• Scottish crime writer Denise Mina (Gods and Beasts), who penned the Vertigo graphic-novel version of Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, has also signed up to adapt the other two books in Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy. Mina says she already “halfway through the script for The Girl Who Played with Fire and moving on to The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest.
I’m loving it.” I don’t see any release date yet for that latter couple of works.
• Did you know that Boston, Massachusetts, will be hosting a Nancy Drew Sleuths
Convention, May 28-June 2? Included in the events schedule is a walk
amongst locations mentioned in The Secret of the Wooden Lady (1967) and The
Case of the Vanishing Veil (1988). If you would like to attend, note that
registration ends this coming Monday, March 25. (Hat tip to Criminal
• Wow, that’s quite a project! Pornokitsch bloggers have taken on the task of reviewing all 77 (so far) releases from publisher Hard Case Crime, “one every week.” The latest entry focuses on David
Dodge’s Plunder of the Sun (1949). You can keep up with this series here.
The Way Some People Die is a masterpiece, and I wish more people would read it. One of the ways that Macdonald’s work influences mine is the understanding that the main character is carrying around wounds from the past that could split open at any time. Don’t get me wrong: Lew Archer is a cipher
compared to Lily Moore, and you have to read several books in Macdonald’s
series to get a strong sense of him. But once you do, you realize that Lew
Archer has been damaged, and there are hints at physical abuse in his past and
a dark cloud of depression that follows him. It’s something that evolves over
the course of many books, and Macdonald handles it beautifully. Archer, for all
of his world-weariness, cares deeply about people. There’s a lot of pain in
him, and a surprising amount of empathy. If Lew Archer met up with Detective
Bruxton, I think they’d have a lot of common ground.
There’s also an intensity to MacDonald’s best work that I love. Many of his novels are set over the course of two days. That was something I did with Evil: most of the book is compressed into a 36-hour period.
• Speaking of covers, the London literary mag Libro asked me to pick my 12 favorite vintage crime-novel fronts. Those selections are now posted here, with another eight runner-ups to be found here.
• Writer Vince Keenan and his wife, Rosemarie, have
won the 2013 William F. Deeck-Malice Domestic Grant for Unpublished Writers.
The award, given annually by the organizers of the Malice Domestic conference
to new novelists, is for their comic mystery, Design for Dying. The pair will
pick up their prize during the Malice
Domestic convention to be held in Bethesda, Maryland, from May 3 to 5.
• And among the nominees for this year’s Dr. Tony Ryan Book Award, designed
to showcase “the best of [horse] racing literature,” is Sasscer Hill’s 2012
“Nikki Latrelle Racing Mystery,” Racing from Death. See all of the contenders here.
Will you be working on the rest of the Millennium Trilogy graphic novels?
Denise Mina: Yes! I’m writing the rest of them too! I’m halfway through the script for The Girl Who Played With Fire and moving on to The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest. I’m loving it. It’s great to be writing comics again and with an adaptation I can worry more about the visuals and less about the narrative arc. The books are so dense it’s a matter of cutting back and cutting back. The second part of Dragon Tattoo will be out soon.
Call me mildly obsessed: I can’t get enough of Lisbeth Salander. I devoured The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo back when it was an advanced reader’s edition, I saw David Fincher’s film the day it came out (and could not stop imitating Rooney Mara’s strange English/Swedish accent), and I’ve just finished reading the first volume of Vertigo’s graphic novel adaptation.
Denise Mina, author of The End of Wasp Season and the forthcoming Gods and Beasts, wrote the script for this adaptation. What I found fascinating about her writing is the way she is able to translate the characterization in Larsson’s 600-page novel with a few deft strokes of dialogue. Mina kindly took the time to answer my questions about her adaptation:
Why a graphic novel of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo? What attracted you to this project?
Denise Mina: DC Comics approached me, and I was very keen. I think they were surprised by how keen I was, but I thought the story would lend itself wonderfully to a comic. Salander is very visual and the whole story—the usurping of gender roles, the motorbike, the gothic island—it could hardly be more graphic.
Also I love Larsson. He was a really radical political writer who used mass market media to get his political points across, and I felt a lot of those points were lost in the film versions. For example, Salander’s mother is brain damaged because of domestic violence. Her mother isn’t even in the American version, which is a shame. For me her mother is the centre of the whole story.
What was the hardest part about adapting Stieg Larsson’s writing for a graphic novel? Were there any plot elements in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo that were easier to tell in a graphic novel format?
DM: Quite a lot. Compared to prose, comics are great at action. I’d argue that comics are better for action than film too. The fraud plot lines were easier in comics than in prose and just impossible in film.
Difficult to have an interior monologue though, unless there is a narrator, and that’s not possible with a two-handed story like this one, where Blomkvist and Salander share the action half each.
Much of the dialogue in this adaptation is original. What was it like to write dialogue for someone else’s characters? How did you get inside their heads?
DM: For me the rule for dialogue in comics is less is best. The story should come out of the graphics and dialogue just shouldn’t be there if it isn’t necessary to add information or characterisation. Basically it boils down to information filtered through characterisation.
I didn’t find it hard because I’ve written for pre-existing characters before but I’m always dismayed when I find elements of myself in there, jokes I find funny but which don’t fit in with the scope of reference for those characters.
Tell me about the parts where you deviate from Stieg Larsson’s story: How much do you feel like you’re telling your story rather than Larsson’s?
DM: Its incredibly faithful to the original. I was aware that a lot of people already knew the story, and I didn’t want to leave too much out. It never felt like my story, more than that, it felt like I was trying to make his story work in a comics form. That involved things like making Blomkvist’s attractiveness believable (women are keen as chips to sleep with him for no very clear reason) and seeding Salander’s talent for disguising herself earlier in the story so that it doesn’t feel like a surprise.
The other five finalists for that same prize were Now You See Me, by S.J. Bolton (Transworld); Where the Bodies Are Buried, by Chris Brookmyre (Little, Brown); The Burning Soul, by John Connolly (Hodder & Stoughton); Black Flowers, by Steve Mosby (Orion); and Before I Go to Sleep, by S.J. Watson (Transworld).
For several years now, Len’s website, The Crime of it All, has provided fans of top-notch crime fiction a venue for some of the most insightful, interesting and informative author interviews and book reviews available anywhere.
To give a little insight into Len’s interviewing style, here’s a particularly intriguing question he’s put to more than one guinea pig—um, I mean, subject (including guess who):
Does the crime writer sit at the table of literature like a transvestite cousin at a family gathering, where he is silently pardoned while his fabulous hat is studiously ignored?
Well, I had nothing so wonderfully off-kilter in mind when I decided to turn the tables. I just wanted Len to have a chance to speak for himself for a change. Here’s where we got to:
* * * * *
This is your second set of author interviews. How does this one differ from the first—simply in the authors included, or did you have a different perspective or purpose in mind for these?
Both, I hope, but let me start by saying ‘thank you’ for offering me a role reversal and ‘sorry’ to your readers for accepting your offer. Who cares about the interviewer, eh? Well, let me give you my version of: “Enough about me, back to me.”
Speaking of role reversals, long before I started doing interviews, I walked in on Ian Rankin doing a television interview in his favourite pub. He was surrounded by preoccupied men, chained to their purpose by microphones thirsty for answers, and more preoccupied men still, chained to their pints by questions no longer relevant. We had never met, but I fit the bill. The director asked me to stand beside Ian to make him look of average height and sobriety. He turned around and I introduced myself: “You don’t know me, but I’m doing a PhD on you.” Classy. Acknowledging the unintended nerd-flirt with a laugh, he replied: “Is that what it’s come to?” Classier.
A few years later, I decided to extend my dissertation to the work of 30 Scottish crime writers. Interviewing them seemed like a good idea, so I read every interview I could find and questioned about 300 authors, including yourself, about their techniques and topics. When I thought I was ready, Ian gave me an interview for my first collection. Now he’s written the foreword for my second collection. Along the way, I came to appreciate The Paris Review Interviews and my ambition extended beyond academia. I’ve since tried to make The Crime Interviews do for crime fiction what The Paris Review Interviews have done for literature at large.
Why don’t you give our readers an idea of which authors are included in the first book and then this most recent book. How did you decide which authors to pursue and include?
The line-up for volume one is: Ian Rankin, Stuart MacBride, Karen Campbell, Neil Forsyth, Chris Brookmyre, Paul Johnston, Alice Thompson, Allan Guthrie, and Louise Welsh.
The line-up for volume two is: William McIlvanney, Tony Black, Doug Johnstone, Helen FitzGerald, Quintin Jardine, Gordon Ferris, Craig Russell, Douglas Lindsay, Ray Banks, and Denise Mina.
I’m working on a third volume with another dozen writers, to be published later in the year. In each volume I’ve tried to include big names as well as big talents to represent the depth and breadth of contemporary Scottish literature. International bestsellers like Ian Rankin, Stuart MacBride, Quintin Jardine, and Denise Mina are well known without being known well, so I’ve interviewed them in the company of their peers, which I hope to offer an introduction to your new favourite writers as well as an in-depth reunion with those you thought you already knew.
You have become the interviewer of choice for authors hoping for a more in-depth examination of their work. Why do you think that is?
You’re very kind to say so, David, but a guess is the best I can offer you in answer to the first part of your question. Perhaps the authors you refer to can tell that my purpose is not to catch interviewees off guard, but to capture the fullest possible account of their writing lives: Who they are, what they have done, and how they do what they do best. I offer an occasion beyond their own books where a writer with something to say can hope to be heard, be it to create the definitive portrait of the artist or a deft contribution to his or her ultimate portrait. And since I try not to answer my questions myself, my interviewees may have the added satisfaction of creating, to a large extent, self-portraits.
I think unless you love conversation, you may unintentionally turn your interview into a questionnaire and your interviewee into a statistic. If I deserve your praise, I credit my family’s Streitkultur, which, in the absence of an English translation, is sometimes paraphrased as the ‘atmosphere of constructive debate’. I’d like to think I’ve since come to appreciate the implied meaning, which is to embrace the courage of your doubts.
You make writers feel very much at ease talking about subjects and aspects of their work that may feel unclear or uncertain even to them—and these are often the most fascinating parts of the interviews. Writers seem to feel free to conjecture, imagine, correct themselves, and generally explore. Has this just been because of the unique rapport you have with these authors, or do you deliberately try to let them know they can let down their guard and speak openly and freely?
Again, the first part of your question is hard to answer without asking the interviewees you think have shown such faith in me. So David, why did you feel very much at ease talking about subjects and aspects of your work about which you may feel unclear or uncertain?
(Answer: Not to be cheeky, but no one has ever asked me questions like that before, and I felt compelled to give thoughtful responses, which took me to places I just hadn’t thought about all that specifically before. I felt grateful for the opportunity.)
As for the second part of this question, I’d like to think that mutual interest, genuine curiosity, and sustained attention combined let most people speak openly and freely, but a lot depends on rhythm, which is why I try to build interviews, rather than be seen to dominate them. Perhaps the 20 interviewees in my collections were aware of our shared concerns: character development, narrative arcs, and unexpected turns.
You also go into greater depth concerning the artistic ambitions, the sociological implications, and the political nuances of each writer’s work than a great many other interviewers even attempt. Why do you think others shun these sorts of subjects, and why do you so consistently pursue them?
Because those who consistently pursue them don’t get a lot of by-lines. Newspapers, whether off- or online, give pride of place to exposés, Q&As, and reworded press releases, rather than artistic ambitions, sociological implications, and political nuances. Following hot on the heels of market forces, the audience’s expectation has dropped so low Pierce Morgan has his own TV show. The alternative, as ever, is publication in book form, but I suspect few interviewers are tempted by the extra effort and lack of financial rewards.
I certainly wasn’t. I was tempted by the prospect of impressing my lady friend, who is doing a PhD in Anthropology. I still am.
It’s clear that you believe the crime novel has more to offer than a ripping good yarn or the proverbial brisk read. What is it about the crime novel that you think lends itself to a deeper understanding of current events, how did you come to this viewpoint, and which authors do you think are particularly good at it?
Let me answer this question with a quote from a recent review I wrote:
“Why is David Corbett the next big American novelist? Because he knows what he’s doing. At a time when most men of letters think they owe it to themselves to be easily bruised, Corbett knows he owes it to his readers to be unique, understanding, and unafraid. Setting his sights on a world beyond his own is not colonial complacency but simple strength. He lets us see unfamiliar places and perspectives with the same humble sensitivity with which he lets us see our shared violence and suffering. He is at home in life, and even in his darkest moments he shows us the difference between imitation feeling and the real thing, the stuff that will singe your soul or make you wish you had one.”
(Note: The interviewer is blushing.)
How did I come to this viewpoint? I read a lot.
Which authors do I think have advanced the crime novel? My list includes William McIlvanney, Friedrich Dürrenmatt, Michael Chabon, David Corbett, James Sallis, Ken Bruen, and Louise Welsh.
Do any of these most recent interviews, or parts of the interviews, stand out in your mind as particularly gratifying or interesting?
They all stand out in my mind, because I found out why…
– William McIlvanney likes Montaigne, the passion of commitment without offence, and a place where the attempt at intellectuality cohabits with the utterly banal – dislikes using computers, boring himself, and the Scottish moment of being found out.
– Tony Black likes ladies’ race cars, men’s men, and exams – dislikes symbolism, bagpipes, and interviews.
– Doug Johnstone likes strong women, strong whisky, and strongly worded reviews – dislikes long books, literary ponderfests, and having his picture taken while playing his guitar on Portobello beach.
– Helen FitzGerald likes Allan Guthrie’s ovaries, complicated women, and the kind of unhappy family Tolstoy wrote about – dislikes the Catholic Church, learning Italian, and being called ‘Mrs’ Fitzy.
– Quintin Jardine likes cowboy hats, director’s cuts, and Spider-Man – dislikes writers’ conventions, dead chauffeurs, and splitting infinitives.
– Gordon Ferris likes e-books, libraries, and emails from readers – dislikes whodunits, CSI, and the ending of Casablanca.
– Craig Russell likes the year 1956, German music, and touching his research – dislikes over-writing, German eBay, and eavesdropping waiters.
– Douglas Lindsay likes barbershops, Bob Dylan, and Dyson air blades – dislikes jumping the shark, early Christmas festivities, and society.
– Ray Banks likes transgressive writing, The Big Issue, and Jacques Barzun – dislikes community theatre, performance art, and (other) circle jerks.
– Denise Mina likes conflicting her readers, family days out with political protest groups, and the clown army – dislikes Derrida, prize committees, and protagonists who are right.
So Murderateros: Is there a question you’d like to put to Len?
Is there an author you’d like to suggest for an interview, or a particular interview you’ve read that you found particularly gratifying?
Do you think crime fiction is the transvestite cousin …?
* * * * *
Jukebox Hero of the Week: I handed selection over to Len this week, and he chose this mini-film for James Grant’s “My Father’s Coat,” complete with appearances by William McIlvanney and tartan noir superstar Tony Black, both of whom are interviewed in Len’s most recent collection: