Could you tell us about your childhood ? How have you come to write novels ?
I was born in 1954 and grew up in Knockemstiff, Ohio, a small community surrounded by hills in the southern part of the state. My father worked at the paper mill in Chillicothe, the nearest town, the same one where I would later work. I loved to read from an early age, but there weren’t any books in our house, just trashy magazines, mostly crime and romance stuff. I was an unhappy kid and a daydreamer and a lousy student and quit high school when I was seventeen. I worked in a meatpacking plant and a shoe factory before I got hired at the paper mill. As for how I became a writer, when I turned forty-five, I just decided that I needed to try to do something else with my life before I croaked. At the time, I had been at the mill 27 years, so I thought it was pretty much now or never. I didn’t know how to do anything but factory work, but I had a degree in English (I’d gone to Ohio University part-time when I was in my thirties) and thought maybe I could learn to write. I finally quit the mill five years later. I guess you might call it a « mid-life crisis. »
How did you go about researching your novel, The Devil All the Time ?
I read several books about serial killers and I traveled down to Lewiston, West Virginia, and asked some questions and looked around a bit. Because I’m fairly familiar (and interested) with the period the book is set in (from 1945 to 1965), that was really all the research I did.
Your characters’ destinies are still on my mind. I was moved by Arvin, could you tell us more about him ?
Arvin is still alive at the end of the book and it looks like maybe he is heading for some kind of redemption, but I leave his future up to the reader. Happy endings, for the most part, seem a bit far-fetched and unrealistic to me, though I do understand why people want to see them in the fiction they read at night after a hard day at the office or the sludge pit or whatever.
Carl and Sandy are a « very special » couple. Are there many couples like them in the U.S. They are scary !
My God, I hope not! The F.B.I claims that there are somewhere between 50 and 75 serial killers operating in the United States at any one time, but I think most of them work alone.
Many of your characters flee from the law and their past. Is that what gives strength to your novel ?
Well, I do think that the best (or at least the most interesting) novels are filled with trouble, so maybe. As someone once said (and I’m paraphrasing), “Happy lives make boring stories.”
Do you have an anecdote to share about your novel, The Devil All the Time ?
Not really, but I was almost broke when my agent sold it. Trying to string together a living just by writing is damn hard to do nowadays.
I can see your novel adapted into a movie ; what do you think ?
I believe that The Devil All the Time would make a great film, at least much better than most of the stuff that Hollywood puts out these days. A good friend who loves films told me that he could see Phillip Seymour Hoffman as Carl and Juliette Lewis as Sandy.
The Concierge is curious. Could you tell us something about your next novel ?
The novel I’m working on now is set in southern Ohio in the fall of 1918. There’s a lot of violent and disturbing things happening in the book, but that’s really about all I can say about it at this point.
How, when, and where do you write ?
We just moved into another house and I’m still working on a shed in the backyard that’s going to be my office, so I’m typing the answers to your questions in a place I set up in the corner of the garage until the shed is finished. I go back and forth with my schedule ; I’ll work from 6 am until 11 am or so for several months, then switch to nights and work from 8 pm until 2 am for a while. I think I write better at night, but I don’t like to keep those hours for very long at a time. As for how I write, I just stay in the chair. That’s the hardest thing about writing and what beats most people. There are times, when it seems like you’ll never write another decent sentence in your life, when washing windows or vacuuming the floors is going to sound like fun compared to keeping your ass in that chair.
Who are your favorite writers ?
There are really too many to list, but I have a special affinity for the « Southern » writers in America ; people like Harry Crews, Larry Brown, William Gay, Flannery O’Connor, Lewis Norden, Ron Rash, Mark Powell, Wiley Cash, Cormac McCarthy, and Barry Hannah. They have probably influenced me the most. Other writers include Celine, Orwell, Hemingway, Muriel Sparks, Denis Johnson, Muriel Sparks–the list goes on and on.
In current international events, what annoys you and what makes you laugh ?
The war in Afghanistan is high on the list of what sickens me right now, along with the clowns and crooks running the United States Congress. As for what makes me laugh (or cringe), I have a hard time understanding the popularity of reality TV stars, like, for example, the Kardashians or those people on Jersey Shore. Also, the addiction to cell phones and texting and all the other bullshit, that need people now have to be connected 24/7, especially in the U.S.
You came to France for Quais du Polar 2012 this past March ; what are your impressions about the book fair and its readers ?
It was my first trip to France and so I wasn’t sure what to expect. We hear all the time that French people are rude or standoffish, but everyone I met was friendly. Participating in the panel discussions was a little tough for me because I’m not good at that sort of thing, but
What is your favorite music ? And your favorite song ?
That’s an impossible question to answer definitively. I love nearly all kinds of music, from Monster Magnet to Johnny Dowd to R.L. Burnside to Mozart. I’ll say my favorite song is Hendrix’s “Burning of the Midnight Lamp.”
What’s your favorite movie ?
Another tough question! I’ll go with Val Lewton’s I Walked With a Zombie.
How would you like to end this interview for your French readers who can’t wait to read your next novel ?
Thanks so, so much for your support and please be patient (I’m slow) !