Some writers are like doctors. They have the stuff you need right when you need it most. Tom Pitts is an author like that. Having read American Static at a time when I was thirsty for a blast of literary danger, the book was like the tall beer Tom’s holding in his author photo. It hit the spot.What starts as a deadly, and compelling, crime thriller; American Static soons takes on a darker twist. The story unfolds to reveal murderous political intrigue, a savage quest for the truth, and weaves in a sweet love story – albeit in a surprising way.
When I got a chance to sit down with Tom, the first thing on my mind was all the great characters sprinkled throughout the book, so I started there…
PATRICK WHITEHURST: You have Quinn, Carl, Tremblay, Steven, Teresa, and a cast of others, nearly all a bit shady. How did you keep them straight?
TOM PITTS: If you’re referring to the juggling of POVs, it’s the only way I see the whole picture. It’s more than just a third-person perspective, it’s a lens through which we can see each character’s motivations. I took this idea a little further than in my last novel, Hustle. And I think the result is a faster moving, more exciting ride.
As far as them being shady, to be fair, kindly ol’ Carl ain’t too shady. But all characters—just like people—come in varying shades of grey. They just aren’t black or white. Mind you, some are blacker than others. I think even the most evil motherfucker in the world still likes a chuckle now and again, still likes to sit down and watch Bob’s Burgers, you know?
WHITEHURST:You’re knocking back a few at the bar and some dude asks you to describe American Static. What do you tell him?
PITTS: I tell ‘em it’s a devil-at-the-crossroads kind of tale. That’s what Quinn is. He’s that intoxicating, charismatic devil that’ll take you on a fast ride to hell.
WHITEHURST:When you gaze at the stars, thinking wistfully on those glorious days spent writing the book, what stands out? What part of American Static really turned you on?
PITTS: I was on a roll after Hustle. I marched forward on this one full of cocky confidence. The plot unfolded and the puzzle presented itself to me perfectly. I love that feeling when the pieces fit together. What I remember most—when I put together the political backstory that’s the impetus for the events—is jumping up from the keyboard and yelling Yes!
WHITEHURST:What can you tell us about an audiobook?
PITTS: I’m very excited about it. It’s the first audio book being done for one of my stories. The narrator, Daniel Greenberg, has done an excellent job. I listened to a lot of audio books during a hellish commute I endured a few years back. And I mean a LOT of audio books, and Daniel has just the even-handed style I like—not too dramatic, not too flat. I’m told it’ll be done by the start of May, so I’m hoping it’ll be available in June. If it goes well, I’m going to do one for Hustle and the new book, 101.
WHITEHURST: The movie question now: who would you cast? I could almost see De Niro as Quinn, maybe a younger version. Thoughts?
PITTS: I do hate being pinned down by this question. Once I have someone in mind it’s hard to get them out of my head, but … since you asked. I think I’d like to see Frank Grillo as Quinn. He’d be perfect for it. He’s got something scary going on just under the surface. It’d be tough for a just any old pretty boy to sell it. Frank has a bit of grit. The kind of guy you can never feel quite comfortable around.
WHITEHURST:What about bands? Who do you listen to when you type?
PITTS: Nobody. I’ve always worked in silence. I’ve gone so far as to stuff toilet paper in my ears and pump white noise through some headphones to find silence. Rob Hart recently asked on Twitter about playlists for writing, the soundtrack that a writer prepares for each novel. A light went on over my head—a playlist to block the world out? Brilliant. Maybe I’ll try it the next time around. Especially if it’s a period piece.
WHITEHURST:What’s the story these days? What are you working on?
PITTS: I just finished the final edits for my next novel, 101. It’s coming out in November from Down & Out. It takes my shifting POV philosophy even further. I’ve very proud of the book. It’s fast-moving, funny, and full of wild characters. It’s set against the backdrop of a pot farm in Humboldt County six months before it went legal in California. I spent a fair amount of time in those hills doing research—yeah, that’s what we’ll call it—and I hope it captures the tone of the hills. I’m still working on the Hustle script and doing the dance with Hollywood. Hopefully I’ll have some solid news to share about that soon. I can say things are heating up though. Then, I suppose, it’s time to roll up my sleeves and get to work on a new novel. I can’t wait to get back to that strange headspace where I spend a few hours a day in the unpredictable world of my own fiction.
An official launch for the Arcadia Images of America book, The Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History, will be held at the Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History on Thursday, April 26th, starting at 5:30 p.m. with a booksigning and copies for sale in the Museum Store.
Not every day is peaches and cream. Some days are just terrible. But when you find a good read, it’s always peaches and cream. This was the case when I read Michael J. Clark’s debut crime novel Clean Sweep, out this month from the fine folks over at ECW Press. It’s all warm and fuzzy, in a violent crime-filled way, which is fine with me. Check out my interview with Clark below!
PATRICK WHITEHURST:There are a number of great characters in Clean Sweep. How did you develop them and how did you manage to keep them all straight?
MICHAEL J. CLARK: We start with Tommy Bosco. The good pastor is loosely based on a good friend of mine, a reformed smuggler with the gift of gab when it comes to his days of criminality. Just when I think he’s told me every story, he makes my jaw drop again. ‘Tommy’ just told me a tale about the night he was shot five times, and drove himself to the hospital. I’m sure there’s some truth in that story, be it ever so slight. Maybe it was only twice, maybe he was grazed, or it could have just been cuts from a bullet-shattered side window as he sped away. ‘Tommy’ has this ability to either make you love the story, or love the bullshit. If it’s all just bullshit, it’s the best bullshit I’ve ever heard, double album-worthy.
I’ve read many a police procedural in my time, so coming up with cops that were clean, semi-clean, or dirty/homicidal-for-hire wasn’t too much of a stretch. In retrospect, Clean Sweep could have been written as a police procedural. I decided to bring the fringe characters out of the shadows. Think of the guy who’s always loading a van while being questioned by a pair of homicide cops on Law & Order. Doesn’t he have a story beyond those crates? Maybe, just maybe, Man Loading Van is the story. Same with the person who becomes the corpse. The unfortunate stiff is always the last to know, right up to the point that the hammer hits the back of the shell casing.
In the case of Clean Sweep, I decided to ‘compartmentalize’ the various groups until the need arose to intertwine them. (Uh-oh, I think I’ve got a touch of ‘Tommy’s’ bullshit creeping in here). Keeping the various characters/groups where I needed them to be meant that there were only so many of them peering over my shoulder during the keyboard clatter. It was the only way I could handle it without turning into Jack Torrance.
I’m a huge fan of conspiracies. I truly believe that the development of ‘misdirection technology’ (that TV set you call a phone) is not only planned, its truly required to ensure shadowy success.The conspiracy I floated in Clean Sweep has its seedlings in the sandy soil of historical record in Canada. I just added the Miracle-Gro.
WHITEHURST: A lot of writers listen to a “soundtrack” when they write, music that inspires their words. Was this the case with Clean Sweep?
CLARK: There are a few snippets of music in the book. I enjoy jazz, and I’m learning more about it, though I’m anything but an expert on the notes the musicians play, or the ones they don’t. The ‘music’ has more to do with the research, like watching reams of vintage YouTube that relate to the story. I could listen to British announcers reporting on the 1950 Manitoba flood into the wee small hours. I should mention that my second book is set in 1985 in Winnipeg. There’s plenty of music in that romp, and there had to be. (Silly haunted radios…)
WHITEHURST:Picture yourself plopped down at a seedy dive bar. What would you tell the bartender who asks what your book is about? It’s gotta be different than how you’d explain it to a publicist, right?
CLARK: Well, lets assume that I’m into my third quality scotch by this point, neat. “Well friend, Clean Sweep is about the Winnipeg that no one wants to talk about, but everyone knows is there, just like any town on the face of the earth. And do you have any more peanuts?”
WHITEHURST:Without giving anything away, what part of writing the book made you sit back and think, “I’m a rock star?”
CLARK: Rock star? I’d settle for Polka King right now. I think its when you come up with those fun little phrases, the ‘you’re gonna need a bigger boat’ nuggets. You wonder if they’ll have the same impact for the reader as they did for you.
WHITEHURST:Everyone asks this, so I will too. Who would you pick to be in the Clean Sweep movie?
CLARK: I’ve had the pleasure of knowing a few people in the film, theatre, and comedy world in Winnipeg. I’ve been enjoying the adaptation of Caught by Lisa Moore on the Mother Corporation, AKA the CBC. There’s such an incredible pool of Canadian talent to pull from. Kristen Kreuk from Burden of Truth could have her pick of roles. I’ve gotta get Adam Beach in there somewhere. Many of the characters are perfect for the abundance of character actors that abound. I’ve been a fan of Michael Ironside since Scanners. (A perfect Ernie Friday.) As for Pastor Bosco, I’m still thinking. ‘Tommy’ looks a lot like Richard Rawlings from Fast ‘n Loud. Hmmmmm…
Thanks for the great interview, Michael! Clean Sweep is available now. Get your hands on it here.
The year 2017 will go down in history for a lot of reasons; some of those reasons being the addition of quality literature to the libraries of the world’s dwindling army of readers. Over the last year, possibly in an attempt to cower from real world political poison, I’ve disappeared into 20 books, including nonfiction and fiction, I found my share of quality literature, not to mention my escape.
Having read everything from Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Astrophysics for People in a Hurry to the first six entries of Don Pendleton’s Executioner novels, the year of lit in the Whitehurst house was a good one. Take a look at my top five picks for the year. While they didn’t all come out last year, I read them in 2017, which is how my list works.
Zero Avenue by Dietrich Kalteis
Who doesn’t love a punk rock masterpiece? That’s what I found when I read Zero Avenue. This is one gritty punk tale chock full of crime and the desperation of survival. Zero takes no prisoners in its detail and scope and keeps kicking through to the very end. What a movie this would make. And the score would rock. Someone better be on that.
A blast in the face, full of punk and vigor, and one of the best reads of the year for me.
There’s something satisfying about reading words that have echoed in your own mind at various times in your life. That’s how this collection of poetry and prose found me. It’s a quick read, but worth repeat reading, just to relish in the word choices and raw honesty found within.
For anyone who needs words whispered gracefully, honestly, and without remorse, lean into this book.
Meeting and listening to Benjamin Percy talk were highlights of the year for me. He’s a charismatic speaker and has an impressive literary resume. This book, on the craft of writing and story-telling, should be on the shelf of every writer, whether they’re jotting their first line or their gazillionth. I zipped through it like a mad man. After meeting him and getting his John Hancock on the book, I couldn’t help but hear his captivating voice speaking every sentence.
The Gaslight Girl: A Decisive Devices Novella by Hargrove Perth
Billed as the first in the Decisive Devices Steampunk series, The Gaslight Girl functions just as well as a standalone tale, though readers will most certainly want to explore the other entries when they turn the last page. Get to know Halloran Frost, get to know a cinderwench, and sink your teeth into this thrilling romp in the hottest genre around.
For those with a taste for authors such as Gail Carriger and Kevin J. Anderson, not to mention the classics by H.G. Wells and Jules Verne, familiarize yourself with this series.
Imagine Lord of the Rings with a Harry Potter storyline and you come close to the breathtaking tale that is The Name of the Wind. In fact, the previous sentence doesn’t begin to describe how wonderful I found this book and its main character, Kvothe. I simply could not put it down. The first in a planned trilogy (I hope there are more than that) got me so pumped, I very nearly grabbed the second to read immediately after finishing. Instead I put it aside to savor the anticipation, though it will be read in 2018.
Book One of the Kingkiller Chronicles. Buy it. Love it. Love it twice.
The streets get gritty and mean. Cold shadows keep the sun from hitting the pavement and those passing by bump into you with a snort and no apologies. If you’re lucky you see a set of bleak eyes staring out from under a shaded hat, piercing you with desire, and not the lustful kind, but the kind that makes you move your wallet from your back pocket.
Woolrich was NYC in and out. Born there. Buried there. Barely left town. Barely left his place. Who cares that he might have had a mental blemish or two? Who cares he lived with his mother? The dude was killer.
Woolrich had a way of storytelling unrivaled in his time. Hitchcock fell into the spin of his yarns and shot Rear Window as a result. He wrote a ton, and tons were made into movies, including his novels, “I Married a Dead Man,” “The Phantom Lady,” and others. He may have written under the name William Irish for a while, perhaps thinking the pseudonym sounded more badass than Cornell, but these days we all know it was him. Yet he remains one of New York City’s, and the world’s, best and largely uncelebrated crime writers. At least he made the name Cornell a cool one.
Being a hermit, the man seemed more content to stare at the world without engaging in it, but he had a knack for people nonetheless. He could populate a story like no one’s business. And if you were in New York in his time, say between 1926 and 1968, the year he died, you might have fallen under his gaze.