Wednesday , February 21 2024
"I wanted to deal with violence in a manner less varnished than in my other books."

An Interview With Charlie Huston, Author of The Shotgun Rule, Part One

This is the first part of a two part interview. As is often the case with my two-part interviews, the first part is focused more on the author while the second part, written after I finish the book, focuses more specifically on the book. Part two should come in about two weeks.

I got turned on to Charlie Huston by Patrick Anderson, who reviews thrillers for The Washington Post. While doing an interview on his new book about thrillers, Anderson and I realized we seemed to be in synch regarding those authors who are great (including Michael Connelly, George Pelecanos) and those who, at least in recent years, suck (such as Patricia Cornwell, David Baldacci, Tom Clancy).

About a month ago Anderson asked if I’d read Charlie Huston’s books. I contacted Huston’s publicist who kindly sent me both Huston’s Henry Thompson trilogy and his new novel, The Shotgun Rule. Anderson’s review of Huston's new book came out about two weeks ago and it picked up on some good points about the book, Huston’s first stand-alone thriller. More on Anderson's review in a minute.

The Shotgun Rule is set back in the summer of 1983 in a California suburb and, having grown up in that state during that time period (I’d be 15 then if you want to do the math), I can tell you it’s pretty authentic. The book is about four teenagers who are always getting into trouble. The trouble reaches a new level, though, when they come across a crank lab and steal a sample with plans to sell it. Then mayhem ensues but it’s far from fun – it’s intense and dark. If you are looking for light or happy material look elsewhere. But if you want something dark and pure check out this book.   

If an endorsement by Patrick Anderson or me is not good enough, Stephen King also has a blurb on the cover: "Anyone not acquainted with Charles Huston's blistering, unputdownable novels will want to tie their sneakers nice and tight before starting The Shotgun Rules, or they are apt to be blasted clean out of them."

Scott Butki: How would you describe what this book is about to someone unfamiliar with your work?  

Charlie Huston: The short answer is that it’s a book about four juvenile delinquents who break into the wrong house and steal the wrong thing and shit gets all fucked up. Implicit (and explicit for that matter)in that answer are the ideas that the book is both violent and vulgar. The violence in all my books tends to be graphic. I try not to write it for entertainment value. I know that’s how it’s often read, but that’s not the point. And more than my past books, the violence here isn’t padded by a large number of genre conventions. It’s not a caper. It’s not old school noir.  It has some of the tone of hardboiled crime, but put in a mundane setting. There’s humor, black and otherwise, but it’s incidental. The vulgarity is part of my nature, but particularly relevant here as the protagonists are four teenage boys. There’s simply no way to wrote that dialogue without using “fuck” just about every other word. 

How does this book compare to your other books?  

It breaks from the first person present tense narrative I used in the previous five books.  The POV moves from character to character, giving me a chance to tell a story with an altered voice.  My bag of tricks is still on display, but I got to dig a little deeper into it and come up with some new stuff. While the body count is down in this book, I think it’s a bit darker. The fact that the world between the covers is closer to our own than in previous books makes the deaths that do take place harder to balance. Or that’s what I hope for.

What did you hope to accomplish with this book? Did you succeed? 

I wanted to tell a good story. Beyond that, I wanted to deal with violence in a manner less varnished than in my other books. I like the story, and some other people do as well, so I think I did my job there. The violence issue I’m still unsettled on. It’s not quite as bare as I initially set out to make it. 

What question do you wish you would be asked more in interviews?  

More questions about sports. 

What questions are you tired of answering?  

I can’t say I’m tired of answering questions about how I became a writer, but I feel boring when I try to answer it at this point.  

Which of the book's characters is most like you now?  

Either none or all of them. I was on a panel with Max Allen Collins where we were being asked about how much of ourselves is in our characters. Max answered, as I recall, “It’s all just us with guns.”  All a fiction writer can do is write about what they know, whether that’s from first, second, or third hand experience, and then embellish with imagination.  There are bits of me in all my characters, and bits of them in me.   

What did you think of Patrick Anderson's review of your book?  

A review like that is a lovely thing.  It’s both a commercial boon and an ego boost. And it’s particularly gratifying to have your work taken seriously and addressed and that manner.  I always like to see where the readers' eyes are drawn when they read my stuff. Mr. Anderson’s eye seems to have been drawn to the aspects of desperation in the lives of some of the characters.  But to me, there’s nothing special about that desperation. I’m a pretty upbeat guy, but I see a lot of that kind of thing everywhere. To me it’s more incidental to both life and the book, and not central. But I’m ultimately just trying to write stories that I want to tell, in the hope that people will want to read them.  And I love when readers see what I do not see in my own stories. It happens all the time. 

Anderson noted in his review something I noticed too – regarding your book dedication. Why did you write it like that? Specifically, the book’s dedication page says:

The book is dedicated to:
Jeff Kaskey.
Role Model.
Though he’ll be horrified to hear it.
To the kids who don’t know any better.
The ones with the attitude problems.
What the hell are they thinking?

Man, believe me, they aren’t.

That’s the point.
We never do.   
The use of the word “we” that Mr. Anderson mentions was conscious.  I was often told I had an attitude problem and asked, “What were you thinking” when I was a teenager.  But most of my trouble-making and getting-into, outside of drug use, was only mildly criminal.  I got away with shit I was lucky to get away with, and had friends who were far less lucky.  Having a front row seat for some sad and seriously stupid crap had a lot to do with making me both the person and the writer I am.  I wanted to acknowledge the kind of kids I was writing about.  With luck, they grow up to be the kind of adults I enjoy spending time with.

About Scott Butki

Scott Butki was a newspaper reporter for more than 10 years before making a career change into education... then into special education. He has been working in mental health for the last ten years. He lives in Austin. He reads at least 50 books a year and has about 15 author interviews each year and, yes, unlike tv hosts he actually reads each one. He is an in-house media critic, a recovering Tetris addict and a proud uncle. He has written articles on practically all topics from zoos to apples and almost everything in between.

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