, I suppose (I donâ€™t have a DVD player yet, for example). I spend too much time in front of the computer, as it is, so Iâ€™m not sure I want to get into blogging.
Any final thoughts about writing?
Let me just quote Orwell: “All writers are vain, selfish and lazy, and at the very bottom of their motives lies a mystery. Writing a book is a long, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.”