TBR [to be read] is a semi-regular, invitation-only interview series with authors of newly released/forthcoming, interesting books who will tell us about their new work as well as offer tips on writing, stories about the publishing biz, and from time to time, a recipe.
Give us your elevator pitch: what’s your book about in 2-3 sentences?
Colton Ward is the ultimate heist artist…who rips off other heist artists. Hey, it’s not really stealing if you’re stealing from other crooks, right? Banks. Casinos. Warehouses. Cargo ships. From Davos to Rome, Bangkok to the Isle of Man, Miami to the Twin Cities, Colton and his brother Denny carry out a succession of dangerous scores. Until their luck runs out. Colton’s pinched by the FBI and faced with a choice: go to prison or work for the world-weary Agent Hoskins, who heads up a unit that specializes in robberies exceeding one million dollars.
I do love a good villain. And Magnuson, the head of a Nordic gang called the Vikes, was terrifyingly fun to write. He’s covered in tattoos of Norse myths and at one point he interrogates someone while making them drink an entire bottle of whiskey (so as to bring down their defensive ability to lie).
But Colton, the main character, ultimately wins my heart. He’s the reason the novella exists at all. And he’s the reason there will likely be some follow-up stories.
Colton is a rip-off artist you can’t help but root for. He pulls off heists on the guys who pull off heists. Bank robbers. Casino robbers. Warehouse robbers. Not only is he always one step ahead of them, he lets them do the dirty work. He rests comfortably on the notion that it’s not really stealing if you’re stealing from crooks…and he has enough of a conscience that he dumps a lot of the money into charities.
One of his eyes is blue, the other green, a rare condition called heterochromia that captures the two sides of him. Here’s the pleasant charmer who tips well and flirts with everyone and stops traffic so a family of ducklings can cross the street. And here’s the guy who will coldly stare at you down the line of the gun and tell you to do as you’re told.
He’s a liar. And his unreliability carries over to the storytelling. We’ll hear, for instance, several versions of his origin story. In one, his parents lose everything (because the bank reclaims their business) and his dad commits suicide. In another story, his father was a con artist who was finally cornered and gunned down by the cops at Colton’s Chuck E. Cheese birthday party.
In another, he and his family were shopping downtown, when a getaway car struck his father at a crosswalk. His body rolled thirty yards before coming to a stop in a broken heap. The driver had just robbed a bank, and he didn’t so much as slow down, squealing away in a purple Lincoln the size of a gray whale. Money fluttered from the open window of the vehicle. And little Colton picked up a twenty off the street. A twenty he keeps in his wallet to this day. The perp was never apprehended. So in a way, everyone Colton is robbing—as an adult—is some version of that guy. The guy in the purple Lincoln.
Whichever version is true, it’s clear that his father left behind an aching cavity he’s trying to fill.
Tell us a bit about the highs and lows of your book’s road to publication.
This is novella, which is both my favorite length for a story and the most difficult to place. A literary journal or magazine doesn’t have the space. And you can’t really publish a 60-pager as a standalone book. So I’m thrilled to be working with NeoText. Not only do they publish novellas—digitally—but they also hire killer artists to illustrate the narrative. In this case, I worked with Michael Gaydos, who brings a gritty noir-soaked vision to the story.
Later on, I can include American Criminal in a published book of short stories, if I want, but for now, people can download it off the NeoText website or read it via Kindle.
What’s your favorite piece of writing advice?
When I took a creative writing workshop with Barry Hannah—way, way back in 2003—I asked him if he had any parting advice, and he lit a cigarette and blew out a cloud of smoke and said, “Thrill me!”
My favorite writing advice is “write until something surprises you.” What surprised you in the writing of this book?
The story is very twisty—because it’s a thriller and because the narrator is unreliable—and so it’s constantly turning and turning and turning on itself in surprising ways. Given that I plot out my novels in advance, you’d think that would be the case here. But the architecture was very loose actually. And I ended up following the voice more than anything, discovering trap doors for the character along the way. That’s not normally the way I write, but I’m very glad I allowed myself that freedom here.
How did you find the title of your book?
I wanted a title I could build a franchise on, honestly. Like a True Detective. American Criminal felt right, because of the code this guy follows. It also felt right because of where we are right now as a country. The headlines are dominated by corruption. There’s a swelling divide between the one percent and the rest of us. Capitalism deserves disruption.
Inquiring foodies and hungry book clubs want to know: Any food/s associated with your book? (Any recipes I might share?)
Does Chuck E. Cheese count? How about chicken wings at a sports bar? Or a few shots of Aquavit?
READ MORE ABOUT THIS AUTHOR: www.benjaminpercy.com
ORDER (VIA DOWNLOAD) THIS BOOK FOR YOUR OWN TBR STACK: