By Karen Harper
Karen Harper recently caught up with M.C. Grant (aka Grant McKenzie) for an interview about the latest book in his Dixie Flynn series, DEVIL WITH A GUN. A look at M.C.’s very ‘noirish’ website puts a reader in the mood for the variety of forms in which he writes, from thriller to screenplays to short stories.
What is DEVIL WITH A GUN about?
DEVIL WITH A GUN is the hair-raising sequel to Dixie Flynn’s first adventure, ANGEL WITH A BULLET. This time, however, the stakes are raised when crime reporter Dixie is told to write a fluff story for Father’s Day but ends up in an incendiary confrontation with the most ruthless killers in San Francisco. Before she knows it, Dixie’s simple missing-father story has turned into a violent battle of wills as she tries to help a woman escape a life and death struggle with the mob. For Dixie, the pen is mightier than the sword, but it’s going to take some handy work with whatever arsenal she can lay her hands on if she wants this story to have a happy ending.
Seldom is an author published in the range of fiction in which you have written: series thrillers and stand-alones, screenplay and short story. Do you have a favorite of these formats? What are some of the pros and cons of each for you?
The novel is my main playground, but because I’m such a visual writer I love exploring screenplays and working with the actors who are bringing my audiobooks to life. Short stories are also a passion because they are such a burst of imagination. Let’s face it, novels are hard work because you need to keep that inspiration and intensity alive for a number of months to get the whole story on the page. I’m not a fast writer, so there are definitely times when I need to kick my own ass to sit in the chair and write – even when I’m loving the story and characters I’m creating. Short stories, however, give me an opportunity to amp up the excitement and get that first draft on the page in a frantic, imagination-to-page word dump. Then, like all writing, the rewrite process begins, which gives every story its polish and shine. The difference between writing a series, compared to a stand-alone, is basically don’t kill off your main character 🙂 OK, there’s more to it than that, but that’s probably Rule No. 1.
Your background as a journalist is obviously a great lead in for a career as a novelist. But other than the obvious—knowing how to write—what are some of the demands of your previous nonfiction writing career that have helped you to be successful in fiction writing?
As a journalist, you know all about deadlines, which is very important for the author. Being able to sit in that chair and produce words that people want to read takes skill, patience and practice. But the newspaper business is also a fantastic background for meeting interesting people, and the more interesting people you meet, the more unique your characters tend to be. Journalism also teaches you to find the heart of a story, and that’s essential for every book. A story without heart isn’t worth telling.
How much does true crime, the “ripped from the headlines” type of story, influence DEVIL WITH A GUN or your other work? For example, the Russian mafia plays a big part in DEVIL. Have you studied or reported on this mafia before? How did you research background for this “villain?”
There have been some stories in the media lately that seem almost too impossible to be included in a novel and it can be difficult not to get sucked into the rabbit hole of trying to make everything as realistic as possible. We shouldn’t be afraid of the impossible. It’s fiction, have fun with it. However, I have been fortunate to meet and talk to a large variety of people, some of whom have worked for the mob in the past. The best research always comes from listening, that’s where those small but important details emerge.
Why San Francisco as a backdrop for your Dixie Flynn mystery/ thrillers?
I love the west coast and all my novels tend to be based in Seattle, Portland, Bellingham, Vancouver, Port Sorrow, etc. But Dixie was always going to be based in San Francisco because of my love of both the city and my early exposure to Raymond Chandler. It also makes research trips more enjoyable when you’re going somewhere that you already like.
Would you consider your style “noir” as some reviewers have called and praised it? If so, in what ways?
Dixie is definitely more Mike Hammer than Agatha Christie, so noir is an apt description for her adventures. She doesn’t pull any punches and doesn’t shy away from exploring the seedier side of life in the big city. In ANGEL WITH A BULLET, Dixie is put into several perilous situations that have deeply affected her. So in DEVIL WITH A GUN, she is an even tougher, strong-willed woman who is learning how to avoid being a victim – ever. If you mess with Dixie, you better be prepared to pick your teeth off the floor afterwards.
Tess Gerritsen has described your series protagonist Dixie Flynn as “the most kick-ass heroine ever created. Kudos to Grant for giving us the ultimate ‘girl power’ thriller.” Can you tell us a bit about Dixie’s past and passions that make her such a great action heroine?
Dixie is a bit of an outsider who comes from a small-town, but left home as soon as she could to head to the big city and make a name for herself. Her mother still frets, while her father gave her a pearl-handled switchblade to protect herself. She’s more concerned about telling the right kind of stories than in the money she makes or being the perfect employee. She’s stubborn, caustic and a smartass, but she also has a deep passion for and strong loyalty to her small, close-knit group of friends.
A review for your earlier novel, K.A.R.M.A., described the book’s strengths as “lots of violence, snappy prose and dialogue that jumps off the page.” Can you give readers and other writers some advice on the prose and dialogue dynamics? It’s obvious your style fits Dixie’s stories and thrillers in general. Do these talents come naturally to you as a writer or are they hard work?
Dialogue has always been the starting point for me as a writer. From writing plays in elementary school in Scotland and high school in Canada to my first short and novel-length stories, it was always the voices of the characters that excited me. Writing Dixie is fun because she rarely censors what she says and has a very cheeky femininity. Readers definitely respond to her voice, which is a huge compliment.
Will we be seeing more of Dixie? What are you working on now?
If Dixie survives her adventure in DEVIL WITH A GUN, she’ll be back next year for her third outing, tentatively titled BABY WITH A BOMB – so you know it’s going to be explosive. I’m writing it now and poor Dixie is going through the wringer, but if anyone can come out the other side with most of her skin still in place, it’s Dixie Flynn.
M.C. Grant is Grant McKenzie, the internationally-published author of four edge-of-your-seat thrillers, plus his short story Underbelly appeared in the FIRST THRILLS anthology edited by Lee Child. As a journalist, Grant has worked in virtually every area of the newspaper business from the late-night “Dead Body Beat” at a feisty daily tabloid to senior copy/design editor at two of Canada’s largest broadsheets, and Editor-in-Chief of MONDAY magazine. He currently resides in Victoria.
To learn more about M.C. Grant, please visit his website.