Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Scott Phillips: The Ice Harvest in Finnish


I finally got around to posting the interview I made with Scott Phillips, the author of the admirable The Ice Harvest, published in Finnish as Jäätävää satoa by Arktinen Banaani whose paperback series I edit. The cover is by Ossi Hiekkala, who's just as admirable as Phillips.

The Ice Harvest was your first novel. It's a remarkable accomplishment. How long did you write it and what goals did you have in mind?

I wrote the first part of it over the course of a year or so, in fits and starts. Then I decided to finish it and as I recall the second half went much more quickly. All I wanted to do was write the kind of pulpy novel I liked to read.

I've compared your book to David Mamet's writing and his axiom: enter late, exit early. Was this something you tried to do? Can you tell us something about your writing and plotting technique? Based on your other novels, you seem to be changing your technique and style from book to book.

No plotting technique at all, apart from creating a situation that allows oter things (bad ones, mostly) to happen. The styles and techniques change from book to book mostly because I get bored. My latest book is called "Supply Sarge," and it's very much inthe vein of the 1950s chapters of The Walkaway, and it's also very short like The Ice Harvest.

What other influences did you have, besides Mamet (if you had Mamet)?

I love Mamet, but if he's an influence it's unconscious. James Crumley and Charles Willeford, Richard Russo, who adapted The Ice Harvest for the movies, Derek Raymond, were all important to me early on. Lately writers I find myself cribbing from are Jack Pendarvis, William Gay, Ken Bruen...

The Ice Harvest is full of irony and black humour. Is irony something that comes naturally to you?

I don't know about irony, but I do find humor in dark things. I'm always in trouble for making jokes at inappropriate times.

There's been a lot of talk about noir renaissance of the 2000s and The Ice Harvest has been hailed as one of the most important novels of the movement. Do you feel there's a movement and what lies behind it?

There are a lot of good writers working that particular vein at the moment: Megan Abbot, Christa Faust, Vicki Hendricks and Anthony Neil Smith come to mind. There are also a number of people working in what you might call a noirish style writing about rural America: Chris Offutt, Daniel Woodrell, William Gay and Tom Franklin, as well as an up and coming group consisting of Frank Bill, Jedidiah Ayres, Kieran Shea, Greg Bardsley, Malachi Stone, Daniel O'Shea and a few others. In Scotland you have Allan Guthrie, in Ireland Declan Burke, in France any number of practitioners of the genre, loosely defined. So there's a lot of really good noir being written right now; it's just a question of whether the general public starts reading more of it or not.

Do you have any favourite books amongst the new noir books?

I loved Dope Thief, by Dennis Tafoya. He just sent me his latest in manuscript, which I'm very excited to read.

What did you think about the film that was based on The Ice Harvest?

I loved the movie, apart from the change in the ending. I have to admit that I supported that change along with everyone else at the time, because the studio thought they had a big hit on their hands (they didn't), but only if the ending was changed. Harold Ramis had a very good feel for the tension between the humor and the bleakness.

What are you working on now? I hear you have a novel coming out, can you tell us something about it?

The new novel is called "Supply Sarge," it's the story of a corrupt US Army quarter master who comes out of the army in 1946 and finds himself in Wichita trying to lead that quintessential postwar American life: husband, father, businessman. The trouble is that at heart he's a psychopath. His name is Wayne Ogden, and I've written about him before. In my second novel, The Walkaway, he was the villain. I found myself enjoying his voice so much that when [crime fiction publisher] Dennis McMillan asked me a few years later for a short story set in the 30s, I went back to Wayne's adolescence, when he was a bit more innocent but still a villain waiting to be born. Then I wrote another story, set in that same period, where Wayne and his friends kill a bald eagle. In this novel he's teereing on the brink between wanting to be a good citizen and feeling the need to be a pimp and a thug.

12 comments:

Frank Bill said...

Great interview, Scott Phillips is an author that must be read. The Ice Harvest is a great place to start.

Peter Rozovsky said...

Congratulations on getting this dark and funny book into Finnish. It would be nice to get wider audienes for some of the other authors Scott mentions, too. Every one of them whom I've read is damned good, and his list makes me want to read the ones I don't know.
================
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"
http://detectivesbeyondborders.blogspot.com/

Juri said...

Yeah, Peter, I thought of commenting on that: lots of authors I'd never heard of.

Peter Rozovsky said...

I've read Scott, Megan Abbott, Christa Faust, Vicki Hendricks, Allan Guthrie, Declan Burke, and just enough of Anthony Neil Smith to make me want to read more. I met some of the others at Bouchercon through Scott, and his recommendation carries weight with me.
================
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"
http://detectivesbeyondborders.blogspot.com/

Juri said...

But just who are Frank Bill, Jedidiah Ayres, Greg Bardsley, Malachi Stone and Daniel O'Shea..?

Peter Rozovsky said...

Here's a bit about some of them from Scott's blog.

Among the five you asked about, all I can tell you is that Ayres seems like a nice enough sort. But I will say that all of them keep good literary company and are probably worth a look.
================
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"
http://detectivesbeyondborders.blogspot.com/

Juri said...

Thanks, Peter. Now I realize that Jedidiah Ayres has a blog, Hardboiled Wonderland, is it?

Juri said...

Yup:

http://spaceythompson.blogspot.com/

Peter Rozovsky said...

You beat me to it. I was going to tell you that I recently discovered Jed's blog through an entertaining interview he did with Allan Guthrie. As for Frank Bill, he may be the same guy who started this comment string.
================
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"
http://detectivesbeyondborders.blogspot.com/

Juri said...

Touché, Peter.

Frank Bill said...

That would be me. Check out back issues of Anthony Neil Smith's Plots With Guns online to find stories by Jed, Greg, myself and others. I've also a blog.
frankbillshouseofgrit.blogspot.com/
Hope this helps. And Ayres is a stand up guy, and so are the others.

Juri said...

Frank, thank you - I'll definitely be checking you guys out. Even though not now - I'm visiting my dad and won't have a chance to sit on this computer for long.