Interview: Peter Farris, author of Last Call for the Living

I’m so thrilled to have Peter Farris on the blog today! Peter is the author of the upcoming noir thriller Last Call for the Living (feel free to check out my review, we’ll be here when you get back!), and he’s here to talk about his new book, if there’s such a thing as “too dark” in noir, and a side of Mickey and Minnie that you’ve never seen before (and more.)

Please welcome Peter to the blog!

Peter, your first novel, Last Call For the Living (due May 22nd) is already getting great buzz! Have you always hoped to become a writer? Can you tell us a bit about your journey?
I didn’t get serious about it until I was 23 or 24. A friend of mine had recommended I read a Mississippi author named Larry Brown. Brown’s work turned my world upside down, and pulled the trigger on a compulsion to express myself through fiction. But I realized if I was going to write publishable fiction it was going to take years of work. I suspect you can make a life study of it and still never truly feel like you have a grasp on what you’re doing.

Another pivotal moment came around the same time, when I asked my old man for some recommendations. He’s a writer as well, and recognizing I was eager to read with more purpose, he gave me “White Noise” by Don Delillo, “Blood Meridian” by Cormac McCarthy, “A Deadly Shade of Gold” by John D. MacDonald and Barry Hannah’s “Yonder Stands Your Orphan.” Those four loaners opened the flood gates. From that point on I never read anything for leisure. Every novel or collection—“literature” or genre piece it didn’t matter—was like a text book to me. There was always something to learn.

As for my own path, the first novel to get the interest of an agent was a violent satire set in the world of NASCAR. As that manuscript kept busy collecting rejection letters, I wrote the first draft of Last Call for the Living in 2006. About 20 drafts later (and 3 more novels in the can) I was offered a contract.

How did you celebrate when you found out you sold Last Call For the Living?
Mexican food and Pabst Blue Ribbon! My editor made a pit-stop in Atlanta while on a business trip and surprised me with the offer. We stayed up till 3 a.m. and watched The Friends of Eddie Coyle. It was a night I’ll never forget.

Can you give us a bit of a teaser about the book?
Last Call for the Living is about the Aryan Brotherhood, a bank robbery and a kidnapping. It’s set in Georgia.

What do you like most about writing crime noir/suspense?
There is something really appealing (and addictive) about following a character around until something bad happens.
But I do love the possibilities with crime fiction. It’s a genre that to me is wide open, and just begging authors to break the rules.

Is there anything in particular that you need to have handy to write? Coffee? Booze? Lucky pen? (Queue black and white pictures of noir writer in smoke-filled study, gin and tonic in hand, or, more appropriately, Southern Comfort)
Not really. There was a time when I was caught up in that romantic cliché of the hard-drinking, chain-smoking writer burning the midnight oil. I wrote two book-length manuscripts in a haze of cigarette smoke and Jim Beam. Total amateur hour. Those “novels” are terrible and worthy of a burn barrel.

I quit smoking three years ago and look at an ice cold beer as a reward for a solid day (or night’s) work, and not a supplement to it.

But I definitely think every writer should have: 1) a good dictionary 2) a window to stare out of and 3) a friend in law enforcement.

I recently read your flash fiction short, Disney Noir (voted Best Short Story on the Web by Spinetingler Magazine), and having just booked a trip to Disney this summer, know that I, for one, will never look at Mickey and the gang the same way again. What made you decide to show the dark side of our favorite Disney characters?
Prior to writing that flash fiction piece I actually visited Orlando with my fiancé and her family. I’m not sure who brought it up, but I remember a conversation about the park employees in costume, a rumor they all partied and did drugs and slept with one another—sort of like the culture at your local corporate chain restaurant. So naturally while strolling through the Magic Kingdom I assumed Donald Duck had been on a coke binge since Tuesday and Sleeping Beauty was treating a venereal disease and had a boyfriend in jail and felt guilty about cheating on him with the guy playing morning-shift “Mickey” in a bathroom near Space Mountain. Combine those wacked-out assumptions with the underground tunnel system that the costumed employees use to get around the park and, well, that’s where “Disney Noir” came from.

In your opinion, is there such a thing as “too dark” when it comes to noir?

First, I should explain that nothing offends me, so no subject can ever be too “dark.” Go on and kill the dog. Take some kittens out for batting practice or set the church on fire during a baptism, I don’t care. You’re not gonna make me flinch. But I think the way an unsettling or disturbing story/scene/character is presented is crucial when it comes to noir or crime fiction. You never want to be too coy, or by contrast too sentimental or too explicit. It’s a fine line to walk but if you do it right, it’ll probably make the reader put down your book and take a breath.

What are some of your favorite author or novels?
Joe and Fay by Larry Brown and Feast of Snakes by Harry Crews are three of my all-time favorite novels, and I’m hoping somebody will put a copy of Flannery O’Connor’s Wise Blood in my coffin. I’m also a great admirer of Jack London, Cormac McCarthy, Ron Rash, Tom Franklin, William Gay (RIP), Dorothy Allison, Chris Offutt, Rick Bass, Daniel Woodrell, Joseph Wambaugh and James Ellroy to name a few.

Also, in the past year folks like John Rector, David J. Schow, Grant Jerkins, Duane Swierczynski and Frank Bill have blown me away with their most recent releases.

What titles would you recommend to someone dipping their toes in the “southern noir” pool for the first time?
Boy, that’s a tough one. There are plenty of smarter people out there who could provide a better list so I’m gonna shoot from the hip here. If we’re talking about fiction south of the Mason-Dixon with crime and tragedy at its heart, I’d start with William Faulkner’s “Sanctuary” followed by Davis Grubb’s “Night of the Hunter.” Then any of James Lee Burke’s early Robicheaux novels, Karin Slaughter’s Grant County series (I really like Indelible), Jim Thompson’s The Killer Inside Me, Daniel Woodrell’s Rene Shade novels (available now as The Bayou Trilogy), One Foot In Eden by Ron Rash, Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin, Father & Son by Larry Brown, William Gay’s Twilight, The Missing by Tim Gautreaux, The Bottoms by Joe Lansdale, Dirty White Boys by Stephen Hunter and At the End of the Road by Grant Jerkins.

When you’re not busy writing, how do you like to spend your free time?
Between the day job and writing, I’m pretty much a homebody when the weekend rolls around. I played in bands for more than a decade so my passion for music runs deep. I still go to a few shows a year depending on who’s passing through town (the EARL in East Atlanta is hands down my favorite venue). I spend way too much money on vinyl and am a sucker for a good record store.

I also hit a pistol and rifle range at least once a month and you might catch me hiking Kennesaw Mountain, especially in the Fall when the leaves turn. Oh, and my fiancé and I love stock car racing so we usually make it down to Atlanta Motor Speedway or out to Talladega each year. There’s also an awesome dirt track not fifteen minutes from our house. A helluva lot of fun for $10 and the corndogs are deadly good.

If you weren’t writing, what would be your 2nd choice dream job?
A meteorologist or storm chaser. I’m fascinated by the weather, particularly tornados. I love watching the local weathermen work an outbreak. They’re like jazz musicians, but instead of tenor saxes they’re jamming with Doppler Radar while all hell breaks loose.

Is there any advice that you would give to a struggling writer?
Work intuitively. Read a lot and read outside your comfort zone. And it’s daunting but don’t give up. Even if the marketplace is shrinking and the number of writers out there keeps growing, don’t quit.

Regardless of a person’s background or education, almost anyone can write publishable fiction if they have a little imagination, keep their expectations in check and can commit to an apprenticeship period—meaning years of rejection and mistakes and frustration and despair. Every path to publication is different, but if the work is good and you go about getting it out into the world with some tact and professionalism, it will get noticed…and hopefully you’ll be rewarded with some of that validation we’re all after.

Anything else you’d like to share with us about upcoming projects or events (or anything at all!)?
I just turned in my next novel. It’s set in south Georgia and about a teenage prostitute finding sanctuary with an eccentric bootlegger.
Keep up with Peter: Website | Twitter
Pre-Order Last Call for the Living: Amazon | B&N

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