Please welcome Adrian McKinty in a brand new interview with Dana King!
Irish author Adrian McKinty was born in Belfast and raised in Carrickfergus, County Antrim. After attending university at Warwick and Oxford, he moved to New York in 1993, then to Denver in 2001. He worked in such diverse fields as security guard, barman, bookstore clerk, high school teacher, rugby coach, librarian, and door to door salesman before becoming a full time writer.
Five years passed between the publication of McKintyís first book (Orange Rhymes With Everything) and his second (Dead I Well May Be), the first of three books featuring Michael Forsythe, Irish gangster cum protected witness. Dead I Well May Be was short listed for the CWA Silver Dagger Award; the second book in Forsytheís series, The Dead Yard, was named one of the twelve best books of 2006 by Publisherís Weekly.
The Forsythe stories ended with 2007ís The Bloomsday Dead. McKinty has also written the young adult Lighthouse trilogy, as well as the 2005 standalone, Hidden River. His new book, Fifty Grand, has an international scope and was released in the United States on April 27.
Adrian McKinty currently lives in Australia with his wife and two daughters, one of whom thinks his books are boring.
New Mystery Reader: Why did you choose to use a female protagonist in Fifty Grand (in the first person, no less), and did it present any unanticipated difficulties for you in the writing?
Adrian McKinty: I donít want this to sound mystical or anything but thatís what the story called for. It wasnít so much a choice as what felt right. There were not many difficulties, I come from a family of women: two older sisters, mum, aunt and of course my wife and two daughters. They kept me on the right track.
NMR: Fifty Grand has multiple layers of storytelling. Some are specific to Cuba and the United States, some more universal. What was the germ that generated the idea of this story for you? Did you have some of these layers in mind from the start, or did they evolve as you wrote?
AM: I went to Cuba with no idea at all of writing a novel. But then I had an incident at Ernest Hemingwayís house, The Finca Vigia (which Iíve written about here: http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/tol/arts_and_entertainment/books/article4105740.ece ).
Cuba turned out to be a lot more interesting than I first imagined. And the more I explored the more interesting it became. I was especially surprised at the levels of prostitution, child prostitution and police corruption which I hadnít anticipated. I also had a few run ins with the secret police who are very unpleasant characters.
The other element of the story is the fictional town of Fairview which is an amalgam of Aspen, Vail and Telluride. For some time Iíve wanted to write about the uber rich in those ski towns and this seemed like a great opportunity for two worlds to collide.
NMR: Beginning the book with a scene from near the end of the story was extremely effective, reminiscent of the movie Michael Clayton. How was that decision reached, and what problems did it pose for you in the writing?
AM: I always knew I was going to do it like that. That opening scene in Wyoming and then have our lead reveal how things had come to that pretty pass and then have it all get screwed up again. I liked Michael Clayton a lot, though I thought the script could have been one notch tighter if theyíd tied the horses into the kidís novel. Michael stops his car when he sees the horses because of something his kid says about horses in his rambling account of his favourite novel. His son therefore indirectly saves his lifeÖ
NMR: Mercadoís boss, Hector, reminds me in many ways of Captain Renault, the Claude Rains character in Casablanca. Heís tolerably honest and loyal in his way, and only as ideological as he needs to be. What inspired Hector, and what did you have in mind with his creation?
AM: For obvious reasons I donít want to reveal too much about that character, yes itís based on a real person or rather a couple of real people in Cuba. They may recognize themselvesÖ But youíre right, they are not evil, probably a little amoral and definitely not ideologues. Thatís a very common stance in contemporary Havana.
NMR: Why use Raul Castro as a character, as opposed to someone close to him who speaks for Raul?
AM: No I wanted Raul. When the book was being written he was just taking over the Presidency, so his profile wasnít as high and he could go to the theatre and bars in Havana etc. with relative freedom. Of course everyone was afraid of him because they knew (as it turned out to be) that he was next in line to the throne. I never met him but I have a feeling that my portrayal is slightly more accurate than say Sean Pennís in The Huffington Post.
NMR: After setting the three Michael Forsythe books basically in the US and Ireland, why Cuba for Fifty Grand?
AM: Itís not that I wanted a change, I just happened upon the story and the situation.
NMR: Youíve written a successful series, and now a standalone. Do you have a preference?
AM: Standalones are a lot less pressure. Publishers and bookstores want you to write series books but standalones are better because if you want you can kill the protagonist at the end. I love that freedom.
NMR: Any future plans for Michael Forsythe?
AM: Nope. I like the way the trilogy ended. I wrote a couple of chapters of a fourth book but I think Iím going to shelve it or maybe include it as an appendix if they ever do a bound volume of all three books.
NMR: What attracted you to writing crime fiction?
AM: Crime fiction has always been the genre Iíve loved above all others. Starting with Chandler and Hammett its just something I get so excited about. The style, the panache, the vibe of those books Ö If I could write a novel as half as good as The Big Sleep Iíd die a happy man.
NMR: You have called James Ellroy the ďgreatest living crime novelist.Ē Not meaning to be argumentative, why is Ellroy the greatest, and how has he influenced your writing?
AM: I was not initially a big fan of Ellroy. Iíd read the LA quartet and thought it was OK but it didnít knock my socks off or anything. But I was teaching a writing class and one of my students asked me if Iíd read The Cold 6000 and I admitted that I hadnít. She said I should, so I did. I bought it for a flight to Vancouver and initially I was repelled by the style, but after twenty pages or so I was hooked. I think Ellroyís Cold 6000 and American Tabloid are the most ambitious contemporary crime novels Iíve read. They take in a whole world and present it in a unique, brilliant, and (especially in 6000) insanely paranoid POV. Ellroy (no shrinking violet) calls himself the Tolstoy of Crime Fiction and heís not far wrong.
NMR: Aside from Ellroy, who are your greatest influences as a writer?
AM: So many: Chandler, Hammett, Jim Thompson, Angela Carter, Evelyn Waugh, JG Ballard, Kingsley Amis, Iris Murdoch, Graham Greene, Patricia Highsmith, Elmore Leonard etc. etc.
NMR: This is the Golden Age of Irish Crime fiction, with you, Declan Hughes, Ken Bruen, John Connolly, and others all leaving marks on the genre. Why now?
AM: Crime fiction was dismissed in Ireland as low or disreputable literature for so long and there was a snobby attitude towards it that has largely (but not completely) disappeared. I think the change in attitude, plus a more urban economy, plus the notion that crime fiction is a prism through which you can discuss anything you like has finally permeated the culture. So its not as if thereís a boom, weíre just catching up!
NMR: You worked a variety of jobs before you were able to become a full-time novelist. What advice can you give to a fledgling writer struggling to find time and energy to write amid the demands of work and family?
AM: Iíll not sugar coat it. Itís hard. Especially if you have kids. You have to squeeze in a hour here or an hour there. I know other writers talk about discipline (write a thousand words a day every day) but thatís not my way. I do it when the mood takes and then only when itís going to be fun. If itís a hobby that you like doing you wonít mind tapping away on the train or at 11 PM at night.
NMR: Do you have a set amount of writing you do each day?
AM: Never. Iíve gone weeks, months in fact, without opening my computer or feeling the desire to do so. I wish I was more like those guys (Ken Bruen says he writes 1000 words before breakfast every day) but themís the breaks.
NMR: Do you plot in advance, make it up as you go, or sketch out a little ahead at a time?
AM: With a thriller or mystery, youíve got to tightly plot in advance and I always do so.
NMR: Do you prefer the initial draft, or editing?
AM: Initial draft every time. Editing is hell.
NMR: What question do you wish a reviewer would ask you, but none ever does?
AM: ďIím having a little party at my house, Phoebe Cates, Thomas Pynchon, Yogi Berra, Susan Sarandon and Elmore Leonard are gonna be there, do you want to come?Ē