First Monday Crime is back on 5th Sept with a stellar line up! (More details below) One of the featured authors is Rod Reynolds. His second novel, Black Night Falling was published earlier this month and I’ve had the chance to have a little interview with him.
So, if we start with something easy – tell me a little bit about yourself and your two books – The Dark Inside and Black Night Falling.
Firstly, thanks so much for taking the time to chat – especially as I know there’s a certain manuscript of your own that you’re working on!
I’m 36 years old and a lifelong Londoner who, against the classic advice of ‘write what you know’, sets his books in the southern USA in the 1940s. My debut, The Dark Inside, came out in September 2015. It’s about a disgraced reporter from New York, Charlie Yates, who’s sent to Texarkana, on the Texas/Arkansas border, to investigate a series of attacks on young couples. Charlie goes there knowing it’s a punishment gig, and expecting not to care very much about what’s happening there. But he sees the effect the attacks are having on the town, and two young women in particular, and quickly realises that his stopping the killer matters more to him than he could ever have imagined. The Dark Inside is loosely based on the real life case known as the Texarkana Moonlight Murders and was longlisted for the CWA New Blood Dagger, as well as being a WHSmith Fresh Talent pick.
The sequel, Black Night Falling, has just come out and sees Charlie dragged back to Arkansas – the last place on earth he wants to be – when a friend begs for his help to stop a killer. But things go bad from the start, and Charlie finds himself in a nightmare world of corruption, lies and murder – with links to the past he’s tried hard to outrun…
Well, that leads me nicely into my next question(s)! I was really impressed with the level of detail in your books. How did you do your research and have you been to Texarkana?
Thank you very much. A lot of my research, at first, was old-fashioned stuff – books about the Texarkana Moonlight Murders, the history of the town/area, whatever I could find on the case. I was fascinated by it – gripped, really – so that wasn’t a chore. Then there was a lot of Google work – both for old newspapers (it’s an absolute wonder what they have on there) and also using Maps to virtually drive around the town, just to acquaint myself with the place. That was invaluable. And then, when I had the first draft nailed, I went to Texarkana for 3 days. I felt like I needed to see the place, both to give credibility to the book, and also to ensure I hadn’t made any glaringly obvious errors. And in the end, there were maybe only two or three minor changes I made (it’s much greener in that area than I assumed), but I felt a much greater sense of confidence about the authenticity of the setting.
It also helped in that, while I was there, I discovered a nearby town called Hot Springs – which became the setting for Black Night Falling. The only downside was that we were on our way back to the UK when I heard about it, so we had to go back there a year later…
The thing that captured me most was how authentic your ‘American’ voice is – how did you manage to do that?! When I was reading it came out as a Southern drawl in my head.
Well again, thank you. I’m not sure I can answer that very well. Charlie’s voice, at least the beginnings of it – a tone, an atmosphere – was in my head long before I started writing the book (and before the character had a name!). It was tweaked and honed along the way, but it was always the style of voice I had in my head – probably some amalgam of all the American books and TV and movies I’ve consumed over the years, along with, hopefully, something original.
But Charlie was relatively speaking, less of a challenge in that he’s from California and has lived in New York – which gave me quite a broad range to play with, and are places I’d been to multiple times.
I’d never been to Texas or Arkansas, however, so I had to throw out the stereotypical southern drawl as we all imagine it in our head and start again. So I read books from the era to get the vocabulary right, watched old movies, listened to podcasts – anything I could think of to help nail it down. And of course, I paid very close attention to the way people talked when I was there.
You have a very clear picture of Charlie – so obvious question – who would play him in a movie?
You say that, but I still couldn’t tell you exactly what he looks like…
I’m not sure. I used to say Mark Ruffalo because I loved him in David Fincher’s Zodiac – but since he’s played the Hulk, he’s a bit too superhero for the role. So maybe…Tom Hardy? He was brilliant in Lawless. Who would your pick be?
I wasn’t sure exactly what age Charlie is meant to be but I’m guessing late 30s, maybe early 40s. I had an image of Matt Damon as Charlie. I think you have plans for a third Charlie Yates book. Can you tell us anything about that?
You’re spot on in terms of age, and Matt Damon’s a great pick. He’s usually thought of as clean cut, but he played a great villain in The Departed, so he’s got that edge.
Book 3 is underway, but at a fairly early stage. I can say, however, that it picks up right where Black Night Falling ends. It starts in Los Angeles and takes in Hollywood sleaze, missing starlets, extortion, murder and the birth of a town called Las Vegas – with Charlie embroiled in the crosscurrents where all those things meet.
Sounds intriguing! Going now to a little section called Kluver Kids Ask! I told my kids what I was doing and after they’d stopped laughing hysterically, my daughter finally came up with a sensible question. How do you create a good atmosphere for the beginning of a story?(!)
Your daughter’s good – that’s a tricky one!
There are lots of ingredients you need to convey quickly – a sense of place, of time, as well as establishing character and, of course, conflict – or at least posing questions that the reader wants answers to. And you have to do all of that very quickly, so the reader doesn’t lose interest. The classic advice is to show the world you’re building through the character’s senses – what does he/she see, hear, smell etc. And that was all the more apt for my story, because it starts as Charlie arrives in town for the first time, so the reader discovers Texarkana through Charlie’s eyes.
So voice and choice of word are really important. Not only do they establish your character, they go a long way to setting the mood. If a character sees a ‘fire engine-red barn, over spilling with hay’ it sets a very different tone to, ‘a red barn with broken boards that made it look like a mouth of rotting teeth.’
SJI Holliday says that she has plenty of ideas for stories. Do you have ideas for future books? Maybe another country/time period?
I get ideas all the time – most I go off even before I write them down in my notebook, and more that I dismiss after I do. But the good ones stick, and I do have ideas for at least two or three other books, all set in different places and times. I’d love to write something set in Miami Vice-era Florida (Miami is one of my favourite places in the world) and I definitely want to write at least one London book one day, seeing as I’ve lived here all my life. My first novel – which was unpublished – was set here, around Camden where I grew up, so I’ll definitely have another crack.
Let’s turn this around. Can you tell us anything about the manuscript you’re working on? Or is it top secret?
It’s not top secret – I’m just not sure it’s any good! Current one is my second novel and it’s called Missing. I finished another one last year called Unearthed. Both are set in fictional villages in Wiltshire, near to Devizes. Unearthed is about a couple who discover a little more than they bargain for in the garden of the dilapidated cottage they’ve restored. One of the police officers from that book is called Bernie Noel and she’s mixed race and a former MET officer. In Missing, she’s the main protagonist and recently promoted to DI. 5 year old Molly Reynolds [nothing to do with you at all!!] goes missing from a playground while her mother’s back is turned. Bernie and her team investigate but the most puzzling thing is that the local community don’t seem to want to help. If Bernie can find out why, then maybe she can find Molly.
Oh they sound intriguing – especially Missing. I love that setup of a closed community who don’t want to help when a crime has been committed – it’s essentially the one I used in The Dark Inside (and, to a degree, Black Night Falling). Where did you get your inspiration from?
I’m not entirely sure! I start with a thought normally. And in Missing, it was the abductor’s voice I heard first and then I spend a lot of time thinking! I see it like a TV programme in my head. I guess there’s always that fear about your child going missing so I tapped into that fear. I adore Bernie and I’ve enjoyed writing her. So it may be the start of a police procedural series, even though I know nothing about it!
Now, as you have some little ones at home, I’m guessing that your writing day isn’t very conventional.
It’s not, no. I tend to work during nap times, in the evenings and I get one full day a week where I disappear off to write. So I have varied word count targets I want to get to – some days as little as 200 words (which is really just to get me to the computer – I usually end up doing more than that). But my weekly target is non-negotiable (with myself!) so on a full day’s writing I might write 2000 words or more (which is still considerably less than many authors I know of).
The one thing I’ve learnt from talking to loads of other authors is that everyone’s process is different, and that the only thing that matters is finding what works for you. Those supposed rules like ‘write every day’ are rubbish – not everyone can do that if they’re juggling jobs/families etc, and I think they only serve to put people off trying. Same for ‘write what you know.’
Have you had a ‘fan boy’ moment when meeting a fellow author?
I’ve had several. The biggest one was when I met Aly Monroe, who writes brilliant espionage novels. I had no idea what she looked like, so when we got chatting at an event, I had no idea at first who she was. When I realised, did gush a bit – but thankfully she was very gracious and charming about it all.
If I did meet James Ellroy, though, that might top them all… Who’s the author you’d most like to meet (&why?)
I did have a bit of a fan girl moment when I met Sarah Hilary at First Monday Crime and that was only getting a book signed! I’d love to meet Val McDermid because she is the Queen of Crime but my absolute favourite author is Kate Atkinson. I love her Jackson Brodie series and the way she weaved such dark humour through her stories. She’s going to be at Wimbledon Bookfest and I’ve booked my ticket!
They’re all great authors, but I especially love Kate Atkinson’s books. I never thought I’d like the Brodie series, but we had to read Case Histories for our MA and I was blown away by her skill.
So, final question: what can we expect from First Monday Crime on Monday 5th Sept and are you nervous?
What can you expect? Well I had a Twitter exchange with First Monday bigwig and fellow author William Ryan the other day, and we discussed the possibility of the authors mudwrestling for the audience’s approval (possibly involving ferrets too), so I’d say…expect the unexpected?
In all seriousness, I’ve been in the audience for all bar one of the First Monday events so far and they’ve been fascinating and entertaining. And drinks afterwards are always a lot of fun. And I can definitely say that the quality of the rest of the panel – Sophie Hannah, Tim Weaver and Jane Corry – speaks for itself.
Am I nervous? Not really – I’ve done a few events now and I really enjoy the chance to chat about books and writing, so I’m excited more than anything. That said, when you walk into the room, of course there are a few butterflies in your stomach – but that’s what pre-match drinks are for!
Thank you, Rod, for taking the time to answer my questions (and my daughter’s!) My review for Black Night Falling is below.
If you want to buy Rod’s books then here’s a link to his Amazon page
More importantly, if you want to see Rod in the flesh, then come along to First Monday Crime on 5th Sept where Rod will be on the panel, joined by Sophie Hannah, Jane Corry and Tim Weaver – all for £5!
Black Night Falling – Review
I have a bad habit of reading books in the wrong order. Sometimes it doesn’t matter but there are other times when it does. Black Night Falling is the second book by Rod Reynolds and is the sequel to the critically acclaimed, The Dark Inside. And it is, most definitely, a sequel. [Especially as I’ve now read The Dark Inside!]
Following on a few months from his last visit to the Texas/Arkansas border, reporter Charlie Yates finds himself drawn back to the area that he didn’t want to go to ever again. Jimmy Robinson, another journalist, has called Charlie asking for help with a story. Yates is reluctant to go and stalls for a few days. His delay costs Jimmy his life and Charlie vows to find out the truth about his death and the story that he was following. Except that the story comes closer to home than Charlie Yates could have ever expected.
There are so many things that I could tell you about this book. For example, I could tell you about Reynolds’ sense of time and place. The book is set in 1946, just after the end of WW2. There are no mobile phones or computers – just good old fashioned pay phones with operators to connect you across the country. Hot Springs is a hot bed of casinos, prostitution and corruption, with a crooked mayor to boot. It’s not the best place to be asking discreet, or not so discreet, questions.
Or I could tell you about the characters, especially Charlie Yates, who’s paranoia increases with the book and has a sense of despondency that seems to dog him at every turn. Reynolds has also created several unreliable characters so that the reader also shares Yates’ mistrust.
But mostly, I want to tell you about how a British author has written the most incredible American period novel. As I read it, the voice in my head came out in a Southern drawl. I don’t normally get that when I read books by American authors. The use of language and style is spot on. Reynolds cites Raymond Chandler and James Ellroy as writing influences, and although this comes through in Black Night Falling, it’s never as mere imitation. Nor is it an elaborate study of 1940s/50s American detective fiction, written as homage. Rather it’s a fresh look at the genre with an authentic voice. Rod Reynolds is writing book 3 as there’s a lot of mileage left in Charlie Yates. I hope there’s even more to come.
PS Black Night Falling also has possibly, the most beautiful last line I think I have ever read. But I’m not going to tell you it. You’ll have to read it for yourself!