Monday, February 22, 2010

MEGAN ABBOTT Interview: 2/22/10

Megan Abbott is the author of ( The Song is You, Die A Little, Queenpin, and Bury Me Deep). She has been nominated for Edgar, Anthony,and Barry Awards. She lives in New York City with her husband, author Josh Gaylord. "Bury Me Deep" has currently been nominated for an Edgar and Hammett Award.

I first met Megan last summer at a book signing in Oxford,Ms., and it was a wonderful experience. We had mutual friends and had talked via e-mail, but it was our first face to face and everything I'd been told was true. Megan was gracious, charming, kind, funny and a beautiful person. We shared a common interest in Hobo lore & the gangster era of the 1920's. That night we got a chance to see Barbara Stanwyck's 1933 classic, "BABYFACE" in the same theatre William Faulkner had attended. It was a magical evening. I'm truly grateful to Megan for taking the time for this interview with "Signs & Wonders". So lets get to it with the one & only "Queen of Crime Noir", Megan Abbott.

1)I know that your mother is also a writer, and has a wonderful blog herself. What kind of an influence did she have on you becoming a writer?

With both parents writers—my dad, a professor of political theory has written a dozen books—it was a household where reading mattered dearly. Books were everywhere, and were a regular dinner table topic. They were, and are, both passionate about books, and my brother and I both absorbed that. I consider it a great gift.

2)What’s happening with “Die A Little” in regards to it being turned into a film & is Jessica Biel still signed on for it?

It’s looking like a new option is about to begin, with her still attached as well as a new writer/director, but it’s still in process.

3) What’s the weirdest experience you’ve had on a book tour, either with a fan or the venue itself?

One night, Vicki Hendricks, Sara Gran and I did a Noir Night event at the wonderful Poisoned Pen. Afterward, Patrick Millikin, the store’s fantastic noir guru (and editor of Phoenix Noir), took us on a midnight tour of various crime scenes in the Phoenix-Scottsdale area, including the famous Winnie Ruth Judd “murder house” and other creepy locales. The night ended with us sitting in the pitch-black parking lot of the former apartment complex where Bob Crane (Hogan’s Heroes) was murdered in his sleep. I started out the evening feeling like Nancy Drew, but by the end, well, going back to our desolate motel afterward was particularly unnerving!

4) Does being nominated or winning awards put more pressure on a writer to constantly raise the bar?

I don’t really think of it that way. I just feel incredibly lucky. You can’t really write thinking about that stuff, or it’ll drive you crazy.

5) Writers lives are filled with periods of solitude while writing & then stretches on the road to promote their books. Now that your husband Josh is also a published author, how has that changed your lives?

He’s been writing his whole life, so we’re used to being a joint-writer household. The thing that’s newer is all the publishing biz talk. It can be really obnoxious, comparing editors and agents. But mostly it’s such a relief because we both have someone who so completely understands the ravages of this crazy business.

6) I know you have a graphic novel in the works, what’s it called, when will it hit the stores and whose work do you admire in that area (graphic novels)?

It’s called Normandy Gold, a bad-ass 70s revenge tale, hopefully gritty in the spirit of Hardcore, the old Paul Schrader movie. My writing partner is the immensely talented and wickedly funny Alison Gaylin, and if we keep on track it’ll come out late in 2011. It’s been a great adventure. Jason Starr gave us a lot of encouragement, and we’ve been so lucky to get to meet folks like Brian Azzarello (100 Bullets). And we were lucky enough to get a tour of DC a few months ago, which was a big thrill. I grew up on Archie comics, which I keep trying to explain is ripe for a great noir re-rendering. The underbelly of Riverdale. Think about it.

7)What sort of music did you listen to growing up and who do you listen to now?

The usual suburban kid stuff—classic rock you’d listen to at the 7-Eleven. First the Beatles, then the Stones. In high school and college, lots of indie music—REM, the Replacements, the Pixies, Sonic Youth. And I always also loved music that evoked my favorite eras, so lots of Billie Holiday, Nina Simone, the old torch singers, but most of all, Sinatra. And I always try to find new music, though. That’s the stuff that keeps you feeling alive.

8) Do you have any artistic abilities, arts?

I grew up drawing every day, almost obsessively. For a long time, I thought I would be an artist. Eventually, in high school, I started to leave it behind for writing. Mostly, I drew Golden Age movie stars, Jean Harlow, Carole Lombard, Marilyn Monroe. I think that love of old Hollywood glamour ended up appearing in a lot of my writing.

9) Your books have outstanding book jackets. I believe the cover art is done by Richie Fahey, who has also done the new soft covers of Ian Flemings, “James Bond” novels. How much say do you have in the layouts & designs of your covers ?

I don’t have any role in it. I just got terrifically lucky that my editor for those books, Denise Roy, found Richie and that Richie is just so brilliant. I always just want to walk straight into the worlds he creates. And he takes it very seriously, reads the books first and really understands the different time periods. I visited him when he was working on Bury Me Deep and he’d found an old steamer trunk and just the right kind of gun for the cover. And he was casting models and looking for just the right type of soft-shouldered girls.

10) What did you want to be growing up & how did that work out for you?

I wanted to be an artist mostly, or a writer. But I changed my mind a lot. Sometimes I still don’t know exactly what I’m doing. It just sort of happened.

11) What was the worst job you ever had growing up?

All the jobs I had that sound like they’d be bad—slinging pizza dough at Little Caesars, washing dishes in the dorm cafeteria—I liked. But I was never good at the cash register and never could make change.

12) If you could go back in time to any place or time period, where and what era do you go to?

1947 Los Angeles.

13) What’s the coolest place you’ve gone or the best opportunity that has presented itself to you because of your writing?

Oxford, Mississippi. Rod, you know how much I love that town because we hung out together there. Some of my favorite writers and kindest people in the world there: Jack Pendarvis, Ace Atkins, Tom Franklin and, my god, Barry Hannah. Of course, I’m crazy about Los Angeles, and writing about it so much has enabled me to visit a lot. It’s my favorite place to visit in the world and, because several of my books are set there, I’ve got to meet people who show me all these wonderful places—old Tiki bars, tucked away nightspots that seem untouched by time.

14) Have you ever taught a film class before, and I have to ask you...can you share with us those films & perhaps some of the actors or directors whose work holds a special place in your heart.

I’ve never taught a film class, but I used film regularly in my lit classes. I think the one I’ve used the most is Double Indemnity, which always feels like it was just shot last week. It always feels so modern, so vital to me. It just snaps and pulses. Billy Wilder is a big favorite for me, Nicholas Ray, Sam Fuller. And, later, Robert Altman and, most of all, Scorsese. Seeing Raging Bull for the first time, at a revival in college, had a tremendous impact on me.

15) Can you name an author living today who you haven’t met but would love to?

Philip Roth. But it seems unlikely.

16) Among your peers, when you do have time to pick up a book, whose books are a must read for you?

Too many to name, and I’d be afraid to leave out someone important! I do love it when I get to read one of my favorites early. Sometimes Reed Farrel Coleman’s given me a sneak peaks—like with Soul Patch—and it was such a thrill. And I tell you, I just had the lucky experience of reading Sara Gran’s latest, Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead, which comes out next year, and it just tore a hole through my heart. It’s so beautiful, and it’s the start of a series, so I can’t wait to see where she takes us next.

17) Ken Bruen called you one of the sexiest mystery writers of today. What do you think of us putting together a “Sexy Mystery Writers Calendar” for Christmas? Do you think we could find 12 sexy writers to fill the months? Ha

Oh my, Ken could charm the skin off a snake. And speaking of Ken, I could easily find 12 writers to fill those months. But since I’m an old married lady, I’ll keep my trap shut.

18) Lately we’ve seen Reed Farrel Coleman & Ken Bruen and Dave Barry & Ridley Pearson do successful collaborations. Could you see yourself doing something like that & if so, who might be fun to work with? How about you & your husband, have you guys given that any consideration?

Well, I’m already working on the graphic novel with Alison Gaylin and the collaborative process has been really fun. Writing’s so solitary so partnering with her is a joy. I’m also working on a project with Sara Gran that’s taking shape. As for writing with Josh, he’s said he feels certain that if we collaborated, it’d lead to great marital discord and he’s probably right. Two (neurotic) writers in one household is a balancing act enough!

19) For those times that you get writer’s block, what has seemed to work for you?

I get so terrified by even reading the phrase “writer’s block” that I can’t even think of an answer now. One thing I try to do is get away from the computer and write by hand. It’s a looser kind of writing for me, and feels less pressureful but more intense. It can sometimes help me find my way back. Or I’ll read a favorite author—especially Daniel Woodrell seems to do the trick.

20) Right now there seems to be a bevy of wonderful women mystery writers such as (Sara Gran, Vicki Hendricks, Theresa Schwegel, Chelsea Cain, Tess Geritssen, Karin Slaughter and Sophie Littlefield.) Are there some others out there that we might not be as familiar with but should or will be?

One of the main reasons I wanted to edit A Hell of a Woman: An Anthology of Female Noir, and why David Thompson at Busted Flush Press was so eager to publish it, was to get the chance to highlight so many superb female writers, like Christa Faust, Cornelia Read, Naomi Hirahara, Donna Moore, Charlotte Carter, the list goes on and on. And that anthology barely scratched the surface.

21) Winnie Ruth Judd...guilty or innocent?

The more you read about the case, the more you realize we’ll never know. It was a town run by some very powerful men and there’s some basic facts of the case—what kind of gun was used, for instance, and what was lost at the crime scene when the police permitted hundreds of curiosity seekers to tramp through the house—that we’re just never going to know the answer to. Which is one of the case’s fascinations.

22) What can you tell us about a non-fiction study you published back in 2002 entitled “The Street Was Mine: White Masculinity in Hardboiled Fiction & Film Noir.” It sounds pretty interesting. Where can we find a copy?

It’s published by Palgrave Macmillan and any indie bookstore will order it for you, or of course the obvious online booksellers (you know who they are), it’s just expensive! It’s an academic press and priced for research universities libraries. And it’s really a version of my dissertation so I’m not sure how eager you should be for that!

23) What’s next for you, and when can we expect to see the next book?

My next book, The End of Everything, comes out in 2011. It’s my first book with the incredible Reagan Arthur, who’s edited some of my favorite writers—George Pelecanos, Denise Mina, Kate Atkinson. It’s her new imprint and Little, Brown and it’s very exciting.

24) You seem very comfortable so far setting your books in the 1920-50’s time frame,...any plans to write something set in the present time?

The End of Everything is my first present-day book and the one I’m working on now is also present-day. It’s been an interesting switch, and has brought out different features in my writing and forced me to break some bad habits and get out of comfortable grooves. But I don’t think I could ever say goodbye to the past. I just read Ace Atkins’s terrific upcoming novel, Infamous, which tells the story of Machine Gun Kelly and his wife. It made me long to write something set in the early 1930s again.

25) Which of your books did you enjoy the most while writing it and your favorite beverage?

I have to say, I never enjoy my books while I’m writing them. Or after. It’s like hearing your own voice on tape. It’s embarrassing. (As you can see, I’m a great salesman.). My favorite beverage? If I’m honest….beer. Blame it on my Midwestern roots. Gin’s okay too, of course.

Guest Question from Ken Bruen? Who would you choose to play you in a film of your life’s story?

Of my life story? Any diminutive actress who is very convincing staring helplessly at a blank computer screen for hours on end.

Final Question a Cardinal baseball fan, can you & Reed please make plans to catch another Cards-Mets game this year, since you brought us luck last year?

Tell Reed I’m just waiting for my invite.