Conversations with the Bookless: Garnett Elliot

April 2, 2010
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You can read the full introduction to the series here. In short The Conversations with the Bookless series is designed to raise the profile of and increase the exposure of some of the emerging writers we knew were out there.

In this installment we talk to Garnett Elliott.

After the jump check out the full interview.

Why do you write?

Chief reason: anxiety. I like to give my mind something it can gnaw on for awhile, besides me.

Other big reason: stress. Writing only feels like work when I’m on the umpty-umth revision or I’ve got a deadline. Otherwise, it’s a guiltless high.

What is the value and purpose of short fiction in Mystery/Crime fiction for you? For you personally and overall for the form and genre?

Personally, hardboiled/noir/crime stories appeal because the quality of the writing is so much higher than in other genres, and because they deal with shit you know is going on all the time. General nastiness is part of the human condition and deserves to be exploited. Plus, I have a suspension of disbelief problem with other genres (and I’d include ‘traditional’ mysteries among them), but not with crime. It just rings too true.

Overall, I’d say Mystery/Crime gives people a chance to indulge in the darker aspects of life without getting any dirt on their souls. Sort of a ghetto-tour from your own couch. It might expand people’s thinking a bit, too.

What do you most value in the fiction you love?

First and foremost is beautiful prose. And I don’t mean a lot of adjectives. It can be sparse, it can be dense, it can be cinematic and distant or written straight from someone’s thoughts, but it better connect.

Also, originality bordering on surreal weirdness, because that’s life. If all crime fiction read like your typical commercial thriller, I’d quit reading and take up a serious hobby, like collecting refrigerator magnets.

What’s your favorite story written by someone else?

In 1988 I was reading a collection of the year’s best fantasy stories, and came across ‘Night They Missed the Horror Show,’ by Joe R. Lansdale. It was fantasy, but it wasn’t. It jolted me the same way Night of the Living Dead did (which, interestingly, is the movie referred to in the title). My muse has been churning on that one ever since.

Who are your influences and what is your most unlikely influence?

Have to be Chester Himes, Charles Willeford, Fritz Leiber, and the aforementioned Joe R. Lansdale. Himes and Leiber rendered prose so vivid, with such convincing details, it could make going to the store for a six-pack seem like an odyssey. Lansdale’s ‘voice’ and his penchant for certain subjects (race, rural settings, martial arts, and potty humor) mark him as a true original. And Willeford, well . . .

The most unlikely influence is probably Bob Burden, who wrote Flaming Carrot Comics in the 80’s and 90’s.

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

I like this whole retro-pulp movement. About goddamn time.

Who is the best short story writer that people haven’t gotten hip to yet?

He’s already got a following, but I never turn down a story by Jimmy Callaway. The guy’s as interesting as his characters. Also, I’ve been very impressed by another West Coast writer named Nolan Knight. Go ahead, read the first paragraph of his story ‘Daytime Drunks‘ in issue #35 of ThugLit, and see if that doesn’t suck you down the rabbit-hole .

What do you like most about short fiction?

Brevity. It means more, because it’s so finite. And God, novels today are flabby and undisciplined way too often. Not the good kind of flabby and undisciplined, mind.

Where are you, right now, as you write these answers?

In the study, a 9′ by 11′ space at the far end of the house. I call it my Nook of Noir. With some cheap, noise-cancelling headphones I can write even when the kids are watching TV in the next room.

When did you start writing short fiction and what prompted you to do so?

Adolescence. See “anxiety” in question #1.

Of all your stories, which is your favorite; the one that showcases best your abilities?

Probably “Trailer de Fuego,” which appeared in the Borderland Noir issue of Hardluck Stories, several years ago. Craig McDonald was the guest editor, working with Dave Zeltersman, and he wrote me the nicest, most thoughtful acceptance letter I’ve ever received. That whole issue was magic. It had a story by Ken Bruen and one of the last interviews with James Crumley. Man oh man, I wish the back issues of Hardluck would get archived . . . [Ed note: They have. See the above story link]

Do you have any short publications forthcoming?

I’ve got a piece I’m very proud of, “Studio Dick,” that will be coming out in the Beat to a Pulp print anthology later this year. Also, a border story called “Jesus Contra las Brujas Plasticas” (“Jesus vs. the Plastic Witches”) due any day now in the double-size issue of Plots With Guns, and a piece about nurse-noir called “The Darkest of the Debbies” slated for a future issue of Crimefactory.
Plus, Juri Nummelin is translating a zombie story I wrote a couple years ago into Finnish for his magazine, with cool-as-hell illustrations.

How do you plan to rectify your booklessness?

Ha. You catch that “print anthology” bit above? I guess that would take care of my ain’t-got-no-book-problem, now wouldn’t it?
As for novels, when I fall in love with some concept so much I want to write about it for five hundred pages, I’ll let you know.

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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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2 Responses to Conversations with the Bookless: Garnett Elliot

  1. Dave Zeltserman on April 2, 2010 at 5:51 pm

    When I was publishing Hardluck Stories there were a few writers I was always glad to get submissions from. Iain Rowan was one, Garnett was another. I know I always enjoyed the hell out of every story Garnett sent in, and I think we published all of his submissions.

    –Dave

  2. Jimmy Callaway on April 2, 2010 at 6:29 pm

    Garn is not only a beautiful man, but he’s also given me more than a few helpful edits on my own stuff. Just the kinda guy I’m proud to be mentioned in the same breath with.