Marc E. Fitch is the author of Paranormal Nation: Why America Needs Ghosts, UFOs, and Bigfoot, and the novels Old Boone Blood and Paradise Burns. His fiction has appeared in such publications as ThugLit, The Big Click, eHorror, Horror Society and Massacre. He currently lives in Harwinton, CT. He is a graduate of the Western Connecticut State University Master of Fine Arts Program and has been the recipient of the W.C.S.U. Barbara Winder Award and the Connecticut Review’s Leslie Leeds Poetry Award.
Marc lives in Harwinton, CT with his wife and four children and works in the field of mental health. (Editor’s Note: It’s nice to see a crime writers who works in the mental health fied for a change, instead of just being serviced by it.)
One Bite at a Time: Tell us about Dirty Water.
Marc E. Fitch: Dirty Water is the story of a city imploding under the weight of its own corruption and in that desolate place, several different individuals are making moves to acquire power. A disgraced former Marine turned hitman, a corrupt district attorney, and a shady businessman that is looking to start a new underground empire.
OBAAT: 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.)
MEF: I work in the psychiatric department of a hospital which is located on the 8th floor with a good view of a city that has seen better days. At night I would watch the police lights and ambulances racing all over the place and I began to develop an idea for a story that would start with that image. Then I happened to meet someone who had lost a bunch of money in a certain (ahem) Ponzi scheme and he was both miserable and furious. I thought to myself, what if this guy wanted to have the creator of that Ponzi scheme bumped off? How would that play out? It was then that I started the gears really turning for Dirty Water.
OBAAT: How long did it take to write Dirty Water, start to finish?
MEF: Dirty Water probably took about two years in all. I say probably because I didn’t work on it straight through. I always have multiple projects going at the same time. 2015 has been a big year for me. I have three books from three different publishers out this year: one horror novel, a nonfiction book and, of course, Dirty Water. I was working on all of them simultaneously.
OBAAT: Dirty Water is more of an ensemble piece than a book with a true protagonist around which everything revolves. Why do it this way, and how did the ideas for Nolan, Jessica, and Higgins come to you?
MEF: I have always been drawn to works that give a profound sense of place and I felt the best way to capture that was to look at the city of Dirty Water from multiple different viewpoints. I also wanted to branch out a little bit and try to flex some creative muscle - do things differently than many other crime novels. I wanted the idea of corruption to be pervasive, all encompassing, throughout the work - everybody is a part of it, everybody is a participant. That way I was able to give more of a world view, as well.
OBAAT: In what time and place is Dirty Water set? How important is the setting to the book as a whole?
MEF: I often begin a work with the setting. Something about a place will draw out the creative spark in me, so setting is everything. It’s probably because of my youthful obsession with Hemingway. I get my inspiration more from places than from people. The time setting of Dirty Water is present day. I’m sure many readers will have no problem drawing parallels to some of the happenings in Dirty Water and present day or at least very recent history.
OBAAT: How did Dirty Water come to be published?
MEF: I originally put it out to agents, all of whom were enthusiastic and very complimentary about the novel but always told me, “I’m just too overwhelmed at the moment to take on anything new.” Okay, fine… personally I prefer the smaller, independent presses myself but I figured I should at least make a shot at the big money. I have very little patience when it comes to trying to sell a work because I’m always ready to move on to the next work and I hate playing salesman. When I came across 280 Steps I just had a good feeling about them. Sometimes you just know when a work is going to fit with a publisher.
OBAAT: What kinds of stories do you like to read? Who are your favorite authors, in or out of that area?
MEF: I read widely but that being said there are a couple writers that I can say that I’m genuinely a fan of and read all their stuff: Laird Barron, James Ellroy, Jim Thompson, Jim Nisbet, Lovecraft. Duane Swierczynski’s The Wheelman was actually a big inspiration for Dirty Water and I’ve been following J. David Osborne’s work as well. I like stories that really dig deep in to the darkness of humanity. I remember reading Ellroy’s The Black Dahlia for the first time and thinking - Wow, this is really plumbing the depths of evil, as the characters were digging up a mass grave in Mexico. That image stayed with me.
OBAAT: What made you decide to be an author?
MEF: Youthful stupidity. I was a bit of a Romantic thinking that I would live this Hemingway-esque life where everyone celebrated what I wrote. That didn’t work out so well. Writing is a shit-ton of work but it’s the only work that I truly enjoy. I think if you’re truly drawn to writing it’s not something that you can give up. During the hard times I continually tell myself that I’m just going to give up and quit and put it all behind me but I really know that I couldn’t. I can’t not do it. I work full time and have four small children and still, no matter how busy I am, writing stories and books is always at the very forefront of my mind. It’s like an addiction.
OBAAT: How do you think your life experiences have prepared you for writing crime fiction?
MEF: I spent thirteen years bartending at a dive right next to the bus station, it really gives you a jaded view on life. I was with a hard-drinking, hard-drugging, rough, blue-collar, and homeless crowd. You acquire stories. You meet people that exist outside the bounds of what is considered “normal” civilization. Now, working in the psychiatric department I’ve drifted even further into that liminal area. Now I work with people not even within the bounds of sanity. Sometimes I think I’m more comfortable in that kind of environment than at your average cocktail party talking about stocks or art or the weather or whatever it is that people talk about at cocktail parties (I don’t get out much).
OBAAT: What do you like best about being a writer?
MEF: Ugh… that’s a tough one. Like I said, I’ve come to regard it as sort of an addiction. I get the occasional high from selling a story or getting a book deal but, of course, they are few and far between. There is a sense of accomplishment but I rarely think about what I have written, rather I’m focused on what I’m going to write—so that sense of accomplishment is fleeting. But I often revert to Flannery O’Connor, who said, “I write to find out what I know.” All my writing is a form of figuring things out—not for anyone else, but for myself.
OBAAT: Who are your greatest influences? (Not necessarily writers. Filmmakers, other artists, whoever you think has had a major impact on your writing.)
MEF: Hemingway was original inspiration for writing, but, that being said, I’ve largely moved on. Nick Mamatas has been a great influence on both my work and my quasi-career in writing and I’m certainly not alone in that. For a while it seemed like every recent book I opened had Nick listed in the acknowledgement section. He’s a great writer with a tremendous knowledge of both the craft of writing genre fiction but also the ins and outs of the industry. Oddly enough, M. Night Shyamalan’s films - particularly Signs and The Village - really helped push my work from “literary” fiction into genre driven work in both horror and crime/noir. I liked how seriously he took his subject matter and elevated it to the point that the audience had an epiphany. I had never thought of doing that through something like horror. That had always (for me) seemed to be a literary endeavor. From there I “discovered” Jim Thompson and Laird Barron and haven’t looked back
OBAAT: Do you outline or fly by the seat of you pants? Do you even wear pants when you write?
MEF: I wear sweatpants but I don’t outline. I write piecemeal. I never have the story fully formed in my head and that might be a weakness—I don’t know. But it does make it hard to churn out novels quickly. I have the beginning and a sense of where I want it to go, but how I get there is usually a surprise even to me. I think about scenes for days and often end up with something I hadn’t planned for only to be led in a completely new direction.
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?
MEF: I like to be completely happy with a chapter or section before I move on. Otherwise, it haunts me. For my novel Paradise Burns, I stopped working on it for a full year because I couldn’t figure out how to link what I had already written to where I wanted it to go. Finally, something clicked and I was able to pick it up and finish it. It was always churning in the back of my mind, trying to figure out how to move the plot forward. When it finally came to me I finished it in six months.
OBAAT: Do you listen to music when you write? Do you have a theme song for this book? What music did you go back to over and over as you wrote it, or as you write, in general?
MEF: I work in the mornings surrounded by my four children, the oldest of whom is six. I’m surrounded by chaos. I wish I had the luxury of listening to music. Right now I’m listening to The Octonauts on Netflix.
OBAAT: As a writer, what’s your favorite time management tip?
MEF: I don’t have any. If you truly want to be a writer you will find the time. Time is no excuse.
OBAAT: If you could give a novice writer a single piece of advice, what would it be?
MEF: I would give the tried and true advice of read everything and learn from what you read, but I would also advise them to familiarize yourself with whatever genre you happen to be writing in. Familiarize yourself with the people and the publishers. There is a community of writers, particularly in genre fiction and you can learn so much from them. Find them on Facebook, send them an email or a message. They’re generally happy to help and give advice.
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?
MEF: As I said before, setting is vital to my work—it’s often the inspiration for my work followed by tone. I think the tone and setting of the work often do more to reflect the characters than any quirk or special feature one assigns to a character. I get tired of characters that are so unique that the average person will have little in common with them. (Editor’s Note: Bless you.) You’ll find a work and the main character is a half-blind, former tetherball champion with a trans-sexual bouncer for a best friend and a serious case of Tourette’s Syndrome. To me it all comes across as disingenuous. As being strange and different only for the sake of being strange and different. I spend little time describing my characters or giving them any kind of odd features because I want them to be representative of the average Joe or Jane and I want them to reflect their setting. Plot gets you where you have to go. It’s a necessary evil in saying what you really want to say that is more than you can put in a thesis statement.
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?
MEF: I have a strange selection for this. I think it would either be James Ellroy’s American Tabloid, which really blew me away when I first read it. But then, probably everybody writing in the genre wishes they wrote that book. But also Jim Nisbet’s Old and Cold. That work was so intricate and genius that, so focused on every little word that I knew right then that it was a novel that I would never have the skill or patience to write. Knowing that makes me jealous, so if I could steal that book, I would.
OBAAT: Favorite activity when you’re not reading or writing.
MEF: Watching horror movies but like I said, I don’t have much time on my hands.
OBAAT: What are you working on now?
MEF: I am working on a follow up to Dirty Water. I think there is so much more that can be done with that city and those characters. I’ve started a couple different horror novels and I’m waiting to see which one takes off. I’m always writing short stories so I spend a lot of time with that as well. The whole idea of being a writer is to write so I never stop even as badly as I want to sometimes.