Dietrich Kalteis’s first novel, Ride the Lightning, won the bronze medal for Canada West Regional Fiction at the 2015 Independent Publisher Books Awards. (Dietrich answered 20 Questions about Ride the Lightning on its release.) ECW Press will unveil his new book, The Deadbeat Club, on October 1, just in time to accommodate the throngs at Bouchercon, where he will appear on the panel, “The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly: Heroes & Antiheroes,” on Sunday, October 11 at 10:00. Dietrich runs a regular feature on his blog called “Off the Cuff,” where crime fiction writers can get together and shoot the shit on the topic du jour. They’re always such good reads not even my occasional appearances can sink them.
Dieter took time out from getting ready for Bouchercon, promoting the book, and preparing to cross the US-Canadian border to submit to 20 Questions.
One Bite at a Time: Tell us about The Deadbeat Club.
Dietrich Kalteis: The story takes place in Whistler, BC. Grey Stevens takes over the family business after his uncle passes away. The nature of the business is growing pot, and he ends up growing a strain which creates demand among the locals and tourists. Soon everybody wants to get their hands on it, including two rival gangs coming up from Vancouver to take over the business and squeeze Grey out.
OBAAT: One DK to another, where did you get this idea, and what made it worth developing for you? (Notice I didn’t ask “Where do you get your ideas?” I was careful to ask where you got this idea.)
DK: I liked the idea of Whistler as the setting for a crime story since it’s isolated, two hours north of Vancouver, and it’s known as a party town. I came up with the main character, Grey Stevens. He’s a laid back guy who just wants to grow pot, snowboard the cold months and bike the warm ones – an unwitting protagonist who finds himself in trouble after he saves a girl from a beating at the hands of one of the gang members coming up from Vancouver to squeeze him out of the pot trade. I liked the idea of dropping Grey into both a budding relationship and into the middle of a turf war. I wanted to see him develop as a character and see how he handled what was coming at him.
OBAAT: How long did it take to write The Deadbeat Club, start to finish?
DK: From first draft to sending it off to my publisher took about nine months. Then there was the usual time spent in editing and copy editing.
OBAAT: Where did Grey Stevens come from? In what ways is he like, and unlike, you?
DK: So far, I haven’t based characters on anybody I know, so Grey is pure fiction. He just developed into the perfect reluctant hero as the story developed. He’s likable and does enough of the right things, so I think readers will empathize with him.
OBAAT: In what time and place is The Deadbeat Club set? How important is the setting to the book as a whole?
DK: The story is set in present time, and Whistler is important as the setting since all the characters are funneled into this mountain playground, clashing with each other with nowhere to run.
OBAAT: How did The Deadbeat Club come to be published?
DK: It’s the second of a three book deal with ECW Press. All three stories are set in British Columbia, but outside of the Dara Addie character – who started out as a minor character borrowed from Ride the Lightning, and ends up as Grey’s love interest – there’s no connection between the stories.
OBAAT: Your writing has been compared to Elmore Leonard, and, frankly, you look more like Elmore Leonard than any other living author. Is that a conscious choice, to emulate him, or did it just kind of work out that way? In essence, how much of an effect did Leonard’s work have on yours? (The writing, not your personal appearance. Unless plastic surgery was involved. Then we want to know every juicy bit.)
DK: All natural, all me, no enhancements. Over the years, I have read everything Elmore Leonard ever wrote, a lot of it more than once. I don’t intentionally try to emulate him, but like him, I incorporate dark humor and characters who are often unwitting and on the shady side.
OBAAT: What kinds of stories do you like to read? Who are your favorite authors, in or out of that area?
DK: I read a lot of crime fiction, and some of my favorite authors are James Ellroy, Robert B. Parker, Donald Westlake, Robert Crais, Carl Hiaasen and George V Higgins.
I’ve also enjoyed books by newer-to-the-scene writers like yourself, Eric Beetner, Johnny Shaw, Joe Clifford. Paul D. Marks and David Swinson. And there are many more who I hope to read soon. Among Canadian authors, I like John McFetridge, Sam Wiebe, Owen Laukkanen, Linda L Richards, ER Brown, William Deverell and Robin Spano. Outside of crime fiction, I like anything written by Hunter S. Thompson, Charles Bukowski, William S. Burroughs, the Beat Generation, Edgar Hilsenrath and Patti Smith.
OBAAT: What made you decide to be an author?
DK: At sixteen, I penned my first attempt at a novel. A shoebox of hand-scrawled loose-leaf pages. It was pretty terrible, but I always held onto the notion that one day I would write. Okay, so it took a while. In fact, it wasn’t until six years ago when my wife suggested I pack up my graphics business and just start writing full time (I guess I talked about it a lot). And that’s what I did.
OBAAT: How do you think your life experiences have prepared you for writing crime fiction?
DK: Since I was a kid, I loved reading, and I loved spinning stories. I remember listening to the news or to something told to me and thinking, well what if this happened? And I still do this, gathering bits of what I hear and read for later use in my stories. I guess over the years all my own life experiences have given me more to draw on and a stronger foundation for the stories I come up with.
OBAAT: What do you like best about being a writer?
DK: I like creating stories. It’s a solo effort where I get to sit at my desk and spin scenes and create characters, mixing what I know with what I can imagine. And for me, there’s nothing better than that.
OBAAT: Who are your greatest influences? (Not necessarily writers. Filmmakers, other artists, whoever you think has had a major impact on your writing.)
DK: There’s just something about a Coen brothers’ film. I love their stories and their offbeat sense of humor. I’m also inspired by any kind of art that really speaks to me, whether it’s great photography, paintings or music.
OBAAT: Do you outline or fly by the seat of you pants? Do you even wear pants when you write?
DK: I just jump right in (fully clothed) with an idea, toss in an appropriate character or two and start writing and developing as I go. As far as outlining, I kind of do that in reverse. After I have the first draft, I put together a kind of rough outline which serves to check timelines and sequences.
OBAAT: Give us an idea of your process. Do you edit as you go? Throw anything into a first draft knowing the hard work is in the revisions? Something in between?
DK: Something in between. Once I’ve got a scene, I usually go back over it the next day and reread and edit out anything that isn’t working before moving on to the next scene. Often ideas spring from rereading, and I carry them into future scenes. The whole thing kind of builds as I keep writing.
OBAAT: Your blog runs a regular feature called “Off the Cuff,” where you discuss various aspects of writing with Martin Frankson and Sam Wiebe, and usually, one or two guest authors. (I’ve lowered property values there myself a couple of times, and it’s great fun.) What gave you the idea for that, and how are the topics and guests picked?
DK: I wanted to write a blog with no preset questions, invite guests at random, pick a topic and just treat it like a casual conversation. It’s been going for over a year, and it’s a great way to get other authors’ views on aspects of the writing process. We’ve been fortunate to have so many talented authors like yourself who generously give their time and contribute to make the whole thing sound like we know what we’re talking about.
OBAAT: If you could give a novice writer a single piece of advice, what would it be?
DK: Well, with two published books, I still feel like a novice, but one thing I’ve observed: no two writers seem to do anything the same way. So, someone new to the game would be well-advised to take a look at writers they admire and find out how each one does it. Then adapt what works best for them. One other thing, I think it’s important for a writer to read as much as possible.
OBAAT: Generally speaking the components of a novel are story/plot, character, setting, narrative, and tone. How would you rank these in order of their importance in your own writing, and can you add a few sentences to tell us more about how you approach each and why you rank them as you do?
DK: I’d have to say tone first. To me, that’s the voice and the pace. That’s what keeps me turning pages when I’m reading, but let’s face it, you need all these elements to really bring the whole thing together.
OBAAT: If you could have written any book of the past hundred years, what would it be, and what is it about that book you admire most?
DK: There are so many great books, but the first one that comes to mind right now is The Rum Diary, an early novel by Hunter S. Thompson. A great tale of jealousy, treachery and lust written by a true master. If we’re talking strictly crime fiction, then I’d say George V. Higgins’ debut novel The Friends of Eddie Coyle.
OBAAT: Favorite activity when you’re not reading or writing.
DK: Watching a movie and grabbing my guitar and hacking away as I watch. I make a very lazy and crappy musician, but it’s something I like to do. I also like to paint abstracts and snap black-and-white photos.
OBAAT: What are you working on now?
DK: I’ve been working on my fifth and sixth novels like a juggler this past year, finishing a draft of one, then switching to the other, and going back and forth. I’m not sure that it’s the best way to go, but so far it seems to be working.
Lastly, I’d like to say thanks, Dana, for inviting me over to “One Bite at a Time.” I look forward to seeing you and Corky at Bouchercon.
OBAAT: We’ll be there, and we’re both looking forward to seeing you again. Thanks for stopping by.