I’ve had the honor of meeting Sam in person at several Noir at the Bar live reading events, both in Seattle and Vancouver. We’re denizens of the Pacific Northwest, though unlike me, he’s a native, having been born and raised north of the border.
Perhaps this cultural heritage explains his easy-going, affable attitude about life and the world around us, even as he artistically comments on its darker aspects with a wizened sense of reverence for humanity mixed with a realistic resignation to fate (even if it’s self-inflicted), untainted by the caustic irony and cynicism that marks a lot of noir fiction these days.
So relax and enjoy this casual, interesting chat with Sam the Man, whose authenticity as a human being is soulfully reflected in his credible if creatively conceived crime stories.
As a well-known, well-respected Canada-based crime author, how does your country of origin influence or inform your work in a way that distinguishes it from U.S. noir fiction?
To be honest, I'm still working out my relationship to what we call "CanLit," mainstream Canada's literary machine. I'm a little uncomfortable with the power structures in place, who gets a voice and who doesn't, etc.
I feel more of a kinship with Pacific Northwest writers: Vancouver crime writers like Dietrich Kalteis, Linda Richards, Owen Laukkanen, as well as Seattle writers like Brian Thornton and yourself. It's a very supportive scene.
As far as differences between US and Canada, I think both are really varied and diverse. My work is definitely about Vancouver, but the problems this city faces are the same problems facing Seattle, Minneapolis, Los Angeles, Juarez: gentrification, substance abuse, the sex trade, racism, misogyny.
Hopefully by delving into the inner workings of Vancouver, I can create something that will be recognizable to people wherever they live. That's the goal.
Your work is just as emotionally powerful, carefully constructed, and realistically resonant as so-called “serious literary” fiction, replete with richly drawn, relatable characters. Do you think the crime genre is finally receiving the critical respect it deserves, outside the confines of its own community?
Thanks, Will, and likewise!
I don't know that I want crime fiction to be respectable--I think fans of good writing will find a lot in the genre to admire, but closed-minded people are never going to 'give us our due.' But it's not their due to give.
I’ve asked other authors in the field this before but I don’t always get the same answer: what are the distinctions, in your view, between the subcategories of crime fiction, such as thriller, mystery, hardboiled, and noir, both in terms of sensibilities and marketing?
If I had to spitball, I'd say thrillers are about tension and mysteries are about solutions. Hardboiled and noir are harder to define--Ive heard hardboiled described as a style of writing, and noir as a story where an ordinary person meets a bleak end.
For what it's worth, the only term I really apply to my own work is crime fiction--more than the lingo or the bleakness or whatever, I'm interested in the effects of crime and violence.
What are some of your influences, literary or otherwise?
In the crime genre, Chandler, Hammett, Josephine Tey, Sjowall/Wahloo, and the two MacDonalds are at the top. For current writers, Tana French and Peter Temple are amazing. In the mainstream, Michael Chabon and David Mamet are big influences. And I grew up watching shows like NYPD Blue and Homicide, so that's a big part, too.
What’s next for you?
The second Wakeland novel, Cut You Down, comes out February 2018 from Random House Canada and Quercus USA. I'm also at work editing an anthology of Vancouver crime fiction.
Sounds great, Sam. Cheers!
Sam Wiebe is the author of the Vancouver crime novels Last of the Independents, Invisible Dead, and Cut You Down. Wiebe’s work has won an Arthur Ellis award and the Kobo Emerging Writers Prize, and he was the 2016 Vancouver Public Library Writer in Residence. His short fiction has appeared in ThugLit, Spinetingler, and subTerrain, among other places.
PHOTO: MEL YAP