Gef: What was the draw in setting this novel in Texas? Was it the characters first and then finding a setting to go with them? What kind of consideration goes into choosing the backdrop for a story like this?
Lee: I’ve always envied writers who rock at setting. The characters always come first for me. But during the brainstorming phase I knew that Sammy’s dad was the Governor there until he disgraced himself by nearly beating his wife to death. I like imaginary towns so made a small area called Wargrove and placed it on the outskirts of Corpus Christi. Texas is a unique place too, and I’ve been all over it about ten years ago, so I was glad to set this novel there. Because of Sammy’s drug business and some old money in the area, I wanted it to be set somewhere warm and along the coast. No one should ever ask me about setting though. I don’t know anything about it. I try to hide that weakness by focusing on the conflicts in the story, how each character has their own inner and outer arc, and how their separate paths collide.
Gef: Now, we both share an affinity for the work of Tom Piccirilli, an author adept at both horror and crime fiction, but who else has had a hand in luring you into the crime genre?
Lee: I love Piccirilli and dedicated this novel to him. Not only is he an amazing writer, he’s a super cool guy and has helped me tons of times when I had questions. I kind of feel like I’m following in his footsteps, but that could all be in my head.
Other writers I got into in the last couple years who drew me into the Crime genre are James Lee Burke, Lee Child, John D. MacDonald, Ross MacDonald, Les Edgerton, Dennis Lehane, Megan Abbott, Gillian Flynn, Michael Stanley, Michael Connelly, John Connolly, Michael Koryta, Joe Lansdale, Lawrence Block, and Donald Westlake.
It’s a great challenge to build a realistic story too. No monsters but those made of flesh here. And everybody is damaged in their own way, at the hands of others, by their own hands, by their beliefs and conditioning.
I think Crime fiction offers terrific potential for a character arc and I love that. There are so many kinds of characters that can fill this genre too if you stay away from the common tropes, which I try to do as much as possible, although I wanted to use the Faulkner brothers in this novel to poke fun at how silly some antagonists are.
Studying the above influences I mentioned, I also noticed how often they broke ‘writing rules’ and figured out why they did, which, with all of them, was to tell the story in the most engaging way. I broke a concrete rule with POV in this novel as an experiment, and because I knew it was the best thing for the book, and honestly I never expected to sell it because of that. But if we can make the work engaging and the payoff great enough, I think readers have no trouble overlooking such risks.
Gef: You named the detective in this novel Jim Thompson, but when it comes to the author of the same name, you once told me you had yet to read his work. Was there a wink and nod anyway with that name choice, or just one of those happy coincidences?
Lee: There was definitely a wink and nod to author Jim Thompson. I’ve only read his novel THE NOTHING MAN, and then a biography about him called RIDING WITH THE DEVIL. He was an incredibly troubled man like William Faulkner was. Many men, especially those two, wanted recognition and love, but they could never have both it seemed. So my detective has a lot of that in him. He takes his work very seriously, almost obsessively, but it gets in the way of his relationships, and he’s very skeptical of what people say and instead reads people more by their actions.
Gef: There's something cinematic to the setup for this novel--or maybe I just watch too many movies. What films if any have influenced your writing?
Lee: It’s funny you say that because in the brainstorming stage I wanted to write a novel cinematically and I have carried on in that fashion with the next two books I have coming out (IT’S ONLY DEATH, and WITH FURY IN HAND). Plus about four other novels I have yet to sell. Tons of films have influenced how I approach characters and storytelling, especially these last couple years. One of my ultimate goals is to sell film rights to one of my books. How cool would that be?
Movies I’ve watched several times are: (Leon) The Professional (the European version blows the American version away); O’ Brother Where Art Thou; Mystic River; The Aviator; Inglorious Bastards; The Shawshank Redemption; Forest Gump; Snatch; Clint Eastwood’s old spaghetti Westerns; Heat; The Princess Bride; One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest; Black Swan; Blazing Saddles; Thelma & Louise; Thunderbolt and Lightfoot; Dead Poets Society; Stand by Me; The Deer Hunter; the Pixar Films; Full Metal Jacket; M*A*S*H*; Saving Private Ryan; True Grit; Reign Over Me; Hell Boy films, and a dozen more.
I also love to watch documentaries, too, tons of them, on all kinds of subjects.
Gef: A Beautiful Madness is the latest under the Lee Thompson flag, but how about the likes of Thomas Morgan and Julian Vaughn? Is each pen name still toiling away in his own dark corner of your brain?
Lee: Thomas Morgan and Julian Vaughn have novels I’ve yet to sell. I’m going to use those names for the more mainstream work. Thomas Morgan for Coming of Age tales with high stakes; Julian Vaughn for supernatural mysteries like the novel I just finished called THE DEVIL GAVE THEM BLACK WINGS. I’m just waiting for Angry Robot’s Crime imprint Exhibit A Books to open for submissions on that one. I imagine I’ll sell at least one title under each name this year, and probably another Lee Thompson novel. I was going to use the name James Logan for the gritty Crime fiction but decided to just use my real name. I’m getting confused enough about who I am. But it’ll be damn exciting when those first Thomas Morgan and Julian Vaughn novels sell. I can’t wait until readers give the new novels a chance. I think I’ve matured a lot and found my niche.
Thanks again for the interview and all your support, Gef! And thanks to any readers who buy the novel and leave a review sharing their thoughts. Good luck to those who enter to win a signed paperback and a chance at the grand prize!
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Happy reading~ Lee