I recently guest blogged over at Paul D. Brazil’s little slice of the interweb about Anthony Neil Smith. In the post, I described the novels of Victor Gischler upon first discovering them on Amazon as: “…a Seinfeld episode with guns…” I, of course, recanted this statement later in the piece because I was basing my opinion of the Louisiana based novelist solely on the reviews posted on Amazon and other online venues.
Without a doubt, in between the gun battles, the car and helicopter chases, and bad men doing bad things, Gischler’s novels are tinged with satire and the occasional scene of Three Stooges style slapstick. No, Victor Gischler’s books are never boring and with the recent addition of his novels Go-Go Girls of the Apocalypse and Vampire a GO-GO, they’re far from predictable. But with Gischler’s newest release, The Deputy, he makes a welcome return to hard-boiled crime fiction.
After the jump check out the interview with Victor Gischler.
Keith Rawson: First off, for those who aren’t familiar with The Deputy, could you briefly summarize the novel?
Victor Gischler: Toby Sawyer is a twenty-five year old part-time deputy in a middle of nowhere town in western Oklahoma. He’s got a wife and a kid and barely makes ends meet living his trailer park life on the edge of town. Toby is called to babysit a dead body in the middle of the street and promptly loses the body through his own carelessness. Thus begins Toby’s long night of violence and mystery as Toby uncovers small-town corruption and fights to survive until dawn.
Originally The Deputy was to be published in the summer of last year through Bleak House, but then you moved it over to Tyrus publishing and delayed its publishing. Why didn’t you stick with Bleak House as the publisher and go with Tyrus instead?
Well, the fact is the key components to Bleak House Books were Alison Jansen and Ben LeRoy. Without them there really isn’t a Bleak House. Ben and Alison made Bleak House what it was by picking great authors and putting together good looking books. They know the genre and their readership. So when Ben and Alison allowed me to move with them to Tyrus it was a no-brainer. I think Tyrus is already on its way to being everything Bleak House was and more.
Also, why didn’t you go with a large house as you had with your previous crime novels?
Ha-ha. Well, believe it or not, I don’t always get to make that choice. I’ve been fortunate to have novels published with large New York publishers, but the simple truth is I’m far from a best-selling author. I’m not Michael Connelly or Laura Lippman, so every time I write something, my agent has to sell me all over again to publishers. Larger publishers want “marketing platforms” and other crap I don’t really think about when I’m just trying to write a good story. There was also concern that the book was too short to be a decent mass-market paperback. I didn’t care about any of that. I just wanted to tell a good story. Ben and Alison were kindred spirits in this. The want to think about story and character and plot and publish the best writing they can get their hands on. I feel fortunate that Tyrus is giving The Deputy a chance to make it out to readers.
Speaking of Toby Sawyer, most of your male protagonist tend to be–and excuse the phrasing–irresponsible assholes. What’s your attraction to writing this type of character?
I hate heroes in crime fiction who have flaws like “They care too much” or they’re alcoholics and “struggle every day to keep sober.” That ABC After School Special stuff leaves me cold. If my protagonists ever feel any sense of redemption, then it truly is a triumph because that start so far down in a moral/ethical hole. My protagonists don’t know readers are watching them. It doesn’t occur to them to be on their best behavior. Having said that, many readers are often surprised they can find away to like/care about the protagonist. One of the comments I got all the time about Charlie Swift (the protagonist of Gun Monkeys) was along the lines of “I don’t know why I like this guy, but I do.” I like to challenge the reader with the implied statement “This fucking guy is going to be your hero for the rest of this damn novel. Can you handle that?”
With most of your novels–as with Sawyer’s underage girlfriend in the Deputy–you’ll typically feature a strong female character to offset the relative immaturity of your male protagonist. What’s your attraction to writing this type of female lead?
All I really want is for my female characters (all my characters actually) to be interesting. How they can be interesting depends on context. They can be weak or strong or bitches or angels. If they happen to end up offsetting weaknesses in the male protagonist, that’s just a added bonus.
In The Deputy, you focus on human trafficking as the crime du jour of the novel. When you set out to write a new crime novel, is it the crime itself that shapes the novel, or do you shape it via your characters?
What interests me in a crime novel is the choices (often bad) that characters make. So the crime is part of the conflict but also contributes to a situation in which our protagonist is making hard choices and often put through the mill in the process. The specific crime is also about setting, culture and circumstance. In the case of The Deputy, the human trafficking is a symptom of a larger, ongoing crime which is the corruption in the tiny backwater town of Coyote Crossing.
What kind of preparations do you make when you start a new novel?
It’s mostly mental. I want to have a very solid idea of the tone before I dive in.
As far as your writing process is concerned, do you outline or are you more of a fly by the seat of your pants style writer?
I usually have 4-6 “key events” in mind before I start writing, and I connect those events by seat-of-pants flying. I think this kind of writing helps promote a spontaneous energy …. although sometimes it also means I sometimes get a little lost along the way.
I’ve been hearing a lot buzz lately about upcoming film projects. What’s coming down the pipe? Is there anything in production at the moment?
The biggest most interesting news I can’t even talk about. Movies are always a long shot. But if cosmic forces line up just right, I’ll have some very cool news on a couple of different novels sooner or later. Some of these things are so close to falling into place that it makes me a little nervous to talk about it. Stuff I can talk about: Pulp Boy. This is a labor of love project by producer/director Jake Dickey and I’m not going to be a millionaire if this thing actually comes together, but I don’t even care about that. Washed up sci-fi writer Emerson LaSalle is near and dear to my heart, and I’d love to see this little indie project come together. We need a few rich guys who want to make a movie to each invest a few grand and then we’d be in business. In other film news, the Gun Monkeys and Go-Go Girls of the Apocalypse efforts are all clicking along at different stages and I have reason to be cautiously optimistic. I’m also trying other) screenplays (in addition to Pulp Boy, co-written with Anthony Neil Smith) so I’m waiting to see what happens there. Lots to be excited and nervous about.
You’ve been genre hopping quite a bit lately. First with Go-Go Girls of the Apocalypse and then Vampire a Go-Go, both of which were very entertaining. But as a novelist, do you ever think not sticking with a distinct “genre” will hurt your career?
My career is already hurt, so I figure why not write what I want to write? Bantam Dell published four of my hardboiled crime novels, and while I love my core of faithful readers, we didn’t get anywhere close to best-seller numbers. I wrote a hundred pages of a generic “mainstream” thriller to try to be more commercial. I bored the shit out of myself. If I’m bored, why would I expect publishers or readers to be interested? I threw it away and started writing something that interested me and just forgot all about commercial consideration. That novel turned out to be Go-Go Girls of the Apocalypse and went to the Touchstone imprint of Simon & Schuster. Still not a best seller, but an improvement and readers are still finding the book. I made a promise to myself that I would write just exactly what I would want to read … not what I thought would get me into an airport book store. I’ll sink or swim with that decision. And if I sink, I’ll write books underwater and grow gills.
So you’re saying the chances of you writing a Lee Child/Jack Reacher style action/suspense novel are pretty slim?
I love action. But I couldn’t do something like that with a straight face. Kudos to Child. Guy is rolling in cash and sells a lot more books than I do. But I don’t think I have the skill to write a series character. I like to use up my characters and that generally leaves nothing for the next book.
What are the major differences–if any– you’ve noticed between publishing with the so-called “big” New York houses and smaller outfits such as Tyrus? What are the benefits of working with a small publisher versus a “big” publisher?
In some ways there is no difference. Publishers big and small are trying to figure out how to sell book. Nothing is certain and it seems like a crap shoot every time a new book comes out. Will the readers show up? Will the books sell? Nobody seems to have that answer. Some publishers/editors make the right guess and they look like geniuses, but I don’t think anyone really knows 100% for sure. But with the really big New York publishers I never felt there was a lot of personal interest in my books. I was book #623 that needed to be edited or packaged that day. I was brought into the fold by one editor then shuffled to another editor later on. Nobody was rude to me or ever abused me or deliberately sabotaged my novels at the big houses, but they simply couldn’t give me the attention Alison gives me at Tyrus. I really feel she has a personal interest in seeing The Deputy do well — the book isn’t just another random thing to cross off her to-do list. On the other hand, it’s the big New York houses that can whip out a six-figure check if they really want a book. It wouldn’t be reasonable to expect Tyrus to do something like that.
In the past year you’ve become a prevalent comic book writer. How did the opportunity come about to start writing for Marvel?
I figured if I ever wanted to write full time for a living again (so I could stay home and answer interview questions in my boxer shorts) I would need to diversify, take my writing skills in different directions. My agent David Hale Smith had a good track record in the comic industry to I wanted to capitalize on that. I used to love comics back in the day when Frank Miller did that incredible Daredevil run, so I reintroduced myself to comics and my agent was able to hook me up.
With Marvel, did you get to choose the character (s) you wanted to write? Or did they just pick Deadpool out of a hat and say, “Here you go, Victor, you’ve won the Merc with a mouth lotto!”
I didn’t get to pick, but in hindsight I would have picked Deadpool every time. It’s the kind of humor I love and Deadpool is such a great character. As a “creative person” I naturally look forward to the challenge of writing other characters, but I hope they let me have some kind of involvement with Deadpool as long as possible. I really love it.
You’ve started working with Rob Littlefield on Deadpool Corps, how has the experience of working with such a renowned comics creator been so far? Also, how much interaction is there in the comic creation process between the writer and the artist?
My relationship with Rob is similar to the relationship I have with other artists. I turn in the script then step back and let the professionals do their magic. Since Rob invented Deadpool there is a little added bonus of prestige. That guy has a lot of fans and he’s said some really nice, encouraging things about my scripts.
You mentioned the screenplay you co-wrote with Anthony Neil Smith, Pulpboy and the films subject, Emerson LaSalle. There doesn’t seemed to be that much information on the web about the prolific sci-fi novelist, what can you tell me about him?
I made up LaSalle, in part, because I’m such a big Kurt Vonnegut fan. Vonnegut invented the wonderful Kilgore Trout and I wanted to do the same thing for my own amusement. Beyond that, I think LaSalle is a gleaming symbol of empathy for all those genre ghetto types who feel looked down on. Emerson LaSalle embodies everything it means to toil in a genre pulp ghetto for little recognition.
What prompted you start writing crime fiction? What is it that attracts you to the genre?
The first crime fiction I ever read was John D. MacDonald at the age of sixteen. I think I was fortunate that I happened to be ready at that age to try something other than sci-fi and fantasy. But even as a kid I loved old detective movies like The Maltese Falcon, so I actually came to crime through film first.
What prompted you to shift genre’s with Go-Go Girls of the Apocalypse and Vampire a Go-Go?
I just love a variety of genres and wanted to stretch a bit. Also, after writing four crime novels in a row, the vibe was starting to cool. I wanted to follow my interests and not what I was “supposed” to be doing. It was good timing too. I’d just parted ways with Bantam Dell, so it seemed like a good time to do something different.
As a writer, does genre really matter, or is it all the same thing to you? Is there a difference between writing crime, Sci-Fi, or horror novels?
There’s not a difference for me. I always write to please myself, so that doesn’t change with genre. Certainly it’s important to be well-read in any genre you might attempt.
So would you want to attempt to write a novel along the same lines of William Gay or James Lee Burke? Do you feel that you’d be capable to write this type of atmosphere heavy novel?
Not sure. I don’t really know what a novel is supposed to be until I look back and see what I’ve done. I’d like to feel that I could do anything I set my mind to, but my ambitions are usually not very organized. I’ve never sat down to write a novel and thought “I’m going to write a William Gay” today. I’m just not wired that way, and I think I’d be too nervous to try it like that.
With the underlying humor in your novels, do you consider yourself a satirist?
I think there is a strong element of satire in much of my work. For sure. But I prefer the job description “author” or “writer” over “satirist.”
In the Publishers Weekly review of The Deputy, they state: “….it leaves the door open for a sequel, which would be a welcome prospect, given Toby’s appeal as a protagonist.” You haven’t written series fiction, or sequels in the past, would you ever consider writing a series or a sequel to any of your novels? And if you did write a sequel, what character would you most likely use?
I’m generally not attracted to series fiction. Often I use up a character to the point that there’s nothing left for a sequel. And my publisher actively discouraged a sequel to Go-Go Girls of the Apocalypse. A sequel to The Deputy is possible, and I actually do have a decent idea, but I think I’ll wait and see what sort of reaction I get to The Deputy first.
And you know I have to ask this one: What are you working on currently? Are you willing to divulge any information about what projects are coming next for you?
The next novel project is starting very slowly for the simple reason that I want to make sure I get it right. I have a premise, but the characters and the tone keep shifting on me, so I’m trying to figure that out. For these reasons I’m reluctant to say too much.
As far as series fiction is concerned–and I ask this of just about every crime novelist I interview who writes non series fiction–do you ever feel pressured by your editors or your agent to create a series character in order to increase your readership?
Honestly, no. I was surprised at first, but editor/publisher has ever even suggested it in passing.
Also, just about every evening on Twitter you turn into the all seeing, all knowing psychic “Ask Gischler”. Any chance I can get a quick private session?
Well, not every night. I skip a day now and then. As for a private session, sure, send me an e-mail any time. But be careful. In my world “all knowing” really means “full of shit.”
With “Ask Gischler” I was thinking we could have the private session for the purposes of this interview.
You mean like these interview questions that I am providing answers to. Sure, we could do that.
What is head cheese made out of and what animal does it come from?
Head Cheese is actually an abstract concept. A philosophy if you will. Nobody actually eats it. Totally fictional item.
If Batman and Deadpool were to get into a fistfight, who would win?
I am contractually obligated to say Deadpool.
In Video Golf, Sean. In Gumbo cook-off, Neil.
Who’s the best New Jersey metal band, Bon Jovi or Twisted Sister?
Why is Bon Jovi considered metal or even music?
I refuse to discuss Bon Jovi.
Where in the world is Carmen San Diego? And where the Hell’s Waldo for that matter?
Waldo and Carmen ran away together on a dive vacation in Belize.
You keep hinting at a mega movie deal coming down the pipe, why must you keep toying with your fans so?
I’m not sure how to define “mega” but all I hint at is good news. Might be any number of things, I do it because I’m busting at the seams to share but can’t!
Thanks for your time, Victor.