Andrew Nette is a writer I’m predisposed to like because he takes the craft seriously. (You can’t take any craft more seriously than to work on a PhD in whatever it is, as he is in Australian pulp fiction, so kudos to Andrew.)
Andrew is co-editor of Beat Girls, Love Tribes and Real Cool Cats: Pulp Fiction and Youth Culture, 1950 – 1980, forthcoming from Verse Chorus Press. His short fiction has appeared in a number of print and on-line publications, including Crime Scenes, an anthology of Australian crime fiction published by Spineless Wonders, Beat to a Pulp Hardboiled 3, Shotgun Honey Presents: Both Barrels, Blood and Tacos, The One That Got Away, Phnom Penh Noir and Crime Factory Hard Labour.
His first novel, Ghost Money, a crime story set in Cambodia in the mid-nineties, was published in 2012. His second novel, Gunshine State was released by 280 Steps a couple of weeks ago, and is why we’re here today.
His online home is www.pulpcurry.com or you can follow him on Twitter @Pulpcurry
One Bite at a Time: Tell us about Gunshine State.
Andrew Nette: Gunshine State is an Australian take on the classic ‘heist gone wrong’ story, set in Surfers Paradise, Queensland, Thailand, and Melbourne.
Here’s the pitch: Gary Chance is a former Australian army driver, ex-bouncer and thief. His latest job takes place in Surfers Paradise, working as part gang run by an aging stand over man, Dennis Curry, who runs off-site, non-casino poker games, and wants to rob one of his best customers, a high roller called Frederick 'Freddie' Gao. The job seems straightforward but Curry's crew is anything but. Chance knows he can't trust anyone, but nothing prepares him for what unfolds when Curry's plan goes wrong.
OBAAT: Readers love to ask where authors get their ideas and most authors reply with something along the lines of “we’re tripping over them. The trick is to find the idea that works best for me.” What made this idea worth developing, and how much development from the original germ was required?
AN: There were a couple of key motivations behind Gunshine State. First, I love heist stories but very few of them have appeared in local crime fiction. I wanted to try my hand at writing what I hope is a quintessentially Australian take on the heist genre.
Second, there was a period in my life several years ago when, for various family reasons, I was spending a lot of time in Surfers Paradise. Surfers is a strange beast. It was basically a small settlement hacked out of mangrove swamps in the Forties and by the Sixties had become Australia’s foremost beach holiday destination, modeled on similar places in Florida. The local authorities now promote the place as a family friendly destination but it has a very colourful history, full of deeply suspect characters and goings on. Linked to this it is a very transient place. Nearly everyone who lives there comes from somewhere else. Although there is much less of it now, Surfers also still exudes a strange faux Miami atmosphere that influenced a lot of its construction in the Fifties and Sixties.
It’s the perfect place to kick off a heist story.
OBAAT: How long did it take to write Gunshine State, start to finish?
AN: All up about a year, although the idea had been percolating in my mind for a while.
OBAAT: Where did Gary Chance come from? In what ways is he like, and unlike, you?
AN: I am not sure there is any of me in him, but there are certainly aspects of people I have met. He is also strongly influenced by some of my favourite crime fiction criminal characters, particular Garry Disher’s Wyatt, Wallace Stroby’s Crissa Stone and Richard Stark’s (Donald Westlake) Parker.
OBAAT: In what time and place is Gunshine State set and why was this time and place chosen?
AN: It is set now. My first novel, Ghost Money, was an historical crime novel set in Cambodia in the 1970s and 90s. For my second book, I wanted to do something more contemporary.
OBAAT: How did Gunshine State come to be published?
AN: I’d heard very good things about 280 Steps. So, after getting knocked back by a few mainstream Australian publishers ‘because the story was a bit too dark’, I thought I would send it their way. They got back to me fairly quickly and said yes, which is great.
OBAAT: What kinds of stories do you like to read? Who are your favorite authors, in or out of that area?
AN: I try and read pretty broadly in terms of contemporary crime fiction. I have a preference for noir and hardboiled, especially if the material is written well and tries to being something innovative to the genre or put a new spin on a standard trope. In addition to the authors I mentioned above, think Donald Ray Pollock, Megan Abbott, David Peace, Elizabeth Hand, Cathi Unsworth and West Australian writer, David Whish Wilson, and you’ll get an idea the type of stuff I like.
OBAAT: What made you decide to be an author?
AN: I am not sure when I decided I wanted to be ‘an author’. I do remember when I decided I wanted to write a novel. I was in Cambodia in 1996 as a wire service journalist. I’d first visited the country in 1992 and it had fascinated me from the moment I first arrived. The people, the contrast between the anything goes, Wild West atmosphere of Phnom Penh and the hardscrabble but incredibly beautiful countryside. History oozed from the cracks in the French colonial architecture and protruded from the rich red earth, sometimes quite literally in the case of the mass graves that litter the countryside. Things happened every day – terrible events and acts of heart breaking generosity you couldn’t make up if you tried. I always thought Cambodia would be a good setting for a crime story but was too caught up in the day to day reporting of events and trying to make a living as a freelance journalist to put much of a dent in the book. That didn’t come until nearly a decade later, when one day I sat down and started reading through some old notes. In early 2008, my partner and I quit our jobs and moved to Cambodia for a year with our then two year old. I freelanced as a journalist, did fixing work for foreign TV crews and finished the first draft of what would be become my first novel, Ghost Money.
OBAAT: How do you think your life experiences have prepared you for writing crime fiction?
AN: I work with words. It’s what I have done to earn a living nearly all my adult all my adult life. I think it’s all I can do. Writing crime fiction is just one part of that, albeit a major one.
OBAAT: What do you like best about being a writer?
AN: The feeling of exhilaration you get when someone likes your material enough to publish you. Getting jazzed by seeing my name out there, whether it is on the cover of a book or an article. That feeling never gets old.
OBAAT: Who are your greatest influences?
AN: I am a huge fan of Don Westlake. Every book of his is a master class in plot, character and structure. I, like practically crime writer I know, owe a huge debt to James Ellroy. I get the impression he’s fallen out of favour a touch due to his last couple of books not being so well received as his earlier material, but his influence on crime writers, myself included, cannot be overstated. He blew a giant hole in the middle of what people thought crime fiction could be.
OBAAT: Do you outline or fly by the seat of you pants?
AN: I’d say I fall somewhere in the middle. I plan but not obsessively so.
OBAAT: Give us an idea of your process. Do you edit as you go? Throw anything into a first draft knowing the hard work is in the revisions? Something in between?
AN: Again, somewhere in the middle. I try not to revise as I write too much on a first draft, but I find it unavoidable.
OBAAT: Endings are hard and can make or break a book. Americans as a whole tend to like happy endings, and those are the books that tend to sell best. What do you look for in an ending?
AN: If I had to answer this, I would say, a powerful image. With Gunshine State and my first novel, Ghost Money, I had a very clear picture of how I wanted the endings to go and, to some degree, a lot of the process of writing was trying to make things lead up to that in a way worked.
OBAAT: Who is your intended audience?
AN: Seriously, if you’re reading this, you’re my intended audience.
OBAAT: If you could give a novice writer a single piece of advice, what would it be?
AN: Stop talking about writing. Just write.
OBAAT: Generally speaking the components of a novel are story/plot, character, setting, narrative, and tone. How would you rank these in order of their importance in your own writing, and can you add a few sentences to tell us more about how you approach each and why you rank them as you do?
AN: I don’t know if I can prioritise them. I can only say which components are harder/easier for me, because everyone has their own strengths and weaknesses. Character is the toughest for me, something I really need to work at right. Gunshine State is told from the perspectives of four characters, two men and two women. It was a real challenge for me trying to shift between four points of view, male and female, and make the characters concerned compelling and realistic.
I believe narrative is just a matter of imagination combined with perseverance. Setting and tone come more easily to me. I think this is because I think about a book like watching a film, if that makes sense.
OBAAT: If you could have written any book of the past hundred years, what would it be, and what is it about that book you admire most?
AN: Probably George Orwell’s 1984 because Big Brother IS watching you.
OBAAT: Favorite activity when you’re not reading or writing.
AN: Getting through the huge backlog of films on my TBW list, which is even bigger than my TBR pile, if that is possible.
OBAAT: What are you working on now?
AN: I’ve just started a PhD on the history of Australian pulp fiction, so that’s keeping me pretty busy. In addition to this, I am doing research for a monograph I have been contracted to write on the classic 1975 dystopian film, Rollerball and the films influenced by it. Oh, yes, and there is a second Gary Chance book in the works. I pretty much have the plot nailed, I just need to find the time to start writing it.