Rob Pierce is a Bay Area-based author that I got to know personally before relocating to Seattle several years ago. We kept in touch the same way most writers (and regular human) do: via Facebook. His posts are always amusing, entertaining, and informative. He knows how to sell himself both as a personality and as an author, which are both essential when promoting your brand name.
Not every voice is as distinctive or compelling or downright funny as Rob’s. But he’s really just being himself. That is the true key to being a successful writer (or person), at least from an artistic standpoint, because that way, you maintain a unique sense of identity amid an incredibly and increasingly saturated marketplace. This is how you stand out in the crowd.
Rob is not only an accomplished author, but also a seasoned editor and impresario. I’ve read at one of the live literary events he routinely organizes. He is well entrenched in the online literary community, in addition to being a key figure in the Bay Area scene. All for good reason. This guy not only knows his stuff, but he knows how to convey it in a way that is as edifying as it is entertaining.
Your social media voice doesn’t seem all that different from your fictional tone (both being irreverent and hardboiled). Is that an intentional part of your promotional strategy?
I try to project an image that IS me at all times. Extensions of me, anyway. Shortly after he'd accepted Uncle Dust (my first published book) for All Due Respect, Mike Monson asked me how I wrote the character of Dust. The question threw me a bit, because really, I just typed. My protagonists in particular are manifestations of me if did some of the evil shit that roams around my head. The real me makes more constructive use of the hostility, although the degree that it's suppressed is probably a strong contributor to my wide array of neuroses.
I respond to books and music viscerally, and I try to write my own to elicit that kind of response. Strategy? Hardly. But yeah, read me on Facebook and you get an idea of my writing style. I suppose it's subconsciously strategic.
Do you think the lines between “serious” literary fiction and crime fiction have blurred over the years, and if so, how and why?
That may be how it's worked in the public perception; if so, that perception may be cyclical. A great book is literary, regardless of the subject matter. I mean, Dostoevsky wrote from the point of view of a murderer, but despite its title, Crime and Punishment is rarely treated as a crime novel. Jim Thompson takes a similar tack and it isn't literary? Smacks of bullshit from here. Hammett wrote literary fiction. Chandler wrote literary fiction. Chester Himes too. I find it convenient that if looking for those authors in a bookstore they're in the crime fiction section, because that does cover a large portion of the subject matter that I like to read about.
If the change is a matter of perception, I think a lot of it has to do with the popularity and quality of Joseph Wambaugh's novels. Here was a guy who wrote police procedurals but really he wrote about the people involved. Plus his early work included the non-fiction book The Onion Field; Wambaugh was an ex-cop and a great storyteller who helped popularize his work by appearing on talk shows and charming the hell out of viewers.
There will always be books that are "just" genre fiction, and they serve their purpose, but the best books are about people, and if I'm pulled inside a character, I'd say that book is literary, regardless of the genre. There have been recent popular novels, such as Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl, which is a fine book but I felt that a lot of it was rooted in the work of Patricia Highsmith. Great writer to have your writing rooted in, of course.
What is it about crime fiction that gives it such broad appeal amongst both writers and readers?
When I'm writing, I try to project to the reader how a criminal thinks. It's a vicarious fantasy for me, and I think well-written crime fiction provides that for the reader as well. It's 'what could life be if I could get away from all this garbage that weighs on me?' In my stories, of course, that often leads to 'How do I get out of this Hell?' But never, 'why did I get into it?'
Because that's another aspect of the criminal life; problems foreign to the reader that need to be solved in ways even more foreign.
It's pretty common that people want to travel to exotic places but can't go to all the ones they're curious about. In many cases, those people buy books about those places. The places in crime fiction may not be exotic, but crime is rife with interesting situations that most people will never experience. Hell, they're dangerous situations, it's significantly safer to read about them. I like to write about what interests me, which frequently is how a criminal thinks. Guys who hurt people for a living and that's all it is: a way to make a buck. And if you enjoy your work, you're more likely to be good at it.
What are some of your influences, literary or otherwise?
David Goodis and Dashiell Hammett are probably the most overt influences on my writing. Jim Thompson and Richard Stark too. And Chester Himes wrote the best action scenes, not a wasted word. But I suppose I've been influenced by a lot of what I've read and loved--there's a series of Eastern European fiction edited by Philip Roth; talk about dark, read some concentration camp comedy written by a guy who was in one of the camps.
There are also great writers who I can't read while I'm working on a piece - I love Cormac McCarthy and John LeCarre but their writing styles are so brilliant and so unlike how I write, it insinuates itself into my writing and when I write like that it's crap. Hell, no one should write like a great writer. Unless you want the reader to respond, "Oh look, this reminds me of a genius. Only this guy ain't no genius."
Also, I listen to a lot of music, always when I'm writing, and I can write to Dylan or The Clash or Ornette Coleman. Hell, I love some industrial music, chainsaws and explosions when they're in the right songs. Again, if it evokes the right visceral response, I love it. My brain affects how I respond to lyrics, but a totally different part of it loves sounds.
Oh, and I live in Oakland. I get story ideas just walking and driving around, eyes and ears open. Never know when I'll observe something good. Or have to run like hell.
What’s next for you?
I'm working on a novel, Tommy Shakes, about a somewhat incompetent career criminal trying to save his shaky marriage. By pulling an armed robbery with one guy he knows and two strangers, in the belief that what he makes on the job will overcome how much his wife hates what he does for a living.
I'm also working on a short story and have general ideas for the next book or two in the Dust series. Which is not a straightforward series. Dust is the protagonist in Uncle Dust but barely appears in its sequel, With the Right Enemies. Although Enemies does include characters from my novella Vern in the Heat, which is part of the same universe as those other books but could be read before or after either of them. Too much would get left behind if I focused on any one character for the series, however much I may do so in any one book. Hell, I'd get bored with the character; I don't even like spending that much time with me. That aspect of my plotting may have something to do with Vonnegut, the idea that all the characters are important. Because if any one of them isn't, who the hell let him or her into my book?
Uncle Dust (novel)
Vern in the Heat (novella)
The Things I Love Will Kill Me Yet (short stories)
With the Right Enemies (novel)
All Due Respect Author Page
Amazon Author Page
PHOTO: ROB PIERCE