Monday, December 5, 2011
No Rules: MATTHEW C. FUNK
MATTHEW C. FUNK writes some of the tightest, most colorful stories in crime fiction these days, and a great deal of that is due to the very intimate sense of place in his work. Yes, he's a great plotter, and his characters are all vivid and memorable, but if you had to cite just one aspect of his body of work that stands above the rest, it would be his ability to make the setting seem as vital to the story as everything else. Like Faulkner's Yoknapatawpha County, Funk's Desire is a living breathing character in and of itself, informing all the events and shaping the characters.
Here's Matthew C. Funk, then, with a few words on his relationship with Desire...
I have to write about Desire.
Not just because of the name. There’s a lot of fertile ground there, though. Could grow a lot of layers of meaning from that name.
And I don’t mean that I have to write about New Orleans.
I’ve already written plenty on that subject. About how New Orleans is America’s loveliest, ugliest, kindest, cruelest, proudest place. About how that means I can’t imagine writing elsewhere.
No, this is about me being unable to escape Desire.
My stories roam other areas. I dropped by Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop in the French Quarter to give the Beat Generation a send-off in Black Heart Noir. I got a glimpse of the high-rise lifestyle of the Port Authority in I Ain’t Gonna. I mix plenty of places together, from the famous like Tipitina’s and Mother’s, to the not-so-famous like Verti Marte and Cosimo’s.
I always end up back home in Desire, though.
I’ve got to, there’s no getting out. There’s too much pain and pride there for the stories ever to end. The human extremes stretch across the whole spectrum, raw as a rainbow, and I have to draw attention to them.
They are right next door, after all.
The soaring crime. The abysmal poverty. The art, dance, song and religion. Desire has the most churches, per capita, next to the worst homelessness.
And that is just a short plane flight away, if you’re in America. Not even a full day.
Whatever you’re doing, wherever you are right now, in a few hours, you could be in a place where the gangs can hardly afford colors, the church volunteers are everywhere and the graffiti can’t be beat for surreal beauty.
And it may feel like a dream when you’re there, but there is no wall separating it from the strip malls across the freeway, or from New Orleans, or from your life.
It is as beautiful as a dream, though.
I’ve been from Bel Air to the Bronx, and I’ve never seen so much ruin decorated so beautifully.
A place like that has to be written about just like it has to be named Desire.
That’s crime writing for me: Taking something broken and showing how it’s beautiful.
It began with Jari. I was smitten with Jari Jurgis, with her infected fractures and glorious strength, from first we met. I had to place her in Desire.
Where better for a bad cop with butterflies on her jeans and an endless bad attitude to do her best work off the clock?
Clean Hands and Tipped Scales in ThugLit was the seed, but Desire had already been well tilled by my imagination. I explored it in Ava, my horror manuscript.
Ava’s desire is to help people. She cares so much. So, so much. As much as we all should care.
And yes, Ava wants to be wanted. She has her own selfish desires—for love, recognition, companionship. Who doesn’t? But above all, she wants to help everyone. She wants to make their pain stop.
All of it. Everywhere. Starting in Desire.
I often wonder whether y’all will ever meet Ava, or whether she’ll just spend eternity roaming Desire like the ghost she is, while the lives of my other characters form and fight and make love in her shadow.
The cast of Desire is getting considerable: The red-Irish embodiment of all things bad about cops, the Mahoney family, first seen in Good Night Durham. The she-wolf survivor of stories I get fevered with and write about the 2000-2003 gang war, Bebe. The kid growing up pained and hard, Rabid, Desire’s Tom Sawyer. The role of fatherhood, heated and distilled down to explosive compound, Parnell.
They all have anti-hero followings. I like that my readership is divided between loving and hating them. I am too.
Everybody loves Stagger Lee, though.
He’s my Dixieland Hercules. I’ve got big plans for Stagger, as he’s big enough to wander wherever he needs to and make some myths happen.
Desire is myth and reality, so as much as I may ramble with Stagger, I’ll always be coming home to that place in the Upper Ninth. That place that reaches right up to the Interstate, huddled forgotten between the Lower Ninth Ward and Bywater, that has so little and so has so much life.
Ask Buddha, ask Freud, ask me—ask anybody who knows—life is about appetite. Suffering. Desire.
Desire’s where my writing has to live.