The Coping With Sanity Interview: Anthony Neil Smith

Neil Smith rejected the very first story I ever submitted to an online journal. Luckily (for me at least, I’m sure he might beg to differ) that wasn’t enough to turn me off completely and he’s gone on to publish two of my pieces over at Plots With Guns. In the years since that first rejection, I’ve become a fan of not only his writing, but also a number of his lifestyle choices like cheap wine and grilling. He’s onto biking now and I think that’s probably where my attempts to mimic his life will end. We also share a distaste for musical snobbery and are highly suspicious of the unchecked love for independent book stores. He has a new book out called THE BADESST ASS featuring my favorite of his characters, Billy Lafitte, and I offered to let him answer some really stupid questions in exchange for promoting the books to my tens of readers.

You’ve written some hardcore novels and some weird ass stories and some kind of Nero Wolfe book with an angry fat chick. Wait, that can’t be right?

I hope all the hardcore ones are weird, too. And I’ve been a Nero Wolfe fan for a long time. The whole idea of a genius who only does detective work to pay for his indulgent lifestyle was really amusing. It was taking Holmes to the next logical step. You see some of that dynamic in HOUSE, of course…but also in BIG BANG THEORY with Sheldon and Leonard.

So I saw a Doctor Phil episode with a very angry larger woman on it, and it stuck with me. I really like larger women, actually, so the anger coming off this one in waves was something I had to write about in a character, and the idea of a Nero Wolfe-type genius woman wouldn’t leave me alone. Along the way, the anger turned into something more, and now most people who read Octavia just fall in love with her, just like I did.

So we can agree you’re kind of savant with the degenerates. Is there a field you’re still itching to try? Anything you have no desire to write? Will we ever see you write a cozy?

If something gets my attention, I’ll give it a shot, although I have no desire to write the “important” literary novels that the snooty lit superstars write. It goes back to the old idea of how lit was taught in high school–as if the author was preaching from on high, telling a story with one big “theme” and no one could see it any other way. I’m glad college didn’t teach it like that. But these days, I cringe whenever I hear about some new wunderkind tackling “important issues” and putting society under a microscope, or writing about the Seventies because, hey, we were all born in the Seventies and must reexamine it repeatedly. Sigh

I can actually imagine writing a “cozy”, but it wouldn’t be a cozy that cozy readers would like. Because of the graphic sex.

Tell me more about your social media habits. Why is it important in these days of tweets and privacy-whoring billionaires to have a presence out there?

I dunno. It’s what we’ve got to connect to readers. Authors don’t get on TV anymore, and who listens to radio? Newspapers? I think people browse Amazon a lot like they used to browse Barnes and Noble, and they find writers who interest them. Before buying the book, they look around and find out about the author some first. It’s a different world than it used to be. And I kind of like my “persona” out there like a carnie (carny?), shouting about how big of a bear you can win if you toss the rings on the bottle…or buy my book. BUT, while I know I should tell people about my books and ask them to buy the damned things, it’s more important to be a real person doing it rather than becoming a robot who tweets the same fucking links and reviews and inspirational quotes and all that shit but never really interacts with the readers, ya know? What works better: repetitive ads, or smart ad placement?

I mentioned before your stuff has a distinct anti-hero bent, which has not been a real trendy genre these days. Talk about that because I NEVER get tired about hearing how dead the novel is.

The novel is not dead. The idiots who say the novel is dead are the drunk writers who think the shit they say in bars is important to help impress graduate students. The type of novel they think is good (i.e., the ones they read and liked years ago…like many years ago) might be dead, but it had children. Those children grew up to be different novels who thoughts Dad’s novels were boring. And so on.

I just write characters who interest me. I don’t set out to write anti-heroes anymore. I did with Lafitte, which was me challenging myself to create a vile character that readers would still root for (like Vic Mackey in THE SHIELD), but in ALL THE YOUNG WARRIORS and the upcoming second book in that series, I just tried to imagine these guys caught in situations that most of us would never be a part of, and try to imagine how we would react. What would we think? What would we say or do? Since I write about stuff that scares me, I have to step back from the typical “thriller” protagonist who reacts to stuff like a highly-trained thriller protagonist, no matter who he/she was in the beginning.

And I’m sick of “former Navy SEAL, the best there was” and “former Marine sniper, the best there was” and “former FBI agent, the best there was.” Fuck you people and give me the fourteenth best agent, or a run-of-the-mill sniper. Just admit that “the best” = “boring”.

According to most published reports you have a wife and a dog you treat like a child. How? What’s being married meant to you as a writer?

How? The fuck sort of question is that?

Being married and being a writer…I guess it gives me perspective. Why am I doing this? Why am I spending all these hours in my office pecking away at these books that don’t make all the much money? Why am I subjecting myself to the heartbreak of rejection that sends my mood down the shitter, meaning my wife has to deal with unhappy Neil and it’s not fair to her at all? Why did I try to combine book touring with vacations? What is the point of all this?

The point is she knows it’s a part of me, and she knows I need to do it, and she loves me in spite of it. And I could (yes, I really could) give up writing if it came down to it. That’s the sort of perspective I’ve learned. I’ve written eight books. They’re either published or going to be published, and if I didn’t write another one, that would be fine. The others would still be out there, being read. But I’m still writing. So as long as it’s okay to keep doing so, I will.

Finally, tell me one thing you’ve never told any other interviewer.

I would kick your ass in a fight. But oh, man, I’m too tired to fight.

Thanks, Neil. It’s always a pleasure. Now go buy his new book.