Friday, February 1, 2019

Elgin Bleecker, Author of Lyme Depot

Elgin Bleecker is one of the unexpected side benefits of maintaining a blog. We met through his comments here at OBAAT, struck up a correspondence, and then a friendship both professional and personal. Elgin is a former journalist. Lyme Depot, which dropped at the end of January, is his first novel.

One Bite at a Time: Elgin, it’s a pleasure to have you as a guest on OBAAT. Tell us a little about your new book, Lyme Depot.

Elgin Bleecker: Thanks for inviting me, Dana. Lyme Depot is a crime story, a country noir about two young men, brothers. One is in the county lockup, but doesn’t plan to stay there long. The other, the younger one, out of loyalty, is trying to help his brother, but is unaware of the escape plans or of new criminal charges about to come down on the older. It is two parallel stories and both are chases – the older brother is being chased by sheriff’s deputies, the younger is chasing the truth about the older. I called it a country noir, but some of it could be called country noir lite, because there is a bit of dark humor mixed in with the action. But there is nothing funny about some of the violent scenes, which, I hope, will shake readers.

OBAAT: You and I have chatted in the past about where I got the idea for Penns River. What’s your connection to Drum County?

EB: Drum County is a fictional combination of several places I know. So many counties in middle America seem so peaceful and picturesque. But beyond the surface appearance, there is always crime. The crimes range from comical stuff, like someone risking arrest and jail for breaking into a garage and stealing an old power lawn mower, to serious stuff like fights that end in stabbings or shootings, domestic violence, and drugs. Drugs are and have been a problem. But I purposely set Lyme Depot in a time before the current opioid crisis.

OBAAT: Lyme Depot requires you to balance multiple story lines and points of view. How do you do this? Outline? Seat of the pants with revisions as needed? Something in between?

EB: Getting the two parallel stories of the brothers to work together took a lot of planning. Once I had the basic idea, knew what each of them would be doing, and how the story would wrap up, I made a point of carefully plotting where they were, who they would meet along the way, and how long it would take them to get from point to point. I even sketched a map of Drum County so I could keep track of everyone’s movements – the brothers, the sheriff and his deputies, and other characters they come in contact with. That sounds a little mechanical, but there was plenty of room for invention as I went along. In fact, I would like to do stories about a couple of the characters who suddenly “arrived” in the novel to my surprise as I was writing.

OBAAT: I hate to ask authors to answer the “If you like _____________, you’ll like me,” but clearly we all have authors who influence us and to whom we’d be flattered when comparisons are made. Who is it for you?

EB: Whoa, Dana, I would hate to compare myself to any of the authors I admire. So, I’ll take a cue from the politicians on the Sunday morning news shows, and give you an answer that ducks the question but connects to the idea of influence.

I have been a fan of comic novels for a long, long time, from John Kennedy Toole’s gold standard, A Confederacy of Dunces, to Roddy Doyle’s Barrytown trilogy – The Commitments, The Snapper, and The Van. I love the comic crime novels of Carl Hiaasen. So, I suppose I had those and more in the back of my mind when it came to Lyme Depot. An eye-opener for me were the Harlem crime novels of Chester Himes with their realistic setting and their exaggerated characters and absurd, over the top action and violence.

But I was also thinking about Daniel Woodrell and his country noir tales. I am partial to the classic noirs, particularly the post-World War II novels. I may have been thinking about some of Lionel White’s precisely planned heist stories.

OBAAT: What did you do before you took up writing fiction and how did it prepare you to write what you do?

EB: I was a journalist for many years. I’ve also worked in advertising and marketing. But it was my time as a newspaper reporter that contributed most to writing Lyme Depot. Journalism is a great job. The pay is crap. But the experience is worth a million. I was lucky. I got to cover sheriffs’ departments, big city police, small town cops, local politicians, various courts – now that is where you really see a lot. Even if you aren’t there for a specific case, just sitting in on arraignments you will see a variety of people, their lawyers and often their families. In one way or another, that experience found its way into Lyme Depot.

OBAAT: The list of journalists who have done well as authors of crime fiction is lengthy the noteworthy, including such names as Michael Connelly, Laura Lippman, Brad Parks, and Bruce DeSilva. Aside from the whole “making things up” business, what was the hardest part of the transition for you?

EB: Almost everything about the transition was different and took some getting used to. But the toughest transition may have been making the character’s motivations clear and understandable. I tried not to jump into their minds to explain. I wanted it to come through action and dialogue. And that was a challenge to do realistically.


pattinase (abbott) said...

Sounds great. Congratulations!!

Elgin Bleecker said...

Thanks, Dana. And thanks, Patti.

Mary Beth said...

Way to go! Your book is right down my alley I have it on my list!