I’ve met Renee only once in person, several years ago during an East Bay literary crawl, before I moved to Seattle. She actually reminds me a bit of my ex-wife in terms of visage and vitality, but her powerful presence as a live reader, and naturally as a writer, is unique and singular.
Many other authors I know and have interviewed for this series take inspiration from rock music, but each has their own special set of specific influences, or explanations as to why that connection resonates with their individual muses.
Renee’s perspective on this and other related topics is characteristically spunky, candid, and insightful:
Do you see creative parallels (artistically, aesthetically, thematically, spiritually, etc.) between punk rock and indie fiction, particularly in the crime field?
Absolutely. I think about this a lot and it’s something I try to explore when I have the opportunity but there are some obvious things. Crime and indie fiction are really tight communities with a do-it-yourself attitude, and that’s what punk was all about when I was running around in the local underground. There was no sitting around and waiting for shit to happen - you wanted to play, you picked up an instrument and played. You wanted to go to a show but didn’t have the five bucks? There were always things to do around the venue to get you in. We promoted each other, loved each other, and rocked hard together, and it always felt like home. That’s how crime fiction feels to me, and it’s amplified in the small presses and indie authors I love. The other obvious parallel is that punks tended to be “othered” whether they were poor, didn’t fit in, or had other stuff going on - and they took that “otherness” and turned it into art and community. I think that brings a perspective to crime fiction that’s so valuable. You can write “bang, bang, money, drugs, murder” fiction, and it’s entertaining and people will love it. But you can also get into what makes people criminals - and so often it is that otherness, that inability to do things the way society expects, and that drive for more. If you can get in that headspace you can create really amazing characters that force your readers to look at the parts of society we so often try to ignore. If you do that, you’ve done something a lot of big five literary novels don’t bother trying. You can make a difference in how people view the world.
And when it comes down to it - punk was/is always about trying to communicate a different view of the world.
You’ve published a number of short stories in a variety of publications, and even a noir comic book, Trista & Holt. What’s your favorite format as both writer and reader, and why?
That’s such a tough question. I like comics and short stories because they’re quick. You get in and get out (as both a reader and a writer) and pack as much as you can into that small space as possible. It’s a fantastic challenge and it can get you to a lot of different places and themes. From a purely selfish standpoint, I loved doing the comic because it’s fucking amazing to see someone create amazing visual art for your story. It’s a punch to the gut in the best way. It takes a lot to make me cry, but I teared up when I flipped through the proof of my issue of Trista & Holt. I would love to work in comics again.
Your have a novel out now that you co-wrote with author Andrez Bergen, called Black Sails, Disco Inferno. As someone with a very strong literary voice, how was the collaboration process for you?
I’m not sure if a lot of people realize that BSDI is actually an adaptation of the comic, Trista & Holt. Andrez is one of my favorite working authors, and I was terrified to work with him. Call it impostor syndrome, or being a little starstruck, but I might have died if he hated what I did - especially since the first part of this collaboration was the comic, and I had never written in that format before. But we fit together perfectly. We were on the same page every step of the way and the suggestions we made to each other opened so much for the story. It was fabulous. I’m almost afraid to work with anyone else because I don’t know that it could ever be that good.
What are you influences, literary or otherwise?
I grew up reading Stephen King, which might come across as funny because crime fiction is so stripped down and his work is anything but. The thing I really picked up from all that reading was that I had to make people care about the characters. Say what you want about King, but he does characters like no one else. My big crime fiction influence is actually Tarantino. I drank his films up. I have shared with a few people that some of my first long form writing was actually From Dusk Till Dawn fan fiction (and now I’m sharing that with a lot more people, I guess). I liked that he could make you root for the bad guys, and in films like Reservoir Dogs make you root for both sides at once. That’s to say nothing of the dialogue. I read a lot of Elmore Leonard in high school, too, and that dialogue… wow. He has a quote about writing dialogue by listening to other people and writing how they sound, which is good advice, but what I think Leonard really did (and Tarantino does this, too) is he wrote fantastical dialogue in a way that made you believe that’s how real people talk. It’s entertaining as hell, and I really strive for that balance between entertainment and realism.
My current influences, aside from all the amazing writers working in crime fiction at the moment, come from reading as much crime and mystery written by women as I can. I’ve been enjoying a lot of Laura Lippman (whose novels all take place in Baltimore and Howard County, Maryland where I lived for a long time), Megan Abbot, Lisa Unger, Gillian Flynn, and too many others to name. I’ve even enjoyed Lianne Moriarty (you might be familiar with the TV show based on her book Big Little Lies) for the way she combines the struggles and strife of being a woman in the suburbs with real criminal horrors and mysteries.
What’s next for you?
I’m working on a bank robber romance a la Bonnie & Clyde, but set in modern times, here in the Inland Empire of California. I’ve always loved the idea of writing a romance but my love for the darkness in life always throws those stories off the rails (my husband tells me it’s not a happy ending if everyone dies), so this is a way to get the best of both worlds. I’ve written a couple of short stories involving characters from the longer work ("Salsa Verde" which is in Switchblade Issue 2, and “Thirteen," which is in the new Johnny Cash anthology Just To Watch Them Die). The story of Bonnie & Clyde, and all the legends that surround them as historical figures, have always intrigued me because it was a relationship where the idea of “You and me against the world” was literally true. I thought it would be fun to update that, take it to new levels, and really explore what makes “bad” people want to do good, if only for each other, and what the consequences of that attitude in the context of criminality really are. Spoiler: the consequences are pretty serious.
Seriously looking forward to it, Renee! Cheers.
Renee Asher Pickup is a mellowed out punk rocker living in Southern California. Renee writes fiction about bad things happening to flawed people, nonfiction that is critical of the status quo, and truly believes From Dusk Till Dawn changed her life. You can find her blogging at Do Some Damage every Friday, facilitating classes at LitReactor, or on any podcast looking for a host that likes to blab and have a beer. Her novel with Andrez Bergen: Black Sails, Disco Inferno is available now from Open Books.
Learn a lot more about Renee’s work (and where to purchase it) on her official website.
PHOTO: RENEE PICKUP