Southern belle with a story to tell. Refreshing iced tea served after literary punches thrown.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Soul and Sweet Tea Presents: An Interview with Roger Smith

Author, Roger Smith

"No other thriller writer is writing such lean and powerful prose. Moving and gritty -- a must read for crime fiction fans." DAVE ZELTSERMAN - SMALL CRIMES & THE HUNTED SERIES 

His writing has been described as beautifully gritty, as he is able to fuse emotion even into the darkest of thrillers. If you haven't purchased any of his books yet, you will after getting to know Roger Smith, author of the international best-sellers WAKE UP DEAD and DUST DEVILS, and his most recent release, ISHMAEL TOFFEE.

Buy Roger Smith's Latest Novella-ISHMAEL TOFFEE!

His work is amazing and the awards are piling up,  as well as the praise, but kindly Mr. Smith was able to take a few minutes out of his schedule to conduct an interview with me.  I'm really excited to be able to share this experience with you, and even more honored to say that for the first interview conducted on my blog, it's with this incredible author.

Q:  When did you first realize your love for writing?  (example:  how old were you, during what phase/time in your life)

Since I was a kid I was crazy about crime fiction. In fact I wrote my first book when I about ten years old (all of twenty pages) and, yes, it was a crime novel. So, I always wanted to write crime, but during the apartheid years in South Africa writing crime fiction seemed to be beside the point: there was a far greater crime to talk about.

Then one day in 2007 I said to myself, “Okay, this is it. Time to see if you can write that crime novel.” So I sat down and wrote Mixed Blood. I had very few expectations and no sense at all that I was doing something that would completely transform my life.

Q:  What inspires you to write?  What events have inspired some of your latest novels?

As a teenager in Johannesburg, I watched white cops mow down black school kids my age during the 1976 youth uprising. A few years later I was drafted into a white army fighting a meaningless bush war against older versions of those black kids. Disaster Zondi, Mixed Blood and Dust Devil’s Zulu investigator, is one of those kids 35 years on. And Mixed Blood’s rogue cop, Rudi Barnard, is a relic from the apartheid era, roaming the badlands of Cape Town, still slaughtering people darker than himself.

When apartheid ended and Nelson Mandela came to power, there was a period in South Africa where we went from being the pariah of the world, to a role-model for transformation. A giddy time. Then Mandela moved on, and the rulers of the country became ever more self-serving and corrupt, as politicians tend to do.

Apartheid is over, but a violent crime epidemic, poverty and the highest incidence of HIV/ AIDS in the world present new challenges that are left largely unaddressed. Our constitution is glowing testament to enlightenment and individual freedom, but teenage girls are sold into slave marriages in the name of tradition and some men believe that raping virgins (often children) will cure them of AIDS.  The ex-commissioner of police has been sentenced to fifteen years in prison for corruption.

This is the background against which Dust Devils is set, and what I’ve written is no love letter.

Q:  Is there any advice you would give to new writers?

Your challenge is to find stories and characters that move, stimulate and excite you -- material that you are passionate about. If you find yourself shocked, appalled, terrified and moved by what appears on the page, then your readers will be too.

Q:  Who is your most favorite character you've created?

Well that’s tough to answer, because I like them all, even the villains. But I have a soft spot for Disaster Zondi—he is world-weary and cynical but can’t quite shake his old idealism, and seems to be angry at the same things that I am. And Ishmael Toffee, the ex-con from my new novella, is as close as I have come to writing a hero.

Q:  Who is your least favorite character you've created?

The character I would least like to sit down and have a meal with it the piggish, corrupt cop from Mixed Blood, Rudi Barnard. I met a lot of thuggish white men like him in the South African army. Men who defended their murderous racism as “doing God’s work.” Creating Barnard (and designing his destruction) was my revenge.

Q:  With all of the literary awards you've received, what do you think has been your unique recipe for your success?

I love writing. It is as simple as that. I’m just very grateful that there seems to be a readership out their for my brand of dark crime fiction. But it never gets any easier. I’m about to start work on my seventh book, and the prospect of the empty page (or monitor screen) is as terrifying as it was when I started my first. More so, in fact.

Q:  Which authors have most influenced your writing?

I started reading American crime fiction long before I started shaving, but it was a book by Richard Stark (the pseudonym of Donald E. Westlake) that really turned my head: The Hunter (1964). I still have it, a dog-eared little paperback with a plain silver cover sporting a bullet hole and the one-liner: a novel of violence. A tight piece of gutter existentialism – lean as a Brazilian supermodel – it follows Parker (no first name, no morals, precious little backstory) an ex-con out of prison and out for revenge. This is a sawed-off shotgun of a book, and Stark’s writing is cut to the bone, but he still produces hard urban poetry

My next major influence was Elmore Leonard, whose slangy, street-smart parables have been imitated by many – including Quentin Tarantino – but never equalled. The world of fiction would have been immeasurably poorer without his incredible input, and he continues to produce brilliant novels well into his eighties.

Whenever anybody trots out the old saw that protagonists have to be sympathetic, I point them in the direction of Jim Thompson’s string of dark and subversive novels. My favorite if his classic The Killer Inside Me(1952). The unreliable narrator, Lou Ford, is a small-town sheriff who appears to be a sweet, dumb, hayseed, but is a cold-blooded killer. A Thompson classic. His characters aren’t nice, but they’re damn interesting.

Now that I’m a writer myself I still read a lot of crime, and a lot of it still inspires me. But living in South Africa– one of the most violent and corrupt countries in the world – most of my inspiration comes from the violence and corruption around me. And reading crime novels has become an escape from the realities around me.

Q:   And finally, tell our readers a little more about yourself!

I grew up in JohannesburgSouth Africa, in the 60s and 70s and lived there until the late 90s. In the 80s I was into movies, a founder member of a non-racial film co-op. I started off with ambitions to direct, and did quite a bit of that. As well as producing. Then I worked mainly as a screenwriter.

Through the 80s and early 90s Jo’burg was the place to be, the centre of the action. I wouldn’t have dreamed of moving, but by the late 90s I got seduced by the promise of a very different lifestyle, so I slid on down to Cape Town. For a couple of years I lived quite happily inside a Cape Town bubble of sun and sea. Then I fell in love with (and later married) a woman who grew up in the Cape Flats ghetto and my vision of Cape Town had to expand dramatically, which resulted in Mixed BloodWake Up Dead and Ishmael Toffee.

For the last five years I have been lucky enough to be a full-time writer.

Q:  What do you have coming up next?  Are you working on another novel?

My fourth novel, Capture, will be published in mid-2012. Even though it is also set in South Africa it is a little different to my other books, more of a psychological thriller. That’s all I’m going to say about it right now . . .

I hope you enjoyed getting to know Mr. Smith, and want to remind our readers that coming tomorrow is the launch of our first blog contest, the "Spring Into Action" Flash-Fiction Contest!

This weekend is made up of two firsts for Soul and Sweet Tea, and I thank you for stopping by.  See you tomorrow!

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