Thursday, June 23, 2016

A Conversation with Crime Noir Novelist Andrez Bergen

Omnimystery News: Author Interview with Andrez Bergen

We are delighted to welcome author Andrez Bergen to Omnimystery News today.

Andrez's new crime noir is Black Sails, Disco Inferno (Open Books; June 2016 trade paperback and ebook formats) and we recently had the opportunity to chat more about the book with him.

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Omnimystery News: Was Black Sails, Disco Inferno your working title for the book as you wrote it?

Andrez Bergen
Photo provided courtesy of
Andrez Bergen

Andrez Bergen: Actually, no — not to begin with. This story in fact started out as a fifteen-issue comic book series published through IF? Commix in Australia across 2015-16, titled Trista & Holt. This was the name I continued to use in the early stages of the novelization last year, but that was always temporary. I settled on the final moniker about a month into writing the book.

OMN: How does the title relate to the story?

AB: The "black sails" are an iconic part of the original tragedy of Tristan and Iseult (or Isolde), when our poisoned hero sends his man to fetch Iseult. He's told to voyage back with white sails if she's coming, but black sails if not. Here they invoke their own sense of menace as the name of an insane asylum.

With "disco inferno", it's a nod to both notorious New York discotheque Studio 54 (via the Trammps song of the same name) and Dante's The Divine Comedy.

For me, Black Sails is the Trista side of the equation, Disco Inferno Issy's.

OMN: Tell us a little more about these two characters.

AB: Trista Cornwall is the gender-reversed version of Tristan from the medieval yarn Trista and Iseult. So I needed to hone her character from chivalric male knight-errant to a woman fully capable of looking out for herself in the chauvinistic crime world of the 1970s. Trista's hardly Supergirl or Buffy, but she's tough, confidant, loyal — with an underlying heart. She's the kind of character I not only like to believe in, but admire.

Issy Holt is more me. He's a raging slush — though he consumes way more alcohol than I'd be capable of keeping down — and resides in his own cocoon. Then again, he's also a wealthy playboy, whereas I was brought up lower middle class, on the cusp of poverty. Since being based on Iseult/Isolde, I slipped in tiny references that Issy was a bit of a spoiled princess. I think I like him most because he means well and has principles despite this background. He's definitely not his father's son. I also like the way in which Issy can hold his own verbally with Trista — yet is willing to play second-fiddle to her better life experience.

OMN: Suppose one of them were to interview you. What would they ask?

AB: TRISTA: Why the hell are you speaking for me?
ANDREZ: I have no idea.

OMN: How involved were you with the striking cover of Black Sails, Disco Inferno?

AB: The covers to my novels (and comics) are something I like to be heavily involved with. That's the artist in me, the closet control-freak, the design aficionado, whatever. With all these books I've either done the art myself, or chosen a particular piece by a creator I respect, and it must suit the contents of the story in some fashion. Often I decide on the font too, but it depends on the designer's indulgence at the publishers I work with. The old adage that we shouldn't judge a book by its cover? Very noble, but sadly this is the audience's real first brush with the novel. As a writer, I need the cover to reflect the style and nuances of what they might then read.

In the case of Black Sails, Disco Inferno I was already working with veteran Australian artist Frantz Kantor on a comic book series called Magpie. I spied this painting in his archive, thought it captured either Trista or Brangien to a tee, the thing has a real noir vibe, and he agreed to let me use it. Luck also plays a key role.

OMN: Describe your writing process for us.

AB: Usually I start with a simple idea, a vignette, or a character — and go from there. Often the worlds of my different novels interrelate, through shared characters or situations, but those links tend to come later in the piece. Each novel is intended to be a standalone journey, with an undercurrent of world-building going on between them.

But I plot on the fly, and make rough notes in the train, on the loo, squatting over a gutter, wherever — I need to get the ideas down fast. The characters develop themselves as we go. Most of the time I have no idea where these bounce out of.

Trista Holt 7

With this book, the process was different — I had an existing draft in the form of the comic book story, which acted as a kind of sequentialized storyboarding when I approached the novel. Most of the dialogue was already there. I could focus instead on describing the "sets" and costumes and the look of the characters. Plus I was able to bounce off another writer — Renee Asher Pickup — who scripted a glorious origin story for Trista in #7.

OMN: What are some of your outside interests? And have any of these found their way into your books?

AB: I love cinema — I used to work as a movie reviewer and film journalist — and I've been making cut-up electronic music and techno, under the alias of Little Nobody, since 1996. These things have had a huge impact on my fiction writing. With journalism, it's writing and researching fast while on a strict deadline, and as a musician with a sampler we're looking at the art of cutting and splicing your own tales (and snippets of culture) into other ones, what Raymond Chandler used to call cannibalizing. And I love the movie versions of The Maltese Falcon and The Big Sleep at least as much as the original books.

I also relish comic books, and writers like Ed Brubaker and Matt Fraction have had a similar influence to Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, James M. Cain and Graham Greene.

OMN: Complete this sentence for us: "I am a crime novelist and thus I am also …".

AB: Guilty as sin?

OMN: What kinds of books did you read when you were young? And do you think any of them influenced how and what you write today?

AB: I think the biggest influence as a kid was the lack of genre limitation — I picked up anything from Dr. Seuss to Hergé's Tintin, Fantastic Four by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, the Doctor Who novelizations, reprints of classic 1950s Batman, British funnies like Cor!!, Arthur C. Clarke, Robert E. Howard, Jules Verne, Richard Matheson. In my late teens I discovered hardboiled detective fiction and Philip K. Dick.

So, yeah, I think all these — along with movies and television and other comics — swayed the writer I became.

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Andrez Bergen is an expat Australian writer, journalist, DJ, artist and ad hoc saké connoisseur who's been entrenched in Tokyo, Japan, for the past 15 years. He makes music as Little Nobody and Funk Gadget, and ran groundbreaking Melbourne record label IF? for over a decade from 1995. Bergen has published stories through Crime Factory, Shotgun Honey, Snubnose Press, All Due Respect, Solarcide, Weird Noir, Roundfire Fiction, 8th Wonder Press, Project-Nerd Publishing, Under Belly Comics, Perfect Edge Books, and Another Sky Press, and works occasionally on translating and adapting the scripts for feature films by the likes of Mamoru Oshii (Ghost in the Shell), Kazuchika Kise and Naoyoshi Shiotani, for Production I.G in Japan.

For more information about the author, please visit his website and his author page on Goodreads, or find him on Facebook and Twitter.

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Black Sails, Disco Inferno by Andrez Bergen

Black Sails, Disco Inferno by Andrez Bergen with Renee Asher Pickup

A Crime Novel

Publisher: Open Books

Amazon.com Print/Kindle Format(s)BN.com Print/Nook Format(s)

An unnamed city, in which crime families flourish and the police pinch pennies from those with most power …

Black Sails, Disco Inferno is a retelling of the classic medieval romance of Tristan and Isolde, turning things on their head by reversing the sex of the chief protagonists and placing them in a '70's pulp/noir world amidst a sensual, disco-infused narrative overflowing with shady schemes, double dealings, cruel brutality and spellbinding mystery.

Black Sails, Disco Inferno by Andrez Bergen. Click here to take a Look Inside the book.

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