Today’s Conversations is with Chad Eagleton.
Check it out after the jump….
Where are you, right now, as you’re writing these answers?
At home. Sitting at the computer. It’s early in the morning. My dog is asleep behind me in the office chair. He’s snoring loudly. The cat is wandering around yowling for no reason.
Who are your influences and what is your unlikeliest influence?
Tons. Hammett of course. Who hasn’t riffed on or ripped off The Red Harvest? Donald Westlake writing as Richard Stark. The Hunter is quite possibly the most perfect crime novel ever. Derek Raymond—man, I Was Dora Suarez is both one of the most disturbing and heart-wrenching novels I’ve ever read.
But if we’re talking big influences: Shane Stevens. I got hip to him years ago thanks to the homage in Stephen King’s The Dark Half. Stevens wrote some brilliant crime novels about the dark side of the American Dream. He boldly confronted issues of poverty, race, and class. Sadly, today, except for King’s homage, he’s mostly forgotten.
John D. MacDonald. The Travis McGee books were the first “detective” series I ever read. I dug McGee a lot. I liked watching the world move on and McGee stubbornly refusing to follow, a man desperately out of place with a society he no longer recognized or wanted to. MacDonald used McGee as his mouthpiece and still kept the series entertaining—except for the one about stamps, that one was awful.
James Lee Burke. His plotting is a little weak and his work translates horribly to the screen, but his characterizations are perfect. And no one working in crime today writes better prose. No one. Each novel is like 300 pages of poetry.
Andrew Vachss. He gets a lot of flak. Sometimes for his books. Sometimes for who he is. Fuck those people. The Burke series is brilliant. Vachss never forgot the purpose of crime fiction, his work tackles the rot at the core of our society. Burke doesn’t just bitch about the system being broken—he fights it by operating completely outside of it. As far as Vachss the man goes—I want to know, what the fuck have you ever done about anything? We should all have his balls.
Long before I ever focused on crime fiction, my tastes lay in other genres. The first writers that really got me weren’t crime writers. It was writers like Fritz Leiber, Michael Moorcock, Richard Matheson, Robert E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith. I still follow the few who are doing anything interesting. Tim Powers is consistently genius. China Mieville is pretty much single-handedly saving our most imaginative genres from legions of dull Tolkien imitators and the sci-fi obsession with war and military glory. Crime fans who think nothing new can ever be done should check out his genre-bending mindfuck, The City & The City.
Why do you write?
Lots of reasons. I’m creative. I’m good at it. I like telling stories. Blah blah blah. But chiefly, because I have to. It makes me feel better. If I don’t write I’m miserable. Completely miserable. Writing exorcises shit from my psyche; it channels my anger and my disappointment with the world. It keeps me from climbing clocktowers with high powered rifles.
What issues or ideas about fiction have been foremost in your mind of late?
Crime Fiction as the fiction of the people. By that I mean leftist. Everyone still talks about Hammet as the father of our tradition. The famous Chandler quote is bandied about frequently—”Hammett gave murder back to the kind of people that commit it for reasons, not just to provide a corpse; and with the means at hand, not hand-wrought dueling pistols, curare and tropical fish.” But everyone seems to forget what else is implied in that quote whether Chandler intended it or not. Hammett was a radical leftist who willingly did jail time for his beliefs.
I do see murder committed for reasons in fiction, but I don’t see enough dealing with why they exist. As the hero opposes, he also propagates and maintains the status quo. In some ways we’re all still locked in Mike Hammer’s conservative wet-dream of dead communists and the bullshit of the bootstrap pull-up. The rich guy doing something awful is never an indictment of unchecked capitalism, our fetishism and adulation of the wealthy; the kid on the crime spree is just a failure of choice and not representative of the choice-less lives poverty enforces. Or worse, the whole thing is caveated with the notion that entire system is broken and nothing can be done; the same apathy the prompts people to not vote.
There’s an aggrandizement of the fact that now crime fiction is full of a wider variety of races, nationalities, classes, and sexual orientations. I don’t think that’s indicative of anything forward thinking so much as it is just an attempt at variety. Mostly, I think it’s just another manifestation of the same easy and lazy liberalism that passes itself off as the left in America and gives birth to smug backpatting and political inaction.
I lament that arguably the biggest name currently in crime fiction is James Ellroy. I hope it’s just his Demon Dog persona, but he comes off as right-wing fascist, a homophobe, a misogynist, and an ego maniac. Jazz and crime fiction are the few things we as Americans can claim as our own. No one listens to jazz anymore except for old people, musicians, and college students who think they’re the first ones to discover Coltrain. And the writers using crime fiction for an actual purpose are in Italy, France, and Mexico.
When did you start writing and what prompted you to do so?
I was quiet and shy. I had a speech impediment caused by a cleft palate. I grew up in the middle of fucking nowhere. There weren’t any kids my own age. I had books and comics, television and movies. I had stories.
Eventually, I made up my own.
What do you most value in the fiction you love?
The usual things. Engaging prose. Solid plotting. Interesting characters. Imagination. Despite the rant above, I do like to be entertained. But for me the real value is when something hits me hard in the gut and all those wonderful and terrible things about being human are right there.
How would you describe your style?
I’ve only attacked this seriously in the last couple of years. It took me a while to shed all that bullshit that surrounds writing, to approach it as something both artful and skillful. There’s a huge difference between what I’m writing now and what I wrote even just a month ago. I don’t think I’ve found my style, my voice yet.
But I’m getting closer.
What’s your favorite story written by someone else?
Ernest Hemmingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants.”
If I were teaching a creative writing class, it would be required reading. If you want to be a writer and haven’t read it, you should. Its prose is sparse, but evocative. The dialogue is perfect. And I can’t think of another example where what’s not being said tells you more than what is.
What is the value and purpose of short fiction in mystery/crime fiction for you personally and overall for the form and genre?
There’s two purposes. The first is just to get my name out there. I want people to recognize my work and someday seek it out. The second is pure learning exercise. Already, it’s helped me focus my prose into something far more direct and clear. I used to write these terrible adjective strings. I’m still fighting my tendency to sprawl and ramble. Short fiction leaves no room for any of that.
It’s the same for the genre. Print magazines used to be the home for short fiction. That’s where young writers learned their craft, earned recognition and made some money. Those days are gone. Online magazines and blogs fill that role now.
Well, except for the part about money.
Who is the best short story writer that people haven’t gotten hip to yet?
Matthew Funk. He’s good at it all. Description. Dialogue. Plotting. Character. And his work is always about something deeper. His writing resonates across that invisible web that connects us all as human beings. The best writers inspire you while making you want to throw in the towel. Funk does that constantly and now that he’s represented by Stacia Decker, everyone else will realize it too.
What do you like most about short fiction?
I love when short fiction can accomplish more in a few pages than a novel can in hundreds. It’s like watching Mad Men and witnessing 13 episodes do more than a networked 22.
Of your stories, which is your favorite; the one that showcases best your abilities?
I like different ones for different reasons.
I’m proud of “Ghostman On Third.” I wanted a quiet story. That’s something you don’t see a lot in crime fiction unless you’re reading a cozy. I wanted soemthing sad and haunting, one of those incidents that didn’t need to happen—that reminds us the world doesn’t need to be this way.
“Six Bullets for John Carter” is my genre-blending lovesong to all those swords and planets books I read as a kid. I think it’s a well done sci-fi/noir mash-up. I’m proud that it moves, that it’s exciting, that it’s about a man learning that people have value.
And “The Double D” will always rank up there because of the influence of Christopher Pimental. He was an amazing editor. He taught me more about writing in a month than years of creative writing classes ever did.
As for the one that best showcases my abilities, I haven’t written it yet.
Do you have any short story publications forthcoming?
“Just A Thing” will be showing up at A Twist of Noir as my second entry in the 600-700 challenge.
Where can readers check out some of your work?
The usual places. To save Google the web traffic, you can visit my blog http://cathodeangel.blogspot.com and click on the fiction link. Everything is right there.
What are you working on now?
A lengthy critical/investigative piece on Shane Stevens. He wrote six novels under his own name and two under a pseudonym. He avoided the limelight and never gave interviews. He moved in the shadows. There’s not much known about him other than what’s listed in his brief Wikipedia entry. After writing his last book, he disappeared off the face of the earth.
My piece on Stevens will be in a future issue of Crime Factory. As long as Keith doesn’t have a heart attack when he sees how long it is.
How do you plan to rectify your booklessness?
Doing what I’m doing. Keep writing. Keep learning. Keep growing. It’ll come.
Do you have a completed manuscript floating around? Care to tell us about it and maybe share a paragraph or two.
No, I don’t.
Before I focused on writing short fiction and trying to do this for real, I wrote a novel, sent it off, and had some good things said about it. No one wanted it and that’s okay because The Paperback Girl was really awful.
I wasn’t ready.
Now I am.
When I finish the Stevens piece, I’ll show you.
Chad Eagleton lives in Indiana. He has been published in DZ Allen’s Muzzle Flash, Pulp Pusher, Bad Things, Powder Burn Flash, A Twist of Noir, Darkest Before The Dawn (in collaboration with Keith Rawson) and Beat To A Pulp.