In the last few weeks I've had a bit of a purple patch in my reading, with a range of really terrific top-notch books. Lots of four and five-star reads. While I've come to expect ongoing excellence from the likes of Michael Connelly (THE CROSSING) and Paul Cleave (TRUST NO ONE), I've also been delighted by entertaining and thought-prodding tales from several new-to-me authors and debutants.
One of my favourite reads of 2015 falls in the latter category: Tom Bouman's DRY BONES IN THE VALLEY. Released in the US last year, and the UK and Commonwealth this year, Bouman's first effort is an exceptional rural mystery novel. As I said in my review:
"A lean and thought-provoking rural noir that leaves breathing room among its exquisite storytelling and compelling characters... an absorbing tale that is remarkably assured. There are shades of Urban Waite, John Hart, or Daniel Woodrell in the elegant and evocative rendering of rural and smalltown life in DRY BONES IN THE VALLEY. Bouman soaks readers in the backwoods setting, giving us a vivid sensory experience as we follow his fiddle-playing, deer hunting local cop."No surprise the book won the Edgar Award for Best First Novel, alongside the LA Times Book Prize.
So today I'm very pleased to welcome Tom Bouman to Crime Watch, where the man behind this terrific book becomes the 134th author to stare down the barrel of 9mm. Let's dive in...
1. Who is your favourite recurring crime fiction hero/detective, and what is it you love about them?
I grew up reading John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee series, which spanned the sixties to the eighties. There’s wish fulfillment to the way McGee lives: on a houseboat in the Florida sun, or driving his converted Rolls Royce pickup someplace out West, without obligations in the square world, in a series of adventures and sexual escapades that never coalesce into responsibilities. MacDonald gives McGee a rich, iconoclastic narrative voice that, despite its rampant objectifications and blind spots, is still awfully lovable.
2. What was the very first book you remember reading and really loving, and why?
I take it you mean a children’s book? I go back and forth, and can never settle on any one. As to literature aimed at adults, I was about twelve when I read David Copperfield, which my grandfather gave me. I was proud that he’d think I’d like it, and I did, for the great good humor in the voice, and the wild narrative within a class-bound and mannerly time and place. My grandfather or another relative also gave me Fielding’s Tom Jones, which I loved for similar reasons, the surprises in the voice, but that had a new quality in the presence of Fielding at the margins, joking and opining.
3. Before your debut crime novel, what else had you written (if anything) unpublished manuscripts, short stories, articles?
I had been in two writing programs, undergrad and MFA, so I wrote a lot of unpublished fiction before I really understood my own voice or approach to writing. I had to turn to crime, or return to it, to write anything worth a damn.
4. Outside of writing, and touring and promotional commitments, what do you really like to do, leisure and activity-wise?
I’m in law school now, and my wife and I have a three-year-old daughter, so there isn’t much time for leisure, but if I had it, I’d spend much of it outdoors. I cycle, run, hike, hunt, and watch birds. This spring we started gardening and had a bumper crop of tomatoes. I also was in a band for many years, so music is a big part of my life. We like having friends over for long, messy dinners and board games after.
5. What is one thing that visitors to your hometown should do, that isn't in the tourist brochures, or perhaps they wouldn’t initially consider?
There really isn’t anything touristy where I’m from, so I could suggest anything and it wouldn’t have been initially considered by anyone. Fall is very beautiful there. I’d suggest a hot-air balloon ride over the countryside. Hot air balloons are actually popular in that little area of northern Pennsylvania and upstate New York.
6. If your life was a movie, which actor could you see playing you?
Oof, there’s no good way to answer this question. If anyone, I’d have liked Philip Seymour Hoffman to do it, rest in peace. But nobody would see that movie, not even with him in it.
I’ve just got the one, Dry Bones in the Valley.
8. What was your initial reaction, and how did you celebrate, when you were first accepted for publication? Or when you first saw your debut story in book form?
I think I was working construction on a barn at the time, and I got a series of calls from my agent, my editor-to-be, my agent, and then bam. The offer was on the table. I think I went back to work and then got drunk with my wife later. It was kind of a drawn-out experience, so it was like, well, OK, events leading up to this moment have prepared me for it. I had to step back a bit and remember how long I’d dreamed of having a book published, and how few people get to do that.
9. What is the strangest or most unusual experience you have had at a book signing, author event, or literary festival?
So a few months ago I did an event in New York City with Hannah Pittard, a literary novelist and an old friend from high school. We had our first creative writing class with the same teacher, a renowned poet and publisher visiting from Ireland, Peter Fallon. By the time my book came out I hadn’t seen him in over a decade, and for all I knew he was over in Ireland, why wouldn’t he be. But he came to the New York event completely unexpectedly. And he brought with him this large hardbound journal in which, over the years, he’d had his many heavyweight literary friends handwrite excerpts of their work. And he had me write in it, and I thought, you know, man. It’s on the books now. I’m in that world in my own small way. I’d love to get another good long look at that journal, but it’s back in Ireland somewhere, I’m sure.
Thank you Tom. We appreciate you taking the time to chat with Crime Watch
You can read more about Tom Bouman and DRY BONES IN THE VALLEY at his website here.
You can follow him on Twitter here or on Facebook here.