Vital Crime Fiction: Gravy Train by Tess Makovesky
Those noir fiends at All Due Respect keep putting out great books. In forty years, some Ph.D is going to call Chris Rhatigan a genius (wait, didn’t I just do that?), and Tess Makovesky is going to be on the Ph.D candidate’s reading list—I promise you that. With a healthy dose of comedy and revenge, Makovesky is crafting unique noir stories with a stiff punch. You can find her work at Pulp Metal Magazine, Out of the Gutter, Shotgun Honey…Your regular places of ill repute. But don’t let me tell you how it is—Tess can do it herself.
Liverpool lass Tess is now settled in the far north of England where she roams the fells with a brolly, dreaming up new stories and startling the occasional sheep. Tess writes a distinctive brand of British comedie noir and her short stories have darkened the pages of over a dozen anthologies and magazines. Her debut psychological noir novella Raise the Blade is out now and her next book, Gravy Train, is due November 30.
You’ve been published in some of my favorite crime ‘zines — places like Shotgun Honey and Pulp Metal Magazine. When the hell did you get into crime/noir and what do you love about it? Why keep returning to the gutter?
Good question. I grew up on a diet of crime novels, having discovered a secret stash at the bottom of my grandmother’s dressing table when I was a kid! After that, I gravitated towards the gritty British cop dramas of the ‘70s and early ‘80s — The Sweeney, The Professionals — and a lifelong love affair was born.
Add to that a fascination with human nature, psychology and what makes people do the things they do, and noir is a perfect fit — because the characters nearly always make the wrong choices, for the wrong reasons, and end up suffering as a result. It’s a theme that provides endless material for stories, and one that really intrigues me — why do people put themselves, their livelihoods and their loved ones at risk for often very limited returns?
Lastly, I have a thing about intriguing characters and, let’s face it, the goody-two-shoes of this world, while probably lovely to live with, are pure tedium when it comes to fiction. Even Marvel’s heroes tend to have a dark side…And to me, exploring the darker recesses of human nature is so much more interesting than pages of ‘yes dear, no dear.’
Some (if not most) of your work deals with revenge. Why is this a subject you return to again and again? Do you think any animal beside the human being exacts revenge? If so, who/what animal is it and why?
Well, the cheap answer is that a few years back I tried to put a collection of revenge-themed short stories together, but back then there were almost no markets for anthologies so I was left with the choice of placing them with a variety of magazines, or not publishing them at all. Hence the plethora of revenge stories in virtually every noir magazine you can think of!
However, that’s very much not the whole story and revenge as a theme does fascinate me. I’m much too nice in real life (stop laughing) to ever take revenge for anything unpleasant that happens to me, so this is my way of quietly getting my own back. By that I don’t mean that my characters are actual people who I’m taking revenge on by killing them off in fiction, just that they can get away with things that I would never dare to try myself.
And no, I’ve been racking my brain and I can’t think of any other species that takes revenge. Animals can be cruel and will lash out if you threaten them, their young, their food source or their territory, but they don’t have the same capacity to store up memories and/or dislike for months or even years, growing it and feeding off it, plotting and planning, until they strike back, often when their victim least expects it. That seems to be a trait that’s peculiar to humans, and not really a very pleasant one when you think about it.
Give me a Tess Makovesky rule (or three) for writing:
One: Never give up. You never know when your ‘break’ will come, or what shape it will take, and sometimes it’s sheer quiet persistence that wins through. I’d been writing short stories for years before one particular friend mentioned one particular writing event where one particular publisher would be speaking… and after talking to him, pitching to him, and a vast amount of hard work, ‘Raise the Blade’ was born.
Two: Never throw anything away. It may seem like crap now, but you never know how or when you’ll be able to rewrite it, re-use it, or work the same theme into a different scene or story. I’ve re-used many old ideas in new stories and found they work better second, third, or even fiftieth time around — some of my most popular stories are based on recycled ideas.
Three: Never stop learning. Even after twenty-odd (very odd) years I’m still finding out how to write, and am always picking up new tips from books I read, or chatting to other authors, or reading stuff on social media, or any one of a hundred other sources. It’s a steep curve sometimes, but it’s always challenging and it’s always fun.
I know you’ve got a novel available on pre-order from those crazies at All Due Respect Books. Tell us about Gravy Train. Cut through all the noise and bullshit — why should we read this book?
Because it’s fun, and much as I love the noir genre that isn’t always something you can say. I’m a sucker for the darkly humorous side of noir, though — favourite movies include Grosse Pointe Blank and Midnight Run, and I’m loving the TV adaptation of Get Shorty, even if I do have to watch half of every episode through my fingers. I have a wicked (and probably slightly twisted) sense of humour, and enjoy weaving it into my writing.
And Gravy Train is a case in point. It’s a mad-cap romp through the back streets of Birmingham, following a bag of money as it’s chased by a group of lowlifes and losers, all of whom are great at nicking it, but hopeless at hanging onto it. Whether any of them actually gets their act together enough to get their hands on it at the end — well, you’ll have to read the book to find out. It’s already been described as ‘raucous,’ ‘barnstorming,’ and ‘criminally clever,’ and although it’s very different in tone to my previous book, Raise the Blade, there’s the same gallows humour, and the same sense of people rushing to meet their doom, and slipping on a few banana skins along the way. I had a blast writing the book. I really hope you can join me for the ride!
And thanks big-time to Matt for letting me natter on to this extent on his blog, and for coming up with some damned hard questions. I haven’t quite pulled out all my hair…
It’s been a pleasure, Tess!