Thursday, July 14, 2011

Author interview: Todd Bush

As you know, I have featured a number of best-selling authors here on my blog. But I also like to bring you the occasional undiscovered gem (like Carol Carr, for example) because new writers need readers, too.

Today I want to introduce you to a versatile and very talented writer. He has two young adult books out, adventure stories for boys, but I particularly enjoy his adult fiction. I see them as "noir" stories but I'll let him discuss the delicacies of sub-genre. I'll stop at "crime fiction." Excellent crime fiction, too, with characters who pop out of the page and brilliant voice.

Ladies and gentlemen, Todd Bush.

First, you write under the name "Scott Chase," a pen name. Why is that?

I wrote my YA thrillers under my real name, Todd Bush. However, I also love writing darker, noir tales that you wouldn't want your average teenager picking up simply because the same person wrote it. So it's really about branding. Todd Bush is for YA stuff, whereas Scott Chase will be the name I will write stories and novels geared toward adults.

Ah, yes, very sensible. Now, tell us what does "noir" mean exactly in the literary sense?

Welcome to one of the longest, and at times most annoying, literary arguments going today! Crime fiction has two main sub-genres: hard-boiled fiction and noir fiction. Otto Penzler, the owner of the famous Mysterious Bookshop in New York City, wrote that the difference is in the psychological outlook of the stories and their characters. Penzler suggests that hard-boiled stories, mainly those with a private detective at the center of the tale, have a positive outlook on the world even if the hard drinking, dour PI doesn't; noir, he says, contains none of the positive aspects of its cousin, but rather glorify the negative.

I tend to think in basic, simple terms. Noir stories lack hope. The characters are heading on a path toward doom and destruction. They think it is because of their actions, and thus their direction can be altered; unbeknownst to them, it is because of who they are, and not what they have done, that they cannot change their fates. This lack of hope is what separates the two and makes noir so distinctive.

When I look at picture of a city's skyline at night, I don't see the lights or the buildings. I see the shadows and I wonder what's going on in all that darkness. The same goes for people. Luke Skywalker was a pretty cool guy, but I want to know all about Darth Vader. He was well-rounded, he'd seen his dark side and decided to turn toward it. That was the basis for my interest in the genre.

Makes sense. Now, tell us about your wonderfully titled book, "The Backseat Virgin: A South Florida Noir Collection"

This is from the back of the book itself and describes it perfectly: South Florida is glitz, glamour, surf and sand. But it’s also full of shadows, a place where life's hard road crawls through back alleys, dark corners and right up to the doorstep of the sexiest place on earth. Some say this dark side is the very thing that makes it sexy. This collection of stories shows the hidden side of South Florida, and the human soul, in all its noir glory.

The inspiration of the stories came from watching a few documentaries on South Florida during the late 1970's and early 1980's, during the drug boom and the ensuing war in the streets. I thought it was a perfect place to search for that darkness, that lack of hope.

Where can people find and download it?

It is available for download at, and can be purchased in print at Amazon.

Who influenced you most in this style of writing?

I didn't even think about trying to do this kind of writing until I read James Ellroy's The Black Dahlia. It was fun to think about writing something that was not only a great story, but also a window into a time and place that so many people wanted to learn about. Ellory is a master.

So who are the good noir writers these days?

George Pelecanos is the best going right now. He is best known as a writer for the TV series, "The Wire." Also, John Rector and Steve Sidor (his early stuff), who you have interviewed on this blog, could be considered noir writers. It's tough, because certain people write mysteries that could be noir. However, I would be remiss if I didn't mention the queen of noir, Megan Abbot. If you haven't read Pelecanos or Abbot, do so. Soon.

These stories conjure images of Bogart and Cagney... do you have a favorite classic crime movie?

That's really a compliment. One reviewer said that it was nearly impossible to read this collection without seeing the action in black & white. To be compared to the classics like that is a real honor. I like the old movies. "Double Indemnity" is good, so is "The Postman Always Rings Twice". "Chinatown" is great. But lately, some newer films have touched on noir and done it quite well, including "The Big Easy", "Memento", "The Machinist", and "Fight Club" are tremendous examples of modern, or neo-noir.

Tell us about your normal life, what you do and who you are when you're not writing.

I work at a high school. In fact, I am a teacher, trying to educate our youth about writing. It's a tough job because they have two diametrically opposing forces pulling them away from good technique. First, society is abandoning the written word for texting and Twitter and boiling our lives down to 140 characters; second, modern educational theory puts out the theory that bland is good and creative thinking is bad. Drives me nuts.

I do have a family, contrary to the dark tone of my writing. My wife and I live in South Florida, have one son and another baby on the way.

That's one busy life -- when do you find time to write?

That is a great question, especially considering this time of year. Normally, I write at night after work, sitting at my dining room table with my in-laws watching TV in the living room and my wife watching TV in the den. Not the ideal quiet space, but it works for me. However with summer coming to an end, I am going to have to put a lot of my writing on hold. Aside from being a teacher at a high school, I also am an assistant football coach at the same high school, and football season starts in August. So until December, I'll be busy and writing will take a little bit of a back seat. Once again, it's not ideal, and I wouldn't recommend it for anyone who is starting out, but it works for me.

What do you think about the self-publishing, e-publishing revolution?

Some people see this as a two-front war, with those who espouse the traditional publishing model on one side, and those who claim digital is the way to go and the traditional way is dead on the other. I disagree. Both are methods of getting stories to readers, which is the goal of every writer. I self-published two YA novels before this collection, Rick Frost & the Alaskan Adventure and Rick Frost & the Sword of Calibum, both available in print and as an ebook on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. I tried to find an agent, and had two that were interested. In the end, I decided that I wanted to get my product out to readers quicker than the standard two year wait of traditional publishing. Some might say that was a bad decision because I haven't sold tens of thousands of copies, but my books have only been out for a month. And as a smarter person than I once said, "it's a marathon, not a sprint." I think both ways of publishing are going to be around and continuing to give readers entertainment for a long time. Hopefully, I'll be along with them.

I'm guessing you will. Thanks, and much success to you!

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