Saturday 10 March 2012

Anthony Neil Smith interview: All The Young Warriors

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

Two young Somali-American men leave a trail of dead in Minnesota as they head to Mogadishu to join a terrorist army. A heartbroken cop joins the father of one of those boys, himself a former gang leader, to bring them to justice.

So the answer is no, I can’t do it in 25 words.

What's unique about it?

The blend of the Minnesota and Somali settings, digging into the astounding story of the Minneapolis “lost boys”—Somali-American men being drafted to go back to Africa and terrorize those left behind.

What did you learn while writing it?

Since the “lost boys” concept was the story that initially caught my attention, I spent a lot of time then researching the current situation in Somalia itself, since I knew I wouldn’t be able to visit. The Somali connection to the Twin Cities is an unusual one. Somehow, that’s where the most Somali immigrants have decided to make their home, and it’s a wonderful story. But then there are the Somali gangs creating havoc in the Cities, too. You take the good with the bad.

How important is talent?

Very very important. But it can only take you so far. Once you discover a talent for writing, you’ve got to read, man. You’ve got to find out how it works. You’ve got to turn your ideas into sweat, tears, and blood (or ink. Or something).

Craft is more important than talent. Craft is what it takes to make a sturdy story. Talent can help make it artful, more in-depth, more stylish, more affecting, but you can still get away with a well-told story and let the reader supply the rest.

Who would you like to direct the film adaptation?

I’m sticking with Tony Scott. I can just feel it.

If you were able to co-write a novel with any author of your choosing, who would it be?

How about Toni Morrison? That’s, like, money and prestige. Can’t say I really liked the books of hers I have read, but maybe I can teach her a few things about pulp and clear, direct writing, and she can teach me a few things about being a Nobel Prize Winner and national treasure.

What's the worst piece of craft advice you've heard?

“Elmer’s Glue should work just fine.”

How would you describe your taste in books?

Spotty. I like science books, crime, high-minded sci-fi (like China Mieville), weird literary fiction, thrillers, old pulp novels, and whatnot.

What was the last good eBook you read?
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Okay, so I’m cheerleading for the Blasted Heath team here, but I’ve been just floored by Douglas Lindsay’s The Unburied Dead. It reminds me quite a bit of Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct, Ken Bruen’s Brant novels, Joseph Wambaugh, and Irvine Welsh’s Filth, but told with such a boldness and gonzo tilt that it stands out from the crowd. Kudos.

What are you reading now?

I’m reading a book called Brenner and God by Wolf Haas, a German writer who is crazy popular in Europe, but is getting launched in the US by literary publisher Melville House, who have been doing excellent work in crime fiction, including a new run of the Derek Raymond Factory novels. It’s a weird book. I like weird.

In the past week I’ve read two Richard Stark novels and a Jean Patrick Manchette.

What do you do when you're not writing?

I watch a lot of TV. I eat food I shouldn’t eat (because of the diabetes). I change the kitty litter. I walk my puppy, Herman. I hang out with my wife. I try to get away from the town where I’m living to go prettier places like Lake Superior. I teach. I direct the Creative Writing Program at Southwest Minnesota State University (for a few more months. After that I’ll be Chair of the English Dept.), which is a really sweet job. And I sleep.

How much do you read?

Not enough. I’m pretty slow. Takes me weeks to read a long novel. And yet in the last few weeks, I’ve blazed through some books.

How much time do you dedicate to writing? How much time would you like to spend writing?

When I’m not teaching, I try to give it three or four hours a day. When I am, I still try for one hour. But if I had the freedom to just do four hours every day, yeah, I’d do that.

What are your ambitions for the next year?

I want to write a few books. I want to be on the Ed McBain/Richard Stark schedule. I want to write faster. Let the revising carve out the rest.

What are your long-term ambitions?

I just want to write and find more readers. I like being a crime writer, so I’m not looking to cross over into literary fiction. I think the work I’m doing deserves some literary attention as is, so it’s not like I want to “pretentious up” my stuff.

And if I stumble across a good thriller that sells millions, cool. But the way my mind works, I doubt it.

How effective is social media as a marketing aid?

I’ve found it to be brutally effective. The word gets out, people support each other, and the readers give new writers a shot based on all the buzz. Happy to see it work like that. It’s almost like that elusive “word of mouth” we hear about (I’m cribbing from Smudge now).

How do you feel about reviews?

I’m fine with them. I like to make fun of my bad reviews. Just too tempting not to. But I don’t take them as anything more than personal taste unless they’re from a pro. And the pro might be playing to particular audiences, or a particular critical slant. So you just have to take it in stride. I do. Sort of.

Do you have any other projects on the go?

I’m trying to finish up the third Billy Lafitte novel, which is ever closer to being done (first draft at least), and I’ve got a partial manuscript of a new book featuring Mustafa and Adem from All the Young Warriors, but I think it’ll take a bit of time to finish. In between, I think it’s time to work on the second Octavia VanderPlatts novel. And also, I’ve been signed to work on a Dead Man novella as part of that great series from Lee Goldberg and William Rabkin. Very cool stuff, and I’m excited to be a part of it!


  1. I will read everything Neil Smith writes... including his grocery lists. He says craft is more important than talent, but that's easy for him to say--he has both! All the Young Warriors is one of the best books I've read in a long time, and I'm excited that he's writing a new Billy Lafitte novel. Besides his wife, I bet I'm his biggest fan...

  2. Knowing Neil's been teaching creative writing for a little while, I'd be curious to know what really is the worst piece of advice he's ever heard!

    Can't wait for the next Lafitte and Octavia novels!

  3. Frankly, the whole Somali/Minnesota thing has been done to death, hasn't it? Just kidding. Sounds like another must-read from the master.