June 29, 2015

Selfie Filling Prophecy: an interview with Eryk Pruitt, author of "Hashtag"

Eryk Pruitt is a screenwriter, author and filmmaker living in Durham, NC with his wife Lana and cat Busey.  His short films FOODIE and LIYANA, ON COMMAND have won several awards at film festivals across the US.  His fiction appears in The Avalon Literary Review, Pulp Modern, Thuglit, and Zymbol, to name a few.  In 2015, he's been nominated for two Pushcart Prizes and is a finalist for the Derringer AwardHis novel Dirtbags was published in April 2014, and Hashtag was published in May, 2015. A full list of credits can be found at erykpruitt.com.

HASHTAG isA twisted and sinister crime story with characters and a world you'll be clawing for more of from the author of DIRTBAGS. 

The repercussions are felt across the American South when a pizza joint in sleepy Lake Castor, Virginia is robbed and the manager, Odie Shanks, is kidnapped. The kidnapping is the talk of the town, but it's what people don't know that threatens to rip asunder societal norms. Odie chases dreams of Hollywood stardom and an explosive social media presence while his partner in crime, Jake Armstrong, pursues his own vengeful agenda. 

In the meantime, corrupt and lazy Deputy Roy Rains has a hard-luck time of covering up the crime in order to preserve his way of life. 

And college student Melinda Kendall has hit the highway in a stolen ride with nothing but a .22 and limited options, on the run from her drug dealer boyfriend, the Mississippi State Police and the media, trying to escape some bad choices by making even more bad choices. 

All three are on a collision course from hell in this crime story that reads like a blood-spattered road map of the American South.

Gef: Where'd the spark for Hashtag come from?

Eryk: HASHTAG came to me one day when my car broke down and I ended up in a twenty-four hour diner to wait for a ride. At that time, I would have done anything to get out of that particular fix, including robbing gas stations with a career criminal. Basically, I listened to Dylan's HIGHWAY 61 REVISITED over and over again while filling up three spiral notebooks with the story. Originally, there was more going on (including an entire subplot starring Jake Armstrong's former employer and a trio of lackluster security guards at a bus station) but over the course of several rewrites, it got boiled down to what was published.

Gef: Would you say the writerly jitters were bigger in writing your sophomore novel or your debut novel, Dirtbags? Or is it all just another day at the office?

Eryk: Somebody somewhere gave me the indispensable advice to write your second book while you are querying the first. That prevented a lot of jitters. I received a lot of positive feedback for DIRTBAGS, and that builds a lot of pressure. In a sense, it may have been easier to write a second one if everybody hated the first one. But there was a lot of second-guessing and wanting to tinker... I was grateful when it was finally taken away from me.

Gef: How cozy a fit does social media offer for crime fiction, do you figure? Seems like the biggest stage yet for folks, fictional and otherwise, to let their frailties flap in the wind.

Eryk: I dig what social media has done for crime fiction. I've been introduced to some of the craziest minds in crime writing, thanks to Twitter and Facebook, etc. Some days, when writing stories is a total chore, it helps to read some hilarious quip by Mike Monson or Max Booth III. People like yourself have been quite supportive and ten years ago, we might not have made the connection. However, I've learned my particular brand of flapping frailties can get me in trouble, but what would you expect on the social media site of a guy who wrote a book called DIRTBAGS? 

Gef: How would you say you've progressed as a writer thus far? Still feel your a ways from gauging that yet, or have you noticed some changes in your approach to the craft?

Eryk: I think I've gotten crankier, for one. The other day a kid kicked a ball into my yard and he needed a thesaurus to reckon what I was hollering at him. When I first started writing, I would write a lot about things that made me very angry, and there were a lot of them. These days, it's hard to be angry when you've made your dream come true. So I borrow what makes other people angry and put my characters in those situations. 

There's a big difference between cranky and angry...

Gef: Anything particular you've taken from your experience with filmmaking to apply to writing?

Eryk: Scriptwriting has helped my fiction because I don't bother bogging myself down with too many details. I can't stand reading a book where they take pages to describe what a guy looks like or the landscape of a valley... I find that's where my writing starts to sag the most, is describing things that folks don't want described. Elmore Leonard once said "Leave out the parts people tend to skip." Let's get these folks in there to do what they have to do and have them do it hard, rather than run up the word count describing what a water tower looks like. WE KNOW WHAT A WATER TOWER LOOKS LIKE.

Gef: How much emphasis do you place on setting as character? There's a bit of a shared universe here between Dirtbags and Hashtag, do you see that continuing?

Eryk:  I love setting. I think stories in life and in fiction have a sociology. A crime story in Texas is different than a crime story in Canada, and that is because of where it is set. I am a huge proponent of the New South. I think there is no wilder, scarier place in the world than the American South and I love it, warts and all. I am wrapping up work on another novel that takes place in Lake Castor, but have outlined another which does not. However, they will probably always be about the South.

Gef: What do you consider to be the saving grace of noir?

Eryk: I think the saving grace will be its ability to have fun. I mean, everything about noir novels is fun. Writing them, reading them, talking about them... Horror and sci-fi used to be fun, but they get so bogged down now in the politics and award fiascoes, etc. If you don't believe me, walk into any horror or sci-fi convention and openly declare that you like a particular author and watch how divisive things get. That spirit of FUN keeps original storylines and characters popping up in each title. Even books laden with despair like Steve Weddle's Country Hardball or the novels of Benjamin Pike... they're tons of fun to read. Do you honestly think Tommy Pynchon had fun until he "slummed it" and wrote Inherent Vice? 

Gef: Last year you offered up a soundtrack for Dirtbags. Were there any songs in particular serenading you as you wrote Hashtag?

Eryk: This book could not have been written without Bob Dylan's Highway 61 Revisited. I strongly encourage everyone to read this book alongside that album and see what happens. Also, while writing about Deputy Roy Rains, I listened to lots of Texas swing, like Milton Brown and Bob Wills. Sweet Melinda listens to lots of Skynyrd and CCR, so I did as well.

Gef: What's the worst piece of writing advice you ever received? Or what piece of writing advice do you wish would just go away?

Eryk: People always say to be a writer, you must write every day. I need vacations. I need to go out and BS with people. I need to get into a scrape or two. If all I did was sit in front of a computer and write, and I follow that other axiom (WRITE WHAT YOU KNOW) then all I would know about is lower back pain, eyes gone shitty, and a slowly expanding waistline. No, I encourage everyone who wants to write to get out and do things. Try crack. Have a threesome. Steal a car. Roll a hobo. If you are supposed to "write what you know," then you need to get out there and know things.

Gef: Any kind of guilty pleasures when it comes to books or movies or whatnot? Got some southern gothic My Little Pony fan-fic tucked away in your trunk, maybe?

Eryk: I love a good space opera. They are all the same, but I'm so hooked on movies where a rag-tag team of astronauts ends up in the furthest reaches of outer space, then bring something on board which systematically eliminates them one-by-one. Alien, Sunshine, Deep Space Nine, Supernova... I'm a sucker for those things.

I love disaster movies, but not the shitty ones. I'm a bit of a misanthrope, so when I watch nature retake its domain by laying waste to man... it's like porn to me. 

And when I get angry, I always watch Jaws. Cheers me right up.

Gef: What projects are you cooking up that folks can expect in the near future, and how can folks keep up with your shenanigans?

Eryk: I'm on Facebook and Twitter and my website is erykpruitt.com. I have a short film based on my short story "The HooDoo of Sweet Mama Rosa" which will be hitting the festival circuit this Fall. We'll have a local screening before it hits the road. Also, another film called "Keepsake" comes out this year that I wrote and was directed by the uber-talented Meredith Sause. They both are slices of Southern Gothic that I'm way proud of, so I hope to show them off to as many people as possible. I'm working on a short story collection called LUFKIN, so keep your eyes out for that. And I'm finishing off what I hope to be my third novel. 

So I've been busy.

HASHTAG is available at Amazon.com 

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