Thursday, March 17, 2022

Interview with Sam Wiebe, Author of Hell and Gone


I met Sam Wiebe at Bouchercon in Raleigh through mutual friends. We shared a table at that year’s Shamus dinner, where I learned he’s as good a guy as he is a writer. Sam is the award-winning author of the Wakeland novels, one of the most authentic and acclaimed detective series in Canada, including Invisible Dead, Cut You Down, and the new one, Hell and Gone. Sam’s other books include Never Going Back, Last of the Independents, and the Vancouver Noir anthology, which he edited. He has won the Crime Writers of Canada award and the Kobo Emerging Writers prize, and been shortlisted for the Edgar, Hammett, Shamus, and City of Vancouver book prizes. His original film/tv projects have been optioned, and his short stories have appeared in ThugLit, Spinetingler, and subTerrain, as well as anthologies by Houghton-Mifflin and Image Comics. You can follow him on Twitter (@sam_wiebe) and learn more about him on his web site.


One Bite at a Time: Welcome back, Sam. It’s always a treat to have you. Give us the quick and dirty on your new book, Hell and Gone.


Sam Wiebe: Thanks so much, Dana. Here’s the pitch:


An act of public violence breaks out on the street in the early morning. Wakeland witnesses the violence from his office, getting a look at the shooters as they drive off. He leaps into action—literally jumping down from the fire escape to perform first aid on the wounded. A hero.


But when he enters the building where the shooters came from, he sees something so beyond his experience that when the police ask him what he witnessed, Wakeland refuses to say.


Soon Wakeland is caught between a ruthless police chief and a pair of gang leaders, all of whom want the shooters found, no matter the cost in human life.


The only way for Wakeland to come to grips with this is to find the shooters—before they find him.


OBAAT: Correct me if I’m wrong, but a common thread through the Wakeland books is that, for all its multiculturalism, Vancouver is very much an exclusive society. Am I right to pick up on that, or am I reading things onto the books that aren’t there?


SW: Vancouver is a far more troublesome place than the postcards lead one to believe. Harm reduction, gentrification, gang warfare and systemic racism—these are at the forefront of Hell and Gone. As Wakeland says, “We are where the West ends.”


OBAAT: Wakeland’s partner, Jeff Chen, straddles a line between his Chinese ancestry and the white Vancouver executive class. Where did the idea for Jeff come from?


SW: I didn’t want Wakeland to have a sidekick—my feeling is, if you’ve got a seven-foot sociopath with bad tattoos and a stockpile of weapons on speed-dial, you’re probably don’t have to do much detective work.


But I did want someone who contrasts and compliments Dave, a partner with a different understanding of the city.


Jeff Chen is a family man, a businessman, the opposite of Wakeland in a lot of ways. Their differences make their partnership all the stronger. If Dave is Steve Wozniak, Jeff would be Steve Jobs.


But Jeff has a secret: the financing for their business came from community leader and suspected gangster Roy Long. When Wakeland finds this out, it will stress their partnership to its breaking point.


: The past couple of books has taken Wakeland south of the border for insights on some particularly bad shit. Is this a metaphor for the US’s pervasive influence on Canadian business and society, or just that the plot logically took you to Baja Canada?


SW: I love America (I’m trying not to sound like the beginning of The Godfather…). My heart lies with the American style of detective novel, the focus on people rather than puzzles. That’s the tradition I write in.


I’ve spent a lot of time in Washington State and Oregon, and I’d just done a road trip to Raleigh when I started Hell and Gone. Culture doesn’t stop at the border, and neither does Wakeland.


OBAAT: Your debut novel, Last of the Independents, yet you abandoned PI Michael Drayton for Dave Wakeland, a partner in a large agency. Why the change in course?




Several reasons, having to do with how Last of the Independents ends, the darker subject matter I wanted to cover needing a different tone, and the nature of publishing. Making Wakeland part of a successful detective agency was a way to open up to different stories.


I look at Last of the Independents as my ‘demo tape.’ But Hell and Gone is the best detective novel I’ve written.


OBAAT: You and I are both great fans of David Milch. (Deadwood, NYPD Blue, etc.) What is it about his work that resonates so strongly with you? (In case you aren’t yet aware, his memoir, Life’s Work, drops in September.)


SW: He deserves much better praise than I can muster on a Tuesday morning, but here goes.


Before I’d really committed myself to writing, I found myself in a college class next to a guy who’d just sold a screenplay. He told me about Milch’s “Idea of the Writer” lectures, which you can find online. As someone who never had a writing mentor—had never really met a novelist until I was in my twenties—those lectures were very helpful to me.


OBAAT: If you could look back and give aspiring novelist Sam Wiebe one piece of advice, what would it be?


SW:  Learn as much about how the business works as possible, so that its ups and downs disrupt your writing as little as possible. It’s easier to “make a living as a writer” if you’re smart with money and averse to debt.


OBAAT: And now for the traditional final question: what’s next?


SW: Hell and Gone is out March 8th, and I’m thrilled with the response so far. I’ve got a standalone thriller on submission, and I’m revising Wakeland 4 right now.


Thanks, Dana!







E. Ellis said...

For what it is worth, I really enjoy and appreciate the relatively small number of bloggers like you that shine a light on authors that more people should know about and provide good interviews with them.

In the recent past several bloggers I have really grown to enjoy reading have disappeared and it seems to be getting harder to find those that don't focus on the writers/creators that seem to suck up all the attention that others deserve.

Dana King said...

Thank you. I admit, blogging nowadays sometimes seems a little like talking to trees, so your comment is much appreciated. Thanks for stopping by.