BLOG: Gary Phillips Interview

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Down & Out Books has just dropped a new anthology of original stories about the bloodier side of Wall Street called Scoundrels: Tales of Greed, Murder and Financial Crimes. It’s edited by Gary Phillips (The Jook, Cowboys) and features stories from SJ Rozan, Reed Farrel Coleman, David Corbett, Kelli Stanley, Brendan DuBois, Tyler Dilts, Travis Richardson, Eric Stone, Bob Truluck, Pamela Samuels Young, Darrell James, Lono Waiwaiole, Seth Harwood and Gary Phillips himself. I recently got a chance to ask Gary a few questions about this exciting new collection and he was nice enough to answer ‘em.

How did this collection come about? Did someone approach you about putting it together or was it your idea?

As we’ve all been directly or indirectly affected by the economic meltdown, there was all these stories arising then in late 2008 into ’09 and continuing into today. That Wall Street got away with legal theft of millions and billions, homeowners literally out in the streets as they sunk underwater on their mortgage payments and on and on. Given I’d edited or co-edited several previous anthologies such as Orange County Noir and the Cocaine Chronicles, it seemed to me financial crimes, that is crime hatched in the suites, would be a timely and compelling basis for a series of short stories – from various perspectives.

Now don’t get me wrong. Scoundrels has plenty of good old-fashioned blue collar, gun all up in your grill thrills and chills too. Anyway, fortunately those swinging cats Eric and Bob of Down & Out Books and this great grouping of mystery writers were also charged up by the theme.

How did you get everybody together for this collection? What does that process entail?

I get them drunk or blackmail them with compromising videos to sign on. Seriously…okay, most anthologies are not what you’d call a hedge against inflation in terms of one’s payment if you get my meaning. So the idea has to be interesting for the writer to be willing to take time out of their busy schedule to do a story when you come to them on bended knee, hat in hand. Did I mention about plying them with drink and other such vices?

It’s fair to say you’re mainly known for writing novels about street-level crime. With your recent Cowboys and now Scoundrels, you seem very interested in white collar crime. Is this primarily a reaction to the recent Wall Street scandals or have you always wanted to tackle this subject?

Certainly as I’d mentioned, the recent Wall Street rip-offs were an inspiration if that’s the right word, for Scoundrels. But you can go back to my first novel, Violent Spring, set in the aftermath of the ’92 riots here in L.A. and big money, white collar crime, figured in that plot as well. Greed is greed. The professional thief out to score the $300,000 in cash or the financier looking to bilk the widow out of five million – both are crime stories and the writer’s job is to make their stories worth the telling.

You’ve got a great mix of up and comers and established heavy-hitters in Scoundrels. Were you familiar with every writer in the collection before Scoundrels came together or did you make some new discoveries in the process?

Certainly the way you get talented writers to contribute is having a relationship with them, or in the case of a couple of the writers involved, one person leads to another. Most of the contributors to the book I’ve had the pleasure to know as either friends or in a professional capacity – or say like SJ, they’ve taken my money at the poker table, repeatedly.

Too, I’m happy to have some of the younger crowd involved as well. Not that the rest of us are getting decrepit, but this thing of ours, mystery and crime writing, has to grow and welcome in others to remain vital. A bit too often I think we in the mystery community can be too clubby, too much an insider thing when in fact we need to be opening the doors.

Aside from white collar crime as the subject, what else do you think connects the stories in Scoundrels?

That’s easy, each story is a good read. The reason there isn’t a clinker in this collection is because the mechanics of the crime is not what keeps you reading. It’s the way the various writers get you inside the heads of their characters, their quirkiness and off-kilter view of their circumstances and what they’re willing to do to alleviate their situation. What happens when pressure is applied to ordinary Janes and Joes like you and me — what will they do? How far will they go? In other cases, the main characters are the sort of people it’s best just to read about, definitely not the sort to invite over for afternoon tea.

Do you have any other work coming out soon that you can talk about at this time?

Circling back on the riots mention, given the 20th anniversary of that event is this April 29, the fine folks at mysteriouspress.com have re-issued Violent Spring in e-book form. The book introduced my black private eye character Ivan Monk. The plot concerns the body of a missing Korean grocer unearthed at a groundbreaking ceremony symbolizing healing a year or so post the riots. Treacherous: Grifters, Ruffians and Killers, a collection of my short stories, is out now and The Rinse, the tradepaperback graphic novel version of my mini-series about a high end money launderer, comes out in June.

Comments

  1. Peter,
    Great interview with Gary, but he forgot to mention that D&OB reissued The Perpetrators, his Tarantino-esque joint. It’s a non-stop roller-coaster ride. Your readers can find it for the Kindle or Nook. Thanks!

    —E