Ed Kurtz: Pushing the Boundaries

Ed Kurtz is the author of The Rib From Which I Remake the World and other novels. His short fiction has appeared in Thuglit, Shotgun Honey, Needle, and numerous anthologies including Best American Mystery Stories 2014 and Best Gay Stories 2014. Kurtz lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Ed was interviewed by Hector Duarte Jr. for Sliver of Stone Magazine.

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Hector Duarte Jr.: When was the moment you knew you wanted to write? Do you remember your first creative piece? What was it?

Ed Kurtz: I don’t really remember a time when I wasn’t actively attempting to tell stories. The first one I can recall writing was in the first grade, on that enormous newsprint with space at the top for drawing a picture. I’d written a Transformers story and the teacher scolded me for the sentence, “It started to rain.” She said one doesn’t begin a sentence with “it,” and I needed to identify what “it” was. “The sky started to rain?” I asked her, incredulously. She nodded. “That’s stupid,” I said. Thus began my twelve-year battle with public schools and, I suppose, my stubborn endeavor to write in spite of acerbic criticism. I expect that teacher is probably dead by now, but I can’t remember her name anyway, so I think I win.

You seem to have a big affinity for grindhouse and pulp culture? Where does that stem from and how does it influence your writing? How do you try and incorporate it in your own work?

I’ve been a cinema fanatic since I was a young kid, and I started to get cold on mainstream Hollywood stuff pretty early on just from having being exposed to much of it. Back home in Arkansas we had a few of these great, dusty old Mom and Pop video shops that never threw anything out, so I’d scour the darker corners of these joints looking for weirder and more obscure stuff until at last I was a confirmed exploitation fiend. My love of both horror and crime fiction stems largely from these seeds, from which I branched off to everything from Ed McBain and Mickey Spillane to T.E.D. Klein and Bentley Little. With regard to my own work, I’ve written straight-up exploitation/pulp like Dead Trash, but I’m more inclined to incorporate my experiential adoration of the material like I did with The Forty-Two, a murder mystery set on the infamous Deuce in late 1970s Times Square with a protagonist who is addicted to the slime and sheer weirdness of it all. My new novel, The Rib From Which I Remake the World, began when I decided I wanted to write something about the sleazy “hygiene” roadshow pictures that traveled around in the 1940s like Kroger Babb’s Mom and Pop. I got a lot of great help from the late honcho of Something Weird Video, Mike Vraney, who probably knew more about this corner of trash cinema history than anyone.

I asked Will Viharo and I’m curious about your response: Is there anything to learn from watching the most grindhouse of movies or reading the pulpiest novels? If so, what?

Absolutely—much to learn. One of my favorite things about Italian horror and crime films of the 1970s, for example, is how little they dawdle or fuck around with the narrative. Those pictures just started and when the conflict was resolved they stopped. In a lot of the horror pictures—I’m thinking Lucio Fulci’s in particular—there really isn’t so much of a resolution as time simply runs out for our luckless heroes. These guys toyed so much with traditional narrative structure because there wasn’t much to lose. The films were sold on the American market on the strength of their poster art and ad campaigns, and nobody much cared if they were any good! Accordingly, they could get away with almost anything, whether that meant pushing the boundaries of good taste or just outright rejecting accepted storytelling norms. Both things I love in a story, whether on celluloid or paper.

Name two writers, musicians, and filmmakers, (each), that influence you do this day.

Jim Thompson and Haruki Murakami are writers I always return to. As for musicians, Tom Waits for his storytelling and David Byrne for his wonderfully reckless experimentation. Filmmakers that continue to influence me are Samuel Fuller and Sergio Corbucci, to name only two of dozens.

Who should people be reading that they might not know about?

So many to name! Rob Hart’s Ash McKenna novels, starting with New Yorked, are fantastic. The third one, South Village, is just out from Polis Books. I’m a huge fan of the British crime writer Alex Marwood, who also has a new one, The Darkest Secret. I thought Patrick Shawn Bagley’s rural Maine crime novel Bitter Water Blues was terrific, and I’m also really into the horror stories and novels of another New England author, Kristin Dearborn.

Name some classic books that got you where you are today.

Thompson’s The Killer Inside Me and Barker’s Books of Blood were huge. I wrote my first novel after reading Dan Simmons’ The Terror and thinking, “Shit, I can do something like this.” I have an academic background in literature, so Shakespeare, Melville, and Ralph Ellison loom large over me.

Your part-time jobs are sources of much chatter on social media. What do you glean from them?

It can be a truly noir experience, working overnights in hotels, which I’ve done off and on for about three years. A friend of mine in Germany recommended it to me as a way to earn some money and have quiet time to write, but along the way I’ve had junkies OD in front of me, corpses get hauled out of rooms by paramedics, and a fairly constant parade of sad or mean drunks, itinerant wanderers, and world-weary sex workers. The truly interesting people really do come out at night, and more than a few of them have made their way into my work in some way. Plus I get all the coffee I can drink.

Describe a typical writing day for you. Morning or night? Totally silent room or do you have music playing in the background? Are you writing at home, bars, or coffee houses?

I’m mostly only awake when the sun is down, so it’s a late night activity for me. I’ll write at the night gig, at home, and also at my neighborhood bar (though I largely edit there, inverting Hemingway’s advice because, hey, why the fuck not?). I’m constantly emailing notes to myself because I never have a pen.

What’s one thing you wish you could change about the publishing game as it is today?

I can’t help but feel that a lot of the more visible publishing entities out there still shy away from material that prominently features LGBT or minority characters based on the obsolete presupposition that the preponderance of paying readers don’t want that in their books. It’s bullshit, it’s been bullshit for some time, and as much as I respect and am grateful for the queer press (for example), I honestly don’t think it’s wholly necessary anymore. Straight people will read about gay people. White folks will read about black folks. Men will read about women. It’s 2016, for fuck’s sake.

What’s something we’re blessed about having the publishing industry be the way it is today?

I came into the game in the age of ebooks and micropress publishers, so I haven’t any direct experience with the “good old days,” but I’m loath to fall into a Golden Age claptrap that things were somehow better before now. There’s so much more now, and competition for readership is spread much more broadly, but there are also far more readers than ever before. I recently sold a reprint for an app I don’t understand at all, and my first adaptation is about to start filming for a web platform I also can’t really wrap my head around. I’m pretty old school (I still edit with a red pen), but I find these kinds of new opportunities pretty damn exciting. Maybe if I live long enough they’ll be beaming my novels directly into people’s brains. But Christ, I hope not.

The quintessential closer-question: What advice do you give to aspiring writers and to those sitting behind their desks wondering why the fuck they’re still clacking away at the keys?

The biggest thing for me in this era of instant gratification, (and technology that allows the “anyone can do it” approach to nearly everything), is to slow the hell down, pay your dues, and take the time to get good at this. Ninety-nine percent of the time it’s going to be a bad idea to self-publish the first thing you manage to crack out without ever having gotten it vetted, which is really just a lack of patience. I’d written five novels by the time I got one published by a very small press, and though that is certainly not the only way to go about it, the only mistake I made was throwing something out there myself first—because I got too frustrated too early in the game and wanted to see my name on a book cover. Stupid! The first novel I ever wrote is about a decade old now, been through numerous rewrites and revisions, and three publishers that never quite got it into print. I’m still going back to it every so often, tweaking it and talking to folks about its potential future. Maybe it’ll never see the light of day, but that’s all right too. It’s all an education, and a good education is never really free, is it?

Comments

  1. This is a great interview with a great writer. I’m reading RIB right now and am consistently impressed.

Trackbacks

  1. […] Ed was interviewed by Hector Duarte Jr. for Sliver of Stone Magazine. […]

  2. […] with Ed Kurtz, Parker Philips, and Julie Marie Wade. Visual Art by Carlos Franco-Ruiz and Jayne Marek. Fiction by […]

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