This week Barnes & Noble is spotlighting Mark T. Conard‘s crime novel Dark as Night, the first in his Philly Payback Series, and to give you a glimpse of the man behind the moment, The Rogue Reader‘s Ro Cuzon interviews Mark in our continuing Rogue Conversations Series. Read an extended excerpt of Dark as Night - and download the book for any ereader you like. (And if you’ve not yet discovered Ro Cuzon, do the same with his acclaimed crime novels too.)
RO CUZON: You are the Chair of the Philosophy and Religious Studies Department at Marymount Manhattan College in NYC. What drew you to Crime Fiction?
MARK T CONARD: I started writing crime/suspense by accident. I started working on a screenplay in grad school with a friend of mine. When we began, we didn’t have any particular genre in mind. We just wanted to come up with a story, and it turned out to be a suspense/mystery. We came up with a crude outline of the plot and some character sketches, and he left it to me to put it into screenplay format, which I didn’t know how to do. I let it sit in my desk drawer for a couple of years, then decided one summer to turn it into a novel. I wrote, rewrote, edited, read in the genre (I’d never read any suspense or crime literature until I started writing it), and finally came up with a complete draft. I enjoyed the process so much, that I started right away on a second one. Dark as Night was the fourth manuscript I completed, and the first one published, originally by Uglytown.
That’s kind of how I ended up in the genre, too. It was actually Adam who suggested I went the Crime Fiction route. Since my stories always included drugs and shady characters, I guess it wasn’t that big of a leap.
That’s cool. So how long have you been signed with Adam Chromy (@theadamchromy)? Sounds like he gave you some solid advice.
Quite a while now. He signed me up after the first novel I wrote in English and really taught me a lot—back then I don’t think I even knew what ‘plot’ was. So which are the genre’s authors you think had the biggest influence on your writing/style?
My biggest influences have been Elmore Leonard, Jim Thompson, James Ellroy, Raymond Chandler, and David Goodis. When I started writing, I was consciously imitating the style of one of these guys. I wrote an Elmore Leonard novel, and then a Jim Thompson novel, and then a James Ellroy novel. It was in the middle of my sixth novel that I found my voice. I was reading some pages and I realized, “this sounds like me!”
These are a few of my favorite authors as well. Now, you’re the editor of several non-fiction books about the relationship between philosophy & cinema (Woody Allen; Scorcese; Spike Lee; The Coen brothers; Noir; Neo-Noir; even one on the Simpsons). How did that series come about. Was it your idea?
The first in the Philly Payback Series: Dark as Night
I first got into film and philosophy (or more broadly, popular culture and philosophy) when I wrote an essay on symbolism and meaning in Pulp Fiction. After that, a friend and colleague, Bill Irwin, had the brilliant idea of doing a volume on Seinfeld and philosophy. That was right around the time the show was going off the air. Subsequently, Bill and I, along with another friend, Aeon Skoble, edited a volume on the Simpsons, and that’s what really started the whole thing. It really launched a new sub-category of contemporary philosophical analysis. The publisher of that book decided to do a series and made Bill the general editor. Aeon and I then did a book on Woody Allen for Bill’s series, and then I decided to start my own series at a different press. So my film noir, neo-noir, Scorsese, Coen brothers, and Spike Lee books are all published in my own series. This is my main area of scholarly work.
Very cool. And is that non-fiction series of yours available in eBook format as well or just print?
The philosophy books are available in e-format as well.
Speaking of Neo-Noir, I just read and thoroughly enjoyed Dark As Night, the first novel of your Philly Payback series now out from The Rogue Reader. I especially dug how you incorporated food and the restaurant business. I love to cook and worked in the service industry for close to twenty years, which is to say I’m very familiar with it, and those restaurant or cooking scenes in your book were dead on. Did you work in restaurants or hang out with chefs?
Killer’s Coda by Mark T Conard
You know, I never really worked in a restaurant or hung out with chefs (save for a brief stint as a dishwasher at a country club when I was in college). It’s just that I adore good food and eating well, and I love going to good restaurants and trying new places, etc. As I noted on the Bublish excerpt, I didn’t have access to really great food when I was growing up in the Midwest. We ate well, in the sense of having food on the table and being nourished, but I never really experienced cooking and food as artistry until I moved to Philly, which was and is a great restaurant city. So that side of my aesthetic sensibility was awakened, and great food, eating well, became a terrific passion of mine. So it was natural for me to make the main character a chef and to set many of the scenes in restaurants. I also had a lot of fun with food and digestion as a metaphor in that book—the cop who has no appetite, the bloated gangster who’s dyspeptic, and so forth. That’s also why I thought that Nietzsche quote worked so well as an epigraph. As I side note, I only recently have started to figure out how to cook well. I tried it a number of times over the years, but I was always a disaster at it. Something just didn’t click. But now I’m doing better.
Yeah. Food and writing, man. They saved my life. Literally. Well, and wine, too.
Cool. Too bad you don’t live closer. Seems like we’d have a lot of fun hanging out.
Indeed. Let’s try to make it happen next time I’m in New York. OK. One final question for you: how did you get involved with The Rogue Reader?
I met Adam years ago, around the time that Dark as Night first came out. We kept in touch over the years. I’d send him some work periodically, but for whatever reason things didn’t happen. So a few months ago a filmmaker in LA got in touch with me about optioning the movie rights to Dark. He’d seen a terrific online review of the book that Eric Beetner had written not long ago; he found the book, loved it, and thought it would make a great movie. I had been working with another agent for a while, but he hadn’t been able to place my work. He was an older man and died after a short illness earlier last year. So, needing representation, I reached out to Adam to help me negotiate any movie deal that might happen. He agreed to help, and we got on the phone one afternoon, and he started telling me about The Rogue Reader. I told him I’d been continually writing, so I had a backlog of good manuscripts. In addition, since the original publisher of Dark had gone out of business, those rights had reverted to me. So we realized that the time was right, and everything came together very fortuitously. I’m very pleased and excited to have joined you and the other Rogue authors.
Yeah, welcome to the team, man. Good to have you. I enjoyed chatting with you and I’m looking forward to reading your other books. And I’ll definitely give you a shout next time I’m up in NYC.
Great. Thanks for taking the time to do this. I really appreciate it.