Thursday, October 4, 2012

TNE Interviews Heath Lowrance, author of "City of Heretics"

Good friend to the Naut, Heath Lowrance, is quickly gaining a reputation for tight fiction always delivered with that bit of something extra that really sticks to yer proverbial ribs.  In conjunction with the recent release of his most recent novel, CITY OF HERETICS, Heath took a few minutes to let us grill him about his work, his process, and his thoughts on all things fiction.

TNE:   Do you think violent-themed entertainment fosters violence in reality? Does a writer of fiction have a moral responsibility to the public?

HL:   Start right off with an easy one, why don’t you?
I think violent-themed entertainment has the potential to foster violence in reality, but only among people who might be drawn to it anyway. Also, it has a great deal to do with media saturation. If you display anything in popular culture long enough and hard enough, it will creep into the mainstream. Hence our acceptance these days of vapid celebrity culture icons as perfectly acceptable role-models.

Having said that, I think a writer’s only responsibility is to the truth. The characters and situations have to be honest. In a way, that IS a moral responsibility. 

TNE:   What draws you to themes that are violent or skirt the edges of the law?

HL:   I’ve always been fascinated by outlaws and rebels, I don’t know why. As a kid, my admiration for them was pretty shallow—they fought authority and that made them cool. Now that I’m older, though, I’m more aware of the gray nature of them. My characters, and the characters I’m interested in, are not good guys or bad guys, generally. It’s the conflicts they represent that interest me most.

TNE:   Do you think there are degrees of criminality? For instance a character who accepts with no qualms the idea of theft, but bristles at the idea violence. Or a computer hacker vs. a gentleman jewel thief?

HL:   There are criminals we can get behind, at least in fiction and movies. Maybe even to some degree in real life. You mentioned the “gentleman jewel thief”—what we admire about him isn’t the crime he commits, exactly, so much as the audacity and cleverness of it. And we’re ready to condemn a typical murderer because, frankly, anyone could do that; it doesn’t require any skill set, and it doesn’t have any broader implications. It’s just murder.

If our hero in a story is a killer, we at least want him to have some kind of code about who he kills, like say “Dexter”, or (if you don’t mind me saying) my character Hawthorne.

TNE:   Do you have a secret pet project that is so unusual it will probably never see the light of day?

HL:   No, not really. It’s a new century, there are no genre limits anymore. I feel that I can write anything I want to.

TNE:   Would you consider your protagonists anti-heros?

HL:   Yes. I’ve only ever written one truly heroic character before, and he wasn’t even my creation. Edward Grainger’s Gideon Miles fits the hero bill nicely. He was fun to write about because he has built-in conflicts and lots of personality. But generally I’m more interested in writing about characters who are a bit darker like Hawthorne, or Crowe in CITY OF HERETICS

TNE:   Most people would have to be in pretty desperate straits before actively pursuing the sort of criminal activities some of your characters indulge in. What drives your characters? What would drive you to a life of bad-assery?

HL:   Ha… At this point, given my background and general view of life, I don’t think I could ever be a bad-ass in that sense. I think environment has everything to do with it—what you grow up thinking of as acceptable, or what you’re like genetically. I’m not stoic or taciturn or tough-minded, and those are the things that make up your classic fictional bad-ass. I wish, though.

TNE:   Have you ever killed a man?

HL:   In Reno. Just to watch him die. 

TNE:   Writing is a solitary business. How does spending so much time alone with your thoughts affect your personal psychology? How does it affect your personal interactions?

HL:     It is pretty lonely, sometimes. You’re trapped a great deal of the time in your own head, and it becomes hard to get out of it and function in the real world. One side effect is that I know my own mind, probably better than most people know theirs. Because I’ve had time to indulge in thinking about things that are important to me, I’ve learned to follow the thread of something all the way to the bitter end, and not stop at the first comfortable place I come to. That helps, considering the sort of stuff I write, but it’s also frustrating because you become hyper aware of the amount of bullshit people feed themselves sometimes, just in order to feel good about the world and their place in it.

It can affect personal interactions, for sure. Communicating, even with your closest friends, requires you to put on a face that you’re not entirely comfortable with anymore. The real you is hidden, always. Not by choice, just… that’s the way it works out. And sometimes it’s impossible to articulate exactly what’s happening in your head—and that’s assuming anyone is really interested, anyway.

TNE:   What else do you have in the pipeline? Any release dates to tell us about?

HL:   CITY OF HERETICS and BLUFF CITY BRAWLER (my FIGHT CARD novella) have both just come out in the last month. Before the year is over, I’ll have a second Gideon Miles novella for you, one that takes place in the ‘20’s, and finds Miles facing off against the Axeman of New Orleans. Also, a third Hawthorne horror/western and a handful of short stories. I plan on spending most of next year concentrating on a third and possibly a fourth novel, along with a few more Hawthorne’s (That Damned Coyote Hill and The Long Black Train).

TNE:   Would you ever utilize alternative literary devices such as epistolary writing or 2nd person narrative?

HL:   That’s doubtful. The goal of writing is to be understood, so I don’t see any point in making your work more obscure.

TNE:   Who do you read? Anybody current from the large publishing houses worth your time? What small presses are putting out the best stuff?

HL:   I haven’t read much from the Big 6 publishers in the last couple of years. That’s not by design, it just worked out that way. And the small presses seem to be the ones keeping dark crime fiction, horror, Westerns and other fringe genres active and interesting. I’ve been lucky to work with some of my favorites, like New Pulp Press, Beat to a Pulp, Snubnose Press.

I’m reluctant to name writers you should check out, because for every one I can think of, there are ten more I’d forget to mention. But if you keep an eye on my blog (Psycho Noir), I’m always recommending great authors and great books.

TNE:   Is self-publishing (electronic publishing in particular) hurting the business or is it creating opportunities? Is it harder to promote yourself?

HL:   I don’t have a lot of experience in self-publishing, since the only thing I’ve put out myself is the short story collection, DIG TEN GRAVES. But I suppose the glut of self-published stuff out there does make it harder to get noticed. We’re in a transitional stage in publishing now, and with every door that’s closed now to new writers, there are other doors opening up. I guess we’ll all have to wait and see.

TNE:   Tell us a little about “City of Heretics” and how you came to write it.
HL:   Glad you asked!

CITY OF HERETICS is my second full-length novel, a dark crime thriller. The protagonist, Crowe, is a hard man just out of prison and back in Memphis to even the score against his former Mob employers. Along the way, he crosses paths with a secret society of serial killers posing as a very Old Testament-style Christian church. He uncovers lots of ugliness in the process, including some things about himself he’d have been better off not knowing.

I was reading a lot of Richard Stark and Dan J. Marlowe at the time, and a lot of that stripped down tough-mindedness made its way into CITY OF HERETICS. It’s a very different sort of novel from my first, THE BASTARD HAND, which was, I guess, a bit more leisurely. CITY OF HERETICS is fast and nasty.


TNE:   What is the best motivator to give a character? Greed? Revenge? Hate? Fear?

HL:   I don’t think there IS a “best” motivator. As long as one exists, that’s what matters.

TNE:   You've spent time in the south and as a yank. How do the two subcultures speak to your writing?

HL:   Memphis had a huge impact on me as a writer, and made me realize that the setting of a novel or story is very, very important. And what you as the writer can draw from it makes all the difference. Detroit is, of course, very different from Memphis, but it still rings all the same tough yet melancholy bells.

TNE:  “Is reading becoming obsolete?”

HL:   No, I don’t think so. People are reading more now than ever, from what I understand. But our methods of reading are changing, obviously.

People will always read fiction, because we’ll always need stories to see us through. 

TNE:  Ain't that the truth.  Heath, thanks for stopping by the Naut.  We love your work and we're always looking forward to the next Lowrance release.  Continued good luck and success to you!