Jason Starr: feel-good novels or neo-noir classics?
Excerpts from the interview by Chris Aldrich in the June/July 2004 issue of Mystery News
Sitting at a window counter at a coffee shop on New Yorks Upper East side on a sparkling spring day, its hard to imagine that this casually-dressed guy with the ready laugh is the author of six crime novels that have earned him accolades from the likes of Ken Bruen, Joe R. Lansdale, and Daniel Woodrell. Jason Starr has been compared to noir luminaries like Jim Thompson, James M. Cain and Charles Willeford, but make no mistake hes carving out his own niche in the world of crime fiction.
Beginning with his first book Cold Caller, the story of Bill Moss, a downwardly mobile MBA whose descent from advertising VP to unemployed telemarketer is only the beginning, Starr has given noir his own edge. Theres no musty, Ive-read-this-before feeling about his work. I cant quite put my finger on it is it the plotting, the writing style, the characters, the setting that is so fresh? The reality is that its all of those pieces and more. Starr takes the classic noir conceit of a character spiraling downward, out of control, and brings it all into the familiar workday world of our times.
In Twisted City, due out from the Vintage Books Black Lizard imprint in mid-July, David Miller is a writer at Manhattan Business magazine who holds the fate of the subject of his feature stories in his hands. He can make or break a company with his assessment of their financial results. When his wallet is stolen at a bar in midtown, the tables are turned and David quickly finds that his own future is subject to the whims of fate and of some of the lowlife characters he cant escape. Starr presents us with a regular guy who seems to have a regular life until shit happens and we get caught up in the ride.
I first read and met Jason Starr last fall when he was on the panel that I moderated at Bouchercon. After reading Hard Feelings and Tough Luck, I was curious to learn more about the guy behind these gritty neo-noir works.
Can you talk a little about how you approach the writing of each book. For example, with Twisted City, was it the plot, the character of David Miller, the back story or what? Are you an outliner or a "let's see where the characters take themselves" kind of guy?
I'm definitely an outliner. I can't start writing anything if I don't have a sense of the overall plot, including a possible ending. I usually don't have any idea who any of my characters are until I start writing. After that, things change. For example, with Twisted City my original idea was a variation of what became the first chapter, and I also had a general plot for the whole book. But once I started writing, and I got a sense of who David was, the entire plot changed. Seriously--I'd intended to write a completely different book. So then I created a new outline with new plot points as I continued writing. By the time I got into the second chapter I pretty much knew where the story was going, although as went on and came up with new ideas I had to change plot points to incorporate the new ideas. This is how I always do it and writing directly onto a PC is a huge help because I spend a lot of time cutting and pasting, moving stuff around. I don't know how writers wrote anything before computers...
Jason Starr is writing some of the most original crime fiction that you can find in the US. Its grim and gritty and real. Its not for everyone theres no detective, few if any good guys and nary a happy ending in sight. Like the man says, you feel good that you're not in the situations his characters get into. It works for me.
Read the complete interview in the June/July 2004 issue of Mystery News