Wednesday, October 01, 2008

An interview with John McFetridge, Part II

In the conclusion to his interview with Detectives Beyond Borders, John McFetridge talks about immigration, management-speak and the business of publishing.

You can meet John on Wednesday, Oct. 8 at 6:30 p.m. in Philadelphia when he joins Declan Burke for a special international Noir at the Bar reading at Fergie's Pub. You're invited.

(Read Part I of the interview with John McFetridge here.)
=====================

Every great crime-fiction city in the United States – Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, San Francisco – is a city of immigrants. So is the Toronto you write about. How does your Toronto differ from those U.S. cities? How is it similar?

Some of it, I guess, is just the difference between the American melting pot and the Canadian mosaic.

I'm not a very well-travelled guy. I haven't even been to all four of those cities, but I've certainly read books set in all of them. So, Toronto is different in that immigration is different today. When my father's family came from Ireland almost a hundred years ago, they were the typical penniless immigrants and never once went back. Many immigrants today arrive with trades and professions and keep in touch with 'back home' a lot more. Remember when you were a kid, and your parents made a big deal out of a long-distance phone call? Those days are gone.

The good thing about this is that immigrants in Toronto can maintain a connection to their cultures, which I think means that there's less of a feeling of strangeness and of being cut loose from the things that make people who they are.

Now, some people complain, of course, that this makes people less, “Canadian,” but I don't really see much evidence of that. I think people can be many things at the same time.

Your fiction pokes fun at the fatuous gospel of management-speak, used alike by gangsters, businessmen and police. Share your feelings on this subject, if you would.

I do find management-speak funny. But I also see it as a sign of the ideology of the business world taking over everything – even though we know it doesn't really work for even all businesses, never mind for police work – and I like to point that out.

I also find it kind of funny that business sometimes talk in the language of gangsters – all that tough-guy, corporate machismo. I guess it's true, people always want what they can't have. Gangsters want to be businessmen, and businessmen want to be gangsters. Cops make great characters, as they are stuck in the middle like the rest of us.

Many contemporary crime authors chronicle changing cities. You are among the few who do this without bitter nostalgia or a stark anti-developer stance. Why is this? If you can answer such a big question without eating up too much bandwidth, what is your take on Toronto’s changes of the last three decades?

Toronto needs development because so many people are moving in all the time. I like the idea of people moving in. They bring so much to the city. Development is always an issue when cities grow, but I think it's important to be honest with yourself and make sure you're upset about the buildings and not about the people. I like old buildings, and I wish we'd keep more of them, but I'd rather have all these new people, even if it means some ugly buildings and some growing pains.

There are some real challenges in having a city grow as much as Toronto has in the last thirty years – and with the people coming in from all over the world – but it is really a microcosm of what the world is going through, so we better find a way to make it work. For the most part Toronto does work, but we can't simply ignore the stuff that doesn't, and I think that's a little bit of where crime fiction comes in.

Dirty Sweet has a notable similarity with The Big O by your fellow Harcourt author Declan Burke, that of a youngish couple on the run. You also shared an editor at Harcourt, Stacia Decker. I'd like to switch gears and talk about what role an editor's sensibilities have in acquiring, shaping and delivering books.

It gets even weirder. In Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere and The Big O, there are women named Karen and Sharon involved in illegal activities who each meet a shady guy named Ray.

The editor's sensibilities are key. Before my books got to Stacia at Harcourt, they were published by a small press in Canada called ECW, run by a guy named Jack David. I really felt it unlikely that anyone would publish Dirty Sweet because it falls between a lot of cracks – it's not really a mystery, it's not really literary fiction, it's not really a thriller. When I asked Jack why he, and my editor at ECW, Michael Holmes, wanted the book, Jack said it was because they liked it. He said, "All we have in this business is our judgement."

For all the big-business, international mega-corporation stuff about publishing, it still comes down to individual taste. Stacia Decker picked up books by me, Declan Burke, Al Guthrie and Ray Banks. I'm absolutely thrilled to be on that list.

In some ways this goes back to that management-speak stuff. The multinationals can use all the techniques from other businesses they want, but the only way to sell books is one at a time. Editors have to trust their own judgement, acquire books they really like, and then hope other people will, too. I don't know if there's any connection to the fact that my books and Declan's were originally published by small presses.

I'm thrilled when people like my books, and I want to thank each and every person. And thank you, Peter, for such a tough interview. I'm afraid it was probably a lot more interesting for me than for people reading this, as I think I learned a lot more about my own books than anyone else will from my disjointed answers.

(Editor's note: Wrong on that last guess, bub. I learned quite a bit about my own city and country from your answers, and I suspect I won't be the only one.)

(Read Part I of the interview with John McFetridge here.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

Labels: , , , , , ,

23 Comments:

Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Gd I/V pt 2. Also good call on the management speak. J McF is careful about his prose, something management people aren't and need to be called to task on, hilariously, as J does, if possible.

When I worked in a law firm I used to get the "there's no 'I' in 'team'" line a lot to which I was desperate to reply "no but there is an 'f' in 'f**k you'" Alas, I never had the bottle.

October 01, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks. Management-speak is easy to make fun of, but John Mc F. does so more subtly than he could have. While it's plain that he's poking fun at the language, the characters who use it are not buffoons. That would have been too easy.

The way I anaesthetize myself against management-speak is to count the number of clichés a manager will use at a meeting and to mutter, "Oh, God!" in stage whispers each time she does.

October 01, 2008  
Blogger petra michelle; Whose role is it anyway? said...

Wish I could be there. I've come to know these writers vicariously through your posts, Peter. I would love to have met them and enjoy their unique and fascinating perspectives, including yours. :))

October 01, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

PM, you're not all that far away. Maybe you'll get to one of the events one day, an honored out-of-town guest.

October 01, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

John, if the clichés that people use reflect what they want to be, then political reporters want to be sportswriters, prefereably covering horseracing or boxing. I wonder what sportwriters covering horseracing or boxing want to be? Of course, those sports don't get nearly the coverage they used to, so maybe the clichés are monuments to their memory.

Then there are the clichés athletes use in interviews, a kind of linguistic black hole so vapid that they absorb all possible meaning or reference.

October 01, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Adrian, I've just remembered the example of management-speak that grates on me most, and it's really a fallout of Clinton-speak (Bill Clinton and his administration, love him or hate him, probably influenced American English more than any other president since Nixon, hate him or hate him.)

Anyhow, this particular example is "conversation," as in everything is touchy-feely and "part of a continuing conversation." That such "conversation" is almost all one-way never seems to occur to the assholes who use the phrase, but it may make them feel marginally better about themselves.

Two executives at my "newspaper" have used the word regularly. One was a thoroughly loathsome individual, the other merely hapless.

October 01, 2008  
Blogger Dana King said...

In my experience, when a manager tells telling you there's no I in "team," he usually thinks "team" means "Tell Everyone About Me."

October 01, 2008  
Blogger John McFetridge said...

A headline in the newspaper here today says:

"Gang run like a business: many multinational companies would 'envy' Hells Angels' structure, jurist notes in his ruling."

Thanks for doing this interview, Peter, it was a lot of fun. I'm really looking forward to Noir at the Bar and Bouchercon next week.

October 01, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

John,have you read Michael Ondaatje's In The Skin of a Lion ?
I loved that book when I read it 10 years ago,it's still among my favourites,and introduced me to the concept of the Canadian Mosaic.
All the best for your tour.

Then there are the clichés athletes use in interviews, a kind of linguistic black hole so vapid that they absorb all possible meaning or reference
which is for the better,because when they do speak out of cliche,it is often to say something racist or homophobic.

Ciao,
Marco

October 01, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Dana, if corporate clichés must exist, that's one worth repeating. Thanks.

October 01, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

"... which is for the better, because when they do speak out of cliche, it is often to say something racist or homophobic."

Or, at least in America, to make fatuous declarations of religious faith, which has become a cliche in itself. I offer no defense of athletes who make racist or homophobic statements, but we share the blame for being foolish enough to care what these people say, which leads newspapers, magazines and television to seek them out as sources.

I had in mind, though, gems along the lines of the following dense compendium, which has earned a place pinned on the low wall next to my desk:

"`A goal is a goal in my opinion,' he said. `It's a team effort. We showed a lot of heart. It's awesome.'"

I think that may have been uttered by a high school kid, which is all the more alarming because it shows how thoroughly a young athlete absorbs and amplifies the vacuousness he hears every day from his athletic role models.

October 01, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

John: Most fun of the interviews I've conducted, I think, and I'm a man who enjoys his interviews.

Do you think that somewhere, under deep cover and the thickest possible blanket of secrecy, biker-gang leaders and businessmen have ever attended leadership seminars together? Has any biker ever said: "There's no `i' in team" or referred to killing off rivals as "concentrating on our core business"? Just wondering.

October 01, 2008  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Maybe the teen athletes have only learned the lessons of Bull Durham where Crash Davis urges banalities as THE only safe approach with a sports reporter.

October 02, 2008  
Blogger Barbara said...

Terrific interview. Thanks to both of you.

Gangs have been a business since the late 1970s. They used to be about turf and ethnicity, and that may linger, but it's mostly about doing business. And of course, business has been about thuggery since about the same time. I blame Reagan and Maggie.

As for "I wonder what sportwriters covering horseracing or boxing want to be?" That's easy. Novelists.

October 02, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Adrian: Alas, the only movie in which I have ever seen Susan Sarandon disrobe is Atlantic City. But Crash Davis' credo would only have been picking up on a trend that was probably just becoming obvious at the time the movie was made.

There came a time in television sports coverage when it was extremely easy to see that athletes had received coaching on how to deal with reporters or had studied on their own. Of course, this was obvious only because the efforts at smoothness were so clumsy. These guys would speak in smooth, modulated tones, look the interviewer in the eye, use the interviewer's name often, and so on, the same way eager, slimy young would-be managers do today.

October 02, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Barbara, I think the journalists who once dreamed of writing novels now dream of writing sappy books about bonding with their dogs.

October 02, 2008  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

You'd enjoy Bull Durham but speaking of Atlantic City, true story: Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins live in Union Square, where I worked at Barnes and Noble for a bit. They came in a lot and I always had this fantasy that she would order a tea and I would say to her "a squeeze of lemon Ms Sarandon?"

October 02, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

What is a gorgeous woman like her doing married to a gerbil like him, anyway?

Undershirt sales supposedly shot through the roof after "A Streetcar Named Desire." I wonder if "Atlantic City" did the same for lemons. Think of it: Women would buy lemons hoping to look like Susan Sarandon, and men would lounge in the citrus section dreaming salacious dreams about the uses to which the lemons could be put.

That scene had to have been Louis Malle's idea. No way an American would have thought of it.

October 02, 2008  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

I reckon I could have pulled her. The lemon joke to break the ice and then a few "when Noam Chomsky was last in here" anecdotes, a suggestive question about Catherine Deneuve: "a good kisser?" . . . putty in my hands, mate, putty in my hands.

October 03, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

"Suzie: Loved you and Kate Deneuve, but lose the music. And pass the lemons."

October 03, 2008  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Tim Robbins is a notorious NYY hater. I wont say anything bad about him except that he practices with the NY Rangers. Can you imagine the chutzpah of imposing yourself on the NY Rangers? Sheesh. Suzie deserves better.

October 03, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I've never liked that phenomenon of athletes ostentatiously flaunting their rooting interest in a sports team. Who cares?

Wouldn't you love to see some tough guy drop the gloves and wallop him at a practice?

October 03, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

"After that performance Brees was named the NFC offensive player of the month for September.

“`That’s certainly an honor but definitely is something that is about the team and not one guy, what we’ve been able to accomplish as an offense,' Brees said."


-- Associated Press sports wire, Friday, October 3

October 03, 2008  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home