what the hell is going on?

You can't put your arms around a memory...

An interview between Chris McVeigh, the founder of Fahrenheit Press and Lina Chern the author of Sparkle Shot

CMV: Sparkle Shot is your first novel but the writing is so good that's hard to believe - we actually had a bet in the Fahrenheit office that someone more well known was submitting under a pseudonym. It feels like you fell fully formed into Fahrenheit's lap. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? Have you cut some kinda deal with the devil?

LC: Nope, no deals with the devil, and I’m not famous outside of my own house. The real story is a lot less interesting. I’ve been writing all my life but rarely finished anything bigger than the occasional poem, for all the usual self-doubt-related reasons. 

I’d pretty much resigned myself to crafting masterful office emails for the rest of my life, until about four years ago, when I quit my job to take care of my son, who has autism. 
To make a little cash and avoid going crazy, I landed a gig ghostwriting a series of “erotic paranormal suspense” stories. That ridiculous tome of psychic porn-for-hire changed everything. I finally knew what I wanted to be when I grew up.

You hear famous writers make grandiose pronouncements about being compelled to write, losing track of time, staying up ‘til three in the morning to finish a story, blah blah blah. I figured all of that was either myth or hyperbole, because as skilled as I was, I had never felt anything like that – until now.

I banged out (no pun intended) those stories at breakneck speed, like some kind of possessed lunatic. They weren’t great, but they were done - and they taught me more about writing than I’d learned in all my fancypants college writing courses. Not only did I now know that writing could be fun for me, but also that it was totally doable, if treated like a job with deadlines and other organizational rules. Better still, I finally understood that writing skills improve with practice, instead of being handed down from on high in full flower.

The psychic detective gig ended, but left me with a whole new conception of how to write. I decided I would try my hand at my own novel. It took me a really long time and a lot of false starts and countless drafts and rewrites and edits, but I did it.Sparkle Shot is coming out the same week my son turns nine. I dedicated the book to him because, even though he doesn’t know it, it wouldn’t have existed without him. Nobody wants complicated and inexplicable health issues for their child, but there’s no doubt that trying circumstances will push you in directions you’d never think to go in. Some of those directions can turn out pretty awesome.

CMV: Speaking of deals with the devil, what led you to Fahrenheit's door? 

LC: I made a nerdy chart of publishers that fit the following set of criteria: 1. Publishes crime fiction 2. Publishes shorter novels 3. Doesn’t require an agent. It was a pretty short list, and when I added 4. Has a bit of style, a wicked sense of humor, and zero tolerance for bullshit, the list shrank down to just one.

CMV: Can you tell us a little bit about Sparkle Shot? Where did you get the idea? 

LC: I just set out to write a simple crime story, but somehow along the way it developed into a laundry list of all the things banging around in my head. Social awkwardness, especially in young women. Russian immigration (I was born in Baku, Azerbaijan, the hometown of one of the characters). People listening vs. not listening to each other. The intersection of art and science. Trying on different personalities to see which one fits. Lake County, lllinois in all its bleak glory. I figure whatever I set out to write nowadays is going to end up a mishmash of these same few ingredients, kind of like the literary equivalent of Mexican fast food. Until I decide I’m sick of Mexican and want sushi instead.

CMV: Spend much time in strip joints?

LC: Yep. Strip joints fascinate me because of how mundane they can be. Dancers fill out job applications. They go through training sessions. They sit through staff meetings. Even jobs that carry a bit of glamour have an everyday side, if you look closely enough. Of course they do, right? People are people, and work is work. Police work – another big research area of mine – is the same way. I did a ridealong with a local cop a few months ago, and he spent most of the time recounting the reaming he just got from his boss, fighting with his computer, and haggling with colleagues about who needed to write what email to whom. Zero bad guys were caught that day. For me, the intersection between the glamorous and mundane is where the good material is.

CMV: We're pretty sure Fahrenheit readers are gonna want more from you pretty quickly - are you working on something else?

LC: Uh… I’m going back and forth between Sparkle Shot 2 and the larger novel I abandoned before I wrote Sparkle Shot, because I felt I didn’t have the chops for something so long yet. I’m not getting very far with either one. Maybe not the answer you wanted?

CMV: Fahrenheit readers love their music so if you're waaaaay cool on that score let us know - if you're a big Michael Bolton fan probably best to keep quiet.

LC: With no disrespect to Mr. Bolton, I like anything that rocks hard and looks pretty. The Ramones and the Donnas have been in heavy rotation recently.

CMV: Fahrenheit readers always like to know what books our authors are into. Could you give us 3 of must read recommendations and tell us why you heart them so hard. 

LC: Anything by Elmore Leonard is an automatic favorite. I discovered his writing late in the game, around the time he died, and it was like seeing great big lightning bolt letters across the sky reading THIS IS HOW YOU MUST WRITE. His writing is shockingly simple, yet so sophisticated. It was the final piece falling into place for me. I started paying attention in my own writing to extra words and bloated phrasing, cutting away anything that didn’t need to be there. I think that’s the hardest lesson to learn as a writer, even though it’s taught earliest and most often. Write simply. Fewer words say more. I’m still learning that lesson.

Kelly Link is a huge favorite of mine. I actually didn’t grow up reading crime fiction – I was more of a science fiction geek, and I love this sort of genre-crossing literary stew that contemporary fantastic fiction has evolved into. Kelly Link’s recent collection of stories Get in Trouble blew me away. She writes with the perfect combo of deadpan simplicity and deep imagination. I love how the creepiness in her stories comes not from the actual scary-boo aspect, although there’s plenty of that, but from ordinary objects seen in extraordinary ways (she almost reminds me of Raymond Carver that way). Her dialogue is brilliant. Her characters are yer average poor saps that make bad decisions and get obsessed with the wrong people and drink too much, except they also happen to have superpowers, or are on a doomed space journey, or live in a hazy future corporatocracy. Another thing I love about her writing is that she simply does not care if you get it. I had to read several of the stories twice before I was really able to follow what was going on, and I felt like I was better off for it. She tosses you in mid-stride, and you’d better keep up or get out. It’s the ultimate gesture of respect from a writer to a reader, to let them figure things out themselves. 

Do I only get one more? Drats. I was never good at this game. I felt like I couldn’t call myself a crime fiction writer if I didn’t check out Raymond Chandler, so I devoured The Big Sleep and The Long Goodbye in one ravenous gulp not too long ago. The thing that struck me even more than the dazzling, knockout movement of story and language, is how well his street-savvy, world-weary, razor-sharp cultural eye holds up even sixty years after those books were written. I’m thinking of one particular scene in The Big Sleep when Marlowe checks out a party thrown by some clueless rich people, with a Mexican band adding a little exotica to the background. The band takes a break and swigs from their drinks, “smacking their lips together and flashing their eyes. Tequila, their manner said. It was probably mineral water.” That stunningly simple but infinitely complex observation could have been made the exact same way today.