Wednesday 30 March 2011

Anthony Neil Smith interview: Choke On Your Lies

Choke On Your Lies by Anthony Neil Smith
Amazon UK, Amazon US

Anthony Neil Smith doesn't do author bios. The longest one I could find is his Typepad profile,which says, simply : I eat too much. Truth is, Neil's writing is a piquant sauce for the literary palate. His latest novel, Choke On Your Lies, is a sophisticated tale of robot pens, swinger clubs, blackmail and murder, and it's packed full of pulpy goodness.

Can you sum up your book in no more than 25 words?

A raunchy twist on the Nero Wolfe mysteries, featuring a 300+ pound genius woman, Octavia, and her friend Mick, poet-heart-on-his-sleeve, in Minneapolis.

What was your motivation for writing it?

I had always loved the Nero Wolfe books because of the detective’s charisma in spite of his irritability and rudeness. He didn’t like people very much. So when I saw an episode of Dr. Phil featuring mean fat women, I had a lightbulb moment. I happen to find larger women attractive, and sought to create a woman that could both shame and titillate you all at once. The mystery side of it is more about discovering who Mick and Octavia really are, and just being a part of their world, than the main feature.

How much difference does an editor make?

Makes a world of difference.  I have two great writer friends who see my first drafts and make comments, and of course, my unnamed literary agent, also a novelist, who forces me to think about my vision of the book, the word choices, the style, the motivation for all of this, even more than I would on my own. I love what a good editor can do for you, and as editor for PLOTS WITH GUNS, I understand that it takes a certain sort of approach to make sure you’re pushing the writer to be his or her best without “taking over” their story or style.  I wouldn’t dream of posting something that hasn’t had some sort of scrutiny from people I trust.

Who designed your cover?

I did the text and layout, but the photo is from photographer J.R. Bohnenblust, featuring model Erin Zerbe. If I do more Octavia novels, Erin has said she’d be glad to appear on more covers, and I think that is just perfect.

How important is a book's central character?

That’s the whole ball game to me. I need a character who makes me care about his or her journey. I tell my students that plot can be boiled down to “What the main character desperately wants, and how he goes about trying to get it.”  In the case of Octavia, I resort to my old “trying to make you sympathetic for someone who is pretty awful” routine.  And by awful, I mean her demeanor. She has gained wealth and power and can fiercely loyal, but also very mean to those she’s closest to.  Something about those characters appeal to me.  On the opposite end, the narrator Mick is so worried about his image and how others think of him that he is almost laughably ineffectual, but Octavia always has his back. A weird relationship of awful people that works.

What's your favourite part of the writing process?

The joke, of course, is to say “having written it already.” But I really think I enjoy the process of writing the first draft once I’m absolutely sure it’s a novel. Plenty of them start well but die by page 50, sometimes even over page 100. But when the rhythm is there, the voice is there, and I know I can’t stop, I love it. I love marking off the day’s pages on my calendar. I love the anticipation of getting back into that world the next day.

What aspects of marketing your book do you enjoy?

Since marketing is kind of slimy (I mean, so many Kindleboards warn against BSP, and people get annoyed with ads on Twitter and repetitive cries for sales), I enjoy being able to think up things that play off that sliminess, like a chain letter, or aggressive tweets, or blog tours that do more than just talk about me me me and the book X 3.  I want to PLAY. So that’s fun.

What was the last good eBook you read?

Other than your own masterful BYE BYE BABY? I was really surprised by Nigel Bird’s DIRTY OLD TOWN. Very strong voice, very literary in quality. I’ve read a lot of good eBook indie writers like Wendig and Holm and Plank, so I’m just naming the most recent excellent find.

If you had to re-read a crime novel right now, what would you choose?

I’d be all over SAMARITAN by Richard Price, which I always swing back to when I’m at the beginning of a new project. His way with prose embarrasses me and makes me work harder because it is so fucking smooth.

From an artistic rather than financial perspective, what book do you wish you had written?

Lots of those, but THE REAL COOL KILLERS by Chester Himes has one of the most gonzo openings I’ve ever seen--white guy in a balck nightclub gets his arm chopped off and it goes flying across the club. Dark humor, fearless. Love it.

Ever tried your hand at screenwriting?

I’ve written a couple of scripts with Victor Gischler, one of which, PULP BOY, is currently under option. The filmmaker has been working hard to get that made for the past few years, and we’re rooting for him.

Do you read outside of the crime genre?

Constantly. I love good stylists of all sorts--minimalist, maximalists, surreal, magic realism, dirty realism, and I do like good nonfiction science books.

Choke On Your Lies by Anthony Neil Smith
Amazon UK, Amazon US


  1. that's a great interview. many thanks for the mention - i put that down as one of my top compliments. i remember the chain letter and it was fun. Richard Price, shines out clearly, but i've not read Samaritan so i'm off to find a copy. nice to see the range of reading there at the end. all power to you and keep having fun. i wonder if an ANS bio shouldn't mention he's a kind of a good samaritan to lots of writers lying at the side of the road.

  2. Always good to hear Neil Smith's thoughts. He's a headliner in our community.

  3. Wonderful interview! I'm a fan of Octavia, but I like you some, too. =)

  4. I like this so far. I bought it a few days ago and hope to finish it soon. I'll need to be buying more. Damn you. I should be writing.

  5. The only proper send ups of capital A Academia are written by people with the inside view. Doc Smith is just the guy to do it up proper. He's like a reverse acupuncturist, knows just where to put the needle to get the proper, painful OUCH! of self-recognition out that stuffy little world. (Now look, this is not mean spirited some of my best friends are academicians . . . really, no, really) I enjoyed every bitter, sleazy word of it. Yea Doc!
    PS: You're right about Mr. Bird. He's a comer.

  6. I'm half-way through COYL right now and having a total blast with it. Respect to you, Mr S.

  7. Great interview boys. Neil - I want to echo what my esteemed associate Mr. Bird said. You're a damn good friend to the writer out there hitting it, trying to make his bones. You've helped put many of us on the radar. Thanks for that. I'm the one who should be buying YOU beer in StL.