With his publication of Central City Indy Perro proved himself as an exceptional and intriguing author of modern cop-noir. As I wrote in my review of that novel, “This is genre fiction, and some of the components were standard (but the same could be said of Jane Austen and nobody slags her off for it). The familiarity of the genre makes it sustaining, and in the gaps between predictable components there is space for interesting questions and a lot of unexpected characters. In this case, the questions were complex – reflections on how we come to be who we are, how we know what we know, how we question the world and how so much of what we need to know is in the questions we don’t ask. It’s an intelligent book.” I was delighted to learn that he is on the verge of publishing a sequel – Journeyman – and further books set in the same city later.
He is an elusive author – there appears to be only one image of him, anywhere on the web and even there he is looking down, his face a little obscured by a hat… His official biography sounds a little like a character in his novel and I wanted more. Who is he really? And what is his relationship to the world he summons up in Central City?
I was flattered when he agreed to visit the Hard Hat Book Site for an interview and I thought I might catch him off-guard with some critical questions. But all of his references describe him as a “recovering academic” and I found he was more than a match for my examination.
Ah, Mr Perro – do come in. Welcome to my building site. Please, come this way. Molly! Please get Mr Perro a hard hat and help him fasten it. NO! Not so tight! Stop that Molly! No! No! My apologies, Mr Perro, she’s on a program… Let me loosen it a little, no harm done. Sit down, you’ll feel better in a moment.
Thank you for having me. It’s good to see Molly again.
Yes, I’m employing some of your characters now – the ones you don’t need any more. Some of them are a bit disgruntled – loyal service…. took big risks for you… unfair dismissal – that sort of thing. Bruno wanted to… um…. question you about it. I notice you’ve memorialised them on your website: is that a guilty conscience? Did you feel bad when you killed them?
For better or worse, I can’t say I’m troubled by a guilty conscience. I certainly feel no remorse over killing the figments of my imagination, and I hope to move back and forth in time as I develop Central City, the setting. Bruno, Petey V, and others, several of whom appear in Journeyman, have a place in the history of the city.
Ah, so you will go back in time and bring them back to life! An interesting tactic – reparation by time travel. I will let them know there may be better times ahead.
Yes, I hope to tell more of their stories as I gain a clearer sense of what’s at stake, the controlling idea, of the backgrounds I’ve developed.
Were any of these victims based on people you know? Can we have names? Relationships?
No characters are based on people I know. On occasion, I’ve taken elements from people I knew, but the characters are embodiments of ideas more than representations of life.
I was hoping for a few personal morsels! That seems a bit of a trademark with you: a bit guarded about your personal life.
I don’t think of myself as guarded. In truth, I feel like an open book, as it were. In my experience, however, nobody cares that much about me as a person. People care about themselves, their histories, thoughts, and feelings, and to be fair, I care more about their histories, thoughts, and feelings than I care about my own, so it works out.
But you’re clearly working under a false identity. My private investigators have been digitally stalking you, and they’ve come back with virtually nothing. Who are you really?
Who am I? You might be asking the wrong person.
So is your whole life a lie? Can we rely on the biography you choose to give us?
My life is more of a search for the truth than it is a lie, but perhaps those two aren’t as mutually exclusive as I might once have thought.
Well I did detect truth in Central City – about human nature, anyway. ‘We are not all just one thing.’ I’m certainly several. But you? You seem to know a lot about the criminal underworld. Prostitution. Racketeering. Your depictions seem compelling – how did you learn that stuff? Academic research? Really? You mention getting ‘into and out of trouble’ as a teenager….
The environment of Central City is a fictional version of the environment of my teenage years. That, certainly, is why I wrote the novel and felt drawn to the setting of a midwestern city.
I do read crime novels and love noir films, and I’ve been influenced by the work of Samuel Fuller, Elmore Leonard, Raymond Chandler, Terrence Malick, Cormac McCarthy, and Chester Himes, to name a few. Terrence Malick never made a noir film, but I find compelling his use of setting to shape the ideas of a story in such a way that the viewer is forced to renegotiate assumptions about narrative and meaning. Although I draw from the work of my predecessors, I want to subvert some noir tropes that irritate me, particularly the simplistic depiction of criminality and the caricaturizing of working-class neighbourhoods.
Hmm. Very analytic.
I don’t apologize for my intellectual predilections, but I’m not trying to impress anyone or impress anything upon anyone.
But of course! The one thing everyone tells me is you’re a “recovering academic”. So how bad did it get for you? (Don’t hold back. You’re amongst friends. I’m a member of AA myself – on the “ten step path to recovering ignorance”). So, what was it for you? Ten units of philosophy before you could face the day? Driving an argument with levels of literary criticism ten times over the limit?
In academia, I had no one with whom I could connect. Talking about ideas wasn’t enough; I needed a clear path to using the ideas that I found deeply meaningful.
In my moments of clarity, I know that I didn’t respond well to the alienation I felt. The stakes are so low in an academic environment, which is a direct and unambiguous reflection of the value of such an artificial approach to thinking.
Oh, I’m sorry! And the recovery process… Any relapses? Do you miss it terribly? Any tips for fellow addicts?
I still take my morning coffee with a dollop of continental philosophy, but I don’t miss a thing about being attached to a university. My goal, and the purpose of my recovery process, is to breathe life into ideas, to give them form and function to which people can relate.
So, writing novels is your new drug of choice perhaps? Did you just slip into it by chance or was there a pusher involved?
I can’t remember a time when I didn’t want to write novels. I went to graduate school to study ideas that I would use in novels. I felt, by the time I went back to college, that I’d had ample life experience. A wiser man might’ve seen the writing on the wall for my academic career, but at one time I thought I could do both.
So how does it compare, writing and academia?
Writing blows the university out of the water. I don’t need to teach. My earnings depend on my competency, and I can do and say what I want. What’s not to like?
Well, I liked Central City (you may have seen my review). But I gather there’s another one now. Journeyman? I know, I know…. you thought I can just write one book and give up any time, but then found you needed another… Usual story. One of my informants brought evidence that you were planning eight now. How long before you transfer to Authors Anonymous?
Like all worthwhile addictions, when you can quit, you don’t want to, and when you want to quit, you can’t.
My outline is for eight novels with Kane Kulpa and Vincent Bayonne as the main protagonists, and I’ve ideas/outlines for a handful of novels set in Central City but with thematic narratives (music, art, Vietnam, and basketball). I’m well aware this is ambitious, but it’s also the business model of independent publishing. I’m not sure how I would’ve developed Central City without a sense of the broader narrative, and the interconnectedness of the ideas jives with my sense of purpose as a writer. We’ll see how it goes.
I have a wiretap of you talking to some blogger, where you claim that Central City was about how we’re shaped by the past . But wasn’t it more about secrets, the unsaid things, the way truth is the silent eye of the storm, where nothing is said at all?
You might be right that I have no idea what my novels are about. I’m certainly open to that possibility.
Well I’m not leading you – I’ve got your police statements, I’m reading from those… You were telling us all the way through that the important things are the things you don’t tell us. So what was it? Was it something about how you got there, to Central City?
There’s a line in Journeyman about how there are no secrets, only information. I’m not a secretive guy (I don’t think), but there’s always a burden to information, a responsibility. Honesty takes work, and the work of honesty means laboring beneath the weight of the past. If we can’t bear the weight of the past, we’ll have no future.
OK. I guess that’s as much as I can expect to get on THAT subject. Journeyman then. “Not out yet” they tell me. I tried threatening your agent for a black-market copy but he didn’t crack. Tough character, that Henry Roi. So what can you tell me about it? You have the right to remain silent of course, but what’s it about, REALLY?
Journeyman picks up in January of 1993, three weeks after the conclusion of Central City. Detective Bayonne investigates the death of the Mayor’s son, and Kane needs to consolidate his influence in the underworld.
OK, we’re almost there. I just have two questions that I ask all my subjects. First (and this is just a personal enquiry), do you do any martial arts? I’m interested in plotting the relationship between martial arts and dark fiction writing : these days you can do degrees in things like that, but I won’t go into it, I’m mindful of your problems.
This sounds like an interesting study! I look forward to learning more about it when you’ve completed your research.
Slippery answer as ever! So finally (the moral high ground question) but don’t give me any nonsense, I want your true opinion: If you could tweak the human DNA to insert one drive or principle that would modify the human psyche – something that humans would instinctively feel obliged to follow – what would that be?
I recently read Siddhartha Mukherjee’s The Gene, and I’m developing a novel about the influence of genetics on human identity. As my novels, I hope, attest, I like humanity as it is and take no responsibility whatsoever for what humanity is or isn’t. I’m not a technician. Give me a monkey wrench, and I’ll give you a story. I can’t fix your car or alter your chromosomes.
Well, after that, what can I say? Oh dear, Molly never brought you any tea. She’s discovered feminism I’m afraid – she’s not been the same since. So, any final words before you leave us? Any messages for your characters? Or my readers?
I have two websites where readers can engage my work. At https://centralcitybooks.com readers can explore the characters and setting of Central City and find short stories that explore the histories and exploits of Detective Vincent Bayonne, Kane Kulpa, and the rest of the antiheroes and villains from my novels.
Https://indyperro.com is for those interested in what I’m doing beyond Central City. Readers can learn more about me, the novels that have influenced my work, other artists who are doing interesting things, and events where I’ll be participating. Everyone is welcome to visit these sites, join my newsletter, and follow me on Facebook @authorindyperro and twitter @IndyPerro.
Well thank you. Safe journey back to Central City. It’s quite a trek I’m afraid. But look on the bright side: those nasty marks on your neck will have faded before you get there.
Thanks again for welcoming me to the land of the fallen.
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More about Indy Perro
I’d also recommend you read his novel, Central City, but if you are too tight fisted to take me at my word that it’s a book worth buying, you can even download a couple of chapters on his website for free – but don’t worry, once you read those, you’ll want to buy the book anyway, so you’d better start saving up now for the $2.76 it will cost you. (Or you could just skip your next cup of coffee-house coffee, I suppose… )