Author of the Week: David Corbett
David Corbett writes what he knows, and this man knows how to write.
I’ve only met David a few times over the years, via our mutual friend Eddie Muller. But knowing what I do about his background, I had nothing but respect for him from the get-go, and that has only increased over time as I’ve followed his sundry life adventures via his social media posts.
We have a lot of other mutual friends in the literary community that share my high opinion of David, as both a person and a writer, evidenced via numerous accolades from his peers as well as industry awards. His latest, The Long-Lost Love Letters of Doc Holliday, was just released, and already generating praise.
Here’s why David deserves all that love:
Your impressive resume includes professional investigation. This has obviously informed your carefully detailed crime fiction. How else does this background distinguish your work in this genre?
I think the principle benefit of that background is having seen real people engaged in the pursuit of both crime and justice. This gave me not just an intimate view of how cops and criminals and lawyers and juries and judges operate, it allowed me to see them as human beings in a very structured, very impersonal, and very flawed system. So much of crime fiction seems based on other crime stories, whether derived from books or films. My background has offered me the ability to go beyond that.
Among your many credentials, you are a well-respected writing instructor. Other than essentials like story construction and character development, is there anything about writing that can’t be taught, in your view?
Voice is something that is very difficult to teach. It’s not impossible – there are techniques for doing so, and the crime writer Les Edgerton has written an excellent book on the subject. But voice in writing isn’t so different from one in singing. Either your prose has a quality that people enjoy or it doesn’t. They may continue reading because of the story or the setting or the suspense, but your prose doesn’t touch them in that unique, inimitable way that Aretha’s or Pavarotti’s voice did.
Without getting into specifics, you have weathered a life tragedy that would potentially destroy most human beings. In addition to being a source of income, is your writing also a creative coping mechanism for personal issues?
I doubt that what I have endured is all that different than what most people go through in one way or another in their lives. I lost my brother when he was 39 to AIDS, and my late wife when she was 44 to ovarian cancer, and each of them, at the time of their deaths, was the most important person in my life. But my current wife (I remarried a few years ago) is going through something equally sad and difficult right now, with her father dying and her mother having serious health issues, to the point it’s like losing them one right after the other.
Even with my history I see just how unique and incommensurable each person’s suffering is, and a great many of my friends have endured or are enduring losses every bit as painful as mine were.
Writing was a balm after my wife’s death but since that time it has simply been my way of reaching out to readers in a way that allows us to ask questions and puzzle out answers together.
What are your influences, literary or otherwise?
My personal influences are my father, my high-school football coach, and my college math professors, all of whom were solid, honest, decent men who expected me to exceed and pushed me to do so.
If I were to list writing influences, I would probably start with Robert Stone, Richard Price, Pete Dexter, Kate Atkinson, Jess Walter, and James Crumley. Raymond Chandler taught me how brilliant a crime novel could be. Jim Thompson taught me how daring it could be.
What’s next for you?
Right now I’m busy getting the word out about the most recent novel, The Long-Lost Love Letters of Doc Holliday, which came out on August 18th. I’ve always found everything about Doc Holliday fascinating. His unique combination of intelligence, daring, southern gentility, and sheer drunken meanness created a nearly inexhaustible supply of contradictions to contemplate.
None of those contradictions, however, was as intriguing as the fact that, throughout his years in the West, he carried on a devoted correspondence with his cousin Mattie, who became a Catholic nun. She was also rumored to have once been his sweetheart.
The letters were destroyed long ago, so no one now living knows what secrets the letters actually contained—a silence that, I believed, cried out for fictional rectification.
Over twenty years ago I got the idea of basing a book on those letters, but only recently found a way to do it to my liking: the supposedly destroyed letters would resurface and serve as the MacGuffin in an action story over who has a genuine right to possess them—and what lengths they will go to in the process. The result is a novel that works on two narrative plains that echo and reflect each other: the letters between Doc and Mattie, and the present-day story of the letters’ reappearance and the fight over who gets to keep them.
On other fronts: I’ve just sold another writing guide, The Compass of Character. It’s currently scheduled for publication in October 2019 through Writer’s Digest. And I’m working on a new novel, but I tend not to like to talk about works in progress. Let’s just say it’s a dystopian novel – about the present.
Other than that, I’ve begun teaching at the California Men’s Facility, a level-two state prison in Vacaville, and we hope to put together an anthology of inmate writing by year’s end. I’m toying with a project—a script or novel, not sure which as yet—about the prison hospice unit and the inmates who work there—and die there.
I’ve also, as always, got a few other projects buzzing around my desk, but they’re too nebulous as yet to discuss in any detail.
For more info on any of the above, your readers can check out my website.
Highly recommended, it’s pretty deep and comprehensive. Thank you, and cheers!
David Corbett is the author of six critically acclaimed novels: 2018's The Long-Lost Love Letters of Doc Holliday; 2015's The Mercy of the Night (starred review, Booklist); The Devil's Redhead (nominated for both the Anthony and Barry Awards for Best First Novel); Done for a Dime (a New York Times Notable Book); Blood of Paradise (nominated for numerous awards, including the Edgar, and named both one of the Top Ten Mysteries and Thrillers of 2007 by the Washington Post and a San Francisco Chronicle Notable Book); and Do They Know I'm Running? (Spinetingler Award, Best Novel 2011 -- Rising Star Category).
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