Please Welcome Pearce Hansen,
Gun Sex is a collection of your favorite short stories. Within the collection is there a particular that you feel best represents you as a writer?
Probably a three way tie between The Storm Giants, Greater Than the Sum and The Day He Raised. If I really had to choose, The Day He Raised.
How did Markus of Stagger Bay come into creation?
Well, on one hand I kind of ‘channeled’ him – he popped up like some guy at the pub who button-holes you and insists you hear out his tale. On the other hand, many aspects of him are based on an actual person (no, NOT me, sorry) and I envisioned what this particular person would say think and do in a given situation. On the third hand (one hand too many I know) when it was done I realized that, if a move adaptation were ever made, the only person I could see playing Markus would be Danny Bonaduce – Danny’s a good actor, Markus would be a slam dunk for him, and the movie industry has recently had great success with older actors getting a second chance through off beat casting opportunities.
Your protagonists, Speedy of Street Raised and Markus of Stagger Bay are both recently released from prison. Was this a conscious decision?
Almost coincidental – that is, no thematic connection between the two – but a reflection of my reality. When I was coming up, it was a rite of passage to do time – this was before ‘three strikes’ and mandatory sentencing, so most jolts were quite short – with good behavior you were looking at a year or less, maybe 18 to 24 tops unless you REALLY stepped on your dick. Multiple male relatives, LOTS of friends and associates were/are ex-cons. It didn’t feel unnatural. In fact, back in the day it was real common to get your glove box full of traffic tickets and FTAs, then turn yourself in, do maybe 90 days up in Santa Rita, and get out with a clean slate – doing the time to pay your fines.
Myself, I’ve never been to prison. Been frisked and cuffed and sat in the back seat more occasions than I can count; been arrested and booked and interrogated at the station a handful of times; actually incarcerated only once, and that was an EXTREMELY short stint. There was a time when I saw that as a lack – like I was missing some cred because I’d never been in. Now I know I was extremely lucky.
Your works are often labeled as noir. Noir is debatably the most difficult genre to define. Personally, what are the defining elements that separate it from simple crime fiction in your mind?
A good question, and one I’m unsure I’m qualified to answer. As I’ve told other interviewers, I didn’t choose crime, crime chose me – so I can’t offer specifics on WHY I write within this genre. I can hazard some observations however:
Crime fiction: you have police procedural, which is often written by ex-cops or cop groupies, and emphasizes the rule of law in our affairs – I include the Miss Marple/’tea room cozies’ as a subset: life has value, and justice is worth seeking. You have ‘heist,’ ala Richard Stark’s ‘Parker’ series: again, the score is the thing, the money and freedom are worthy goals in and of themselves.
Then you have noir, which is more existential and nihilistic. You look at David Goodis or either of the Cains (Paul or James M.); their worlds are bleak and meaningless, all action is futile, and the characters’ weaknesses draw them inevitably into the spider web of fate like a Greek tragedy. So I suppose noir has more potential for literary depth.
For my own works I have noir elements, and due to my own history my comfort zone is crime/suspense – but my novels are more melodramas in structure, or picaresque distillations from my youth in the late-20th-century East Bay underbelly.
What elements are crucial for a strong and true noir protagonist?
Damaged and flawed – so as to be unpredictable, and so they stick around in a situation that a ‘normal’ person would flee screaming from, probably about on page one. They have to have some competency that makes it believable they can contend within such a predatory milieu. They have to have a heart that opposes; else it degenerates into a story about a victim, which is hardly entertaining. The need a voice the reader can’t tune out, and be ‘real’ – i.e. three dimensional and believable. You need to care about them, if only enough to root for their destruction.
Neo Noir/Neo Pulp who working in the field today are you a fan of?
Josh Stallings. Raymond Embrack. Right now I’m reading Wolf Tickets by Ray Banks, and finding him enjoyable.
What does the term “hard boiled” mean to you?
I always think of Paul Cain’s ‘Fast One’ when I hear people mention hardboiled; anyone that hasn’t read it, I recommend they go out and pick up a copy – but I hear he’s hard to find these days. Laird Barron writes in what I consider a hardboiled style, but in the genre of horror – as you might imagine, it’s a startling though effective amalgam.
To me hardboiled = obsolete. Not the genre itself, but the manly values it predicates. Hardboiled means no complaints at the hand fate deals you, to laugh in the face of the unpleasant, and to speak up at those who try to roust you round rather than submit and take. In the value set of hardboiled, NOTHING is worse than to be a punk. But IMHO, in today’s New World Order, there’s no real room for manhood anymore, and the hardboiled ethos is no more than a dinosaur from another time.
What writer most influenced you as an author? How?
Jack Vance. He had a laconic style, wherein the most scalding events and interactions were conveyed in a spare, restrained way, paradoxically amplifying and magnifying the emotional intensity. No one reads him anymore, and that’s their loss.
Anything else coming down the pipeline you would like to share?
I’m 70k words into my third novel The Storm Giants, and will be finishing it as soon as I honor another couple obligations. My first novel Street Raised is of course available for the Kindle at http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0050JL0IM -- it was blurbed by Joe Lansdale, Eddie Muller(Dark City: The Lost World of Film Noir is a great book by Muller), and had a sweet SF Chronicle review (as well as a Borders book signing, which nobody’s gonna get anymore). My second novel Stagger Bay was just released at http://www.amazon.com/Stagger-Bay-ebook/dp/B006ZW650Q -- it has blurbs from Ken Bruen, Jason Starr & Anthony Neil Smith.
Thanks to Pearce Hansen for taking the time...