Chin Wag At The Slaughterhouse: Interview With Matthew J. McBride

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Matthew McBride writes hard-edged crime fiction. His stories are engaging and entertaining and come from a man who knows what he is talking about. He writes real characters and if you read one of his stories you don’t forget it. They are also laced in black humour. Go to A Twist Of Noir to check them out.  He has written the novel ‘The Zoo Crew’. He knows a thing or two about guns.  He met me at The Slaughterhouse where we talked about real crime and assassination.

Scroll to the end of the interview for more McBride links.

You’re offered an unlimited sum of money to buy any superbike and gun you want, and you get to keep them. The condition is you have to assassinate someone, no questions asked, which bike and gun would you buy and how would you carry out the hit so as to avoid detection?

For starters, I’d go with a Suzuki GSXR 1300 Hayabusa. An older model, perhaps a 2005.

Something that’ll blend in. Preferable a common color, like black. A stock production model is capable of attaining speeds of 200 mph with little more than a twist of the wrist and balls of titanium. This is the machine I would use for the job.

As far as a weapon, certain variables are destined to come into play. For a long range hit, I’d use something with some reach. If I wanted to blow the targets head completely apart and really send a message, I’d go with a 300 Magnum. Or maybe a 7mm. Both of these high powered rifles offer superior firepower and have a reputation for devastation.

If the hit needed to be up close and personal, I’d go for a .22 pistol. Something small that you can easily conceal. If I had my choice, I’d do it cool weather. A jacket is a necessity. I’d use professional stage make up and glue a fake beard on my cleanly shaved face. I’d wear a hat.  Wait until the subject is in a crowd and walk up behind him, a cell phone up against my ear in one hand to make me look normal, the other hand has my .22 up the sleeve. Of course I am wearing gloves. Timing is everything, I’d leave nothing to chance. I’d make my way through the crowd, be casual, then put the pistol to the back of his neck as I walk by and squeeze the trigger once or twice.

I’d slip out of the coat by the time the first women screamed. Next I’d pull my beard off as I turned and yelled, “GUN!” myself, and instinctively blend in with the panic I just helped to create. I’d climb onto the Hayabusa and I’d take my time as to not arouse suspicion. Then I’d fade into traffic and ride for a long time with my eyes in the rear view mirror. I’d throw the gun from a bridge a hundred miles away from the crime scene.

By the time the authorities found the jacket and tested it for gun powder residue, I’d be in another state doing wheelies.

You’re on the trip with Hunter S. Thompson and you’re doing ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas’ Someone tells you the whole thing’s boring and it needs pepping up, what can you add to the experience to enliven proceedings?

The only thing that could pep up our Las Vegas experience would be for the three of us to rob a taco stand under the influence of both mescaline and ether. I’m referring, of course, to Dr. Gonzo, his attorney Raoul Duke, and myself. We’d drop the blotter somewhere in between consuming large quantities of cocaine and huffing ether from Maxi pads. About the time the LSD kicked in we’d hit the door running.

It would go down something like this.

Dr. Gonzo kicks in the front door of the taco stand and immediately starts barking orders and giving commands. None of which make sense to anyone in the room. His attorney, Raoul Duke, enters through the back door. For reasons unknown to anyone, including Raoul Duke, he’s carrying a briefcase in his hand.

I’m waiting in the Great Red Shark, with a salt shaker full of cocaine and a double barrel 10 gauge at the ready. I stare at the tape recorder that’s playing “Sympathy for the Devil,” the only tape we have. The acid is strong. It’s taking hold and redirecting my thoughts, gripping me with both euphoria and paranoia. I feel the desert heat beating down on me. I suddenly understand I’m in a convertible. People can see me. But not just see me, they can see through me. They can read my mind. Am I talking, or thinking out loud?

Hunter, meanwhile, he’s inside giving everyone the business. “You filthy swine, where are those goddamn taco’s?” Nobody knows what he’s talking about. He raises a gun to the chest of the first man he sees. “This is your last chance, I say. Don’t be a fool man! Now tell me, where do you keep your tacos?”

The man looks down to find Dr. Gonzo threatening his life, not with a gun, but with a Pez dispenser shaped like Donald Duck.

“As your attorney, I advise you to kill this man,” Raoul is suggesting.

But the Dr. is eating pills from Donald’s head. Multi-colored uppers, downers, screamers, laughers. His attorney hands over his briefcase to a mannequin and orders her to fill it with hamburger. When she doesn’t comply, he throws his briefcase over his shoulder and produces a .357 magnum from the inside of his suit jacket. It’s a snubnosed Colt Python 5 with a beveled cylinder. He points it at her head, then attempts to engage her in small talk. He asks if she’s seen any lizards.

Good God man, get a hold of yourself!” The Dr. orders. “Don’t listen to him,” he says to the mannequin. “He has a head full of acid right now and he’s not quite himself.” Then he starts laughing hysterically. They both start laughing.

At this point I stumble through the door covered in sweat with the shotgun in my hand. Everyone looks at me and the laughing stops. “They’ve found us,” I say with great reluctance.

Who found us?” Hunter demands.

“The bats,” I explain.

“Christ, this is bat country!” the Dr. screams. He waves his arms wildly in the air, scattering his assortment of pills everywhere. Now there’s a rainbow of pharmaceuticals falling from the sky and I see them dance in the air in slow motion. I’m surrounded by faceless patrons and everyone can see my soul. I’ve, at last, taken leave of all my senses.

Raoul slips the snubnose back into his suit, then he apologizes to the dummy for any inconvenience we may have caused. He excuses himself the way he came in, and the next thing I know I’m in the backseat of the Shark, and Dr. Gonzo is behind the wheel. His attorney is laughing wildly as he passes back a Meerschaum pipe with smoke rolling from the mighty bowl, and he hands it to the bald headed mannequin that sits beside me.

I look down to find the backseat covered in whiskey bottles, a tequila bottle, at least fifty cans of beer, a package of light bulbs, a wig, and a paper sack with a big hookah and two Frisbees.

It turns out we robbed a clothing store at gunpoint and made off with a nude mannequin and a case of Scotch tape. If we ever find our way out of bat country, our next stop is the taco stand.

What are the ingredients that for you make a crime story stand out?

I like characters that are deeply flawed, and dialogue that’s real and convincing. Nothing that seems unnatural or forced. The plot should be unpredictable. If I can find a crime story that has all of these things, then I’m in. Violence is important, it’s fun to read and it’s damn fun to write. The world is a bad place, so I like stories that are realistic. There’s not always a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Sometimes there’s a bear trap.

Funny helps. I love to read about shit that goes wrong, forcing the characters to adapt to new situations, and the challenges that a new situation creates.

What I don’t enjoy are stories that you can read with your eyes closed. You can skip two chapters and not really miss anything. I love stories where you don’t know where they’re going. The best kind of crime stories are the kind that make you wanna write a crime story of your own. You have to force yourself to read slowly, because you want to savor it. You may actually set it down right before you get to the end, just so you can drag it out as long as you can. You want to fully appreciate the moment when you read that last page for the first time, because it only happens once. I like the kind of story where you have to go outside and fire a gun as soon as you finish reading it.

Do you think society criminalises people and what character distortions occur as a result of that?

If you’re asking if I think a person’s position in society has a direct consequence of them leading a criminal life, I think the answer is definitely yes. Although sometimes people choose crime and other times crime chooses them. If you’re born into the lifestyle and you grow up watching your father beat men with his fists because they owe him money, there’s a great chance one day you’ll be using your fist on someone too. If you grow up in a world where violence and crime are a part of your life, the definition of right and wrong can become blurred.

From a Sociological standpoint, background and upbringing play a key role in determining your future. The kind of punk who robs a liquor store for the money in the register is a different breed of criminal than the guy on wall street who’s embezzling funds from a hedge count or something. The first is an act of desperation, born from necessity. The second is an idea conceived through careful planing and research. One is about survival and the other is about greed. They’re both about risk.

But there’s always an option. You cannot allow your upbringing to ultimately control your destiny. A life of crime is a harsh alternative to a life without it. Everyone has a choice. Don’t paint yourself into a corner using the sympathy of others for color. Life can be hard and some people have more roadblocks than others, but in the end it’s the criminal who makes a conscious decision to break the law.

Your writing is vividly real and contains moments of humour. Do you have a particular take on what you see as humorous, given the darkness of your subject matter?

Thanks, it just seems to me that everybody likes to laugh. When I write, I see the story unfolding in my mind like scenes from a movie. I watch it in my head as I type. I don’t really think too much about it [at first] I’m basically just the middle man between my computer and my brain. I can only assume it works that way [or similar] for everyone who writes.

To me, writing is an extension of talking, and talking is an extension of thinking, so I guess I must just think a lot of funny thoughts. As a writer, I just like to see characters in bad situations and I’ve found that if you use enough humor, you can get away with a lot. I just wrote a story about a man who decides to cut another mans legs off with a chainsaw, because he refused to sit down at a sporting event. Now come on, that’s a pretty fucked up thing to write about, I think we can all agree on that, but the narrative voice was funny enough that, as a writer, I got away with it, without running off my audience.

As far as what I think is funny? I guess I must have a pretty fucked up sense of humor, not sure what else to say. I love to see others get hurt, that shit is funny to me. You’re watching America‘s Funniest Home Video’s, and there’s Dad, showing off with his new boomerang. Wow, this thing is cool! Mom’s recording the whole thing, so dad starts getting confident, mugging it up, flexing his guns. Then the boomerang returns and takes him out. Or Grandpa’s teaching little Suzie how to swing a golf club, and when he looks up to smile proudly into the camera, little Suzie inadvertently tags grandpa in the coin purse with a driver.

As horrible of a person as I must be, I do like to see bad shit happen to other people. You know, within reason. Falling off a roof would not be funny.

Now I’ve gotta tell you this story. I’ve been sitting here laughing about this for 10 minutes, because this interview has me thinking. Years ago when I worked at Chrysler [I assembled mini vans] well, I had this hella long drive to work everyday, and one day I was rolling through this little shitter town called Beaufort, radio thumping, one hitter in my hand, and I just happened to see this huge, massive guy on a lawnmower, and this fucking lawnmower was obviously too small for him. I mean it was woefully inadequate, and he’s cruising through his yard at Mach 1, bouncing over stumps and shit. It looked like he was in seventh gear, and this guy was really hauling the mail. I realize something isn’t quite right, and then, BAM, he drives the machine right into the side of his house and a medium sized length of guttering broke free from the roof and fell on him.

I pulled over immediately, not to help, but to laugh. There truly is no way for me to put into words how funny that shit was to me. I remember laughing sporadically for a day or two, and I told everyone I know.

Does this make me a bad person? Probably.

What is the most dangerous place you have ever been and why?

I’ve actually been in some pretty dangerous places, and definitely some pretty fucked up situations. The craziest was south of the border. Me and a friend were robbed by Mexican soldiers armed with machine guns. It was about 3 Am and we were just outside of Laredo. It’s a long story, but my buddy’s girlfriend was Mexican, and she was able to negotiate a deal. We got lucky, because I’m pretty sure they wanted to mow us down.

Another time, I was in Springfield, Mo with some friends, and loooong story short, I ended up with this crazy bastard I didn’t really know and he robbed a drug dealer while I was with him. We ended up at some weird house, and we’d just done some Beavis & Butthead acid. This was probably around 1993. Well, I was already starting to weird out and we still had an hour drive back to Branson. We were just supposed to stop by this house for a minute. This guy [Dolan] goes in, while I wait in the truck. I actually have no idea how long I sat there and waited for him. It might have been an hour, or it could have been thirty seconds. I was probably 18 or 19. I was young, the acid was strong, and I was standing on the threshold of a great adventure…

And then Dolan runs out of the house and jumps on the running board of my Bronco, screaming they had guns, they were gonna shoot us. Suddenly, I’m shagging ass down some dark street I don’t know, late at night, no headlights, and I remember it felt like the steering wheel was turning to liquid in my hand. Dolan said he was shooting at us, but I don’t actually think he was. I can’t say that I ever heard a gun shot, but it was definitely the kind of neighborhood where gunshots were a way of life. I realize it sounds similar to the a drug fueled HST story, but that’s because it was. And Dolan ended up losing whatever it was that he stole. He couldn’t even remember what he took, and we never found anything the next day.

How corrupt do you think the police force is?

I guess it depends on your definition of corruption. Small towns are the worst. Everybody knows everybody and there’s always somebody who gets away with something they shouldn’t. But cops deal with various levels of temptation that most people can’t imagine.

At one point, I actually considered the idea of law enforcement. Not because I wanted to make a difference, I just wanted to drive a fast car and carry a gun. But I learned there’s a lot more to the job than that. And you’ve gotta wear a uniform. Plus there’s all that paperwork.

In the end, I would have made the worst cop ever. I’d have a hard time arresting a guy with $5 worth of weed. I couldn’t do it. I’d just keep it. And I can see myself balls deep in the hot pursuit of a perp, only to slap him on the back after I catch him and say, “That was really a great car chase, bro. Let’s do that again sometime.” — Okay, perhaps I would have made the best cop ever. It all depends on your definition of good vs. bad and what side of the law you stand on.

My view of police changed after I started riding crotch rockets. Police HATE fast motorcycles because they know they can’t catch them and cops don’t like to lose. But cops will still try and chase you anyway, for the reasons I described above. Cops are also adrenaline junkies and they’re looking for the next big chase themselves. Sometimes they want you to run just so they can chase you. I like times like these, but then when they don’t catch you, it only makes their hatred for you grow. So the very next guy on a motorcycle who does stop is getting a ticket for the one he couldn’t give you. That’s why I’ve found it always cheaper [and more fun] to run.

Tell us about your novel.

THE ZOO CREW is about five guys from Vegas who travel to Missouri to rob a riverboat casino. The first half is about the crew as they make their way to Missouri. They all travel by different routes and lots of different shit goes wrong for everybody along the way. There are basically five individual stories until they all come together about ¾ of the way through. There’s mega violence in a lot of scenes. One character even gets chained to a tree and his genitalia is eaten by beavers. Uh huh, you read that right. As unlikely as that sounds, it makes a lot of sense once you read it. Nobody likes a rat. If you try and jam up one of your partners, you’re going to get dealt with. This asshole got dealt with.

I’m also working on my second novel. It’s about crime in the 1920’s and 30’s. The true age of gangsters as far as I’m concerned. Prohibition era type shit, where people are cut down by Thompson submachine guns. In a lot of ways, it’s the most hardcore, brutal thing I’ve ever written. In the first chapter alone, two men are murdered by shotguns and there’s even cannibalism. These were hard times, when hard men were made and worlds collided. Everyone was desperate to survive and there was no law in the backwoods. Only the law of man, in a time when organized crime took it’s first breath of life. It’s called THE SHOTGUN WALTZ.

Hopefully one day they get published and you can read them. I’m curious as to which one sounds more interesting, if anyone cares to comment.

Not counting crimes of passion, what do you think distinguishes a real killer from other people?

Greed is a pretty good reason to kill a man. So is love. So is hate. But everyone has the potential to pull the trigger, it’s all just a matter of circumstance. I think most people kill out of emotion, which would fall under the crimes of passion category. But sometimes people underestimate the power of emotion. People fight and things spiral out of control. Before you know it, somebody’s dead. The cops show up, the person who did the killing has calmed down, realized what they did was wrong, and they are truly sorry. Remorse.

Then you have real people like the characters so many of us write about. Men who will shoot a guy, then go make a sandwich. Maybe the dead guy owed somebody money. Some people will just kill with very little regard to the consequences. It’s what they do. Killing is just business.

Then there’s the revenge kill. Those always seem to be the most socially accepted. A guy kills his barber, because he got a shitty haircut. The barbers son stabs the guy in the throat with a Buck knife. Payback. He had it coming. Most people can get behind that sort of killing.

But what about the guy who kills to protect? If someone tried to hurt my wife or kids, even my long haired chihuahua, I’m pretty sure I’d have to shoot them.

In the end, I think everybody has a killer inside them somewhere.  They just have to look deep enough to find him.

If you were to direct a crime film with a difference how would you make it stand out from all the other films?

I think every filmmaker wants to do something that’s never been done before, and every audience is looking for something they’ve never seen. Your options are simple — strive for originality, the act in itself a never ending quest, or try and remake something that’s already been done before. But if you go that route, you better do it better than it was done the first time.

As a fan of crime films, I don’t wanna be bullshitted. I want to believe what I’m seeing is actually happening. I’d make a film as real as possible, but it wouldn’t be over the top, Hollywood style. The characters would lack well defined abs and a strong jawline. Brad Pitt is never going to rob a bank, the son of a bitch is just too good looking. But a guy with a receding hairline and a scar across his chin, now I can see this guy in a shoot out. I can tell this bastards had a rough life just by the expression on his face. Is he somehow risking less than a better looking man? No, but for some reason I’m left with the impression that he doesn’t have as much to loose.

I love to see deep characters that have a lot more to offer than you realize. In a book, you get to know these guys over the course of many hours, even days. When you’re submerged in a magnificent book, you’re torn between two worlds. You read as fast as you can, and when the book is done, after you just spent so much time with these “people,” they seem real to you. – But it’s hard to show the true depth of a character on film because of other visual aspects that drive the story within the time frame. You generally only have about two hours to tell the whole story. Unless you’re Kevin Costner, then all of your movies are epic five hour marathons and you end up over telling the thing. Somewhere along the way you end up loosing your audience. Sure, they liked it, but it could have ended about an hour sooner.

Thank you Matthew for giving a great and totally honest interview.

McBride001-1.jpg picture by Richard_GodwinContact Matthew McBride:



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