B R Statetham writes gritty hard boiled Noir that inhabits the tradition comfortably and with style. He is a regular contributor to A Twist of Noir. His blog In The Dark Mind Of B.R. Stateham contains insightful and interesting posts, not least about E books. The latest in his Smitty series is out, A Dish Served Cold, and his story “Hotel Beaumont” was recently published in The Ultimate Six-Pack with five other authors.
He met me at The Slaughterhouse where we talked about crime fiction and what makes him passionate.
Do you think murder or the resolution of crime is at the centre of crime fiction?
I think it depends on the kind of novel you are trying to create. Some writers whip up a psychological profile of the murderer. Some write the traditional cozy. Some explore the bloody deeds of a serial killer. Some writers (like me) write a scene–a vivid scene that uses all the five sense we have so you can feel, see, smell, touch and hear. And from there build a story.
Other times I like the ‘whodunit.’ Your ‘resolution of the crime.’ The complex puzzle to be solved.
I guess what I am saying is that there is no one single answer. Each writer, even each reader, comes to this genre with their own expectations. My hope is to find that readership that can identify with my style of writing and appreciate it.
Do you think certain politicians should be viewed as criminals?
We start down this road in wanting to arrest politicians because they are criminals, we should think about stepping back and seriously considering the motivations and/or the consequences for such actions. All decisions carry with it unintended consequences. Hardly ever are those possible consequences thought about until after the fact. And then it’s usually too late.
What is the motivation of arresting politicians? Are we basing the arrests on the evidence that genuine crimes have been committed? Statutory, clearly defined wrong doing? Or are we reacting blindly to supposed injustices done to us? If they are not clearly defined wrong doings, then who’s parameters are we using to incarcerate politicians?
This kinda smacks to me like the clear outrages of the French Revolution when mass arrests and executions nearly destroyed the fabric of French society in the 18th Century. Maybe we should just vote them out of office and tell them to go back home and plant turnips. I think we all need to step back and take a deep breath.
Who are your literary influences?
Oh gosh, lot’s of’em. If you write noir/hard boiled somewhere on your list is a guy by the name of Raymond Chandler. Many believe he was the master when it came writing the tough, hard boiled detective. Including me. But there were others. Dashiell Hammett, Ed McBain (especially McBain when it comes to writing a police-procedural(, John D. McDonald, Agatha Christie, Earl Derr Biggers, Earle Stanley Gardner. Gardner, especially early Gardner and his Perry Mason novels, were some of the best, tightly scripted reads I’ve ever come across. Everyone remembers the TV series–but early Gardner was especially clear and concise.
My love for sci/fi and fantasy came from guys like Edgar Rich Burroughs, Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, Arthur C. Clarke, Larry Niven. But there was Rafael Sabatini–wrote lots of action/adventure books a young boy growing up would fall in love with. And Robert E. Howard. Everyone knows Howard was the creator of Conan The Barbarian. But his other creation, Solomon Kane, had far more potential, and a more interesting, character.
Writers who impress me today are becoming more rare. I think it’s due to acquiring some age and some experience. I find it odd and a bit depressing that there are a lot of authors out there writing but damn few good ones. And hardly any original ones. Mind you, this is my opinion only; subject to debate and/or out right rejection. Still, the older I get, the more critical I become of writers and how they write–and what they write.
But that’s a whole different discussion.
What one experience has had the most influence on your writing?
To be honest no one experience stands out when it comes to my writing. The only time I’m impressed is when some kind reader decides to write a review, or send me an email, and say something about something I’ve written. Good or bad things, oddly enough. I appreciate readers who open up to me. Even those who take the time to tell me my writing is like watching grass grow in their back yard.
Sometimes you learn more about yourself and your writings from the bad reviews.
No. I don’t get too impressed with myself, or my writing, any more. I enjoy the writing experience. I want to write good stories. I want to build up a fan following–not for any kind of ego trip, mind you. But because they, like me, prefer reading a certain kind of story in a style that is different from that found in other writers. Or they have discovered one of my fictional characters and find him intriguing enough to read more.
What issues make you feel passionate?
What makes me feel passionate? Hmmm . . . .
Passion is such a fierce word. It means taking something that either you believe in, or are adamantly against, and extending that emotion to the ultimate extreme. No. I try not to do that. Invariably when I get passionate about something I say or do something uniquely stupid. Words are exchanged. Actions are committed. Neither which, mind you, can truly be erased from someone’s memory.
This is not to say I am a passive, vanilla-based pudding that just sets on the table like some inanimate bowl of . . . . well . . . . pudding. You can tell instantly I have emotions burbling close to the surface if you read my Facebook page. I talk a lot about my writing. About politics. About how people treat people. Usually badly. About both the fascinations of this universe and the dregs of the universe. Sometimes I get loud. Obnoxious. Even angry. Mostly I try to convey a wiry sense of humor. Mostly.
No; passionate I try to stay away from. Attuned and committed; yes. Curious–absolutely. But for me, I try to stay away from the extremities of emotions. That’s walking into dangerous territory filled with hidden pitfalls
What kinds of killing can you relate to and at what point do you cease to understand certain types of killing?
Oooh, what an interesting question. Can I relate to killing? As a writer, yes. Intellectually I can paint all kinds of scenarios in my head that would justify killing. That’s what a writer is supposed to do if they write noir/hardboiled. Pragmatically, being human, I realize that humans sometimes are more irrational than rational. That word–passion–slips in here. People get passionately angry, passionately crazy, or passionately religious and go off and do quite brutal things. Violent harm to fellow human beings has to be, unfortunately, expected in this world.
In fact, I would suggest that being both creative, and naturally violent, are two hallmarks of being human. Remove either one and we no longer can call ourselves Homo Sapiens Sapiens.
The killings I find difficult to deal with are the senseless ones. The killing of the young. The killing of those who disagree over religious beliefs. The ritual executions over some mythical set of taboos.
Serial killers I can understand. Label them completely, absolutely, pull-your-hair-in-despair NUTS. Their minds are warped. The wiring in their brains were stretching a little too tight. Or their are just plain evil.
Remember me telling you in an earlier question that I don’t like to go passionate in one direction or the other? Well, here is one of those instances. Trying to justify, or not justify, what forms of homicide I can accept is asking me to go passionate. All I can tell you is this: Shit happens.
Do you think the e book is revolutionising publishing?
Absolutely. Ebook publishing has shaken the very foundations of traditional publishing. Profound changes are rippling through the industry with each passing week. Main line publishers at first wanted to brush off the ebook phenomena as some blip on the radar screen soon to disappear. But it hasn’t. In fact its growing at an exponential rate. So fast in fact the main line publishing conglomerates were forced to enter the market, albeit belatedly, and try to play catch up.
What ebook publishing has done is open up the market like never before. Plunging prices for books and other printed material drastically as a consequence. But with that plunge in pricing, the market has expanded into even larger audiences. Compare a book that, in hardback form, costs approximately $25–and then look at the same book in an ebook format for $4.99, and you can see how millions more of readers have suddenly shown up.
And I think it is just the tip of the iceberg. Ebook publishing is going to evolve. I can see where motion-picture/animation techniques are going to be incorporated into the printed ebook format. In fact I think we are going to see the re-invention of the ‘illuminated’ book. But this time the illumination will actually move.
Do you think William Blake would have liked the e book?
Hmm, I would say ‘yes.’ I think authors across the board, across generations, across historical periods, would find the ebook revolution as exciting. To open up the printed word to millions, if not billions, more readers at a fraction of the current cost of modern traditional print? What’s there not to like?
Do you think excessive description kills a crime story and there needs to be a greater proportion of dialogue or do you think it doesn’t matter?
This is a key foundation stone for any writer in developing his one style. How much description is too much? Should a writer paint a bare minimal portrait for description in his stories? Or should he go the other extreme and describe so much nothing is left to the reader to imagine.
My answer: short stories. To write a great short story you must be very economical in words. And yet very rich in description. A phrase, a sentence–no more should be used in describing a scene, a person, an incident. Master the writing of a short story and you’re set. For me, perhaps the writer that was so minimal in his words, yet so elegant in his prose, was Ernest Hemingway. A fabulous writer. One who could paint vivid pictures in the least amount of words.
Using dialogue to supply the descriptions , I think, is as cop out. Yes, some writers do it very well. But most writers don’t. And, to be honest, reading a novel filled with nothing but dialogue is boring to me.
I think a lot of writers today think descriptive writing is passe. So they don’t. They paint an outline of descriptive work and then expect the reader to fill in the details. At first this sounds like a good idea. But I take a different tack. Paint too little of a portrait and you send the reader down an entirely different road in their reading. What you want, as the writer, for the reader to understand and what the reader decides for themselves, can be entirely opposite in positions simply because too little–or too inept–descriptive efforts took place.
So a writer should struggle on finding that happy middle. And struggle with it every time they sit down to write a piece of fiction.
What do you think the key differences are between classical literature and crime fiction?
Ah. A simple question! (smirking broadly and shaking my head). To be honest, all the definitions about ‘classical’ literature–in my opinion–are nothing but a collection of worthless opinions by people who sign their names with letters from the alphabet added at the end of their names (like, Ph.D).
English professors have to occupy their time somehow. So they collective point to this piece of literature and define it ‘classical’ and point to another and call it ‘pulp fiction unworthy of serious study.’
Okay. That’s their opinions. But I don’t have to agree with them. And often do. Sorry, but I think the best of Ernest Hemingway or Raymond Chandler are as good as anything found in the hall of academia. Throw in Ed McBain, or Lawrence Block, or Ian Fleming. Hell, a good story is a good story. If the author can bring out some hidden meaning–draw in words the darker side of the human psyche, how could this not be worthy of being labeled ‘classical’ literature?
Thank you Bryant for giving an insightful and revealing interview.
Books by B.R. Stateham can be found on Amazon.com, here.