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The Big Thrill Sits Down to Discuss LOUD WATER with Robby Henson

Eight years into a 15-year sentence, Crit Poppwell finally discovered something he was good at, besides destroying his family and abusing drugs. He found art. The solitary act of drawing, painting and creating brings a calmness and separation from the prison chaos. A dreadlocked Dominican nun who teaches art classes behind-bars encourages Crit to paint the “truth in things.” She even helps him parole out, back to “bloody” Breathitt County where his brother is the reigning crystal meth kingpin and his ex-wife wants him dead for an unforgivable past crime that haunts his every heartbeat forward.

Crit returns to his Appalachian hometown with ringing tinnitus in his ear from a prison brawl, and a desire to change his DNA. But he soon meets a hot-mess substance abuser and her son, and his reluctant, then fully committed desire to help her puts him in the crosshairs of his brother’s wrath.

Can Crit flush the past from his blood and bones and use his newfound creativity to change his life and save others? Or die trying?

“Robby Henson’s prose crackles with the raw-boned, rough-edged hardness of the Eastern Kentucky landscape, intensely capturing the desperate victims seeking to escape its unforgiving hold…whether through an act of redemption or an act of revenge. A visceral Southern Gothic Noir.” —Charles Edward Pogue, screenwriter of The Fly, Dragonheart, and Psycho III

“Sins of the past litter the backroads of rural Kentucky in this powerful Southern Gothic noir. Redemption is a hard thing to come by. Henson writes like William Faulkner’s Kentucky cousin and reminds us what great writing really looks like.” —John Morrissey, producer of American History X, Havoc, and There Are No Saints

Robby Henson recently spent some time with The Big Thrill discussing his latest thriller, LOUD WATER.

Which took shape first: plot, character, or setting?
The main character, followed by plot, and I considered this story first as a screenplay.

Robby Henson

What do you hope readers will take away from this book?
I can’t say I know a lot about what I’m doing as a novelist, but my hope was to bring a strong sense of place and get inside the mind of my main character in a way that could be felt, but not explained.

What attracts you to this book’s genre?
I was in the film business as a writer/director for a number of years, and I teach screenwriting, so I’m really hardwired to believe in the sanctity of telling a story, preferably one with a crime and inner conflict.

What was the biggest challenge this book presented? What about the biggest opportunity?
Since this was my first novel, I had to Google things like “how to create a novel manuscript.” I didn’t even know the format. And I even Googled “How to sell a Crime Novel.” And here we are.

How does this book make a contribution to the genre?
I’m a big fan of Country Noir writer Daniel Woodrell. I guess I wanted to marry hardscrabble lives on the edge, with the kind of poetry of Morris Manning. I got my title from one of his poems.

Without spoilers, are there any genre conventions you wanted to upend or challenge with this book?
I wanted to make the reader really feel the world my protagonist lives in. I’m not thinking that it bends the genre.

No spoilers, but what can you tell us about your book that we won’t find in the jacket copy or the PR material?
I’ve spent years teaching behind bars in a prison theater program, I hope my circle of students find this book one hundred.

Was there anything new you discovered, or surprised you, as you wrote this book?
The idea of my main character having tinnitus came late in the process and kinda surprised me how appropriate it was.

What authors or books have influenced your career as a writer, and why?
I’m a big fan of the masters – Dashiel Hammet and Raymond Chandler, and contemporary masters Michael Connelly, Denis Lehane and George Pelecanos. I even consider Cormac MacCarthy a crime writer.


ROBBY HENSON is a filmmaker, screenwriter, theater director, and arts-behind-bars instructor. He received his M.F.A. from NYU’s graduate film school and has written and directed several documentaries for PBS as well as five feature films – The Badge, Pharaoh’s Army, The Visitation, House and Thr3e. His films have been seen at Sundance and around the world and he is a member of the Writers Guild of America. He currently teaches screenwriting at the University of Kentucky and is also Artistic Director of Pioneer Playhouse, a regional theater in central Kentucky, where he runs their outreach program Voices Inside that instructs incarcerated writers in writing and performance skills so as to fight recidivism. This is his first novel.

To learn more about the author and his work, please visit his website.

LOUD WATER with Robby Henson