William Boyle is from Brooklyn, New York. His debut novel, GRAVESEND, was published as #1,000 in the Rivages/Noir collection in France, where it was shortlisted for the Prix Polar SNCF 2017 and nominated for the Grand Prix de Littérature Policière. Boyle is also the author of a book of short stories, DEATH DON’T HAVE NO MERCY, and of another novel, EVERYTHING IS BROKEN, published only in France. His newest novel, THE LONELY WITNESS, is out now from Pegasus Crime. GRAVESEND will be reissued, also by Pegasus Crime, in September 2018. He lives in Oxford, Mississippi.
Lou Pendergrast: Hello and great to have this opportunity to chat with you.
William Boyle: Thanks so much for reading the book and taking the time to talk to me.
LP: Tell me about the origins of novel The Lonely Witness?
WB: The main character, Amy Falconetti, was a minor character in my first novel, Gravesend. I wondered and worried about her and wanted to see where she’d wound up. The Lonely Witness started there for me, with thinking about Amy stuck in her ex-girlfriend Alessandra’s old neighborhood, living a new life.
LP: What forces, books, writers, or situation made you want to be a writer?
WB: I’ve loved reading and writing for as long as I can remember. I started writing stories in second grade, and it hooked me, this idea that you could live in a world that was a mix of the real world and an imaginary world. I was really inspired by my neighborhood in Brooklyn and the people around me, especially my grandparents and their friends.
My first favorite writers were Ed McBain and Stephen King. I didn’t like reading what was assigned in school, but I’d have It or The Stand or an 87thPrecinct Novel tucked away under my school textbooks and I’d just be reading all day. I loved reading about mobsters and outlaws. I also loved movies. I saw The Grifters when I was twelve and that led me to Jim Thompson’s books. Soon after, I was reading James Ellroy and Elmore Leonard. They became my writing heroes. In high school, I went back and read Chandler, Hammett, and Cain. I also read writers like Thomas Wolfe, John Steinbeck, James Joyce, Jack Kerouac, and Tim O’Brien for the first time, and I listened to Lou Reed. In college, the breadth of my reading widened significantly. I got into Carson McCullers, Flannery O’Connor, Chester Himes, John Fante, Sylvia Plath, Patricia Highsmith, Wislawa Szymborska, William Kennedy, and many other writers who would have a huge impact on my life and work.
LP: On writing, tell me of your habits, the tools, place, time and music?
WB: I wrote on a Royal typewriter until I was in my mid-20s. This wasn’t hipster bullshit. I genuinely loved and romanticized typewriters. But, after a while, it was more trouble than it was worth. I never liked handwriting, though I’ll do it in a pinch. I do all of my writing now on a Toshiba laptop that my mom got as a door prize in Atlantic City about six years ago and gave to me because she had no use for it. If I’m going to have a good writing day, I need to get up at 5 and get straight to work. I need coffee, of course. 5-8 in the morning is my best time. After that, I usually have other responsibilities: I work two other jobs and have two kids. If I’m off, as I am now, I’ll spend as much of the rest of the day writing as I can. If I can get a thousand good words or more a day, I’m generally pretty happy. If I don’t get that or don’t manage to scrape out any time to work, I can be a miserable bastard. I always listen to music when I’m writing, usually instrumental. Lately, I’ve been listening to Richmond Fontaine’s soundtrack for Willy Vlautin’s Don’t Skip Out on Me. I love listening to John Carpenter’s albums. I also love Nick Cave and Warren Ellis’s scores. Those are mainstays, but there are many other instrumental records and playlists in my work rotation.
LP: What do you hope to accomplish with your writing?
WB: To tell lies that are true. To tear open the world and see why we make the messes that we make.
LP: That sounds awesome. Is there anything you working on now or hope to publish in the near future?
Gravesend is being reissued by Pegasus Crime in September. My new novel, A Friend is a Gift You Give Yourself, will be out in March 2019.
LP: Thats great to hear,who are you favourite characters from fiction?
WB: Francis and Helen from William Kennedy’s Ironweed; Sara Gran’s Claire DeWitt; Willy Vlautin’s Allison Johnson from Northline.
LP: Which noir films have you watched many times and will still watch again?
WB: So, so many. I saw Edgar G. Ulmer’s Detour when I was very young, and that remains an all-time favorite. Jules Dassin is one of my favorite directors; Night and the City, Thieves’ Highway, and The Naked City are films I can’t get enough of. Oh man, I could list a million. Here are some of my other favorites (I’ll try to keep it short): Act of Violence; Out of the Past; Touch of Evil; Double Indemnity; In a Lonely Place; Gun Crazy; Odds Against Tomorrow; Blast of Silence; Raw Deal; The Killers; Nightmare Alley; Born to Kill. I could keep going, but I’ll stop there.
LP: Yes indeed those are great movies. Which fiction works would you recommend as essential reads?
WB: Another tough list to make. I’ll stick with books that have had a really big impact on me: Flannery O’Connor’s Wise Blood; William Kennedy’s Ironweed; Jim Harrison’s Farmer; George V. Higgins’s The Friends of Eddie Coyle; Horace McCoy’s They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?; James Cain’s The Postman Always Rings Twice; Leonard Gardner’s Fat City; Vicki Hendricks’s Miami Purity; David Goodis’s The Moon in the Gutter; Larry Brown’s Father and Son; James Crumley’s The Last Good Kiss; Newton Thornburg’s Cutter and Bone; Willy Vlautin’s Northline; and Carson McCullers’s Reflections in a Golden Eye.
Some of my other favorite writers are Lucia Berlin, Patricia Highsmith, Elmore Leonard, Megan Abbott, Harry Crews, Chester Himes, Jim Thompson, Charles Willeford, Daniel Woodrell, Ace Atkins, Jack Pendarvis, Georges Pelecanos, James Sallis, Yuri Herrera, Barry Hannah, Sara Gran, Barry Gifford, Patrick Modiano, Charles Portis, Domenic Stansberry, Tom Franklin, Chris Offutt, Georges Simenon, and Jean-Patrick Manchette. Again, I could keep going and going and recommend a book by any of these writers that I think of as essential.
LP: Thanks for this peak into your writing mind!