An interview with John McFetridge, Part II
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