By Barry Graham
Originally posted on Criminal-E
Barry Graham interview: How Do You Like Your Blue-Eyed Boy?
How Do You Like Your Blue-Eyed Boy? by Barry Graham— A Review
Barry Graham is an author, journalist and blogger whose novels have received international acclaim and whose reporting has helped more than one corrupt politician leave office. His previous occupations include boxing and grave-digging. Born and dragged up in Glasgow, Scotland, he has traveled widely and is currently based in the U.S., where he teaches Zen and witnesses executions.
Can you sum up your book in no more than 25 words?
A hyperviolent, hypersexy, contemporary noir set in a sprawling desert metropolis.
What was your motivation for writing it?
I had come to Phoenix, Arizona, from Scotland, and felt like I was on another planet. To understand anything, I have to write about it. So I knew I wanted to write about Phoenix, but wasn’t sure how or what.
My first summer in Phoenix, I was sitting in my tiny apartment on a Saturday afternoon. It was 112 degrees. There was a knock on the door. The guy was middle-aged, bald, built like a powerlifter. He said his name was Wes, that he was a handyman, and that the apartment manager had sent him over to fix my broken toilet.
I talked with him while he worked. He looked at the shirt I was wearing and said, “Dutch army, right? Moleskin.”
“Yeah. How did you know?”
He told me he’d spent most of his adult life in the military, and it remained his passion. He had killed people, and didn’t regret it. “It’s not my job to die for my country, it’s my job to make him die for his.” When he quit a couple years earlier, he got a job flying planes full of tourists at the Grand Canyon, but had to quit that job too when he went deaf in one ear. “How’d you like to be in a plane with some deaf guy flying it?” he said. So he decided to become a handyman. “I can do anything.”
He told me about a friend of his who lived in the VA hospital because he didn’t have a face. “A bullet took his face right off. This is a very intelligent man, a very sensitive man. If you saw what he looks like, it would frighten you. That’s why he doesn’t leave the hospital – he’s sensitive, and he doesn’t want to do that to people.”
He told me that he’d recently separated from his wife, but hoped they’d get back together. “She’s a woman who’s used to being treated badly, and I think maybe that’s what she wants, but I’m not prepared to do that. I’m a gentleman.”
I liked him. And when I saw where he was, trying to find a life for himself in a context he didn’t understand, I might as well have been looking in a mirror.
A few days later, I started writing How Do You Like Your Blue-Eyed Boy? Its protagonist is a former soldier now working as a handyman. He is not a pilot, he is a martial artist and former reporter, and he is not Wes. But, like a child conceived during a one-night-stand, the fictional character Andy Saunders was born as a result of that one conversation with a man I never saw again.
How much difference does an editor make?
A good editor makes a big difference. By the time I decided to publish this as an e-book, it had been through various drafts, and critiqued by editors and other authors, so I knew it was as good as it could be.
Who designed your cover?
The cover is by Vince Larue, a brilliant French artist. I have a book coming out in French translation, comprised of two novels – including this one – and a nonfiction piece, about witnessing executions – and the publisher got Vince to do a drawing for each part of the book. I love his work – we’re now collaborating on a graphic novel – so I asked him if I could use the drawing he did for the French book as the cover for my e-book.
How much difference does a good cover make?
For me as a reader, it can make the difference between whether I buy a book or not. If I don’t know the author’s work, but like the sound of the story, the mood of the cover might be the deciding factor for me.
How important is a good title?
I recently had a discussion with my friend Helen FitzGerald, a terrific author. She said that the title is the last thing she comes up with. I told her it’s always the first thing I come up with, and I can’t start writing the story until I have the title.
Do you have any other projects on the go?
I recently finished another novel, which is now in the hands of my agent, and I’m writing a new one. There’s also the graphic novel I’m collaborating on with Vince Larue, and I’m also writing a couple screenplays, so I’m keeping busy.
I also have a blog, Illusory Flowers in an Empty Sky, which I post on almost every day. As well as How Do You Like Your Blue-Eyed Boy?, which had never been published before, I’ve also published my first novel, Of Darkness and Light – which came out back in 1989 – as an e-book. It’s a kind of supernatural noir set in Glasgow, Scotland, where I’m from. I also e-published a book of stories called Scumbo. A novel called The Wrong Thing is being published by Switchblade Press in July.
If you had to re-read a crime novel right now, what would you choose?
Johnny Porno by Charlie Stella. I read it a few weeks ago, and was blown away by it. I’ll reread it again soon. My favorite novel of all time is The Friends of Eddie Coyle by George V. Higgins, and I think Johnny Porno might be as good. I never thought I’d say that about any book.