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Tom Franklin
Is CROOKED LETTER, CROOKED LETTER based on any real-life experiences?
Yes! Larry Ott and I have a lot in common, including mechanic fathers, a love for Stephen King, sad high school experiences, etc. Several events from my life wound up in Larry’s (his first date and mine are similar, for example, except that while Larry’s first date was never seen again, mine is alive and well).
A main theme of the novel is race relations in the south during the 1970s. You said in a previous interview, when asked about the south, “Racism is everywhere. We're just famous for it.” Do you think it is still everywhere? Has a black president made any impression?
I do still think racism is everywhere, and I wish our president had been able to do more. I know it’s hard to get anything done in Washington DC but I had such high hopes for him to be more than just a symbolic victory; and maybe he will be. Maybe he’ll do some good at some point. I voted for him and will again and am proud we elected an African American as president, but I suppose I thought life would be drastically altered, and it wasn’t. Isn’t.
The sense of place in CROOKED LETTER is very strong. The reader swelters in the heat and can sense the creeping of the kudzu vine which all adds to the slow suspense. Do you feel compelled to write about the place where you live?
Yes, but because it’s where I know best. And to write convincingly, one has to know what he or she is talking about. I love the American South for all its flaws and scars, I love the people, the heat, the slow-dying pace of everyday life, the wildlife and the flora and fauna. There’s something beautiful about a dying place, and I think the South as we once knew it (or knew of it) is dying a long slow painful (necessary) death.
There’s a lot of talk in this country about the boundaries between literary and crime fiction i.e. that if it’s crime it must be populist ergo it can’t be literary (tosh in my view). Does this debate exist in the US? Do you have a view on this?
It does exist here. A recent example is that Crooked Letter won the Los Angeles Times Prize for Mystery/Thriller. I read Poets & Writers magazine, a very literary publication about writing and writers. They typically list contest winners, and when the listed the LA Times winners, they mentioned fiction, nonfiction, poetry, etc. But NOT the mystery/thriller cagetory. Why? Because they’re snobs. Before Crooked Letter I wrote three books that were so damn literary they barely sold. And this one is as “literary” as those are, but because it has a “crime” element, they ignore it. But if I’m now a “crime” or “mystery” writer, fine. Before that, I was a literary writer, a Southern writer, and a historical writer. I’m just glad people are buying the books.

One answer to this question might be that so many mystery or thriller writers do a book a year. This vs yr Franzens, averaging about one novel every decade. I honestly couldn’t write a book worth a damn in a year, I don’t think. If I did, it’d have big flaws and be sloppy. I did a book in a year and a half once (Smonk), but can’t see doing that on a regular basis.
Congratulations on winning the CWA Gold Dagger award for CROOKED LETTER. How did that feel?
AMAZING. I was so dumbstruck I won. I mean, there was Stringer Bell (actor Idris Elba) sitting a few tables over. Stringer Bell! From The Wire! I truly did not think I’d win and am still a bit stunned. But that dagger, which was hell getting through security, looks great on my desk.
Can you tell us what you are working on now?
My wife, poet Beth Ann Fennelly, and I are co-writing a novel based on the Mississippi flood of 1927. She’s doing a female character (a bootlegger) and I’m doing the male (prohibition agent) and we’re alternating chapters. No title yet, but we’re still married at this point.
And finally, a question we always like to ask, who influences and inspires you?
Faulkner. The Hamlet is perhaps my favourite novel. (Hey, that “u” in “favourite” was added automatically. Cool.)
Tom Franklin

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