The Jay Stringer Interview
Dan & Kate: Reluctant PI Sam Ireland returns in October’s HOW TO KILL FRIENDS AND IMPLICATE PEOPLE. How has Sam’s life changed since we last saw her in WAYS TO DIE IN GLASGOW?
Jay: Sam was a very reluctant PI in WAYS TO DIE IN GLASGOW. She was really only doing it out of a sense of obligation to her father. In HOW TO KILL FRIENDS AND IMPLICATE PEOPLE we meet up with Sam a year later, and find that she’s learned to love the job. In fact, maybe she likes it too much now, and is too keen to jump into dangerous situations. The violence she’s seen on the job has had an effect, and she might be using her work as an excuse to not deal with a few personal issues.
Sam is going to meet a guy that she likes. Sparks will fly. But she doesn’t know he’s a hitman, and they’re working the same case from opposite sides.
D & K: The Sam Ireland series has more humorous vibe to it than your Miller Trilogy. Is there a style that you prefer more than the other? Does one feel more natural or do you find the characters themselves dictating the tone of the story?
J: I’m split down the middle. I can be very serious, or very silly. Usually I can go from one to the other in the same conversation. The Miller Trilogy had some jokes, but it was a very consistent tone, and I think people who met me were surprised that I wasn’t as broody as the series. The Sam Ireland books are a chance to let my other side out to play a bit more. There’s still plenty of drama and serious moments, but I’ll be cracking a joke on the next line.
D & K: You have often proclaimed on the internets your love for American comics, even going as far as referencing Daredevil on your Amazon bio page. What is it about Daredevil that appeals so strongly to an Englishman who lives in Scotland? How did you first become exposed to American comics? Do you think that Matt Murdock would work as well if he were based in London or Glasgow?
J: I’m dyslexic, and I was struggling a lot with reading until someone put a comic in my hand. Words and pictures. They’re basically the modern form of hieroglyphs. So comics became my first language, and they were my first taste of crime fiction, too. The characters might have powers, but they’re called ‘crime fighters’ for a reason.
I think Matt Murdock is the perfect crime fiction hero. He sets out to do the right thing. His whole life has been defined by an act of self-sacrifice that cost him his vision. But he’s also a liar, and a hypocrite, and he makes big mistakes. Matt gets beat down but he always gets back up again.
I think a character like Matt could work very well in Glasgow. The city still has many sectarian divisions, but it’s also a place with heart, where people try to help each other.
D & K: Like us, you have been instrumental in organizing your own Noir at the Bar series. What was your first experience with N@tB? How has it felt to bring the author series to a brand new international audience?
J: First I’ve got to give a whole load of credit to Russel D. McLean. He’s my partner in the Glasgow chapter. I get to show up and be goofy into a microphone, but Russel has often done the hard work.
For me it was two things. I’d seen N@tB starting to take off from across the Atlantic, and I liked the idea of it. Then I was at a party that my publisher threw in Seattle, and Johnny Shaw did a private reading of his Chingón story to a couple of us in the corner. He killed it, and it was the first time I really ‘got’ what N@tB could be.
Both Russel and myself had been talking about bringing it to Glasgow, and we had sounded out some of the US hosts to get permission, but we both felt like we needed to have appeared at one first. I read at the Long Beach event organized by Eric Beetner, and Russel appeared at one of Tommy Pluck’s New York chapters, and then we felt ready.
It’s been a great experience. I take the view that the most important thing is the audience. We’re there to entertain them. But it’s also been great seeing an author who has never read before step up to the mic and go for it, then turn to us afterwards and say “when can I do it again?” And now it’s spreading. There are two in England, one in Northern Ireland, and we are currently arranging one for the UK’s biggest crime festival in Harrogate.
D & K: Being born and raised in Minneapolis, the Replacements have always been in the background of Dan’s life, very much in the same way that Prince was. How did you first encounter this iconic Minnesota band?
J: I was a teenager in the 90’s, when Britpop was all the rage. I didn’t really like that scene. I was growing up in a post-industrial town that had fallen down and couldn’t get back up, and I went looking for music that reflected what I saw around me. First that lead me to Springsteen. He seemed to be more in tune with where I was living than the cocky shouty music in the charts. That took me to the Alt-Country scene, and bands like Uncle Tupelo, Whiskeytown, and Son Volt. But I was also heavily into punk, and of course both Nirvana and Green Day.
I had a friend who owned an independent record shop (remember those?) and one day he said there was one band that covered all of my tastes. I bought a copy of Hootenanny and never looked back. There were local scenes for each of the different styles of music I was into, but they were all cliquey and had a lot of rules about what you could and couldn’t listen to. The Replacements didn’t belong to any one scene. They said ‘whatever you are, it’s okay.’ And they could go from heart-wrenching to goofy in an instant, which was exactly what I wanted.
In the spirit of “Inside the Actor’s Studio” and the Bernard Pivot questions asked of every guest, we have our own set of questions we ask of every interviewee.
D & K: When did you finally say, “Yeah…I’m gonna write stuff for a living. And it will be AWESOME.”
J: Always chased it. As a teen I tried standup and songwriting, then I had a crack at making short films and writing scripts. I started writing a book to vent after my first marriage broke up, and finally went full-time last year. And it IS awesome.
D & K: What was your favorite moment in mystery writing? The moment that when you read it on the page, you smiled and said, “That was so cool!”
J: In my own work it would either be a colostomy bag joke in LOST CITY, or the opening line of WAYS TO DIE IN GLASGOW. In someone else’s work, the last line of EIGHT MILLION WAYS TO DIE has never left me.
D & K: What was the moment that made you say, “Writing books is amazing”?
J: When my first book came out, my nan took it to give to her brother –my great uncle- and he burst into tears. Made me realize what a cool job this is, and that there’s a wee bit of responsibility that comes with it.
D & K: The standard Beatles or Rolling Stones question: Raymond Chandler or Dashiell Hammett?
J: Hammett. No contest. Tighter writing, better characters.
D & K: Parting thoughts?
J: When in Hollywood, visit Universal Studios. Ask for Babs.
HOW TO KILL FRIENDS AND IMPLICATE PEOPLE is available at your local bookseller on August 2. You can pre-order your copy here.