Monday, May 24, 2010
It was a real honor to do this Q & A with "The Queen of Crime Noir", Vicki Hendricks. Vicki is the author of 5 novels including, "MIAMI PURITY","IGUANA LOVE", "VOLUNTARY MADNESS", "SKY BLUES", and "CRUEL POETRY". She has a brand new book out, a series of short stories entitled, "FLORIDA GOTHIC STORIES". Please encourage Vicki to write that travel memoir she mentions in the interview. She is truly an amazing lady, and leads a fascinating life. If your looking for a new steamy hardboiled crime writer to pick up, start here and start with Miami Purity". You'll thank me later. So lets gets started with the interview between "Signs & Wonders", Rod Norman & Vicki Hendricks.
RN) It's often said that you should never confuse an author's work with the author themselves, yet I can see alot of the writers I know, in their work. How much of Vicki Hendricks is in your written word?
VH) Only my psychologist could say for sure! However, the most obvious part of me is my characters’ love of adventure. Many of the skydiving and scuba scenes contain true moments, places, and people. I never went in for steroids, but otherwise, Ramona in Iguana Love follows along in my path with her desire for strength and her scuba obsession—maybe her “iguana” obsession as well. In Sky Blues, for example, there’s a Vicki practicing to make a “lingerie jump.” In reality, I haven’t done a lingerie jump, mainly because I never happened to be around the drop zone at the right time. But it’s damn cold up there, so I don’t think I’ve missed anything! Same with the nude jumps—I’ve seen the blue flesh and shriveled . . . um, you know what I mean.
Anyway, I would say there’s a little of me in every character that I create, not especially the good traits either. “Madame Bovary, c’est moi,” –or Ramona or Destiny in my case.
RN) You have a new short story collection entitled "FLORIDA GOTHIC STORIES" coming out in May. How long have you been working on this collection and can you give us a little heads up in regards to what we have to look forward to here?
VH) I’ve been working on Florida Gothic Stories since 1995, if you take into consideration that the earliest story, “West End,” was written back then and published in Otto Penzler’s Murder for Revenge. Except for two, the rest of the stories have been in print, but have slunk around relatively unnoticed, except maybe for “ReBecca,” which was in Nerve.com and Best American Erotica 2000.
Megan Abbott wrote an elegant introduction that explains what I mean by gothic, in the Southern sense, and I would add that there are no vampires, but a major dollop of the grotesque. Some of the stories are more noir than gothic, but the characters all share a grotesque nature, some in a comic way, others being more gruesome. There are animals in almost all the stories and a noticeable amount of inter-species sex that some might call bestiality, but it’s necessary for my art!
RN) Do you have a personal preference between writing novels and writing short stories?
VH) I feel both ways about novels and short stories. I love it when a great idea for a short story hits me, and it seems clean and straightforward, and I can pretty much tell if it will work. I’m afraid to start a short story, however, if I don’t have an ending. Of course, I have done it more than once out of necessity, and it’s always a relief when something clinks into place. Whereas, for novels, I never know where I’m headed and can’t ever completely sort out the tangle of plots and characters to know if I’ve really accomplished what I set out to do. Or rather, I can sort them out in many ways, and never know which is the true analysis. I haven’t gotten to the point where I’m comfortable. Yet, there’s a satisfaction in completing a novel that makes all the hair-pulling worthwhile.
RN) Is it just my imagination or is the short story making a comeback after years of nearly going the way of the dinosaurs? We now have new magazines like "NEEDLE" catering to the short story format, and several new anthologies.
VH) I never hear of anybody, except fellow writers and English instructors, reading a short story by choice, but there surely continue to be many collections coming out in the past few years. Akashic has multiplied the number of noir stories. I’m with you, thinking that somebody must be buying them. Probably people in New York City—and that’s really all that matters!
RN)Your next novel is titled "FUR PEOPLE" and has been called a love story about animal hoarding..is animal hoarding what it sounds like, the guy with 50 cats or dogs? Please enlighten me here. What drew your interest to this subject in the first place?
VH) I’m the one who called it that—I’m still working on it. Most hoarders specialize in one species and my main narrator is a dog lover, but obsessed with anything alive that’s not human. Cats, a couple of ferrets, a raccoon, and rabbits are all part of her brood. She has a real problem eating, in case plants have feelings too. Now again, I’m very much this type of personality, except I have no problem eating. I’ve been obsessed with animals for my entire life and once lived with nine cats, sixteen rabbits, two dogs and a husband. Years later, after the divorce, I had an iguana, three ferrets, two cats. My son, a teenager at the time, forbade me to bring home any more friendly creatures. The ferrets and cats ran together around the house. The cats would knock things off the shelves and the ferrets would drag them under furniture so you’d never find them. It was fun. I even had the two cats and two ferrets when I lived on my little thirty foot sailboat. It was so hot (110 F) and crowded in summer that they’d stretch out together, belly up, ferrets draped across cat tails and arms and legs. (Yes, cats have arms.) Now I live in a condo where I’m only allowed one animal companion, my nineteen-year-old cat Snickers. (If I have any others, I can’t say so here.) I’m a wanna-be hoarder, always yearning to cross the line, every time I see a new furry face.
RN)Not only does your writing fascinate me, but you do as well. You seem to be someone who lives life to the fullest. You've done 600 + sky dives, you scuba dive, you've been dog sledding, you went birding in Costa Rica. You are quite the thrill seeker. Have you always been that way or was it something you picked up later in life? Also, what did birding entail...I've never been birding, but I have been snipe hunting, does that count?
VH) I started looking for adventure mostly when I could afford to, but as a child my favorite reading was about stowaways, pioneers, shipwrecks, and of course, Nancy Drew, as well as Trixie Belden, who solved mysteries and rode horses. I don’t know whether the reading drew me to adventure or the yearning for adventure made me read.
Until I wrote Miami Purity, I never had the money to do real adventuring, but I managed to save enough for scuba, and travel to Europe, Mexico, Jamaica, and the jungle in Peru, instead of spending on normal necessities like hairdos, makeup, furniture, or air conditioning. The skydiving is really expensive, so that was an indulgence that started after MP, along with trips to South Africa, Egypt, Guatemala, Finland, Australia, among others. I went dog sledding in Finland for a week along the Russian border, slept in an ice castle, swam off an ice-breaker boat. That might be the most memorable trip of all. But South Africa was the most exciting for a feeling of unexplainable energy and the animals, of course; and then diving the Great Barrier Reef in Australia was one of my life’s goals. Skydiving is a great travel boon too, and I’ve done it in Spain, South Africa, and Australia. You find a drop zone on the Internet and send an email, and they set you up with a cheap place to stay, as long as you’re not too picky, and you’ve got all the instant friends you want to jump with and party with day and night. Skydivers great people, friendly and wild!
Have you hunted for the Wilson’s snipe or the common snipe? Bet you didn’t know they’re real birds! They are well-camouflaged and blend in with the banks of lakes, so you do have to hunt for them. Birding in Costa Rica was fantastic. My boyfriend and I went at the end of the rainy season and tromped around through mountains and jungles and took the zipline through the canopy. My favorite part was the peninsula where we stayed in a lodge without electricity or outer walls, under mosquito net. Our clothes never dried and the cover rotted off of our bird book just from humidity, but it was fantastic, the sights, the people, wading through rushing rivers, and we loaded up our life lists with a hundred new species. Two summers ago we went to Colombia, and that was just as fruitful, although we stayed dry and had electricity. Colombia might be the most beautiful place I’ve ever been, with the vistas of mountains and farmland, again fantastic people. We had a great guide who had been captured by the FARC a couple of years earlier and held for eighty days, so he knew exactly where not to take us. He did all the driving too. That’s thrill seeking I can do without.
RN) Is their still something out there left undone that you still dream of doing? Running with the bulls maybe, mountain climbing? Another person who just amazes me is Martin Strel, he's the Big River Man. He's swam the Nile, the Mississippi, and the Amazon...he's middle age and weighs 250 + and drinks a couple bottles of wine a day while doing his swims. My kinda guy ! I get tired walking to my car so I have to live vicariously through people like Martin and yourself.
VH) I’m not really interested in running with bulls, but I was almost clipped by about a 150 pound warthog in South Africa. The cranky fellow apparently didn’t want his picture taken, and he scratched up a little dirt and charged when I clicked the photo. I stepped aside, just like a bullfighter. Then some Zulu women helped me out by throwing fruit to distract him. He always hung out by the garbage can at the market area in Lake Lucia, so he hadn’t seemed ferocious. You forget to be careful when a hundred or so monkeys cross the road at every sunset and you have to help push a stalled truck past a grazing hippo. Lots of good stories. At a reserve, Hluhlue, (pronounced slew-slewy, but as if you’re Donald Duck) baboons sat in a tree by the restroom every morning and I had three zebras blocking my rondeval door one night. It was a weird feeling when I saw them, like, oh, I must be at the wrong cabin because mine didn’t have any zebras! They were just grazing and after a while moved aside so I could get in.
Climbing. I’ve done a some rock climbing on walls and in Wisconsin. I did an eight hour trek on a volcano in Guatemala and got huge blisters that made thick squares of skin flap off my heels and eventually caused my big toenails to fall off. (They grew back.)
One unusual thing, I used to have friends who set up parties where we walked through hot coals and broken glass and fell off ladders letting people catch us. We bent silverware with one finger too. I still have the fork I bent and can’t imagine how that worked. These friends were the couple who got me interested in skydiving.
You can’t shut me up on this stuff1 I’ve been threatening to write a travel memoir for years.
RN)Any chance we'll see "MIAMI PURITY" made into a film anytime soon? It would make a great film I believe.
VH) Miami Purity has been optioned ever since it was published, and right now it seems on the verge of becoming a film, but there’s nothing definite. I know it will happen sooner or later and that will be a lot of fun. Maybe it’s the next adventure.
RN)You teach creative writing at Broward College. Do you enjoy teaching writing as much as you do writing?
VH) I’ve taught writing for twenty-nine years full-time at Broward College, so it’s not as exciting as it used to be. The paper grading is what bogs me down with five writing classes per semester. I teach online and night classes, which are mostly people coming back to school, so that makes me feel needed, but I might possibly retire next year or the year after, in order to finally settle into writing. However, I can’t say I enjoy sitting at the computer all day writing either. I just have several ideas stuck in my head that I have to get on paper so it’s a constant stress that drives me.
RN) Charles Bukowski once said something to the tune of "some people never go crazy, what horrible lives they must lead". I think all of the truly great writers are a little mad, because the "normal" ones bore me to tears. Your thoughts?
VH) Ah, Charles Bukowski, one of my favorites. Funny you should mention that. I’m now reading Touched with Fire by Kay Redfield Jameson, which supports that theory with examples of many writers, artists, and musicians from the past who were manic-depressive or had other forms of mood swings. However, at the pathological levels described, and considering the prevalence of suicide, I’m sure boredom would have been welcomed. Also, there are always sane and practical writers, and they are probably the ones making money. Money can be amusing.
RN) Speaking of Broward County, isn't that the same place where...oh, maybe 20-25 years ago, a sheriff got into hot water for hiding in the closet and watching men have sex with his wife? I was in college at the time and it made national news I believe. I've never forgotten that. Do I have the right place?
VH) Could be. I don’t remember. Florida out-fictions fiction all the time. I remember a mafia guy, “Fat Man” Carfagnia, who was found hiding in a compartment behind a closet in a house in my neighborhood on Halloween about thirty years ago. The house was searched and they couldn’t find him, and then one of the police, who had lived in the house previously, noticed some renovations to the closet, and they hauled Carfagnia out. I only remember that because I couldn’t get to my house all afternoon past police crouched down with rifles behind their cars. My son was around five and didn’t get to go trick-or-treating. I don’t think there was room in that compartment for any sex.
RN) James Ellroy once described "MIAMI PURITY" as a "redneck idiot savant classic" and said you were in a class by yourself. High praise indeed, but the more I thought about it, I came up with another Floridian who's work I love and who I think would feel right at home here. Harry Crews, especially his novel "Celebration" fits the bill. Would you agree or disagree with that summation?
VH) I would certainly agree, and I’m flattered to be compared to him in any way. Harry Crews is one of my mentors and biggest influences, although he might not know it. I never had a class with him, but my boyfriend at the time and I gobbled up Crews’novels and essays, and we visited him several times at his house to hang out and talk and drink beer. I have a photo of me sitting on his lap—I think. Did I dream that? Crews had taught at Broward College in the late 60’s, and my boyfriend was a student there at the time, so that’s how we made the connection. We were wanna-be writers under his spell.
You have to read the early books, like The Gypsy’s Curse, The Feast of Snakes, The Gospel Singer, Car, and others. I like Body, a newer one, in particular too. It has the most wonderful sex scene between a body builder who has maybe 2% body fat and a country girl who is obese and a virgin. I use it in my sex scene workshop because it goes beyond the expected humor of the contrast to create a believable and incredibly hot connection. I aspire to reach that level of craft some day.
RN)Have you ever came up with a word yet, for a women with that certain degree of sexual heat?
VH) Was I looking for a word? Normal? Remember, we’re inside these women’s minds, so who’s to say how many women feel exactly the same. I once had a Q & A heckler who insisted that he’d never met a woman so extremely interested in sex. I told him to think about it and he might figure out why he, in particular, hadn’t.
RN) Your dialogue can be highly erotic, super charged, was that something you had to really work at developing, or did you have the voice for it just naturally?
VH) I’ve always worked hard on my dialogue. The erotic scenes are something that I find fun, especially in trying to make them original, but it still takes plenty of reworking and considering word choices. I can’t explain how dialogue becomes “supercharged,” but I’m always careful not to waste words. It’s never easy. I start with something that seems real for the character, and after cutting and reworking it many times, it becomes more real. But even after the novel or story is published, I make changes when I read aloud. I always tell people that every time you finish a book you’re a better writer at the end, so you can keep starting over and over and getting better and better, but eventually you have to cut it off and make yourself live with it. Dialogue is definitely an important part of that. I think seven or eight full drafts is about my usual number for a novel, but I have no doubt that I could still improve if I had the guts to keep on going.
Posted by Rod Norman at 5:54 PM