Sunday, May 27, 2012

Q&A: Tom Piccirilli

Tom Piccirilli is the author of more than twenty novels including Shadow Season, The Cold Spot, The Coldest Mile, and A Choir of Ill Children. He’s won two International Thriller Awards and four Bram Stoker Awards, as well as having been nominated for the Edgar, the World Fantasy Award, the Macavity, and Le Grand Prix de l’Imaginaire. His latest book, The Last Kind Words, will be published June 12 and is already racking up acclaim. In spite of all that, he still agreed to participate in a VKDCQ&A.

Q. What can you tell us about THE LAST KIND WORDS?

It’s the story of a young thief named Terrier Rand who returns to his criminal family on the eve of his brother Collie’s execution. For no apparent reason Collie went on a killing spree murdering eight people. Now, five years later, Collie swears he only killed seven people during his lethal rampage, and the eighth was the work of someone else. Terry not only has to deal with an ex-best friend, a former flame, mob guys, and other assorted people from his dark past, but he’s also forced to investigate the night his brother went insane and find out if Collie is telling the truth. But more than anything, he really wants to know the reason why his brother went on a spree, in the hopes that Terry himself is never pushed to that kind of edge. Thankfully the novel has been getting some nice buzz, some first-rate blurbs, and a lot of excellent reviews thus far. Hopefully that’ll translate to sales.

Q. In your fiction and elsewhere, you write often about family and the power of things left unspoken. What kind of filter do you use when dealing with such personal emotions? Have you written anything that proved too close to the bone for someone else?

I don’t use a filter. I don’t think any valid writer does. I try to get as close to blood and bone as I can when dealing with certain familial and personal issues/emotions. What’s the point of writing about something and lying about it? If I’m going to go deep then I’m going to present whatever I find there the way that it is, whether that’s ugly or embarrassing or painful. I don’t know if I’ve ever gotten to close to a deep nerve for anyone else in my circle. Luckily, I suppose you could say, almost nobody I might write about reads my stuff.

Q. You regularly publish shorter fiction like last year’s acclaimed novella EVERY SHALLOW CUT. Are these pieces finding room to breathe in the new publishing landscape? Do you see new opportunities for writers?

There still seems to be enough life in the small press that novellas and other non-traditional works can still see physical print. And there’s always a chance that something that wouldn’t normally see the light of day can get a chance to be read via e-book format. There’s certainly opportunities there. But in the end what matters most, or should matter most, is the quality of the work. If it’s solid, it’ll hopefully find an audience somewhere. The trouble is that in this landscape a whole lot of garbage is made easily accessible as well. A lot of newer writers aren’t doing themselves any favors by making their early efforts available. I can completely understand why they would do it – I would’ve done it myself at the time given the chance, but in the long run they miss out on learning their craft the best way possible. Step by step, rejection by rejection, story by story. Almost any writer will tell you that they’re glad their first efforts never saw the light of day. Now, everything sees the light of day.

Q. You’ve been nominated for awards in horror, crime and fantasy. Did you read all of these genres growing up? If not, how did you progress through them?

I read horror, fantasy, and science fiction all throughout my childhood and into early adulthood. For some reason I got into crime fiction later on, in my early 20s. I remember collecting a lot of crime novels and stacking them on the shelves anticipating the day when I’d eventually start binging on the field. So when I was ready, I had a ton of classic titles and dove right in.

Q. What was the novel that truly hooked you on crime fiction?

I got into Gold Medal/old hardboiled-noir novels directly thanks to an article Ed Gorman wrote about GM for The Scream Factory way back when. He listed tons of GM authors and titles and I managed to dig in. First one I remember buying was a trashed copy of Charles Williams’ River Girl at the dealer's room of some convention. I went back later that afternoon and bought up all the Black titles by Cornell Woolrich. My true love for the genre started there.

Q. Your own work occasionally blends genres. How much thought do you give to how something you write may be categorized? Are readers more accepting of genre-blending than publishers?

I don’t tell the work what it is. The work tells me what it is and what it wants to be. That’s just how it goes. If it winds up with more horrific elements in it, or if some fantasy worms its way in, or if a horror piece winds up with the structure of a crime story, then so be it. So far it hasn’t been much of an issue. Most readers and publishers seem to accept the fiction so long as it’s good. The trouble, if there is any, comes afterwards with the so-called follow up. Some publishers expect my next piece to be similar to the previous one. I just don’t do that. Maybe it’ll be similar, maybe it’ll be in the same genre, but maybe the next work will want to be something else. I can’t help that, I can’t stop that, and I don’t want to. I can’t force a piece to be something other than what it is.

Q. Your Twitter feed is studded with movie recommendations. How big an influence were they on your burgeoning interest in storytelling -- and how much of an influence are they now?

They were and are a major influence. On me and, I think, just about everyone else. Writers, readers, all of us. The way we read nowadays is the way we view a film. We have cameras built into our heads now. Written scenes are presented the way that filmed scenes are. Tricks of POV or drama or characterization we’ve seen in movies automatically reflect back on fiction. We look for twists, we can more clearly imagine certain details or descriptions because we’ve seen something similar emphasized in movies. In point of fact, it’s almost impossible to untangle our mind’s eye with the filmmaker’s or cinematographer’s vision. I encounter the problem all the time. I start describing something and it reminds me too much of a particular movie or a scene and I know my readers will pick up on the same thing. Even if it feels fresh on the page you have to think beyond the page to what someone might have seen on television or in film.

Baseball Q. You live in Colorado. They have no business playing baseball there, right? The air’s too dry. They had to put a freaking humidor in Coors Field, for Christ’s sake.

Couldn’t give a shit less. I’m a sports fan like McCarthy loved commies.

Movie Q. What’s a movie that isn’t thought of as horror film – but should be?

Sunset Boulevard. You’ve got murder, a dead monkey, a gothic mansion, insanity, a narrative told by a dead man, and a young Joe Friday with really big fuckin’ ears. Horrific.

Cocktail Q. You’re in a well-stocked bar. What do you order?

I only drink beer or red wine when I drink at all. I’m a cheap date. And easy too.