Saturday 22 November 2008

A Mini Interview - Peter Pavia

PETER PAVIA (Dutch Uncle)
Peter Pavia is a writer whose work has appeared in many publications, including GQ, The New York Sun, The New York Post and The New York Times, among others. In addition to Dutch Uncle, he is the author of The Cuba Project—Deception, Dirty Doings, and Double Dealing in Post-Castro Miami and co-author, with Legs McNeil and Jennifer Osborne, of The Other Hollywood: An Oral History of the Adult Film Industry. He has been a faculty member of The New School’s Writing Program since 2001. A Rochester, New York native, Mr. Pavia moved to Manhattan in 1984, where he currently resides with his wife and daughter.

Q1. Hard Case Crime seems to have become almost a sub-genre over the last five years. To be involved in it must feel like you've become part of an exclusive club. What have been some of the highlights of this membership?

I came to Hard Case Crime and to the series’ award-winning writer, editor, and publisher Charles Ardai through an overlapping series of events that were spearheaded by an old school publishing exec by the name of Larry Hughes. (Hughes's quote adorns the back cover of Dutch Uncle). From my very first conversation with Charles, I was convinced that he was totally with the novel in the way it was written, recognized its strengths and its shortcomings, its references and influences. I thought, finally, a kindred spirit. Everybody loved Dutch in manuscript, but nobody knew how to sell it. Charles had a strategy. His enthusiasm and know-how were extremely encouraging. He gave me a break when I needed one, and gave me the guts to write another day. I'm not a numerologist, but Dutch squeaked under the wire as the 12th Hard Case Crime novel on the original list of 12, the number of fullness, of completion. The publication of Dutch Uncle convinced me to stop attributing everything to coincidence and further persuaded me that there is some positive force in the universe. How's that for a highlight?

Q2. It's all about hardboiled, noir and pulp fiction at Hard Case Crime. The golden age of paperback novels in revival. What do you think the future holds for this type of book?

The whole idea of pulp bugs me. Tabloid newspapers are pulpy, formulaic westerns are pulpy. Chop-socky movies are pulpy. This doesn't mean that I don't love those things, but in terms of what I like to think of as crime fiction, 'pulp' suggests badly written books cranked out at a couple of pennies a word, and a complete manuscript that's dashed off in about a month. I'm not going to name names here, past or present, and this stuff has its place, but it is in the main, unreadable crap that isn't worth anybody's time.

Hardboiled is a style more or less invented by Dashiell Hammett and yes, Ernest Hemingway (and James M. Cain), in the 1920s. Go back and look at the stylistic similarities between say, The Maltese Falcon and The Sun Also Rises. These writers were craftsmen who created real literature; Hemingway won a Nobel Prize for Christ's sake. I could make the argument that Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby is a crime novel, and some grad student probably should probably take up that mantle. (Are you listening, MFA candidates? I just gave you a thesis.) I think the future holds a healthy respect for the genre, but in the form of well-wrought books that strive to expand noir's (if you will) somewhat narrow parameters. This is precisely what I've set out to accomplish with my current novel, This Fallen Kingdom, and I'll be very curious to see what Hard Case fans make of it.

Q3. One of the most striking things about the Hard Case novels is the beautiful cover artwork. How did you feel when you first saw the cover for your book? How did it compare to the conception of the characters you had in mind when you were writing your book?

Hey, man. Close enough for rock n' roll. This guy Farrell is an artist, and what he sees in his mind is different than what I see in mine, or what you might see in yours. How did I feel? I was so gratified I almost cried. Maybe I did cry. "Awfully easy to be hard-boiled about everything during the day," Hemingway said, "But at night it is another thing."

Q4. What are some crime novels or authors, either within or outside Hard Case, that have impressed you this year?

Dirty little secret time: I don't read much crime fiction. I spend a great deal of time writing, and I tend to read non-fiction that's going to inform my own work. Having bloviated thusly, I'm a huge admirer of George V. Higgins, especially The Friends of Eddie Coyle. I think James Ellroy is wildly entertaining. As for my Hard Case Crimeys, Pete Hamill was my hero when I was a kid, and that's not an exaggeration. He was the guy I wanted to be when I was 14. I'm dying to read Charles Ardai's Fifty to One, and I'm curious about E. Howard Hunt's House Dick. I was fortunate enough to become friendly with Hunt near the end of his days, and the guy was simply larger than life, even in his 80s. There was almost nothing he hadn't done, and he had participated in so much dark history, including falling on his sword for the Nixon gang after the Watergate mess. Howard Hunt was a great American.

Thank you, Peter Pavia!


Anonymous said...

What a great interview; I went to college outside of Rochester with this guy. His language back then was filled with cool, terse phrases, much like the "hard-boiled" attitude he talks about. He was definitely THE coolest and I miss him!!
Thanks for a little walk down memory lane; now I'm off to buy Dutch Uncle.

Amy Dawes said...

I read Dutch Uncle, having selected it at random from a rack of Hard Case novels I encountered at the mystery bookshop in Westwood, CA. I loved it. Peter Pavia has real style and is a real writer, as you can tell from the interview above. I have been eager to read new work from him ever since.