I’ve met Dietrich (Dieter to his friends) in person a few times via live reading events, at both Noir at the Bar Seattle and Noir at the Bar Vancouver, and he’s yet another example of a nice guy that finishes first in a crowded field of competitors.
His latest, Zero Avenue, debuts today. The setting is unique: Vancouver during the early days of the punk movement, circa the mid to late 1970s, which was just as explosive and edgy as the “New Wave” cresting south of the border in cities like New York, Los Angeles, Austin, San Francisco, and Seattle.
I had the privilege of reading an advanced copy, and I can vouch not just for its authenticity of time, place, and milieu, but its strength of voice, character, plot and atmosphere. It’s an intoxicating blend of two different types of business - small time crime and big time music - that are melded into a single saga of drugs, desperation, despair, degradation, and ultimately,
Dieter writes in the classically clipped mode of writers like Elmore Leonard, James M. Cain, and Dashiell Hammett, eschewing flowery style in favor or terse, hardboiled, compulsively readable prose that sounds like savagely succinct poetry, much like punk rock itself.
In this conversation, Dieter reveals his impetus for this book, and offers context for his extraordinary work in general:
You’re known primarily as a hardboiled (but poetic) crime author. What inspired the subject and setting of your new book, Zero Avenue?
The story’s set during the early days of punk rock here in Vancouver. The whole scene had a shake-it-up attitude that threw a middle finger at the status quo and made a sharp contrast to what was a sleepy backwater town at the time. All that anger and edge just lent the perfect backdrop for a crime novel.
Plus I love the music. I always play music that goes with what I’m writing at the time; there’s a kind of rhythm to it that works for me. And for the nine months it took to write Zero Avenue, that’s what I listened to — punk. Some of the bands up here at the time were little known, but the music they were pumping out was awesome. And it’s great to see bands like D.O.A. still at it.
What are the distinctions, if any, between the Canadian and American noir fiction communities, or more broadly, the Canadian and American literary scene, in your estimation?
I heard somebody say Canadian criminals are more polite, and that there are more remote spots up here to hide the bodies. While there are cultural and social differences that reflect in the literature on either side of the border, there could bebe more similarities than distinctions. And both countries are recognized for producing some great literature. One side has Margaret Atwood, Mordecai Richler and Alice Munro; and the other has given the world Ernest Hemingway, John Steinbeck and Alice Walker. And of course, both lists could stretch on and on. And the same goes for noir fiction. Both countries have some serious talent as you and I have seen at our collective Noir at the Bar events here in Vancouver and in Seattle.
Do you have a set routine as a writer, either when you’re in the midst of a particular project, or in between?
The longer I write the more I get set in a routine. Generally, I’ve learned how to make my writing more efficient, and having a solid routine seems to be part of that. One thing I do, I get up very early every morning, and I write till noon. Less sleep, more words.
As I mentioned, I play music that suits the mood and rhythm of what I’m working on. I put on the headphones and turn up the volume. That’s how I tune out the one world and immerse myself in the other. When I first tried it, I wasn’t sure it would allow me to concentrate, and I played tunes mainly to cut out all the day to day white noise: trucks going by, phones ringing, dogs barking, that kind of thing. I found the music didn’t bother my concentration, and actually helped me get into what I was working on.
I also try to keep myself off social media while I’m working on a story. It’s distracting, but it’s a bitch to stay away from. When the writing day’s over, I like to go for long walks to clear my head. And I’m constantly making notes when I hear or see something that I can incorporate in what I’m working on. So when I’m deep in a project I end up with little notes all over my desk, tidbits waiting for the right place to be inserted in the story.
And the last thing that’s kind of a routine, I read at the opposite end of my writing day, choosing to read what lights me up and inspires me to write.
What are some of your influences, literary or otherwise?
I’ve been both influenced and inspired by reading great fiction, and there are so many great voices out there, both past and present. As far as crime fiction goes, I love anything written by Elmore Leonard, and I’ve reread everything he ever wrote. He had the master’s touch of balancing levity and tension. Sometimes it was his characters’ cleverness, other times it was their lack of it, and their desperate moves led to some of the best moments and lines that were ever written in crime fiction.
Lately, I’ve been getting into the Hoke Moseley series, and I love the crotchety cleverness of Charles WIlleford. And there are other voices in and out of the genre that just resonate for me as well: Hunter S. Thompson, James Crumley, Don Winslow, Marc Strange, James Ellroy, Carl Hiaasen.
What’s next for you?
I just put the finishing touches on a novel set during the dustbowl days in Kansas. And after a brief book tour for Zero Avenue, it’s back to the studio where I’ll be working on a draft of a new story set in the Yukon.
I also just finished a story to be included in Akashic Books’ Noir Series, this one called Vancouver Noir, edited by Sam Wiebe. And I’m excited about that one.
After Zero Avenue, the next novel to be released will be Poughkeepsie Shuffle, which is due out next year. It takes place in Toronto in the mid-eighties and centers on Jeff Nichols, a guy just released from the Don Jail. When he lands himself a job at a used-car lot, he finds himself mixed up in a smuggling ring bringing guns in from Upstate New York. He’s a guy willing to break a few rules on the road to riches, a guy who lives by the creed ‘why let the mistakes of the past get in the way of a good score in the future.’
Cheers to all that!
Dietrich Kalteis is an award-winning author of five novels and over fifty short stories. His latest novel Zero Avenue will be released on October 3rd, and his fourth House of Blazes recently won an Independent Publishers award for best historical fiction. Publishers Weekly called his third novel Triggerfish high-octane action that keeps readers on the edge of their seats. Crimespree Magazine said it satisfies the need for all things dark and leaves the reader breathless. The National Post called The Deadbeat Club a breakout for Kalteis, and his debut novel Ride the Lightning won a bronze medal for best regional fiction in the Independent Publishers Awards, and was hailed as one of Vancouver’s best crime novels. He lives with his family in West Vancouver, British Columbia.
Learn more about Deiter and my novels at his new website or on the ECW Press website.
Ride the Lightning 2014
The Deadbeat Club 2015
House of Blazes 2016
Zero Avenue 2017
Read Dieter’s blogs every other Wednesday at 7 Criminal Minds and every month at Off the Cuff. You can also stalk him on Facebook and Twitter.
PHOTO: DIETRICH KALTEIS