Interview with Bruce Cook (Brant Randall)

Here’s my interview with Bruce Cook who uses the name Brant Randall as a pen name. He is the author of Blood Harvest which I reviewed on Monday.

1. Blood Harvest is a novel with a very intense and emotional plot. What led you to write about racism and hate crimes in the twenties?

This novel grew from an incident related to me by my grandmother when she was in her nineties. She was a Scotch-Irish girl from rural New England, one of twelve children, though two died in infancy.

I knew she had married young, perhaps at sixteen, though she sometimes claimed she had been eighteen. She said that after her wedding day she never returned to her home town. I assumed that she eloped or otherwise angered her parents. At one point I asked if her parents disliked my grandfather, who I remembered as personable and charming.

She claimed that they liked him very much. He was a perfect example of the immigrant success story. Came to America from Greece at sixteen, without any English. Started working the next day. Within five years he owned his own restaurant, and in another five he added a chain of candy shops and drug stores.

“So why didn’t you ever return to your home town?”

“It was those dumb clucks.” She used this expression only when quite angry. “My brother-in-law didn’t think it right for a white girl to marry a non-white European.”

This was new territory to me, but when I read my grandfather’s immigration papers I found that southern Europeans—the Greeks, Spanish, Italians, and Turks—were classified thus until 1912. But it was her next revelation that stunned me.

It wasn’t dumb “clucks.” It was dumb “klux.” It was the KKK that had driven my grandparents from the town. This was not consistent with what I had learned in my history classes (if only they had been so interesting!), and so I began to research.

 2. I noticed in your afterword that you did quite a bit of research on the topic and on the 20’s in general. Can you tell us a little more about that?

My novel is an attempt to give a new perspective to a past that is still within living memory. When most people hear the background of my story they express either astonishment or disbelief. A few confirm it and add more details to what I have learned.

In the 1920s the Ku Klux Klan had as many as six million members in 35 states. It ran state legislatures. It controlled the Democratic National Convention in 1924, stalemating the nomination of Al Smith (a Catholic) for 103 ballots.

Its power base was NOT the south. It was the northeast and Midwest. It certainly was anti-black, but in the 1920s it was especially anti-immigrant, anti-Semitic, and anti-Catholic. There was a rally of 20,000 Klansmen in Worcester Massachusetts in 1924 that ended in a riot, where the opposition was the Knights of Columbus. There are films of the KKK marching down Pennsylvania in front of the Capitol in 1925, fifteen thousand strong, in full Klan regalia. (You can see this film footage in the book trailer on YouTube. Go tohttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XAJM6Nbbq9Q )

My question to you is this: where was all this information when I was falling asleep in high school history class during the height of the civil rights movement?

 3. Have you always written crime novels?

I had written nearly 30 screenplays and directed six movies before I attempted my first novel. Hollywood is a very competitive place so I had already experienced dozens of rejections before I sold my first script. It was painful and ego-shrinking the first time it happened. My “child,” the offspring of my imagination, had been critiqued and criticized and cut down to size.

 In fact, the first script never sold at all and I “suffered,” developing my aura as an “artist.” The aura and a part time job put groceries on the table.

 After half a dozen sales of scripts that were made I finally achieved a more balanced perspective. I consider this the most important thing I have learned as a writer. Here it is—

 My scripts, books and movies are not my “children.” They are creations: some good, some bad, some better than others; some ahead of their time, some behind. But in every case they were not ME, they were not my “babies.” (I have real children who are now grown men. One of them is the author Troy Cook.)

 These creations exist apart from me, just as Beethoven’s symphonies are not the man and Emily Dickenson’s poems are not the woman.

Publishers are much like film producers. They may like “art” but they keep their jobs by putting out projects that appeal to a larger public than just their own tastes.

 Having adjusted my attitude, I then adjusted my working pattern. I joined a writer’s critique group. I cannot overstate the value of having other writers look at, respond to, critique, and make suggestions for improvement to my work.

 4. It was interesting seeing the points of view of different people throughout the novel (even a dog and a crow at one point!). What led you to write the book in this format and did you find it challenging to change voices so often?

 I personally love the police dog Chief and his rival, the crow. However their very existence divides readers sharply. I love dogs and know that they sometimes can understand us. There is a dog with a speaking vocabulary of about 150 words. There are some birds that can hold real conversations (not just canned responses to stock questions). I didn’t feel it was a stretch to tell a short portion of the story from their vantage points.

 There are 6 other voices in the book. Chapters are all written from the first person point of view. Three of the speakers are women—Jackie Sue, the sexually precocious 13 year old; Eulala, the abused wife; and Granny MacKay, matriarch of the bootleggers. The three men are Marshal Lawe, the peace officer in our small town; Big Bill, the corrupt politician; and Ebeneezer Kauz, a down on his luck veteran of the Civil War.

I found it exhilarating to place myself inside the minds of these varied players.

 5. You also mention in your afterword that while this is a work of fiction it is mostly based on events that happened. How closely does this novel mirror the truth of things in the twenties?

I read a number of histories of the period, then histories of the KKK. I did research on the net. I read contemporary accounts in newspapers of the day.

Best of all I interviewed friends and family whose memories extend back to the 20s. Their reminiscences were wonderful and invaluable. I found that as they spoke of their childhood they often dropped into the jargon and slang of the times.

In fiction as well as in non-fiction, writers very often take liberties with their material to tell a good story or make a point. But how much is too much? Have I told a “true” story in my novel?

Since three eyewitnesses to the same event come up with three different (sometimes contradictory) accounts, I don’t put too much value on “history” as written by historians. They always write with the filter of their own culture and education.

And anyway the word history contains the word “story” within it. As long as I’m not preaching I can shape the story as I wish. I have to say that I invented very few incidents for this novel.

 6. Any plans for future novels right now?

 My third book, Tommy Gun Tango, is due out in July 2009. It concerns the corruption of the Los Angeles Police Department in the early 1930s and the way they helped the movie studios cover up murders by stars.

 

 7. Who are some of your favorite writers or novels and what are you reading now?

 My biggest influences are:

 PG Wodehouse for a sense of structure and the seemingly effortless use of dialect and manners.

 Joe Lansdale for his ability to bring a new character to life in a single paragraph and his ability to keep the story moving forward even though it is full of asides;

 Donald Westlake and Elmore Leonard for their ability to mix humor into situations that would be horrific if they actually happened to the reader;

 Ken Bruen for his ability to immerse in another culture (Irish or British) and still have us recognize the similarities with our own, though the daily language and habits are quite different.

 Just finished Joe Lansdale’s latest, Leather Maiden. Excellent.

 Thank you so much for your time Mr. Randall and for a wonderful novel! I really appreciate it!

 And thanks for the opportunity to be on your website. I should clarify that my real name is Bruce Cook and that Brant Randall is my pen name. Here is why—

 When my first novel, Philippine Fever, was published I was elated. To celebrate I Googled myself…and discovered that there were three other authors named Bruce Cook. Surprised (and a little horrified at the coincidence) I then researched how common my name really was. My university had granted degrees to 35 other Bruce Cooks. There were four others in the film industry. There were three Bruce R. Cooks of the exact same age with PhDs.

 When I got to Bruce Cook the porn star I realized it was time to come up with a pseudonym for my next novel. That pretty much ended the celebration stage.

 For my third novel Bruce and Brant are collaborating—but they aren’t getting along and I fear there may be a lawsuit.www.brucecookonline.com

 

Advertisements

2 Responses

  1. Wonderful interview! Thank you both (or should I say all three of you?).

  2. Thanks for the interview. Blood Harvest looks good and Tommy Gun Tango sounds like it is going to be good too.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: