Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Monkeys, Poets, and Go-Go Girls

Of all the names associated with the popular crime-fiction Webzine Plots With Guns, two stand out in particular--as they should. These people were the brains behind the original concept. One, of course, is the remaining Crimedog, Anthony Neil Smith (interviewed on this page not long ago). He has recently returned to PWG solo, while making a name for himself with quirky noir offerings such as Psychosomatic and The Drummer.

The other is Victor Gischler, that quiet but offbeat guy who spun tales of the “Redneck Riviera” and was the first of the PWG boys to break into print.

Gischler debuted in 2002 with the Edgar Award-nominated Gun Monkeys, a Florida mob-war novel that starts off with a bang. The bang comes from an exploding cream puff that decapitates its intended victim. That pretty much sets the tone for the rest of the book, as it does for Gischler’s other novels. He went on to take pokes at academia (Pistol Poets) and winemaking (Shotgun Opera), before bringing back one of his best-known short-story characters, Conner Samson. Samson is a chronically broke, gun-shy P.I. whose adventures have appeared at The Thrilling Detective Web Site as well as other venues. Samson got his own book with 2005’s Suicide Squeeze.

And with that, Gischler took a break, changed agents, and took on a different sort of story. He has re-emerged in 2008 with the bizarre tale of a post-apocalyptic America rallying around a chain of go-go joints that offer up booze and debauchery as a bulwark against ignorance and anarchy. About that novel, Go-Go Girls of the Apocalypse, his publisher, Touchstone, says:
Mortimer Tate was a recently divorced insurance salesman when he holed up in a cave on top of a mountain in Tennessee and rode out the end of the world. Go-Go Girls of the Apocalypse begins nine years later, when he emerges into a bizarre landscape filled with hollow reminders of an America that no longer exists. The highways are lined with abandoned automobiles; electricity is generated by indentured servants pedaling stationary bicycles. What little civilization remains revolves around Joey Armageddon’s Sassy A-Go-Go strip clubs, where the beer is cold, the lap dancers are hot, and the bouncers are armed with M16s.

Accompanied by his cowboy sidekick Buffalo Bill, the gorgeous stripper Sheila, and the mountain man Ted, Mortimer journeys to the lost city of Atlanta--and a showdown that might determine the fate of humanity.
Gischler has been barnstorming the South with cohort Neil Smith as they promote their latest works. But he took a few minutes out from his schedule to answer my questions about the Apocalypse, Plots With Guns, and his failed career as a mandolin player.

Jim Winter: So why don’t you tell me what sparked the idea for Go-Go Girls of the Apocalypse.

Victor Gischler: A couple of things. I’d just spent some time reading Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian, and even though the bulk of that novel is set in the Old West of Mexico and Texas, the bleak blood and violence had a very post-apocalypse feel. So I decided to try to write a post-apocalypse novel in the style of McCarthy. I got about 20 pages into it and knew I had to do it my way--irreverent and sarcastic and satirical. Thank God I changed my mind because, as it turns out, Cormac McCarthy had his own post-apocalypse novel up his sleeve. The title itself was a play on my short story, “Duffers of the Apocalypse,” which appeared in the Busted Flush anthology Damn Near Dead.

JW: This new novel is certainly off the beaten path for you. How did your publisher react?

VG: Well, Simon & Schuster (specifically Touchstone) is a new publisher for me. They like the new direction. I’m not saying I’m leaving crime fiction behind (no way), but the focus now is different with S&S. When I pitched ideas like Go-Go to Bantam Dell they didn’t want anything to do with them.

JW: Since last we heard from you, you’ve moved down to Baton Rouge. Is that proving to be fertile ground, what with Louisiana’s infamous politics and vice, and good ol’ Jimmy Swaggart still prowling the streets?

VG: I don’t really do a lot of overt political stuff in my fiction, but shortly after moving to Baton Rouge, I set a short story here, which appeared in the debut issue of Out of the Gutter. Maybe I’ll get around to setting a novel here. We’ll see. Certainly possible.

JW: You made short work of Oklahoma in your second effort, Pistol Poets. Were there any hard feelings at your old school, or did they take it all in stride?

VG: The folks at Rogers State University, where I used to teach, are tops. I made it clear none of them were in the book, and they were very cool about it and supportive. The fact is, I quite like Oklahoma and sometimes miss my five acres of wilderness where I used to live.

JW: You’re also doing some comic book work for Marvel. Tell me more about that.

VG: I did a Punisher Max one-shot, which appeared back in June. It was a blast. I dreamed of writing comic books when I was a kid and even sent story and character ideas to Marvel. It was a giddy feeling to walk into my local comic-book shop and see something I’d written for sale. I have a four-issue Punisher arc coming out ... well, not sure yet [when]. Several issues from now. But I’m grateful to Marvel for letting me try this.

JW: How about the resurrected Plots With Guns? Do you have any involvement in that, or any planned?

VG: Anthony Neil Smith will bounce ideas off me once in a while, so I’m happy to offer my two cents. But really, he’s the man. The credit for Plots With Guns goes to Neil big time.

JW: You mentioned before leaving Oklahoma that you’d taken up mandolin. Still at it?

VG: No. I am an utter failure at mandolin.

JW: Any plans to revisit Mortimer Tate’s post-apocalyptic travels? He certainly has enough Gischleresque companions to go with him on another quest.

VG: I recently got back from a mini-signing tour of Texas and was surprised by how many people insisted there should be a Go-Go sequel. I’m game, but I think my publisher will probably be harder to convince. I’ve heard that sequels generally sell worse than the first book. But it would be cool if it worked out, since I sort of have a decent idea for a follow-up book.

JW: One of your early stories involved Conner Samson, later the protagonist in Suicide Squeeze. Do you think there’s any chance of that becoming a series?

VG: Probably not. Squeeze got good reviews, and a number of nice readers have given me great feedback, but I don’t think I made a big enough splash to justify a series. (Although if somebody out there wants to make me an offer ...)

JW: What about other crime?

VG: I have a finished crime novel out to a few publishers right now. Holding breath ...

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