It’s always a delight to sit down with authors and talk shop. It’s especially cool when you get to sit down with one you admire. I got lucky with Dietrich Kalteis. His new book, Zero Avenue, is out Tuesday. The book features a gritty punk tale of crime and survival and takes no prisoners in its detail and scope. A great read. Look here to get your copy.
Whitehurst: How did you come up with this story? The writing feels so visceral one could almost imagine you had been there.
Dietrich: I do remember the times well, and listening to the music again and talking to people who lived during those times helped a lot with reviving the vibe. What I liked about the punk rock scene back then was its edge and the ‘us against them’ outlook, how that indie ‘shake it up’ attitude threw a middle finger to the status quo. It made a sharp contrast to what some considered a sleepy backwater town at the time. For me, it made the perfect setting for a crime novel.
It was easy to identify with the characters and that ‘shake it up’ attitude. I guess I had a bit of that rebel soul back then, and I did know people growing up who were into the music scene and were a lot like the characters in the book. And I knew some guys who tried to rob a pot field and had rock salt shot at them. So yeah, I guess parts of this one were close to home.
Whitehurst: Having dabbled in punk fandom in the 80s (DRI still gets me misty-eyed), I recognized a number of names, but not all of them. Are these all real bands and how much punk did you listen to in preparing for this book?
Dietrich: I always listen to music while I write, and I play what goes with what I’m working on. For Zero Avenue I got my hands on as much of the early Vancouver punk sound as I could find: D.O.A, the Subhumans, Pointed Sticks, the Dishrags, Payolas, Braineaters, Young Canadians, the Modernettes, the Reactors. I added some early Toronto bands on my playlists, bands like the Viletones, the Demics, the Diodes, the Cardboard Brains, the Mods, and the Ugly. And also Teenage Head and the Forgotten Rebels from Hamilton. I rounded it out with bands from the U.S. like the Ramones and the Stooges. And there were the Clash and the Sex Pistols from the U.K., and lots more.
Frankie’s band Waves of Nausea is, of course, made up. So is Middle Finger. And I threw some real-life personalities in the shadows among the characters I made up.
Whitehurst: What, if anything, didn’t make it into the book that you would have liked to explore further? I loved how the Vancouver punk scene could easily have been the San Francisco punk scene or anywhere for that matter, as the struggle for discord was apparently the same no matter where you happened to live.
Dietrich: There are some great books on the subject that filled in a lot of the details: Guilty of Everything by John Armstrong, Perfect Youth by Sam Sutherland, I, Shithead and Talk-Action=Zero, both by Joe Keithley helped relive those times. And there was Bloodied but Unbowed, an awesome documentary by Susanne Tabata. It’s jam-packed with clips, music and tales from that first wave of Vancouver’s punk scene. Then there were some firsthand tales. In fact, there was so much that could have been included, that I felt I had to be careful of what I did include so as not to slow the pace of the story.
There were many interesting details that I could have expanded on, from the self-published fanzines like Snotrag that kept a finger on the punk subculture, to the DIY recordings and local record labels that sprang up. One thing that I would have like to explore more was how the local scene seemed to line more with what was happening down the coast in San Francisco and L.A. than it did with what was happening in the punk scene in other parts of this country.
Whitehurst: You have written crime stories set in a number of settings, San Francisco at the turn of the last century and Vancouver at the start of the punk movement, what era do you have your sights set on next for your next book?
Dietrich: Poughkeepsie Shuffle is complete except for some copy edits and is due out next year. It takes place in Toronto in the mid-eighties and centers on Jeff Nichols, a guy fresh out of the infamous Don Jail. He gets mixed up in a gun-smuggling ring operating from a used car lot. The outfit brings guns in from upstate New York, and Jeff’s a guy who’s willing to bend the rules to get on the fast track to riches, a guy who doesn’t let the lessons from past mistakes get in the way of a good score in the future.
The story’s set at a time when I lived there, and I knew it well. On recent trips back I’ve been amazed by how much the city has expanded and grown since those days, so there’s a little nostalgia in there for me.
Right now I’m working on a story set in the dust bowl days of Kansas. It a story about a couple coping with drought, dust storms and debt. And they’ve got some interesting, although not legal ways, of saving their farm from the banks.
Whitehurst: Imagining a gritty, beat-up HBO mini series of this book, who would you picture as the leads, particularly Frankie and Marty?
Dietrich: When I’m writing, I always picture my stories like movie scenes and my characters like actors. For Frankie del Rey I saw her as a punked-up Krysten Ritter with a touch of Patti Smith’s edge. Lose the French accent and Vincent Cassel could play Marty Sayles. That guy’s got the look for it. And for Johnny Falco, I think a young Johnny Depp would be right.
– Bio: Dietrich Kalteis is the award-winning author of Ride the Lightning, The Deadbeat Club, Triggerfish, House of Blazes and Zero Avenue. Nearly fifty of his short stories have been published internationally, and he lives with his family in West Vancouver, British Columbia. Visit his website here.