I first ran across Peter Farris’s fiction at Shotgun Honey, a website dedicated to crime-themed flash fiction. (Be sure to check out “Disney Noir”.) His first novel, Last Call for the Living, was published last year (the mass market paperback comes out on March 26) and has been described as a “gritty and fascinating Southern noir gem” and “a debut that demands attention.”
I agree with both descriptions. Last Call for the Living probably shouldn’t be as easy to read as it is. Many of the characters are despicable, the situations they find themselves in astoundingly brutal. But the skill of Farris’s writing keeps you turning the page.
Farris is from Cobb County, Georgia. The sense of place injected into Last Call for the Living is another reason the book succeeds. Imagining yourself in the rural Southern landscape he paints is effortless.
If it’s not already clear, I highly recommend Farris’s first novel and I can’t wait to read his next. Here are Four Questions With… Peter Farris.
Last Call for the Living features completely memorable characters, both the “bad guys” and the “good guys,” if you will. How hard was it — and how fun — to come up with this cast?
It was a challenge, to be honest, especially with a character like Hicklin, who’s not only a criminal sociopath but a white supremacist. I can’t say I enjoyed writing about folks who harbor such extreme prejudices, who operate with a blind superiority in their own race, but I knew even the most despicable characters have to be drawn without any sympathies or antipathies, and without any judgement from the author.
I knew if I wrote Hicklin straight, then I might have a shot at manipulating reader allegiances by book’s end. I’ve heard from quite a few people “angry” at me for getting them to root for such an awful person. Gotta admit I’ve taken some satisfaction in that.
Were any of the characters more fun, or more natural, to write than the others?
Well, I did have one gal in Houston ask if I’d ever done time in prison, on account of my tattoos I suppose, but actually Charlie Colquitt came the easiest to me. I’d worked as a bank teller for a few years myself, just a dead-end job I took for health benefits while I wrote and hoped somebody in New York would buy one of my novels. Even been in a robbery that thankfully wasn’t as violent as the one that opens Last Call for the Living.
But I felt like I could relate to Charlie in many respects — a geek and loner, with obsessions and preoccupations that aren’t shared by the majority of folks. Plus Charlie’s arc as a character seemed to just come intuitively during the writing of that first draft, which I suppose reflects my own fascination with the transformations people undergo in life… and the reasons behind them.
It seems as though you’re very much at home in remote locales (at least as an author), and in many ways the rural setting functions as another character. Was that planned, or did it develop that way?
I was raised in a suburb of Atlanta, but you don’t have to drive too far in any direction to find that “off-the-grid” remoteness. Setting Last Call for the Living in north Georgia wasn’t a calculated decision or anything. Really more a reflection of my love for regional fiction.
Don’t get me wrong, I love Joe Wambaugh’s Los Angeles or Duane Swierczynski’s Philadelphia as much as the next crime and mystery fan, but my Mount Rushmore writers set their work in the rural South, and when I first got serious about writing I was instinctively drawn toward the places covered in kudzu, not concrete.
What can we expect next, and will it have a snake-handling scene?
Ha-ha! No snake-handling scene but plenty of mayhem, I can promise you that. My next novel is called Ghost in the Fields and it’s set in south Georgia. I’m really proud of the book and think it’s light years ahead of Last Call for the Living. I don’t know who will be publishing the novel yet, but hopefully there’ll be some news soon.
Many thanks to Peter for joining me in Four Questions With… Here’s the trailer for Last Call for the Living: