I was impressed with Libby Cudmore the moment I first bumbled upon one of her stories in Thrillers, Killers, 'n' Chillers. Her stark, realistic style of writing sets her apart from most of her peers. And when Cam told me that she would be next up in SHIFT WORK: (Our serialized fiction section) I was pretty excited that A Double Hit of Victor & Sheila would be appearing in our pages. But along with writing more than her fair share of impressive stories, Cudmore also pens stories with New York based writer Matthew Quinn Martin. The following interview was originally conducted for this years "Conversations with the Bookless" interviews over at Spinetingler Magazine, unfortunately Libby got it back to me a couple of weeks after the series ended and I've been sitting on it ever since, not really knowing what to do with it. So I figured, what the hell, I might as well run it over at DAY LABOR. Hope you enjoy.
Libby Cudmore and Matthew Quinn Martin
Why do you write?
Libby: Because I didn’t get into drama school. Seriously though, it’s like asking why I breathe. I like breathing, I’m good at it. Same goes with writing.
Matthew: I guess a better question would be, “why don’t I stop?” But yeah, I seem to be good at it, and while I don’t always like it…I usually like being done. That and I didn’t get into drama school.
What is the value and purpose of short fiction in Mystery/Crime fiction for you? For you personally and overall for the form and genre?
Libby: It’s a good thing to read over coffee and donuts. A nice way to start the day.
Matthew: As a writer, I think the short form is a place to let lose with ideas and concepts that might be too dark for a full-length work. After 400 pages, the reader can get pretty invested with a protagonist, so it gets harder to A) kill them off, B) have them act in an “unheroic” way.
What do you most value in the fiction you love?
Libby: Style over substance. Just write a good story.
Matthew: The moments that pop up months later at the oddest times (but in a good way). So much fiction is instantly forgettable. So you know when it sticks it’s either totally fantastic…or a laugh-out-loud shit sandwich (which can also be fun in small doses…but very frustrating)
What’s your favorite story written by someone else?
Libby: Raymond Chandler’s The Long Goodbye, hands down. Jurassic Park takes a strong second place. Although I’ve got a major lit-crush on “Command Performance” by Matthew Quinn Martin.
Matthew: That’s tough…here’s a list:
Novel: Wiseblood by Flannery O’Connor
Movie: The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension written by Earl Mac Rauch
Short Story: Stephen King’s “The Last Rung on the Ladder” (still gets me every time I think about it)
Novella: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West
Flash Fiction: Unplanned by Libby Cudmore
Who are your influences and what is your most unlikeliest influence?
Libby: Chandler always and, early on, Frank Miller. I’ve grown out of that phase, thankfully, and now write stuff with meaning instead of just vigilante stand-ins. Warren Zevon, Tom Waits and Morrissey are big influences too . . . but my most unlikely influence? Anne Bonny, the notorious lady pirate—above my desk I have her quote, “If you’d fought like a man, they wouldn’t be hanging you like a dog.” She said that to her husband on his way to the gallows. The woman meant business. I read that when I get that writer’s panic and remember that cowardice gets you nowhere.
Matthew: Joe Eszterhas (I’m serious), Flannery O’Connor, Jim Thompson, Stephen King, Michael Crichton, Walker Percy, Frank Herbert, Douglas Adams, Russell Hoban, Terry Pratchett, Charles Bukowski, Nathaneal West, Melvin Van Peebles, Derrick Jensen, Dostoevsky. Guess there aren’t a lot of “contemporary voices” up there, but when it comes to dialog and plot-weave/pacing I also lift a lot from TV (especially the think-tanks behind shows with a season or multi-season arc like Lost, LA Law, or Grey’s Anatomy).
My most unlikely influence is heavy metal…not any particular band or song…just nuclear-strength, melt-your-face-off M.E.T.A.L. …which I like to blast when I’m writing against a deadline.
What issues or ideas about fiction have been foremost in your mind of late?
Libby: So much of crime fiction is all style and no substance. It’s written by a bunch of fedora-sporting hipsters who pile violence upon sex upon violence without giving any thought to consequences—as a result, their stories are dull and their characters are flat. If I wanted Raymond Chandler, I’ll just read Chandler, thanks.
Matthew: I’d like to ditto what Libby said. Sure, reading about dark subjects can be fun, but writers should take care that what they are writing become little more than mental pollution (ahem…teen-vampire books that equate abuse with true love…cough cough).
Who is the best short story writer that people haven’t gotten hip to yet?
Libby: Matthew Quinn Martin
Matthew: See…if you’d have asked me this a few months ago, I’d have said Libby Cudmore, but now with Derringer nominations and the like, it seems like people are already hip to her.
What do you like most about short fiction?
Libby: It forces you to really think about what you’re writing. So many amateur writers act like it’s so impossibly difficult to write a 700 page novel—it’s not. Time consuming? Yes. But any idiot can go on for 200 pages about the Great Knight Galian the Oily-Chested and His Mighty Sword of True Justice. To get character, setting and conflict across in 5,000 words? Not so easy. It took me a long, long time to learn to write a solid short story, but my Derringer nomination tells me I must be doing something right!
Matthew: …sorry, my mind was on how I was going to explain the difference between an “sword of justice” and a “sword of TRUE justice.” Seriously though, once again I agree with Libby.
Where are you, right now, as you’re writing these answers?
Libby: In my office at the job I’m about to be fired from
Matthew: On my couch eating the last of my biscuits.
When did you start writing short fiction and what prompted you to do so?
Libby: I did the college-novelist thing all through undergrad because I was self-important idiot. When I was living in Brooklyn the year after graduation, I had a conversation with my friend Mike regarding my creepy roommate and Mike replied, “If he tries anything, I’ll drive down there and kick his ass.” I all but hung up on him and scrawled down a 4-page story which became “The Carpool” (Hardboiled issue #41). Something had clicked—this is how you write a short story. And I’ve been writing them ever since.
Matthew: I came to prose from screenwriting and needed a writing sample for my MFA application. I was riding back from the eye-doctor’s and a couple of b-boys came on the train and started breakdancing. That’s what gave me the idea for “Command Performance” which is out in the current issue of Harvard’s Transition Magazine.
Of all of your stories, which is your favorite; the one that showcases best your abilities?
Libby: I’m really proud of “Unplanned,” which was nominated for a Derringer. “Spare Change” was good too, and I wish more people had read it. It’s still out there, and it’s fabulous.
Matthew: That’s a toss up between two as yet unpublished stories (“Box” and “You Never Knew My Heart”). The ones that are out there…jeez, I can’t pick. “Hazardous Material” at Aphelion is fun, and so is “Chickens” (Thuglit)…well maybe that one isn’t fun exactly.
Do you have any short story publications forthcoming?
Libby: Thrilling Detective keeps saying they’re going to publish my story “The PI’s Wife” but they haven’t updated their site in almost a year. Crime Factory picked up another story with the same characters, titled “Midnight to 6AM” which should be coming out in issue 5.
Matthew: The Land Bridge is reprinting “Hazardous Material.” Other than that, nope. But I’ve got a new batch of submissions going, so keep your eyes peeled (not literally)
I understand you two have a completed a manuscript? Would you mind sharing an excerpt from it?
From Holding Tank--
I parked myself on one of the empty stools. Within moments I could feel the numbness spreading across my backside. Even a coke-skinny hipster’s butt would hang off those pie-plated like saddlebags. I set down my bag with a heavy clank. Everybody’s got their way of passing the time between setups. Trashy novels, tabloids, crosswords, sudoku, or just napping.
Not me. I’d slept away enough of my life already. I was five lessons from completing my Worldwide School of Investigation Online training course. Who better to play a detective on TV than someone who’s a detective in real life? I’ve always been a fiend for research. Old-school method actor to the core.
Not that I ever expected to use my PI skills. I didn’t have much interest in skip-traces and domestic surveillance that the handbook was prepping me for, but I’ll admit to getting swept up in some of the romantic bullshit. I could just imagine myself behind one of those oak and wavy glass doors with my name stenciled on it in gold leaf, sitting at a cluttered desk while a slim cigarette smoldered away in an overflowing ashtray. Okay, maybe no cigarettes––Beeman chewing gum and a silver flask filled with Moxie. A client would walk in and I could run a hardboiled inner monologue, this himbo’s hamster had come off his wheel, but he’s got a set of shoulders I could stack my library on.
If all went according to plan, by this time next month I would no longer be just Rayelee Flynn, fake detective on TV––but Rayelee Flynn, certified Private Investigator, playing a fake detective on TV.