This month, the crackerjack crime novelist/comic-book impresario/all-around renaissance man Alex Segura was kind enough to interview me for his excellent newsletter, Stuff & Nonsense. (I'm not sure which one I was supposed to be — stuff or nonsense — but likely a bit of both.)
Adam, can you talk a bit about the idea for The Blinds? Having read it, it felt like a great, pulpy Jim Thompson book with a dollop of dark sci-fi.
There were lots of threads, influences, and sparks of inspiration that went into this novel, but The Blinds was initially born out of my longtime obsession with the idea of the frontier town. I’ve always been fascinated by isolated communities where people work together to forge a new life and write their own rules, for better or worse — whether in the literal Old West, like Deadwood, or isolationist communities like the Amish, or pop-culture frontier towns like Mos Eisley spaceport in Star Wars. (“You’ll never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy…”) So the idea of an isolated community of ex-criminals who don’t even know their own crimes was something that really grabbed me. Speaking of villainy, Jim Thompson’s shadow definitely stretches over The Blinds — I remember reading Pop. 1280, about a corrupt sheriff, many years ago and thinking, Wait, are you allowed to do this? It’s so entrancing to spend time in the mind of this laidback, likable lawman who turns out to be so spiritually rancid.
I'm personally exhausted by the "likability" debate that seems to be du jour of late, but because it came up on a panel we were both on not long ago - does a character's appeal register for you at all when writing, or is it the kind of thing where you strive for honesty and engaging people?
What I’ve always loved about noir is that everyone gets to be a little bad. There is really no room in a noir novel for someone who’s completely uncorrupted or forthright — that person would be swallowed alive in the first ten pages. Even so-called heroes are reliably damaged and struggling in some way. So what noir lets you explore is: What are the uses of darkness? How do people act when they think no one is watching them? It’s easy to fixate on the parts of yourself you like the most — but what about the parts you like the least? Or fear the most? Noir lets you plumb those depths in a really interesting, outsized, affecting way.
This book breaks away from your first two Spademan books, Shovel Ready and Near Enemy. Did you have to shake off that world a bit before you could immerse yourself in the new book? How was your process different?
The Blinds is definitely a stylistic break from the Spademan books, which were written with very specific aesthetic parameters in mind; namely, to be as spare and stripped-down and propulsive as possible, in a kind of homage to my favorite pulp stylists. With The Blinds, I let myself be more expansive — engaging in third-person narrative and multiple POVs (Spademan novels are first-person) and just allowing myself room to indulge other writerly, and readerly, pleasures. Whereas the Spademan books are intentionally very bang-bang-bang, and even claustrophobic in their dystopian New York City setting, The Blinds is much more wide-open, both in setting and otherwise. The story is still thrilling (hopefully) but you get more backstory, more characterization, and a lot more consideration on the page of who these people are and how they ended up in this predicament.
The story is definitely thrilling. I'm always curious about what media writers are consuming. What are you reading/watching/enjoying these days?
Crime-wise: I really love the new Richard Lange novel, The Smack. Lange writes great novels about hardscrabble people which also happen to include a lot of crime. I love the novelist James Salter and happen to be reading his novel Light Years right now, about a failing marriage, and it is fantastic — every sentence is a poem. The recent movie Hell or High Water was a favorite of mine, largely because it captures both the landscape (West Texas) and the overall sensations (bleak desperados) I’m dealing with in The Blinds. (I really liked Sicario for the same reason, which is by the same screenwriter.) I also recently rewatched Outland, a mostly neglected 1981 Sean Connery sci-fi movie that is, fairly literally, High Noon in space. “A western, but set in [blank]” is pretty much my favorite genre right now.
I get this question a lot, as a writer with a fairly demanding full-time job and a young child. You fall into the same category, so I'm going to turn the tables on you - how do you find time to write fiction? For me, it's all about maximizing those little pockets of time you get each day - before dinner, before bed, in the morning - but nothing close to a set routine. What about you?
How do I? That’s a good question. It all feels like a fever dream in hindsight. Mostly I get up very early (5:45ish) and go to a writing space near my home to work from 6:30 to about 9:30 every morning, then head off to my office job. My wife (who is also a writer, but more of a night person) very kindly takes the morning shift with our child to give me this time to write. And I’m definitely a morning writer — I get very little done that’s useful at night, other than putting my kid to bed. I like the wee hours of the morning because it’s quiet, the emails haven’t started arriving yet, and there’s no one on Twitter to distract me.
A time where no emails come in and you can write? Sign me up. Before we finish up, is there anything I missed you want to share about The Blinds?
I have a quote from Alan Moore that I really like tacked up on the corkboard over my writing desk: “My experience of life is that it is not divided up into genres; it’s a horrifying, romantic, tragic, comical, science-fiction cowboy detective novel.” I feel like, with every book I write, I’m trying to check as many of those boxes as possible. I think The Blinds comes closest to checking them all: It’s romantic, tragic, intermittently comical, occasionally horrifying, with elements of sci-fi and detection. And cowboys. There are definitely cowboys.
READ MORE ABOUT THE BLINDS HERE.