Interview: Lee Thompson

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When A Beautiful Madness is published by DarkFuse on 5 August, readers will be able to discover new voice on the noir and hardboiled scene. Lee Thompson’s first crime novel opens with the discovery of a dead body on the front lawn of a former state politician. The book is the story of the ex-governor’s son, and how he tries to save his family from a savage killer whilst confronting his own secrets. With the book about to hit shelves and another due in 2015, it seemed like a great time to catch up with the Michigan-based writer…

First of all, can you tell us a little more about yourself.
I’ve been writing for about 10 years and have been a published author since the summer of 2011. I enjoy reading and writing all kinds of fiction. I tend to be prolific, it seems, but really it arises from a work ethic I developed when I was in my late teens. I like to challenge myself and readers and my characters more than anything. I’d say that attitude drives everything I tackle. I can’t imagine doing anything else for a living. It’s my purpose and I’m more passionate about stories than anything else in my life. I had once thought music/songwriting served that purpose, but it is just a texture, and I’ve brought it into my fiction.

You started out writing horror/dark fantasy. Why have you switched to crime and how difficult was that?
My best buddy Shaun Ryan got me into crime fiction. He really loved James Lee Burke, Michael Connelly, Dennis Lehane, etc, and since he kept talking about their books, and I trust his opinion, I gave them a shot and was stunned by the potential to explore the human condition. I think all great fiction is moral fiction, and to me crime fiction is the pinnacle for studying people from all walks of life. The transition from writing dark fantasy to crime was any easy one since most of my dark fantasy work had a crime at the heart of it.


A Beautiful Madness has got really strong noir elements. How do you define noir and what do you like about the sub-genre?
Noir simply means black, and I like acknowledging the darkness in myself, my friends, and the world at large. We’re all extremely conflicted by what we want versus what’s right. I think those conflicts, usually kept to ourselves and never shared with others, are what make the meat of a story. But I also like the touching aspects, an unexpected kindness, just as much, because it serves two purposes. One: it reminds us there is always hope and that we’re not utterly alone; and two: it makes the black that much darker.

Sammy Wood narrates his story in the first person, which is a little unusual. What was the thinking behind this?
From the outset, while brainstorming, I always look at how I want to structure a novel. I knew I wanted Sammy to be the lead point of view, but I also wanted to filter his sister’s, the killer’s, and the detective’s POVs through his narration. Some people will hate that, but I’m fine with it since it’s all after-the-fact. He’s just relating his interpretation of what he’s learned from Thompson, Delilah, and the killer’s journal, mostly to make sense of it himself, I think. I love messing with perception because it’s what helps or hurts us most in real life, besides the choices we make, yet our choices are also driven by our perception of ourselves and the greater world, so yeah, perception is interesting.

I also wanted to leave things up for readers to discuss, like how Shaun Garrett’s body was really left on the shamed ex-governor’s lawn. The former governor claims one way, but his son believes him a liar. The killer’s journal says it happened another way, but then we’re talking about a killer.

The last thing I wanted to do was make readers really care for the killer by the end of the story, and from early reviews it seems I’ve pulled that off. I’m slightly proud of myself.

Your book is dedicated to Tom Piccirilli, a writer for whom father-son relationships are often central. What inspiration did Tom provide for A Beautiful Madness?
Ah, I’m always glad to meet another Piccirilli fan! He’s incredible, and such a cool guy. Father-son relationships play heavily in my work, too, which is one reason I think I felt such resonance when reading Pic’s novels. He has been a mentor to me in a lot of ways. I asked him a lot of questions in the last three years and he’s been gracious towards me, sharing his wisdom, experience, opinions, and his time. I think he taught me to be brave enough to tackle the issues I still can’t let go of, the themes that parallel my real life.


Which other crime fiction authors do you enjoy reading, and what have you taken from their work?
In the last couple years I’ve been devouring crime fiction. My favorite authors, and what I’ve learned from them? That’s a long, long list. I’ll try to stick to a handful of them.

John D MacDonald – I love his standalones more than the McGee books, so I might be a weirdo. But I’ve learned a lot about characterisation from MacDonald. He makes his characters seem so real, and I think it’s because he doesn’t get in their way. He just lets them be the complicated messes they are, and I love doing that as much as possible, too.

James Lee Burke – I love Burke’s use of language and the hardcore intensity and loyalty of Dave Robicheaux and Clete Purcell.

Dennis Lehane – Mystic River is a crime novel, but it’s one of those that really looks at how ‘not getting in the car’ has made life different for two of three friends. It’s a haunting novel, and a big inspiration.

John Connolly – I love how Connolly mixes crime fiction with the supernatural. And Charlie Parker has awesome supporting characters.

Lee Child – I love the pacing of the Reacher novels. To me, no other novels read faster, and he has such a subtle way of allowing the reader into Reacher’s head.

Joe Lansdale – I really enjoy his characters, his sense of humor, and his work ethic.

Some other favorites are Michael Connelly, Megan Abbott, Michael Koryta, Gillian Flynn, Donald Westlake, Lawrence Block, Cormac McCarthy, Michael Stanley and Andrew Vachss.

After A Beautiful Madness, what have you got planned?
DarkFuse is releasing my second Crime novel It’s Only Death in January 2015, which I’m very excited about. It’s about an 18-year-old kid, James, who kills his policeman father in a bank job gone wrong, then returns home 10 years later to pay his mother one last visit when he learns she’s on her death bed. But his dad’s old partner has been longing to settle a score with him, and his little sister is dating the leader of a deadly biker gang. James is determined to pull her away from them before she destroys herself. Then in May 2015 DarkFuse is releasing my novella With Fury in Hand, which is a modern tragedy, told from five characters POVs.

I also have half a dozen novels ready to sell. And I’m always excited about whatever I’m working on at the time. Right now it’s a supernatural thriller I plan to sell under the pseudonym Julian Vaughn.

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