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    An Interview with Ken Bruen
(Couresy of Craig McDonald at modestyarbor.com)

INTRODUCTION

Youíre a teacher, for Christís sake, taking a drink in a pub in Rio de Janeiro.
It's 1979: Youíre over there to teach presumably grateful Brazilians to speak English.
A fight breaks out.
You and every other European in the joint are rounded up and jailed.
Bad enough, but your captors are sadistic whack-jobs:
They shove your head into buckets of excrement and rape you.
You slide into a self-described state of "catatonia."
Your captors hold onto you for several months. Half-a-year later you emerge from the Brazilian jail, dangerously skinny and vaguely suicidal. Upon reflection, you decide not to take yourself out ó why let them win? (Your fellow European inmates seemingly lack your determination for survival and soon die or go missing.)
Where do you go from there?
If youíre Irish author Ken Bruen, you immerse yourself in philosophical researches and cool down with American crime novels ó the classics and the best of the new cropÖCrumley, Pelecanos, Lehane, Mosley, Ellroy and Daniel Woodrell. After penning several mainstream novels that garnered good reviews, but not enough readers, you try your hand at your own crime novel and catch a wave, eventually emerging as the undisputed King (and probably creator) of "Irish noir."
Youíre a stylist ó terse and staccato as Ellroy but more sardonic. (Your readers know theyíre in good hands in your first novel, Rilke on Black, when a character observes "Money canít be everything if God gave it to Madonna and Julio Iglesias.")
You put all of yourself into your novels ó books populated by literate lowlifes and studded with stray lyrics and epigraphs pulled from other crime novels, poems, philosophers and songwriters spanning Bruce Springsteen, Kris Kristofferson and Tom Waits.
At this writing, Bruenís body of work includes several standalone crime novels, and two ongoing series: one about a crew of London police officers (The so-called White Trilogy, which has gone well beyond three novels) and his books about Jack Taylor, an alcoholic, substance-abusing ex-Irish Guard turned P.I. The first of the Taylor novels, The Guards, was Bruenís breakthrough novel ó the first of his crime novels to be published in the U.S. and Australia.
Interviewer C.M. McDonald spoke with Ken Bruen in early June, 2003 when Bruen stopped in New York on his way home to Ireland from an Australian conference.

   
         
    Bruen: Let me just say this Craig: Thereís no holds barred. Whatever you want to ask me as regards my life or anything ó there arenít any no-go areas, okay? It just makes it easier.

McDonald: I appreciate that very much.

Bruen: Okeydoke.

McDonald: Well, certainly some of the moreÖunpleasant aspects of your life have been out there quite a bit.

Bruen: Yeah. When I got to Australia, I decided I would kind of go for broke. You see, my mother died at Christmas, and as long as she was alive, I was a little bit sensitive around certain areas in my life because it kind of hurt her to hear things. But she died at ChristmasÖand it means I can just speak freely and not have to worry about her getting hurt by anything I say.

McDonald: You have a degree in metaphysics. I wondered if your decision to pursue that degree was directly related to your imprisonment in Rio di Janeiro?

Bruen: Definitely. Because of what happened in South America, I became absolutely obsessed with the nature of evil. I looked around for some kind of discipline that would kind of focus me away from the darkness that I had been in and that also might help to explain evil. I believe evil existsÖletís put it that way. Itís not because of background. I mean, I know people with horrendous backgrounds and theyíre great people. So, I donít think itís, "Oh, gee, he had a really bad upbringing and thatís the reason heís evil." Some people just are. Theyíre like a force of nature.

McDonald: You also instructed English language. Did you use any fiction in your curriculum?

Bruen: Yeah. I tried all sorts of different authors when I was teaching. Oddly enough, the author that worked right across the board: Graham Greene. They just adored him. Particularly in Japan. I think the hardest teaching I ever did was in Japan, because you walk into the classroom and the first thing they do is give you a round of applause, and you think, "Good Lord, I havenít done anything yet. Itís going to be hard to top that." Of course, they have this thing about losing face, so youíd say to the students, "Do you understand that?" So as to make you not look bad, theyíd say yes they do, but they donít. And then you have to be very careful that you donít make one student look bad in front of another for fear theyíll go home and commit hara-kiri, so it was very strange teaching them. Iím a kind of expert in it ó give me six weeks with any nationality and Iíll have them up and runningÖtheyíll be able to talk and converse. But the Japanese, no, it was my one failure. They said an amazing thing to me when I first went there. Talk about a crazy thing. Iím Irish, right? The boss brought me in the first day and he said, "Now, Mr. Bruen, we have a system in Japan where once a week we like to go out and drink an awful lot of whiskey." He said, "We call it letting the demons out." He said, "Would you be able to come along one night maybe?" I thought, "Boy, are you kidding? I have a lot of demons to get rid of." The only trouble was I intended to go out every night and I had a lot of demons to get rid of.

McDonald: So Graham Greene was the guy your various students could relate to?

Bruen: That was true whether I was teaching military English in Kuwait ó which became a terrible joke, because shortly after I left Kuwait, the Iraqis came rolling down the road. People said to me, "You didnít teach the guys very good with the military English: they didnít put up much of a fight!" The way you teach military English is they give you a weapons catalogue the night before, you go through it, and then the next day you go in there and explain all the different parts of it. It was just such a weird gig.

McDonald: You were literally teaching them the names of firearms?

Bruen: Yeah, yeah, and some very lethal firepower. I couldnít believe it. Then we had to go through the stage where their higher brass actually brought in the weapons. I remember standing there thinking, "Iím Irish and look at this array of weaponry that certain parties in Ireland would pay fortunes for."

McDonald: Those would be the northern quadrants of IrelandÖ.

Bruen: If they only knew what I was handling here, and I thought, "Good Lord, Iím just a teacher." Iíve been a writer about seven years, fulltime, which is an unusual thing. Not even two percent of the millions of writers who are out there can manage to write fulltime. Most of them have to do something else, like teach, or wait on tables or whatever it is. About seven years ago, my wife said to me, "Ken," she said "you donít have to teach anymore if you donít want to." She does the books and I said, "Youíre kidding." She said, "No, Iíve been checking out tax and all the rest of it" and she said, "weíre in great shape financially. You could just write fulltime" and it was just such a liberation. Wow! It was just incredible. That was before things really began to happen. I sort of had a cult following ó the books sold very well in Britain and were selling in Europe, but not in any spectacular way. By no means was I a well-known author, or anything. Itís only been in the last year or two years that major things have happened.

McDonald: Every crime fiction author Iíve talked to has been able to identify a particular book or a particular author they were reading and suddenly just realized, "You know, I think I could have written that book." Is there a particular author or book you had that experience with?

Bruen: I kind of had it with four, really. When I was a teenager, because Iím Irish, I was supposed to be reading Joyce and Yeats and all the rest of it. But I had done all of that in school and I felt the heavy tradition of them weighing on me. Then, by chance, I encountered the American hardboiled school. I started reading Jim Thompson and Chandler and Hammett and James M. Cain. The four of them ó it was like an explosion went off in my head. I couldnít believe this dialogue. In England they always call me a novelist "from the streets" and "of the streets." There was a big campaign a couple of years ago to have the likes of us suppressed because we were regarded as destroying classic English crime fiction. They were going to ban The Hackman Blues. I was hoping they would, because for an Irish author to be banned is the ultimate accolade.

McDonald: Sure, just like Joyce. All that notoriety.

Bruen: Yeah! Iíd finally be on the list of banned books. It meant Iíd be really famous. At the last second they decided not to ban the book. They said, "It would give him too much attention." I was so disappointed. I kept saying, "No, no ban the book, I want you to." But they wouldnít do it.

McDonald: You were reading crime fiction as a teenager, but your first several books were not genre efforts.

Bruen: No.

McDonald: Theyíre almost impossible to findÖI havenít found one yet.

Bruen: Hereís a nice thing: A friend of mine said, "Go to this particular Web site on the Internet so I did.í My very first book, which was called Funeral, was about a boy who attends funerals like other kids attend football matches or football games. A very dark, strange novel. He knew all the best funerals to go to and where youíd meet the best girls and where you got the best food. It got great reviews, but it sunk without a trace. It was a small American outfit. Anyway, my friend told me the book was changing hands (on the Internet) for $150. I thought, "Oh, Iíll get out the thousand copies I have in the warehouse and slowly filter them onto the market."

McDonald: Well there you go.

Bruen: Yeah. The second was called Shades of Grace.

McDonald: And then Martyrs.

Bruen: Yeah, Martyrs came after that. With Shades of Grace, I had a terrific friend at the time who was a social worker. Heíd been telling me all these horrendous stories about social work and all the rest of it. I said to him, "Can I use some of this material?" He said, "Feel free Ken. Whatever I tell you, you can use it." I did remind him of the old clichť that "a writerís duty is to betray." I wrote this scathing book, a black comedy about a social worker. Craig, this is the absolute truth: He has never spoken to me since.

McDonald: Really?

Bruen: Yeah. He said, "I didnít mean you to tell those kinds of stories." The third one is Martyrs, which has actually just been re-bought by an academic press of all people. Theyíre going to bring it out with the French publisher, Gallimard. They have a terrific guy, a managing director, called Patrick Raynal. He hung out with people like James Crumley and (Walter) Mosley. He knows them all. Great guy. He did four months in prison during the Paris riots, and, because I had done four months we just kind of bonded straight away. He said to me he had never ever in his life ó and he had met hundreds of authors ó but he had never met an author who had four books sitting on a shelf that he had never shown to a publisher. I said, "Yeah, I have four." He said, "How? Why would you just sit on them?" And I said, "Well, I just felt the time wasnít right." He said, "Listen, show them to somebody." So I showed them to this academic press and itís all about the 1980s in London and paranoia and how all these whiz kids suddenly went down the toilet. He going to bring out the four books together. He went over to Paris to meet with Patrick Raynal who said, "Listen, if itís four new books by Ken Bruen I donít even need to see them, Iíll just buy them." Itís terrific.

McDonald: I hope theyíre going to come out in translation.

Bruen: Theyíll come out in English first. Iíll make sure you get copies.

McDonald: Your books ó your crime novels, particularly ó are studded with epigraphs and chapter headings that youíre drawing from pop music, crime novels, poems.

Bruen: Sure.

McDonald: They seem uncannily apt in almost all cases for the material theyíre setting up. Do you have a journal or a log of these?

Bruen: I keep notes all the time. I always carry a notebook with me. In New York now, Iím with Daniel Buckman, who's about to be The Next Big Thing. He has a terrific novel coming out from Picador in October. Heís an ex-paratrooper. He and I started corresponding about two years ago through a mutual friend. He sent me his novel Water in Darkness and, ahh, this guy is like the new Robert Stone crossed with Michael Herr. I just couldnít believe heís so good. Watch out for him, heís going to be huge. But, anyway, we kept saying we have to hook up (heís from Chicago), so when I told him I was coming to New York, he said, "Iíll come up and see you." So the night I arrived, weíre staying at the same hotel and it was terrific. We just kind of straight away went straight into talk about books and the whole shebang. Great. He said to me, "You just came off a 30-hour flight and the first thing you do is you start taking notes!" I said, "I just heard so many things on the plane that triggered me." Iíll hear a piece of music, say, and old song from the í70s or something, and Iíll think, "I know exactly the character thatís going to love this music." Then, later on when I come back to look at the notes, Iíll think, "Yeah, it is the right music for the right guy."

Now, I have a very strange method of writing which I better tell you about. My daughter says, "Aw, Dadís gone mad again!" I get up at 7 every morning and I write for two hours. Back home nobody calls me, nobody comes near me, no one goes into the study. They think, "Thatís his time." I really do think if youíre going to be serious writer not only do you have to write every day, but you have to have a time.

McDonald: A structured time?

Bruen: Yeah, and you do it every day, regardless. I get all sorts of arguments from people about it. I say, "This time, next year, Iíll have 20 books, in print, out there and thatís the proof to me." Anyway, thatís what I do then the rest of the day I go about looking after my daughter and doing whatever daily work or routine. Then at the end of the day, when sheís in bed, I go upstairs, close the door and I take out my portable tape recorder and I do all of the accents into it. Iím a failed actor. I get my kicks that way. If the accents donít work in my head when I play them back on the tape recorder, I bin it. Itís gone.

McDonald: Thatís interesting. I spoke with Walter Mosley about a year ago and he was telling me the same thing.

Bruen: Youíre kidding, really?

McDonald: Yeah, he reads the dialogue and narrative into a tape recorder.

Bruen: Wow, Iíve never heard of anyone else doing it. I thought it just meant that I was just that little bit more out there. Someone said to me recently, with two different series going ó the southeast London cops from Hell series ó

McDonald: The White TrilogyÖ.

Bruen: ó yeah, number six comes out in September (2003) and Iím writing The Guards (number four Iíve just finished and Iím about to write number five). They said, "How do you keep all those characters in your head?" And the strange thing is, as soon as I sit down to write, they start to talk to me, literally. I can hear them ó all the different voices. Then, when 9 oíclock comes, when I stop, they stop talking to me. For the rest of the day itís whatever action, or plot, or character developments, but theyíre not actually talking in my head. But then, at the end of the day, when I start to do the voices, they start talking again. Itís the strangest process. I tried explaining it to a psychiatrist and he said, "You need serious treatmentÖitís just as well youíre a writer."

McDonald: Losing it could disrupt your workflow.

Bruen: My wife says, "God forbid, Ken ever gets happy."

McDonald: Sadly, I tend to subscribe the notion that great artists have to be miserable to do great work.

Bruen: Yes, and we Irish we kind of do melancholy well, you know. When you have that much bad weather, you have something to be melancholy about.

McDonald: You conceived the Jack Taylor story (which begins with The Guards) as five novels.

Bruen: Exactly.

McDonald: Will you go beyond that?

Bruen: Definitely. There is a young police woman that he has a kind of a running battle with. She sometimes helps him and sometimes hinders him. They have a love/hate relationship. Without revealing too much ó as the series progresses, hopefully the characters do ó it turns out sheís gay. Now, when I started to write about her I didnít know about that. I love what Elmore Leonard says. He said heís halfway through a book before he has any idea what the characters are going to do or be like. It took me three books before I realized that's what her big problem is ó that sheís gay. Itís very difficult to be a woman Guard in Ireland, anyway, but to be a gay female Guard is incredible. I do know quite a few Guards. In one of the books, I just invented this thing that you can always tell an Irish policewoman by the little pearl earrings they wear. Now, it doesnít mean that if you wear little pearl earrings that youíre an Irish Guard, but Irish Guard females do wear them. She told me afterwards, "You know, since the book came out, Iíve noticed a lot of my colleagues wearing little pearl earrings."

McDonald: Really?

Bruen: Isnít that a strange thing? And, hereís something else that a writer dreams about: that something youíve invented will go into common usage, as it were. Now, when I started writing A White Arrest, I just made up the term ó "a white arrest" meaning the big one that covers all past sins and literally whitewashes all the mistakes youíve made. Now, I see it in the newspapers.

McDonald: Itís entered the vernacular?

Bruen: Yeah, and itís just such a great thing. Someone told me recently, "No, no, actually itís a real term" and you just kind of laugh to yourself. When I was doing the book, I wrote to Scotland Yard, and I thought well, Iíd give it a shot anyway, despite the fact Iím Irish and they wonít be too keen to hear from an Irish person. I put down all of my qualifications ó I have, like, three degrees and a diploma in art and a Ph.D. and I put all that down to impress them, so they would think that I was not dangerous.

McDonald: Right, a solid citizen.

Bruen: And I said, "Iím proposing to write a series on the London Metropolitan Police, and any help you could give me as regards ranks and uniforms and scales of pay would be a great help so that Iíll have it right." They wrote me back this letter saying, "Dear Mr. Bruen, we will not now, nor will we ever in the future lend you any help, support or information in any way. Yours, unsincerely, Scotland Yard." I was going to put it at the front of the book, but the publisher wouldnít do it. What a shame, yeah?

McDonald: A terrible shame.

Bruen: Let me tell you about the best review I ever had. Galway now is such a cosmopolitan city. We have so many different nationalities living there. This friend of mine, Matthew, is a New Yorker and he runs a bookshop in Galway. His brother-in-law rides with the Hellís Angels in California. He used to send them the crime novels. I didnít even know Hellís Angels read books, but seemingly, they read crime novels. He sent them The Guards and The Killing of the Tinkers and two of The White Trilogy. They adored it. The books were passed íround among all of the gang. They E-mailed him back with this blurb saying, "Read Ken Bruen or die, mother-f*****." When I told Ben (Kenís U.S. editor), he said we couldnít possibly use it or heíd have Sonny Barger come looking for him. Which he probably would.

McDonald: Well, if Iím ever menaced by The Hells Angels, Iíll know how to mollify them ó just share my love for Ken Bruenís books.

Bruen: Remember the great book that Hunter S. did on them?

McDonald: Hunter S. Thompson? SureÖ.He nearly got beaten to death by them.

Bruen: Yeah, they nearly killed him at the end of the book. I read his new one on the plane back, and, boy, thereís some crazy stuff in there. Heís definitely out there.

McDonald: I just got my copy of the third Jack Taylor from Amazon.uk ó The Magdalen Martyrs ó and loved it.

Bruen: Ah, thanks. But the Irish Tourist Board are definitely going to ask me to leave the country, though, because they keep saying I write about these things they want to forget. The fourth one, The Dramatist, which I just finished now ó are you familiar with John Millington Synge and The Playboy of the Western World?

McDonald: Actually, very much so.

Bruen: Heís very neglected in Ireland, and I thought it was time somebody put him in a crime novel. And, by one of those strange coincidences, itís his commemorative year, next year, when the book comes out. Somebody said, "Boy, you really planned that well." Itís pure coincidence. I canít convince them now that I didnít know, but, truly, Craig, I didnít know. Itís pure accident. But, by the time it comes out, Iíll say I did know. What the hell?

McDonald: In The Guards, Taylor is dealing primarily with alcohol abuse. In The Killing of the Tinkers, he has expanded his repertoire to cocaine and in the third book it is pills. Whatís Jackís next jones? I canít figure out which addictions might be left.

Bruen: In Australia, there was a Q&A with journalists, and one of them said, "Your books are putting me off alcohol." I said, "Boy, what a thing to say." When I die, theyíll say, "He put people off drinking." What a terrible epitaph for an Irishman. Guinness will never talk to me again.

McDonald: Youíre burning every bridge you can.

Bruen: Exactly. Four years ago, I was home, and I got a call from the Australian police saying they had found a body in the Outback and the only identification on the body was three book reviews of mine. I said, "Could you describe the body?" It was my older brother who had died a homeless, vagrant alcoholic in the Outback. So, people say, "Do you know of what you write?" And I tell them, "Believe you me, I do." This was a guy who had huge success. Owned four houses and all the rest of it. Then, gradually, alcoholism took over and he died of cirrhosis of the liver. He was only 52. Getting his body home through the bureau of foreign affairs, it had to be a sealed casket. My mother was still alive at the time and we just had to lie to her and say he died really peacefully from a heart attack. We couldnít possibly tell her. But, in Ireland, there isnít a family that hasnít been touched in some way or another by alcoholism. So, one of the things I set out deliberately to do in the books, then and now, was I wanted to take the glamour out of booze. In Ireland, itís a hugely social thing. Everything revolves around the pub. We have this whole culture of "Alcohol is wonderful." I mean, I take a beer myself, and I love it and I think beer and having a night out is terrific, but there is the darker side ó alcoholism. Itís destroyed so much of our country and people donít want to hear about that. I figure, at least, people can never accuse me of glamorizing alcohol. As I say, thatís going to be my epitaph: "He put people off drink ó what a thing for an Irishman."

McDonald: A temperance crime novelist?

Bruen: Matt Scudder, in reverse.

McDonald: You had success in the U.K., but The Guards has been the book that has really expanded your readership in other countries ó the first of your crime novels to be published in the U.S. and Australia, among others.

Bruen: What they call, "the breakthrough book," yes.

McDonald: Why this book?

Bruen: I had always intended to write an Irish crime novel, but the time wasnít right. I returned home to Ireland and I bought a house. We were then experiencing what ó I donít know if youíre familiar with the term ó was called "The Celtic Tiger."

McDonald: Absolutely ó the big Irish software boom.

Bruen: We went from a nation that went to Mass every Sunday, to Microsoft, without any preparation. We became rich overnight and we just had no idea how to handle it. People who were grubbing around for a couple of bobs suddenly were rich. The country was totally confused. Because we were suddenly a rich country, we got this huge influx of people from all over the world. Because of all these people who were afraid of all these people coming in, Iím horrified to say we have things like the rise of National Socialism and bigotry. You see signs on the wall like "All non-Irish Out!" and "Burn out immigrants!" Itís terrific territory for a crime novelist. So, seven years ago, I thought now, at last. An Irish novelist once said "There can never be an Irish crime novel because there are no mean streets in Ireland." Well, Iíll tell you, let íem go home and have a look now. Galway has crack cocaine, and when you have crack cocaine, you get mean streets. A huge heroin problem. And a massive suicide rate among 12 and 13-year-old girls which the newspapers ó it was so bad, they had to stop reporting it, because they thought itís encouraging other young girls to do it. Itís an amazing territory for a novelist; itís horrendous for the country. We still havenít got a handle on it. Now the Celtic Tiger has died and weíre in recession, yet we have this huge population of what they call politely "non-Nationals." I walk down the streets of my hometown, which was a village when I was a child, and itís black faces, yellow faces itís so cosmopolitan, which I think, is a great thing for the country. I think itís really time we opened up to the world. Also, if the Irish ever operate a closed-door policy ó which theyíre talking about doing ó that would be some irony, because the whole world let us in for 500 years. The one time that we get a chance and we shut out the world, itís just one of those terrible things.

McDonald: I recently spoke with Irish novelist ó I donít know if you know Eoin Colfer, who writes the Artemis Fowl novels for young adults ó heís a huge fan of yours, by the way.

Bruen: Oh, thank God I like him.

McDonald: Colfer touched on some of these issues too. It sounds as though Ireland is standing at a very pivotal moment in its history.

Bruen: Yeah, for years and years the Irish literary establishment would say things like, "We canít understand Ken Bruen ó he seems to be educated, he could be a professor at a university, heís a teacher. When you meet him he has manners (which I thought was a nice touch). Why on earth is he writing this stuff? This crime fiction?" Because, they really believed it was the poor relation of best-kept-in-the-closet. But now there is a huge amount of Irish kids writing Irish crime fiction and suddenly itís become almost respectable. I knew the tide had turned when finally the Irish Times rang me and said, "Ken, how are you?" I said, "After twenty years of you not calling me Iím doing fairly good, thank you very much." They said, "Oh, donít be like that. Weíd love to do an interview." They did a two-page spread, which is like, a huge deal in Ireland. So, crime has arrived. Unfortunately, my wife says things like, "I wish they wouldnít call you the Godfather of Irish crime" because it makes her sound old.

McDonald: Hemingway famously balked at the notion that he should be expected to "give guided tours through the country" of his work. That said, you have some vanishing or imagined priests in your novels ó your first crime novel, and The Magdalen Martyrs come to mind. Father Malachy also looms large in the Taylor books. In light of your metaphysical studies, how would you characterize your relationship with the church?

Bruen: This is a great story. As a child I never spoke. I didnít speak until I was 7 years of age, which is a real crime for an Irish child because everybody talks. In our family, I had two brothers and a sister, and, of course, my mum and dad. And they never shut it, morning, noon and night. And I never spoke. They used to say things like, "If we had money, we get him assist. Thereís something seriously wrong with him." All I did was read books. In our family there was no tradition of books, never any books in the house. I was talking to (my editor) Ben (Sevier) about it. He comes from a background of books. I was saying, "Wow, that must be just amazing to have books in the house when youíre a child. Then, what was worse, I wanted to study English. I had an opportunity to go to Trinity. Back then, Catholics werenít allowed in. Can you believe that? You had to go to the Archbishop of Dublin, who was not a nice man, and ask him. I went and I asked him and he said, "No you canít. It would be a very bad influence for you." So I went anyway. I think I was excommunicated and I donít think they ever let me back in. Someone said to me, "So, you donít believe in anything?" Well, I have a great belief in spirituality. Someone said to me, "Whatís the difference between spirituality and religion?" I like the definition that religion is for people who are afraid of going to hell and spirituality is for those who have been there.

McDonald: Thatís a good line.

Bruen: Isnít it a good description? Then, the other thing ó the Catholics in Ireland are so obsessed with sin and anything you got a kick out of is a sin, naturally. I read somewhere there are only really two sins. One is to interfere with the growth of another human being, and the second sin, which I really like, is to interfere with your own personal growth. That works for me.

McDonald: I believe you have a nonfiction work coming out. What will that be about?

Bruen: Iím in New York, and I went down to Ground Zero yesterday.

McDonald: Another point I wanted to hit on. You were a security guard at the World Trade CenterÖ.

Bruen: Up on 107-A. My best friend, who was a musician, he was on the ground floor ó literally on the street. When we started off there we were just kind of 19 and very naÔve. Iíll never forget the first jumper he had ó suicide. The World Trade Center, or Twin Towers, was about to be the highest building in the world, and whichever building is the highest, thatís the one they want to jump off for some reason. So, like the first day on the job, he had a guy jump who literally nearly landed on him. He was horrified. But, by the end of six months, I would hear him on the intercom, "Ah, this is Don on the ground floor, weíve got another jumper, but thereís no hurry, heís DOA."

McDonald: That jaded, huh?

Bruen: After six months. If the jumper was dead they didnít bother to come and pick up the remains until like 8 or 9 in the evening. They said, "If heís dead, thereís no point ó just throw some tarpaulin on him."

McDonald: Stunning.

Bruen: Yeah. But, up on 107-A the view was just amazing. Anyway, the book opens with being a security guard there and those kinds of stories. Then thereís a couple of essays on metaphysics because I think philosophy no more than Joyce and a lot of Irish literature is seemingly reserved for only certain people and I hate that anything like that is exclusive. So, Iíd like to write a couple of essays that make philosophy not only fun, but that anyone can read. I donít think it should be only for the few. I always think Joyce is laughing in his grave when he sees this huge scholarship and people who are protecting the flame of his genius. Thatíd be the last thing that he would want.

McDonald: So itís a kind of memoir, and more?

Bruen: Yeah. Iíll deal with South America ó Iíve written about that ó and then about, hopefully, trying to gradually return to the human condition, afterward. And then, my wife is recovering from breast cancer.

McDonald: Sheís okay?

Bruen: Yeah, sheís doing okay. And then I have a child with Downís syndrome. She has a mouth on her like a fishwife. She tells me I donít understand The Simpsons! She and I have been watching The Simpsons for, like, seven years and I thought I really got it. She told me recently, "Dad, Iím sorry, you just donít get it." So I said, "What donít I get?" She said, "You love Homer, right?" and I said, "Yes." She said, "Thatís your problem." Sheís 11 ó out of the mouth of babes! This is the best thing about her ó she wipes the floor with me. Whenever Iím doing kind of deep moments, she always says to me, "Dad, get real." About two months after my mother died, I thought she was in bed, and it was freezing cold April. I had the open fire and I was listening to some melancholy music ó you know, the sadder the music, the happier us Irish are (no wonder we love Country and Western so much, you know?). Anyway, I was sitting staring into the fire and the next thing I realized she was at my shoulder. She said, "Ah, dad, I have something to say to you. Is that okay?" I said, "Oh, sure, whateverÖ." She said, "I know your mum died," and I said, "Okay." She said, "And I know youíve been sad." I said, "I have." She said, "Get over it!" She figured, like, two months we put up with the moping and the sadness, but itís time to move on.

McDonald: Might be time for her to write a self-help book.

Bruen: Yeah, yeah. Iíll tell you, sheíll take over. I also wanted to write about the nature of handicap, because, when she was born and people said she had Downís syndrome, I remember people saying to me things, literally, they would stop me on the street and say, "Iím so sorry about your damaged child." It really opened my mind. I thought I had a fairly open mind about most things, but I realized I was very closed in certain areas.

McDonald: Youíve dealt with it in the books a bit, I know.

Bruen: Yeah, itís kind of a running motif.

McDonald: Many of your books have been optioned for film. Are you going to try and write the scripts for those?

Bruen: No. Screenplays I just have no talent and no patience for. I think itís a completely different discipline. One of the reasons I think L.A. Confidential is such a good movie is because they kept (James) Ellroy away from the screenplay. Now, heís another guy who is pissing me off at the moment.

McDonald: Ellroy is?

Bruen: Yeah, he turned his back on the crime fiction. "The crime novel is dead," he said.

McDonald: Ah, yeah. He said that about serial killer novels, about ó

Bruen: Yeah, yeah. Heís a "social historian" now.

McDonald: Well, thatís what he calls himself, but there is still plenty of crime in American Tabloid and The Cold Six Thousand, I think.

Bruen:
Yeah, exactly. They asked me in Australia, they said, kind of like, "When you grow up, what are you going to write?" I said, "Iím not like a guy waiting on tables, hoping to be an actor. Iím not a crime writer hoping to be a real novelist." What I want to do is write the best crime novels that I can.

© C.M. McDonald, June 2003
   
         
 

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