Friday, November 9, 2018

Tom Pitts, Author of 101

Tom Pitts became one of my favorite writes by stealth. He’s a nice guy, there was a download available of Knuckleball, I need something to read on a train ride back from Connecticut, what the hell. The end result was I was disappointed it didn’t last longer. Hustle was completely different yet just as good. Now 101 touches a whole nuther aspect of criminal activity and nails it.

It’s also always fun to have Tom on the blog. He’s an entertaining and thoughtful guy who always leaves me with something to think about.

One Bite at a Time: You sustain action through multiple POVs as well as anyone I’ve read. Do you plot it out first of just write from the perspective that seizes you at the moment?
Tom Pitts: I go by feel, scene by scene. I know the chapters are going to be eight to twelve pages, but beyond that, I just have to hope I’m getting a balance. I think that’s what I’m shooting for, a balance in the story. I’ve always liked that “meanwhile back at the ranch” portion of a novel. I feel like I have to remind the reader of what’s happening with the other plot threads so it’ll make sense when they tie together. With 101 it was a conscious decision to push the multi-POV as far as I could, so the effect would be cinematic, cutting from storyline to storyline.

OBAAT: I see from the acknowledgements you did quite a bit of research. How much of that was to make sure you got the things you wanted to do right, and how much of it was to help you decide what it was you were going to do?
TP: Mostly it was for details. Quite literally the flora and fauna. I’ve never been good at naming trees and plant life and that was one of the bigger challenges. I went up North a few times and got my hands dirty, but it was for the setting more than the plot. I needed the physical place firm in my mind. The cabin, the generators, the weird open-ended greenhouses they call hoopers, I had to see that stuff firsthand to really get it down.

OBAAT: What are the chances we see Vic in another book? The hook is set for a sequel but he also has the look of a character who can series on his own.
TP: Not very good because I wasn’t super happy with his name. I often come up with names phonetically, trying to give a tone for the kind of character I’m writing. Ollie, Ripper, those were names that were birthed with the character. With Vic I was a bit stuck. I wrote the first part of the novel with the name Victor, and it really wasn’t working for me. When I shortened it to Vic, I got back in the groove. Sounds silly, but the name means a lot. There’s a character in my next book, Coldwater, named Calper Dennings. I thought about writing another book featuring him just ‘cause I liked the name so damn much.

OBAAT: You wrote the story to take place specifically a couple of years ago when California was on the cusp of legalizing marijuana, which plays into the story. Was that the plan all along, or were you part way into writing the book and realized, “Oh, shit! They’re about to legalize the relevance right out of my story!”
TP: True, my present-day piece turned into a period piece right as I was wrapping it up. I was pretty sure it was coming, but not 100% positive. There were a lot of people you’d think would’ve voted yes, but were adamantly against it. Of course everyone in the outlaw weed business was voting against it. I’m sure if you broke it down, a lot of the northern counties went against legalization across the board. They knew they’d have the cash cow yanked from their hands. It’s now morphing into something no one saw coming. People thought it’d be big tobacco coming in and taking over, but it’s just big money. Tech money too. It takes a lot of capitol to stay in the game now. They’re making laws every day that’re designed to cut out the little guy. Who knows, if it keeps going this way, maybe the black market will open back up. It’s easy to grow good weed. It’ll be like bathtub gin. It’s tough to put that genie back in the bottle.

OBAAT: Barbara and Ghia are both thrust into impossible situations and handle them very well, though neither has a history of this kind of action the way the male characters clearly do. (Not that Barbara’s a virgin in this regard.) How they’re able to rise to the occasion without becoming stereotypical badasses is a key element of what makes the book work so well, its credibility. How much work was it to strike such an outstanding balance with them?
TP: Ghia’s character is based on a few women I’ve met. The “old hippie” type who has still got a bit of that frontier woman thing going. Tough as nails, but still a smartass. It’s not an easy life out there in the bush. There’s a lot of isolation and a lot of hard work to be done. Barbara on the other hand is a mother, and that’s what drives her. It makes her tough in some ways and blind in others. Barbra and Vic have a sort of PTSD from what they shared in their past and it’s calloused them both. Both women are decidedly independent, and I think that’s at the core of why they’re relatable.

OBAAT: The first book I read of yours was Knuckleball, which is pretty much a police procedural. A good procedural, but something in my reading wheelhouse. Then I read Hustle, which was anything but. 101 is something altogether different from either of them. Without asking where you get your ideas, how are you able to cultivate such a diverse range of stories? (I don’t mean to omit American Static. I just haven’t got around to reading it yet.)
TP: I know where I get that first idea. (Hustle’s impetus was a conversation between prostitutes I overheard while driving a cab. Knuckleball came from the vague wanted posters in a case where a Giants fan was assaulted. 101, oddly enough, came from a movie trailer that was about a young man visiting an old criminal—and, no, I’ve never seen the movie.) But where they go is beyond my ability to see when I start the book. I will say I try to show my own take on a subject, which is usually an attempt to add a Murphy’s Law flare. With Hustle, it was drug addiction, I wanted to show what drugs were really like, not how they’re portrayed in the movies. With 101 I wanted to show what I’d seen firsthand in the marijuana business, and I think that portion is accurate.  

Tom Pitts, looking severe
OBAAT: We got to hang out some at Bouchercon in St. Petersburg, where I learned you’re a native Canadian, yet your affinity and affection for the Bay Area comes through every book. What is it about the place that appeals to you so much?
TP: It’s just the only place I’ve known as an adult. But it’s true, over the years I’ve come to love San Francisco and I’m always learning more about its history, its people. Most every job I’ve had has been on, or dealt directly with the streets. A messenger, dispatcher, drug courier, taxi driver. I think being out the street and having your ear to the ground gives you a special appreciation for a city. Sharing donuts with cops at four AM, giving hookers rides home to Oakland, driving bookies on their rounds, delivering heroin to artist junkies—I’ve had a good view of the underbelly of San Francisco. That said, I think if I were to live in anywhere else for a year, I’d write about it. In fact, for a few years, my wife and I were splitting our time between Sacramento and San Francisco and I ended up with a book set in Sac. (It’s called Coldwater and will probably be out in 2020.)


Elgin Bleecker said...

Dana – Thanks for posting this interview. Tom Pitts’ novel, AMERICAN STATIC, sounds like my kind of book. I hope to get to it during the holidays.

Dana King said...

That's why we do interviews here, Elgin. Thanks for reading.