Your work has been described as working class crime fiction, could you discuss how class plays into your style and how you structure your stories and characters?
When I first started writing, it never occurred to me that I was writing ‘working class fiction.’ I was just writing about the sorts of places I grew up in and the sorts of people I grew up around. I was writing, basically, about people just like me in many ways. As reviews started coming in for my first novel and then my second, more and more readers began to notice that I was writing about members of the working class, with a particular focus on their situations and struggles, shown through the lens of crime fiction. One thing I always focused on, from the very beginning, however, was a desire to show the beautiful in the desperate. To show how characters who are living on the fringes of society, due to poverty or lifestyle choices or family, still have the same hopes and dreams as everyone else.
One thing I always keep in mind with my characters, who are all very much ‘working class’ (or criminal class and sometimes the line is very thin), is the need for absolute authenticity. I do my best to capture the way very real people would speak or think or react to a given situation. This means not only that the dialogue and dialect must reflect the reality of the character, but also the structure of the scene as far as what the character would see, focus on, or care about. It all comes down to creating believable characters and staying true to them.
What appeals to you about the crime genre? How have your influences inspired your writing in terms of content and style?
I like to call myself an accidental crime writer. I never imagined that it would be a genre that my work would fall into, though in hindsight, it makes perfect sense. In the beginning, I set out simply to tell the stories of the characters I’d developed. They just happened to be criminals or, more usually, people flirting with a criminal lifestyle in some form or another. I was actually surprised when my agent began shopping my work around in the crime fiction world. But you know, Dennis Lehane once famously called the Noir genre (one I identify with even more than the broad ‘crime’ label) “working class tragedy” and I think that definition really encompasses what I write.
And honestly, the crime genre is probably the most welcoming and inclusive when it comes to the types of characters I like to read and write about. Crime fiction doesn’t shy away from misfits, from complicated plots or from characters (and authors) living on the edge. The genre wasn’t one that I expected to ever be a part of, but I’ve found that it’s the perfect niche for me.
What about Florida makes noir and crime fiction centered there distinct from other parts of the country?
First of all, I think there are a lot of misconceptions about both Florida and Florida crime writing. I’m a North Florida native, going generations back, and I can heartily attest to the fact that Florida isn’t all white sandy beaches. By the same token, all Florida crime fiction isn’t in the vein of Carl Hiaasen or Tim Dorsey. These well-known authors are wonderful, but there is a lot more to Florida and Florida crime fiction than what is often represented. Florida is a complex, complicated place. It’s a place of deep roots and history constantly being inundated with new cultures and traditions as Florida continues to become a destination place. This makes for a fascinating and ever-changing landscape that goes beyond the funny and quirky ‘Florida Man’ headlines. Looking at Florida crime and noir as a whole then, it’s distinct because it is so vast, sprawling and complicated. It has a flavor all its own.
What are you working on now and what projects do you have planned for the future?
I actually write in two different genres, alternating between books, though this hasn’t yet shown up in my publishing schedule. I’m excited to bring a novel outside of the grit-lit crime genre into the world next year. (Details forthcoming) Right now, I’m back to the crime genre as I’m working on the third and final book in the Lightwood series, set to follow this year’s Walk in the Fire. After that, it’s back to finishing up a historical fiction novel and a noir novel, both of which I started last year, but had to put on hold. I am always, always writing and always thinking one or two books ahead.
You were based in St. Pete for a few years, which has a very different feel and culture than North Florida (I'm from across the Bay in South Tampa, which has its own milieu as well), what differences and similarities between those two places inspire you and show up in your writing?
St. Pete is a completely different animal from north Florida. Just last month I moved up to rural Hernando County, which reminds me very much of where I grew up. Though I lived in downtown St. Pete for the past seven years, I don't think much of the city itself or its unique culture really shows up in my work as far as setting, characters or themes go. I did find inspiration in many of the local bars, however, and so I'm sure in some small way, there's a pinch of St. Pete's local scene lurking around the edges of the bars in my novels. Real bars in St. Pete, such as The Flamingo, where I spent a lot of time when I first moved to the city, definitely gave me some ideas for characters and their motivations. Dive bars are dive bars the world over and I think that many readers not from rural areas or from Florida can still relate to the scenes that take place in my fictional drinking establishments.