Monday 18 April 2011

Dancing With Myself: COPPER SMITH interviews COPPER SMITH

Smile of the week for me was this at Bill Crider’s. Amazing. Thanks everso Bill. And here for us today, the man with the blue yuke and Pandora's box, Copper Smiiiiiiiiith.

Q: So I hear you're a musician?

A: Well, yes, but not really.

Q: Okay, Mr. indecisive, how are you a musician but not really?

A: Well, I play many instruments: the guitar, the keyboard, the mandolin, the ukulele and the bass, but I mostly play them pretty badly – not professionally at all, just for my own amusement.

Q: How is it possible to play the ukulele badly?

A: Shut up, that's how. I savor the process of making music without the pressure of having to make beautiful music. Given how much of a perfectionist I tend to be with my writing, it is something of a relief to embrace my mediocrity as a musician. I also find it helpful to my writing to understand how things like harmony, melody, counterpoint and composition work.

Q: I should warn you in advance that if at any point you make a pretentious analogy illustrating the similarity between the writing process and jazz I'm going to punch you in the throat.

A: Fair enough. Well, the main thing is to understand that a story is structured similarly to the way a song is structured. They both begin with an opening premise, then tension is introduced and ultimately resolved. Of course, the process is often a bit more complicated if you're talking about an avant-garde jazz composition such as the John Coltrane classic -- OUCH!

Q: I did warn you.

A: You did.

Q: Okay, on to the requisite influence question.

A: Okay. Richard Price, Raymond Chandler, James M Cain. George Pelecanos, Martin Scorsese, Max Allan Collins, Chester Himes, Larry Cohen…

Q: Hey, some of those guys aren't writers!

A: Yeah, the thing is I've always been a big reader, but I haven't always been a big reader of crime fiction. I'm fairly new to the genre. That means my exposure to Scorsese films and blaxploitation and cockney accented heist movies probably had a bigger influence on me than any particular writer.

Q: Based on your short stories, you seem to take a dark, cynical view of humanity. True?

A: Guilty. Maybe my problem is I've read too much classical literature and drama. The Greeks, for example, seemed to reject the idea of humanity's perfectibility. Classical tragedy is based on this premise. It is a reminder that even those with the potential for greatness will fall short in some horrifying way. The Greeks were so committed to the idea of human frailty that even their gods were weirdly and wickedly human. Much of my writing is based on the idea that human vices such as greed, envy and hubris will always be with us. If there is a recurring theme in my work it is that no matter how far you go in life, you can't get away from being human. Having said all that, another innately human quality is the desire for justice. You'll find plenty of that in my work as well. The good guys don't always win, but there's always hope.

Q: What are you working on right now?

A: Well, I'm working on Uppercut Avenue, which is something the kids apparently call a "web-site." Would you like to hear about it?

Q: Um… I'd love to, but I've got some errands to run…

A: I do 'pulpcasts' – audio versions of my short stories. I'm also starting a serial fiction piece called Kitten in the Crosshairs, a tawdry, pulpy tale of an inmate in a woman's prison who falls for a prison guard in the hopes that he can prove her innocence and all that jazz – OUCH!

Q: Sorry, just a reflex. You did say 'jazz,' after all.

A: All is forgiven.

Q: If you could have dinner and a conversation with any person – living or dead – who would you select?

A: I'd probably select living, because in my experience, the living tend to be more animated, more responsive. And they have much better table manners than the deceased.

Q: Okay smartass, any living person, in particular?

A: I suppose I'd chose someone who knows a lot more than me in a field I find intriguing. So let's go with Steven Pinker, a linguist and cognitive scientist whose brain I'd enjoy picking. And in exchange I could teach him to play 'Get up offa that thing' on the mandolin, because, really, whose life would be complete without that knowledge?
Bad things done beautifully


  1. Always nice to learn a little more about the talented Mr. Smith.

  2. Great stuff - the website sounds really interesting!

  3. Very cool. I hope to learn the mandolin one day so that I can reharm "Lonely Woman" into an--OUCH!

  4. I've always wanted to take ukulele lessons since I was taught briefly in the 6th grade. I tried the piano, but it didn't work out well for me. I'm hoping my husband will give in to my request for ukulele lessons soon.

  5. I really can feel the poetic rhythms in the style of Mr. Smith. Hah! Got away with a disguised reference to jazz in the poetry comment . . . OUCH! The website is reflective of author. Jeeze, it's a pony for gosh sake. Where's the art to that? That's like a bass line tipping the cota in a Jaz . . .OUCH! Cool interview. Thanks guys.

  6. Thanks for the kind words, all.
    And thanks to Nigel for the invitation to surf the waves of Sea Minor.

  7. A delightfully entertaining interview! You make a great team with yourself.

  8. Hey Copper,
    I'm terribly late to this, but so glad I finally made it here. Fascinating what you say about music. And you play the mandolin & Ukelle! Cool. And I bet you are good at it. Cool. How eloquently you put how the "harmony, melody, counterpoint and composition" is structured the way a story is. I can see this in your storytelling now that you mention it. Very neat. Also appreciate what you say about the Greeks and how you emphasize that we (even as internet gods we are!) can't get away from being human. Looking forward to reading more from you, whether it be crime or other genres.