Fictionista, Foodie, Feline-lover

Friday, September 14, 2012

Interview with Heath Lowrance

I'm a fan of Heath Lowrance (in a non-stalker kind of way). I like the way he writes--clean, hard-hitting prose that paints a picture but without laying it on so thick with a palette knife that you have to scrape away a few layers before you get to the good stuff.

I like the way he thinks--I follow him on Twitter and on FB andPinterest where among other images,  he posts cool "noir" photos.

If you check out his Amazon author page, you'll see ten books listed, and I suspect that's not everything.

His most recent releases are the movel City of Heretics, a crime novel set in Memphis, and the novella "Bluff City Brawler," which is part of the "Fight Card' series. Earlier in the summer his short story "My Life With the Butcher Girl" appeared in Pulp Ink 2, an anthology edited by Nigel Bird and Chris Rhatigan.

I am delighted that Heath found the time to stop by Kattomic Energy on his blog tour.

Let's talk about the new book.

How different was it writing a novel than writing a short story? Was it difficult to work on a broader  canvas or did it seem natural?

Writing City of Heretics in particular was very much like the experience of writing a short story, except, you know, more of it. I tried to approach it the same way I'd approach a short story-- that is, cutting to the chase, leaving out everything extemporaneous, and just moving from scene-to-scene. I wanted it to feel like a long short story, so that even though the plot is a bit complex, it never feels weighed down. That was the idea, anyway.

You’ve said you prefer character-driven stories to plot-driven stories. In the case of the book, what came first? The idea or the image of your protagonist?

In this particular case, the character of Crowe came first. I had in mind an older man, coming out of a bad time and about to enter into an even worse time. I knew he was carrying around some anger, letting it simmer in his guts, and I knew he planned on doing something he could never take back. The novel came out of working out what exactly Crowe was angry about. 

The gritty backdrop of the story seems real enough you could navigate the streets by your landmarks. Have you lived in Memphis? Why did you set your story in Memphis?

I lived in Memphis for about five years, back in the late '90's. Something about that city, it just sparked for me. It was seedy and run-down, very modern in all the worst ways-- and at the same time, its history was apparent on every corner. It had stories to tell everywhere you looked and it felt like a living, breathing thing to me. It was an old, sick Southern lady and if you looked really hard you could see vestiges of the beauty it used to be. Memphis made me melancholy, and I thought it was the perfect setting for a novel. Or multiple novels

Do you “cast” your stories when you write them? And if someone made a movie out of COH, who would you like to play Crowe?

I've found myself casting imaginary movies after the fact, but not usually while writing. For instance, I got into a discussion about who would play the roles of Charlie and the Reverend if The Bastard Hand ever became a movie, and I still think Casey Affleck and Daniel Day-Lewis would be great. As for Crowe, I haven't given it any real thought yet, but I'll go again with Daniel Day-Lewis, I think.
Let's talk marketing:

You have an impressive  number of reviews posted on your books. How important do you think reviews are in selling books?

If all the talk about algorithms and the rating system and all that confusing stuff about Amazon is true, then reviews are HUGELY important. I have to admit, I can hardly get my head around the fine points of the way Amazon works. But every review, every click of the “like” button, helps. And I’ve noticed that the more reviews I get, the more copies move. It’s bizarre and inexplicable to me.

 For Cityof Heretics, you're doing a blog tour, promotion on your site and social media. What else?  Any readings? Events like Bouchercon? Book store appearances?

I’d love to make it to Bouchercon or Noircon, but it ain’t in the cards. Mostly what I’m doing to promote City of Heretics and Bluff City Brawler (my new Fight Card novella) is the blog tour. This is the first time I’ve ever attempted anything like this on this big a scale, so it’s daunting enough, I think.

In addition to your own efforts at getting the word out, you've got indie publishers behind you. How do they help?  What are they doing that you can't do?

I love working with indie publishers, and I’ve been lucky enough to work with some of the best of them. The great thing about them: they really, truly care about the stuff they put out. They work with the author very closely to make sure that the work is as good as it can possibly be. And they have some resources that a writer working on his or her own can’t tap into as easily—good cover artists, good editors, and a bigger audience.
You've said you don't have much love for the Twitter. Where do you concentrate your marketing efforts?  

Even though I’m not big on Twitter (it’s just so impersonal, you know?) I still use it to some degree on occasion. Mostly, though, Facebook is my choice of social media. You can stretch out a bit over there, not feel so rushed. Also, being on Twitter is like being in the middle of a room full of thousands of people, barely noticing each other. It’s a bit more intimate at Facebook.

Is this your first blog tour? Where else are you going/where have you been? 

This is indeed my first blog tour. I did interviews at Radikal News, with Renato Bratkovic, and with Martin Stanley at The Gambler’s Novel. Lots more to come.

Psycho Noir is a must-read site for me.  I love the mix of reviews and musings. That story about the drugged weirdo who got into the car with the knife was pretty amazing. So, what are your "must read" blogs and sites? Do you do your reading all at once or scattershot?

I’m glad you like Psycho Noir. I enjoy having that soap box to stand on occasionally. I follow several blogs, but the ones I always make a point of hitting are Cullen Gallagher’s Pulp Serenade (Cullen is terrifically knowledgeable about a wide variety of pulp fiction), Dead End Follies (Ben [Benoit Lelievre] is highly opinionated and always entertaining) and the blogs of James Reasoner and David Cranmer.

You've said (in your interview with Shotgun Honey) that you're moving away from using the word "noir" because it's a code word with a very particular meaning. If you had to describe your work without using "noir," what would you say?

That’s a tough one, because lately I’ve experimented with different kinds of story-telling, mostly for commissioned pieces. My Gideon Miles story for Edward Grainger, “Miles to Little Ridge," isn’t typical of what I do, in that there’s an actual hero in the story. And “Bluff City Brawler” is a much more traditional pulp action story. But the work I’ve done outside of that, well… dark psychological crime thrillers, maybe? Existential melodrama? You got me. If you ever come up with a good description, let me know, okay?

Do you have a Google alert set for your name?

I don’t. Maybe I should do that. But no, I’d probably just start checking it compulsively.
Do you check sales stats?  Or check your rankings?

When I put something new out, I get a little crazy checking on it every couple hours for the first week or so. And then I get over it and get back to work.

Let's talk process:

Do you give yourself a daily word count?  Do you write every day?

No daily word count, but I do write every day, yeah. I find that, once I sit down and start writing, I almost never fail to hit at least 3,000 words. On a good day, I can hit twice that. As long as I’m doing that much, I don’t beat myself up about it.

I loved your thoughts/suggestions for writing a short story, especially as I still struggle with tense. We've all seen Elmore Leonard's rules and Heinlein's rules for writing. Any advice on writing you had in the beginning that you took to heart and recommend?

Just the classic “sit your big ass down and write” rule. Every other rule is bendable. Mostly, I’d say stop worrying about it and just do it.

I know you were struggling to quit smoking. Was that ultimately successful?  And (if so) how did quitting smoking affect your writing?

Quitting smoking=fail. I’m still smoking. I told myself that I wouldn’t be able to write if I didn’t smoke, but that’s a lie. I’m sure I could. I’m just addicted to the goddamn cigs, is all. But there are worse addictions, right?

You have a family and a job and a blog yet you produce new work at a prodigious rate. You must have a fierce work ethic. How do you schedule it all? And what's coming up next?

I have a good work ethic, but just when it comes to writing. Everything else, I’m a total slacker. I manage to find time to write the same way a sick person finds time to take their medicine. I HAVE to. There is no “not writing”; the thought is inconceivable to me.

I’ve got a few things coming down the pike in the next few months, but it might be a bit early to say much about them yet.

Who edits your work? 

Me, mostly. I’m a pretty good editor. But I’ve had help from some of the best small press editors out there: Mel Odom and Paul Bishop for “Bluff City Brawler”, David Cranmer for “Miles to Little Ridge” and the two Hawthorne stories, Brian Lindenmuth for City of Heretics, Jon Bassoff for The Bastard Hand. You couldn’t ask for a better line-up of terrific editors.

Who does your book covers?

My good friend Ron Warren of Aspiring Authors Book Covers did the earliest ones, and the amazing Eric Beetner did the cover for City of Heretics. A fella named Keith Birdsong did “Bluff City Brawle,", and all the other Fight Card covers. I don’t know him, but he’s great.

What was your first published short story and where did it appear?

My very first professional sale (and by that I mean they paid me twenty bucks) was for a website/podcast called Well-Told Tales. I’m not even sure if they’re around anymore. The story was “The Battle of the Carson Hotel”, a tough-guy action piece about a hotel detective in Detroit during WWII fighting a gang of Nazi spies. It was read by a really terrific voice actor and I was over the moon about it. The story is tacked on at the end of my collection Dig Ten Graves now.

Are there any markets you'd like to crack with your short stories?

I’ve been lucky enough to break into most of the story markets I most admire. At this point, the only thing I could do that I haven’t yet is crack the “bigger” markets, like, say Alfred Hitchcock’s magazine. I’m honestly not that concerned about it, though.

Did you ever use a pseudonym in your writing?  If so, why?
Just once, with “Bluff City Brawler." The house name for the Fight Card novellas is Jack Tunney. But it’s one of those “open secret” things.

Let's get personal:

How did you meet your wife?

I worked at a video store that specialized in obscure stuff, and Kim was a film fan. She came in a lot and we talked and dug each other a lot and bamm-o, next thing you know I’m madly in love.

Your job sounds like it's pretty … intense. Your FB post on Sunday about the crazy night in the ER particularly. How does your job affect your writing? Do you ever feel like your emotional battery is too drained to write?

I’ve only been doing this job for about a week now, but it’s had an effect on my writing. I’m not emotionally drained at the end of a shift, but I am physically tired. It’s demanding in that you’re on your feet all day and you have to be hyper-aware of your surroundings at all times. So my writing productively has decreased. I’m still able to write, but in shorter spurts. Mostly, I just want to sleep.

You've admitted to being a book snob. What are some of your favorite books?

Yeah… I’m afraid I was a bit misunderstood with that one. By book snob, I only mean that I read what I want to read, and I pay very little attention to the “flavor of the month” books like Twilight or 50 Shades of Gray or whatever. There are hundreds of books that would qualify as favorites of mine, but for our purposes here I’ll say Wise Blood, by Flannery O’Connor, Black Mass of Brother Springer, by Charles Willeford, and POP. 1280, by Jim Thompson.

You post a lot of music videos on FB and music is clearly important to you. If you had a band, what would you call it?

When I was in my 20’s, I fronted a couple of bands, and so thinking of good names was always a favorite past-time. I always thought The Wisebloods, in honor of the afore-mentioned Flannery O’Connor, would be a good name. If I ever lost my mind and decided to join a band again, that’s the name I would choose.
Beatles or the Rolling Stones? Or another band altogether?

I love both of those bands, of course, but I choose The Who over either of them. Also, The Kinks are pretty under-rated.

Did you make mixtapes back in the day? Remember the lineup on any of them? 

Ha… yeah, I did. I used to make a lot of cowpunk mixes. Beasts of Bourbon, The Gun Club, Thin White Rope… interspersed with some Hank Williams, George Jones, Johnny Cash. They were perfect for long road trips. I love that question.

You live in Michigan, which has been hard-hit by these desperate financial times. It's a swing state. Do you think it'll go blue or red?

Michigan has, historically, always been a blue state, until the election of governor Rick Snyder. Oakland County, which is one of the richest counties in the country, is the county that more-or-less got Snyder where he wanted to be. But as the economy slowly, slowly, slowly mends itself on a national level, I suspect Michigan will swing back to its classic, Democratic, working-class state.

Do you have any phobias?  And if so, how did you discover them?  

Truthfully, I don’t have any real phobias. Well… okay, maybe one. I HATE HATE HATE those centipede type bugs. You know the kind I mean? Earwigs, silverfish, anything with far more legs than any non-evil creature actually needs, hanging out in your bathtub or your basement. They creep me right out. They don’t even look like they belong in this world, that they somehow appeared here from some alternate dimension where everything good and decent has died. Oh, I loathe them.

Do you have a "bucket list?"

Yeah, sort of. I want to write at least ten more novels before I die. And there are places I’d like to visit, like Egypt and Spain. That’s about it.

Thanks Heath!

You can follow Heath Lowrance on Twitter @heathlowrance
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1 comment:

  1. Good questions, good answers. And I bet I know the video store.