McPherson’s debut novel comes with a mess of problems for Ambrose, a small potatoes drug pusher and our lead character, who is a lot more charming than his ambitions tell. Ambrose may be up for anything to make a buck, including turning a trick or two, but he just can’t stay out of trouble. Thankfully, his good nature and innocently-sexy looks afford him a few trustworthy friends. With their help, Ambrose manages to hide out in Silicon Valley, where he poses as a graduate student until his troubles cool off. Little does Ambrose realize; one promising idea may lead to a world of misfortune.
Kissed with romance and taut with threat, Poser is a smartly-plotted debut novel in what is sure to be a memorable noir series.
Read my interview with the author below:
WHITEHURST: Let’s start with a big congratulations on Poser. Can you talk about how long you worked on this book and what led to its publication?
MCPHERSON: Thank you! Yes, I’ve been working on this story for a long time. It started as a screenplay that I was inspired to write after spending several summers in Palo Alto, beginning about twenty years ago! Each year when I went back things had changed through dot-com booms and busts, but that ever-electric vibe was always there and still is. My husband was teaching at a debate camp at the university, and I was helping students with research papers. In the evenings, I would walk around the campus and surrounding neighborhoods and certain evocative images would catch my attention or stay in my mind, leading me to believe “there’s a story there.” One image I came across while walking past a house was a person sitting under a patio umbrella in a back yard with a martini glass on the table in front of them. That stuck in my mind and a variation of that appears in the novel. It’s actually in a pivotal scene! I worked on the screenplay through several drafts and then decided to adapt it as a TV series script and it was through doing that, I discovered new characters and story lines and decided to adapt it as a novel. When I could tell there was more story beyond this novel, I decided to do it as a book series. I’d been engaging with Outcast Press on social media and when I posted a logline for Pit-Mad on Twitter they reached out with interest in the book, and the book series.
WHITEHURST: When you describe your work, and Poser, to someone on the street, what do you tell them?
MCPHERSON: Both I and my work have been described as “quirky” on several occasions, so these are quirky or eccentric characters who get themselves into bad situations. I sometimes describe it as a “Silicon Valley noir with Southern Gothic roots,” because several of the characters have southern backgrounds and they’ll be returning there to deal with family issues (that they’d rather not deal with) from time to time. I also sometimes describe it as a Silicon Valley soap opera, with crime fiction and romance elements. No sooner do the characters get one issue semi-resolved when another issue pops up that makes everything more difficult. I dislike awkward moments in real life, but love them in fiction, so this book is loaded with awkward moments and bad decisions, with occasional moments of serendipity.
WHITEHURST: Your story, full of crime, romance, sex, and violence, has been described as transgressive in nature. For those of us not familiar with the style, care to shed some light?
MCPHERSON: Transgressive fiction is that wherein characters find offbeat or even illicit ways to deal with society’s strictures and structures. They usually operate outside the mainstream and could even be considered social misfits in many cases. The characters in this book all do that in diverse ways, and even the ones that seem perfectly “normal” on the surface have secret interests and obsessions that drive them to do transgressive things. Since this book does contain elements of several different genres, it was difficult to pitch it as just one “type” of fiction, so discovering the characteristics of transgressive fiction through blog posts–some retweeted by Outcast, which specializes in transgressive fiction, from Natalie Nider’s wonderful blog Trainwreck Tendencies–provided me with “aha” moments that helped me to place what I’m doing in my fiction, as well as what I tend to do in my other writing. Another great resource on transgressive writing is Neda Aria’s blog, nedaaria.info. It just so turns out that many of my favorite authors are considered “transgressive” writers as well, so I feel very at home now in referring to my work as transgressive fiction.
WHITEHURST: Poser’s protagonist Ambrose is a memorable, albeit broken, dude. As are Bennie, Jessica, Randy, and the others. How did you produce such a noir-fueled cast?
MCPHERSON: That’s a great question and a difficult one to answer, in a way! I suppose that during my walks where I first started to get inklings of this story, these characters started to take shape, populating the scenery. I remember thinking that much like New Orleans, where I lived at the time, someone adrift like Ambrose could find places from which to operate, sleeping with a backpack as a pillow, blending in when necessary and finding places to change and clean up well enough to look presentable when he must. He’s had to adapt to survive to get where he is at the beginning of the book and continues to adapt throughout the series. Even as his circumstances improve, he’s constantly presented with challenges where his chameleon-like abilities are tested. Jessica and Bennie possess some characteristics of rich girls often found in noir (a la the Sternwood sisters in The Big Sleep) but even though they do or can have everything, each has something missing that they find with the unlikely pairings of the new men (and women) in their lives. Randy didn’t exist in the original screenplay, but I added him when writing the teaser for the TV script, and he immediately took shape as a major character, in all his messy, messed-up glory, so it’s like he was right there, just waiting to walk onstage all along. Some of the other characters are inspired by noir archetypes, and some just appeared, but as they’ve developed could be placed within those archetypes.
WHITEHURST: Why set the story in San Francisco, Palo Alto, etc.?
MCPHERSON: I get inspired by places that I visit, and since I like to get out and walk around, I seek to connect with the local vibe. I had no clue what Palo Alto or San Francisco would be like before I went there, but I was captivated by the weather, the scenery, the “big dreams can come true” attitude that those places seem to possess. Also, coming from a part of the country where historically the juxtaposition is more north/ south, it was a switch to feel that West Coast/ East Coast juxtaposition, so maybe it just stretched my consciousness in a different way that help me see things from a new angle. San Francisco is a big city with lots of history and personality, tuned into the Silicon Valley buzz, and Palo Alto is a smaller city with a big university, on the forefront of innovation while retaining much of its retro appeal. Both are featured heavily in noir books and films, from The Maltese Falcon to Double Indemnity (the husband in that story “somehow” goes missing on the train to a class reunion in Palo Alto), so since I am a fan of noir, and love those places on a sensory level, it turns out to be a good fit for my story. Also, there’s something about port towns that imparts a sense of possibility that more land-locked places don’t always have. That’s something I love about New Orleans, and as I’ve discovered through various conversations and my own observations, there’s a strong “sister port city” connection there. Also, both places inspire artists of all types and have a high tolerance for the unusual and eccentric. Used to anyway. Let’s hope both cities are able to retain that with the advent of (sometimes extreme) gentrification.
WHITEHURST: Poser is called “A Eucalyptus Lane” novel, which indicates more are on the way. What’s the story on the second book in the series?
MCPHERSON: The second book is in the works and picks up where Poser leaves off. We’ll get more insight into the backgrounds of all the major characters, and, for the most part, “meet the parents” mentioned in Poser. We’ll meet Ambrose’s incarcerated brother, Butch, who evolves into a major character with the third book in the series, and Rajit’s partner, Terrence, who got fired from a mega-tech firm the same time Rajit did. Rajit and Terrence will join forces with Ambrose, looking for ways to put their tech genius to good (though “good” may be a relative term here) use, and Ambrose will be looking for ways to increase his own net worth, seeking to prove himself a real player, to show Jessica and others that he’s capable of much more than they might think. We’ll also find out what happened to Miss Dover, which influences Ambrose’s bold actions as well.
WHITEHURST: Tell us about your writing habits? Any music or ambience needed before you sit down to write?
MCPHERSON: I like to have a cup of coffee or hot matcha and write late at night, preferably with jazz music or light classical playing in the background. I prefer listening to music with no lyrics when I’m writing, because the singing usually distracts me. The only exception to that is music from the 1980’s for some reason; maybe because I grew up with that, so it blends into my mental background most of the time. I like to keep sandalwood incense on hand, and indirect lighting (two desk lamps pointed toward the ceiling) is best for me when I’m writing.
WHITEHURST: Now that Poser is unleashed upon the world, any signings or online events planned we should be aware of?
MCPHERSON: I have a book signing March 23 at Metropolis Café in Milledgeville, GA, where I live now, and working on dates for more. I’ll be on Sample Chapter podcast coming up soon, and I have plans for posting video readings from Poser and other writers’ work at my blog on a new series called Bedtime Noir. I’ll post the dates/ times for upcoming events on my web site, so check there for the latest news.
WHITEHURST: Besides the next novel in the Eucalyptus Lane series, what else have you been working on?
MCPHERSON: I’m working on an action/ adventure short story for an anthology, and another short piece set in a southern diner for another upcoming anthology from Outcast; more on those will be announced at the web site. Also, I’m revisiting my manuscript for a novel I wrote about the life and times of silent film director Erich von Stroheim, and the TV pilot based on the Eucalyptus Lane novels. The summer will be devoted to Book Two in the series (I have a title in mind for that one—still firming it up). and I’m looking forward to seeing what develops for Book Three. I have that one planned, but always leave room for discovery. I never know where these characters will take me!
Be sure to follow Nevada on Twitter, Instagram, and on her website at nevada-mcpherson.com.
Get your hands on Poser here.