A Few Quick Questions With…Jo Perry

One of the first things I did when I decided to participate in Fahrenbruary was to see if Jo Perry would participate in one of these Q&As (and thankfully she displayed poor judgment and agreed). I decided to post this today to commemorate the publication of the fourth book in her fantastic series, Dead Is Beautiful. It’ll be the next book I start and I’m hoping to have my post up about the book itself on Monday. I know the positive reviews are already popping up out there on teh IntraWebz. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy this.

What was your path to publication? What did you do to prepare yourself to this career in fiction?
I don’t believe anything prepares a person for writing fiction except writing and reading. My father’s formal education ended at fourth grade. He educated himself by reading and became a comedy writer. My mother had been a teacher. Both read relentlessly. Words, especially jokes were serious business: One wrong word and the joke’s punch evaporates.

I always wrote—mostly poetry, studied literature in college, got a Ph.D. in English, taught literature and writing, wrote episodic television and some other stuff. But despite all that I am very late bloomer when it comes to fiction. My first novel, Dead Is Better was published in 2015.

As for a “career in fiction,” I’m not there yet, but I’m very lucky that my husband, novelist Thomas Perry demonstrated how that’s done. This year he published his 26th novel, The Burglar.

Whatever one might think about Charlie (your protagonist we know best), there’s no denying that Rose is what most of your readers connect to. You recently posted something brief to Facebook about Rose’s origin — can you talk a little more about that?
During the scorching summer of 2008, I came upon a dusty, thirsty, exhausted, frightened dog that someone dumped in crowded home improvement store parking lot. I drove her home (she fell asleep immediately on the front seat of the car) and––after some listless attempts to find a home for her because we were strictly cat people––we were hers and we named her Lucy.

From the first moment she met me, Lucy upended my life, revealed new worlds and introduced me to people who have become deep, cherished, important friends. Lucy’s constancy, her sweetness despite being neglected and abused, her patience with me, a total dog-novice idiot, her sense of humor, her wisdom and her benevolence changed me completely. I experienced the bottomless, endless goodness dogs give us, and witnessed the casual and not so casual cruelties which human beings visit upon dogs hourly and daily.

The experience of knowing/experiencing Lucy, and Lola, the second dog who appeared to us, is the basis for Dead Is Better and the other books in the series—so yes, in general ways, Lucy is the model for Rose.

Outside some pretty extreme — and rare — circumstances, Charlie and Rose do little more than watch events unfold in front of them. What was the reasoning behind that choice? What are the special challenges behind that kind of protagonist for the writer?
I wanted my protagonists dead, which means that they would be ghosts. But I wanted none of the traditional ghostly machinery, telekinetic movement, special effects or general creakiness. So I set up some rules: In the afterlife the dead can touch each other, see each other and of course hear each other.

But in living world only the dead can see the dead.  They cannot be heard or felt or seen. The dead cannot affect anything directly.

The challenges are huge but fun and in some ways a relief from guns, computers, traditional violence, cell phones of crime fiction.  And ghosts are perfect voyeurs. They can spy all they want. They can float through walls. Through people. They can go anywhere at any time. And they are fearless because they cannot be killed.

Most of the time these limitations are liberating and inspiring. Other times they are a pain.

Is there a genre that you particularly enjoy reading, but could never write? Or are you primarily a mystery/suspense/thriller reader?
I love nonfiction. I don’t think I could write it well. Nonfiction demands meticulous, massive research and an ability to organize all of it into a compelling, graceful narrative.

I have become mystery/suspense/thriller reader now and love it.

What’s the one (or two) book/movie/show in the last 5 years that made you say, “I wish I’d written that.”?
TV: I wish I’d written Fauda, and The Method.

Books (short list) I wish I’d written Nikki Dolson’s All Things Violent, Grant Nicol’s A Place To Bury Strangers, Denial by Paddy McGrane, James Craig’s A Slow Death and A Shot At Salvation, Timothy Hallinan’s Pulped, For The Dead and Crashed, Saira Viola’s Jukebox, Fidelis Morgan’s The Murder Quadrille, Seth Lynch’s Salazar novels, Thomas Perry’s novels, esp. the Butcher’s Boy novels, the Jane Whitefield novels, and Strip; Derek Farrel’s Danny Bird mysteries, David Keenan’s This Is Memorial Device.

This one’s not about you directly, but what is it about Fahrenheit Press that seems to generate the devotion and team spirit that it does (or at least appears to)? I don’t know that I’ve seen as many authors from the same publisher talk about/read each other’s books — or talk about the publisher — as much as you guys seem to. Is it simply contractual obligation, or is there more?
In no way do F13Noir/Fahrenheit Press require their authors to, as they might say, flog their publishing house. The truth is that their writers and readers rave about them because they love them. They’re funny, they’re honest, they’re daring, and they take risks.

Too often publishers avoid risk entirely and busy themselves with policing genre boundaries to make the selling of books easier, i.e. so they can say, “This luminous thriller is Girl On A Train meets [insert name of best seller here].  Any book that violates genre norms or bends genres or or that is too weird is a no-no. An example: A publisher liked Dead Is Better except for one small thing—the dog. I was told that I couldn’t have a “dog detective.” That a dog protagonist in a mystery was not permitted. Was a rule breaker. That if I removed the dog, they’d look at the book again. Which means either that they didn’t like the dog, which is fine, or that they didn’t know how to sell the dog because a dead dog protagonist was too different, too weird, maybe too upsetting for some.

Fahrenheit Press/F13Noir don’t play that game or any games––which is extraordinary. They look for crime fiction that (and I cannot speak for them, but I infer this from their list) makes the reader feel something, that’s exciting, daring, fresh, brave. They look for powerful voices. They don’t try to tame crime fiction, they like it wild, unapologetic, unadulterated. In fact, they kind of dare writers to produce the most courageous books they are capable of writing.

That is miracle and I am endlessly grateful to them because of it.

Thanks for your time — and thanks for Charlie and Rose. I hope you enjoy continued success with them (and not just because that would guarantee me more of them to read).

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