From Fantasy to Pulp Noir – Charlie Huston Interview
I’m doing a reread of the Joe Pitt Casebooks starting with Already Dead so it gave me the idea to represent an interview I conduced with Charlie Huston back in 2008 when I was a baby lol.
I usually solo interviews but this time I was joined by Brian Lindenmuth who was more familiar with Huston’s crime output and introduced me to the Pitt novels. Otherwise this would be just me deep diving on Joe Pitt and Moon Knight.
Huston’s Joe Pitt books are a bit of an oddity for me as I don’t typically care about vampire related fiction. I’m not really a classic monster guy but I think Huston applies it here in a way that many writers from a crime fiction background have invaded multiple genres and mediums (they took over comics in the beginning of the 2000s etc), stripping things down to a street level and familiar human folly we all have a basis to relate to.
I’m not sure that’s the appeal to me exactly as I get tired crime fiction tropes more than most, I just like the mood and how instantly your’e dropped in Huston’s world, and the world always needs more page-turners. Anyway on to the interview!
Today we are pleased to present an interview with Charlie Huston. Coming off of a run on Marvel’s Moon Knight Charlie Huston is a writer who also has several novels to his credit, including three books into the continuing vamp noir adventures of Joe Pitt and The Hank Thompson trilogy.
More recently, the Edgar nominated author, switched perspectives and wrote the stand-alone Shotgun Rule. The fourth book in the Joe Pitt Casebooks, Every Last Drop, is scheduled for a September 2008 release.
This interview was conducted by both Brian Lindenmuth and myself and we cover beat downs, The Hobbit, and funny books. Brian will kick us off with a question about the end.
Brian — Did you know from the beginning how the Hank Thompson trilogy was going to end?
Charlie Huston — No. Originally I thought Caught Stealing would be a stand alone. Some years after I had written it I had an idea of where Hank might end up. Later, when Ballantine bought Caught Stealing as part of a two book deal, they requested a sequel. By then I knew that if there were a second book a third would be required to finish the story, and I knew how it would end.
Jay – Could you tell us about the thought process and you decision to dip into the horror/fantastic mileu that the Pitt books represent? A fan, or is there something more easily or enhanced in the exploration of vampire element?
Charlie Huston — Honestly, after Caught Stealing, I was just interested in writing something about a badass. Hank is so very fallible, and generally stumbles into getting in and out of trouble. I wanted to write about a guy who goes looking for trouble, and who knows what to do when he finds it. Doing that in the form of a vampire mythology just let me indulge my imagination and not worry too much about the consequences.
Brian — In mystery/crime fiction we often see the endless series character, were you consciously trying to upend that notion?
Charlie Huston — Not in any grand manner, no. But I did make a very conscious choice to tell a very specific story about Hank Thompson, one that would allow for an ending.
I’m not opposed at all to ongoing series at all. With Hank it was less a matter of being opposed to the format, and more the fact that it would have been untrue to the character to have him go from adventure to adventure. He was never built that way.
Jay – Your characters are given a sense of comfort or an anchor to New York City. Is there a special connection with the city and you?
Charlie Huston — Well, I lived there for many years. And I loved it. There is no middle ground with New York, it’s love or hate all the way. And if you love it, and you’re a writer, there’s no way I can imagine not writing about it, and sharing that love.
Brian — I love love love Det. Elizabeth “The Whacker” Borden. She might just be my favorite character of yours. Please for the love of everything holy tell me that we’ll get a novel with her.
Charlie Huston — That’s the plan. For me, anyway. The next trick will be getting a publisher interested. But, yes, I have a novel in mind. Basically the story of how Detective Borden got to be who she is. Which is basically the meanest, dirtiest, cruellest, most self-serving law enforcement officer ever.
Jay – In a previous interview you discussed a desire to write a Sword/Sorcery project, if struck with the right ideas. Has there been any development in that thought and what Sword/Sorcery do you admire?
Charlie Huston — I grew up on SF and fantasy. Like most kids of that ilk, I started with The Hobbit and moved directly to the Ring Trilogy. My taste in fantasy these days tends to run more toward the surreal than swords and sorcery.
That might include Jonathan Lethem, Jock Womack, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Chuck Palahniuk or Kurt Vonnegut. I’ll always rush to buy a new William Gibson, though his work is pretty much definitively not SF at this point. I don’t really read them anymore, but I grew up loving Ursula K. LeGuin, Larry Niven, Alan Dean Foster, Burroughs, John Christopher, Heinlein, Bradbury. I’d have to dig some boxes out of my parents; attic, but there are dozens more who I loved.
As for my own fantasy and SF aspirations, the novel I’m currently working on is a speculative crime story. Which is to say that it is a fairly straight-forward murder story, taking place today, but with the assumption that there was a world-altering event in the very recent past.
At pulpnoir.com, you can look in the Microfiction category for a story called “Harbinger, Kave and Tome” that will give you an idea of what kind of fantasy ideas I’m tinkering with.
Jay – Do you attribute any circumstance to the seeming rise in popularity (be it by writers or audience) of fantastic crime fiction? People like yourself, Butcher, Liz Williams, Matthew Hughes, a Michael Chabon dipping into the field. Are these merely the answer of a generation removed from Lethem or is it something more?
Is it something in your opinion born of the general crime/mystery community or squatters with new ideas?
Charlie Huston — Honestly, I don’t know enough about the crime/mystery community as such to be able to say one way or another. For that matter, I don’t read enough crime/mystery to be able to have my own opinion as to whether there has been a rise in popularity for the genre. Obviously crime stories are very robust.
The point of genre fiction is that it allows for a familiar structure that can be hung with any manner of decoration, so, at best, you get the comfortably known mixed with something new. If there is a surge in quality just now, I’d imagine that it’s more cyclical than anything else, just one of those min-zeitgeist moments where a number of writers hit their groove at the same time.
Brian – In Duane Swierczynski’s The Blonde there is an appearance (by name only ) of a couple of minor characters, The Dydak’s, who are crime scene cleaners.
When I interviewed him he indicated that they will be back in their own novel. Your winter ’09 novel (which has an even longer title then the new James Bond movie), The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death, is about “an L.A. slacker who becomes a professional trauma cleaner”. Are you two conspiring to create your own sub-genre? Is this the start of a trend? If I see a book about a cat crime scene cleaner in 10 years I’m holding you two directly responsible.
Charlie Huston — I didn’t know that about Duane’s plan. We’ve obviously been drinking the same water. I don’t think you could call it a sub-genre by any stretch. However, any crime writer would have to be lobotomized not to see the story-telling potential in a crime scene cleaning character.
Jay – You have talked of a third person project in the works, Have you found anything particularly freeing or limited in the switch from the first-person narratives you started your career own?
Charlie — I actually already finished and published, in the US, that third person book. It’s called The Shotgun Rule And, yes, it does present some other opportunities. You lose a little something in terms of reader identification and pace, but you gain a great deal in terms of the ability to reflect and expand on a moment.
Frankly, you can cheat a little more in third person, which I found immensely helpful. The crime scene cleaner book, The Mystic Are of Erasing All Signs of Death is first person, but past tense, which is new for me also. Now that lets you get away with murder. Past tense gives you all the time in the world to explain action, emotion, events that may inform one another, etc. I’m not saying it’s easier than present tense, but it almost felt relaxing after writing six present tense books in a row.
Jay – The element that strikes me in your Joe Pitt novels is not so much how he dishes out punishment (which he does so regularly) but how much he takes. Pitt regularly takes beatings — what does he keep standing up for?
Charlie Huston — I assume you mean to ask why he keeps standing back up. Because I assure you that Joe stands for nothing but his own self-interest. Basically, Joe gets back up because he doesn’t want to die yet. He has this one part of his life that’s beautiful to him, his girlfriend Evie, and as long as that’s there he wants to stick around
Jay – If you could describe every chapter of Joe Pitt’s story with a word, what word would you use to describe Every Last Drop?
Charlie Huston — Revelation.
Brian – It seems that Cassidy from Preacher is a distant cousin of Joe Pitt. Was he an inspiration?
Charlie Huston — No. I read the first issue of Preacher many years ago. Honestly, I cant recall if it was before or after I first conceived Joe. But any similarities between the characters are simply a matter of genre convention. I’m certain Garth Ennis is as big a fan of noir as I am.