Please welcome Ross Gresham, author of White Shark and other works.
What’s your idea of a perfect day?
A beach, naps, books, booze, cheesecake…. No, probably not. Isn’t it terrible to discover that pleasure doesn’t bring happiness? My happiest days are those in which I accomplish something, like writing a funny scene, or even just rewiring a bad electrical circuit in my dusty attic. No fun at all!
Do you have a signature accessory, color, fragrance, phrase/expression, or meal?
Ribs (as meal–though fragrance plays a role).
Which books/authors inspired or influenced you the most?
I’ve read crime books since I was a teenager, of all kinds, from Agatha Christie to Jim Thompson. When I was in high school I wasn’t choosey. I read like a vacuum cleaner, up and down the shelf. Most of the time I couldn’t have told you the author. Those seem like glorious days.
Later I went through a phase of liking smart-aleck books, like the Fletch books or Donald Westlake, and I think they had some influence. Then for a while my favorites were books with tough-guy detectives (James Crumley, James Lee Burke). But I wonder if the mystery world is changing. After reading Gone Girl, or the new Rowling books (written as Robert Galbraith), some of the classic knight- of-the-mean-streets stuff seems a little…dated? Old? Maybe my tastes are just evolving. Recently I tried to re-read Ross Macdonald and John MacDonald. It was labor, not fun. I wanted the hero and world to be more nuanced. I wanted a more complicated plot.
Do you listen to music when you write?
Only if my daughter is practicing violin or my son is practicing piano. They inspire me to write scenes of savage violence. Quit playing the easy part over and over again!
If your latest book were chocolate, what kind would it be and why?
Maybe one of these new boutique bars. You know the sort? The chocolate makers just scoop the beans off the forest floor and grind them into a disk like a soap patty. They’re such purists that they disdain to add sugar. Anyway, the chocolate is pure, crude, and dark.
What made you interested in writing this particular story?
The novel is set on a tourist island in the northeast, a smaller version of Martha’s Vineyard. Most tourist places make us a little uncomfortable, don’t they? Tourists are only welcome because they bring money, and it’s no fun being reduced to a walking credit card. It’s dehumanizing. Don’t kid yourself: You put away your wallet, they quit throwing leis (I’m mixing islands here, I know). Also, if it’s a seasonal place, the wealthy residents and visitors interact with an army of poor, transient workers who can’t afford to buy the meals that they cook and smell all day. As they’re making your lobster roll, you keep telling yourself that you’re doing them a favor, that it’s a free exchange….
Anyway, to me, that world seems spring-loaded with tension. An outsider detective could have a lot of fun crashing into it, don’t you think?
What themes do you regularly (re)visit in your writing?
I only wish I could claim trends! I dream of it. One theme in my novel White Shark is an old chestnut from crime fiction: authority and power. It’s a standard cliché of crime fiction that authority twists people into unnatural shapes. Now I get older and find out that it’s completely true. Half the rich or powerful people I meet have lost the capacity for human conversation, at least conversation with me.
I read a good op-ed piece from a nurse explaining the Ben Carson phenomenon. Apparently it’s not Ben Carson’s fault at all. This nurse said that all surgeons are exactly like that. In Ben Carson’s world, people have nodded to everything he’s said for forty years. He bosses every room he comes into. No surprise, then, that he has come to believe that he has authority and insight in matters about which he knows literally nothing.
Tell us about your main character.
He’s a young ex-soldier recently drummed out of the army for trying to save a man’s life. We’ve seen cases of this all over the news, like the Special Forces soldier discharged because he kicked the ass of one of our Afghan allies. Our warlord ally had a little boy chained to his bed as a sex slave. Our soldier got tired of this and kicked his ass. There was also the US soldier who cleaned out a prison in Haiti because of the inhuman conditions. The Army told him he should shut up and ignore the situation but instead he put on his body armor and cleaned house. Of course he was fired and prosecuted and whatnot.
Whatever has changed about tough-guy detectives, one appeal remains: They defy the forces of moral compromise that the rest of us must succumb to, however reluctantly.
Describe your protagonist as a mash-up of three famous people or characters.
His namesake, Jim Hawkins (from Treasure Island) who was game and brave (if a little naïve). You know who else I would love to have in there? The two detectives from the TV series The Killing. The American version. I loved those two, and they kept that show alive for years after the plot wasn’t worth following.
If you could host a mystery-author dinner party, who are the six writers (living or otherwise) you’d include?
Dangerous! Kate Atkinson, Charlie Stella…. For some reason all the mystery writers I know are volatile characters. Would you really put six of them into one room? I’d probably choose six brand-new writers, still shiny and grateful and eager to talk. The old powerful ones would just bring corruption.
What’s next for you?
A sequel! Jim Hawkins burnt his bridges in the East. Time to go West.
Ross Gresham teaches at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs and is fiction editor for the journal War, Literature, and the Arts.
Amazon author page:http://www.amazon.com/Ross-Gresham/e/B00H7H8VDC