Friday 19 August 2011

Kent Harrington interview: Red Jungle

Red Jungle by Kent Harrington

Kent Harrington was born in San Francisco. He attended San Francisco State University and received a degree in Spanish Literature. He lives in Northern California.

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

Red Jungle is about the effects of neo-colonialism on Guatemala and the effects of a murder on the life of one man and his family.

What was your motivation for writing it?

I had wanted to tell my family’s story because I thought it also said a lot about the nature of Guatemalan politics and history. We go way back there on my mother’s side having arrived as a foot soldier with Pedro Alvarado.

How long did it take you to write?

The book took about 18 months or so. I started it there in Guatemala.

How much difference does an editor make?

A lot of difference. I had one of the best in Dennis Mcmillan and still use him even though DMP is now out of business. A good editor has to be a psychiatrist.

Who designed your cover?

I designed the Red Jungle cover because I decided I didn’t like the cover that DMP was going to use. I took the photo used on the cover of the first edition with a throwaway camera no less! It’s a photo from atop a pyramid at Tikal.

How much difference does a good cover make?

It makes all the difference, I think. Or at least I used to think that. They say now with eBooks, covers don’t matter. I doubt that is true. The first impression a reader has of your work is the cover. In my opinion, the cover has to reflect your POV as an artist. And, too, the cover is part of the entertainment value of a book.

How important is a good title?

It’s the same for titles as it is for covers, only perhaps more so, because they have to speak to the reader’s subconscious. A title almost has to conjure up something in us. It has to work like a good poem works too. In other words, like a poem, a good title works via sound too. It has to sound good.

How important is a book's central character?

Good question. I think that, normally, it’s everything. I wrote a comedy called Lola Knows Best and it was a shared stage, so maybe there it wasn’t as important. But generally speaking, your protagonist – he or she or it—better be damn engaging or you’re screwed.

What's the best piece of craft advice you've been given?

I think it was from a movie writer ironically: “get into the scene late and leave early.”

What's the best piece of business advice you've been given?

Tell them to send the money! In Hollywood they always want to somehow delay payment. In the novel business there was never much money to begin with, but it’s always good to remember that as a professional you want to be paid—just like the butcher, the baker or the candlestick maker.

What's your favourite part of the writing process?

I love going through at the end and adding what I call language sparkles here and there. That’s something that I enjoy because during the first and second drafts you have to worry about the big picture and not the details or you will NEVER finish a novel.

What are your strengths and weaknesses as a writer?

My strength is I let the characters tell me their story. My weakness is that I let the characters tell me their story.

What aspects of marketing your book do you enjoy?

I love to meet fans one-on-one at a book store. They are always so gracious and sweet to me. And when they tell me that I’ve given them a bit a pleasure in life, that to me is more important than any money or critical praise. When you hear praise from a fan it just means the world. I hope the bookstore never dies! Sometimes when things are going badly with work, I remember how important it is to get it perfect, because I want that fan to walk up to me and say it was good.

As a reader, how would you describe your taste in crime fiction?

I tend to enjoy the old school third person style. I find that first person narrative limiting both as a writer and a reader. If it’s a good yarn, I’ll enjoy it.

As a writer, how would you describe your ideal reader's taste in crime fiction?

Eclectic. I don’t want readers to like just my type of book! What kind of world would that be? No, eclectic.

What was the last good eBook you read?

I have not read any eBooks except my own to make sure there were no mistakes in the transfer. It’s only because – and especially lately – I like to get away from the computer screen when I’m reading because I use the computer so much when I’m working! It’s not a comment on eBooks. I plan on taking an eBook reader on my next trip as I can no longer carry five books around on vacation like I used to. There is a place for both.

What crime book are you most looking forward to reading?

Right now The Talented Mr. Ripley by Highsmith. I really want to read the whole Ripley series. I loved the movie and want to read it on my next vacation—really, really do.

What are you reading now?

Right now, because I’m in the middle of a novel, I read mostly non-fiction. I’m reading V.S. Naipaul’s An Area of Darkness and enjoying it. The first chapter is funny.

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

Madam Bovary without question. It’s been on my mind. I’d like to adapt it for film. That would be fun.

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

The Comedians by Greene. What a book! It’s been forgotten here in the States but I re- read it and it’s a masterpiece. Truly is.

What did you do before you became a writer?

I was a day laborer. A carpenter. A teacher, and a busboy. I’ve had lots of jobs, some dangerous, and they were good for a crime writer to have had.

How old were you when you completed your first novel?

I was 25. The novel was no good. However, the discipline it took to finish it was pivotal to the direction my life was to take.

What makes you keep reading a book?

I have to care about what’s going to happen. It’s very simple, if I don’t care I put it down. There has to be a strong narrative element, as well as good characters, obviously.

What do you look for in a good book?

I want to be entertained and transported hopefully to some place or situation I’ve not experienced and that intrigues me. It’s why I like Jane Austen, precisely because I couldn’t experience that world any other way!

Where do you find out about new books?

Usually from good friends. Dennis Mcmillan is always calling me about something. I love it when he calls about books. He’s encyclopaedic about crime fiction.

What's the best collection of short stories you've read?

Ernest Hemingway’s First 40 Stories or something like that. I loved those stories and it was those stories that made me want to be a writer when I was just thirteen.

What are your views on eBook pricing?

It seems that there is a great deflation, driven by the flood of eBooks that are being released on the Amazon platform. I don’t think that will last. Prices will stabalize for eBooks ultimately. Readers will be willing to pay a fair price, say between 4 or 5 dollars, for eBooks from a good author they really enjoy.

What are the biggest problems facing writers these days?

The above issue of price. Again, I think readers are learning that just because it’s cheap doesn’t make it worth buying.

Ever tried your hand at screenwriting?

Yes. I’ve written the script for Dia De Los Muertos, which is in development with Danny Huston directing. I’ve written original screenplays too, as well as adaptations of my novels.

Do you read outside of the crime genre?

Yes, quite a bit. I love history and recently, because of the novel I’ve been working on, have had to do a lot of research, which I enjoyed a great deal. I’m a bookworm at heart.

What was your favourite book as a child?

The Cat And The Hat Comes Back. I used to read it about once a day when I was about six.

Do you enjoy writing?

I love it. There is nothing I love more than putting a sentence together.

Do you enjoy the editorial process?

No, because it makes me nervous. I get anxious unless I know the editor very well. People who don’t know you are often too quick to dismiss things that are, in fact, important about your work.

What's the oddest question you've been asked in an interview?

Had I ever screwed while riding a bicycle. Honest. It was asked at a bookstore. Funny!

How do you feel about reviews?

I don’t pay them much attention—good or bad. That’s some more good advice I got when starting out.

Huston told me that his grandfather (Walter Huston) had sunk all his money in a play that went bust. When Walter had to act the last scene of Treasure of Sierra Madre where he cries and stomps around, he just recalled his bad reviews for that play, and all the money he’d lost!

How do you feel about awards?

I’ve never gotten any, so I’ve no opinion!

Do you have any other projects on the go?

Yes a novel called .....

Red Jungle by Kent Harrington

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