Prolific short story author Chris Rhatigan keeps a busy schedule not only with his writing, but also with his co-publishing role for All Due Respect (specializing in “lowlife literature” since 2010) and teaching history in India. I had the pleasure of publishing Chris’s collection Wake Up, Time to Die that Heath Lowrance (The Axeman of Storyville) said was “steeped in irony and dark humor.” His novel Squeeze will be released April 15. I begin by asking him about his big relocation.
David Cranmer: How did you come to live in India? Does living there give you a different perspective on writing crime fiction?
Chris Rhatigan: A few years ago, my wife and I took jobs teaching high school in Northern India. While living in India hasn't changed my writing much, being an expat has. I feel like an outsider wherever I go because, well, I am. I also view American culture differently, and that sometimes shows up in my writing. It's weird to come back and little things have changed. Like this last winter, I was back in New York and all these people were vaping, and I was like, “What the hell is that?”
DC: India has a rich literary vein that has tapped Salman Rushdie, Chetan Bhagat, V.S. Naipaul, and Amrita Pritman, to name a scant few. But what is the current crime and mystery scene like?
CR: India's literary writers (like those you mentioned) write in English, tend to have a middle-to-upper-class audience, and many have become well-known overseas. The crime and mystery market has a more working-class readership, taxi drivers and chai wallas, people like that. Unfortunately, for foreigners, the vast majority of it is in Hindi and hasn't been translated.
One book that bridges the gap is Aravind Adiga's White Tiger. It's a compelling story, and offers an interesting perspective on what life in India is like today. And it's crime-ish.
DC: So many run-of-the-mill subtitles these days, but I love the one for Squeeze—A Lionel Kaspar Scam. No mincing words there!
CR: I really hate referring to books as “novellas” or “novelettes” or “novels.” Meh. It's a book. So I always look for ways around that, and this was a good fit.
Kaspar's approach is to con whoever he comes across. It's not even a choice for him—he's always looking for a way out. He's a newspaper reporter, but he has no attachment to that profession. It's only a way for him to blackmail everyone he can and commit various other forms of fraud. Of course, that gets him in a lot trouble.
DC: Would you call Kaspar a sociopath who puts his needs first and foremost, or does he have some redeeming qualities?
CR: I don't know, I haven't psychoanalyzed him. But I don't tend to write characters with redeeming qualities. I've always considered the old adage about having at least one character the reader can “root for” to be silly. I'm far less likely to read a book with likable characters, so why would I write one?
My inspiration for Kaspar was that I wanted to write about a criminal who's working an everyday job, to focus on the conflict inherent in that. Most people pass up criminal opportunities because they're afraid of getting caught or because they consider themselves moral. Kaspar doesn't care about any of that, and he's perplexed by the hyper-moral journalists around him. He has to hide his identity at all times and becomes increasingly insular.
DC: Do you ever think about the possibility that writing a character that is not, shall we say, “mainstream” could turn an audience away?
CR: I don't think I've ever written or published anything that could be considered mainstream. There are shelves and shelves of that stuff in Barnes & Noble—if people want that, they know where to find it. We're (and by that I mean co-publisher Mike Monson and myself) solely focused on providing crime fiction that bigger publishers won't touch, stuff that's too hardcore, too negative, too trashy. We don't publish books with heroes, and we're not interested when the main character is a cop or a PI or someone else “solving” a crime. Same thing goes for my books—they're targeted toward a small audience interested in crime.
DC: When do you find the time to write?
CR: Squeeze was mostly written over last winter break, when I was travelling around South India. But, I write less than I used to. I try to fit writing into the margins—grab thirty minutes here and there—and the occasional long plane flight gives me a bigger block to work with.
DC: Up to now, you are primarily known as a short story writer and webzine editor, has the transition to lengthier pieces been a challenge?
CR: I'd say no. I've been editing longer works for about the last eighteen months, so I know what I'm looking for in a book, and I've tried to fit my own writing to that standard.
Also, I play to my strengths. (This is something I learned writing short stories.) I'm best at writing noir, first-person narratives completely entrenched in the character's perspective, with a clear conflict that appears on every page, and plenty of swearing. I'm not good at constructing complicated plots, switching character perspectives, and writing action, so I don't do much of that.
Squeeze is somewhat slower paced than most of the work we publish. I was trying to get inside of Kaspar's mind and track him from the beginning, so that necessitated this approach.
DC: What's next for Chris Rhatigan?
CR: Publishing. We're on pace to publish twenty titles this year. Here's our upcoming schedule:
- Squeeze – April 15
- The Last Laugh, a short story collection by Paul D. Brazill – May 1
- Cleaning Up Finn, Sarah M. Chen's debut book – May 15
- Kill 'Em with Kindness, our second C.S. DeWildt title – June 1.
I'll also have another short story collection coming out this fall.
To learn more or order a copy, visit:
David Cranmer aka Edward A. Grainger is the publisher and editor of BEAT to a PULP books http://www.beattoapulp.com/ and writer of the forthcoming The Drifter Detective #7: Torn and Frayed. He lives in New York with his wife and daughter.
Chris Rhatigan is the co-editor for All Due Respect, and teaches history in India with his wife. He has written several short stories, and his upcoming book Squeeze is available on April 15th.