I met Tom Pitts several times while living in the Bay Area. He is an acquisitions editor for Gutter Books, which published two of my novels, and he’s a popular figure in the indie crime lit world, both on the live reading circuit, and online.
The reason for this, besides being a helluva good guy, is that his talent is as rawly authentic as the come, since his fiction is largely inspired by his own experiences struggling on the streets of San Francisco and elsewhere.
This immediacy gives his portraits of underworld characters depth and credibility, and therefore he’s able to tap into a universal empathy, regardless of the reader’s own real life circumstances, proving that nobody is above the law, but nobody is really above breaking it, either, if it’s a matter of life or death.
That’s why I say Tom Pitts writes about the human condition, because in the end, it’s all about surviving any way you can, until your time simply runs out, rendering it all for naught, depending on one’s personal philosophy of existence.
Here’s a guy who knows the true meaning of noir, and he didn’t learn it from a book about old movies…
Like your Gutter mate and soul brother Joe Clifford, you originally aspired to be a musician. You still are, but how have you creatively/spiritually/emotionally/mentally sublimated those early ambitions and dreams of being a “rock star” into your current and quite successful vocation as an author?
I think the biggest thing I took away was trusting my own gut. It’s clear when music is insincere, when the musicians aren’t playing from their hearts, and I think it’s true with literature too. And it’s not about skill, it’s about instinct, it’s about laying down a line. You don’t have to be the best, you just have to be honest. The band that tries too hard to make a hit will never have one. Books too. You just have to do what you love. Maybe it’ll sell, maybe it won’t, but you’ll know that it’s you on the page. And that shines through.
Of all genres, what draws you continually back to the field of Crime, and do you ever consider delving into others?
Every time I start a novel I tell myself this is going to be different, that I’m going to write a more character driven, more literary work—that I’m going to pen the great American novel—and I get about five pages in and boom, I’m back in a crime story. I guess it’s what I like. I like realistic stories about people on the bottom. By page six I let go and let the story tell itself. And it’s always a crime story.
Talk a bit about your forthcoming novel, 101, and how it’s similar or different from your previous works, especially its immediate predecessor, American Static, which appears to be your “breakout” book following several critically acclaimed titles.
101 takes what I’ve been doing with Hustle and American Static and pushes it further. The idea that multiple PoVs can shift back and forth to drive the pace of a sprawling story. It’s funnier too. How can you go wrong with characters like Meth Master Mike and Vlad the Inhaler? There’s a lot going on in 101 and I hope it captures some of the madness I saw while I was “researching” the story up in the hills of Humboldt County.
What are you influences, literary or otherwise?
It’s tough to draw the line between influence and inspiration. Seems like influence means you’ve somehow taken from a body of work and made it your own. I don’t know if I can claim that from anyone. I’ve certainly been inspired though. I could never scale the heights of writers like Cormac McCarthy or Denis Johnson, but that’s what I want: to leave behind something great, something that lasts. I can certainly try, in my own way. I mean, fuck the bestseller list. It’s all shit anyway. I just want to get it right, just once before I tucker out.
What’s next for you?
Well, this month Down & Out is re-releasing my first novella, Piggyback. The original had a lot of rough patches, edit-wise, and I’m happy to finally show it off. But the big news for me this year is 101 coming out this fall. I think it’s my best novel so far and I’m excited to unleash it upon the world. Until then, I’m still working on a screenplay for Hustle. I haven’t talked about it too much because part of me thinks it’ll jinx my luck if I say it out loud, but now that we’re a little further down the road to making it a reality, I guess I can whisper it just a little. Here’s the link for Piggy. It’s out on February 19th!
PHOTO: TOM PITTS