Oh goodie look I get to babble on about this one again. I reviewed this recently (review can be seen below) and felt VERY lucky to be able to ask author, Rod Reynolds a few questions about The Dark Inside as part of the official blog tour. Here is what I asked. And you know, what he answered. Enjoy!
Tell us a little about the inspiration and starting point for “The Dark Inside” – I’m aware it is loosely based on real events, was it that story or the time period perhaps that engaged you?
It was very much the real life story that first caught my eye. I’m a fan of novels written in and set in the 1940s anyway – Chandler to Ellroy and everything in between – but this was something very different.
The first thing that hooked me was the sense of sheer menace and terror reading about the murders provoked in me. It’s impossible to read about a masked gunman stepping out of the night and attacking young couples without feeling a sense of real unease. It’s like something out of a nightmare. But the more I read, the more intriguing the case became. The setting was unusual – a town (technically two towns) split between two quite different states, that was overwhelmed with GIs travelling home from war; seemingly endless law enforcement agencies involved – city, county and state police from both sides of the state line, railroad detectives, highway patrolmen and more, and all under the command of the Texas Rangers – the opportunities for infighting, corruption and ineptitude seemed huge. Then there were the persistent rumours of institutional corruption, cover-ups, conspiracy – it was a potent mix that just grabbed me from the instant I started thinking about it. Right away I had a very nebulous sense of a mood and a tone and a voice that I wanted to use to tell the story, even if the plot and characters came later. Everything developed from that.
One of the most fascinating things for me while reading was the huge difference in how the Press worked back then and now – in today’s world of 24/7 news where everything is immediate and in your face do you think we could learn something from those old school reporters?
It’s a fascinating area to me. I worked extensively with newspapers in my previous profession, and there is an assumption among most observers that the newspaper is dead, or certainly moribund. However, if you look at some of the biggest stories in recent years – thinking of things like the MP expenses scandal, FIFA corruption, etc. – they were brought to light as a direct result of investigative journalism on the part of newspapers. Furthermore, a good friend of mine makes the point that newspapers still set the news agenda, most days, that the 24/7 stations and websites then take their lead from.
Of course, we’ve also seen the dark side of that doggedness and ‘getting the story by any means’ attitude – the phone hacking scandal being the most recent example – but if we lose the old school style of journalism where reporters are given time and money to investigate a story properly, and then report on it fully, I think we’d be losing something very valuable indeed. At their best, newspapers should be democracy’s first line of defence.
Tell me about Charlie – that poor man goes on quite the journey of personal discovery during the telling of the tale – did you know from the start how it would all work out for him or did he change your mind?
Most of Charlie’s development as a character came about naturally as I was writing the story, but there were several key starting points I knew I wanted to work from. I was certain I wanted him to be an outsider, from a very different part of America, both to accentuate the strange and closed nature of the Texarkana he finds himself in, and to accentuate his own feelings of isolation and self-doubt, which plague him before he leaves and are only heightened by being plunged into such a nightmarish situation.
I also knew I wanted him to consider himself a coward, because that set the stage for the age-old tale of personal redemption that I wanted to try to tell. I was partly inspired by the quote James Ellroy has at the start of LA Confidential – ‘A glory that costs everything and means nothing.’ Although you can interpret that in many ways, to me it speaks to those times in life when we become obsessed with something, to the exclusion of everything else, even when we know what’s waiting for us at the top of that hill is nothing you’d call a victory. Ultimately that’s Charlie’s story – he’s a man who thinks he’s sunk as low as he can go, but discovers that’s not the case when he finally finds a cause worth risking his life for – and the only prize waiting for him if he survives is that he might hate himself just a little bit less.
However, the exact narrative arc of how that would play out was not decided in advance. I had certain plot points I wanted to get to along the way – not much more than a start, middle and end – but I find organic plots, influenced by the characters themselves, are the most satisfying to write. In addition, I don’t tend to plan out all the characters in advance, and there are several major characters in The Dark Inside who developed as the story was written. Therefore, once you have them interacting with Charlie, that in itself opens up new narrative possibilities you can’t anticipate in advance.
The “Southern Noir” feel you have embedded into the narrative is pitch perfect – right down to the conversational tone – how hard was that to accomplish?
I’m really glad you think so, thank you. It was quite tricky to get that right, and I knew it was crucial to the atmosphere, so I was keen to do so. In my head, I had a voice and a tone for Charlie quite early on, which is pretty much the one you see in the book, and I’ve long been a fan of American books/TV/culture, so I had a decent background to draw on.
However, to really get it right still took a lot of effort. I read and re-read a lot of the 40s & 50s noir classics, looking for vocabulary and speech patterns that have since faded, and also watched a lot of the old noir movies for the same reason. It also helped travelling to Texarkana to get a better idea of the local dialect and idiosyncrasies (as soon as the cabbie at the airport started talking – ‘My nose is itching, means someone’s lying about me; wish it was my hand – that means money.’ – I knew it was a worthwhile trip!)
However, my fantastic agent, Kate Burke at Diane Banks Associates, also had a huge role to play in getting it right, as she was brilliant at helping me weed out the parts that sounded anachronistic or inauthentic, and really helping me hone the text. I think Kate really got the tone and feel I was hoping to achieve, and I couldn’t have asked for a keener set of eyes to help do so.
The tagline tells us this might be a good read for fans of “True Detective” – and this is a comment I absolutely agree with – I wondered if you were a fan of that particular tv show, which is in a way like your book but in the visual medium and if so why do you think it IS so good?
I was over the moon with that tagline because I am a huge fan of the show (specifically the first series – although I was in the minority that quite likes series two as well).
I think there are lots of aspects of the first True Detective that made it so good. The show’s creator, Nic Pizzolatto, is a novelist as well as screenwriter (his book, Galveston, is very good) and I think that shows in the complexity of the plotting, the narrative setup, and the pacing.
I read a comment that said True Detective was, ‘A 7/10 story with 10/10 acting, direction and camerawork.’ I agree with the second part of that statement, and clearly the excellence the show exhibited in those respects played a part in making it ‘special’; but I think the first part is to underrate the plot hugely. Some were apparently disappointed that there were no huge twists towards the end of the series, but I think that’s to miss the point. The real story of the show, and what made it so great, was the personal journeys Rust and Marty made over the course of the series. It’s just another reminder that character really is everything.
Moving away from “The Dark Inside” and more towards Rod Reynolds himself, tell us a little about your writing heroes and was there anyone in particular (not necessarily an author) who inspired you growing up?
I’ve mentioned Ellroy a couple of times and that reflects the huge impact he had on me. The Cold Six Thousand was the first book of his I discovered, and I read it in my early twenties, when I’d fallen out of love with reading a bit. It’s probably his most divisive and stylistically extreme book, but it just blew me away. It reignited my passion for reading, and it is the book that first made me want to be a writer. I devoured everything of his after that, and then moved on to the people that inspired him – particularly Chandler and Hammett. I read everything I could get my hands on in that sub-genre. I discovered southern noir around the same time, first through James Lee Burke and then others like him, and I’ve just carried on from there.
If I was to pick a non-author creative influence, it would definitely be Michael Mann. He’s made some of my favourite films of all time – Heat being the pinnacle – and I just love the look, feel, tone and depth of a lot of his work. There’s so much to learn from his style, and I’ve definitely tried to incorporate elements of it in my writing.
Finally, the question I always have to ask, especially when I have particularly loved a book – what’s next for you? If you are allowed to give us a clue…
Next up is a the sequel to The Dark Inside, which I’m just drafting at the moment. The story is set six months after the first book in a town called Hot Springs, which is close to Texarkana, but has a distinct and incredible real-life history of its own. The town played host to gangsters from Capone to Siegel, and served as their model for early Las Vegas.
At the start of the book, Charlie is compelled to travel to Hot Springs, despite Arkansas being the last place on earth he wants to go. As soon as he arrives, things go bad and Charlie finds himself trapped in a nightmare web of murder, corruption and lies. Working in the shadow of Texarkana, Charlie fights to save himself – but the closer he gets to the truth, the more it seems he can’t outrun his own past…
Thanks for having me on the blog!
My Review (just in case you didn’t catch it)
1946, Texarkana: a town on the border of Texas and Arkansas. Disgraced New York reporter Charlie Yates has been sent to cover the story of a spate of brutal murders – young couples who’ve been slaughtered at a local date spot. Charlie finds himself drawn into the case by the beautiful and fiery Lizzie, sister to one of the victims, Alice – the only person to have survived the attacks and seen the killer up close.
But Charlie has his own demons to fight, and as he starts to dig into the murders he discovers that the people of Texarkana have secrets that they want kept hidden at all costs. Before long, Charlie discovers that powerful forces might be protecting the killer, and as he investigates further his pursuit of the truth could cost him more than his job…
I loved this book so much. So very very much. Will that do? No? Jeez but you lot are demanding…
The Dark Inside is old school noir – Southern Noir at that – and I have not read a book like it in many years, and when I have they have come from old school crime writers who are almost a dying breed (think James Lee Burke or Flannery O Connor) – but like Rod Reynolds here they have this magic touch when it comes to taking very little time to put you BAM heart and soul into another era.
Here we enter the Texas/Arkansas border in 1946 – alongside Charlie Yates, who having had somewhat of a meltdown in New York has been sent along to cover a series of murders in a small town – to the folks back in the big city very unimportant stuff. But to Charlie it’s about to become everything…
Language is a beautiful thing when in the right hands – it has the power to evoke all the senses, to paint a picture, to bring on a memory, to make you catch your breath and feel an emotion – The Dark Inside has this in spades. Chocka block full of that sort of thing this book is, all the while telling a compelling and really powerful story that will envelop you in the pure texture and realism of that time now passed.
The author sends his main protagonist on a real journey of self discovery, sets him on a perilous path and takes us with him every step of the way – down into the seething whirlpool of fear that this small town has become in the wake of the deaths. The sheer atmosphere and sense of something horrific lurking just below the surface is palpable throughout the telling and as Charlie faces his demons and everyone else’s head on you will be utterly gripped and totally unable to look away. I was really quite tearful by the end simply down to the sheer impact of every single chapter.
This is a debut – something that stops me in my tracks every time I remember it – the writing is both visceral and gentle, a really quite staggering achievement both in character study and incorporation of setting – If Rod Reynolds spends the rest of his writing career (and boy is this guy going to have a career) creating books only half as good as this one, he will still be writing some of the top fiction out there. A truly incredible talent.
I don’t really need to add “Highly Recommended” do I? Not really. You can take that one as read. When I had finished The Dark Inside, devoured it over the course of one gloriously reading mad day, I had that spider sense that told me I’d just made a lifetime commitment. If this author keeps writing I’m going to keep reading. A bit like with Stephen King if he publishes his shopping list I’m probably going to get in the queue to take a look.
I guess you could say I’m a fan. How many people will agree with me remains to be seen. But early buzz from people I respect in the field tells me I’m not going to be alone here – and as one reader to another I’m saying go take a look. Sometimes it really is that simple.
You can follow Rod on Twitter here: https://twitter.com/Rod_WR
To Order clickety click: http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/0571323049/ref=wl_it_dp_o_pd_nS_ttl?_encoding=UTF8&colid=1HNHHLUGTKHX5&co
Find out LOTS more – follow the tour.
Happy Reading Folks!