On of the great pleasures of getting into the writing/reviewing game over the last eighteen months has been my discovery of Heath Lowrance. His Psychonoir blog has been regular reading since I discovered it early last year, and Heath’s history of hardboiled/noir writers introduced me to several novelists whose work would have remained a mystery to me without this valuable guide.
However, what’s really blown me away about Heath is the quality of his writing. The Bastard Hand and Dig Ten Graves are up there with the best things I’ve read this year, and I can say that thus far (haven’t finished it yet) City of Heretics is the equal of James Sallis’ Driven, which I’m reading concurrently.
Anyway, enough of my waffling. You’re here because of Heath, not me. So, here’s the man himself to talk about his latest and greatest…
1) Let’s get down to brass tacks – can you boil down the premise of City of Heretics for the readers, and let us know why it’s going to wow them?
CITY OF HERETICS follows Crowe, an aging hard man just out of prison, back in Memphis, and looking to even the score against his former employers. But before he can do that, he’s caught up on the trail of a vicious serial killer, ultimately leading him to uncover a conspiracy among the city’s rich-and-powerful, and a secret society of murderers disguised as a Christian splinter-group. Along the way, he re-opens old wounds, and sustains some brand new ones– literally and figuratively. He’ll discover his own humanity, but whether or not he accepts it or rejects it, well…
For those of you who’ve read my first novel, THE BASTARD HAND, this one is a bit different. It’s harder, and it’s meaner. So, you know, if you like that sort of thing…
2) What was the spark that set the whole project in motion?
I guess it came from being away from Memphis for so long. It’s been almost fifteen years since I left that city. A friend who is still down there told me that I wouldn’t recognize the place now, that it’s a lot darker than it used to be. I put my feelings about that into Crowe, a man returning to the city he knew so well after seven years away, and finding that he doesn’t know his place there anymore. Also, it came from getting older (though I’m not quite as old as Crowe) and feeling that the world is, perhaps, leaving you behind.
And religion, of course, my old obsession, rears its head. I was reading about the various Protestant groups that sprang up all over the country in the early 20th century, and how strange and secretive some of them could be. That lead to the “secret society” of Heretics in the novel.
3) What were your influences?
The approach of Charles Willeford to character, as always, had an influence on CITY OF HERETICS. But beyond that, I was stretching my hard-boiled muscles with this one. I was reading a lot of Dan J. Marlowe and Richard Stark, and both of them seeped heavily into forming Crowe. He’s a dark character, cynical and bitter, and, if he has a conscience, its been buried deep for most of his life.
4) In what ways would you say it improves on your previous work?
Well, it’s leaner and more direct, for one thing. I find my work lately has been moving in that direction. As nasty as THE BASTARD HAND could be on occasion, there was still a tiny little bit of sentiment here and there, because the main character was basically a decent-enough guy. He was just… in a crisis situation is all, and it brought out the worst in him. CITY OF HERETICS has no such nice guy. Crowe is a nasty piece of work, and that gave me license to get down to brass tacks. The story doesn’t meander, and a lot of what goes on in Crowe’s head is left up to the reader. So I suppose it’s more of a challenge than my previous work.
5) How long did it take to write? And how much did the rewriting/editing process shape what readers have their hands?
It’s funny, but my first novel took a good five years to write, on and off. CITY OF HERETICS, though, took about eight months for the first draft. Re-writes took another couple of months. And the re-writes made the book, I think. Before editing, it was a moderately hard-boiled story, but after taking the scalpel to it, it became very, very lean and direct, without any ornamental language at all.
6) You’re a prolific writer. How do you manage it?
I just write every day, that’s all. There’s no great secret to it. Write, and don’t worry about any of it until the editing part. Don’t second-guess yourself. Keep going, no matter what.
7) Once readers have read this, what else have you got in the pipeline?
Well, I’d urge readers to check out my Fight Card novella which just came out, BLUFF CITY BRAWLER, for a fast, stream-lined action story. I have more Hawthorne in the works (weird western short stories, put out by Beat to a Pulp) and a few short tales here and there. Keep an eye on Psycho Noir for upcoming stuff. I started a third novel a few months ago that’s been on the back burner because of other obligations, but I hope to get back to it soon.
8) Who are your top five most influential writers and why?
Flannery O’Conner, Charles Willeford, David Goodis, Richard Stark, and Ernest Hemingway. Because all of them were obsessive about telling the truth about human nature. And they were all masters of tight, tense prose.
9) Top five favourite crime novels?
Just off the cuff, I’d say:
The Black Mass of Brother Springer, by Charles Willeford
Pop. 1280, by Jim Thompson
Slammer, by Alan Guthrie
The Name of the Game is Death, by Dan J. Marlowe
The Talented Mr. Ripley, by Patricia Highsmith