G. W. Thomas
AN INTERVIEW WITH JAY RUSSELL
G. W. Thomas: What
classic ghostbreakers inspired Marty Burns? Which ghostbreakers do
you enjoy reading?
Jay Russell: Marty wasnít really inspired by the tradition of the dark detective - his dabbling in the occult came about more by chance than design. The first Marty novel, CELESTIAL DOGS, was originally going to be a non-supernatural story about an ex-child star turned detective, working the dirty streets that heíd once soared above. Somehow a bunch of Japanese demons came along and took things over. Those kinds of things can happen in the course of writing a book. In retrospect, it was a terrible commercial decision, but quite a good creative one as it gave Marty a certain pizzaz. And it was fun.
My favourite dark
detective is Kim Newmanís Sally Rhodes. Sally and Marty definitely
share an attitude and a worldview and Kim and I have even discussed doing
a cross-over between the worlds of Sally and Marty - like they used to
do on American television in the seventies. I donít know if it will
ever happen, but I think it would be great to have them meet. Iím
very fond of William Hjortsbergís FALLING ANGEL, too - Iíve been flattered
by those whoíve favourably compared my work to his. I even like the
Alan Parker movie version.
GWT: Marty Burns has appeared in 3 novels and a few short stories. Which length do you prefer? Will a story collection ever appear? More novels?
JR: Both forms have their appeal, though I generally prefer writing at novel length. I have trouble motivating myself to write short stories, though itís nice when they are done and you see them in print. I keep promising people to write stories for them and never seem to get around to it. At this point, any future Marty novels will continue along the non-supernatural path set out in GREED & STUFF, while spookier adventures will be limited to short form. That is largely due to market considerations, but also because of a waning interest in horror on my part. Having said that, Iíve agreed in principle to do a Marty novella for small press publication in chapbook form next year. That will be a supernatural-ish piece. All the Marty short stories (including those yet to come) have a thematic link to movie titles and Hollywood happenings. I hope at some point to have enough of them to gather together into a collection, but thatís still yonks away from now.
GWT: If Marty ever made it to the big screen, who would you like to play him? Do you think your novels would make good films?
JR: Sigh. Marty
has been chased by several production companies over the years, but in
true Hollywood fashion nothing has ever come of it. Heís not under
option at the moment, though I get queries with some regularity.
Martyís a natural for the movies - I certainly think cinematically -
though I suspect that the stories are so much about Hollywood, and movies
and TV shows about Hollywood have such a poor track record at the box office,
that a big screen realization may not be on the cards. My old editor
and friend Steve Jones always said that Michael J Fox should play Marty,
but I thought he was too short. A real life former child star would
be perfect casting, though.
GWT: The ghostbreaker tradition is over a 100 years old. How do you bring something new to the mix?
JR: I think you just write the kind of story you want to write. Every genre and category has a long tradition and heavy baggage attached to it, but you canít let that worry you when you write. You do need to know something about the work which has preceded you when you begin to write, but once youíve established yourself what has gone before takes on less significance. At this point in my career, I never worry about cribbing some other writerís riffs or reinventing the wheel - the wheel can use a little reinventing from time to time. The new stuff that you bring to any tradition is your own voice and sensibility. In my case I think thatís primarily a mix of a very snarky, comic tone laid on top of John Woo-ish action. You just hope that readers will respond to your vision of the world.
GWT: The ghostbreakers have one foot in the mystery genre and the other in the horror genre. Do you see yourself in one camp more than the other? How important is it to you that the monsters be real or proven to be false? (Are you on the monster team or the Scooby Doo team?)
JR: Again, this is more a commercial problem than an aesthetic one. Mixing genres is a deadly marketing move and everyone in the business of publishing hates it. I wish that the industry was more receptive to different things than it is, but Iíve wished for lots of things for lots of years and still donít have that pony. When Iím designing a book, I think in mystery/crime terms more than I do horror, especially with regard to the structure of my novels. I think crime structures are perfect for storytelling and just naturally gravitate in that direction. But I like some of the metaphorical and graphic power of horror, too. However, horror is effectively dead as a commercial category of fiction and has been for some years now. So in that sense it is mad not to emphasise the mystery side of things. I also think that there is a more grown-up quality to crime fiction and a greater flexibility in how you can develop characters. Look at someone like Joe R Lansdale, who wrote some great horror fiction, but has really come into his own as a writer since turning primarily to mysteries. I donít think that is an accident or purely the result of thinking about the market. I wouldnít dare to suggest that Iím as good a writer as Lansdale, but I do see myself on a similar trajectory.
GWT: Thanks for hanging with us, Jay.
Be sure to check out our Marty Burns entry here