James Sallis has published seventeen novels, multiple collections of short stories and essays, four collections of poetry, three books of musicology, reams of criticism, a classic biography of Chester Himes, a book on paperback novelists of the fifties, and a translation of Raymond Queneau's novel Saint Glinglin – 36 books, to date. His novels include Drive, from which the award-winning film derived, the six-volume Lew Griffin cycle, Death Will Have Your Eyes, Others of My Kind, and Willnot. Jim has received a lifetime achievement award from Bouchercon, the Hammett Award for literary excellence in crime writing, and the Grand Prix de Littérature policière. This year sees a new novel, Sarah Jane, and a new poetry collection, Ain’t Long ‘Fore Day.
Martin Amis said that all writing is a war on cliche -- not only cliches of expression, but cliches of setting, character, even narrative style. Tim O'Brien wrote that what he finds lacking in so much of today's writing is simple imagination. We'll talk about rejecting the first streams of what comes to mind, about digging deeper: seeing, visualizing, recreating.
The challenge and wonder of writing freely—of not allowing oneself to be defined by or confined by any notions of genre, but of letting the imagination roam freely. The most popular song in the U.S. on novelist, musician, poet, editor, James Sallis’ birth year was "Don't Fence Me In." He’s lived his writing life by that. Science fiction? Poetry? Literary fiction? Translation? Crime novels? Yes please! Learn how your writing is limitless in all directions.
James Sallis may be the best crime writer you've never heard of. In an award-winning career spanning some forty years, he's written more than two dozen volumes of fiction, poetry, essays, criticism and biography inspiring a small but cult-like following of readers. Now his fan base is about to get a big boost.
Why aren’t we talking about James Sallis? In fact, why aren’t we talking about Sallis (b. 1944) alongside his American contemporary paranoids and peers, Don DeLillo (b.1936) and Thomas Pynchon (b. 1937)? Sallis is not the big name that these two are, but he certainly could be.
Q: What's the biggest mistake you've made as a writer?
A: We could talk for quite a while about that word “mistake,” implying as it does that, like characters in poorly written fiction, we have simplistic, monosyllabic motives, i.e., that we know what the hell we’re doing and are in control of it.
Commercially, not sticking to one genre might be construed a mistake. Who is this guy? Poet? PI novelist? Avant-garde weirdo? Fish? Fowl?
The sole “mistake” to which I’d admit without reserve: Not writing enough. Though I’m pretty sure laziness accounts for that more than does misdirection.
We—the field, the genre, whatever this thing got called—we were avant-ier than avant-garde. Good old sf got up every morning thinking about matters that had rarely if ever before been thought about. Wondering how vastly different lives would or might be, connecting the dots of all manner of stars, prodding at the underbellies of social structures, thumbing its nose at received wisdom, stepping back from the usual frame to show mankind's place in the universe in far larger contexts.
On the other hand, hunkered down here in our cabin in comfortable clothes, we've always felt kind of safe and warm, dissembling at all talk of aesthetic issues, cranky with literary writers who dropped toes in our pond, thinking of them as interlopers and carpetbaggers. Magpies, they were, thieving shiny things from others' nests.
We fully believed we tapped into a greater reality, digging our way beneath the countless surfaces of dailyness. Outsiders, literary and otherwise, saw only distortions of that reality, distortions that were at best silly and at worst—since the arts are supposed to improve our understanding of the world, to help us engage more fully with it—dangerous.
In America it was Hammett and Chandler: Hammett who took murder out of the manor houses and gave it back to the people who actually commit it; Chandler who fashioned of bus stations, diners, and cheap hotel rooms, at the frontier’s last raw edge, a mythology specifically American. In France the new maps were drawn by Jean-Patrick Manchette (1942-1995).