Ten Questions About Runaway Town, By Jay Stringer
Jay Stringer’s one of those guys who kicks ten kinds of ass with his simple, stripped-down crime fiction prose. He’s also a dangerous deviant and should be Tasered on sight. But you didn’t hear it from me. He’s a helluva guy and here he’d like to duct tape you to a chair and tell you about his new book:
TELL US ABOUT YOURSELF: WHO THE HELL ARE YOU?
I’m a novelist. I write crime and social fiction and blog at Do Some Damage. I was also a founder member of seminal 80’s beat combo The Replacements. (I wasn’t.) (That is one of the biggest regrets of my life.) I grew up in England and now live in Scotland, so I’m very good at frying things.
GIVE US THE 140-CHARACTER STORY PITCH:
Romani detective Eoin Miller is asked to find a rapist preying on young immigrants. He wanders into a web of racism, betrayal and violence.
WHERE DOES THIS STORY COME FROM?
I want each project to be a tightrope walk. I need there to be the risk of failure. I also need to be angry about something, or to have a question that I need to spend 80-or-so thousand words exploring.
A few things came together to get me started on Runaway Town. I’m uncomfortable with the way violence against women is used in a lot of fiction. I think we see a lot of people declare that they want to write about how women are objectified, but then it just seems to become an excuse to write graphic scenes. They’re then also used to set up revenge scenes, as if that is the way to balance things out. And revenge in fiction is a slippery slope. For instance, I’ve never been entirely comfortable with the “getting medieval” scene in Pulp Fiction, and the way the audience is primed to cheer for what’s about to happen. It feels like the joke is on us for laughing.
I set out to walk the tightrope myself and write about them. I wanted to try and tell a story that treated victims of violence (both woman and men) as more than a punch line or plot device.
HOW IS THIS A STORY ONLY YOU COULD’VE WRITTEN?
Both this and Old Gold – my first book – are very personal. They’re both love and hate letters to my hometown. I come from the Midlands in the UK, which rarely gets a mention in the national news and almost never gets to be front and centre in a film, novel or television show. There are things to love about the region (hey, world, Shakespeare? Industrial Revolution? Alan Moore? You’re welcome.) But equally there are a lot of things worth challenging. I hope I do both.
I’m not the first person to set crime novels in the region (people should check out Charlie Williams) but I don’t think there are many who take on the social issues in the way I do. And I don’t think there are any who have a Romani protagonist. That’s a culture that is more often used as a cliché or the butt of jokes.
WHAT WAS THE HARDEST THING ABOUT WRITING RUNAWAY TOWN?
Fear. Also ‘getting over myself.’ I knew I was going to have to write openly and honestly about the issues in the story. That meant writing characters whose opinions I didn’t agree with, and try to be fair with them and walk in their shoes. I had to get into their heads and stay there for a while.
WHAT DID YOU LEARN WRITING RUNAWAY TOWN?
To embrace that fear. Yoda was wrong. Fear leads to good writing. It keeps us honest. I also learned to trust the reader; they’ll know the characters aren’t all speaking and acting for me. Once I got my head around that, I was sorted.
WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT RUNAWAY TOWN?
I think it’s the best thing I’ve ever written, and I don’t think I could have written it five years ago. Also, because I’m shallow, I love the cover. The publisher have done me proud.
WHAT WOULD YOU DO DIFFERENTLY NEXT TIME?
I’d sleep more often. Also drink coffee earlier in the day. Also, if I was writing this story without it being part of the Eoin Miller trilogy, I might have written it from the point of view of one of the immigrants, try to find the person whose story isn’t being told. I’m getting interested in exploring noir fiction from a young adult point of view; see what it looks like to them.
GIVE US YOUR FAVORITE PARAGRAPH FROM THE STORY:
Here’s where I cheat. I have a passage of dialogue that I like, and my Wife – much smarter than me – tells me each new line of dialogue is a new paragraph. So, hey, let’s pretend I’m not cheating, yeah?
“I caught Springsteen on the radio the other day, that Philadelphia song. Man, I was ready to slash my wrists. How’ve you not done yourself in?”
“They’re not all like that. I mean, I actually find ‘Streets of Philadelphia’ a hopeful song—redemption and rest, you know? But he’s written tons of upbeat songs that you’d like.”
“Like what? Name one.”
“‘Born to Run.’”
“But see, that’s exactly it. What’s he running from?”
WHAT’S NEXT FOR YOU AS A STORYTELLER?
I’ve turned the third Eoin Miller book into the publisher, and so I have a big decision to make. Write a stand-alone crime novel? Write the Young Adult novel I keep threatening my agent with? Write a fantasy epic about the dwarf who invented spaghetti? It’s a choice between consolidating what I’m already doing, or branching out into a new genre. It’s a big choice, and I think probably an important one for all authors in these crazy post-apocalyptic times.