This is the second part of a two part interview. The first part was published on October 3, my birthday.
Last weekend I finished The Shotgun Rule which is as gritty and dark a novel as I’ve read in several years. It explores violence and life in a fictional Northern California town. Is it good? Let’s put it this way, Stephen King was right when he called it “Stand By Me on Dexedrine.”
I emailed author Charles Huston questions for this half of the interview and he sent his responses quickly.
What's it like to have Stephen King describe your novel as "Stand By Me on Dexedrine"?
It seemed like the town itself became a character in the novel, sort of like George Pelecanos does with his books about Washington D.C. Was that intentional?
I try and give the locations in all my books a certain amount of texture. That can be a relatively easy task when you're writing about New York City or L.A.
In the case of the unnamed town in The Shotgun Rule, the actual geography, physical locations, and the social structure, are all based on a town I lived in. Some things get altered by faulty memory, or simply because I need to take a house on one side of town and relocate it, but I try to play as close to reality as I remember it.
As much as it is about anything, Shotgun is about the town itself. I can't say I was trying to make it a character, but I was trying to describe what I consider a pretty typical place that some people grow up in.
I really liked the character of Geezer especially how he was always searching for just the right word. Can you tell me how you came up with that character and that particular character trait?
I started with the name. It's actually an homage, if you can call it that, to Black Sabbath's bassist Geezer Butler. I always thought that was a tremendous name. It seemed a great fit for a scumbag (which Mr. Butler is not). I built a physical description around the name, but beyond that, it's hard to describe how a character generates. I didn't go looking for his verbal tick, but when it popped up it fit and I ran with it.
Andy seemed like he had aspergers or autism since he was so smart and so focused. Did he?
I hadn't thought of him in those terms. I pictured him more as just a kid whose intelligence sets him apart. He sees the world through a different filter, and that makes it hard for him to interact the way other people do.
My experience with some hyper-intelligent friends I've had is that they don't really understand why so many things they find utterly banal can be so important to so many people. Their intelligence puts them in an outsider's role at a young age, which means they get treated differently.
That just provokes greater alienation. I don't set out to ask any big questions when I write my books, but in retrospect the question Andy asks me is: Where does his violence come from? Is it that alienation? Heredity? Or is it innate? Honestly, I don't know.
Now in addition to your novels you also write a comic book? Can you talk about that? How does writing for comics differ from writing novels?
Comics are a visual medium, so the trick for a novelist is to learn how to let the pictures carry most of the story. I lay out what I want the pictures to look like, but an artist still has to interpret that. So you need to be flexible that way. For someone like me who uses a great deal of dialogue, you need to try and reign in that tendency. Dialogue in a comic book takes up physical space on the page. The more dialogue, the less room you have for pictures. It's a real technical challenge, not just the exercise in imagination and craziness that it maybe looks like from the outside. A lot of fun, but definitely work.
Some novelists are opposed to having their stories optioned for movies. What's your take on this?
My take is that a movie version, in the off chance that an option actually ever gets exercised and a movie manifests, doesn't change the fact of the novel. To me, a movie option is a great way to make a little extra money on work I've already done and been paid for. At that point, I don't much care what happens. In an ideal world you'd like any movies made from your work to be good movies. The reason for that is that you want your name and your work associated with things that are not crappy. But a movie is not the final step in the life cycle of a novel. A novel is a novel. Good movie, bad movie — that doesn't change the work I've already done.
What are you working on next?
The next book to publish will be the third in my Joe Pitt series: Half The Blood of Brooklyn (Dec. 26, 2007). A terribly bloody vampire book written in hardboiled noir style. Just perfect for the holidays.
I've got a crime book set in Los Angeles that's all wrapped up. It'll be the first in a proposed open-ended series about a former elementary school teacher who gets involved in trauma scene cleaning. Despite his profession, the book is actually quite a bit lighter and less violent than my other books. That should be out in early 2009.
And I'm completing the fourth Joe Pitt book so it will be ready for Fall 2008.
I'm going to take a brief pause from novels and do some comic book work before starting another stand-alone in about a month.
Thanks again to Mr. Huston for the interview.