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Thursday, October 6, 2011

Interview: Matthew C. Funk

From the Valley to the Big Easy, Matthew C. Funk has infiltrated the worlds of Shotgun Honey, Dirty Noir, Plots with Guns, Beat to a Pulp, and just about every venue in between with his special style of crime fiction. Here at Shotgun Honey we have had the pleasure of publishing his series of Jari Jurgis case files which look at the hope and hopelessness of a broken, yet rebuilding, New Orleans.

Matthew is a gentleman, an auteur of the written canvas and will speak at length with knowledge about the process of writing.

How’d you get the gun? Or rather what drew you to crime fiction?

It was the best tool for inflicting wounds at long distance. I hit 30 and tired of swinging and missing. I got serious about getting lethal. I got the gun.

Before, my writing had been all over the literary spectrum. I tried to mix different elements to produce explosives. I wound up with a heap of radioactive material that I had no clue how to detonate. This wouldn’t do. I needed to deliver some bangs right away. 2010 hit, and I set to studying how the other sleek assassins were making their mark as the elite out there on the Web and on the shelves. What I found convinced me it was best to work with guns.

Tony Black, Frank Bill and Anonymous-9 were the doom-dealers I discovered whose publication record inspired me to draft a battle plan. I made a record of their high-profile targets – ThugLit, Plots With Guns, A Twist of Noir, Powder Burn Flash, Pulp Metal Magazine and The Flash Fiction Offensive – and ran some forensics on their crime scenes: Studied pacing, timing of plot reveals, twists. The beauty and brutality of my writing didn’t require study. I’d bring that to any ink I set down. But it took me awhile to assemble the hard components of the gun, to learn how and where to aim it, to teach myself to breathe steadily as I took the shot.

I started firing and hitting. The tears, blood and scars I wanted to cause started showing from the audience. It made me want to shoot faster and further. I did. I seem to get luckier by the trigger pull.

I’ve stopped worrying about cooking strange bombs and come to love the gun.

Those are some big foot steps to follow, but I have to say watching your work unfold — vicious and tight — is an inspiring thing. Who are some top guns that inspire you?

Plenty of gunners inspire me, especially those who show no mercy. Snipers and machinegunners used to rarely be taken alive. I like gunners who go for mass casualties or surgically delivered kill shots – stylists, you might say.

I admire Palahnuik and Dr. Thompson for their raw-knuckled, jabbing style. I look to Burroughs, Ballard and Welsh for their weird and cruel use of diction. I dig the pulps – Howard, Thompson, Bloch – for diagramming how to keep a pulse pounding with good pacing. I crave Barker when I’m seeking a distillate of true horror. Ellis when it comes to materialism and confusion. McCarthy to keep the work’s soul honed. Faulkner, Hemingway and Kerouac dare me to be unearthly in quality, while many greats still pulling the trigger today – Swierczynski, Abbott, Bill – keep evolving the craft here and now.

So long as writing is as merciless to literary convention as it is to the reader, it inspires me.

It is refreshing that your inspiration to write — those you admire — come from both the age of legends to the new rising guard. Your inspiration also comes from locale, tell us about your New Orleans.

My New Orleans is the most beautiful mess. The city takes its gunfire like it does its jazz: Infinite variations that breach limits with proud passion. My New Orleans would boast no less. It’s a city that has contradiction boiling in its soul. It’s colorful and crumbling. It’s the most affected Antebellum wealth and the most crushing housing project poverty. It’s artistic brilliance and inhuman brutality. This is a town where everybody can be friends and anybody can be a victim.

In my New Orleans, you find the best examples of human virtue – compassion, forgiveness, imagination – intertwined seamlessly with the worst subhuman behavior – callousness, deprivation, cruelty. New Orleans is the essence of us, at its wildest and most wondrous. It’s the gumbo of the human soul cooked as hot as it comes.

In this sense, my New Orleans is a city of crime: Breaking conventions of music, lawlessness, art, corruption, pride, shame, joy and anger; breaking limits without a look back or a second thought; breaking and being broken down and yet still surviving to smile brighter and yell louder than anywhere else.

If that ain’t crime, I don’t know what is.

Your New Orleans has taken shape over the last year at various venues, including Shotgun Honey, through the eyes and voice of Detective Jari Jurgis. How did you discover this unlikely protagonist?

Jari was born of two influences.

Much of Jari is inspired by an actual person who went through similar suffering: She thrust herself into an awful situation, believing that determination, love and support from society could right a hideous wrong. Those illusions were destroyed, the wrongs got worse and society’s role only worsened them further. And, despite all that agony, she had to go on.

Jari inspired me because she embodies a breed of heroism I find common to life and uncommon to literature: The deeply damaged hero. Stories are replete with heroes who, while wounded and full of faults, coolly transcend them whenever called on by a worthy cause. But in the stories I hear back on planet Earth, horrible circumstances leave people with souls so horribly injured that, despite best intentions and good deeds, they struggle just to get through the day.

I was tired of the traditional stoic ideal of a protagonist torn by pain but still capable of marching steadily forward. I wanted to tell the stories of the heroes who think they’re the monster – of the insecure, the distrusting, the uncontrollably afraid and angry and ashamed. The universe doles out such scads of trauma that such people are everywhere, and those of them who do good work rarely appreciate the good they do. They’re too caught up in the doubt, damage and despair they feel. But even drown in that feeling, they fight on.

Jari is, in that sense, a perfect fit for post-Katrina New Orleans: She is a Saint who suffers without the solace of any faith. She knows only how to persist, to survive with a front of fragile pride and a core of furious determination. She’s my kind of hero – believing only in the bad and striving only harder for better.

Jari Jurgis is a central character of your novel, City of NO, which is now being shopped around. How do the Jari Jurgis short stories fit in with the larger backdrop of that novel?

It would be easier to illustrate how CITY OF NO fits in with other Jari Jurgis stories: It takes place during the summer after Hurricane Katrina, 2006, and drags the reader through a particularly devastating event in Jari’s life. I intend it to be the first in a three-part installment. It has power as a stand-alone, though.

On the whole, Jari’s stories have so far taken place over the wayward stretch of her law-enforcement career: 2002 and onwards. MISSIONARY, here at Shotgun Honey, though told through hindsight, touches on her wide-eyed rookie days. SECOND CHANCES at Yellow Mama is at the opposite end of the published spectrum, featuring Jari around 2010. A longer-form unpublished piece, DIRT BAG, is even closer to present day, and I just seized on an idea for a story about Jari’s upbringing.

CITY OF NO, and the events it captures, are at the core of Jari’s story arc.

What is life like for the real world Matthew C. Funk when you’re not researching or reporting on the frontline activities of Jari Jurgis?

It’s a thrill a minute. I spend it researching “the semantic web” in search engine technology and advancing digital marketing. Basically, I’m an explorer sent into uncharted territories of how tech interacts with words’ meaning. My mission is to discover new ways of computer intelligence communicating with human intelligence.

I am a lucky dude in this field, as I work with some top-shelf talent. Digital marketing is where it’s at, and the tech-heads I pow-wow with on a daily basis are leading the field with weird science like micro-formatting and mobile app design. Global corporations and high-level government institutions are listening to us.

Other than that, I watch some Netflix, read some books, enjoy my girlfriend and friends. I’m pretty fanatical about my work, though. If I’m not working social media and search, I’m usually writing for publication, free writing or reading something to advance my writing.

No matter what I’d doing, I’m lucky enough to say that it’s something I love.

While marketing can be considered a mundane task compared to say dealing with the dregs and thugs of society, I would think it’s an invaluable skill to have in your writers toolbox. Especially when the frontline of knowledge for the average consumer is the Internet. What advice can you give to improve a writer’s visibility?

I could give a lot of technical advice, trot out plenty of terms that could mean the difference between getting to the top of a search result list for “crime fiction” and getting a no-show, but that don’t mean much to this audience. If anyone wants advice in that regard, I’ll gladly give it. They can drop me a line and we’ll sort through the tool box.

But the best is advice is the simple kind: Get out there and get involved.

If you want to be visible, step up to where the people you want to work along with can see you. Seek out the crime story sites and comment. Submit to the same journals as the writers whose work speaks to you. Find who’s publishing the kind of style that inspires you, get involved with their community and don’t be afraid to get noticed.

Most writers who don’t do this aren’t afflicted by a lack of time. We all lack time. You have to make the time if you’re dedicated. The critical question is, “Are you dedicated?” If you are, don’t accept excuses or doubts or fears. Decide where you want to be and reach out. Chances are, you won’t get rejected. If you do, keep trying. Learn what lessons you can, but never learn to be defeated.

That’s pretty much how I did it: I found the genre that best suited my style – crime, or “noir” – and found where the writers with the best Web presence in that genre were submitting work. I followed those professional footsteps and evolved my own voice. Anyone can do it. It’s more a matter of persistence and flexibility than of raw talent.

Still and all, here are a few digital marketing tricks: Be conscious of having “keywords” you want identified with your work – best of all being a geographical region, plus the words “crime fiction” – on your Web pages. Link back to your Web page with hyperlinks using those keywords when you can post on other blogs, especially well-trafficked blogs. And never pass up an opportunity to link back to your site with the word “author” next to your name in the hyperlink.

You mention that all writers lack time, none so more true than for the working writer. How do you juggle between your day to day job and the prolific output of your writing?

In a word: Rapidly. I’ve heard “relentless” applied as well. I just make the time and mine as much material from it as possible.

Day job starts at around 6:30. I outline stories in the car on the way into the office. Then I handle work, put pen to paper on my smoke breaks. Actual writing gets done in the lunch hour. Actual lunch gets done at the desk as I manage the afternoon’s e-mails and content updates. Then when the whistle blows, I hit the road to Starbucks for the evening writing. The sun sets, I dig into dinner and do editing in between some free writing.

All the while, I wedge in what networking e-mails, phone calls and reading I can manage. For instance, on bathroom breaks, I read the entirety of FRANK SINATRA IN A BLENDER and THE CHAOS WE KNOW. Keith Rawson approved of that venue when I told him.

If there’s any trick to it, I’d say it’s my Task list on my phone. I check it constantly so that I’m in constant activity. This may seem like it amounts to a lot of effort, but in all cases, I’m doing what I most love to do.

It seems in your case the old proverb regarding ‘idle hands’ is a misnomer, you wonder us constantly with your ongoing deviltries. What do readers have to look forward to from Matthew C. Funk?

More lovely sin, coming soon. Beyond CITY OF NO, I have another crime manuscript in the hopper. It’s an ancient Greek tragedy by way of Y2K New Orleans. Scads of blood, sorrow and second line. I also have two horror manuscripts lurking out there and a heap of hardcore historical fiction copy that may have found a way to ignite in the form of Kindle Fire. And, of course, there will be short stories: In NEEDLE, Pulp Modern, Plots With Guns, All Due Respect and my beloved regular venues like Shotgun Honey and Dirty Noir.

No rest for this agent of the wicked.

No rest, indeed. Thank you standing in the line of fire, but before you go do you have any parting shots, pearls of wisdom, for our readers?

In everything you do, be brave. It will all be over soon enough.