Conversations with the Bookless: John Rector

June 5, 2009
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[After I sent my questions to John Rector it was announced that his manuscript sold to Tor. This is great news for fans of crime fiction.]

I started reading The Cold Kiss by John Rector one afternoon and immediately became so engrossed that I literally couldn’t stop. I had to know what was going to happen. I finished The Cold Kiss less then 12 hours after I had started, which is incredibly fast for me. But the stripped down plot just kept hurtling forward and I kept thinking just a little longer.

The Cold Kiss has a lightning fast pace, great characters in a claustrophobic situation that is suspenseful and tense in the best kind of way. When this one comes out you WILL want to read it.

You have a manuscript floating around called The Cold Kiss. Tell us a little about it.

The Cold Kiss is a noir-thriller about a young couple who pick up a money-flashing hitchhiker during a blizzard and end up snowed in and fighting for their lives at a rural roadside motel. It’s been described as THE GETAWAY meets A SIMPLE PLAN.

The epigraph is a quote from Jack London about worse ways to die. It acts as a nice thematic compliment to the story. A lot of people have come close to death, my own brush came about during surgery. Have you ever had a brush with death and if so, how has it affected your writing?

I’ve had a few experiences that might qualify, but the one that sticks with me the most happened when I was in my early 20′s and living in downtown Denver.

One night I parked in the alley behind my apartment and startled a guy who was sitting back there smoking crack. The next thing I knew he’d pulled a handgun and was aiming it at the center of my chest.

I don’t remember being scared at the time (that came later), but I do remember the vacant look in his eyes and realizing he had no idea where he was or who I was. I also remember thinking, very calmly, that this was it, that I was about to get shot.

Obviously, he didn’t pull the trigger. Instead he mumbled something about not sneaking up on people then staggered off down the alley with a glass pipe in one hand and a gun in the other. I was lucky.

This happened several years before I started writing fiction, so I can’t say if it’s affected my writing. It might’ve on some level, even though it’s an experience I don’t think about too often, at least not consciously.

Redemption or re-invention is a theme of The Cold Kiss. Is it important for you that characters have a chance at redemption? and Can a character find redemption and a story retain it’s noir sensibilities?

I think it’s important that characters believe they have a chance at redemption when they really don’t, but no, I don’t think a character can save the day or come out ahead in noir. They should be doomed from page one. It’s what makes the genre so heartbreakingly beautiful.

You’ve recently bypassed traditional publishing and released your novel, The Grove, for the Kindle for only .99. What do you hope to accomplish with this experiment?

Mainly, I’d like people to read the book. The Grove was my first novel, and it has a special place in my heart. But beyond that, I think the book could be a good promotional tool for the next novel.

What I’d like to do is make The Grove available to as many people as possible for as little money as possible. I’m selling it for $.99 on Amazon because that’s the lowest they’ll let you go. I’d rather give it away in the hopes of building a readership who’ll seek out future novels than have the book sitting in a trunk gathering dust.

Thankfully, the response has positive so far.

Where are you, right now, as you’re writing these answers?

I’m sitting in my office at my house, surrounded by piles of manuscript pages for the new book, notebooks, pens, coffee cups, and lots and lots of books.

Particularly in The Cold Kiss I sense a Scott Phillips vibe, who are your influences and what is your unlikeliest influence?

Scott Phillips was definitely in my mind when writing The Cold Kiss, right next to James M. Cain who is one of my biggest influences. Others include Raymond Carver, Hemingway, Ross MacDonald, Charles Bukowski, Day Keene, Horace McCoy, Patricia Highsmith, Stephen King, Richard Matheson, Charles Beaumont, Denis Johnson, Flannery O’Connor, Charles Portis, Cornell Woolrich, Larry Brown, Sara Gran, etc. The list goes on.

My most unlikely influence would definitely be Television. I hate to admit that because I’ve been more or less opposed to television since I started writing, but I finally caved this year. I didn’t tune in to American Idol or anything that masochistic, but I did go out and download a few shows my friends have been trying to get me to watch. LOST and Battlestar Galactica, in particular.

It turned out to be somewhat of a learning experience to see how the writers handled plot, structure, character, pacing, basically all the aspects of story telling that I’d been trying to improve in my writing. In the end, I think I learned a few things. Either that or I rotted a significant portion of my brain and my writing will suffer because of it. If that turns out to be the case, I still think watching BSG was worth it.

What do you most value in the fiction you love?

First and foremost, a good story, but if we’re talking about prose style, the answer is clarity. I love simple, uncluttered sentences and realistic dialog, and if the writer can do this with a sense of poetry, then I’m hooked. Ross Macdonald comes to mind as someone who fits this description.

Why do you write?

Flannery O’Conner had the perfect answer for this question when she said, “Because I’m good at it.” I love that answer coming from her because she was right. She was very, very good at it. But I also think that’s why a lot of writer’s write, even those of us who aren’t at her level.

Personally, I can’t draw, I can’t paint, I can’t sing, and I sure as hell can’t dance. But I can write fairly well, and that’s a good thing because I love doing it.

What issues or ideas about fiction have been foremost in your mind of late?

Like everyone else, I’m concerned about the current state of publishing and nervous about what the future holds. On the bright side, it’s been fascinating to watch how devices like the Kindle and the Sony reader have been accepted by readers, and I’m anxious to see how that plays out. I picked up a Kindle this year, and I love it.

How does The Cold Kiss best showcase your abilities?

I like to think I was able to incorporate those aspects of fiction that I love into the book. I tried to tell a good story in the clearest way possible. I tried to keep the prose as clean as I could and the dialog as real as I could. I tried to create believable characters and make the plot interesting enough to keep readers turning the pages and wanting to know what happens next.

Hopefully I succeeded.

How do you plan to rectify your booklessness?

Actually, I’m thrilled to announce that it’s been rectified. I found out recently that my novel THE COLD KISS is going to be published in hardcover by Tor Books in the summer of 2010, and if all goes well, a trade paperback will follow.

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Brian Lindenmuth

Brian is the non-fiction editor of Spinetingler magazine and one of the fiction editors of Snubnose Press. In addition to Spinetingler his work has appeared in Crimespree magazine and at BSC Review, Galleycat and the Mulholland Books website. He also heads the Spinetingler Award committee.

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