Will “the Thrill” Viharo is a freelance writer, pulp fiction author, B movie impresario and lounge lizard at large. His published bibliography includes the retrospective anthology series The Thrillville Pulp Fiction Collection featuring all of his standalone novels, as well as the definitive omnibus The Vic Valentine Classic Case Files (both available from Thrillville Press). Gutter Books offers the first and final Vic Valentine novels, respectively, Love Stories Are Too Violent For Me and Hard-boiled Heart. Additionally, Will has written two sci-fi collaborations with Scott Fulks, It Came From Hangar 18 and The Space Needler’s Intergalactic Bar Guide.
Viharo was interviewed by Hector Duarte Jr. for Sliver of Stone.
Sliver of Stone: You have a big affinity for retro, rat-pack culture: the old school. Tell us where that stems from and how it influences your writing.
Will Viharo: I’ve always been drawn to midcentury aesthetics, even though I’m politically progressive. It’s just my natural inclination, style-wise, long before it became trendy due to “Swingers” or “Mad Men,” both of which I adore. Though honestly, I’ve long since shed any nostalgia for any era other than my own, and prefer to dwell on the future rather than the past, both personally and philosophically. However, I still dig midcentury fashions, music, movies, and pop culture. It’s just who I am. Maybe because I was born in 1963? Who knows or cares. Anyway, I never knew how to apply that innate affinity to my actual lifestyle until I saw Frank, Dean and Sammy perform at the Oakland Coliseum in 1988, one of their final public appearances together. I “received” the Rat Pack. Before that, I saw my life as a tragic poem. Now I started viewing it as a stylish comic book. Sure, I’d never be rich and famous or as talented as those cats, but at least they knew how to enjoy life. I was in my mid-20s and already felt like my life was over due to various setbacks and hardships, some of my own making, others not. My attitude adjustment gradually affected my wardrobe choices. I bought my first sharkskin jacket at a thrift store and never looked back. I believe your outer appearance should reflect your inner state. Even though I’m dressed on a strict pulp writer’s/dog walker’s budget, with the help of my wife Monica, a natural born fashion guru, I’m able to feel like the long lost literary member of the Rat Pack. At least when they were still Democrats. I’m also a jazz cat and that’s primarily the type of music I listen to, but I enjoy rock when I’m driving and sometimes when I’m writing. Music is very important to establishing a mood in my life as well as in my fiction. That subjective soundtrack is essential to my identity. But I’m not hung up on collecting old junk. I dig new stuff that maintains that modernist style. Then I just make it my own. The past is great for mining creative material and inspiration, but otherwise, it’s dead and buried and better off left alone. Otherwise you have to deal with zombies. Though I like zombies, too. At least the old school slow-ass ones.
S.O.S: Name both a book and movie you read/saw and instantly said: “I want to do that right there.”
W.V: All of my fiction is cinematic in nature and heavily influenced by movies. I was a film programmer for nearly two decades, as well as host/producer of my own cult movie cabaret, “Thrillville,” the source of the name of my all-new imprint, devoted to publishing anthologies of my own work, Thrillville Press. It’s my well-established brand name, just reapplied to my true mission in life, writing. Anyway, as for recent films that “felt” like my fiction, I’d have to go with anything that was essentially a mood piece. Generally, David Lynch comes the closest, though my stuff is my own unique vision and any parallels to his equally idiosyncratic oeuvre are incidental, not intentional. I just find his movies very inspirational. Sometimes I suspect he’s directing my real life. I’m really looking forward to the rebooted “Twin Peaks,” filming about an hour from my home here in Seattle, which is really cool. Anyway, back to the question: the indie horror flick “It Follows” maintained a nightmarish mood of surrealistic menace that reminds me a bit of some of my own horror-noir-bizarro stuff like “Mermaid” and “Freaks,” mostly due to the cool, retro-synth soundtrack. Except my stuff is way, way more graphic, sexually and otherwise. But that’s always the case. I liked the tense ambience of “Sicario” too, though my own noir fiction is way too outré to make that comparison.
S.O.S: Tell us about your process. What’s a typical writing day look like for Will Viharo?
W.V: I make a deadline, which varies, then I meet it. Depends on the project. I never get writer’s block once I make up my mind to sit down and finish something. I actually enjoy the act of writing. It’s the only time I feel truly focused and in control, other than sex, which may be one reason it also makes me so horny, my own free version of Viagra. Right now I’m taking a break since I published six books last year, four of which are in the process of being reprinted under my own banner, Thrillville Press, since the original publisher, Double Life Press, suddenly called it quits at the top of this year. I retained all rights to the exterior and interior files, so I’m simply reissuing them under my own imprint. That’s what I’m busy with these days: promoting my existing body of work. Even if I never add any titles, I’m very proud of it. But if I do take up another big writing project, I will once again get obsessed and devote to it any time I’m not dog walking or blog-writing or playing with my cats. Or sleeping or watching movies or eating or drinking cocktails. Otherwise, yeah. Totally immersed. You can’t stop me. I can only stop myself.
S.O.S: What about the hard-boiled/noir genre keeps you coming back for more? Why do you think it’s not taken as seriously in “literary” circles?
W.V: I don’t give a shit about “literary” or any other types of insecure, self-aggrandizing social circle-jerks, so I can’t address that aspect of the question directly. Other peoples’ hang-ups are not my problem. I have enough of my own issues to deal with. I produce the best work I can, true to my own agenda and standards, and then the world can take it or leave it. As to the first part: for me, it’s always been about The Voice, both as a reader and as a writer. I’m not a storyteller. I’m a dream conveyer. I don’t really consider myself a “crime writer” per se, partly because there’s a glut of incredibly talented writers already steadily churning out top-notch work in that field as is, so nobody really needs my superfluous contributions. The only truly “hard-boiled” fiction I’ve produced is my over-the-top crime-noir-thriller Down a Dark Alley and the Vic Valentine, Private Eye series, which is more of an ironic twist on the detective genre than by-the-book retreads of well-worn turf. I shifted from reading literary to crime fiction back in the ‘80s when I discovered the work of Jim Thompson, Charles Willeford, David Goodis and others from the heyday of pulp fiction, as well as contemporary geniuses like James Lee Burke, Carl Hiaasen, Walter Mosley, Barry Gifford and others. What resonates with me is the loneliness and desperation of the central characters. I can relate to those qualities, though I’ve never had any desire to even fire a gun. I am not fascinated with criminal types at all. I’ve lived among them in residential hotels during my impoverished youth and trust me, there’s nothing romantic or appealing about sociopaths. Vic Valentine is an anachronistic, self-proclaimed “private eye” because he has nothing better to do with his life, and it’s something he saw in old movies and decided he could try since it didn’t require any formal education, only a license that he obtained basically illegally. He’s not an ex-cop or ex-GI or any of that macho jazz. He’s a fuck-up with a trench coat and a gun, not a true detective, but for me that’s his appeal. His quests are mostly for female company and to figure out the meaning of his pathetic little existence. The cases and plots are incidental. He’s sort of a cross between Holden Caulfield and Philip Marlowe. Salinger and Chandler heavily influenced me as a young writer because I could pick up “Catcher in the Rye” or “Farewell My Lovely” and just start reading anywhere at random, totally engaged, even if I’d already finished it, like I was spending time with an old friend. A portable companion. That’s why I dig crime fiction. The Voice. The naked honesty of human emotion at its most vulnerable. The crimes and plots themselves I find are interchangeable and incidental. A writer can only distinguish him or herself by simply being themselves. Everything else has been done to death.
S.O.S: What can writers learn from reading the pulpiest of novels and watching the most grindhouse movie?
S.OS: What keeps attracting audiences to these sort of “basement” genres of literature and film? (“Basement,” here, is a term of endearment and homage.)
W.V.: Simple: base human instincts like lust, greed, fear, envy, and anger. There’s no denying the primitive motivations of all people to varying degrees and I don’t even try. In fact, I wallow in them. At least in my fiction. It’s a vicarious, self-therapeutic release of my darkest desires. I think people read this stuff for the same reasons. At least nobody else gets hurt this way.
S.O.S: Who are you reading right now? What writers do you think the rest of us should be reading?
W.V: Man, I can’t answer that without omitting names that deserve way more love than they’re getting. Pretty much all I read now are books by fellow authors, mostly in the crime field, one reason I’m burned out on that genre, but they’re all incredibly talented, to the point I don’t even know why I bother to try. The trick is to simply do your own thing and not worry about what everyone else is doing, easier said than done sometimes. I try to show my support for many of my brothers and sisters in this pitiless game as I can by posting reviews of their books on Amazon, sharing their announcements, etc. My stuff is totally in its own class anyway, so I never feel the pinch of competition. Nobody else writes books like mine, and that’s my main point of pride. Especially since hardly anyone reads books like mine, either. So anyway, way too many names to mention. You don’t have the space, and I don’t have the time. They’re all fucking great.
S.O.S: How has the move from NorCal to Seattle been both good and bad for your writing? How is location important for a writer?
W.V: No downside, it’s all good. I’ve written and published two new novels since relocating here over a year and a half ago: my second sci-fi collaboration with Scott Fulks, The Space Needler’s Intergalactic Bar Guide, and my brand new Vic Valentine novel, Hard-boiled Heart, just published by Gutter Books, which reissued the very first one, Love Stories Are Too Violent For Me, in 2013. Both are set locally. I left a lot of personal baggage by the Bay, and I feel much lighter without it. I love the fact hardly anyone knows me here. I feel isolated and free and far away from my past. That’s such an empowering feeling. Superficially, I dig the weather in Seattle. I’m one of the few humans that actually hates the sun. I find rain and cool, cloudy weather both creatively inspiring and personally (as well as physically) soothing. I’m a pluviophile. That sounds nasty but it just means someone who prefers rain to sunshine. My wife feels the same way, otherwise we’d drive each other crazy since most people just don’t dig my disdain for bright warmth. I had my fill after nearly three decades in California. I miss my friends, but I definitely do not miss that state. I love the trees, the lakes, the crisp air, the progressive politics, the artistic culture, everything about Seattle. It’s my true home. I was born in New York City, raised in New Jersey, spent some of my childhood in Houston (love my family there, hate Texas), and like I said, spent most of my adult life in California, first L.A., then the Bay Area. No regrets, lots of great memories and friends, made my mark and brand name there, and will always have some roots in that dry soil. But I finally feel at home here in Seattle. A harmonious environment is essential to any artist, I’d imagine. I can only speak for myself. This move literally saved my soul.
S.O.S: Tell us a bit about the NorCal noir scene and drop some of its up and coming names.
W.V: There you go again. That is probably the main hub of crime fiction today. Off the top of my head: Joe Clifford (my editor for Gutter), Tom Pitts, Rob Pierce, Mike Monson, Eddie Muller, William Wallace…aw, fuck. Man, there are dozens. Hundreds. Basically, if you want to live someplace where if you throw a rock you’ll hit another crime writer, who will throw it right back, make your head bleed, then give you a big hug, move to Northern CA. If you can afford it. If you’re a crime writer, probably not. I don’t know how these guys do it. They stick to the ‘burbs, I guess. Me, sunshine ruins my mood. I don’t know who can come up with dark fiction with all that god damn brightness spoiling the atmosphere. Of course, there are all the great Florida crime writers, another hotbed of the genre. Me, I need clouds and rain to thrive. To each their own.
S.O.S: Some parting words for the budding writer, frustrated beyond their wit, ready to quit on this precious craft of ours.
W.V: I always tell aspiring writers to quit immediately and save themselves some pointless heartache. The born authors will ignore that advice and keep writing anyway, regardless of rejection, because that creative urge is inherently compulsive and so impossible to ignore, since it’s embedded in their artistic DNA. It’s like being a werewolf. It’s a curse with only one known cure. And unless you suck on a silver bullet, you’re doomed. Like me. Sorry.
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