One reason I love the work of CS DeWildt (Chris to his pals) is the honesty. Another is his succinct style. In true hardboiled tradition, the man gets right to the point, which is always sharp and cutting. Because it’s raw truth exposed, and that truth is often painful.
However, a savvy, natural born talent like Chris knows how to fashion a downbeat story in such a way that the reader is immediately engaged rather than repelled, because the characters and their slippery situations are so compellingly conveyed, and relatable, even when their behavior compromises our collective ideals. Because at heart, we’re all capable of subversive reactions to extreme or even mind-numbingly mundane circumstances.
Chris’s literary beat is off the mainstream map, another reason I dig his stuff. It provides an organic intimacy to the portraits of desperate, fatally flawed people he paints so vividly.
How do you distinguish “rural noir” from the traditional, “urban” noir of cinematic and literary tradition - and how are they similar?
This is a question that I would probably answer differently the next time you ask, so I’ll do my best to be clear and honest. I suppose I see “noir” literature as dark obviously, almost always with some criminal or shady element in the works (not to be confused with the similar, yet distinctly different “hardboiled” genre.) But if we slice it apart further, it’s the rural element though that comes first for me, in my desire to read a story and to write one. I know small towns. I love them.
I know you’re a fan of David Lynch, and to me, his work, particularly Twin Peaks and Blue Velvet, this stuff is the guts of rural noir for me, not the surreal aspect of his work, but the behind-the-scenes shit going on, the dirty shit people get into after church lets out on Sunday, the shit people suspect but don’t want to talk about. The kind of dirty, shameful secrets that when they does boil over, everyone in the community feels the effect, everyone is tainted by the experience and in the end are worse for it. These are stories that I like because they don’t flinch in the face of what’s worst about us.
It’s like this, I guess: I have lost four old friends to suicide, three of them in the past few years, and you know these people, and then you read the obituary and it’s all platitude and sentimentality, and you know that these people were in a place where it made more sense to pull a trigger or tie a rope than deal with another day, and you read in the obituary about his “survived bys”: the wife who was leaving him and taking the kids, or the friends he felt betrayed him. None of these dirty parts are mentioned. That is emotional dishonesty and I have a hard time stomaching it. I think at very least the dead deserve to have their truth told. I suppose it’s that mentality that prods me to explore the dark side; Noir provides an opportunity for unflinching honesty.
So back to Lynch/Rural Noir! At the end of the day I think small town crime is more interesting than big city world hopping so there you go. Keep your New Yorks. Give me Paradise, Arizona!
You are equally adept at both short stories and novels, but do you have a preference, as both writer and reader?
Equally adept? That’s quite a compliment. I feel like a non-producing POS right now, so thanks for that. My first love is the short story. I love their deceptive simplicity, especially from a true master of the craft (Kafka or O’Conner or Carver), the way they layer and blend. I like to use a painting analogy in that a really rich short story is almost like a painting that you look at it from across the room, you take in the whole thing at once, and that’s a great part of the experience, but then it’s time to look close up, examine each word as a brush stroke. It’s “reading with your high beams on” as a close friend once said to me.
I love Chuck Palahniuk’s craft essays and he’s said that each chapter of a novel should be a short story in its own right. I try to keep that in mind as I work on longer stuff. (maybe because I find stories easier to write) I like brevity and nowhere is that more evident than in my longer books. The new one tops out at 60K, I think. That’s long for me.
Please tell us about your new book, Suburban Dick, initially titled Chicken Wing, slated for release this coming May 4 after a circuitous history.
Circuitous is a nice way to put it. No one wanted it. Granted, I did not submit it to the publisher of my last two books (All Due Respect) for a couple of boring, practical, non-salacious reasons. But, I’m going to tell you a story now, and I don’t know where it’s going but here it is, the “Chicken Wing” story. “Chicken Wing” came to me in probably 2013/14 and it was a simple enough story, straight hardboiled on the surface with what I saw as a new dynamic, new for me anyway, my down-on-his-luck PI would be a family man, or at least try to be one to the extent he was capable given the fact that he was a mediocre father at best and a pretty terrible husband.
So, fast forward a year later and the thing’s written and I do what I always do with a new title ever since and that is try to find a good agent (because that means you made it right? Finally! Easy street and champagned readings you didn’t have to beg your family and friends to attend). So I query around, get a lot of nothing as usual, but then I get what I’ll refer to as “the email” from a big genre agent. Big. I hadn’t queried him, but he read my story in an anthology and invited me to submit to his agency. Invited. Me. Called himself a “fan.” Was I on cloud 9? You bet your sweet ass I was (that’s my Robert Evans impression.)
But here’s the rub: I go to report my good fortune to FB as one does these days and before I can even compose a halfway decent humblebrag I see that two or three other people have beat me to it. Pride withered as I saw the screenshots of the same email I’d just received, different in only the addressee and a few other details. The detail all the letters shared was our participation in a particular anthology. Now, I don’t know how many people received this email, but at the end of the day an invitation was an invitation and I submit. Whoops. Crushing rejection is what follows. “Didn’t bother to finish it” or something very close to that, I’d have to dig up the email for the exact wording. I will admit it was a bit of a blow to the old self esteem and messed up my head for a bit.
But this isn’t about that, or even rejection, it happens every day to writers better than me, and at the end of this story my book comes out, but there you go, a pitstop I’d love to discuss as length over gin and tonics sometime. So, pressing forward with a tenacity only the published know, I hit up some small presses I knew were taking subs, to kind of get a vibe from the indies. Still not all that much interest, lukewarm email-tag that ultimately cooled. I put it on the back-burner ad thought about eventually self-publishing. Fast forward to about this time last year and I followed up with one of my favorite indies, Down and Out Books. They had read “Chicken Wing” and passed it on to Ron Earl Phillips over at Shotgun Honey Books (which saved me the trouble because that’s where it was going next). Ron reached out, said he liked it and offered to publish it. As for the title, the original is a reference to a wrestling hold. The new title refers to Gus Harris, my small-town detective who is also an asshole, my “Suburban Dick.”
There you go. The journey of journey of “Dick.” I could rant a little more about the questionable social media practices of certain literary agencies, but I’ll save it for next time!
What are your influences, literary or otherwise?
Can I do this as a list? I want to do a list. When you say “influences” to someone, what you really mean is “obsessions” so I will list mine in more or less chronological order from my birth. The things that fed my need to tell stories--
The Muppets, New Wave, solitude, Nickelodeon, oldies music, Creepshow film(s), friends, movie theaters, drugs, Commander USA’s Groovy Movies/Saturday Nightmares/Up All Night, girls, libraries, horror, Stephen King, Alfred Hitchcock Presents (any sci-fi/horror anthology really: Darkside, Ray Bradbury, etc), Troma Studios, Liquid Television, Beavis and Butthead, Alex Winter’s The Idiot Box, Pink Floyd, Nabokov’s Lolita, Raymond Carver, Big Jim Thompson, Annie Proulx, Harper Lee, Cormac McCarthy, Papa Ernie, Paul Schrader, Faulkner, Flannery O’Conner, Irvine Welsh
I could go on. I just love media.
What’s next for you?
More books I suppose. Working on a couple of projects currently, sequel to Suburban Dick as well as Love You to a Pulp 2: Electric Boogaloo (working title). Hopefully, I’ll get them finished by the end of summer. I talk with a Hollywood friend about getting something happening, but it’s mostly talk. That said, my love of storytelling started with the cinema, and I’d love to adapt something, or see something adapted (who wouldn’t, right?)
I’m just going to keep living the dream I guess.
Life is only a dream. Cheers!
CS DeWildt is the author of Kill Em with Kindness, Love You to a Pulp, and Candy & Cigarettes. His newest title, Suburban Dick, will be available May 4th from Shotgun Honey Books. He lives in Southern Arizona with his wife and sons. If so inclined, please send your praise and lamentations to email@example.com
Amazon Author Page
PHOTO: CS DEWILDT