John Wisniewski interviews Indy Perro

Punk Noir Magazine

Biography: Indy Perro is a novelist, an independent thinker, and a recovering academic. Indy has a degree in history, graduate degrees in religious studies, comparative literature, and education, and has spent more than a decade teaching philosophy, religious studies, writing, and literature. You can usually find him on Twitter @IndyPerro and Facebook @authorindyperro or at https://indyperro.com. Visit Central City, the setting for his novels, at https://centralcitybooks. com.

1.When did you begin writing, Indy?  

I’ve been writing as long as I can remember. I spent most of my youth either in the gym or the library, and during the cold, Midwestern winters of my youth, the library had longer hours than the gym. 

2.Any favorite crime/noir authors? 

Too many to count. I love Elmore Leonard because he set the standard for the type of fiction that most interests me: intelligent, popular fiction that blends genres. He wrote wonderful westerns, brilliant contemporary noir, and thoughtful, literary works that entertained while giving the reader questions about contemporary society, all of which allowed readers to engage ideas or simply enjoy the stories. 

Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, and James M. Cain, the usual suspects, provided archetypes and created stylistic expectations for hard-boiled fiction, and George V. Higgins wrote some of the best dialogue of any crime novelist. Frederic Brown, Dorothy B. Hughes, and Jim Thompson, just to name a few, engaged existential issues posed by postmodern society, and I love the atmospheres they worked to create. Chester Himes and Jean-Patrick Manchette, different as they were to one another, wrote such immediate novels. Their prose leaps off the page and demands attention.  

Cormac McCarthy, I feel, contributed more to American literature in the second half of the twentieth century than any other single author. He understood, interpreted, and captured trends and shifts that marbled our society. In hindsight, we can see how the fractured traditions and the evocation of chaos through ubiquitous commercialization left so many feeling alienated, a situation that plays perpetually across today’s news. McCarthy wasn’t the only writer or intellectual to see this in the wake of 1968, but he fictionalized it in a Southern Gothic and Western context, both classic American genres that, as American culture yielded to academic forces, he gave a fresh pint or two of blood. 

I love this question and love thinking about writers and art, and I regularly post about the authors and art that have influenced me at https://indyperro.com. Please visit me there and feel free to connect and comment. 

3.What inspired your novel “Central City” and currently “Journeyman”? 

-I wanted to blur the lines between good and evil, kind and corrupt. Developing two protagonists with different goals, I was able to come at the core ideas of the novel through contradiction, which, to me, creates an interesting and volatile story.  

Mysteries naturally contain an idea at their center: if the detective could only see the situation in its totality, they would find the solution. That’s what drew me to this type of story. One thing that drives me crazy, however, is the bland sense of right and wrong so often perpetuated in police procedurals. In reality, at least in my experience, no criminal believes they’re a villain. They rationalize their behavior like the rest of us, like the police who make decisions about where protection begins and civil liberties end. We slowly become the people we’re going to become, one choice at a time. Often, we don’t realize who we are until we see ourselves in the reactions of another, the criminal in the cop’s eyes or the law that restricts liberty. 

Journeyman is a continuation of the situation I began in Central City, but the ideas at the heart of the second novel are quite different. Where Central City looked at the forces in our past that make us who we are, Journeyman examines how the choices we make, even when we don’t realize we’re making them, shape our options. 

4.How do you create your characters? 

Each character develops differently, and it depends on how central the character is to the novel. Main characters need to change over time through the questions within the story that their manifestations answer. Smaller characters need to embody some element of the story they’re meant to evoke, and when I find a smaller character embodying a cliché, I try to crack that cliché like an egg, add a few ingredients, and make an omelette.  

5.Do you have another book in the works, after Journeyman? 

I’m planning a series of eight books that follow Kane Kulpa, Detective Vincent Bayonne, and Central City from 1992 into the twenty-first century. 

I’m currently working, however, on a novel that takes place in Central City in the not-too-distant future and involves a wholly different cast of characters and issues, less noir, though there’s a mystery at the center, and more of a humorous take on the direction our society seems to have taken.  

6.Are there any crime/noir films that you like? 

Quentin Tarantino’s early stuff set the standard for contemporary noir and exposed the importance of popular culture in crime fiction/film. Beyond Tarantino, The Friends of Eddie Coyle, Le Samurai, Shoot the Piano Player, Bullet, Anatomy of a Murder, The Godfather, and Miller’s Crossing, to name a few, have all contributed, in unique ways, to a collective sense of style, dialogue, and atmosphere that novels need to take into consideration. Whether authors evoke or subvert this work seems to me an artistic preference and a starting point for great possibility, but the issue remains that the work has shaped the perspectives of our audience. 

The noir films beyond the city, the westerns like Forty Guns, 3:10 to Yuma (written by Elmore Leonard), and movies like The Big Lebowski have also influenced expectations for dialogue and story in that they influenced the broader culture. For example, I believe that the artist who can find the roots of postmodern America in the mythology of the West will breathe life into a neglected genre, a genre we may need as our society rediscovers roads toward the middle, paths that connect us rather than divide. The Western remains part of our collective unconscious as Americans. The question appears to me to be whether or not we can see ourselves within contemporary art that utilizes that genre. 

7.How do you create atmosphere and suspense to keep the reader interested? 

So much of atmosphere is created through word choice, for example: the way “feline” creates a more sensual, winding, and flexible experience than the word “cat.” Diction does more to create atmosphere than anything else a writer can do short of buying a piano or video equipment and changing profession. 

Suspense is a whole other matter. Suspense requires knowing the direction and purpose of the story and being honest about the purpose. The original Star Wars films, for example, developed suspense through questions of identity: Luke needed to find his origin and Han needed to be honest with himself about his true nature. The intergalactic rebellion served as a brilliant context for a human story. If the films had been about the fan in the theater viewing the spectacle of a space war, the stories couldn’t have existed outside of a movie theater; they’d never have existed as a novel (which they did, and they spawned several stand-alone novels), and they wouldn’t have captured the public consciousness. 

Suspense, in my mind, is not synonymous with O’Henry twists or revelations. Readers have expectations, and they may guess the twists and reveals, but they should never lose the sense that the novel is moving toward emotional fulfillment. In other words, the emotions evoked through the experience of reading resolve in the mind of the reader through the act of reading the climax and denouement. That, to me, is true suspense, and without the way the story is told, the reader would never feel fulfilled. 

8.Will you write a screenplay? 

-The novel seems to me an appropriate format, size, and structure for my interests and focus. I don’t plan to write a screenplay, but I do, like Gregory McDonald and others, see the contemporary novel as post-cinematic. In other words, readers have seen so many images and are so accustomed to narrative format that they find intrusive many aspects of writing that were so necessary before the silver screen fueled our imaginations and televisions glowed in every home. Writers don’t need to describe a picture of Paris for our audience. Our readers have seen hundreds if not thousands of images of Paris. We writers need to highlight the aspects (and only the necessary aspects) of a Parisian landscape that evoke the ideas and themes central to a particular scene. Our readers bring to our books a wealth of visual experience and an innate understanding of story. As writers, we need to trust our readers, to evoke their imaginations, and to create new experiences that can only be enjoyed through the written word. 

If we try to compete with screens, we’ll fall short of television and cinema’s visual potency. If we develop our craft and rely on the written word’s unique relationship to the mind, we’ll provide our readers with something they can’t get anywhere else, an experience that evokes, subsidizes, and goes beyond a lifetime of entertainment.