Wednesday, September 09, 2009
Starred Publisher's Weekly Review
An interview with Tom Piccirilli
Tell us about Shadow Season.
SHADOW SEASON is a crime/suspense novel about a blind ex-cop turned English professor at an all-girls school. During the winter vacation he, along with a skeletal crew of faculty, watch over a handful of remaining students. My protagonist is forced to deal with his missing girlfriend, a seductive teenager, the impending release of his dirty ex–partner who wants to kill him, and his own loosening hold on the world as the worsening storm leaves him almost wholly sensory deprived. I really had to alter my narrative voice for this one. Since the story is told from my protagonist's point of view, I couldn't write with any kind of concrete images or visual details. I had to rethink my entire process.
You seem to make it a point not to write the same book twice.
I have no interest in retelling the same kind of story the same way. A new novel has to really grab me with a concept or a theme or some overwhelming image, and from there it just unrolls and I'm drawn along, learning the tale as it unfolds. I'm most interested in the surprise and discovery of a new book. If it's not keeping me excited and intrigued, how can it possibly do it for my audience?
Not many people realize how long you've been publishing. You started in the semi-professional magazine, right?
Actually, just about the first thing I sold was my first novel DARK FATHER, which Pocket Books brought out. Then I spent a few years writing novels I couldn't sell. I eventually had to come to realization that the books weren't working and I needed to go back to the beginning and learn how to write a solid short story. I spent a full year doing nothing but writing short fiction. When it began to sell regularly I went back to those early manuscripts and saw a plethora of problems. Writing the short stories had taught me how to strengthen my own narrative voice and edit my work. So I rewrote those books and eventually they began to sell too, several years after I originally wrote them.
You made a serious and respected name for yourself in the small press. What were those early years like for you?
It was rough carving out any kind of a reputation, but the small press is wonderful for encouragement and contact with like-minded folks. It's a real community feeling. People trade magazines, books, discuss their favorite fiction and writers until they're blue in the face. You're younger and filled with more bombast and passion. In the bigger marketplace there's more emphasis on making your mortgage and trying to sell film rights and all of these grander ambitions. The really fun stuff tends to seep out. That's just the nature of the beast, I think.
You gradually phased out the horror elements in your work and took up straight suspense. Was this a conscious decision or did it evolve by itself?
It seemed to happen on its own. I wrote two or three supernatural-suspense crossovers and then just forged ahead with the crime/suspense fiction on its own. I was heading into my mid-life crisis and I think noir just sort of dovetails with my own changing needs and hopes. When you're young you're looking ahead and wondering what might be creeping around the corner. When you're older you're looking back and trying to make sense of your life. I started becoming more interested in reality-based fiction as opposed to the fantastical. Maybe the wheel will come around again one of these days, but right now I feel comfortable writing noir and whatever else might go under that umbrella.
You seem to speak with authority about damaged people. As a writer are you more attracted to them than the standard commercial protagonist?
The standard commercial protagonist just doesn't seem to be very realistic to me. It's a false front, an act fabricated by films/fiction/advertising. There is no normal. The norm is that we're all abnormal and fucked in our own ways. We've all got scars and heartaches and regrets, and we're at least as much a product of our fears and failures as we are our successes. Drama is built on conflict and tension so I focus in on those dark dank places. They're more interesting and more universal, even if some folks don't wish to accept that.
What's a working day like for you?
I burn out at the keyboard very easily, so I write in bursts all day long. I prefer to write a page or two, then watch a movie, then write for a bit, then read for a couple hours, walk the dogs, then get back to writing. It seems to help me stay fresher and keep in the proper mindset. I don't understand these people who say they can sit at the desk and write for ten hours straight. I'd be a basket case after about an hour. It's too hard to dig into yourself that deeply for that long.
Would you change anything you've done with your career thus far?
Oh hell yes. There's been a hundred times when I should have zagged when I zigged. When I should have gotten an agent instead of going it alone or I should have dumped one sooner than I did. Or worked on a short story instead of a novel or vice versa. I took bad deals, I was indebted to people I shouldn't have been. But what's the point in complaining? Hopefully I've learned some hard-fought lessons and can keep striving forward. I suppose that's all any of us can do.
What's next for you?
SHADOW SEASON hits at the end of October. Cemetery Dance is bringing out a huge collection of my short fiction & novellas entitled FUTILE EFFORTS, hopefully by the end of the year. My next novel THE UNDERNEATH should hit in 2010. A small press novella THE LAST DEEP BREATH will be out in early ‘10 from Tasmaniac, the good folks who published THE NOBODY.
Thank you, Ed!