Richard Godwin is the critically acclaimed author of Apostle Rising, Mr. Glamour, One Lost Summer, Noir City, Meaningful Conversations, Confessions Of A Hit Man, Paranoia And The Destiny Programme, Wrong Crowd, Savage Highway, Ersatz World, The Pure And The Hated, Disembodied, Buffalo And Sour Mash and Locked In Cages. His stories have been published in numerous paying magazines and over 34 anthologies, among them an anthology of his stories, Piquant: Tales Of The Mustard Man, and The Mammoth Book Of Best British Crime and The Mammoth Book Of Best British Mystery, alongside Lee Child. He was born in London and lectured in English and American literature at the University of London. He also teaches creative writing at University and workshops. You can find out more about him at his website www.richardgodwin.net , where you can read a full list of his works, and where you can also read his Chin Wags At The Slaughterhouse, his highly popular and unusual interviews with other authors.
I first encountered Richard at the 2014 Noircon where his talk on the elements and different types of noir was a highlight of the conference. My thoughts at the time: Richard Godwin sees two lines in each noir tale. The first is where the situation tempts the protagonist to cross the line of legality. The second is where he fails, often because the powers that be will not allow him to succeed. Godwin feels strongly about noir tales where the protagonist is forced into the situation, as opposed to being drawn in by his own lust or greed. A key element of all noir is moral compromise, regardless of the motivation.
That said, it’s a treat to have Richard here to play Twenty Questions and talk about his newest book, Buffalo and Sour Mash.
One Bite at a Time: Tell us about Buffalo And Sour Mash.
Richard Godwin: Buffalo And Sour Mash is about one man’s dream of bringing the rodeo to Surrey UK. No greater disparity of cultural inheritance could exist. It is a slice of the prairie, the Virgin Land of Fennimore Cooper and Jack London, that runs like a tortured leitmotif through the paradigm of the American Dream and the American psyche. It is also a love story and Noir novel and a horror novel, and a piece of hardboiled crime fiction. Hybrid genres. Murphy Stubbs is arguably the most psychotic deranged character I have ever written. And he is in love with Rhonda. Except there is an argument that Murphy is incapable of love. Or is he, well find out for yourselves. Murphy will stop at nothing to succeed in his goals. And only Rhonda holds the key to Murphy’s violent past in Oklahoma all those years ago when the novel begins.
OBAAT: Readers love to ask where authors get their ideas and most authors reply with something along the lines of “we’re tripping over them. The trick is to find the idea that works best for me.” What made this idea worth developing, and how much development from the original germ was required?
RG: That is an instinctive process for which there is no answer. Truth is you either have ideas or you don’t.
OBAAT: How long did it take to write Buffalo And Sour Mash, start to finish?
RG: Two months first draft. Eight to edit it.
OBAAT: Where did Murphy Stubbs come from? In what ways is he like, and unlike, you?
RG: The subconscious. He is not like me at all, writers make things up, they narrate, they tell the story that needs to be told at that particular time, they utilise subconscious energies.
OBAAT: How did Buffalo And Sour Mash come to be published?
RG: I sent it out to Down And Out Books because I knew they would get it. And of course they did. Eric Campbell is doing the kind of thing for contemporary crime fiction that the older better, than today, largely speaking, publishers did for the likes of Chandler and Hammett. He has sweated blood over this and he ought to be thanked, I do. And there is a sequel on its way in which the lead from Wrong Crowd, Down And Out Books, Claude, meets Murphy as does Maxine meet Rhonda.
OBAAT: What kinds of stories do you like to read? Who are your favorite authors, in or out of that area?
RG: I read a lot, but to name a few out of many, James Lee Burke—his new one is great—Henry Miller, Shane Stevens, Cormac McCarthy.
OBAAT: What made you decide to be an author?
RG: I knew it when I was seventeen. My grandfather was an author, he was widely published. I wanted to write because I wanted to explore the human condition, the only prerequisite for an author. And I still am.
OBAAT: How do you think your life experiences have prepared you for writing crime fiction?
RG: I have travelled widely and visited about 72 countries. I have been to 24 of the states in the US, I saw a lot of crime in the war in the former Jugoslavia, as I am a quarter Serbian, quarter Croatian, quarter Irish, and quarter English. I have also tried to understand motivation and not to bring some idle middle class head set to my opinions. I want to know why crime occurs and I can understand that this attitude that we have that there is a them and us is a piece of rhetoric. It works purely to indoctrinate the masses with prejudice than can be utilised for political purposes. Most people have committed crime. We like to moralise. My Noir fictions are about men and women who are morally compromised, like most people. They are lured across a line into committing a crime. That is where it occurs. Blurring the moral line into crime in the eyes of society and challenging that society, that is the source of a good narrative.
OBAAT: What do you like best about being a writer?
RG: There is no glass ceiling.
OBAAT: Who are your greatest influences? (Not necessarily writers. Filmmakers, other artists, whoever you think has had a major impact on your writing.)
RG: Influences are hard to determine, but and this is by no means compete list. Dostoyevsky, Shakespeare, Jonson, Dickens.
OBAAT: Do you outline or fly by the seat of you pants?
RG: Both depending on the novel.
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?
RG: I always write out the first draft or you lose the flow. Then I edit and that may be repeated numerous times.
OBAAT: Endings are hard and can make or break a book. Americans as a whole tend to like happy endings, and those are the books that tend to sell best. What do you look for in an ending?
RG: Realism and faith to the novel. Happy endings are irrelevant to reality. Dickens was forced to rewrite the original ending of Great Expectations. Unfortunately we live in unreal times.
OBAAT: Who is your intended audience?
RG: Everyone and anyone who likes to read a novel
OBAAT: If you could give a novice writer a single piece of advice, what would it be?
RG: Write every day and read as much as you have time for reading, analyse what the writer is doing and how does he achieves his effects, observe people and keep going.
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?
RG: Character first and foremost. If you can hear them talk you have the story. Plot is irrelevant to many novels except straight genre formula. Setting is most important. Narrative is essential and tone also.
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?
RG: Graham Greene’s Brighton Rock. The literary classic that cocks a snoot as an aside at the establishment, because it is hybrid, it is genre and it is crime it is a love story and Greene is one of the rare writers who writes and explores in depth good and bad characters equally well with the most polished beautiful prose.
OBAAT: Favorite activity when you’re not reading or writing.
RG: Travel, going to the gym, music, socialising.
OBAAT: What are you working on now?
RG: The sequel to Noir City, my commissioned Erotica Noir novel about Paris Tongue, the nomadic Gigolo. The sequel will be out next year, Black Jackal Books, and here is a snippet about Noir City, which is available here and here
Dangerous, blonde Gigolo, Paris Tongue uses his looks and insight into female sexuality to seduce women in the Secret Hour. This is the time when he takes them out of their lives and resurrects their sexual identity, like an erotic priest. He turns fantasy into reality and ushers in new ecstasies to their lives. Yet sees himself as a night visitor or ghost. The women are haunted by him, their lives forever changed by their encounters. Set in numerous European cities, this lyrical and deeply erotic novel captures the flavour of each city, each hotel, apartment, house, as exotic settings for Paris Tongue’s sexual adventures. But when he seduces the wife of a Mafia boss he finds himself hunted across Europe.