Tuesday, June 16, 2009

BFP interviews Austin bookseller Scott Montgomery!

Scott Montgomery runs the mystery section of Austin's BookPeople, Texas's largest independent bookstore.
BFP: Tell us a little about yourself.
SM: Grew up in my family’s horse business outside of St. Louis and was in love with books and movies early on, particularly crime fiction and westerns. Studied film and went to L.A., spending eight years eight years as a failed screenwriter. There I was a customer and eventual employee of The Mystery Bookstore in Westwood, one of the more respected bookstores in the country. The two managers “Dark Bobby” McCue and Linda Brown (no nickname that can be publicly given) showed me how to use my passion for the genre as a selling tool. The place was a life preserver in a place I was getting sick of. When I decided it was time start saving money to get out, my new landlord was serving evictions on all of us that moved in years ago when rent was low in a rent controlled section. A settlement got me to Austin, fourteen years after I said I wanted to live here after I visited it for the first time. Now life is talking about books, writing, drinking Shiner, and flirting and dancing with fun women. All of that done while listening to some of the best music in the country.

BFP: Tell us a little about BookPeople & Austin.
SM: BookPeople is the largest independent bookstore in Texas. It has the size and selection with the knowledgeable and passionate staff of your small local store. Everybody cares about the written word and is quite knowledgeable. Many of us also like to discuss zombies and barbecue, I don’t know if there’s a connection.

My partner in crime, Charlie Cale, are considered the mystery guys. With inventory managers Raul Chapa and Allison Laubach; buyer, Elizabeth Jordan; and floor manager and all-around papa bear Bryan Sansone, we’ve turned our section into Austin’s defacto mystery bookstore with more niche books genre aficionados can discover. There’s The Dark Alley display dedicated to hardboiled noir (my favorite), and two book clubs The 7% Solution (general mystery) and The Hard Word, dedicated to the tough stuff. This summer we’ll have authors like Craig Johnson, C.J. Box, Megan Abbott, Joe R. Lansdale, and Karen Slaughter, making in store appearances.

BFP: Who are some of your favorite authors?
SM: I hate this question, since so many of my friends are writers. Dashiell Hammett, Max Allan Collins, and Elmore Leonard got me interested in the genre. I’m a sucker for stylists like Peter Rabe, Jim Thompson, and Richard Stark. Of the current gang, Craig Johnson has one of the most original voices out there, along with Joe R. Lansdale, Megan Abbott, Christa Faust, and Duane Swierczynski (talk about stylists), and Reed Farrel Coleman is the greatest living PI writer, I don’t even consider that an opinion. Those names, many more, and James Crumley was a god.

Outside the genre, Elmer Kelton is probably my favorite western writer and is much more than that and I’m blown away by Richard Matheson’s craftsmanship and subtle depth in no matter what he wrote.

BFP: Favorite books?
SM: Dashiell Hammett’s Red Harvest for the impact, Raymond Chandler’s The Long Goodbye for the poetry, and James Crumley’s The Last Good Kiss (possibly my favorite) for tying everything and more together. Others would be Dennis Lehane’s Mystic River, Craig Johnson’s The Cold Dish, Reed Farrel Coleman’s Walking The Perfect Square, and Elmore Leonard’s Freaky Deaky. This list could go on forever.

When it comes to westerns, Kelton’s The Day the Cowboys Quit, based on a true story when ranch hands went on strike along the Canadian River in the 1880s and Richard Matheson’s Journal of the Gun Years.

BFP: Favorite movies / TV shows?
SM: The Wild Bunch, The Searchers, and Round Midnight, a film about American jazz musicians in 1958 Paris, and most of whatever Clint Eastwood is associated with, especially The Outlaw Josey Wales. As far as crime films go, Chinatown, Murder My Sweet, Heat, L.A. Confidential, Asphalt Jungle, and anything directed by Jean-Pierre Melville, or starring Robert Mitchum or Charles McGraw, a guy that sounded as tough as he looked. Basically, if anything wasn’t put on film after 1980, I’d survive.

TV would be Veronica Mars, The Wire, The Rockford Files, and even though it hurts my “guy cred," Gilmore Girls (the dialogue's great and Lauren Graham’s hot... that’s the story I’m sticking with).

BFP: What do you look for in a mystery/thriller/crime novel?
SM: My perfect crime novel delivers all of the standards in the genre presented in a fresh way with strong mood and dialogue, a look into social or human conditions with no pat answers, and a strong emotional pull. I think I just described every Dennis Lehane novel.

BFP: Author(s) you wish wrote faster?
SM: I believe in giving an author all the time he needs to deliver the best book, since I have hundreds of books to read in my to-read pile with more coming in. That said, I wish there were more James Crumley books.

BFP: Author(s) you wish hadn’t died?
SM: Crumley. I was lucky enough to spend some time with him a couple of years before his passing. By then, he was the aged lion who just wanted to hold court at whatever bar and entertain and be entertained by those around him. He had little tolerance for B.S. and sycophants. It was always comfortable to be around him, but it was always an adventure. You’d think about this character you’d hang out with, then read one of his books and be floored by a single sentence. What Hunter Thompson did with journalism and Peckinpah did with film, he did with the PI novel. Hopefully that’s what he’ll be remembered for, the books.

BFP: Authors/books you wish were back in print?
SM: Jeff Shelby’s Killer Swell and Wicked Break about part time PI and full-time surfer, Noah Braddock. They move at a furious pace, with great action and humor, so fast you don’t notice the depth of the them. L.J. (Livia) Washburn’s Lucas Hallam series, that deals with a former cowboy and Pinkerton agent, that works as PI between stuntman gigs in Twenties Hollywood.

The one that bothers me the most are the three John Van Horn novels written by Edward Wright. They concern a blackballed B-movie cowboy in the postwar L.A., who works as a collector for a casino owned by the actor who played his Indian sidekick. They are rich in lines like “the air was mixed with dust and regret” and strong humor, humanity, and style. The first book, Clea’s Moon, was as good as it gets, then each following books doubled in quality. It should be considered a considered a cultural crime that the last book, Red Sky Lament, that deals with the McCarthy era and draws modern parallels, is not in print in the U.S. Luckily he has a UK publisher for this series.

BFP: Books coming out soon that you’re most looking forward to?
SM: James Ellroy’s third book in the “tabloid trilogy”, the U.S. debut of Jason Starr’s Fake I.D. [out this month from Hard Case Crime!], and Swierzcynski’s Breakneck that he said was about, infidelity, car chases, and the end of the world. Two of my favorites, Reed Farrel Coleman and Ken Bruen will have a book out this fall. What intrigues me even more about it (Tower) is that Allan Guthrie’s the editor. That’s having the craziest person run the asylum.

BFP: New/unknown authors you’d like to tout?
SM: Clyde W. Ford has two books, The Long Mile and Deuces Wild, about a former New York cop and ex-con that works for a branch of Homeland Security. Ford uses his expertise in world mythology, tying it to hardboiled fiction and the modern world, dealing with a human hero caught between warring powerbrokers and story tellers as he tries to connect with his estranged son. If that’s not enough, he writes a hell of an action scene.

BFP: Favorite mystery magazine / blog / reviewer?
SM: I’m a huge Thrilling Detective fan. I can waste two hours there, no problem. Craig Johnson writes great post-its on his website, dealing with life as a writer and Wyoming misadventures that will get you buy until his next book. Swierczynski’s Secret Dead Blog is great. Joe Lansdale puts up a free story on his each week. For the most part, I look at the sites of mystery bookstores, particularly my old store and Murder By The Book to see what they’ve discovered and are touting. I realize I’m impartial, but I think booksellers have the best opinions on what’s good.

BFP: Do you have any dreams of writing yourself? If so, what kind of book would you love to write?
SM: I’ve done a lot of short stories I’m planning to send out and working on two novels. One is a rural hard-boiled that takes place in my Missouri stomping grounds with a guy trying to get revenge on the murder of his favorite barmaid. The other deals with an Austin PI looking into the murder of a singer who was in a band he used to belong to and uncovers the secrets his friends have been hiding.

BFP: What accomplishments are you most proud of?
SM: Helping establish books I love, particularly The Cold Dish and Walking The Perfect Square, as some of the top selling books in the stores I’ve worked; BookPeople’s 35% increase of sales in the mystery section last year; and anytime an author says “You really understood my book.” Those things and finally moving to Austin and finding peace of mind in a life of crime (and a western whenever I can).

BFP: Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
SM: A) This is a great genre to be a part of. Even though many authors have used it for great allegory, there’s no need. Like Hammett, Ross Macdonald, Crumley, and George Pelecanos you can directly deal with the here and now. A lot of our best writers are doing that right now and setting the bar a little higher each year.

B) Anybody within visiting distance of BookPeople should check out our new book club, The Hard Word. I stole the name from a great Aussie caper movie starring Guy Pearce and Rachel Griffiths. We meet on the last Wednesday of the month at 7 p.m. to discuss a book of tough guys with codes, dangerous women with passion, dealing with lives and actions that don’t always lead to happy endings. On June 27th, we’ll be discussing Queenpin with a call in from Megan Abbott.

1 comment:

Bill Crider said...

I agree about Edward Wright. I reviewed all three of those novels on my blog.