Kerry Dunn Delivers Hip Noir Style With "Joe Peace"

Yes, dear guests, Madame Perry has returned to her salon with more delightful people for your entertainment. This evening you will meet Louisiana author Kerry Dunn, as he talks about his book Joe Peace, and answers questions about his writing style. Now I love a book in the gritty,  noir, hard boiled detective style, especially with liberal doses of whip smart wit and parry. Dunn delivers. So well, that when I was reading Joe Peace on a flight out of Daytona Beach, the lady next to me kept asking me to stop and read out loud to her. She said it was obvious that my book was much better than hers and she wanted to hear it. Now that's a good book.

Joining us in the discussion is Robert Leland Taylor, an author  who definitely thinks outside the norm. Taylor is the winner of the Southern Playwrights Competition for Kentucky Wings in 2002, and semi-finalist two consecutive years in Amazon/Penguin's Amazing Breakthrough Novel Awards, 2009 and 2010 for A Sunday Stroll through the Ant Farm.

Before we begin let’s buckle our seatbelts and read this description of Joe Peace.

Twenty years ago, Joe Peace was an ace homicide investigator for the Austin Police Department, until his penchant for cocaine and a disastrous affair with his partner Cassie Dugan buries him at the bottom of the APDs burnout brigade. In Austin, Texas, the psychotic founder of the most powerful drug cartel convinces Joe the cash is greener on the other side of the fence, and Joe becomes a player in the drug scene, buys a mansion, and collects beautiful coeds like butterflies, but the party ends when new details of Cassie’s death surface, opening wounds long scarred over. Other crews muscle in on Joe’s operation, and he’s trapped in the twilight between the cops who want to take him down and the kingpins of the street who want to take him out. Joe Peace is a gallows-humored tale of revenge and redemption with noir-like dialogue and slippery morals, along with action, suspense, and soul.

Kerry and Robert, welcome to Madame Perry’s Salon. I’m thrilled to have you both here. Robert, why don’t you begin?

Robert Leland Taylor: I love the gallows humor in Joe Peace. Has humor always been a major element of your work?

Kerry Dunn: Thanks, Robert, and the feeling is mutual, by the way. For sure, humor is what I start with. The problem I had in my previous novel attempts was that humor was the only thing there; characters, plotlines, dialogue, none of it mattered if I was engaged in setting up a joke. Fun for the writer, I guess, but wet charcoal for any poor bastard unlucky enough to read the thing. What I finally learned to do was utilize humor in the act of telling the story. This book has some tragic things going on, if you stop and think about it, and the last thing I want to do, as a writer, is make anybody stop and think. Humor helped me do that.
Kerry Dunn

Madame Perry: Tell us about writers who have had a strong influence on you and your style.

KD: Well, Danielle Steele, Mary Higgins Clark - nah, just fucking with you. Elmore Leonard, of course - the way his characters talk and relate to each other. That interplay is sometimes better than the plots of his books, though in his golden age when he was coming up with "Freaky Deaky" and "Glitz" and "Bandits", everything worked so well together he could do no wrong. Don Winslow is a big modern influence - his slangy, insider dialogue, the way he digresses (I love to digress when I write, much to the chagrin of my editor), and how he can take bad people and find the good in them. Dennis Lehane's brooding noir taught me that you can write about emotions and not bore the daylights out of the reader. Wow. Dashiell Hammett, who I like to parody at times. Raymond Chandler for the byzantine way he goes about a plot. Tim Dorsey, for his silliness. It's a long list. I love to read. I devoured Stephen King's books as a teen, and though I stopped reading him by the time I graduated high school, his "On Writing" is the most indispensible guide I've ever found. I read it three times a year.

RLT: It seems that every writer I've met has a different technique for beginning a novel. Some outline, some wing it from start to finish. Which camp are you in?

KD: I'm a winger, man. I have no idea what I'm going to do when I sit down with my laptop. I used to try to plot things out, but for me the writing always ended up too technical. It was a case where I'd build some steam, but because I had Doris getting murdered in Chapter 5, and here it was Chapter 4 and Doris hadn't even been introduced yet because I have a tendency to ramble (much to the chagrin of my editor), nobody really cared when she was strangled or whatever. When I plotted, I had too many props. So, the first draft, I just go on and see where it leads me. The second draft is where I more or less try to find a straight line between things. And then I trash it all and start over with the third draft.

MP: By now Joe Peace has had several reviews. Which have surprised you the most?

KD: All of them. I didn't have high hopes for this book, at least when I was being honest with myself about it. They say, don't write unsympathetic characters. They say, don't use flashbacks. Joe Peace was a book where I finally went, "You know what? I'm not a kid. I've followed these rules all my writing life and it got me exactly nowhere. So I'm going to throw all that out the window and see what happens." So, when I get reviews where people write "you wouldn't think that you'd like a character like Joe Peace, but you do", I got to tell you, it makes me very happy, even though I have no idea how that happened, and I don't want to know. I'm just glad it did. Of course, it helps to have the world's best editor/publisher in Sheryl Dunn (no relation) to tell me when the parts break down.

RLT: Do you remember what age you were when you began writing and who/what inspired you?

KD: I always loved to write. Love playing with words. You know how, when you were a kid and it was a blistering summer day and you'd scrape together enough change for a candy bar, and then you'd eat it outside and let the chocolate kind of melt and rub it on your fingers and squish it all together? That's how I feel about words. I was blessed to have parents who didn't scoff when I told them I wanted to write, and I was going to write, and friends who didn't think I was saying I wanted to write as a means of picking up women who thought I might be either intelligent or sensitive (hint: I was neither, alas). My mother is a very talented writer, though she put it aside to raise nine kids, and I remember when I was in grade school she read me some of her stuff and I was so excited to find out that part of her life that was stored in boxes. I try to keep it a secret, but lots of things inspire me. It helps that I was too stubborn to quit when I should have, and that determination I get from my father. The next time he gives up on something will be the first time. I don't have it in every phase of my life, but when it came to writing, you could cut off my hands and feet and I'd peck away with my nose.

RLT: Can we expect a sequel to Joe Peace
anytime soon?

MP: Robert, that was my question.

KD: Oh, you can expect it all you want:) Yeah, I'm working on it now. I'm a stop/start kind of writer and it took me a long time to come to terms with that. You know, they say you have to write every day. No can do. I have to pick my spots. I write in very, very long sessions, at odd hours of the night. I don't write much in the summer. Fall and winter make my fingers fly.

RLT: Are you anything like the wise-cracking, lovable, corrupt character that you portray in the novel? Because if you are, Kerry, so help me, I'll shut this interview down right now and have you arrested in a heartbeat.

MP: Oh, Taylor, please. The man’s has a brilliant imagination. Just because he can write about crackhead cops who switch sides and whose souls are soothed only by more crack, more booze and the beautiful voice of Karen Carpenter doesn’t mean it’s autobiographical. I mean, I’m on a diet but I can read the menu.
Robert Leland Taylor

KD: Get a room, you two. I'm a pretty boring dude. I don't know any cops, and I don't know any criminals. I work on computers, for Christ sakes. But I read a lot, and I see a lot of movies, and I'm big into the anti-heroes. However, I have a hard time being serious, or striving for profundity. You have to be born with profundity, and it ain't me you're looking for, babe. What helped me get into Joe's head was switching from third person to first. I'd never done that before. It allowed me to pretend to be this cat who owned a big house, and was all kinds of illegal, had serious dependency issues, and was still, on some level, well-liked by at least a few people. Mostly, Joe became a friend who I wanted to help get out of a tight spot, but he had to learn to help himself first. So I'd say, at least in that regard, that I have been more influenced by a made-up criminal than anything I put into him as a writer. Even if he still owes me money.

MP: This was fun, but I believe someone’s ride is here. I hope you’ll both return, and that I can persuade Robert to talk about his books and plays. Thank you both for being here.
You can get Kerry Dunn’s book, Joe Peace, on Amazon, and follow him on Facebook and Twitter.


Sheryl said…
Wonderful interview about a wonderful book with a wonderful author. Can you tell I'm biased?

It ain't bias - it's a damn fine read, and the writing is in a class by itself.

Sylvia Massara said…
Great interview, guys. Sounds to me like Joe Peace would get on with my smart-talking and wiseass, wannabe chick investigator with a touch of noir, Mia Ferrari!

Kerry, hope to see you on my show soon (lit chick show) so you can tell us more about your book!

Sylvia Massara
Ellen Herbert said…
Loved JOE PEACE and can see Elmore's influence in the punchy dialogue, which is the best compliment I can give it.
Badass interview JP! Kerry, Stephen King's "On Writing" is the one and only manual I have kept. And I totally get the approach to humor. I'm reminded of M.A.S.H. and how beautifully the writers infused humor into such a tragic setting...without undermining what the "story" was about. Love this...and if JP read this out loud (which she is very skilled at), then I have to get this back. Thanks!
C said…
I met Kerry Dunn in college. Even though I haven't seen him in years, one of the top 5 reasons I loved this book, right after decadent story, captivating characters, and all that, was because I could hear Kerry's voice when Joe was talking. He may not be an addicted cop turned drug lord turned quasi-decent guy, but that dry, sarcastic wit is all Dunn.
David Herrle said…
Excellent interview. I've passed the book in libraries, and now I'd like to pick it up. "Well, Danielle Steele, Mary Higgins Clark - nah, just fucking with you. Elmore Leonard, of course." Bravo!
Kerry said…
Thank you all for the kind comments. I appreciate you taking the time to read the interview and/or the book. Since I have absolutely no idea what I'm doing, it is a relief that I'm not doing it successfully. Peace to you all.
Anonymous said…
Thanks for the interview. I loved, "I'm a winger, man."
Mme Perry said…
You can meet Kerry at Barnes & Noble CitiPlace in Baton Rouge, on Feb.2 at 3PM, or at Fair Grinds Coffee in New Orleans on Sunday, Feb 24 at 5PM.
Jessica said…
I like the humor in this post.. I also would have to say that I agree with the attitude of throwing all of the traditional rules out the window sometimes and doing things your own way. I totally do the same thing!

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