Friday, April 17, 2015

A Conversation with Noir Author Evangeline Jennings

Omnimystery News: Author Interview with Evangeline Jennings

We are delighted to welcome author Evangeline Jennings to Omnimystery News today.

Evangeline's new collection of crime fiction is Riding in Cars with Girls (Starshy; April 2015 trade paperback and ebook formats) and we recently had the opportunity to catch up with her to talk more about it.

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Omnimystery News: Your new collection of short stories features a wide range of protagonists. Is there anything that links them together?

Evangeline Jennings
Photo provided courtesy of
Evangeline Jennings

Evangeline Jennings: Broadly speaking, yes. They're women who have suffered — one way or another — but remain determined to control their own destinies. They're not looking for big strong men to save them. They're not love interest or victim. They're the main event. But they're also human beings — I think that's important — with problems, and failings, and people they care about. Not one of these women is a kick-ass hero like Beatrix Kiddo, say. Rather, they know their size and strength puts them at a disadvantage so when they have to fight, they find other ways to win. They make plans. They fight smart. The way women have to in the real world.

OMN: Is any one of them a particular favorite?

EJ: Definitely. Audi is a story about a pair of teenage car thieves who live — fictionally — in the same South London tower block where I lived as a child. These car thieves, Helen and Wendy, are my favorites in this book. I can relate to their background and their desire to get the flock out of Dodge. I also really admire the way they have each other's backs. I have little doubt they would die for each other. Luckily — spoilers — they won't have to.

OMN: Do you see her, or any of the others, returning in future stories?

EJ: I don't think so. There's nothing left to say. If I was desperate for inspiration then I suppose Helen and Wendy could return in a novel of their own, and there's one other character whose long term future intrigues me. But I already have more than enough ideas so I can't see it ever happening.

OMN: Into which fiction genre would you place this book?

EJ: Riding in Cars with Girls is what I would describe as Noir. I can say this and not feel embarrassed because a highly respected novelist and crime fiction reviewer — Mike Ripley — said it first, but my stories are as "powerful as the bleak, nihilistic Burke novels of Andrew Vachss, which have set a benchmark for noir fiction over the last quarter century". So there's that. But they're also stories about sexuality, gender, and violence against women and children. I'm not a balls-to-the-wall crusader like Andrew Vachss — I wouldn't, couldn't dare claim to be — but I want to say more with these stories than "bang, bang, you're dead". Done properly, Noir is more than "mean streets" and men who are themselves not mean. For me, Noir is truth. And that's what I'm trying to do. Tell my truths.

OMN: Tell us a little more about the stories themselves.

EJ: Although these are standalone stories, there are common threads which run through them. For example, events in one story provoke a police clampdown on British ports which becomes an inconvenience to the main character in another story. I don't want to say too much about this because I hate spoilers but it all gets a bit Pulp Fiction in some places. Most of the links across stories are only small, like Easter Eggs maybe, but the final twist in one story is only revealed as a blink-and-you'll miss it aside in a subsequent story. It probably doesn't matter if my readers don't even notice what I've done, but if they do I think they'll get more from the book.

OMN: How would you tweet a summary of the book?

EJ: Bad things happen. Everybody dies. Riding in Cars with Girls — Dangerous curves ahead.

OMN: How much of your own experience have you included in the stories?

EJ: If I'd lived half the life my characters have endured, I'd be dead or rotting in a nicely padded room. But yes, these stories are all about me, one way or another. Even at the most mundane level, I'm very much a road trip kind of girl. I've driven across the USA twice — once from East to West, and once from South to North (and back again). There are few things I enjoy more than driving very long distances on my own.

OMN: Are any of the characters based on real people?

EJ: No. Although the physical appearance of the killer in the story TransAm is based entirely on the model who posed for the cover photograph. Verena Kosheen is a beautiful woman with spectacular body art who really knows how to rock a pair of leather pants. She was also on the cover of a previous book and I love her look so much, I had to write about it.

OMN: Describe your writing process for us.

EJ: I make it up as I go along. Usually there's a trigger that kick starts a story — a short phrase typically. And that phrase leads me to a character. And then as I write I get to know that character and their story. I'm usually at least halfway through before I understand how that story is going to end. And then when I'm done with my first draft, I go back and revise it until everything makes sense and it all hangs together to the standards I demand.

As an example, the opening story in this collection is called Firebird and it was entirely inspired by a pub lunch here in Austin. The muted TV was showing footage of a massive forest fire and the sound system was playing a song by the Human League. The power of Phil Oakey compelled me to begin my forest fire story with the words, "I was working as a waitress in a cocktail bar …"

OMN: You mentioned you were a "road trip kind of girl". If we could send you anywhere in the world to research the setting for a story, where would it be?

EJ: Australia. I'd like to start in Sydney, drive north up to Brisbane and then go straight across the whole enormous country to Perth, stopping off in Alice Springs along the way. And then return along the coast via Adelaide and Melbourne. Why? Because I think it would be a magnificent adventure that would give me plenty of time and room to think and find the inspiration for at least one novel. And also there's this girl in Alice Springs.

OMN: Let's talk more about your influences.

EJ: How long have you got?

OMN: OK, we'll start with any specific authors that may have influenced how and what you write today.

EJ: As a writer, I'm the product of everything I've read — which is almost everything — and a lot of the music I've heard, but the most obvious stylistic influences are Lawrence Block, Donald E. Westlake, and — that man again — Andrew Vachss.

OMN: And what about films?

EJ: As with reading, I have very wide tastes and interests. The one movie genre I barely watch is horror. My list of top ten movies would be different every week but there would always be room for Pulp Fiction, the "Kill Bills", and Amelie. Something with Katharine Hepburn. The Godfather, probably. You get the idea.

OMN: When selecting a new book to read, what do you look for?

EJ: Half the time I'm looking for something new by a writer I love and know I can rely on. The other half of my time, I'm searching for a new writer to love. There are few feelings more satisfying than discovering an exciting new series, in whatever genre.

OMN: What are you reading today?

EJ: I read a lot of YA these days. Also crime fiction and classic comedy. I do enjoy a good series and I love Agatha Christie, but I'm not really in love with either Marple or Poirot. It's Christie's skill with a plot that keeps me coming back. Contrariwise, Rex Stout's plot are generally nonsense, but I very much enjoy Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin.

Elsewhere, I'm a big fan of Burke, (Vachss), Scudder (Lawrence Block), Vimes (Terry Pratchett), and the entire menagerie of Wodehouse characters. I also keep a special place in my heart for Carol O'Connell's Kathy Mallory. The combination of her vulnerability and strength speaks to me.

OMN: What's next for you?

EJ: I have a very noir novel sitting on the shelf that needs some rework. Basically it's Lisbeth Salander meets Beatrix Kiddo, and an editor at Harper Collins considered it for six months before handing it back and telling me it needed to be both shorter and a trilogy where I had been planning only a single sequel. I've done nothing with it since then because I couldn't see how to do what he was asking. And I didn't want to, anyway. But it's been too long so now I'm going to give that story another try.

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Evangeline Jennings is an unreliable narrator. She tells lies for fun and profit. Mostly fun. If Evangeline was a song — and she'd really like to be — she'd be "Public Image" by PiL or possibly "You Don't Own Me" by Lesley Gore.

Born and raised in Liverpool, where they invented football and popular music, she now lives in Austin, Texas. The black sheep of her family, she comes from a long line of Californian beauty queens on her mother's side. Of course she gets her own looks from her father. Evangeline watches an awful lot of movies and TV. During the break she cooks popcorn and writes stories about revenge.

For more information about the author, please visit her website at EJSite.com and her author page on Goodreads, or find her on Facebook and Twitter.

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Riding in Cars with Girls by Evangeline Jennings

Riding in Cars with Girls by Evangeline Jennings

A Crime Fiction Collection

Publisher: Starshy

Amazon.com Print/Kindle Format(s)

A transgressive and cauterizing crime fiction collection with more twists and turns than a high mountain road, this is a hard, fast, and beautifully dangerous read.

Dangerous curves ahead …

Riding in Cars with Girls by Evangeline Jennings

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