Q&A with Tom Epperson, 2009 Edgar nominee
Published: April 22, 2009
|Nominated for Best First Novel by an American Author for: |
The Kind One
What's your book about? Tom Epperson
The Kind One takes place in 1934 in the criminal underworld of Los Angeles. Danny Landon is a young man working for mobster Bud Seitz. Seitz is so vicious and sadistic he's been given the ironic nickname of "the Kind One." Danny has a nickname too—"Two Gun Danny" because of his exploits when he and the boys pulled a heist job on a gambling ship. At least, that's what Danny's told, because he doesn't remember a darn thing about it. He was conked on the head a year ago with a lead pipe and has lost his memory of all that happened before that. The funny thing is, Danny doesn't feel like a gangster. He's basically a nice guy, and violence frightens and sickens him. Danny's life is complicated and becomes even more so when he finds himself falling for Darla, Seitz's beautiful young girlfriend. Darla has grown to hate Seitz, and wants to escape the dark brutal world of the Kind One. And she wants Two Gun Danny to help her ...
How long did it take you to write it?
About two years. I had to do a ton of research about Los Angeles in 1934, about the Depression, and about gangsters. For the first seven months all I did was read and make notes. It took around 14 months to write the first draft, then I spent another couple of months rewriting.
|What was the most challenging part?|
The most challenging part was recreating the long-vanished world of 1934 Los Angeles. I wanted the book to read as though it was based on life and not just derived from crime fiction and film noirs. I think the nicest compliment I've gotten on the book came from an elderly friend of my publicist. Kim had passed it along to her friend because she had grown up in Los Angeles in the Thirties so Kim thought she might enjoy it. Her friend loved the book and said she was amazed at how well the writer had captured the reality of the city she had experienced as a child. She said she assumed Tom Epperson was an elderly man who had grown up in L.A., and was surprised when Kim told her he wasn't quite elderly yet and had grown up in Arkansas.
How did you create the main character in your book?
The initial idea of The Kind One was that it would be the first-person narrative of a brain-damaged gangster in L.A. in the Thirties who falls in love with the boss's girlfriend and tries to save her. In my original conception the main character was not very intelligent and not that different from all the other guys in his gang. But once I started writing the book, Danny Landon changed into a very different kind of character. It's been my experience that characters don't spring fully formed out of your brain but grow and develop slowly, in an organic fashion. I think what is actually evolving is the characters' souls. If your characters don't have souls then they're just not worth a damn.
What's your advice for beginning writers?
Read great books. Read poetry (the real rhymed and metered stuff, not free verse junk), which Fitzgerald called "the most concentrated form of style." Live life. Have all kinds of experiences good and bad. Make notes. Travel. Fall in love. Get your heart broken. Mend your heart. Be wary of "creative" writing programs. Many will suck every last drop of creative juice right out of you. Don't worry about "success" as conventionally defined. Try to get a little better every day. Dedicate your life to writing.
Actually, I haven't read many books in the mystery genre. But judging from what I have read, Raymond Chandler is head and shoulders above everybody else in the field. What a wonderful style he formed. Simple, supple, poetic, tender, and tough. Any five of his books I'd put on my must-read list.
For more information about Tom Epperson, visit www.tomepperson.com.
For more information about the Edgar® Awards, see www.theedgars.com.
--Posted April 22, 2009