Nigel Bird & Dave White
interview each other
David White is the Derringer Award winning author of the Jackson Donne stories. His works have appeared in The Thrilling Detective, Hardluck Stories, SHOTS UK, and Handheldcrime. David is a Rutgers University graduate, current Montclair State graduate student, and middle school teacher. He is the the author of two Jackson Donne crime novels, When One Man Dies and The Evil That Men Do, and of a collection of Jackson Doane stories, More Sinned Against.
Nigel Bird is a Support For Learning teacher in a primary school near Edinburgh. Co-Producer of the Rue Bella magazine between 1998 and 2003, he has had short work published in such places as The Reader, Crimespree, Needle and Dark Valentine Magazine and was interviewed by Spinetingler for their ‘Conversations With The Bookless’ series last year. He is bookless no more as his e-collection Dirty Old Town (And Other Stories) was recently released to critical acclaim.
David White interviewing Nigel Bird:
One of the first things that strikes in your stories is how the voice changes with each character. Is that you challenging yourself as a writer? Or is it less conscious, and instead you’re just following a character?
Getting to grips with the beginning of a story can be very challenging. I tend to have an idea and then work out who’s involved. I can’t start writing until the voice comes to me. Once it’s in my head, I can put it into words and bring things to life – it moulds the characters and then shapes the way the story turns out. Because of that, it’s probably one of the biggest ingredients of my work, certainly in the drafting stages.
Is Skye from “Sea Minor” a real place? Why did you find it compelling enough to use as a setting for a story?
Skye’s a beautiful island off the West Coast of Scotland. It’s attached to the mainland by a bridge, which gives it an unusual character – being joined to something yet clearly separated from it. I guess I feel a bit like Skye much of the time.
I’m not an expert on the place, but like many rural areas, things move on slowly. Tradition is important and so is sticking together. For those reasons, I felt a young girl taken from a big city would find such a place to be a huge contrast to her routine. That’ s what I wanted. Contrast and connection, things that would allow her to understand what was about to happen and to help her through it.
It also allows for that sense of the traditional tale, the story-telling, which was also important to me in this piece. Her grandmother’s interpretations come from an almost mystical perspective and, hopefully, tapped into that heritage.
Funny thing about that one is that I’m frequently asked about the ending and what happened. To me it’s as clear as spring-water, but then for this one the ending was my beginning. I’m going to drop the hint that ‘A Perfect Day For Banana Fish’ was a big clue.
Where did the idea for “Taking a Line for a Walk” come from? Anytime shoveling puke is the high point of the day for a character, I want to know more about him.
The stimulus was a ‘sad janitor’ competition.
I’m a teacher in a primary school and so I’ve seen my share of vomit piles over the years. I’ve also seen it from the kid’s perspective, when you’re the one sitting next to the puke. Either way it’s gross.
As a male teacher, and a rather scruffy one at that, I’ve often been taken for the janitor and that’s always made me smile. There are plenty of people out there making schools work and things wouldn’t function without the back-up staff, so I value the services they provide and the character they add to a place.
One janitor I knew well had his finger bitten off in the line of duty. Strangely that didn’t end up in the story.
I saw my janitor as an observer and, as an old man, a measure of change.
I also wanted to bring in some social conscience. When companies and projects merge they often do a little spring-cleaning with their staff, a little pruning here and there. It’s in the name of rationalization (cost-cutting and profit) and the lay-offs often hit hard. One little story is unlikely to achieve any changes, but I like the idea of using my craft to offer food for thought.
Which of your stories is your personal favorite? Why?
That’s really tough.
I’m going to pick ‘Drinking Wine’ (Spo-Dee-Oh-Dee).
It was lots of fun to write. I love the opening – “Girl like you’s the kind I roll the red carpet out for.” Her tongue fell from her mouth and rippled from side to side. “If you know what I mean.”
It’s playful and very much out of character for me.
It also brings the song to mind every time I think of it, which is no bad thing. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g0lmX06odhw if you need a treat or want to tap your toes.
The idea was inspired by drugs use in sport. If it’s darker than that, it’s where the characters took it.
I find the idea of legality and legitimacy really interesting. There’s often such a fine line dividing them that it’s easy to cross either way.
With the London Olympics around the corner, it seemed like a good way to think about how the pressures might have people stretching themselves in ways that they might not otherwise consider. Here we have a kid who wants to be the best in his field, driven to pushing at the boundaries and hoping to get away with it.
It was the gymnastics aspect that appealed, too; the image of the crucifixion on the rings was hard to resist.
The darkness that swallows the light comes in the form of revenge and I hope it was a fitting retribution.
What’s the best novel you’ve read in the past year? Why?
I’m plumping for 3.
Savages by Don Winslow. Because it was like I was being slapped around by soft hands, the hands of a poet with a dark mind.
Pike by Benjamin Whitmer. Because it was like I was being slapped around by knuckle-dusters after a good water boarding. Prose tight as a fist.
Katja From The Punk Band by Simon Logan. Because of the world created, the immediacy of the plot and the pure energy of it all. Particularly good at point of view, too.
In all three, there are characters who are so well drawn it’s impossible not to feel completely involved and they carry no extra weight at all.
I’m also going to have to mention Donald Ray Pollock’s Knockemstiff which was my favourite of all. As it’s a collection of shorts it’s not strictly a novel, but it’s outstanding. I wrote a review of it that was entitled ‘Carver Meets The Devil’ which I thought summed it up. A rare combination of rich and spare, something that’s almost impossible to achieve. Outstanding.
What are you currently working on?
I’m working on a novel of teacher noir, working title currently ‘A New Dawn Fades’. In it a teacher’s life spirals out of control with pretty severe consequences (very familiar ground). I’m half way through and looking forward to giving that a lot of attention soon.
There are some short stories rattling around inside me, too. I’m hoping that I can find their voices and get them down in the time-frame I have for them.
Then I have Pulp Ink. Chris Rhatigan (of Death By Killing) and I have assembled a team of all-stars to produce stories inspired by the Pulp Fiction soundtrack. Chris is a joy to work with – he’s easy going, but knows what he’s about. We are both new to this kind of project and it’s certainly been a steep learning-curve. So far we have almost half the stories and they are absolutely outstanding. The deadline for the others is June 1st, so you can expect to see it out by late summer all being well. Without a shadow of a doubt it will be one of the finest anthologies of this year.
Nigel Bird interviewing David White:
Basically, I got an email. Steve Weddle and Jay Stringer wanted to start a blog that got posts from people at different stages of their writing career. Newly published, cagey vets, unpublished with a book on the market, that sort of thing. So they asked me if I wanted in. My own blog was starting to slow down a bit because I was running out of post ideas, and I figured it’d be easier to write about writing only once a week. So I took the gig.
“Terminal Damage…” I’m not exactly sure who came up with the idea. I think I came to that late in the process. Again, an idea where I got an email saying “Hey, this is what we’re going to do…” I like writing and I hadn’t written a short story in a while so I was definitely game.
In that anthology, you tell us about a planned suicide that doesn’t pan out. The central character is a very unbalanced young man who is responding in a very extreme way to a minor rejection. His state of mind rings so true that I wonder if there’s any of your teenage self in there.
There probably is. I wasn’t that unhinged when I was a kid. I was your typical teen: shy, awkward, lots of friends. I never considered suicide, even though I’d been rejected by girls plenty of times. That story came out of the opening line. The more and more I wrote, the more I realized that the main character was a teen. Had to be. And while every character has a little bit of me in it, this one was pretty far from the source.
Ray Banks writes a brilliant introduction to your collection to No Way Out. He says ‘I love Dave White like a fat kid loves cake.’ How do you like Ray’s baking?
Ah, if only he was as good a baker as he is a wordsmith. Imagine he could put out DONKEY PUNCH cookies and SATURDAY’S CHILD pies. It’d be brilliant. He is one of my favorite writers. What he does with point of view in SC and BEAST OF BURDEN is fantastic.
Ray also mentions that your protagonist, Jackson Donne, marries ‘the traditional PI stories with a fresh and thoroughly modern perspective’. It’s one of the things I really enjoyed about the collection. I’m not sure I’d have the guts to try a PI story. There are so many great characters out there, there’s a certain amount of baggage they have to carry and you also have to bring something new. It’s something you seem to achieve effortlessly. How conscious were you of including the PI standards in Jackson Donne and how did you manage to make him stand out of the crowd so clearly without upsetting the apple-cart?
I think Donne starts out very traditional. I wrote “God Bless the Child” when I was in college reading every PI author I could find. So, even if I tried to be horribly different, it wasn’t going to happen as I internalized as much about the PI as possible. But as I wrote more stories, I think Donne grew naturally. He’s younger, so that helps him stand out from the pack. As a younger guy, he’s going to make younger decisions. He’s going to be rash. He’s not always going to think things through. Plus, he’s seen a lot of shit in his twenty-eight years. Most PIs don’t see that much until they’re in their late 30s. So that affects him. The more a character grows the more that character is going to separate himself from the pack.
Your third story in the collection concerns the aftermath of the Twin Towers’ demise. It’s not something I think about often, but nor is it something that’s likely to go away from my mind. The story is very powerful indeed, even now. Without wishing to dredge up difficult or predictable memories, how did you feel about writing that story and how do you feel about it now there’s a distance between then and now?
I wrote that story to deal with the tragedy. Living only 15 miles from Ground Zero, it impacted my life a lot. I didn’t know anyone who was lost in the tragedy, but I knew people who lost people. My uncle, a local fire fighter, got to the site as soon as he could to try and help with the clean-up. I knew people who wanted to join the military to help as well.
I didn’t know how to deal with what I saw. The only thing I knew was writing. I actually never intended the story to be published, I was just writing it for myself. But after it set on my computer for a few months, I showed it to my parents. They loved it and encouraged me to submit it. The way I felt about writing it is encapsulated in that. It was written for me. No one else. But it got out there.
Now? I still like the story a lot. There’s a lot of words in there I’d like to change, but I still love the idea of it. It’s a story that pushed my limits as a writer at the time. It’s also the first story where I think Donne starts to separate himself as more than just another PI. He doesn’t interfere in the case. He’s just a spectator… just like we all were on 9/11.
You published the collection with the rather exciting Needle Publishing. Any dirt to dish?
Steve Weddle smears nacho cheese on his face before he edits anything. I have no idea why. And I hate Nacho Cheese, so I wish he wouldn’t send me pictures of him editing.
Otherwise, they’re just a quality bunch of folks over there. They have a great eye for talent (Hell, Weddle published a Chris F. Holm story that’s going to be in a BAMS anthology), great cover art, and everything’s professionally done. Keep an eye on them, they’re going to keep putting out great stuff.
I really loved More Sinned Against. What can I look forward to from you in the future?
My two novels WHEN ONE MAN DIES and THE EVIL THAT MEN DO are available stateside right now. In the coming weeks, I’m going to be e-publishing my novel WITNESS TO DEATH. It’s a standalone about a teacher who gets mixed up with spies and terrorists. I’m really looking forward to the reaction it gets when it’s available.