Chris Irvin is one of those people I always interact with on social media and whose work I enjoy but have sadly never shared a beer with in real life. That means I have never laid eyes on his stacks. Now that his latest novel, Ragged, is out, I had to invite him to share some thoughts on book. Here’s what he had to say.
GI: Who are you and what role do books play in your life?
CI: I’m Chris Irvin. I write crime fiction (mostly) and books are a huge part of my life. Growing up, I read a lot of fantasy, science fiction, and comics. In college I took a class called “Literature of the Occult” in which we crammed in the likes of Peter Straub, Stephen King and Ira Levin. I read more in one semester than I could remember, got hooked on horror, and ran a World of Darkness/Werewolf pen & paper RPG with my college roommates that we still reminisce and laugh about every time we get together.
Books became even more important when I began writing fiction. I always feel behind…being born in the 80’s I missed the horror boom. When my writing drifted from horror to crime, I tried to catch up on early-mid 1900’s noir, but then there’s the new stuff too, which I find even more appealing and influential. I’m now reading less of both to try and read as widely as possible – more literary fiction, essays, etc. that I might not normally reach for. Last year I gave myself a reality check – there’s never enough time – and have had to become more selective. I guess it’s a good problem to have – finding joy in *too* many things.
GI: How long have you been a fan of anthropomorphism? Got any favorite novels in that realm you can recommend?
CI: I’ve been a fan since I was a little kid. I don’t remember a lot of what I read growing up, but I fondly recall the stories of Beatrix Potter, The Wind in the Willows, and the stories of Christopher Robin. I re-read all of them during the initial stages of writing RAGGED to get in the mood and figure out/tune my voice. They all hold up well, especially The Wind in the Willows. I read Watership Down for the first time only a couple months ago. I really enjoyed it, but it’s a different sort of anthropomorphism. I break stories (when it comes to animals) into two sub-groups: Your clothes wearing, more ‘human’ anthropomorphic animals (The Wind in the Willows, Zootopia, Beatrix Potter) and animals who remain animals, yet talk and take on some human characteristics (Watership Down).
The Wind in the Willows is my favorite classic. The collections of Black Sad (Juan Díaz Canales and Juanjo Guarnido) published in English by Dark Horse are great and BEAUTIFUL books. I just cracked Each Day a Small Victory by Chips Hardy after a reviewer recommended it, and I’m really enjoying it so far.
GI: I like that you’re a crime writer who’s not afraid to get weird…or a writer of the weird who digs crime. You play around with genres and do whatever you want. Was this a conscious decision or did your voice just organically emerge shaped like that?
CI: Thanks. This is something I struggle with…labels and what to call my fiction. I’ll often say I write literary crime, or some of both genres. It makes me cringe a bit because literary often has a reputation for snickering at “genre” writers (though I believe it too is a genre) but I don’t write hardboiled or thrillers, and though I sometimes write Noir, it’s not always really Noir (it has a pretty wide net these days). A good third of Safe Inside the Violence, my collection from 2015 that will soon be reissued by Lethe Press, really isn’t crime. Sure, there are elements found in “Digging Deep,” “Imaginary Drugs,” and “Lupe’s Lemon Elixir,” but I think they are much more literary, perhaps because they are partially character studies.
I think I’ve organically drifted from horror to crime/noir to dark/literary. When I wrote “Beyond the Sea” (which was very much intended to be a horror story) I realized how much more interested I was in sad/melancholic tales than scary. The same thing happened with the stories I mentioned above that I wrote specifically for Safe Inside the Violence. When I didn’t have a single publication in mind, I found myself focusing much more on the characters, and less on the crime/violence. It was a really freeing period, and has lead me to where I am now. RAGGED is the culmination of my progression as a writer. I’ve learned so much from writing short stories, reading for Shotgun Honey, working alongside other writers, and finally letting go. It just feels right – writing is never easy but I truly had a great time writing this novel. I love these characters, this world, and it’s where I want to be, at least for the near future.
GI: Fire is coming. You have a small box to throw some books in and start running. What tomes immediately go in the box?
CI: Oh, boy. *Gets the family out of the house, runs back into the raging inferno*
Taiyo Matsumoto’s Sunny (all 6 volumes). If there is one writer/artist/creator you check out after reading this (ahem, besides RAGGED, of course) make it Matsumoto. I have an entire shelf dedicated to his work. Read Sunny. Watch the short anime series, Ping Pong, then buy the manga (yet to be translated to English) and flip through it. I’m in awe of the way he writes young characters.
My medium-sized copy of The Wind in the Willows (I have 4, and the massive annotated version will slow me down).
Daytripper by Fabio Moon and Gabriel Ba – a graphic novel everyone should read. This has stuck with me for a long time, and is overdue for a re-read.
Bioshock art book – My favorite game and my gold standard for world building.
The Thicket by Joe R. Lansdale – what an adventure novel! Some of the most fun I’ve had reading.
…and a trio of short story collections because I NEED some, and in a panic I rip Get In Trouble by Kelly Link, Battleborn by Claire Vaye Watkins, and Sweet Nothing by Richard Lange, off the shelf because they are shelf-neighbors and all incredible.
GI: You seem pretty plugged into the indie scene. Who are your favorite living authors?
CI: I try! My favorites seem to change daily, and I’m always up for tackling something new – like Things We Lost in the Fire by Mariana Enriquez (go read it!). As far as indies go, or maybe lesser knowns, off the top of my head… Helen Marshall, William Boyle, Andrew Battershill, Scott Adlerberg, Kieran Shea, Jen Conley.
GI: What is your latest novel about and why should folks click out of this interview right now and go buy it?
CI: Ragged is a tale of anthropomorphic animals. It’s about a family, a community in crisis – how we react and survive amid said crisis. I say “we” as the animals are as human as you and I, but with wild personalities and a great bit of dry gallows humor. I’m happy readers think “Fargo meets The Wind in the Willows” is an accurate pitch, because I’m confident that if that sounds cool to you, you’ll love this book.