Short, Sharp Interview: Dietrich Kalteis

PoughkeepsieShuffleCover.jpgWhat the hell is a Poughkeepsie Shuffle?

It’s when you take the story’s main character, Jeff Nichols, and release him from prison. He tries to get his life in order, but no matter what move he makes, it’s the wrong one. But, dancing as fast as he can, Jeff’s not one to give up easily. And he’s willing to bend some rules and break a few laws in pursuit of easy money, getting mixed up with some guys running guns from Poughkeepsie up to Toronto. What makes things worse for Jeff, he’s never been one to let the lessons from his past mistakes get in the way of a good score in the future.

 

What are your favourite ‘man out of prison’ books or films?

The Shawshank Redemption by Stephen King (1982) is a great novel as well as a great film. One of my favourite scenes is when Red (played by Morgan Freeman in the 1994 film version) tells the review board about whether he’s been rehabilitated or not.

Then there’s Out of Sight by Elmore Leonard (1996). The scene where Jack Foley and Karen Sisko end up in the trunk of a fleeing car is one of my all-time favorite jail break scenes, and one of the funniest too. The movie version was directed by Steven Soderbergh, and starred George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez.

Also on my list is Escape from Alcatraz, one of the top-rated films of 1979, starring Clint Eastwood. It’s about the real-life prison escape of Frank Morris, an inmate who disappeared off the Rock without a trace, escaping along with the Anglin brothers back on June 11, 1962.

On the lighter side of escape films, there’s the animated Chicken Run (2000), directed by Peter Lord and Nick Park of Wallace & Gromit fame. A band of chickens plot their escape from certain death, not from a prison, but from the farm where they live after the farm goes from selling eggs to selling chicken pot pies.

And on the classic side, there’s Cool Hand Luke by Donn Pearce (1965). Paul Newman earned an Oscar in the film version (1967), playing the lead about a guy who refuses to play by the rules. Midnight Express by Billy Hayes (1977) is a great story about drug running gone wrong and the horrors of landing in a foreign prison. And there’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, written by Ken Kesey, published in 1962. It centers on a guy who fakes being crazy to get transferred from the state pen to a state hospital, which seems a lighter sentence – till he meets Nurse Ratched. The film starring Jack Nicholson won all five major Academy Awards, and is considered one of the best films ever made.

I also enjoyed reading On the Rock (2008), the biography of Alvin Creepy Carpis, written by Robert Livesey.

 

Did Poughkeepsie Shuffle require a lot of research?

I lived in Toronto at the time the story takes place, so a lot of the sights, sounds and setting came from memory. I often travel back to my former hometown, and I’m always amazed at all the changes happening, but I’m also aware of familiar places being torn away and giving way to taller buildings and wider roads. So I wanted to bring back a grittier, character-filled Toronto, the way I remember it back in the mid-eighties. But not wanting to rely totally on memory, I gave myself a refresher by digging through a lot of archives, old street maps and a lot of old photos, aiming to restore the character of that era.

A couple of things helped sparked the story. One was a news article I read about a large gun-running ring operating between upstate New York and southern Ontario that got busted by the OPP and several U.S. agencies. The other was the increased gang violence happening in the city at the time.

 

Music features strongly in Zero Avenue. Is that so with Poughkeepsie Shuffle?

Frankie Del Rey, the main character from Zero Avenue, struggles to get her music career off the ground, and her whole life revolves around her music. Poughkeepsie Shuffle’s Jeff Nichols just wants to make ends meet. He’s not as cool as Frankie, but what they have in common, they’re both willing to do whatever it takes to get what they want. Jeff’s not so much into music, but it does find its way into the story. Nena’s singing about red balloons on a ghetto blaster when two thugs come to cut off Jeff’s finger, using the music to muffle his screams. Then there’s the scene when the rocker Meatloaf gets spotted at a birthday party in a restaurant. And there’s an Elvis impersonator in flip-flops who belts out “Love Me Tender” in a barber shop. There’s also a guy named Conway who gives singing lessons, claiming he can teach anyone to sing like a canary, guaranteed. And toward the end of the story, Jeff starts hearing an angel choir. So, while music isn’t featured as strongly in this one, it’s still there.

 

What’s next?

I’m pleased to have a short story called “Bottom Dollar” included in the anthology Vancouver Noir, coming this fall from Akashic Books. And my next novel is complete and signed with ECW Press and due to be released next year. It’s called Call Down the Thunder, and it’s about a Kansas man and his wife who find some interesting ways to survive the dustbowl days of the late 1930s. Currently I’m working on a story that takes place in the far reaches of northwestern Canada and Alaska, about a guy on the run from a gangster he ripped off. Not only did he steal his money, but he stole his woman, too.

 

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Dietrich Kalteis is the award-winning author of Ride the Lightning (bronze medal winner, 2015 Independent Publisher Book Awards, for best regional fiction), The Deadbeat Club, Triggerfish, House of Blazes (silver medal winner, 2017 Independent Publisher Book Awards, for best historical fiction), and Zero Avenue. His novel The Deadbeat Club has been translated to German, and 50 of his short stories have also been published internationally. He lives with his family on Canada’s West Coast.

His website is http://www.dietrichkalteis.com/,

and he regularly contributes to the blogs

Off the Cuff: http://www.dietrichkalteis.blogspot.ca/

And at 7 Criminal Minds: http://www.7criminalminds.blogspot.ca/

You can also find him on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/dietrich.kalteis/

and Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/dietrichkalteis/

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