Interview de Greg Olear : Totally Killer (VO)

Greg OlearCould you please tell us about your childhood ? Where do you come from ?
I was born and raised in New Jersey, a collection of suburbs along the New York/Philadelphia corridor best known for being the setting for The Sopranos and Jersey Shore.  Madison, my hometown, is more pleasant than the places depicted on those shows, thankfully (although I’m half Italian and can understand a lot of the Neopolitan slang Tony and company use on The Sopranos).

How did you start writing polar ?
The central conceit of Totally Killer—the crooked employment agency—was conceived while I was in college.  I wanted to write a screenplay along the lines of The Firm, which was popular at the time.  Thrillers have specific rules, and it was at this time that I began to figure them out.

How are polars considered in the USA ?
Of all the genres—sci-fi, romance, and so forth—I think « polars » are held in highest esteem by the literary establishment.  There were really good writers writing this kind of novel from the get-go—Chandler, Hammett, Cain, and Poe before them—and it continues to attract great talent.  There is something about crime that cuts to the bone of the human condition, that compels good writers to tackle the subject.

I can totally imagine « Totally killer » as a movie. Is there a project to turn your book into a movie ?

Thank you.  I think so, too.  I have a film agent pitching it, but so far, American studios are more keen to do a fourth installment of Transformers than an unknown commodity like TK.

Totally KillerThere are 2 forms of writings in « Totally killer », how did the idea come to you ?
It evolved over time.  As I mentioned, the main concept of the book occurred to me in college, in 1993.  Then, it was a third person tale, just Taylor and Asher.  More recently, I decided to set the book in 1991 specifically, and to use Todd as the narrator.

Could you tell us more about your 2 main characters : Taylor Schmidt and Todd ?
Taylor is an amalgem of several different friends of mine (although none of them have murdered anyone, as far as I know !).  I concluded that the same sort of insouciance that makes someone sleep with almost anyone would also make her more likely to kill just about anyone.
As for Todd, there is a lot of overlap between him and me.  But he’s older, and creepier, and more obsessive, and taller, and he likes The Doors more than I do.

I know, you used to act, would you be interested to create a play with polar as a subject ?
I’ve never really been interested in writing stage plays.  I don’t know why.  I like screenplays better.

1991 was a black year for the USA. In your novel, you criticized the politics of Bush during this year, what was your intention ?
Bush pere was not so bad ; it’s Bush fils that was the problem—and he was still president when I finished the book.  But I did want to focus on how similar the two presidencies were, and how little had changed.  When George W. Bush was elected, a writer at The Village Voice said, « It will be eight years of Clinton prosperity sandwiched between two Bush recessions. »  Was he ever right !

I know your next book will be « Fathermucker », have you finished to write it yet ? Can you please tell us about it ?
Fathermucker is indeed finished ; it comes out in the US on 4 October.  It concerns 24 hours in the life of a stay-at-home father to two young children, who is told by one of the mommies at a playdate that his wife is having an affair.  It’s not a polar, although there is a sort of detective element to the book, as he’s trying to figure out what the hell is going on.

What are your habits when you write ? (in the evening ? in the morning ? sitting at your desk ?)
I have two young children, so I am at their mercy.  I write when they are in school.  I prefer to work in the morning.  On a really good day, I work from 9 till 2.  Once I stop and eat, I’m done for the day.  I just can’t sustain it longer than that.  I generally work at the university library.

I met you at « Quais du Polar » in Lyon last March, what do you think of France and its French polar readers ?
I’ve always loved France.  I took French in high school (not that you could tell with how badly I speak !), and my wife and I went to Paris, St. Remy de Provence, and Nice on our honeymoon.  My recent visit only made me love it more.  The French have such a great appreciation of the finer things in life—good food, good wine, good books, good conversation.  It’s my kind of place.

Can you tell us about Gallmeister ? How did you meet your French publisher ?
I hooked up with them via my sub-agents.  And I got very lucky.  The translation of my book is excellent, and they did a wonderful job getting it out to readers.  Plus, they are very cool people.  I’m thrilled to have them as publishers.

Is there any (young ? new ?) polars author you’d like to talk about ?
Megan Abbott isn’t new, but she’s terrific.  I like how she delves into gender differences and plays with conventional gender roles.  That, and she’s a really good writer.  I’m not sure if it’s available in France, but Citizen Vince, by Jess Walter, is an enviably good book.

Is there any international subject which makes you angry ?
There are too many to count !  But start with this : I’m mad that Obama and Sarko didn’t get invited to the royal wedding.

And the last question : what are your favourite music and favourite song ?
I’m always partial to Mimi Ferocious, my wife’s band.  Lately I’ve been listening to a lot of hip hop mash-up stuff, especially All Night by Girl Talk.  But you can’t go wrong with Yves Montand, can you ?

Many thanks for your patience to answer my questions and I hope to see you soon in France.
Thank you !  I hope to be back soon !