Belly Up to the Bar with Katherine Tomlinson

Katherine Tomlinson is the author of six books of crime, urban fantasy and dark fiction. She has written for feature film and television, and for newspapers and magazines across the country. Her work has appeared in A Twist of Noir, Pulp Ink 2, and Weird Noir. She is also the editor of the upcoming Dark Valentine Press anthology Nightfalls: Notes from the End of the World which includes stories by Nigel Bird, Patricia Abbott, Jimmy Callaway, Richard Godwin, and yours truly.

nightfalls 2
TP:  Welcome to Belly up to the bar, Katherine- what are you drinking?

 
 

katherine tomlinson

KT: Would you mock me if I ordered a virgin Sea Breeze? I’m diabetic so I save my calories for things that are really important, like the occasional fleur de sel salt caramel (thank you Trader Joe’s for making them available year ’round) and spicy Thai drunken noodles with chicken. I am all about the spice.

TP: Not one bit! I do partake of nonalcoholic beverages, they are one of my many vices. You write dark fiction. The first story of yours for me was “Water Sports” in A Twist of Noir (not what it sounds like, pervos) which perfectly captures the voice of a psychopath. Where does that voice come from? Is there a place that you go, or a memory you conjure?

 

katherine tomlinson

KT:  I have no idea. Compared to so many people I know, I won the parent lottery. I was loved, encouraged, praised, and given access to books and art and music (we had a piano) and travel. I tend to be a pretty positive person (I wear pink! I have a cat!) and I often wonder if it’s because I write out all my anger in short stories. And really, my fiction is only darkish compared to something like Plastic Soldiers by W.D. County or your own Black-Eyed Susan (which I admired very much.)

TP:  One of my favorite movies is Last Night, a Canadian film about the last day on Earth, and how people spend it. It is surprisingly mundane, but very thought-provoking. What inspired the theme of the Nightfalls anthology, the end of the world?

 

katherine tomlinson

KT: I don’t know that movie. I’ll have to check it out.

One of my good friends and I had thought about doing an end of the world webseries that would climax on 12.21.12. The idea was to follow a lot of stories, a la Crash or Valentine’s Day–all of them tied together by the office building where the characters worked. That project didn’t come to fruition but the idea wouldn’t leave me alone. I ended up playing around with a story I called “Conor and Travis Salute the Fallen Warriors” about a couple of World of Warcraft players who stay connected to the bitter end. It still needs some work, so I didn’t put it in the anthology.

TP: That sounds like a great concept, really. I was briefly addicted to MMPORGs, and find the so close, yet so far dichotomy lends itself to a good story. (For the record, I sold my account and helped pay for my sister’s wedding.) The introduction you wrote for the anthology moved me. People seem to wander around in their own little worlds these days, and believe that only their pain matters, and everyone else’s is somehow their own fault. Do you think people have become more and more selfish, or that we’re just more aware of it?

katherine tomlinson

KT:  In One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, Aleksander Solzhenitsyn wrote, “When you’re cold, don’t expect sympathy from someone who’s warm.” I think that during the run-up to this year’s presidential election, the lines being drawn between those who are warm and those who are cold was pretty stark. It was all very Gilded Age and “I’ve got mine.” And it was troubling. I was especially troubled by some of the new euphemisms–talking about “hunger” as “food insecurity.” Food insecurity. My aunt is a retired Methodist minister and one of her longtime outreach programs is a food bank that serves a pocket of semi-rural Southwest Virginia. She’s feeding hungry people, not people who think they’re going to gain weight if they eat a whole non-fat muffin.

I think the proportion of selfish and clueless people is about the same as it’s always been–we just hear about it more now. What is that line from A Christmas Carol when Scrooge is asked to donate to the poor–“Are there no workhouses? Are there no prisons?” That was written in 1843, almost 170 years ago and every time I heard a reference to the “47 percent” last fall, I thought about Dickens.

TP: It’s refreshing to hear you speak of it as bluntly as I see it. Money forgives everything in America- it is very Machiavellian. And compassion is seen as denying some Darwinian imperative, by people who don’t believe in evolution. It’s utterly bizarre. From your bio, you’ve traveled the country from Hawaii to the coasts. I tend to be fascinated about the little pockets of character all over the country. What are some of your favorite places?

katherine tomlinson

KT:  I like cities on the water, oceans, lakes, rivers. I love San Antonio and am seriously considering moving there at some unspecified future date. I miss my hometown (Washington D.C.) terribly and when I was back there this summer, I was reminded anew of how much I love that city. It’s so green. My neighborhood in Los Angeles is a little oasis of trees and flowering Japanese magnolia and jacarandas in the spring, but L.A. was carved out of a desert thanks to water stolen from the Colorado River, and the desert is just waiting to take it back.

I love New Orleans too, that glorious wrecked wedding cake of a city. (I love that if you ask cab drivers where to find the best bread pudding in the city, they know. They talk about food there like people in L.A. talk about celebrities.)

I’ve never been to Portland, Oregon but have fallen in love with the city from watching Grimm. (Yes, like those who buy Playboy for the articles, I watch Grimm for the scenery. It has nothing to do with Sasha Roiz. Really.) I also have a soft spot for Ocracoke Island in North Carolina. You want characters?  There are some serious characters on Ocracoke.

dc in snow

TP: I love New Orleans, myself. Its old history as a free city lives on. And DC, the cherry blossoms and the worldliness. Writers always talk about their favorite writers, but I think there so many other influences on writing. For me, movies and music were a big part of it, the dark fatalistic tone of the nuclear age, and the raw, outlaw ferocity of early rock ‘n roll. You’re welcome to mention the writers you admire, but what else has inspired your writing?

katherine tomlinson

KT:  The Washington Post. (Most people don’t know this but until 1981, DC also had an afternoon paper, the Evening Star, and it was a damn fine publication.) So I grew up reading two local papers a day.  My father subscribed to both the Wall Street Journal and the Christian Science Monitor. My parents were news junkies who would have loved the world of 24/7 news cycles.  All that news just sort of acted as fertilizer for my imagination. I was a journalist for 15 years before I turned to fiction and I loved that I was paid to ask questions; that I could be nosy for a living.

 

I write a lot of fiction based on random news. (And I owe a lot to the Drudge Report, which is a never-ending source of inspiration.) But even the regular news these days is weird: Disembodied feet washing up in Toronto, bodies piling up in Detroit morgues. Tsunami debris coming in with the tide. Dolphins being murdered. Choking to death on roaches. The stories practically write themselves.

I was also a crazy fan of Twilight Zone and I think it shows in my stories, I do love my twist endings and I blame that on Rod Serling. At Thanksgiving this year we had the annual TZ marathon on in the background and everybody at the table could mouth the dialogue along with the characters … for every episode. Yes, everyone I know is a geek. One of my favorite writers is Stephen King and you can tell he grew up watching those same episodes.

TP: Oh yes, Twilight Zone and Tales from the Crypt. That sense of fate inspired “Black-Eyed Susan,” which may be why you liked it. Thank you, by the way. For me the weird news source is Weird NJ magazine, I’ve written for them and I love exploring all sorts of forgotten history. You write a lot about fear, and it is the most visceral of emotions. As an adult, I find it tougher to get scared for entertainment. I loved supernatural horror, but aliens and werewolves aren’t scary for me anymore–the fear of losing loved ones to disease and accidents is all that remains–and that is too painful to read, sometimes. What is your favorite fear to explore in your writing?

katherine tomlinson

KT:  As a movie-goer, I am a horror movie maker’s dream audience. All you have to do to scare me is have something jump out at me. I still remember the jolt when I saw Jaws for the first time and nearly swallowed my popcorn because the editing and the music conspired to trick me into relaxing just before the shark popped out of that hole. (And for the record, I have been nervous about swimming in the ocean ever since.)

I think my stories are fed from a wellspring of anxieties that aren’t entirely my own. I’m afraid of heights but not of snakes. Around my house I am spider-bane, the designated killer of all things eight-legged and yet I have a totally irrational fear of going to bed with the Christmas tree lights burning. The most successful woman I know is haunted by a fear of being homeless. I once saw a neighbor totally freak out when a kitten licked her toe. “Get it away from me,” she shrieked, scaring the kitten.

If I had to narrow it down, I’d say I write a lot about loss. The death of my younger sister five years ago remains a tender spot and I have returned to that grief a number of times in stories. I don’t want to exploit that though, because that gets boring and kind of sleazy.

 
 

TP: My condolences, Katherine. Loss is the one real fear, for me. Men are told to be protectors, and we often base our self-worth upon it, in part, so loss of a family member—especially a female one—chills us to the core. And there’s all sorts of guilty emotions caught up in it, because it’s rather sexist, and possessive, isn’t it? Thank you for your honesty, not everyone likes talking about fear. So, other than Nightfalls, what is your latest book, and what do you have coming down the road for us to look out for?

katherine tomlinson

KT:  I am finishing up my first novel, Begotten, which is best described as urban fantasy, although I am beginning to hate that genre tag because so many books in that niche are same-old, same-old. My heroine is a crime reporter who follows paranormal crime. Unlike Carl Kolchak (Kolchak the Nightstalker was another big inspiration for my writing), she exists in a world that knows about supernatural creatures, so paranormal crime is just a regular journalism beat like reporting on City Hall or writing about high school sports.

The book takes place in the paranormal Los Angeles of my L.A. Nocturne stories (shameless plug), and I find it way too easy to slip into that world. Going from short stories to a novel, though, has been hard work. Novelists Christine Pope and G. Wells Taylor have been pushing and prodding me through the process, though, and I owe them a lot for their support.

 

 

TP: I’m looking forward to it. Stephen Blackmoore’s City of the Lost was a surprise favorite for me, and he made the Kirkus top 100 with it. I hope yours is there next year. Thank you for giving us a lot to think about, Katherine. One last question—what would your last meal be?

 

katherine tomlinson

KT: A rare steak. Ripe tomatoes from my great-uncle’s garden. Garlic mashed potatoes. Or macaroni and cheese. Green beans with bacon and crushed red pepper flakes. Bread pudding from Commander’s Palace in New Orleans or Ina Garten’s chocolate cake with a side of caramel ice cream made from my great-grandmother Julia’s recipe. Or maybe all three if I still have room.

commander's palace bread pudding souffle

TP: That sounds delicious. Makes me want to fire up the electric chair, but then I’d never get to read Begotten. Thank you for dropping by, and for a great conversation.

You can read more of Katherine’s work at her blog Katomic Energy and her list of books is on her website.

BW Beer Mug

4 thoughts on “Belly Up to the Bar with Katherine Tomlinson

  1. Terrific interview! One thing that stood out as a native New Orleanian is when Katherine said she asked a cab driver where the best bread pudding could be found. Had to laugh a little. New Orleans is unlike any other town I’ve ever lived in, in that you never ask cab drivers or doormen where to go for food, entertainment, etc. The reason is there’s a vast network that’s been in place for many years where whenever service people direct a tourist to a place, they’re comped a buck or two for doing so. It’s why godawful places like the Court of Two Sisters and Tipitina’s are so busy–natives rarely go there, but tourists do because they’ve been steered there by cabbies and doormen. When the movie THE BIG EASY came out, I watched it in Metry and half the audience walked out and the ones who stayed hooted and cussed during the whole movie. They got every single thing wrong! I figured it was because the asst. director in charge of scouting locations had gone there to pick out the locations and he’d asked cabbies, bellhops and doormen where to go. They had Quaid going to Tipitina’s… for the food? Yow! Food’s terrible there. Same as Two Sisters. Only tourists go there. It’s overpriced and the food’s blanded down for the tourist palate but tourists love it because the waiters are all in livery and the prices are high. Even good places like Galatoire’s have a separate (secret) room for locals which has better food than what is served the folks from Iowa. Most tourists wouldn’t like it because it would have too much flavor… Plus, Quaid took the girl there and they bucked the line. I don’t care if he’s the King of Siam, anyone who bucks a line in NOLA is pretty much guaranteed to get stuck or shot. Not gonna happen! The chief of police himself wouldn’t buck a line in New Orleans. And who stands in line at Tipetina’s for the food? The food? Amazing… That movie was truly horrible. Quaid’s in the bullpen with the rest of the cops and the female interest (forget who she was) is there and he gets ready to leave and he says, “I’ll see you guys later.” Excuse me? NO ONE from New Orleans–even if they attended Harvard–would ever in a million years say “You guys” especially if a woman was present. That was the point when half the audience walked out. And, the accents were all wrong. The only one who had a half-realistic accent was Quaid’s mother and hers was a Cajun accent. Sorry, but a Cajun accent isn’t native to New Orleans. That’s southern and western Louisiana. Places like Houma and Opelousas and Morgan City. Sure, there are Cajuns in New Orleans, but there are Cajuns in Los Angeles and it’s not the native accent there, either. There are nine distinct accents in New Orleans and not a single major character had one of those. No one else even came close except the police chief and that was only because he was a local actor they hired. I bet he walked around all day on the set just shaking his head… And, there’s a scene where Quaid and his woman interest are in the car driving. The drive takes over five minutes and it was staged on the street in front of the Cafe du Monde… which is about 4-5 blocks long. I watched and they just kept turning the car around and driving the same four blocks over and over. And when they had the foot chase, it began in the Quarters (native say “Quarters” tourists say “Quarter.”) went to the switching yards and then to St. Louis cemetery. On foot! Quaid should have been a runner in the Olympics–he ran about 15 miles in less than three minutes… I know that’s how movies are shot, but if you know the locale it’s hard to suspend your disbelief. But, the main thing was it was obvious some guy from L.A. came out to scout locations and he obviously did it by asking service people where the “hot” spots were. A stylist who worked for me at Snobs was the hairdresser the Film Commission hired for the shoot and she told us all not to go see it unless we wanted to see a moron’s idea of New Orleans. Sorry for the rant, but this brought up a lot of memories. It always makes locals laugh when they hear people are going into those tourist traps with the worst food in town and think they’ve “experienced New Orleans.” There’s only a handful of places in the Quarters that have “real” New Orleans cuisine. And, they’re usually far over-priced. Much better food at the Lakefront or in Metry and other places. Better entertainment in Fat City than the Quarters. Just sayin’… I do understand why people ask cabbies and doormen and bellhops–that works in other cities. Just not in New Orleans.

    • Wow, I had no idea…I was the victim of a vicious tourist scam!! but I managed to avoid most of the tourist traps. Next time I go (and there will be a next time) I will ask only natives. I can handle flavor.

      I did have the best trout meuniere of my life in a coffee shop in New Orleans that I stumbled across.

      And as for the BIG EASY–I’m with you on the accents. Nobody seems able to get ANY of the Southern accents right. I practically levitated out of my chair during the COLD MOUNTAIN trailer because whatever Nicole Kidman though she was doing, it wasn’t a North Carolina accent. I literally can’t watch movies where the accents are so off.

      • Hi Katherine–it’s not a scam so much as just the way NOLA does business. Remember, it’s the city of graft and that includes everyone! It’s an easy mistake as in most other cities it’s a good idea to ask service people but New Orleans is very different in that respect.

        Being from the South, I have the same problem with accents. Yankees never get them right. I cringe and throw up in my mouth when I hear a “you all.” Where did that ever come from? The worst (or best?) at butchering accents has to be Kevin Costner, followed closely by Meryl Streep… I thought Costner in ROBIN HOOD was a total stitch. He had at least seven different accents that I can remember…

        Next time you go, get in touch with a native and they’ll tell you the best places. For instance, the best bulgoge you’ll ever eat is a place out in Metry called The Oriental Triangle… and it’s free at Happy Hour–it’s their lagniappe. Best seafood is Deannie’s on the Lakefront ((I hear they opened a place in the Quarters now, too) and the Lil Cajun Cuisine in Metry. But, the absolute best is to drive out into the country and find a mom and pop grocery store with a handwritten sign advertising their boudin–each recipe is theirs and they’re all fantastic. You eat standing up over a cooler with the boudin on butcher paper and drink you a longneck. To die for… For the best raw oysters in town, go to 4141 on St. Charles–it’s their lagniappe at night and they’re free and delicious. You’ll find it by seeing the line of Porches and Jaguars… Actually, you can eat for free every night of the week if you know where to go as most clubs have a lagniappe one night a week and it’s often a free meal. There’s a place on Lakefront (forget the name) where every Sunday, they bring in a top chef from one of the hotels in the CBD and serve rare roast beef with all the fixings… for free. You sit on the veranda, eat your meal and watch the dozens and dozens of sailboats go by on their way out into the lake and out into the Gulf.

        Last time I lived there, I was the artistic director for Snobs Salon and all the great chefs and restauranteurs came in. Paul Prudhomme and his wife Kay both came in and they have one of the truly good places down in the Quarters–K-Paul’s. And, it’s a treat to eat there as no reservations–you just stand in line and as a table opens up they call you in, often separating a husband and wife. Some tourists don’t like that, but most do–get to meet and interact with all kinds of people.

        I also used to work at Busta’s at the Fairmont (hotel) and they get a ton of tourists in to their dining room, but I wouldn’t recommend it…

        There are also over 350 food festivals a year in the area and you can get absolutely wonderful food at just about all of them. Great mudbugs, alligator, rattlesnake, etc.

        I’m getting hungry…

        BTW, I love your work!

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