I’d like you all to welcome Patti Abbott to a new feature of the blog, where I interview folks at the imaginary tavern in my head. If you’re not familiar with Patti’s work in the crime fiction genre, you’re only hurting yourself. She’s written more than 80 stories, including “My Hero,” the Derringer Award winner for 2009. Her collection MONKEY JUSTICE (love that title!) is published by Snubnose Press, and she is co-editor of Discount Noir. Let’s give her a cheer.
Good evening Patti, and welcome to Belly up to the Bar. What are you drinking?
White Wine, Savignon Blanc, very cold, preferably from Australia with South Africa being the runner up. Marlborough’s Nobilio is my cheapy favorite. I never pay more than $12 a bottle because I can’t tell the difference. As long as its dry and fruity, I’m good. Hate wines with the oaky taste of Chardonnay though.Or Bell’s Two-Hearted Ale (from Kalamazoo, MI. I like any wheat beer really.
I didn’t start drinking beer until the last Noircon. And I haven’t looked back.
Well, beer drinkers are certainly welcome here. I’ve had Two-Hearted, a long time ago. Reminds me of that Hemingway tale, “Big Two-Hearted River.” But enough about beer, it’s for drinking, not talking about.
First let me say that I’ve admired your stories for some time, and the first I remember reading is “The Perfect Day.” It was so far above what I’d been reading that it inspired me to aim higher myself. That’s why I approached you for the Protectors anthology, and your story for it, “The Search for Michael” opens the book. Would you tell us a little about the story and the history behind it?
“Perfect Day” was a story I couldn’t get published in a literary zine. I tried a few first since the crime element is so slight that I thought most crime zines would not take it.
I felt blessed when Chris Rhatigan published it in ALL DUE RESPECT and was astounded at the great response. This story will be part of my novel in stories HOME INVASION (Snubnose Press). It is heartbreaking to me that children have to grow up with monsters like Billie and Dennis Batch as parents. The children quickly become the parents and never recoup their loss. However as you will learn from the novel in stories, Billie’s childhood was dreadful too.
“The Search For Michael” is 2/3rds true and happened to a woman I came to know in my book group. She died rather suddenly (although she was a generation older than the rest of us) and another member told me her story after her death. And then, since her husband had taught at the school where I worked, another friend told me the same story. How the parents eventually spent all their money looking for the son who walked out the door in his twenties, all his meds left behind. Everything left behind. The father quit his job, even hired PIs in various cities to look for him. After his death, the mother indeed went to psychics all over the country, taking what comfort she could. The third part is an invention although he did have a sister who was a physician. I felt the story need resolution so I gave it a likely one and then took it back a little. The woman in my book group read a draft of the story and was really angry with me because I had betrayed the woman’s use of psychics, which she thought made her friend look crazy. Not crazy to me at all-I would have done it and cops do it too. I hope she has softened on it by now.
I’ve felt an underlying anger in your work, or maybe a disappointment. Am I projecting this, or are you looking at the world and finding it wanting?
You are an insightful reader, Tom. If I write in the first half of the day, as I usually do, it is in a black mood. A mood that awakens me every morning and I have trouble shaking off. Maybe the Irish in me. Or maybe the childish belief I harbor in fairness.
The world is not sentient I remind myself.
Yes, I have a lot of trouble with the world we live in and tend to see the dark side of even the most neutral events. I find the world wanting in how we treat children, the elderly, the sick, the poor, and the mentally challenged. If we are ever judged, it will be on this ground–what we did for the least of them.
Once in a while, I can pull off a cheerier story, but they are not my best usually. I am also more likely to write about victims of crimes rather than perpetrators. I just don’t find perpetrators that interesting with a few exception such as Walt White. His is a journey from goodness to evil and that does interest me.
If you take a show like DEXTER though for instance, is it the serial killers that really interest us? They are almost exchangeable. Did someone give them a rule book?
I’m with you on that. The banality of evil has been written about by better thinkers than me, but you’re right, when humans go really bad they tend to a pattern. Psychopaths or severely abused children robbed of any empathy by a litany of pain and neglect. Dexter is amusing for the characters, not the serial killer concept. Would you say we glorify crime more, as society and the law becomes more and more regimented? Or is it mere wish-fulfillment, vicarious violence meted out on our peers (which is what I think of the zombie phenomenon, but that’s a whole ‘nother can of worms)?
In terms of books, television and movies, a lot of people. especially men, like to see violence and power. They identify with and watch those people who wield power–not the ones who are victims of it. I don’t think they are necessarily rooting for the bad guy, but instead rooting for the guy who is in charge, be it a mobster, a super-hero, a cop, a hit man. I think certain incidents bring out our sympathy for the victim of a bully, for instance. But at the same time I think we are suspicious of those who can’t solve such problems. We are about to perhaps elect a President who has said, let these people fend for themselves. And that sort of thinking filters down. If you are not popular or rich or successful, it is probably your fault, many would say. They never seem to acknowledge the fact we don’t all start from the same place in terms of money, color, family, IQ.
I am all over the place here but you get the drift.
Writer interviews always go to “influences,” so let’s turn that around a bit. You run a web series called Friday’s Forgotten Books. If you could pick one author who is not generally taught in schools, and put them on the curriculum worldwide, who would it be, and what book?
Now that’s a question I have never considered. I think I would chose Margaret Millar. She is a beautiful prose writer with great psychological depth. I don’t think you could go wrong reading her books. Dorothy Hughes and Patricia Highsmith would be two more.
I am not choosing these three because they are women but because they are interested in character and place above plot.
I’ve never read Millar or Hughes, but I will. Patricia Highsmith is also one of my favorites.
You’re from Detroit, right? I’m from Jersey, so we both must have a love-hate relationship with our region, because we’re still here and not crazy. What do you love about your city, and what do you hate? And if you could hand me a book that revealed its heart, which one would it be?
I lived in New Jersey for five years so I know it a bit too.
I would give you THEM by Joyce Carol Oates, which I think is her finest book even if she wrote it forty years ago. Paul Clemens MADE IN DETROIT is terrific too.
Detroit has all the cultural institutions of a major city–I like that about it. What you may not realize is that Detroit is surrounded by some very affluent suburbs that have art houses, theaters for plays, bookstores, things to do. I like that Detroit keeps fighting back with its music, its attempts to rebuild through attracting younger people to various areas. It is a great food city. A great sports city. We have every ethnic group you can name. If I walk the campus at WSU, I see young people from every region of the world. WSU had the largest Middle Eastern contingent anywhere but also huge numbers of students from Africa, Asia, Europe.
I hate the constant corruption, callousness and incompetence of Detroit politics. I hate that Detroit has allowed hundreds of architecturally important buildings to come down without thought. I hate that only twenty-some percent of students in Detroit itself finish high school. I hate that there are many, many, many city streets where only a few houses now stand. It is ugly outside of a few cultural areas. Although they have begun developing the waterfront, why not years ago like Baltimore? Why did Cleveland build the HALL OF FAME when Detroit has produced tenfold the music? Because, as usual, Detroit dropped the ball. I cannot tell you how much federal money was lost because they could not write the grants or hold on to them. It is a city filled with patronage jobs held by completely incompetent or corrupt people. Witness Kwame Kilpatrick, the scourge of the early 2000s.
I will definitely check those books out, and if I make it up to America’s Mitten again, I will ask you for places to visit.
What would you say is the one topic you hope to have the last word in your fiction, and if you can’t be the one… is there someone else you’d be OK with taking that ring from you?
At this point, I would say victims. I am really comfortable writing about victims. I am not sure who else victims interest. I don’t read too many stories about them.
I think maybe the thriller genre has a lock on them, but I think they have a home in noir and the crime story, and I’m glad you’re telling their side.
It’s getting near closing time, so what do you have out there
that readers need to check out, and what is next down the pike?
I have a story coming out in Crime Factory’s Horror Issue. I have a story coming out in Ed Gormans’s latest anthology. One in Mysterical-E, one in an anthology on Lee Marvin, one in a new Beat to a Pulp anthology, one in Katherine Tomlinson’s new anthology on the last day, one in Shotgun Honey next month. Probably too many.
Have you noticed how bees become very active just before they die?
I know I’m not the only one who hopes you’ll be buzzing for a good long time, Patti. Thank you for dropping by. I’ll keep a case of Two-Hearted Ale cold for you.