Slaying Genre: Chris Irvin's Federales
Full disclosure: not only is Chris Irvin a former Grub student of mine, he’s a fantastic writer and person. Irvin is also a noir powerhouse. As an editor at Shotgun Honey with credits in Weird Noir, Noir Carnival, and many other badass publications, Irvin knows his gumshoes and his dames from a good double-cross. His latest novella, Federales, takes a look into the gritty world of Marcos Camarena, an ex-agent turned body guard for Eva Santos, a politician who despite threats on her life, is trying to stop drug violence. The story is dark, the prose deadly-good. I’m a huge noir fan, so I caught up with Chris over a pint and couldn’t resist picking his brain.
1) First, congratulations on the publication of Federales! Why did you decide to tell this story? What about it inspires you or challenges you (or both)?
Thank you! And thanks for having me. I wish I had more concrete notes on the seed that eventually became the novella, but I know it began with Marcos in a scene that (eventually) took place in the latter stages of the book. I do know I read of Maria Gorrostieta’s murder prior to writing that scene, with her story increasingly becoming the inspiration for the book (more on that with the next question.) Originally my intent was to write more of a ‘horror’ novella, but nothing about that rang true, especially given Ms. Gorrostieta’s story. Not to take my work too seriously, but the violence in Mexico is a tragic reality of our time, and treating it otherwise didn’t feel honest to me. I was inspired to write an emotionally charged noir, with the challenge of making the pages ring true. I hope I achieved that in the end.
2) Can you tell me a little bit about the inspiration for Eva Santos, one of the main characters in the novella?
Eva is inspired by Maria Santos Gorrostieta. The former mayor of a small town in western Mexico, Gorrostieta was kidnapped in broad daylight in front of her daughter, tortured and murdered, her body found three days later by the side of a road.
An outspoken politician against the ever-increasing violence of the drug cartels, Gorrostieta had survived two assassination attempts – the first of which took the life of her husband and the second left her badly wounded. But, she continued to speak out and fight for truth and justice.
She’s a hero and a martyr for her cause, and as I mention in the book’s afterward, while I don’t think I could ever do her story justice, I hope I helped turn a few blind eyes.
3) As I read, I found myself really captivated by the settings—from Mexico City to the beach house in Manzanillo to Tecoman—you do a wonderful job of not only showing us setting but of using setting as a catalyst for action. What’s your technique?
Thank you. I think it’s tiny, unexpected details that can make the difference. I write setting from my gut most of the time through a first draft. Taking time to look up details or pull from research slows me down and can sometimes even halt a story if I latch on and think too hard about getting a detail right. I try to let it roll out and then come back the second time, when I can get a view of the whole scene and get a better feeling of where I should concentrate on fleshing out more, and where I can let it go as-is. I use Street View on Google maps a lot to get a sense of place. Eva’s apartment above the dentist office and the tarp-covered lot came from stumbling around Tecoman. I had a similar experience with the lime trees alongside the road between Tecoman and Barinas. I suppose I have a bit of a minimalist style, and so it’s fun to unearth obscure details that seem to fit just right.
4) Federales is a deep tale—to me, there is both hope and hopeless here, and no definitive answers, which is really, at its core what noir is all about. What are your biggest noir influences?
I’ve always had a love for the vibe of what most think of when they hear the word “noir” – black and white picture, the gritty detective, cigarette in hand, the doomed hero, etc. – though aside from James M. Caine and Dorothy B. Hughes, I would consider myself poorly read in classic noir fiction (and film for that matter.) A couple of years ago I began to read more but found my writing to be so influenced by what I was reading that I stopped. I’m planning for a binge this summer to help rectify the situation. So while I’m inspired by the ‘idea’ of noir, I think I’m more influenced by dark/noir elements in newer works of writers like Frank Bill, Megan Abbott, and Joe R. Lansdale.
5) What advice would you give to other noir writers?
To stretch themselves, which I think is good advice in any genre. Noir is more than trailers parks and meth, detectives and sashaying red-haired dames. Not to say those don’t work – there are writers who handle them incredibly well – so carve your own niche.
Read for a magazine, or just read more in general. I have the benefit of reading for Shotgun Honey, a flash fiction crime e-zine, which gives me a good read on what others are writing and some of the current trends. Not everything we receive is noir, but it’s usually on the darker side of crime. The level of violence is always a point of contention – brutality for the sake of brutality. Look at Pike by Benjamin Whitmer, Southern Crimes in Indiana by Frank Bill, and Country Hardball by Steve Weddle to see how it’s done.
Thanks, Chris! It was great chatting! Lovers of noir, or just a great story should grab a copy of Irvin’s Federales here and keep up with him at his website: http://christopherirvin.net/ or on Twitter: https://twitter.com/
Folks who are interested in experimenting with fiction of any genre should consider signing up for my Fiction I class this Spring. It starts soon, so don’t delay! Get your write on with me and be a Grub success story!
KL Pereira's chapbook, Impossible Wolves was published by Deathless Press is 2013. Her fiction, poetry, and nonfiction are forthcoming or appear in The Drum Literary Magazine, Shimmer Zine, Lightning Cake, The Golden Key, Innsmouth Free Press, Innsmouth Magazine, Mythic Delirium, Jabberwocky, The Medulla Review, Bitch Magazine and other publications. Pereira’s work on fairy tales, sexuality, Wonder Woman, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer are featured on Studio 360 and other radio programs, cited in numerous publications, and assigned in courses all over the United States and Canada. Find Pereira online on klpereira.com and @kl_pereira.See other articles by KL Pereira