Interrogation: Matt Phillips (Continued)

You can find Page 1 of this interview with Matt Phillips and Christopher Black HERE.

Phillips_Matt_HS-1REDBONE has a building tension throughout the story that really cranks up the intensity. Was that your intention when you sat down to write it? 

With REDBONE, I wanted the form of the book to mirror, in some sense, Calvin G. Redbone’s state of mind… his emotional landscape. But the work had to take its own form. I mean, I can’t sit down and say: The story will be this, and that’s final! If I do that, I exclude the greatest thing for both writers and readers—discovery. I like to discover things while I write. I’m in an imaginary world, and it’s my job to explore, to find stuff.

When I started REDBONE, I typed one line for reference: “You are writing a story about a good man who desires to be less anonymous.” The story became its own living organism once I began to write, but that idea started me off. I wrote three drafts before Number Thirteen got ahold of the book. Calvin G. Redbone was always Calvin G. Redbone, but the other characters changed a bit over the drafts. As for the plot: It was similar for each draft, but I was able, through hard work and feedback from both my fiancé and my closest pal, to create a plot where the knot tightens little by little and then unravels.

Chris Black, over at Number Thirteen Press, suggested two significant changes (aside from the many line edits) and that made the book a whole lot better. That’s what great editors do—they make the work better. I’m forever thankful for this.

How would you describe the morality in REDBONE? Is the protagonist, Calvin, ultimately justified in his actions? Does he have any other choice?

Like in life, morality is a shifting landscape in REDBONE. Look, whether people want to admit it or not, right and wrong are always up for debate. That’s one reason why stories exist, to explore the ever-collapsing dynamic between right and wrong, between good and evil. Yeah—some decisions are cut and dry, but when you get your face shoved in the dirt, your sense of right and wrong gets a little muddy.

Calvin G. Redbone’s best friend winds up dead, he loses his job, and the world is moving on. All I can say is this: What happens in the story is what happens in the story. Like Calvin thinks, “Something needs doing, you go and do it.” That’s maybe the best answer I can give.

There is a lot about the language, setting and character development that reminded me of old school Westerns. Was that intentional?

Yeah—westerns are all about justice, morality, right and wrong. They’re about transgression in one sense or another. I think it’s pretty cool to think of REDBONE as both neo-noir and neo-western (is that even a thing?). It’s definitely possible for a skilled writer to do this in a variety of settings. The late, great Elmore Leonard started off writing western stories and moved to urban settings. His books, regardless of setting, are very much westerns. I have to admit, like many noir and crime writers, his books have been a huge influence for me. They’re great novels, man—just freaking great.

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What inspired the setting for REDBONE? Are the characters based on personal experience?

As for the setting in REDBONE: It’s based very, very loosely on the high desert area which includes Morongo Valley, Yucca Valley and Joshua Tree (about two hours east of LA). It’s super-fictionalized, but I stole from my experiences living and visiting there. I went to high school in the area and family and friends live there. Part of the conflict in REDBONE comes from Calvin’s love for his town. The threat of change upsets him. I think pride in place and pride in one’s origins are very important to self-identity. Calvin G. Redbone is a desert rat at heart. That’s who he is.

For the characters, I made everything up pretty much. I have a couple of friends who are war veterans, but that part of the story was really more about making Calvin a product of his time. His experience is far different from theirs, I’m sure. As a reporter, I interviewed a fair amount of veterans. I am forever in debt to them for their stories and their honesty. I suppose some of that seeped into Calvin.

A Feast of SnakesWho are some of your biggest influences? What book is on your nightstand right now?

Just ‘some,’ huh? I’ll try.

Well, I’ll fall into the old trap of naming Elmore Leonard. Then I’ll list the great Jim Thompson and Raymond Chandler. Beyond all the other influential crime writers, I read pretty widely. Some writers I love include: Raymond Carver, Thomas McGuane, Denis Johnson, Rita Dove, Yusef Komunyakaa, Sherman Alexie, Hunter S. Thompson (THE RUM DIARY is a fave). Charles Bukowski and John Fante. Probably my single biggest influence over the past couple years has been Harry Crews. Man, he was just brilliant. A FEAST OF SNAKES is a masterpiece. So is KARATE IS A THING OF THE SPIRIT––the list goes on.

I’m reading NIGHT SQUAD by David Goodis right this second. Also have plans to purchase Eryk Pruitt’s HASHTAG and the next book from Number Thirteen Press. I always have George Orwell’s essays on my night stand. He was such a bad ass.

Alright, I’ll stop.

What other publishing plans do you have for 2015?

My novella, MESA BOYS, is coming in an anthology from Severest Inks this June. It’ll also be released as a paperback and ebook single later this year. I’ve got a short story slated for publication in NEAR TO THE KNUCKLE. It’s kind of a meta-fictional noir piece. Beyond that, I’m working on a fourth draft of a noir novel about a washed up reporter. I have some short screenplays I need to get out into the world and am adapting MESA BOYS into a feature-length screenplay. All this with work, too. We’ll see how much I can get done.

Find Matt Phillips: Website, AmazonTwitter and Facebook

Previous Interrogations: Laurie StevensMatt Coyle and Erika Krouse

S.W. Lauden is a writer and drummer living in Los Angeles. His short fiction has been accepted for publication by Out of the Gutter, Criminal Element, Akashic Books, Spelk Fiction, Shotgun Honey and Crimespree Magazine. His debut novel, BAD CITIZEN CORPORATION, will be published in 2015. His novella, CROSSWISE, will be published in 2016.

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