Thursday, March 16, 2023

Eryk Pruitt, Author of Something Bad Wrong

 Eryk Pruitt is someone I’m proud to know. Writer, filmmaker, bar owner, and raconteur, theirs is always something going on with him that’s worth knowing about, which means it’s worth talking about. Eryk’s newest book, Something Bad Wrong, drops this month from Thomas and Mercer. I was lucky to score an advance copy and I can say with confidence that, much as I enjoyed his previous work, he’s taken a step to the next level here. I could go on for a while about this book, but it’s always best to let the writer do it, and no one can explain Eryk’s thought processes better than Eryk.


One Bite at a Time: Welcome back to the blog. It’s been a while. Tell the readers a little about the story in Something Bad Wrong. Great title, by the way. (We’ll get to the background behind the book in a minute.)

Eryk Pruitt: Something Bad Wrong is the story of Jess Keeler, a woman who once aspired to be a journalist until life gets in the way. Then, after the COVID pandemic, while reevaluating her career choices, she stumbles upon her grandfather’s notebook and discovers he was once a legendary local lawman who was haunted by his inability to solve a sensational crime. In attempting to finish what she started, she uncovers a trove of family secrets that threaten to tear their community apart.

OBAAT: I’m a huge fan of your podcast, “The Long Dance.” How much of what you learned from that investigation found its way into Something Bad Wrong?

EP: Thank you very much, Dana. I think the biggest effect that producing the podcast had on my fiction was my access to real police work. Previously to that experience, my fiction had primarily focused on the exploits of criminals, because criminals were all that I had been exposed to. After working on “The Long Dance” for two and a half years next to (retired) Major Tim Horne of the Orange County Sheriff’s Office (NC) I learned not only how investigators work a case, but also how investigators balance real life scenarios. Tim sent me to DNA collection classes, allowed me to process a (manufactured) crime scene, and enrolled me in the local citizen’s academy. Because of all of this, I was able to feel more confident writing about the other side of the law for once.

BAAT: What was the trickiest part of working the podcast into a novel?

EP: Anyone who’s listened to “The Long Dance” knows there are some pretty insane twists

and turns in the story. The craziest part is that we never would have included them if they weren’t true. So when it came time to loosely adapt these events into fiction, there were so many real life incidents that were cut from the book because it would require too much suspension of belief for audiences to buy it—EVEN THOUGH THEY REALLY HAPPENED!!!  

 For instance, in real life, a former ADA and a retired homicide detective were both so obsessed with solving the real-life murders that they gained control of the law enforcement arm of the Department of Motor Vehicles and, after equipping their agents with Tommy guns and radio wrist watches, took over investigations of the double homicide. The fallout turned out to be North Carolina’s own Watergate scandal, as this law enforcement arm was also being used to spy on political opponents when they weren’t investigating murders. Again: This was the Department of Motor Vehicles. (this entire situation is detailed in the seventh of eight episodes of “The Long Dance,” one we titled “Evidence and Information.”

 Obviously, for the sake of the narrative, page count, and my own credulity, I cut stuff like that out. But the story that is told in Something Bad Wrong is complete fiction.

 OBAAT: You’ve earned quite a reputation as a novelist. What made you look into true crime, and then decide to base a novel on it?

EP: I was always fascinated by the storytelling in the podcast “Serial,” and wanted to see if there was a way I could engage an audience in a similar way. The stories of Patricia Mann and Jesse McBane, which were the foundation of “The Long Dance,” is a crime that, many years ago, shocked my community. The more we researched it, the more we felt it was a duty to try and tell the story, bring it to a wider audience, and tell it in the right way.

 To loosely adapt that story into fiction? Well…That’s tricky. For one, it was a story that I could not get out of my head. They say the way to get a song out of your head is to learn the lyrics. I investigated this story and every single nuance and detail for 2.5 years, and it’s failure to result in a prosecution was one of the biggest heartbreaks of my entire life. I became close with the surviving family members and the investigators who had worked this case even longer than I had, and that heartbreak was shared. So I wanted to give a sort of ending to the story and by writing a fictional account that was very loosely based on fact, I was able to give a sort of ending that the real life story wasn’t able to achieve.

 But again, Something Bad Wrong is a complete work of fiction.

 OBAAT: It has been said that fiction is the art of using lies t tell the truth. What was the core truth, or truth, you wanted to express in Something Bad Wrong?

EP: That's a really good question, Dana. We live in the age of Wikileaks and #TimesUp and #MeToo, which is supposed to make it that much more difficult for people to behave poorly without being called out. In so many of these cold cases from decades gone by, the bad actor wasn't necessarily some master villain or evil genius, but just some asshole whose bad deeds never got publicly exposed. The villain in Something Bad Wrong had lived his entire life as an asshole, terrorizing co-workers and women and innocent bystanders, but was allowed to keep on keeping on because [spoiler redacted]. However, if someone had documented or exposed this behavior, then perhaps the victims would still be alive. But that's the way it was for men/women in the days gone by. They were allowed to act up with very few, if any, repercussions.

 It was fun to juxtapose that against the present day storyline, where Dan Decker is a character who has been called to task for his bad deeds. I am not going to try and place his inappropriate behavior anywhere on a scale against the deeds of the main villain, but the main difference is that Decker was called out and "canceled" for what he did.

 Have times changed? Does transparency equal a step towards a more perfect society? Who the hell knows, man. But there is, thankfully, a difference between what activities people (men) were blindly allowed to get away unnoticed with in the 70s than they are today.

 OBAAT: You manage to keep busy. Between owning and operating Yonder in Hillsborough, setting up the almost nightly events there (including several Noir at the Bar readings each year), reading at Noirs at Bars from New York to Dallas, and editing the new neo-noir magazine Dark Yonder, how and when to you find time to write?

EP: By throwing elbows. There are a lot of things competing for that time, focus, and energy, and I make sure to defend that time vociferously. It’s what I’ve wanted to do since I was a little boy and sometimes it takes reminding that the whole reason I do anything else is to do that.

 OBAAT: Let’s talk a bit about Dark Yonder, which you edit with Katy Munger. Whose idea was that, and what did it take to get it off the ground? (Editor’s Note: In the interests of full disclosure, the interviewer has a vested interest in getting the word out about Dark Yonder, as he has a story in the inaugural issue.)

EP: It was kind of a mutual idea. I had wanted to do a quarterly through the bar, mostly because my community of Hillsborough, NC, is such a fervent supporter of the arts. They pack the house for our Noirs at the Bars. They tip very well to musicians. They buy the art off our walls. So I wanted to give back to the writing world by bringing them to some new and passionate patrons, as well as provide my friends at the bar with some highly entertaining stories.

 Katy Munger, the former Piedmont Laureate and author of “Tart Noir,” runs her own Thalia Press with Lise MacClendon, and she is a regular reader at our Noir at the Bar. She wanted to team up and do something and pitched a couple of ideas. We ended up merging our two ideas and found ourselves very lucky to have been able to marry our two skill sets and passions.

 For our first issue, we selected ten stories out of 250 submissions. We are very fortunate to have the same result for #2, which will be published on April 13.

  OBAAT: This post will drop on St. Patrick’s Day. As you and your lovely wife, Lana Pierce, went to Ireland last fall, what stuck with you most about the trip, both personally and from a writing perspective?

EP: It was great to get away. I had once tried to live in Ireland after college and experienced that country alone as a penniless ex-pat. It was nice to go back with a bit more of a budget and with the wife. Some of the biggest takeaways cast our own country in a darker light, and I spent a lot of my focus studying their War for Independence as well as their Civil War. Irish history is so fascinating to me and how they overcame centuries of oppressive religious rule, only to be thrust back into conflict with each other, is a huge lesson that I doubt our country can learn by example. We’ll see…

 OBAAT: What’s the current writing project?

EP: My awesome publishers at Thomas & Mercer have contracted me for a follow up book to Something Bad Wrong which they intend to be published in the Spring of 2024 which means I need to get back to work now.

 Thank you, Dana! It’s always great talking to you!!

1 comment:

E. Ellis said...

Enjoyed the interview. Also, I was able to obtain an ARC of Something Bad Wrong and the mysticism behind why some writers and novels receive such high praise and other deserving ones fall beneath the radar is quite something to ponder.

Something Bad Wrong has been one of the best novels I've read in some time and maybe it is still early, but in my opinion, it is not receiving the accolades it deserves.

Not only that, when I hear the cries of how "Peak TV" is behind us and see all of the re-boots of old programs, I want to swat producers in the noggin with books like this that are screaming for dramatization. This book would make a tremendous movie or limited series.