Friday, May 22, 2015

INTERVIEW: J. Buck Williams

Howdy folks,

Its been a long time but The Chronicler is back. Today and Monday I'll be dealing with an author and a book that you should be paying attention to. The author -- J. Buck Williams. The book -- The Triangle. Its a rock n roll crime novel and it's one you should be grabbing ASAP. I'll review it Monday since this post will run a bit long.

First, however, interviewed the man hisself to see what he had to say. Check it out below.

1) Your novel is, of course, about music and your own background is in music. How do you think your experiences in music have shaped your writing?

In a sense it's kind of a wish-fulfillment fantasy, and a justification for spending 15 years trying really hard at music but never even coming close to making a life of it. I wanted to create the ultimate rock and roll shaggy dog story, plus give outsiders an idea how serious it is--even if it's only for 5 people in a lonely bar at midnight in Wednesday, the people playing are working their asses off, putting their souls into it. People who aren't musicians think playing in a band is kind of a joke. It's not to the people playing. It's really hard to do well, even if you don't like the result.

The last band I played with--my favorite, a surf-noir band out of Seattle called Diminished Men--replaced me as their bass player because I had a kid and a house and a day job that I took pretty seriously, so I couldn't tour much or record in the middle of the week. They wanted someone less bound up. Totally made sense, but I was sad anyway. I was 37 at the time and that was pretty much it. I didn't want to play covers in a crap "dad band," but I wasn't able to be serious enough to keep playing with the musicians I really liked, who I was good enough to play with but needed more from me. So this was kind of a goodbye to rock and roll in my own life.

2) How did The Triangle come to be?

I wrote at night for about a year when my daughter was a baby and I wasn't sleeping much anyway. I put it through a couple of revisions, showed it to a friend or two, sent it to a couple agents...and then my wife and I had a second kid. A few years later, Joe Clifford from Gutter decided he wanted it, so I was happy to sell it. The funny thing was, when I opened the file to edit it, the last time I had opened it was three days before my son was born. I hadn't looked at it for almost three years. Life intervened!

3) Did you move straight from music to fiction or have they both always been important to you?

I've actually wanted to be a novelist since I was old enough to read, and I've always written stories. The Triangle was the fourth novel I started, the second I finished, and the first that was decent enough to be published. I was also into music pretty early--I started as a band geek when I was about 10, then taught myself to play bass when I was 20 or so. So I've always done both. I just changed the time and effort I put into each, like pulling a fader up and down.

4) Similarly, how do you think your music career has influenced your writing career and vice versa?

I can't properly say I had a music career, but playing music taught me persistence and gave me a thick skin. I played a lot of gigs for a dozen people, in a lot of bands that just weren't particularly great. It also taught me how to listen, get real-time feedback, and improvise on the spot, which is a great skill to have in all aspects of life, not just writing.

I've always made a living writing and editing (non-fiction), so it's always been an influence on how my brain works. That probably made me more organized than some musicians--I always was a straight bass player, keeping the beat hard and strong, rarely going off or soloing. That's probably an effect of the discipline required to write and edit.

5) Related to the last two, who/what are your primary literary and musical inspirations?

 I really like Thomas Pynchon and Philip Roth, but don't imagine I can write as well as either of them. Roth especially was able to create this sort of "galloping" in the last halves of his best books, where you're racing toward an inevitable and dire conclusion and nothing can stop it. I really admire how he does that but can't even try to imitate it. Otherwise it's specific books more than authors who stand out. "Already Dead" by Denis Johnson. William Gibson's latest, "The Peripheral." I never read much genre except sci-fi. Ursula LeGuin was a favorite. 

Musically, I like guitar rock of all eras, from The Who and The Stones through Zeppelin through The Pixies and The Replacements through Modest Mouse. I've probably listened to more Pink Floyd and Neil Young than anything, and these days lots of Yo La Tengo. For a while I was really into instrumental post-rock like Godspeed You Black Emperor, Mogwai, Explosions in the Sky, Sigur Ros, Tortoise. Brian Eno comes up a lot. Aphex Twin. Miles, Mingus, and Coltrane as far as jazz goes. I hate most modern pop music and I'm a real snob about it but I've leaned to keep it to myself. I judge you silently.

6) If you could only have all of your musical dreams come true or all of your literary dreams come true, which would you choose? Would you give up one for the other completely?

Music in a heartbeat. I can't imagine a more satisfying evening than having somebody else set up all your gear for you, then you get to go out on stage and play for people who are there to listen to you, then somebody breaks your gear down and you basically hang out and party with strangers. The rest of the time you practice your instrument and write songs and go to concerts.

Writing is awful. It's solitary and hard and dull, it's time consuming, it turns you into a misanthrope, and you get no feedback until you're done. You may have spent the last year working on crap that will never see an audience, but you'll never know it until it's too late.

I always played music out of pure desire. I write because I'm compelled and it's what I'm best at. It's a different sin, lust (music) versus pride (writing), if that makes sense.

7) What's next for you? Working on more books (might I suggest)?

My next book will be a crime-noir mystery/satire set in the weird tech island of San Francisco in the current tech boom, or tech bubble as the case may be. It's tentatively titled "Idempotent" and will feature mysterious murders of homeless people and artificial intelligence. Probably not much music, though

8) Why do you think there aren't more rock and roll themed crime novels?

I hadn't really thought about it before. I don't know! Maybe because rock and roll is supposed to be frivolous and fun and crime is supposed to be taken very seriously? I think some of Stephen King's early books had rock music featured pretty prominently, didn't they? But you're right, it's a pretty rare combo.

Thanks to J. Buck Williams for talking to me. The book is a wonderful read, y'all. Watch this space for a review on Monday!

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