from issue #1: ‘An Interview with James Crumley’

ALWAYS LOOKIN’ FOR A BOOK, LOOKIN’ FOR A TITLE:
AN INTERVIEW WITH JAMES CRUMLEY

Noel King

Missoula, Montana
21st September 2005

KING: Could you say something while I check the sound level is OK and I’m getting it clearly?

CRUMLEY: It’s September 21st, the last day of summer in Missoula, Montana, and I can see the snow in the future!

KING: Your latest book, The Right Madness (2005), takes its title from a Richard Hugo poem, “The Right Madness on Skye,” and a much earlier book, The Last Good Kiss (1978) took its title from some lines in another Hugo poem, “Degrees of Grey in Philipsburg.”

CRUMLEY: I get all my good titles from Hugo poems.

KING: Was there any particular reason for you to return to Hugo poetry references after thirty-some years?

CRUMLEY: The Right Madness is a book I started back in 1975, somewhere back in there, and I was looking for a title. You know, I’m always lookin’ for a book, lookin’ for a title. And I was goin’ through my Hugo collection and somehow that last stanza of “The Right Madness on Skye,” where the poet plays dead, somehow that stanza and the idea that in my book the shrink was going to play dead, got the book going for me. I started the book so long ago that I was still playin’ Flag football instead of softball! I always think it’s a kind of homage to use somebody’s line of poetry or a line from a book as a title. I already had my own voice when I met Dick, because I had half of my first novel done, but I’m sure that the way he handled language and his approach to poetry influenced my approach somewhat. You can’t deny influences. And I love “Skye.”

KING: Did you make a research trip to Scotland for this novel?

CRUMLEY: No. I went to see Dick on Skye when The Wrong Case (1975) came out, and I went back seventeen years later, after Dick was dead, just to go. I didn’t know then that I was going to write this book. I never know when I’m going to write a book! Skye is just one of those places that helps you understand why some of the Celtic twilight myths are like they are. Some of that shit makes you think about magic. So long as you don’t have to believe in it, I guess it’s OK.

KING: Hugo says he started his mystery novel, Death and the Good Life, on Skye, so that’s a nice overlap.

In the prefatory section for The Right Madness you explain that you had a heart operation while writing the book, and thank medical staff, your wife Martha, and other friends for helping you come through it. How far into the novel were you when you had the heart operation?

CRUMLEY: I was about half way through and Martha was out of town, away at a conference. I was mostly layin’ around the house, watching TV and reading. I hadn’t been out much, hadn’t been carousing, and I noticed when I was taking a shower that I was suddenly short of breath. And getting in the car turned out to be a job. I got to the airport to collect Martha and as I was walking back to the car I told her something was wrong. She told me I should go to the doctor immediately, so I went the next day, a Monday, and I guess it was another week and I went into hospital. They couldn’t get the fluid out of my system. My heart and lungs were completely full of fluid and by the time I did go to the hospital the CO2 in my blood was like 70%, which is supposed to drive you insane. There was this wonderful charge nurse in the ER who said, well Mr Crumley, I might have to put you on a ventilator. And I said, what if I don’t want to be on a ventilator? And she said, well, in two or three hours you’re gonna turn blue, and two or three days later you’ll be dead. So I said, OK! It was kind of an unsatisfactory experience because they never found out what really happened. And also, this whole notion of cutting a hole in my heart sheath to let the fluid drip out struck me as silly. In hospital, the nurses are the ones who keep you alive. The hardest part was getting over the paralytics they give you to keep you still when you’re getting the ventilator put in. Those paralytics are tremendously raucous drugs, and they gave me some of the wildest hallucinations I’ve ever had. But a lot of people stood up and helped me at that time, took care of things, because we were on benefit money for about eight months or so.

KING: With The Right Madness you moved from Mysterious Press to Viking. What kind of deal is it?

CRUMLEY: It’s just a couple book deal.

KING: You have your two successful, much-loved characters, Milo and Sughrue, in their separate series, and together in Bordersnakes. How do you know if you are into a Milo or a Sughrue book?

CRUMLEY: I pretty much let the book decide, whichever voice comes up. The Final Country had to be a Milo book. I wanted Milo to go to Texas. And this one, The Right Madness, was always a Sughrue book, I don’t know why. It’s not always clear cut, it usually takes me 100 pages to figure out what the hell’s going on and whether I’m going to finish a book.

KING: Can you provide some time-line information here? The Crumley fan buys a book in 2001, The Final Country, which derives from a much earlier time. You once referred to The Muddy Fork as ‘the endless Texas book I never finished’. How long had The Final Country, been gestating, bumping around in there?

CRUMLEY: A long time! But this process goes way back. At one time The Last Good Kiss was a Milo book, the go-back-to-Texas book. At that time I wanted out of my teaching job and my agent said, ‘this book is more movieable than any of your others.’ And so it became a Sughrue book.

KING: I gather in part that has to do with ownership of the character once a book is sold to Hollywood. You mentioned that you have now given the movie option on The Last Good Kiss to a young person.

CRUMLEY: It’s with this kid, Justin, who worked for Jerry Bruckheimer for years, doing all this stuff, like running a hockey tournament. His father was a student up here, and he gave him a copy of The Last Good Kiss, and by using Bruckheimer’s name Justin was able to get into the files at Warner’s, which not even my agent could get into! And he found out that the rights to The Last Good Kiss had reverted to me in 1998 or 1999. And he said, ‘Let me flog this around, see what I can do.’ So I gave it to him for a dollar. I guess it was two and one-half years later he found someone who said he was tired of seeing John Woo movies, and said this looked like a movie movie. It just seemed like a better chance for it to be made into a movie instead of a piece of Hollywood shit.

KING: You’ve had a lot of dealings with Hollywood over the years, ranging from stalled adaptations of your own books—I’m thinking of the myriad detours of Dancing Bear which saw it go from Tim Hunter to eventually wind up with Robert Towne—and you have also written screenplays. What opinions have you formed about Hollywood after these many years of contact?

CRUMLEY: If you back up into a room in Hollywood with your britches down and something odd happens to you, it’s not their fault!

KING: That’s a nice modification on Raymond Chandler’s comment that one should always wear one’s second best suit in Hollywood. You’ve moved it along to not wearing any trousers!

CRUMLEY: I don’t know how to live in a world where there are people who will sign contracts and then say, ‘I didn’t mean that at all.’ I signed a contract with a guy to do a script from a book I really liked, Yellowfish, about smuggling Chinese. The contract had gone between lawyers and agents and been signed and suddenly, not only does this guy not call me but his office phone has been disconnected. Using some of my less reputable friends I discovered where the guy is. He’s staying with somebody out in Malibu and I called the number and he happened to pick up. And I said, ‘look dipshit, I don’t mind you lying to me, I’m a writer, writers lie all the time, but you also lied to my agent and he’s my friend. So if you don’t call him up this afternoon and apologise I’m going to be on the next plane to LA and break your goddamn legs.’ And he believed me! So he called up my agent and apologised. So that part’s right, it’s fixed up.

Six years later I meet the guy in a bar at Chateau Marmont and he acts like we’re old buddies. So I have to take him aside and say, ‘remember I’m the guy who said he would break your legs, I might have killed you. You have to remember that I meant that and I still mean that, so you’d better get away from me.’ Greed is an ugly emotion. I can’t believe there are people who are like that. They do it all the time in Hollywood. I’ve gotten so I won’t eat with them any more. Every dinner meeting is the same. First you talk about how radical you were in the 60s. Then you get to the part where the cake and coffee are gone and then you talk about the deal. I won’t do any of that. I won’t take breakfast, I won’t take lunch, I won’t take dinner. Do it in the office. It’s a business, and if the chances are good, your lawyer ought to be there too.

KING: Montana now has a fair number of film people living in it, full-time or on a regular basis. I think Wim Wenders shot some of Don’t Come Knocking (2005) in Montana.

CRUMLEY: There’s enough crew in Montana to mount a $25 million movie in a weekend, with just a Montana crew. But I think people who live in Montana live here because they’re attracted to this kind of life, not that kind of life. Jim Cottsdale lives down in Hamilton and Jake Eberts, who produced A River Runs Through It, still lives in Livingston. A long time ago somebody said, everything in America would be better if it weren’t centred in one place. Publishing would be better if it weren’t all in New York, automobile manufacturing would be better if it were all over the country, instead of only in Detroit. I think that’s fair. At least in Montana when you start whining about the movie business you can usually find someone to commiserate with you.

KING: You were mentioning the book tour for The Right Madness. What cities did that involve?

CRUMLEY: It was two nights in San Francisco, and one night in LA, mostly in traffic jams, thirty-six hours in Mississippi, Phoenix, Arizona when it was 109 degrees, and Denver and Boulder in Colorado.

KING: Do you like doing book tours?

CRUMLEY: Nobody likes doing them, you just do them. I took my wife Martha along. We had a good time, we got to eat well, and saw old friends. The last night, in Denver, we sort of wandered into a restaurant in the street down from our hotel, and ran into an old friend of mine who makes low budget movies. So we had a nice meal, a $100 bottle of wine, the waiter joined us! He wanted to be a stand-up comic. That part of it is always fun. It’s just that I’m too old for this stuff. I was always too old.

KING: ‘You were born old,’ as they say of Jimmy Stewart in It’s a Wonderful Life.

CRUMLEY: I was born with a moustache.

KING: Last time we spoke you mentioned that you had enjoyed a book tour of England, going to London and Manchester and other cities. You didn’t tour England with this book?

CRUMLEY: When I went last time I split the expenses with the publisher. It was mostly just an excuse to go to England. Whoever did The Final Country in England, this time Harper Collins beat them by a thousand per cent, so I figured it was time to move on.

KING: When we last talked we mentioned the French documentary made on you, and the publication of a corrected French translation of The Last Good Kiss, which fixed up an earlier version called The Drunken Dog.

CRUMLEY: That first translation was so bad that a ‘topless bar’ became a ‘bar without a roof.’

KING: What other languages are you translated into? Have you been translated into German?

CRUMLEY: They’re not too interested in me. The only time I’ve been in an overseas best-seller list was when The Last Good Kiss was retranslated and published in Italy. It had a pink cover with a broad in a bikini on the front and it was number 5 on the list of best-selling translated novels. The Right Madness is coming out in Italian.

KING: In part I was asking because we now have presses like Europa, Bitter Lemon, Serpent’s Tail, Harvill, all busily translating into English crime fiction from Germany, Austria, Switzerland, France, Italy, Spain, Cuba, Mexico, South America and so on. I was wondering about movement the other way.

CRUMLEY: Most of my books are in Greek, and in Finnish.

KING: Maybe Aki Kaurismaki or his brother Mika will film one of your books!

CRUMLEY: One of the great sculptures in Montana is by a Finn, a guy named Rudy Autio, from Butte, who Peter Voulkes and the other guy found in the brickyards. So he goes to Finland quite often, and he does things like tiled walls for Japanese people who send over a 747 to pick the stuff up; they truck it to Spokane.

KING: You have mentioned that you enjoy the play with literary language as a crucial part of delivering your crime fictions.

CRUMLEY: If the language isn’t any fun, there’s no sense in writing the book. Stories come and stories go, but good language lasts forever.

KING: You have also said you enjoy working playful and flamboyant dialogue into some of your screenwriting work.

CRUMLEY: I have two favourite lines in this last movie I worked on. “I’d rather suck a wino’s sock than eat a lizard,” and “I’d sure hate killing you but I wouldn’t mind blowing your toes off.” I could have had a lot more fun like that if the producer and director had left me alone. They were just idiots. It was a rich girl wantin’ to make a movie for her friends, it was a dead deal from the start.

KING: I see you have continued to blurb some book that you like or some books by people you like. I enjoyed what you said about Daniel Woodrell’s Woe To Live On – “Woodrell knows wonderful and funny and degenerate things that speak to the best of the human soul in the worst of circumstances.”

CRUMLEY: I figure that when someone does you a nice favour when you are a kid, you don’t owe them back the favour, you owe it to the next kid who comes along. So I take time over those things. The last book I blurbed was a book about a soldier in Baghdad, a memoir about a kid who kept getting deployed, and  deployed. It’s called The Last True Story I’ll Ever Tell, and it’s a book with no bullshit about it, no heroics, just about doin’ the job, and the true toll that George Bush Jr’s little fuckin’ misadventure is costing our kids. This last book I blurbed came about because my editor has an editor friend at the same conglomerate, I think it’s Riverhead Press, and so it came in the mail, and I was overpowered by it. When I really like a book I take some time and try to come up with something right, I try to figure out what the essence of the book is and then I try to say something that means something.

KING: So how do Scott Phillips, Craig Holden and Daniel Woodrell come to be blurbed by you?

CRUMLEY: I’ve known Scott for a long time…

KING: Not like you knew Craig Holden, who says he used to mow your lawn.

CRUMLEY: Craig was a graduate student here. He used to house-sit for me. His first book was really terrific.

KING: The River Sorrow. I thought it was really good, and I didn’t understand why Scott Smith’s A Simple Plan, also a very good book which became a good Sam Raimi film, would be so readily adapted by Hollywood and The River Sorrow ignored. At that time I think Hollywood was trying not to depict drugs explicitly in its films so maybe The River Sorrow fell by the wayside for that reason. It was around that time that Bright Lights, Big City was adapted and it had problems with working out how to depict cocaine addiction in a restrained, acceptable manner. But you blurbed Craig’s next book, The Last Sanctuary.

CRUMLEY: About the religious people. I didn’t think anybody else understood that book. Again, I thought it was a terrific book. It’s not work to blurb terrific books. But mostly, my blurbing, it’s just accidental stuff. I’m not sure how I came to blurb Pelecanos, maybe it was because his editor was trying to get him to have a cross-over book. George is one of my favourite people and I just love those books of his. I got to interview George in the Bahamas once, and I liked what he said about Shoedog. It was written to be the kind of book a working man could put in his pocket and read in his lunch hour. He has all the great titles. Down by the River Where the Dead Men Go! George is a terrific guy and I just love those books, all that information about music and cars! I’m the kind of pinhead who likes the cytology chapter of Moby Dick, I like information. So I’ve been reading George steadily since I first discovered him. Maybe it was Dennis (McMillan) who put me on to him.

KING: Well, Pelecanos returned the blurb favour with a beautiful, and true, description of The Final Country. How did you and Scott Phillips come to meet?

CRUMLEY: I met Scott when I was working in L.A., staying at The Sportsman’s Lodge in the Valley. Scott was trying to break into the screenwriting business, and he was staying with his aunt who lived not too far away. We met in a bar at The Sportsman’s Lodge and spent some time together. Then he went back to Paris and I saw him in Paris several times. I’d never seen anything he’d written until The Ice Harvest.

There’s a guy over there (in The Depot), Mike Lancaster, sitting in the corner, I’ve known for five years or so. He came up the other day and said he’d finished a novel, would I take a look at it. I said yes. You see, I have a deal in this town, for a six pack of beer, I will read 20 pages, as long as I don’t have to take it home. I won’t put it on my desk, I won’t keep it, I’ll read it and tell you what I think. It’s amazing how few people take me up on it!

KING: Well, in the posthumous Hugo collection The Real West Marginal Way, Bill Kittredge says he had a friend who used to demand, in the 1970s, that he get at least $5.95 for a poem because that was then the price of a bottle of Jim Beam, and a poem had to be worth as much as that.

CRUMLEY: The other thing is, I won’t read anyone’s novel, friends excluded, for less than $5,000, and it’s $10,000 if I say anything about it. I don’t want to spend my time doing that, I didn’t get into this business to be a teacher, although I enjoyed that when I did it for a while. I used to tell my students that if you write seriously, and you take it seriously, and even if you fail, you will walk differently the rest of your life. And if you have any luck you will know those people in your head better than you know your mother and father, your sister, children, wife. Those people live in your head.

KING: As Milo and Sughrue have been in yours for thirty years now, and you are letting them grow old across the books, and sometimes have quite inventive sex as they age!

CRUMLEY: Sex is just for fun. What the hell, old people get to rock! That reminds me of a friend who had a wonderful poem about leaving old people alone so they could fuck. With Milo and Sughrue, I know it’s not the usual way it happens in a lot of crime fiction, but I let the guys grow old. I always think of Milo as the best part of myself and Sughrue as the mean redneck part of myself. In my head, they’re two distinct characters and I happen to know them better than the other fifteen thousand characters that live in my head. With their aging, well, unfortunately it’s a lot like life, the outcome is often unpleasant, you get old and die, and disappear. That’s such a frightening prospect that millions of people spend millions of hours trying to make up some kind of version of life where you get out of it alive! But that’s not true, you don’t get out alive so you might as well try to have some fun this time because there ain’t gonna be no next time.

KING: You only get to go around once…

CRUMLEY: Isn’t that a Schlitz commercial!? I’m not kidding about having those characters in my head. I sit here (at the Depot) in this chair and watch people walk past, and look at their shoes. I never write about shoes, but shoes help create character. When I was first writing I used to do fifty pages of extensive notes to get a character to come to life. But it’s  just the luck of the draw. I’ve always had a knack for the organisation of the written word, and a knack for character, mostly because I’m a psychotic! Most people like me would be institutionalised. I haven’t been institutionalised for many years. I went into therapy about twenty years ago. It was a terrific experience and what I know about therapy is that nobody actually knows why it works. This nice middle-aged woman somehow magically, it seemed like magic, in the space of six to eight months, stopped this endless anger that I’d had for so many years. I used to hate bein’ smart. Into my 30s I would still get drunk and feel bad and beat my head on the board. Luckily I have big bones so I never hurt myself. I hated being smart as a kid, I’d get picked on, and that’s how I learned to kick ass and take names. That’s why I like living in Missoula. It’s so much easier to live in a town with smart people. I read a wonderful essay recently by this Harvard professor, “Democracy and Anti-Intellectualism in America”, and it’s a really wonderful description of why rednecks hate us. We take shit seriously that they don’t think about and we laugh at shit that they take seriously, that’s a bad crib but it’s a wonderful essay.

KING: On you and Texas, there seems to be a long, continuing ambivalence on your part.

CRUMLEY: When I was a kid it was in the constitution that you couldn’t speak Spanish in school, except in Spanish class. Now what does that tell the 65% Mexican Spanish speaking populace of my hometown? It tells you you’re a second class citizen. We hear a lot of idiot talk about freedom but this is a tremendously racist country, always has been.

KING: You were saying that you start the day by reading The Guardian online, as I do. I like it for lots of reasons but one is that it offers perspectives on international issues one doesn’t always find in Australian, or US journalism. I like the London Review of Books for similar reasons.

CRUMLEY: I read The Guardian every day. I don’t know how somebody starts with my background and decides there’s something European about them! This started really early on. I remember coming back from the Philippines and arguing with my dad’s bosses about idiotic religious shit. That’s when I thought I was an agnostic, or more a committed atheist. Back around 1955 I played in one of the first integrated football games in the state of Texas, the reason being that we were playing at the Corpus Christi College Academy, which was the Catholic school, and they couldn’t play on Friday, they had to play on Thursday. We had only integrated because the county had run out of money to run the bus for black kids. This was also during the “one riot, one ranger” line in Cleburne, Texas, a riot about integration. Texas still is not a pleasant place in all of its nooks and crannies. As for writing, something happened to me somewhere along the way, I don’t know exactly what it was. My folks didn’t read but I always read books. I never imagined writing one until I was about twenty-five, I guess.

KING: And you just happened to get into the best creative writing program in the country.

CRUMLEY: They’d let anybody in! I couldn’t get in now! So much of it is luck, but first you have to be talented and then you have to be willing to work really hard. That’s one of the things where I really had an advantage. I was the kind of kid who would keep rewriting, I would rewrite until I felt I liked it. For me, that’s when the good things happen, in the rewrites. You go back to a scene and discover a thing that you missed. Maybe it’s just an aside or maybe it’s just another way to look at it, but for me rewriting has always been the good part. But it’s also the hard part and it’s also one of the reasons I’m such a slow writer.

KING: And many contemporary publishers are keen to have writers deliver books every couple of years.

CRUMLEY: A local writer wrote very tight, readable books, and then she got married, had a baby and moved to North Carolina. She said, “I don’t want to write a book every two years,” and I thought, what a good, brave woman she is!

KING: You have been around the publishing industry for almost forty years now. Do you have any comments on how it is at the moment?

CRUMLEY: I never knew how to deal with publishers until I worked in Hollywood. I treat New York publishers exactly like I treat Hollywood executives. I have no respect for them, it’s all in the cheque, let me see the goddamn money, money talks, bullshit walks. Just in the last two to three years I’ve watched Jon Jackson, Neil McMann, George Pelecanos and they’ve all lost their publishers, they’re orphaned, gone, they didn’t sell enough books. The only reason I’ve managed to avoid that is because I have a reputation, it’s not because of sales. I found out, sort of by accident, that I was the only genre book that my editor was doing last year. She’s new to me, Molly Hollister at Viking, we’ve never met, she’s terrifically hard-working, and it’s quite nice to see an editor who works hard. It would have been better if we had known one another, face to face, that kind of thing. The relationship between you and your editor is a bit like a marriage in that there has to be some give and take and there have to be some places beyond which you cannot go.

KING: Have your experiences of being edited by different people across all your books over the years yielded any ideas about what is constant and what changes?

CRUMLEY: Each has been different. When I finished my first novel (One to Count Cadence) they wanted to cut 160 pages out of it. You know, that’s just not right. I won that one. You have to be willing to listen, you have to deal with these people, they have to deal with their group. I mean, you want your editor to be on your side at the meetings because that’s what it takes to get a book into a salesman’s hands, because the salesman are just salesman, they’re not necessarily book readers. You just have to know when to bow your neck and resist, and when to say, OK, I’ll take another look at it. I’ve always thought that because editors have never had to teach creative writing, they don’t know how to talk to writers about what maybe should happen next. They just know that something’s wrong and they want to fix it. They don’t necessarily know how to fix it.

KING: So you trust their sense that something isn’t working?

CRUMLEY: You trust it to some extent, you have to be willing to look at it again. I always run into this shit because I don’t explain things. I’m difficult to edit but I can be edited.

KING: Does Martha read the works in progress?

CRUMLEY: She can spell, I can’t spell.

KING: Well, they say Scott Fitzgerald couldn’t spell and Hemingway could spell a little better.

CRUMLEY: That’s what Hemingway said! Martha is a good writer and a poet and I trust her judgment. Like I was saying earlier about the Texas book, Martha was the one who talked me out of killing Milo. For some reason it was going to be the Milo book when he died and it wasn’t like, ‘oh honey, here’s a beer, could you think of not killing Milo,’ it was more, ‘maybe you don’t have to decide right now.’ I heard this story about Philip Roth years ago in graduate school who would take whatever he’d written that day, and read it to his wife, and then read it to his mistress. This is not what we do! Martha reads my stuff. Anyone who’s got the guts to marry me, at my age, my fifth time, at her age… She’s also a smartass.

KING: Well, keep those characters alive for a while yet. Your readers love them and want them to continue about their business. Don’t kill them off for a while.

CRUMLEY: Well, in the screenplay for The Last Good Kiss, the dog does not die. The last shot is the poet going out the door, he steps over the dog’s foot, and Fireball has hold of Trahearne’s pants as he’s trying to get away.

KING: Can you say something about how you are finding Missoula now? You have lived here for over thirty years and have seen it grow and change.

CRUMLEY: Well, this is my home. It’s doubled in size since I moved here. You walk past the pawn shops and see what seems like acres of drills and saws, the stuff that shit is made out of, and it’s all in the pawn shops because there’s no basic industry which brings everything together. There’s mining and timber, the motherfuckers would cut down every goddamn tree and blow up every hill. I mean, a football field of rock run through acid will turn up enough gold for a wedding ring. If they’re prepared to do that, there’s something very wrong. This isn’t cattle country, even though I like the way the cattle tastes out here better than back in cattle country. They grow more cows in Georgia than they do in the seven western states, they grow more trees in Georgia than they harvest in the seven western states. The scenery is lovely here and the people are great. We played Vermont or New Hampshire in the playoffs last year and some woman said, the scenery is spectacular and the people are ridiculously polite. In that way it’s kind of a southern town. It’s a very good town to live in, and there are so many writers here. It’s not just the people I know, my personal friends, it’s like there’s another whole body of writers here that nobody knows, but who work here.

KING: What are you reading at the moment?

CRUMLEY: I’m 66 next month and what has happened this last year is that I can no longer read without my glasses on. This has been a terrible discovery. It’s really bitten into my reading. What used to take me three days now takes me three weeks, so I don’t read like I used to. I mostly read what people tell me they like, and I read a lot of history, mostly because I know people are always lyin’ about the history.

* * * * *

Works Cited

In Richard Hugo, Making Certain it Goes On: The Collected Poems  (New York: W.W. Norton & Co, 1991); “The Right Madness on Skye”; “Degrees of Gray in Philipsburg.”

In Richard Hugo, The Real West Marginal Way: A Poet’s Autobiography ed. Ripley S. Hugo, Lois Welch and James Welch  (New York: W.W. Norton & Co, 1986) Hugo says, “Also got a mystery novel out of it (going to Skye) because I wrote the first drafts of the mystery novel there.” (258)

A transcript of Noel King’s 1996 interview with James Crumley is at Day Labor, the official blog of Crime Factory magazine.

© 2012 Noel King

from Contrappasso Magazine #1, August 2012

James Crumley in conversation (exclusive audio)

Here are three never-before-heard audio clips from Noel King’s 2005 interview with crime writer James Crumley in which he discusses his relationship to editors, the Hollywood jungle, and his respect for writer George Pelecanos.

The full interview transcript will appear here tomorrow, and is also available in Issue #1 of Contrappasso Magazine in paperback or ebook. Enjoy.

from issue #1: ‘Meeting James Crumley’ by Noel King

Noel King’s final 2005 interview with the late crime writer James Crumley will appear here tomorrow, but first King remembers the man.

MEETING JAMES CRUMLEY by NOEL KING

I

In late May 1996 I drove up out of Wyoming, through the top left hand corner of Yellowstone National Park, past the icy beauty of the Grand Tetons, into Montana, the place they call “the last good place.” After a drizzly day driving interstate 90 I arrived early one evening in Missoula, hometown of James Crumley, self-described “bastard child of Raymond Chandler,” and a writer whose most recent novel, The Mexican Tree Duck (1993) broke a ten year silence, sold forty thousand in hardback and won the Dashiell Hammett Award for Best Literary Crime Novel from the International Association of Crime Writers.

Missoula is so full of writers that French television makes documentaries about it. No-one knows why writers come to Montana in general and Missoula in particular, least of all the writers. Crumley suggested they could be attracted to the primeval mud deposited beneath the town. Aside from Crumley, Bill Kittredge and native American writer James Welch lived there, James Lee Burke had recently settled there, staying part of each year Richard Ford had lived there until a few years earlier, David Lynch was raised there, and the wonderful poet Richard Hugo lived there until his death in 1982.

A little north of Missoula are stunning wilderness areas: Glacier National Park beckons and Flathead Lake will keep you looking admiringly for quite a while. Native American sites are nearby, Flathead Indian Reservation and Blackfeet Indian Reservation, and a half-day drive in any direction on the smaller roads will take you through mountains, past meadows, clear rivers and streams, through the small towns and a landscape of beautiful emptiness captured with elegiac affection in Hugo’s poems and Crumley’s novels.

Although I had been drawn to Missoula by Crumley’s writing, on a kind of literary skip-trace, I wasn’t expecting to meet him. I figured he’d be in Hollywood doing screenplays; his novels had been gift enough and the epigraph for one of them, The Last Good Kiss (1978) guided me to Hugo’s poetry (“You might come here Sunday on a whim/Say your life broke down/The last good kiss you had was years ago”) so I owed him that as well.

Later that first evening, sitting in The Depot, a bar-restaurant at the bottom end of the town, near the old railway, I was finishing a nice meal and drinking nice wine, musing that the statuesque clean-scrubbed beauty of the barmaids and waitresses was another reason to call Montana the “last good place,” when a happy, noisy group of six or seven people settled at the table next to mine, one of those high off the ground tables with stool-chairs. They’d come from the restaurant proper and were continuing to smoke, drink and chat. One member of their party had his back to me, a large, powerful torso gentrified into a blue-striped Brooks Brothers shirt. Even though one never means to eavesdrop, conversation carries in those contexts, and I kept hearing the phrase “dancing bear” moving in and out of the conversation. After a while I called over the tall beauty who’d been looking after my food and drink needs and told her I’d heard that phrase, that it was the title of a book by a guy called James Crumley who lived in Missoula, was he one of the people at the table? “Sure, that’s him there,” pointing at the Brooks Brothers shirt.

Immediate problem. How big a dag do you want to make of yourself? Answer, who cares? You’re a long way from home. So I waited until the table had thinned to just the blocky, bearded Crumley and another bearded offsider. The waitress paved the way for me to their table and next thing I’m drinking and chatting with the man whose writing caused me to be in a bar in Missoula in the first place. After talking for half an hour we arranged to meet late afternoon the next day to go to a bar and then do an interview at his place in Whitaker Drive in the hills above Missoula before I headed off to other parts of Montana.

Crumley’s account of his decade’s literary silence was simple: “Shit, man, it just wasn’t happening.” What was happening was a collection of short fictional pieces, novel fragments and journalism (The Muddy Fork) and a series of unproduced screenplays of some of his own novels (The Last Good Kiss, Dancing Bear) and other adaptations (Ellroy’s The Big Nowhere, Judge Dredd). Writing unproduced screenplays can be a lucrative business but it can also be dispiriting: the work is not out there in public circulation.

Even before he went silent for that ten year period, Crumley had not been a prolific writer. His reputation as the finest American crime writer since Chandler was based on three books written across an eight year period: The Wrong Case (1975), The Last Good Kiss (1978) and Dancing Bear (1983). Rock and roll magazines and sophisto rags like The Village Voice had always liked Crumley’s writing but his cult reputation was given a literary imprimatur when Harper’s magazine announced, “What Raymond Chandler did for the Los Angeles of the thirties, James Crumley does for the roadside West of today.” The entry on Crumley in The Encyclopaedia of Crime and Mystery Writers gives a lively sense of his fictional world. “What makes his books live in the reader’s mind and blood is the accumulation of small, crazy encounters, full of confusion and muddley disorder and despair. What one remembers about them is the graphic violence and sweetly casual sex, the coke-snorting and alcohol guzzling, the endless drives through mountain snowscapes and long pit stops at seedy back woods bars, the sympathetic outcasts—psycho Viet vets, Indians, gentle hippies, rumdrums, and love-seekers. He can move us to accept the dregs of the race as our brothers and sisters, to feel the rape of the earth; in short he can write scenes that seem never to have been written before.” The same entry sees the prevailing mood of the books as “wacked out post-Vietnam empathy with all sorts of dopers, dropouts, losers and loonies.”

The Vietnam reference is important. Crumley said that his fiction is as close to the writing of Robert Stone (Dog Soldiers) as it is to any models of detective fiction, and his first novel, One to Count Cadence (1969) was one of the earliest of the “Vietnam” fictions (its reference was the Korean war) that would become such a significant sub-genre in post-1960s American novel and film. References to Vietnam continue across Crumley’s later novels and he told The Armchair Detective that Vietnam was the lie that ruined America. “Most all of my adult male friends were Vietnam vets. About everybody who went to that war came back changed. I don’t think anything has happened in this country since the war that’s not somehow related to it.”

Cadence sold well for a first novel, received good reviews and was bought by Hollywood, temporarily and unexpectedly moving Crumley into a very un-first-novelist tax bracket. There was a six year wait between first and second novel, time for two marriages and divorces and time for a genre shift to detective fiction. The next book came after Crumley’s first stint in Missoula and after meeting Richard Hugo. “Dick was integral to my crime-writing life because he turned me on to Chandler. He couldn’t believe I’d never read any.” They were chatting one day and Hugo expressed his admiration for Chandler’s writing, prompting Crumley to read some on a trip to Mexico. What attracted him to Chandler’s writing was “mostly the fact that it was really wonderful, fun writing; the general sense of fun, the sentences were fun, and that appealed to me. As far as crime writers go, I guess I was inspired by Nicolas Freeling and Raymond Chandler; they’re the two disparate ends of my scale.”

Crumley began writing his first detective novel, The Wrong Case, against the genre only to find himself captivated by it. It remained his favourite novel and his fondness for the book was a fondness for its central character, the hugely engaging figure of Milton Chester Milodragovitch III, a 39 year old veteran of Korea, former police officer in the small Montana town of Meriwether, now working as a private eye. Milo, as he is known, comes from a wealthy Meriwether family but owing to his mother’s perverse will he can’t get at his inheritance money until he turns 52. Given how much drinking and drugging Milo engages in, it’s line-ball whether he’ll make it to inheritance day. Milo’s weary gloom is further explained by the fact that he is the son of two suicides. His father was a womanising dipsomaniac who died in a shooting “accident” while his mother hanged herself in a “fancy alcoholic retreat in Arizona.” Coming from that gene pool, nearing middle-age, being lied to and deceived by most of the people with whom he comes into contact, it’s no wonder that Milo muses much on the fragility of humankind, meeting the world with a beneficent sadness occasionally alleviated by falling in love with the wrong woman. A reader soon understands why Milo would find “even the simplest life was too complex.”

By the time of Dancing Bear Milo is older and a bit sadder, 47, working night shifts for Haliburton Security and keeping the world at bay by doing lots of cocaine and drinking lots of peppermint schnapps. In 1985 Newsweek ran a feature story on the then-and-still-booming world of crime and mystery writing, singling the character of Milo out for particular praise: “He seems to have wandered into the thriller world from a Jack Kerouac pipe dream.” Accolades also came from distinguished peers such as Elmore Leonard. When he reviewed Dancing Bear Leonard had been clean and sober for about six years, and he marvelled at Milo’s capacity for self-destruction. “Milo hits enough lines of cocaine before the last page to tear his nose off. Drinks enough alcohol to explode a healthy liver. But there’s enough energy in Crumley’s writing to keep the reader rooting for Milton Chester Milodragovitch III all the way. There is the hope his reward will be, at the least, detoxification. So he can come back again, soon.”

Dancing Bear earned a different sort of praise by being issued as one of the first package of Vintage Contemporaries (organised by Gary Fisketjon) which saw Crumley placed alongside Raymond Carver (Cathedral) and Jay McInerney (Bright Lights, Big City). Vintage followed up by bringing out a uniform edition of all Crumley’s novels.

Dancing Bear opens with a comic sequence in which a hung-over postman wakes a hung-over Milo and tries to get him to sign for a letter. It is early winter and the postie is wearing ill-fitting shorts and a short-sleeved shirt because his wife has hurled out all of his clothes after an argument. An absurd wrestling match starts and ends when Milo’s neighbour (and occasional bonk) turns a hose on the combatants. Cold, wet, they go inside to share a restorative drink. The letter is from a rich elderly woman who was once the lover of Milo’s father. In it she asks Milo to indulge an old friend by finding out all he can about a couple she has watched meet in the woods near her mansion. Of course, in detective fiction such requests are never what they seem and before long Milo is caught up in a complicated narrative involving drug smuggling and toxic waste despoliation of the north-west countryside, as he travels across the wintry landscapes of Montana, Idaho, Wyoming and Washington. Milo, Montana and winter form a funny triad. Milo is always dreaming of leaving Meriwether and Montana, a dream that crowds in on him every winter. He dreams of going south, maybe to Mexico, searching for “sunshine and simplicity.” But at the end of Dancing Bear, he only gets as far as California before turning back home, back “into the heart of one of the worst Montana winters in years.”

Crumley had no desire to leave Montana, having spent thirty years in Missoula since coming there to teach in the mid-1960s after getting an MA from the distinguished Iowa Writers Workshop. Over the years he made occasional sorties to LA for film work and El Paso for short-term teaching stints but most of the time was spent in Missoula, writing. Five times married, with five children and five grandchildren and alimony payments that no doubt helped to concentrate the mind wonderfully, Crumley said that he thought he was meant to live in Montana, that he needed empty spaces in his life.

His wife, Martha Elizabeth, is beautiful and a poet whom he said saved him from some Milo-like tendencies towards self-destruction. Martha was off visiting her mother in Richmond, Virginia as we chatted in his lounge-room in the house in Whitaker Drive in the hills south of Missoula, over a couple of six-packs of Labatt’s Blue. At least four cats prowled around the room, fretting for the absent Martha as the TV ran constantly on a sports channel and as background music was provided by the latest tapes of Los Lobos and Steve Earle. The tapes had been given to Crumley by John Williams who had been through town to do a piece on James Lee Burke. Williams has a vivid chapter on Crumley in Into the Badlands (1991), his book on American crime writers, in which he chases him through a series of bars in and around Missoula, winding up wasted and doing a lot of damage to a rental car. As Steve Earle sang, Crumley spoke of the attraction Missoula held for him.

Crumley was 5’ 10” and you could still see the footballer and oil-field worker in the strong body. You could also see the consequences of a lifetime’s attachment to alcohol, for Crumley is what the French call, politely, a “grand buveur.” He’d already told me that Missoula used to be a great bar town (“you used to be able to walk into a bar on Railroad Street and go out back doors, all the way down to the river without getting onto a sidestreet”) and he was straightforward about the relation between drinking and writing: “I’ve always been a hard drinker. My friends are all writers and writers seem to drink hard. The only writers I know who don’t drink destructively come out of a background where it was OK to be an intellectual.”

Crumley didn’t come from such a background and one could sense an uneasiness, still felt at age 57, at being a working-class Texan kid who somehow sneaked into the world of letters. Born in 1939 in Three Rivers, Texas, of Scotch-Irish descent, his father was an oilfield supervisor and Crumley also rough-necked for many years. At the end of the 1950s, after a short stint in the navy on a destroyer in the Atlantic, he shifted to do three years in the army, much of it in the Philippines. Several years of mixing study, football and rough-necking saw him receive a BA in History from Texas A & I. He’d planned to do a PhD in Soviet Studies at the University of Washington but was accepted into the famous Iowa Writers Workshop in 1964 (it was the time that Kurt Vonnegut and Nelson Algren taught there), supporting himself by tending bar and working as a janitor, getting his MA in 1966.

Crumley’s other series character, C. W. Sughrue (pronounced “‘sugh’ as in ‘sugar,’ and ‘rue’ as in ‘rue the goddamned day’”), extracted from a long-unfinished Texas novel, comes from a social locale quite different from Milo’s and shares some of the author’s bio-data. Sughrue appeared in 1978 in The Last Good Kiss, the book that started all the buzz about Crumley being the best thing since Chandler, and he reappeared fifteen years later in The Mexican Tree Duck. Sughrue is Texan, working-class, ex-Vietnam and this was my alibi for asking Crumley if he thought of himself as a displaced Texan. “Well, I was always displaced. I was born in Texas but we went to New Mexico during WW2. We didn’t move back to Texas until I was in the second grade. The part of Texas where I lived is the last place where there’s a great clash between the white minority and the Mexican American majority, where people are still race conscious in a really silly way. It’s an unhappy kind of place, it’s hot and humid, and the wind blows nine months out of the year. It was never a place that I was ever going back to once I left, although circumstances have forced me back a couple of times. I don’t think of myself as a Texan, I’ve discovered that I’m not actually a Southerner, I just thought I was a Southerner.”

Although Crumley’s reputation in the crime genre is somewhere between the cult and the revered senior practitioner, his writing puzzled critics by sitting between genre writing and more literary writing and by mixing laughter and violence in a way the Coen brothers would admire. “I think I confuse people. I’m not writing detective novels and I’m not writing literary novels, and nobody knows what to do with them. That’s a problem I don’t I have at all in foreign markets. In Germany and Italy I’m in a crime series, in England I’m in Picador, a perfectly legitimate literary press. Now the Italians are bringing my books out in hardback after I had been out in cheap paperbacks; the Greeks have just discovered me. The French have always been very good to me, they put me up in nice places, feed me well, put me on TV with Randy Newman.”

The books that had been important to him over the years make for a very literary list. “Dick Yates’s Revolutionary Road was a big book for me. Lawrence Durrell’s Alexandria Quartet was a really big book in my life, then Fitzgerald and Faulkner, Under the Volcano, and the Russians. Camus, but the philosophy, not so much the novels. In the month I started One to Count Cadence for the last time, I read Anna Karenina, War and PeaceThe Rebel, and The Brothers Karamazov. I finished the book and I remember jumping up and down in the snow in the middle of the night in my shorts in Iowa City, shouting out ‘Hooray for Karamazov, you motherfuckers!’”

Perhaps surprisingly, given the genre in which he earned his fame, but unsurprisingly given that list of his reading interests, Crumley’s prose occasionally recalls F. Scott Fitzgerald and often is very close to the sentiments conveyed in the poetry of his friend, Richard Hugo. Each explores the elegiac moment and constructs classic scenes of regret. When Nick Carraway breaks up with Jordan Baker in The Great Gatsby by saying he’s too old to lie to himself and call it honour, it comes close to all of Milo’s hapless encounters with women. Whereas Nick says, “Angry and half in love with her, and tremendously sorry, I turned away,” Milo says, at the end of The Wrong Case, “As I stood there the blunt shadows of the western ridge advanced darkly to the verge of the creek. I sat down, heard the sound of the car driving away, I drank my beer, and forgave her.”

Crumley’s writing of regret also targets the loss of possibilities of another kind, concerning landscape. Part of the inspiration for Dancing Bear came from Michael Brown’s Laying Waste: The Poisoning of America by Toxic Chemicals (1981) and an eco-politics underlies all Crumley’s evocations of the rivers, lakes, mountains and meadows of the Pacific Northwest. In Dancing Bear Milo says, “On a bright sunny day I could have seen Mount Rainier looming like a misshapen moon on the horizon, and even through the fog and rain I thought I could feel its rocky weight.”

When asked what bits of his writing he liked best, Crumley said he liked the part in The Last Good Kiss “when Sughrue recalls the time his father ties him to the back of the motorbike and takes him up to see the snow at Estes peak—I kind of like that.” Who wouldn’t? It’s one of Crumley’s finest evocations of landscape and memory: “On the way home, tied once more to his back with baking twine, I slept, my cold skin like fire, and dreamed of blizzards and frozen lakes, a landscape sheathed in ice, but I was warm somehow, wrapped in the furs of bears and beaver and lynx, dreaming of ice as the motorbike split the night.”

That late 60s, early 70s period of American history involving the transition from Johnson to Nixon, the consequences of the Vietnam War and Watergate, marked Crumley the person as it does the characters in his fiction. We stumbled onto the topic of Nixon when he told me he was working on a new book. It was a Milo book in which Milo has gone to live in Austin but I mistook it for the long-promised Texas novel, then apologised for raising that topic, saying he must get sick of people asking him whether he’s finished that book. “Well, I’m the one that didn’t finish the son-of-a-bitch. I haven’t forgotten about it and I’ve got a frame for it. It begins on the day of Nixon’s resignation.” Crumley chuckled as he recalled how he encountered that historic event. “I was living on Vashon Island at the time, riding bikes with a friend of mine who teaches up there. We walked into a store to have a beer and there was no-one in the front of the store. It was an old hippie kind of place and I hollered out, and they said ‘come in the back here, fuckin’ Nixon’s resigning on TV.’ So we sat there, smoked dope and drank beer while the son-of-a-bitch went to the grave.” I asked whether this opinion had mellowed over the years, taking account of the mini-redemption Nixon achieved in retirement, his part in the recognition of China and so on. Smoke was exhaled and a longish pause allowed some more of a Steve Earle tape to float around the room and one of the four cats to stroll past before an unforgiving reply came forth. “Nixon was the whore-dog of American politics. He had no honour, no decency. I didn’t find anything even vaguely amusing about Nixon. An old friend of mine, Mike Koepf, and I stayed on the phone all through the televised burial of Nixon. We both had FBI files, and I was the Vietnam Veteran’s Against the War faculty adviser at Colorado State, and I was a SDS affiliate.”

In 1985 Crumley had said that he hoped one day to prove that his two series characters, Sughrue and Milo, were distinct fictional entities by “writing a novel using both voices. They like each other; they know each other.” At the end of The Mexican Tree Duck Sughrue describes the day that his “old partner” comes into his bar, Slumgullions, spruced up and ready to go claim his inheritance. Only trouble is he’s a year early. Bordersnakes (1996) is the book Crumley alluded to more than a decade earlier. The book begins with the two old buddies each having something to prove and to find. A lawyer has absconded with Milo’s inheritance money and Sughrue has narrowly escaped being killed in a bar-room brawl that was actually a paid hit. The book is narrated turn-about by both Milo and Sughrue as they go travelling far from Montana.

Since he had waited twenty years to let loose his two series characters in the one book, I asked him what Milo and Sughrue afforded him as a writer. “The older character, Milo, gives me a character with a real sense of moral ethics and an approach to the world which involves kindness rather than violence, although he’s willing to be violent when it’s necessary, I guess. And the Sughrue character is just reckless and crazy and he’s not afraid of anything. That’s one of the things that starts this new book off. Sughrue is afraid now. Something has happened and he’s learned fear. So he and Milo go off on a double-edged jaunt, looking for Milo’s money and looking for Sughrue’s revenge and everything comes up fairly well for everybody, except for the bad guys; it’s almost all set in west Texas and California. Milo and Sughrue go all over the country, their friendship is put to the test and is not found wanting.” He smiled as he added, “I don‘t think there’s any scenes in Montana at all. Everybody writes about Montana now.”

I was heading out of Missoula the next morning to drive around other parts of Montana, so I asked Crumley what parts of the country he had written about so memorably he liked to visit.
“Chico Hot Springs is a place I’ve always liked. We spend a week there in the summer with the kids and another week during the year when we can get away. We try to float the Smith River every year. It’s a four day float over into the Missouri River, White Shell Fish Plains. I still like to drive up to Glacier, go through the park, and I still like Yellowstone. Even with the tourists there, it’s always impressive.” Suddenly the voice brightened into the tone used earlier when giving nostalgic information on what a great bar town Missoula used to be. “There’s tons of little towns in Montana you can stop at, stop and have a beer. You buy the first one, they buy the next one.” I quoted from the opening paragraph of The Last Good Kiss, next thing, you’re “drinking the heart right out of a fine spring afternoon.” He smiled and lifted his Labatt, “That’s for sure.”

II

In late September 2005, during the Montana Festival for the Book which was held in Missoula, I was able to see Jim Crumley again, for what would be the last time. I was waiting outside The Depot when he was driven up by a friend (Jim was recovering from some health problems) and it was terrific to see that smiling bulk again, have a guy-hug and head on into the bar for drink, food and conversation. That continued over the next couple of days and evenings, and it was good to meet some of Jim and Martha’s close friends, and also good to meet Martha (see under ‘beautiful’ above) and buy a couple of her poetry books from a Missoula independent bookseller. Jim, Martha and some of those friends were gathered around an outside table when the interview printed below took place.

III

This introduction must end with a sad coda. In September 2008 I was again driving around the Pacific Northwest heading down from Oregon to California, loving how reindeer and elk would dart across roads and highways (and walk all over Ashland during its theatre season) when I turned on my car radio to hear Jim Crumley talking. It was a younger-voiced Jim Crumley than I had encountered in 1996 and 2005, and the interview ended with Jim telling a story about a crime story he had written when he was about eight years old, called “The Brown Case.” As he recalled it contained a sentence that referred to ‘the Brown case’ and the reply came, “The Brown case? What Brown case?” and he felt that offered a neat summary of his crime-writing life to that point. By then the penny had dropped, that I was hearing an archival interview, and the female announcer’s voice duly said that listeners had been hearing an interview with Jim Crumley. That terrible present-past tense usage confirmed the dreadful thought as fact. Jim Crumley was dead at age 68, too young: that blocky strong body, the talent for writing and for conversation, all that ‘other’ reading he did, mainly history but also poetry and also blurbing friends’ books  (and strangers’ if he liked the book). Of course it would hit Martha hardest and his family and close friends but it is testimony to the kind of person Jim Crumley was that hearing this sad information prompted me, an Australian who had met him for about one week across two visits a decade apart (plus a few telephone conversations), to pull over to the edge of the highway and shed some tears.

[And here’s the Interview: Always Lookin’ For A Book, Lookin’ For A Title]

 © 2012 Noel King

from Contrappasso Magazine #1, August 2012
A different version of this piece appeared as
‘Bar and Grill: A profile of James Crumley’ in HQ Magazine July / August 1997

* * * * *

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

NOEL KING teaches film studies at Macquarie University, Sydney. His other interviews with writers include Martin Cruz Smith, William McIlvanney, Scott Phillips, Craig Holden, Barry Gifford and his interviews with publishers include Pete Ayrton of Serpent’s Tail, London (now part of Profile Books), Francois von Hurter of Bitter Lemon Press, London, and Dennis McMillan, Tucson, Arizona.

What’s the deal?

So we’re rolling, folks. Welcome to Contrappasso, a new magazine of international writing.

Over the next six weeks, material from issue #1 of the print edition of Contrappasso will appear on a daily basis here at the magazine blog. We’ll also be featuring exclusive multimedia material including audio clips from Noel King’s 2005 interview with the late James Crumley, video footage from our launch at Sappho Books in Sydney on August 1, and much more.

So please follow our blog via email to keep updated. You can also ‘Like’ our Facebook page.

Buy a copy of the magazine as a PAPERBACK at Amazon.com for US$10, a KINDLE ebook for $US5, or in other ebook formats at Smashwords.com for $US5. That’s a pretty good deal.

Contrappasso @ Don Herron’s site

Here’s a word on Contrappasso from Don Herron, legendary San Francisco Dashiell Hammett Tour Guide, Charles Willeford biographer, and all-round crime fiction expert:

Got a note from Matthew Asprey that he’s got another publishing deal gone down — the magazine Contrappasso.

Haven’t seen it yet, but a star feature for Up and Down These Mean Streets types would be a new autobiographical piece from Floyd Salas, doubtless covering his youth as a streetfighter in Oakland. All Floyd is Floyd’s life — actually, a grand tradition, especially in tough guy writing. Pretty much the same for Jim Tully. Edward Bunker. Eddie Little. And extending out from strict tough guy lives, for a Jack Kerouac. William Burroughs. You like the autobio and fiction, you get roped in on the lives — and from there, you can head off in a thousand directions. I’m betting this new piece is a retitle or extract from the last thing I heard of that Floyd was working on, The Dirty Boogie.

Plus, this first issue includes an interview with the late great James Crumley, a.k.a. Crumdog, author of the classic  The Last Good Kiss, once described as “the bastard son of Raymond Chandler” — Crumley ranks among the greats, and I’m really glad I got the chance to meet him. And as we’ve demonstrated here for Biography Month, a good interview is essential for putting together a life.

Thanks, Don! See the blog Up and Down These Mean Streets.

And if you’re in the Bay Area, take the Hammett tour.

Contrappasso Issue 1: Paperback and Ebook formats available

The premiere issue of Contrappasso Magazine is now available for purchase as a PAPERBACK at Amazon.com for US$10, a KINDLE ebook for $US5, or in other ebook formats at Smashwords.com for $US5.

Contents

Introduction: Instead of a Manifesto

MEMOIR
Darkness Come Down / Floyd Salas
Band T-Shirt / Vanessa Berry

FICTION
The Smockey Bar / Mimi Lipson
Don’t I Know You? / Lester Goran
Hot Dogs, Cold War / Peter Doyle

INTERVIEWS
Lester Goran by Matthew Asprey
James Scott Linville by Matthew Asprey
James Crumley by Noel King

POETRY
Elias Greig, Pip Muratore, Lindsay Tuggle, Tessa Lunney, Chris Oakey, Fiona Yardley, and Paolo Totaro

Stay tuned to this blog for excerpts and multimedia material.