James Sallis is a seminal American novelist, poet and musician whose works encompass crime fiction and the avant garde. He is the author of the popular Lew Griffin novels and the recent novel Willnot. In addition, he has written and edited a number of musicological studies and works of literary criticism, including The Guitar Players, Difficult Lives, a study of noir writers, and Chester Himes: A Life, a biography of one of his literary heroes. James met me at The Slaughterhouse where we talked about his new release and the age of surveillance.
Tell us about your latest novel.
The latest, delivered to my agent last week, is titled Willnot, that being the name of the town in which it takes place, one founded as an idealist commune, in that long American tradition of utopianism, and still, two generations later, filled with eccentrics and contrarians. A concentrate of America, in short; the title is adapted from Bartleby’s “I’d prefer not to.” It begins with bodies found buried near a gravel pit; an AWOL Marine sniper born and raised in the town mysteriously returns, as does a dying old man; and the life of the town, related by a physician whose father was a hack science fiction novelist, goes on.
Do you believe we are living in an age of surveillance?
My own government is monitoring internal communications of sovereign, non-hostile nations and, under shelter of the patriot act and endlessly recycled fear, keeping unconstitutional watch on its own “free” citizens. Do you really need to ask me that?
How much does the loss of identity and freedom feature in your writings?
All of it may well be about not the loss of, but the continuous struggle for, identity and freedom.
What else is on the cards for you this year?
Black Night’s Gonna Catch Me Here: New and Selected Poems, containing poems from 1968 till the present, will be out from New Rivers Press in April. We’ve just completed negotiations for graphic novels of Drive and Driven, which should be published by IDW late in the year. And I’ve had several conversations with publishers concerning a collection of my writing about books: introductions for novels by Marek Hlasko, Jean-Patrick Manchette, Boris Vian, Charles Willeford and others; 36 review columns for The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction; 45 essay-columns for The Boston Globe; selected reviews from the L.A. Times, Washington Post, and such. And I’ll be starting a new novel any day now, of course – lighting the next, as Phil Dick said, off the smoldering butt of the last.
Thank you Jim for a versatile and insightful interview.
For all things James Sallis, go to The James Sallis Web Pages
And look for ‘Black Night’s Gonna Catch Me Here: New and Selected Poems’, published by New Rivers Press, coming April 2014