Q&A with Scott Blackburn, author of It Dies With You

J.B. Stevens interviews author Scott Blackburn to discuss Scott's writing background, true crime, Southern crime fiction writers, and Scott's searing debut novel, It Dies With You, which explores the dangerous world of secrets threatening to upend a rural Southern town. Enjoy the full conversation below!

Today I’m speaking with Scott Blackburn. Scott’s debut novel—It Dies With You—is a literary/mystery hybrid from Crooked Lane Books.

J.B.: Scott, thanks for speaking with me. Let’s jump right in. Can you tell me a bit about yourself and your background?

Scott: My pleasure. I’m a 39-year-old English instructor, born and raised in North Carolina where I live with my wife and two kids. A good portion of my life I’ve spent training in various martial arts and combat sports, including Japanese ju-jitsu, Muay Thai, and boxing.

Most of my adult life has revolved around the written word, in some form or another. I studied journalism and documentary film during my first stint in college, then I later went back to get my English degree and teaching certificate. It was around this time I started writing fiction, but I’d never actually taken any creative writing courses. However, I still managed to finish some semblance of a manuscript, but I knew I had to get much better as a writer, so I entered the Mountainview low-residency MFA program in New Hampshire, and I’ve been writing ever since.

J.B.: I’ve noticed a lot of very strong writers are coming out of Mountainview. It seems like a quality program, and the instructors are top-shelf. So, you earned the MFA in a bid to strengthen your writing, I imagine It Dies With You is all the better for it. Can you tell us more about the book?

Scott: My novel straddles the line between literary fiction and crime fiction. Beyond its criminal element, it’s really a story about the complexities of relationships and navigating grief in varying degrees. The main character, Hudson Miller, has had a strained, almost non-existent relationship with his father, Leland, for years, so when Leland is mysteriously murdered, Hudson is totally shocked when he finds out his dad left him the family salvage yard in his will. Hudson, broke as hell thanks to a recent boxing suspension, decides to move back to his hometown of Flint Creek, North Carolina to run the salvage yard. Soon after his mostly unwelcome arrival, a body is discovered in the salvage yard. The body is of a local missing man, Marco Reyes, whose 15-year-old sister, Lucy, is hellbent on finding out who was responsible for his murder. It’s at this point that Hudson, along with his dad’s crotchety former employee, Charlie Shoaf, decides to help Lucy with her investigation, which seems to be tied to Hudson’s father in some capacity. Once they start digging for answers, danger begins to surface. Fueled by Lucy’s tenacity, the trio presses forward until they finally learn the shocking truth.

J.B.: A double body mystery, I love it. Very ambitious for a debut. Also, I see the strong literary fiction influence with the focus on strained parental relationships. The plot line sounds entertaining as can be. Is any of it based on reality or pure fiction?

Scott: The estranged relationship between Hudson and Leland Miller was based loosely on a friend of mine’s relationship with his father, which initially gave me the idea for this book.

There’s also the fact that Hudson is a smartass with a background in combat sports, like myself, but other than that, most of what goes down is totally fiction.

J.B.: Your athletic background is combat sports-focused and your college journey was very literary-focused. What about your younger days? Were you always a big crime fiction fan?

Scott: In high school, I completely lost my passion for reading, which I’d avidly done up until that point. In college, someone recommended a few true crime books like Helter Skelter, The Zodiac, and The Stranger Beside Me, and I truly started to love reading again. For the next several years, true crime and books on forensic psychology was all I read. However, when I started trying to write fiction, I stopped reading non-fiction because I didn’t think it would help my craft, so I shifted gears and began devouring Southern fiction, most of which I’d classify as crime fiction. Now, 90% of my personal library is crime fiction, and I think that’s all I’ll ever write.

J.B.: Ahhh, you’re a southern crime fiction junkie (like me). I have a hard time picking my favorite, but if I’m forced to I can. Who are some of your favorites?

Scott: I think Donald Ray Pollock is the best living crime writer, hands down. Others I dig are Jordan Harper, Joe Lansdale, Michael Farris Smith, and Wiley Cash. Some more recent discoveries that I enjoy are Tiffany Quay Tyson, Eli Cranor, Peter Farris, and Mark Westmoreland. Outside of my genre, I’m a huge fan of Samantha Hunt, who wrote one of my favorite novels ever, Mr. Splitfoot, and an incredible short story collection, The Dark Dark.

J.B.: You have great taste, and Mark Westmoreland is a lesser-known breakout star for sure. Before we wrap this up, is there anything else you would like to mention?

Scott: The first book I read when I decided to become a writer was Wiley Cash’s A Land More Kind than Home. I knew he was around my age and from North Carolina, so I thought starting close to home would be a good jumping-off point for my reading journey. Six months later, when I was looking for an MFA program, I found out that Wiley was teaching at Mountainview up in New Hampshire. Out of all the programs that accepted me, I knew Mountainview would require the greatest sacrifice, but I really wanted the chance to learn under Wiley. When I showed up to my first residency, I found out the program had appointed Wiley as my personal mentor, which was a wonderful, challenging experience. Now, five years later, it’s Wiley’s blurb that graces the front of my book jacket. The point of the story is this: every move I’ve made since becoming a writer has been very deliberate, and so far, it’s really paid off.

J.B.: Wow, that is cool as can be, a Wiley Cash assigned as your mentor, talk about good fortune. I love it when the stars align like that. Anyway, thank you for speaking with me today, and good luck with the debut. I can’t wait to read it.

And all you Criminal Element patrons, check out Scott’s book, It Dies With You!

About It Dies With You by Scott Blackburn:

For nearly a decade, twenty-nine-year-old Hudson Miller has made his living in the boxing ring, but a post-fight brawl threatens to derail his career. Desperate for money, Hudson takes a gig as a bouncer at a dive bar. That’s when life delivers him another hook to the jaw: his estranged father, Leland, has been murdered in what appears to be a robbery-gone-bad at his salvage yard, Miller’s Pull-a-Part.

Soon after his father’s funeral, Hudson learns he’s inherited the salvage yard, and he returns to his Bible-belt hometown of Flint Creek, North Carolina, to run the business. But the business is far more than junk cars and scrap metal. It was the site of an illegal gun-running ring. And the secrets don’t end there; a grisly discovery is made at the yard that thrusts Hudson into the fight of his life.

Reeling for answers, Hudson joins forces with his father’s former employee, 71-year-old, beer-guzzling Vietnam vet Charlie Shoaf, and a feisty teenage girl, Lucy Reyes, who’s fiercely seeking justice for her own family tragedy. With a murderer on the loose and no answers from the local cops, the trio of outcasts launch an investigation. The shocking truth they uncover will shake Flint Creek to its very core.

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