Anthony Neil Smith VS. Ray Banks: Two Blasted Heathens face off

blasted heath ray banks anthony neil smith

Anthony Neil Smith: Why the hell did you trash Drive so badly? What did [director Nicolas Winding] Refn ever do to you? And give us the real answer, not the shit on your Monkey blog.

Ray Banks: I didn’t trash it, I just didn’t think it was anywhere near worthy of the kind of praise that’s been heaped on it, and that the source material promised a better movie than the flabby mood piece it ultimately was. I think I said the performances were excellent, didn’t I? As for Refn, he’s a fine director when he’s focused – Valhalla Rising might not have been everybody’s cup of tea, but it was a cohesive piece of film-making with an internal logic that Drive singularly lacked. And if he hadn’t come round and pissed in our sink at our last Christmas party, I might think better of him. As it turned out, he didn’t even remove the dishes first. He’s an animal.

What about you? You didn’t even get past page one of the book, did you?

ANS: Nope. Couldn’t. And I was at Charlie Stella’s house, he was praising it to the skies, and I picked it up to try. Just one page. I have a love/hate thing with Sallis–I never know which Sallis is going to show up. So maybe it was just me, too.

Of course you would defend Valhalla. It seems to fit your learning style. Slow, steady, none of those fast cuts that confuse you so. However, it’s one of the most beautiful ugly boring movies ever made, with a cool soundtrack.

Here’s what I’m hearing about Dead Money: you looked at The Big Blind, thought, “I wasn’t even trying”, and then wrote a whole new version from scratch that blows BB out of the water. Right? Isn’t that how Rodriguez turned El Mariachi into Desperado, too?

all the young warriors anthony neil smith

RB: It’s exactly like that. Exactly. I was looking to put out The Big Blind myself, self-pub it, and I got to reformatting it and suddenly thought, “Jesus hellsufferin’ Christ, this is awful.” I mean, it was really painful to read, more so than anything else I’ve written, and I felt there was a bit more potential to explore, and so I rewrote the thing from scratch. I’m getting a little worried now it’s a launch title, mind. Don’t get me wrong, I like it a lot more now, but there’s still a part of me that can only read the original version in what I’ve rewritten. We’ll see how it does.

And what about you? All The Young Warriors was the book that broke you, wasn’t it? Word on the street is that you got nothing but good vibes from the publishers, but none of them had the cojones to pony up the cheddar. How does a fella suck that one up and still grin?

ANS: I still haven’t recovered from writing it. I think. Or I have. I don’t know things.

Lots of good vibes from the “print” publishers, and at one point I thought we had a sale. Changed their minds a couple weeks later. Aaaaaaanyway…

I want people to read it. Nearly everyone who has read it has raved, so it all came down to whatever shitty reason it is big publishers reject some books and instead buy shitty-shit-shit-shitty-skidmarked-shit books (no offense to the shitty authors, of course). And I also didn’t want to wait forever and ever for small press submissions that, even if someone was to take it, the damn thing wouldn’t come out until 2013, and I’m loving this new e-book audience. They buy a lot of books, wide-ranging subjects, and they look for value. It just feels like a friendly place for writers like me.

So, All the Young Warriors. Crime thriller. From Minnesota to Somalia. Some cold characters. And not a shitty-shitty-shit book.

How’s this new world of publishing treating you? Thoughts about the e-revolution?

dead money ray banks

RB: The new world and I have barely experienced each other yet, but the potential is huge. Gun has sold steadily and already more in three months than its print version ever did, and I’ve got a good feeling about the rest of the stuff. You’re right – the e-book audience is a catholic one, and I don’t know about you, but I’ve always felt that my books were horribly overpriced for what they were. I mean, you expect to pay through the nose for an established author, but I don’t know that many people who’d drop twenty-five bucks on an unknown, which is essentially what I still am after, what, seven years? I just want to get my books into people’s hands – that’s the bottom line. I want people to read it and love it or hate it or be fucking ambivalent, but an author not being read is not an author.

As for the e-revolution (e-volution?), I think it’s a great thing. It’s democratized the process a little more for those of us who know we can write to publishable standard, but just not necessarily the kind of safe and easily marketable books the mainstream loves. I don’t know about you, but I’m also happy about making more money on a £2.99 e-book than I ever did on a £10 trade paperback, too. Seems fairer to both the author and the reader. I always wanted to be one of those three-book-a-year guys. We’ll see if that happens. Next year promises to be a five-book year.

You’ve had more experience self-pubbing than I have – how’s that been going? And why did you decide to sign up with the Blasted Heath mob?

ANS: As far as I can tell, the self-pubbing stuff (which is essentially my whole backlist plus one e-original, Choke on Your Lies) is selling very steadily, month after month, which is shamefully outpacing the print releases. So new readers are always discovering the books, even after months (and years) on the market. Then they want to talk to me on Twitter, and I like that, too. It’s like an oil spill, growing larger and larger and trapping more wildlife as it spreads.

So it’s been excellent. For a while before the e-books, I felt like I was stuck in a deep well. Now I feel like a writer.

Now, Blasted Heath. My agent told me he wanted to be a publisher. Then he wanted to be my publisher. So I fired him as my agent and hired him as my publisher. I guess I like the idea of good indie presses, good indie record labels, like someone picked you to be in that club, right? Or you joined the right band, right? It’s cool. And I like working with an editor. I wouldn’t dream of publishing a book without working closely with Allan or another pro. It might be my vision, my year of pounding out words, but I need someone in the audience to tell me if I’m coming through loud and clear and in the best possible light.

I also think I’d like help reaching out to promote the book. From what I’m coming to understand, people like advertising from big corporations and small companies, but they despise any sort of promotion from stinky indie authors. The very idea that someone who wrote a book would say “Hey, I wrote a book, and I’d like you to read it, please” is blasphemous to many Twitterinians and Facebookers. I mean, they even chased authors out of the book promotion threads on the Amazon Kindle forums! So while I’m happy to keep annoying the fuck out of people on Twitter, I also want Blasted Heath to annoy the hell out of them as well, because they tend to take that better.

I absolutely want to hear about why you’re a “Heathen”, as we’ve taken to calling ourselves, but also something else. You wrote a whole series (Cal Innes) in four books. Good deal, start, middle and end and that’s that, move on. How do you see yourself different as a writer now than when you started the Innes books? Do you have different goals now when you sit down to write a novel?

RB: I signed up with Blasted Heath because I wanted to work with the most talented and trustworthy people I knew. I figured that some of that talent would rub off on me, and I wouldn’t get screwed into the bargain. As it stands, I’m like a lot of authors in that I pretty much owe my entire career to Allan Guthrie. He also happens to be the best editor I’ve ever had, and Kyle’s no slouch in that department, either. Which means that nothing I put out with them is going to be allowed out in public with its flies down. They’re also absolutely committed to making this huge, which means they’re fully invested in their authors and I have to admit that’s a relatively new thing for me. Like you, it makes me feel like a proper writer an’ that.

Cal was always going to be a do it and move on thing, a nice, tight little series with a definitive ending. To be honest, I’m not sure how successful I was, but people who’ve read it seem to like it, so that’s something. I’m different now in that I’m a better writer, I hope. I’m a faster writer, cleaner, and I have a better concept of plot, thanks to my habit of outlining the shit out of everything. So that’s all good. My goals now, though, are similar to when I started – I’m going to write the best book I can, regardless of popular taste. I don’t know about your experience on this, but over the last couple of years, there’s been a real pressure on the likes of us to write bigger, more mainstream books, and I can’t do it at the moment – I don’t have the tools. With Blasted Heath, I can continue to learn in public (which is really the only way to learn effectively), and maybe build up to one of those big, important, widescreen novels whilst still getting up in people’s faces.

ANS: Oh yeah, I know where you’re coming from. All the Young Warriors is a “big book” for me, yet still not big enough. So most days I’ve been thinking of writing shorter, more personal crime novels that people will forget about and then NYRB or Melville House will reprint seventy years later when it will do me no good at all.

RB: That’s the spirit!

ANS: Learning in public sounds interesting. What lessons have been most cruelly learned?

RB: I’ve written so many answers to this, most of them obnoxious. So probably best I share ’em with you over a box of plonk.

ANS: I don’t know what that is. I’m not even going to look it up.

RB: Plonk is cheap wine, you filthy whoremonger.

ANS: Oh, in that case, yeah. I’m an expert. And also a lightweight. And, lately, diabetic.

RB: So come on, what’s the deal with Choke On Your Lies? Is it likely there’ll be a sequel? Also, what’s next for you? You’re writing now, yes?

ANS: What do you mean “What’s the deal?” I happen to like larger women, and I also saw a mean large woman on Dr. Phil, which sparked me in the direction of a “female Nero Wolfe”, but modern and vulgar. So it all came down to figuring out the right story to kick it off. And it’s couldn’t be that she was an actual detective. That would not do. So I made it more personal—her “Archie” is Mick Thooft, who is a failed poet and professor, and Octavia’s best friend. Mick’s wife is leaving him and trying to take the house. Octavia tells him, “Let’s punish the bitch” and off we go. He’s a pussy and a snob, she’s a horrid sadist and a genius, and I love them both dearly.

I am dying to write more about them. But I set a goal for myself. I want to sell 1500 copies before I write the next one. And I’ve stuck to that. I’m already up over 800 since January, so, slowly climbing.

RB: Um. I meant what’s the deal with the next one. But okay. Glad to hear it’s selling, and I dare say it’ll shift a few more once All The Young Warriors gets out there. It better, because, like everyone else who’s read Choke On Your Lies, I want more Octavia. Anything else in the percolator?

ANS: I’m working on a novel featuring some surviving characters from All the Young Warriors, and I wonder if there might be a series brewing. I think there are a few more stories really worth telling with these guys. Also, I’m into the third novel about Billy Lafitte, continuing his saga from bad cop to super villain, and I hope to finish that sooner rather than later.

RB: Nice one. Did you originally envisage Lafitte as a series character, or is he kind of morphing into one because you keep finding stuff to say?

ANS: Not originally, no. Yellow Medicine was intended to stand on its own, and it took a few tries to get that ending right. But then it all had to do with the image. I was driving up to Fargo, passed some bikers, and immediately imagined Lafitte roaring back into the town he had fled in shame, but this time on a motorcycle. And from there I figured out Steel God and the splinter gang, and Hogdoggin’ was off and running before we’d even sold the first. It wasn’t until near the end of that one that the idea for the third came up, but I had to delay it because, of course, my publisher kind of imploded. But yeah, I keep seeing Lafitte pushed farther down this deep hole and wonder why he fights to stay alive. He’s no longer the same guy he was in YM.

What’s next for you, bub? And when are you going to tell us you’ve written a screenplay that sold for a shitload of actual money? Seems that film is your passion, the thing that gets you going the most, so how about them scripts?

RB: Let me see … Next year will hopefully see publication of Wolf Tickets and the Innes books through Blasted Heath, and I’ll probably put out an e-version of my novella California myself. I’ve done a couple of drafts of a semi-sequel to Dead Money called Inside Straight, which is about a casino robbery, and I have various other books waiting to go – a sequel to Wolf Tickets if sales of that book are any good, an amnesia thriller, a horror-western and that “big book” I’ve been writing for the last three years. So plenty to be getting on with.

As for the screenplays, I wish I had more time to devote to them. In many ways, they’re easier for me to write, but they’re obviously less personal because of the number of people involved. Plus, there’s bugger all money in them until they go into production. But I have a good feeling about the adaptation I just did of Allan Guthrie’s Savage Night, and I may well be working on an adaptation of his Kiss Her Goodbye, too.

ANS: Do you feel, then, more like a director when you’re writing a book–complete control over the movie in your head–than you do as a screenwriter?

RB: Sort of. Technically, I feel more like a director when I do the screenplays, because I have to think about how the film’s going to look and feel, even if it isn’t explicitly written. But I feel like an auteur (for lack of a better word) with the books because ultimately I’m responsible for everything that’s on the page.

ANS: Yes! Auteur. Good one. I feel that no matter how a screenplay turns out, it’s still only a third of the way done. The director and (stupid, stupid) actors (I love you actors, I do) then have to “interpret” what you wrote, and generally fuck it up so that it’s like a Transformers flick. I swear, the commercials for those robot movies are the single most confusing visual thing I’ve ever seen. I make more sense out of optical illusions.

RB: Weren’t you collaborating on various scripty-things?

ANS: I collaborated on a couple with Victor Gischler, one way back when we were in grad school, and another about six years ago. That latter one is called Pulp Boy, and it’s the “life story” of Emerson LaSalle, a very prolific and forgotten pulp hack who wrote over 400 novels. I’m not sure if it will end up getting made or not, but there’s a guy who is trying (check out the website).

Scripts are tough for me to do solo because…I have no idea why. I just know I need to do more of it. I love teaching screenwriting, and I love collaborating, but I really need to dig in and finish the couple I’ve started. Maybe it’s because I wish I had a real project to work on rather than a spec. Also, I like TV a hell of a lot more than I like movies. I’m always shocked at how people think a two hour movie is the perfect vehicle for a 300+ page novel. To me, the TV series works much better.

RB: Maybe, but for me a TV series is prone to bloat or repetition. But then so are books. A really good movie adaptation has the essence of the book, but none of the peripheral stuff.

ANS: Sure, can be prone to that if the people in charge are more interested in keeping it alive than telling the best story. One of the things I admire about UK television is how the seasons are shorter, so each ep matters more. And also, many showrunners are willing to shut it down after only a few seasons if it seems the quality might suffer. Over here, even the best TV dramas still have to pack in ten to thirteen hours per season.

I still look at The Shield with awe. Seven years of fine, seamless work, capped with the best ending ever. A couple of holes and rips, but overall stunning.

RB: Good point on the showrunners. You would think that UK telly would be better because of the brevity, but it’s really not, because those dramas have even less of a chance to get an audience – six episodes is your lot. To be honest, the last UK drama I saw that wasn’t derivative shit was This Is England ’86, and I’m not sure I ever want to see it again (some really horrific stuff in there). I love-love-love Breaking Bad, even more so now that it looks as if it’s going to have a proper character arc. I also loved the first season of Deadwood, which was perfect, and of course The Wire still remains a fine piece of work. Can’t say I watched much of The Shield. Wasn’t it just a follow-up to The Commish?

ANS: God, I want to punch you.

Can’t help but wonder your thoughts on “Future of Publishing”, “Future of Crime Fiction”, blah blah [Smith turns to watch whatever’s on TV, pretending to listen for the answer]

RB: I don’t know. I don’t really care. Maybe there is no future. Maybe the print book is dead, and the ebook will fall swiftly afterwards. Maybe the whole publishing paradigm has dropped to its knees, frothing at the mouth. Maybe we’re all just blue-faced shamblers in a Romero movie. As for crime fiction, I don’t know what the fuck that is, and I’m sick of trying to work it out. It will be what it will be. And if I can’t get published anymore, I’m sure I’ll find something else to do, like indecent exposure. What about you?

[pokes Smith]

Oi, I’m talking to you. Give us your predictions for the future, Mystic Meg.

ANS: Sorry. I would say there’s a good game on, but it’s soccer, so…

RB: Game? Are you talking sports again? Another commitment I’m not willing to make. Anyway. Speak about the future …

ANS: The future of publishing is rich, textured leather, hand-inked pages, dark majestic woods, and the smell of the finest cigars. And holograms. Of naked people.

RB: Sweet.


Ray Banks is the author of The Big Blind, Saturday’s Child, Donkey Punch/Sucker Punch, No More Heroes, Beast of Burden, Wolf Tickets, Gun and California. His new novel, Dead Money, is available right now.

Anthony Neil Smith is the author of Hogdoggin’, Yellow Medicine, The Drummer, Choke on Your Lies, Psychosomatic and To the Devil, My Regards (with Victor Gischler). His new novel, All the Young Warriors, is available right now.

On November 2nd Blasted Heath is giving away All the Young Warriors for free. Go here for the details.

On November 6th Blasted Heath will be giving away Dead Money for free. Go here for the details.

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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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About 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.

6 Replies to “Anthony Neil Smith VS. Ray Banks: Two Blasted Heathens face off”

  1. This is one of the very best interviews/exchanges I’ve ever read! Between two of my very favorite writers1 Doesn’t get any better than this.

    I’m halfway done reading both ALL THE YOUNG WARRIORS and DEAD MONEY and they’re both “keep you up all night” books. These kinds of books are why I firmly believe the “golden age of literature” is happening right now and why folks should give up that 1920’s notion of being the golden age. THIS IS IT, RIGHT NOW! The twenties were pikers compared to what’s available now.

    I’m a tad curious as to Anthony Neil Smith’s stated preference for “large women.” Is it the same body style as R. Crumb preferred?

  2. Great interview, but I just wanted to point out that not all zombies are “blue-faced shamblers.” Some of them can run, though they tend to fall apart while they’re doing it, while others are just heads rolling around inside a beer cooler.

  3. When I saw it was Smith vs. Banks, I was expecting some bloodshed… and there was. Glad to hear there’s a third Lafitte book in the works, Neil.

  4. Nice to see you two bashing away at each other. Some bruising, no blood on the floor. I call it a draw. That’s entertainment.
    Elaine Ash