What: Author of four novels in the Toronto Series, and the Eddie Dougherty Trilogy set in Montreal in the 1970s. He edited the Bouchercon 2017 anthology, PASSPORT TO MURDER and is also the co-editor, with Kevin J. Anderson, of the anthology, 2113: STORIES INSPIRED BY THE MUSIC OF RUSH, and co-editor with Jacques Filippi of the anthology MONTREAL NOIR.
Interview conducted by email. Some questions and answers have been edited.
Your Toronto series includes SWAP, EVERYBODY KNOWS THIS IS NOWHERE, DIRTY SWEET and TUMBLIN’ DICE. Just how mean are the streets of Toronto?
Toronto often calls itself the 4th largest city in North America after Mexico City, New York, and Los Angeles and just before Chicago. Of course that takes some playing with which suburbs of which cities can be counted, but no matter where you put it on the list, Toronto is a big city so it has all the mean street issues of any big city. But half the people who live in Toronto were born somewhere else and came here for some kind of opportunity (blatant self-promotion, that’s the theme of DIRTY SWEET) so a lot of the time people are too busy to be too mean.
Well, Toronto is the City That Works™—Ha, can you believe that was actually once the city’s slogan? Toronto is a city with a major identity crisis. I think it was rolling along pretty happily as Canada’s second city for a hundred years. Montreal was the biggest city in the country and the centre of everything—finance, culture, sports. Montreal had Expo and the Olympics. Toronto had… factories, mostly. But then in the 1970s that all started to change. Montreal became the centre of French Canada and Toronto, by default really, became the biggest English city in the country.
A lot of people moved from Montreal to Toronto and since the 80s a lot of immigration that would have gone to Montreal came to Toronto instead. So, all of that gave Toronto an identity crisis it’s still working on. Which means there are a lot of people who don’t feel strongly connected to the place they live and that makes for a lot of interesting characters, I think. The short answer, now that I think of it, should have been, because there’s a lot of material here (pretty much the theme of EVERYBODY KNOWS THIS IS NOWHERE).
For those of us coming in for Bouchercon this week, what’s the most noir bar you would recommend?
This makes me think of an episode of The Simpson when a new waterfront development was put in and Moe built a secret tunnel to his bar. When a couple of people followed it and ended up in Moe’s one of them said, “Wait a minute, this isn’t faux dive this is a real dive.” So, a lot of Toronto has been yuppified and there are plenty of faux dives but a lot of the originals like the Riverboat where Neil Young and Joni Mitchell played or the Friar’s Tavern where Bob Dylan first met The Band (the Hawks at the time) and the El Mocambo where the Rolling Stones recorded Love You Live are long gone. But the one that really hurts is the Silver Dollar. It’s in the opening scene of Elmore Leonard’s KILLSHOT, the Chief is staying upstairs at the Waverly Hotel. If the Silver Dollar was still around it would have been perfect for Noir at the Bar Bouchercon.
So, the Rivoli, which is hosting the Bouchercon Noir at the Bar will have to do. If anyone’s interested in Toronto’s punk history, Sneaky Dee’s at College and Bathurst is still going and still serving pretty good Tex Mex (bars in Toronto have to serve food). And, of course, as the man said, “Politicians, ugly buildings and whores all get respectable if they last long enough,” so Grossman’s Tavern isn’t really a dive anymore, it’s been around long enough to become respectable. Still, worth a visit.
Your novel, TUMBLIN’ DICE, is about a washed up rock band on the casino circuit. Why do rock and roll and crime fiction work so well together?
Because they’re both best when they’re desperate and on the edge. And they both have something they’re trying to get and they both work best when that isn’t money. The best music is made by people who are trying to get the music right, not write a hit and the best crime novels are the ones where there’s more going on than the crime.
Your Eddie Dougherty series, including BLACK ROCK, is set in 1970s Montreal. What’s the appeal of writing historical fiction?
Sometimes it’s just fun, like a time traveling vacation. Most of the time I liked living in the 70s again. The first time I did it I saw the world through a teenager’s eyes but writing about it now I have quite a different perspective. But I also find history does help me understand the mess we’re in now a little bit and maybe that makes it a little easier to put up with.
You’ve also published short stories and written screenplays. Is there one form that you prefer over the others?
The most fun was being in the writers’ room for the TV show The Bridge. It was great to collaborate with the other writers, it made it a social activity for the first time. The most creatively satisfying is writing a novel, that’s where I’ve ended up with the closest to what I’ve been trying for (there’s also some good collaboration with the editor but you don’t get a catered lunch every day like a TV show).
What’s the best place to get poutine in Toronto (asking for a friend)?
I have to say, Quebec is upset that somehow poutine became Canadian but it has conquered the country. The best place is around the corner from my house at Hogtown Smoke. But some of the food trucks across the street from the convention hotel will serve a pretty good poutine. There’s also a chain called Smoke’s Poutinerie that’s better than you’d expect from a chain. And next to the hotel is a fancy restaurant called Bannock that sells duck poutine for twenty bucks and everything about that sounds wrong to me.
What’s more quintessentially Canadian—poutine, or a Rush-themed anthology?
Poutine at Rush concerts might be the most Canadian thing ever. It might be what finally gets us to bridge the two solitudes. Closer to the Curds could be our new anthem.
What’s next for you?
I’m going to try to use some secondary characters to tie the two series together. Here’s the opening:
In the spring of 1983 Will Nolan got off a plane from Montreal at the Calgary International Airport with thirty-eight hundred dollars in cash, twenty-four ounces of hash and a quarter kilo of cocaine in an Adidas bag. He didn’t know anyone in the city but leaving in such a hurry he didn’t have a lot of choices. He picked Calgary over Edmonton because he hated the fucking Oilers.
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S.W. Lauden is the Anthony Award-nominated author of the Tommy & Shayna Crime Caper novellas include CROSSWISE and CROSSED BONES (Down & Out Books). His Greg Salem punk rock P.I. series includes BAD CITIZEN CORPORATION and GRIZZLY SEASON (Rare Bird Books). He is also the co-host of the Writer Types podcast. Steve lives in Los Angeles.