Thursday, June 3, 2021

John McFetridge, Author of Every City is Every Other City

 It’s always a treat when John McFetridge stops by for a visit; if just doesn’t happen often enough. John’s a good friend and one of a small group of writers whose books I read as soon as they come out. The sole reason it’s been tso long since he was here is because he hasn’t written a book in a while, and I refuse to reward that kind of behavior in someone I enjoy reading so much, good friend or not.


His new book, Every City is Every Other City, is John’s first entry into the PI genre, and it’s as good, and unique, first PI book as I’ve read. We’ll talk about the book, his evidence hiatus, and what’s in store in the next few minutes. I’m sure you’ll enjoy his return as much as I have.


One Bite at a Time: Welcome back. It’s been too long since you were here. Of course, it’s been too long since you wrote a book. Why the hiatus?

John McFetridge: Thanks for the welcome. When I finished the 1970s Montreal trilogy I wasn’t sure what to do next. I co-edited Montreal Noir for Akashic and co-edited 2113: Stories Inspired by the Music of Rush and then I got involved with the organizing team for Bouchercon Toronto and edited the anthology, Passport to Murder.


OBAAT: This is your first stab at a PI novel. What made this the right time to go there?

JM: Let’s hope it’s the right time. It has been something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. You know that line about all novelists having one in the drawer? Well, I have a few in that drawer and the first one was a PI novel I wrote in the late 80s. But what really made this the right time for me was that I didn’t want to write about cops or professional criminals. Not as the main characters. I wanted to see the world through the eyes of someone who isn’t normally involved in the world of crime.


OBAAT: Gordon Stewart is the most low-key PI I’ve seen since Jim Rockford. Plus, he’s not a full-time PI. What led you to these decisions?

JM: Gord isn’t quite an amateur sleuth, he’s got a PI license and does work for a large agency when there isn’t any movie production going on in Toronto, but he is a reluctant sleuth. That’s what I was thinking about that may have led him to become what seems like low-key. I’ll be honest, I didn’t realize until I finished writing this book and was looking back at my other books that I discovered a theme I keep coming back to is the reluctance of some characters to really get into the game, to really commit to it, so to speak. I don’t think of writing as therapy but I think maybe that says something about my own approach. Maybe something I should take a closer look at.


OBAAT: Gord’s other gig is location scout for movies and TV. Where did that combo come from?

JM: I was a location scout and I thought it could be a good fit – finding places, finding people, they both involve a lot of working independently, asking around, driving, spending time alone. Plus there are usually some interesting characters on movie sets. 


OBAAT: I don’t see an obvious corollary in the PI canon that seems to lead to Gord, with the possible exception of Rockford. Which authors, books, or movies influenced you? 

JM: The big influences were Robert B. Parker’s Spenser and Sara Paretsky’s V.I. Warshawski. And also a Canadian PI, Benny Cooperman created by Howard Engel. And Gregory McDonald’s Fletch. And Jim Rockford. One of the highlights of my writing life was writing an episode of a TV show that was directed by Stuart Margolin. At the table read I couldn’t help just smiling like and thinking, “I’m sitting next to Angel!” It took every ounce of strength I had not to call him Angel. Which was made easier by the fact he’s a very professional director and a warm and friendly guy, not really like Angel at all.


OBAAT: Who, or what, is the inspiration for Ethel, who is as a unique, and believable, a sidekick, as I’ve seen?

JM: Ethel Mack. Ethel MacGillicuddy. She says in passing that it’s not her real name and now one of my goals is to write a series and never give out her real name. There is some Lucy in her, and some Imogene Coca, and some more recent comedians. And for a few years my son took classes at Second City in Toronto so there is some of the attitudes of the instructors there. In the book I’m working on now someone commenting on her helping Gord says that she’s his Susan Silverman and Ethel says, “Please, I’m Hawk.” Gord, of course, doesn’t know who they’re talking about.


: Gord’s other job and his relationship with Ethel allow you to explore a lot of popular culture, especially movies. Was that a serendipitous side effect, or was that the plan from the start?

JM: It was the plan. It was something I knew about so I wouldn’t have to research too much. Plus it’s a way to use material from screenplays I’ve written that didn’t sell. And I figure most people who pick up a PI novel these days are pretty familiar with the genre and with the kind of pop culture that gets referenced.


OBAAT: What’s next on your agenda? Another Gordon Stewart?

JM: Yes. It’s called It’s Always About the Money. I hope it will be out this time next year. Having a PI novel published is a dream come true for me and I don’t want to stop now. Plus, now I hope I can come to the Shamus Awards dinner at Bouchercon.



No comments: