At the end of the month, the Mystery Writers of America will present the Edgar Awards. On Thursday, I interviewed David Fuller, one of the nominees for Best First Novel by an American Author. Today, we're lucky enough to be joined by Tom Epperson, nominated for that same award for his novel, The Kind One.
Tom, thank you for answering some questions for my readers. Would you tell us a little bit about yourself, and, we might as well get the Billy Bob Thornton question out of the way early. Tell us about your friendship and work with him as well, please.
I grew up in Arkansas in the little town of Malvern. I decided when I was 18 that I wanted to be a writer and have pretty much dedicated my life to writing since then. I got a B.A. in English from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and an M.A. in English from the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville. In my late teens and into my twenties I wrote hundreds of poems, dozens of short stores, and a couple of novels; with the exception of one short story and a handful of poems, it all went unpublished. When I was 30, I decided--what the heck?--I'd move to Los Angeles and try to become a Hollywood writer. My boyhood pal Billy Bob Thornton went with me. We wrote scripts together and Billy tried to break into acting. It was a long struggle for us. It took us four years to get an agent, six years to sell a script, and 10 years to get a movie made. But that movie, ONE FALSE MOVE, got a lot of critical acclaim and opened doors for us as writers and for Billy as an actor. Two other scripts that we wrote that became movies are A FAMILY THING and THE GIFT ( a couple of our other scripts were turned into lousy movies that will go unnamed here). In recent years, I've returned to my first love, writing novels. I live in the Los Angeles area with my wife Stefani, our three cats, Sunny, Trubble, and Sheera, and Bodhi, our rambunctious young dog.
Your novel, The Kind One, has been nominated for an Edgar. Would you summarize it for us, Tom?
THE KIND ONE takes place in 1934 in the criminal underworld of Los Angeles. Danny Landon is a young man working for mobster Bud Seitz. Seitz is so vicious and sadistic he's been given the ironic nickname of "the Kind One." Danny has a nickname too. "Two Gun Danny" because of his exploits when he and the boys pulled a heist job on a gambling ship. At least, that's what Danny's told, because he doesn't remember a darn thing about it. He was conked on the head a year ago with a lead pipe and has lost his memory of all that happened before that. The funny thing is, Danny doesn't FEEL like a gangster. He's basically a nice guy, and violence frightens and sickens him. Danny's life is complicated and becomes even more so when he finds himself falling for Darla, Seitz's beautiful young girlfriend. Darla has grown to hate Seitz, and wants to escape the dark brutal world of the Kind One. And she wants Two Gun Danny to help her...
How is writing screenplays different from writing novels? And, what was your favorite movie that was made from one of your screenplays, and why?
I think writing a novel is more akin to making a movie than it is to writing a screenplay because a book and a movie are finished creations while a screenplay is only one step (albeit a very important one) in a long and complicated process. For that reason I find writing a novel about a thousand times more fun and satisfying (and difficult) than writing a script. ONE FALSE MOVE, which I wrote with Billy, is the movie I like most among the ones that I've written. Well directed, powerfully acted, beautifully shot--I think it packs a punch. Bill Paxton is terrific as an ordinary man forced to confront both violent criminals and his own dark past.
Who would you say influenced you in your writing? Who do you like to read now?
Vladimir Nabokov was an early influence. I read LOLITA when I was 19 and was stunned by its brilliance. I still think it's the best novel ever written. Another influence was Hemingway. Obviously these writers are very different in sensibilities and styles, but I learned lessons from both.
Tom, I hope you're going to be attending the Edgar Awards ceremony at the end of April. What author would you like to meet there? Why?
Hoping to bump into the pipe-smoking, whiskey-sipping ghost of Raymond Chandler. I think no one else has ever written so well in the detective/mystery realm as he.
Are you working on another book? Can you tell us anything about it?
I am indeed working on another book. I'm about three quarters of the way through it. I'm willing to say that it's a contemporary crime novel, but beyond that I'm keeping the cat in the bag.
And, the last question is one I always ask, Tom. I'm a public librarian. Do you have any special memories or comments about libraries?
I remember as a kid riding my bike on hot summer days to the Hot Spring County Library in Malvern, Arkansas. I liked the narrow aisles and crowded shelves, the dusty musty smell of old books. My favorite book was SPACECAT MEETS MARS. I read it repeatedly, and never tired of the description of the spacecat from earth snagging fish out of the Martian canals.
Ah ha! Maybe a clue as to why Tom Epperson has three cats? Tom, thank you for taking the time to answer questions. And, good luck with The Kind One, and the Edgar Awards.
Tom Epperson's website is www.tomepperson.com
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The Kind One by Tom Epperson. Cengage Gale, ©2008. ISBN 9781594146176 (hardcover), 377p.