Danny Gardner is yet another author I know via Facebook, though I have had the honor of physically hanging out with him when he was a guest reader at Noir at the Bar Seattle over a year ago. His charm, warmth and wit are as evident in person as they are on the page.
So is his candor regarding challenging topics.
Another thing we have in common is that we were both published by a small press that suddenly went belly up right when it was hitting its stride, taking our titles down with it. Down, but not out.
Danny’s widely and justly acclaimed detective novel A Negro and an Ofay (which I’ve personally likened, including in this blog, to the works of literary giants like James Baldwin and Ralph Ellison) was just re-printed in a definitive new edition by the equally reputable press Down and Out Books. It’s a fitting match. This is one of the best examples of the genre I’ve ever read, and Danny’s powerful voice deserves a wide and solid platform, since it is only going to get louder and stronger from here.
He is accustomed to the spotlight, though, at least as a stage performer…
How has your background as a stand-up comedian informed or prepared you for your career as an author?
Well, first there's the edge, which I feel now applies to my writing. In stand-up, you can make points, as long as you keep it movin'. That translates well to the crime fiction page. Folks refer to my literary voice as distinct and I'm fairly certain I developed that through comedy performing over a couple of decades. Read my work or see me on stage, it's the same voice.
Why did you avoid the self-publishing option and hold out for a traditional contract?
Great question. My goal with A NEGRO AND AN OFAY, as well as the short fiction pieces I have in anthologies coming out this year, is to establish myself as a serious novelist and fiction writer. Earning a living off my writing is a secondary or tertiary consideration. I wanted to begin standing in good stead so readers would feel better about taking a chance on my work. I write what I hope is entertaining crime fiction, yet it's also challenging with respect to themes of race and class. To be traditionally published puts a brand behind it, which is a signal to lovers of mystery/crime and thrillers that it's okay to take me home.
As a genre author, how significant are social issues in your fiction (if at all)?
For me, I can't think about crime without thinking of race and class in America. Crime occurs at the intersection of race and class. I've known many people who have committed crimes, yet in all my life, I have yet to meet a born criminal. I think crime is an effect of economic and social desperation. I feel my work gets to the heart of crime and extracts elements of human nature that make my stories real. Readers seem to dig it thus far.
What are some of you influences, literary and otherwise?
I love how Margaret Atwood leverages social themes to spin any type of tale she wishes, such as THE EDIBLE WOMAN, A HANDMAID'S TALE or ORYX AND CRAKE. She doesn't glance. She dives all the way in. Octavia E. Butler's fiction changed my life by showing me the depth of black American humanity. Her PARABLE TRILOGY came into my life at a difficult time and rerouted my synapses. Chester Himes's lesser known works, a la THE END OF A PRIMITIVE really showed me how rage and indignation can be harnessed to craft razor-sharp prose that gets to the heart of the nation's condition. There'll always be Raymond Chandler. I'll take Philip Marlowe any way he comes.
What’s next for you?
I have a short story I’m very proud of in Gutter Books’ Johnny Cash-inspired crime anthology, JUST TO WATCH THEM DIE. I am also excited about a longer dystopian sci-fi piece I have in THE OBAMA INHERITANCE: FIFTEEN STORIES OF CONSPIRACY NOIR, edited by the great Gary Phillips and headlined by none other than Walter Mosley. And I'm almost done with the next book in The Tales of Elliot Caprice titled ACE BOON COON. I'm giving it my all. It feels good.
Write on, brother!
Danny Gardner enjoys careers as a comedian (HBO's Def Comedy Jam) actor, director, and screenwriter. His debut novel, A NEGRO AND AN OFAY, is published by Down & Out Books. He is a proud member of the Mystery Writers of America and the International Thriller Writers and is a regular blogger at 7 Criminal Minds. He lives in Los Angeles by way of Chicago.
PHOTO: DANNY GARDNER