Interview with noir author Michael PoolPosted: July 29, 2019 | |
My guest today is a talented author, whom I happen to know personally. He was a part of my M.F.A. cohort at Western State Colorado University, and I had the privilege of , being present for his reading from his thesis novel, which was released this past year and fit in with this month’s Crime Fiction genre theme for review, Rose City. A P.I. by day, it’s no surprise that he writes crime fiction. What was a surprise to me was his talent for writing noir with true craftsmanship, which is why I invited him to join me here. Please help me welcome noir author, Michael Pool.
Kaye: Would you share briefly your writer’s journey? How did you get to where you are today?
Michael: A lot of writing, haha. I’ve been writing fiction since my very early twenties, however, I did take about 5 years in my late twenties where I barely wrote at all. In my 30’s I finally decided to take it more serious and began focusing on building a career through longer works. Prior to that, I’d mostly written short fiction. Though I still enjoy short stories, these days I mostly write novels, with a recent focus on detective fiction.
Kaye: Noir fiction takes a look at the darker side of human behaviors and generally features corruption and loose, (or lack of), morals. Why is it your chosen genre?
Michael: Well, I guess first I would say that it’s not my chosen genre. These days I definitely gravitate toward detective novels.
It’s a sub-genre that I have written in quite a lot, however. I would put Texas Two-Step as more of a pure crime novel, although it fits the Elmore Leonard vision of noir to a large degree. Rose City is a Southern Gothic Mystery.
However, I am attracted to noir stories because I like seeing the world through the eyes of an anti-hero. No matter the criminal, they are always the star of their own movie, and always see themselves as the justified “good guy.” What noir does really well is show that there is enough dirt to go around, and thus it turns notions of good and evil on their heads, leaving the reader with the distinct understanding that there are no good and bad people, only good and bad choices.
All of us are always teetering on the edge of destroying ourselves through our shortcomings and noir is all about that process, making it entertaining, if horrifying, to read.
Kaye: What is the biggest challenge in writing noir for you?
Michael: I’m not sure I see it as challenging. I’ve always been a fan of the underdog, and I consider the down and out to be my people in so many ways. I love capturing the world from the view of men and women with their backs against the wall, many of whom have just enough ruthlessness in them to cause catastrophic damage in the pursuit of (often) vein goals which are not necessarily good for them.
Kaye: What is the most fun about writing noir?
Michael: I always joke that I’m a bit of a dark and stormy person, so I like that noir’s tone allows lots of room for that darkness and allows for a lot of intense, violent, complicated conflicts to arise in the narrative.
Kaye: Rose City was your thesis project in your M.F.A. program, but it is also the companion novel to Texas Two-Step. Can you tell me a little about both books and explain how they are related?
Michael: Both books are set in the fictional East Texas locale, Teller County. They are related only by their setting and a shared villain in common. Without giving too much away, there is a villain who skates on consequences in Texas Two-Step that may finally get his in Rose City.
Interestingly, Rose City was written first, as a graduate school thesis. For whatever reason, Texas Two-Step was published first. They can be read in any order.
Texas Two-Step is a “One last crime” story involving a couple of jam-band obsessed Denver pot growers who, after getting pushed out of the market by legal marijuana, have one last big crop to sell, and turn to an old but reckless associate down in Texas to move the harvest. They soon find themselves tangled up with real, violent criminals in a cat-and-mouse game where everyone involved has an agenda, and a rogue Texas Ranger is on their trail, desperate to nail their associate. It’s a multiple point-of-view book with lots of humor and a satisfying climax.
Rose City is a “prodical son returns” story where the protagonist, Cole Quick, has left Teller County 14 years earlier after being robbed of a stash of fronted cocaine, taking with him his local debutante girlfriend, whose family all but disowned her as a result. The book picks up 6 months after her untimely death from breast cancer. Cole returns to Teller County for his estranged, abusive father’s funeral, and soon finds himself caught up in his old debt, as well as tasked with proving an old friends death was murder, rather than a vicious murder-suicide. To get back out of town alive, he has to take on the entire crooked town’s structure and bring it down to rubble.
Rose City was the first full novel I had ever written. And, honestly, it was a mess for a long time. Five years of good edits have turned it into a really great novel. It’s emotional, suspenseful, and moves forward at a non-stop pace. It deals with themes of racism, classism, corruption, abuse, and self-destruction in a way that is compassionate but takes a hard eye to the reality these kinds of problems crop up in.
Kaye: In Rose City, Cole Quick has a dark past that he thought he left behind. But a trip back to his home town finds him down and out, and vulnerable. There’s a lot more going on than he is aware of in his old stomping grounds, and almost without realizing what’s happening, he’s swept up into it, and it becomes a matter of survival for him to discover what really happened to his best friend, Jimmy. Are noir protagonists all average guys who get swept up by circumstance and have to fight their way out?
Michael: I don’t think noir protagonists are all average guys. In fact a whole bunch of them are anything but, they’re self-destructive fringe characters living by their own moral codes, and bound for trouble of their own making.
But all of my characters tend to be average men and women caught in extraordinary scenarios. I’m not much for thrillers with superhuman protagonists, and my writing tends to put a lot of focus on everyday people and their relationships, with the understanding that crime and total destruction are always in the peripheral of our lives, whether we believe it or not. I use crime as a lens to explore the human condition, because it’s an integral part of the human experience. We live in societies with rules, both good and arbitrary, and we all find ourselves running up against those in some ways. But some men and women won’t just accept things the way they are, and that to me is the kind of person who will make a good protagonist.
Kaye: You are the founder and editor-in-chief of Crime Syndicate Magazine. Can you tell me about that? What was your motivation to start it? What can readers find there? What are your goals for it in the future?
Michael: I put Crime Syndicate down about a year ago, just didn’t have time for it anymore. Crime Syndicate did focus a lot on short noir fiction, and there are some incredibly good stories in the three issues I put out. I’m happy to have had the experience, but I’m a writer at heart, not an editor.
Kaye: Noir characters are always flawed in some way. How flawed should a noir character be?
Michael: The important thing is not how flawed, it’s more that their flaw be something that will drive them to make decisions that are not necessarily good for them, and in fact the best noir characters have a flaw that is in direct opposition to their needs, causing a sense of inner conflict that will drive the story to a dark ending.
Kaye: If you could have lunch with any noir author, alive or dead, who would it be? Why?
Michael: I suppose a Dashiel Hammett or Ross MacDonald. Neither are really “noir” authors. I’d put them both more as hardboiled detective writers. But both have been major influences on my writing. I work as a private investigator, and in Hammett I get a very clear sense that he knows the work (which makes sense, because he was a Pinkerton at one time). With McDonald, I love the way he uses the detective as a lens to look at family dynamics and the effects changing social issues and dynamics have on families. It’s something I naturally do in my own writing, and I’d love to pick his brain about process.
Kaye: You are a Jiu-jitsu instructor. Are any of your characters skilled in martial arts?
Michael: Not really, for some reason! I am working on a modern pulp P.I. series (I’m calling it Gonzo P.I. as a style), and that character, Rick Malone, does have some jiu-jitsu experience, which he puts to good use from time to time. But in a lot of ways Rick is also a broken man and an outcast, so he’s still very far from the superhuman or hyper-capable protagonists I was talking about earlier. I love jiu-jitsu, and of course it does show up from time to time in my action scenes!
Kaye: In addition to book length works, you also write short fiction. Your works have been included in several anthologies. Which do you prefer? Why?
Michael: As I mentioned, I mostly write novels now. I prefer them because there is a market for them, haha. No, honestly, I agree with readers on why they prefer novels, and particularly series. When you fall in love with a protagonist you want to spend more time with that protagonist as a reader, and as a writer, I feel the same way. It can be hard to spend a year at a time on the same project, but the end result is more satisfying and makes it much further out into the universe.
Kaye: What parts of you, do your readers get to see in your characters?
Michael: Compassionate but conflicted and flawed characters in my books all have a big piece of me in them. I’m highly emotional, and have had plenty of dark experiences in my personal life. Those experiences crop up in less-than-direct ways in my writing, but anytime you reach an emotional moment in one of my books, you’re definitely interacting with the deepest parts of me as a writer and human being. To me that is a vital part of why I write in the first place.
Kaye: Your books feature intricate storylines that are well thought out. What’s your writing process like? How do you create your plots?
Michael: I’m an outliner these days. I stray from the outline often, but I mark out plot beats in advance as much as possible, and adjust them as I go. I literally keep a beat sheet for each book to make sure I’m staying on pace and on task. I find structure to be freeing rather than limiting. To understand why story structure is so vital you have to understand why humans began to tell stories in the first place, then you can see why structure evolved the way it did, and use that information to create the ever-elusive “uniquely familiar” plot lines that resonate with readers.
Kaye: What is your greatest writing accomplishment to date?
Michael: That’s a tough one! I feel like my greatest accomplishment is just getting to where I am. I feel poised to break through to a larger audience with this next project, finally, but more than that, I feel like I’ve finally become a skilled, adept long-form fiction writer.
Kaye: What are you working on now? What’s next for Michael Pool?
Michael: Right now I’ve just finished the first book in a new P.I. series, Throwing Off Sparks, and am at work on book two, tilted Daughters of the Republic. Both feature my obsessive female East Texas P.I., “Rowdy” Riley Reeves. Riley’s origin story, “Weathering the Storm,” is slated for release as part of The Eyes of Texas anthology on 10/21/2019. Within a paragraph of starting that story I knew she would become a series character, and I’m REALLY excited to share this new series with the world, I think it brings something totally new to detective fiction.
I’m also working on a pulp P.I. novel I mentioned earlier, also the first in a series, called Catfish Quarum. It is set in Colorado and features down-and-out drug-addled P.I. Rick Malone. A second book in that series is currently in the outline stage, titled One Way Out. I have big hopes for this series, it allows me to be goofy and serious all in the same breath, and to really capture a lot of uniquely Colorado social issues and characteristics. Look for it over the next couple years. I wish that were faster, but publishing is its own complicated process, unfortunately.
I want to thank Michael for sharing with us today. I think he has helped to define noir and differentiate it from the other sub-genres of crime fiction. If you’d like to learn more about Michael or his books, you can visit his author site, or his Amazon author page.
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