Friday, August 31, 2018

Dietrich Kalteis, Author of Poughkeepsie Shuffle

Dietrich Kalteis is the award-winning author of Ride the Lightning (bronze medal winner, 2015 Independent Publisher Book Awards, for best regional fiction), The Deadbeat Club, Triggerfish, House of Blazes (silver medal winner, 2017 Independent Publisher Book Awards, for best historical fiction), and Zero Avenue. His novel The Deadbeat Club has been translated to German, and 50 of his short stories have also been published internationally. He lives with his family on Canada’s West Coast.

Dietrich and I have been friends since we got together at Bouchercon several years ago. (Exactly which Bouchercon is lost to the alcohol-shrouded mists of time.) It’s always a treat when he stops by the blog. His blog, Off the Cuff, is also a pleasure, especially the multi-person discussions he runs from time to time, which I can’t think of any other blogs doing.

One Bite at a Time: Let’s get this out of the way right at the start so it doesn’t hang over the entire length of the interview: With a title like Poughkeepsie Shuffle, people are going to want to know if anyone picks their feet. You know, they’re in a hotel, they sit on the edge of the bed, take off their shoes…

Dietrich Kalteis: Man, I like the way you think, Dana, but no, there is no feet picking going on in any hotel. But, funny that you mention it because there is a scene where a couple of the main characters drive down from Toronto and end up picking up a couple of hookers in a hotel, the two women in the late-night bar calling themselves Miss Right and Miss Right Now. Of course, things don’t work out as planned in the hotel room when instead of getting their rocks off, our boys get ripped off.
OBAAT: Jeff Nichols is described as “a man strong of conviction but weak of character.” There’s a hint of cognitive dissonance there. Tell us a little about him.

DK: J Jeff’s likable, but somewhat bullheaded, the kind of guy who refuses to let the lessons of past mistakes get in the way of a good score. He sees what he wants and goes for it, the kind of underdog we’d like to see succeed. After getting his release from the infamous Don Jail, he tries to rekindle a relationship with his ex, Ann Ryan, making his way in the world by taking a job at a used car lot in a part of town called the Junction. But, it soon proves to be not enough to keep them afloat. So, when the lure of easy money comes along, he gets himself mixed up in a gun smuggling ring, smuggling guns across the border.

OBAAT: Your previous novels have focused on Canada’s west coast, around Vancouver, mostly, and dealt a lot with drugs. This time we’re in Toronto and it’s guns. Why the move?

DK: I grew up in Toronto, and I usually go back once a year or so, and I’m amazed at how much the city has changed since I lived there. Urban expansion, taller buildings springing up along the 401 and the Gardner, with roadways around the city expanding to extra lanes, some that didn’t exist at all when I lived there. It’s still a great city, but, it’s sad in a way to see some of the places l remember torn away. So, I wanted to bring some of that back and set the stage for Poughkeepsie Shuffle, weaving in those sights and sounds and bringing back a grittier, but character-filled Toronto, the way I remember it back in the mid-eighties, back when nobody knew what a condo was.

And it’s just across the lake from Niagara and Buffalo, with easy access to the US, making it the perfect setting for a story revolving around gun smuggling. What sparked the gun angle was an article I read about a gunrunning ring that operated between upstate New York and Ontario, eventually being taken down by the OPP, working alongside several U.S. law enforcement agencies. Another element that worked into the story was the increasing gang violence that I remember hearing about on the radio and reading about in the paper. 

OBAAT: We’ve talked about our admiration for Elmore Leonard before and the synopses of your books could very easily have been Leonard stories. The affinity is in the writing, yet you never sound as if you’re knocking him off. How are you able to show the debt without falling into imitation?

DK: It’s flattering to be compared to somebody you admire, and no doubt, I’ve been both inspired and influenced by Elmore Leonard’s work, along with other greats like George V. Higgins, James Crumley, Charles Willeford, Donald E. Westlake, and Hunter S. Thompson. To me, reading the greats is about inspiration, not imitation. It’s about transcending those influences, developing my own style and voice, honing strengths and knowing weaknesses, and finding what works.

OBAAT: Another thing you share with Leonard is strong female characters. Frankie Del Rey was the core of Zero Avenue. What’s the deal with Ann Ryan?”

DK: Ann Ryan’s tough like Frankie del Rey, but she’s more of a home body, and her fuse is longer. She’s better at taking the crumbs, at least at first, believing in Jeff to make good on promises to give her a better life. She wants to believe one of his schemes is going to pay off. Of course, everybody’s fuse is only so long, and when she tires of Jeff’s schemes, she puts her foot down, and she’s pretty tough. Frankie on the other hand, never relied on anybody to give her what she wanted, always ready to kick down some doors and just take what she was after. 

OBAAT: Time for a hard question. Two things come to mind when I think of controversies in writing nowadays: diversity and cultural appropriation, which can be like the proverbial rock and hard place. As a white man, you earn kudos for your strong female characters. (At least you should.) Do you ever wonder, “I’m not a woman; how can I write this scene from her point of view and not be accused of writing what I can’t possibly know?”

DK: I wasn’t sure I could pull off writing a female lead character before I started writing Zero Avenue, but since I write about people, and since half of them are women, I thought I’d give it a shot. I liked that Frankie, being a woman in the late seventies, seemed more challenged than a male getting into the music business, that is until you get to know her. Once I got going, it seemed to work, so I just kept going, writing from her perspective, revealing my inner Frankie.

For Poughkeepsie Shuffle, I wrote it in first person from Jeff’s POV. So, Ann is largely seen through his eyes. Writing in first person did have limitations, mainly I couldn’t shift from one character’s perspective to another’s. But it allowed for Jeff’s biases to come through, and that often made it funnier, like when her family comes to visit, all those thoughts in his head. But, again, once I got rolling, I liked the way writing in first person was going.

OBAAT: Let’s talk about point of view a little. How did you decide to write Poughkeepsie Shuffle in first person? When you write in third, what are the things you consider when decided whose POV to choose for a scene?
DK: I hadn’t written a novel in first person before, and I wanted to try it since it’s primarily Jeff’s story, and it just seemed to be the way to go. Usually, I like to write in third person, it’s like being the camera in a movie. It’s flexible and lets me move around and offer more insight, get into different heads by switching the POV from one character to another. 

OBAAT: Dieter, it’s always fun to chat with you. What’s on the horizon now that Poughkeepsie Shuffle has made its appearance?
DK: The next one’s done and with my publisher. It’s called Call Down the Thunder, and it’s set during the late 1930s. The story centers around a married couple with some unique ways of surviving the dustbowl days of Kansas. And I’ve got a short story called “Bottom Dollar” included in the Vancouver Noir anthology by Akashic Books, coming out this November. Right now I’m working on a new novel about a guy who’s on the run after stealing a gangster’s money and making off with his woman. 

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