Here is an interview with Erik Marshall, author of Death of the Author, a new lighthearted detective set in academia, featuring Chandler Cain, adjunct instructor turned private investigator. You can buy it on Amazon here (affiliate link).
Okay, I know what you’re thinking. This is Erik Marshall’s site. Who is this other Erik Marshall? Is it someone who happens to have the same name? No, it’s me. I’m interviewing myself.
Why a detective novel?
I was in the middle of writing a memoir, which was getting heavy and personal. I couldn’t figure out where to go with it, so I thought I’d take a break and write something a little more…silly, fun. I love film noir, so I thought I’d adapt that voice to the life of an adjunct instructor.
Erik, what is your background?
I have a Ph.D. in Film and Media studies.
So, we should call you “Dr. Marshall.”
If you like. But Erik is fine.
What is your writing process?
Usually, come up with an idea, think about it for months on end, start to write it, get discouraged, come back to it…
When I really start writing, I get 80-90% done and either stall out or start the revision and editing process. It’s at this point that I get mired in perfectionism, which, I believe, is actually a veil for insecurity and a sign that something else is going wrong. In the case of my memoir, it was my fear of revealing too much of myself, and the fear that someone might sue me. I was too close to it.
I decided to start a different process with Death of the Author.I wanted to finish something, not just start it. So I decided to write fast. I put a small twist on a formulaic genre, and I decided to have fun. I neglected plot holes and forged ahead, one corny simile at a time.
Death of the Author was an exercise in finishing quickly?
Yes, but it didn’t work out that way. I wrote it fairly quickly, but then rewrote it. Then started revising. Then started doubting aspects of it. What was supposed to take a month or two took ten months. But I did finish, and that was the goal. Could it be better? Yes, absolutely. Is it good enough? I think so. I laughed a lot while writing it, and that in itself makes it worth it to me.
Tell us more about Chandler Cain
The origin of the name should be obvious. He’s a disaffected adjunct, underpaid and overworked. He’s bored with his job, disenchanted with disengaged students, feeling disillusioned by the dream he feels he was sold about academia being this magical place where people share ideas, read good literature, explore ideas together, that sort of thing. Instead, for him, it’s about dealing with grade-grubbing, putting in time, doing the same thing over and over in front of people who don’t care.
How did this Adjunct Instructor become a Private Investigator?
There’s an origin story yet to be written, but at some point, he begins taking cases as a side gig. He finds a connection between literary analysis and detective work. It’s almost impossible to live on an adjunct salary, so most have other jobs. This is his.
Why doesn’t he quit teaching and be a full-time PI?
That has never really occurred to him. Teaching has become he does, even if he’s not always totally into it. Plus, he’s too lazy to advertise.
Death of the Author hits many of the major tropes of a detective novel, including the femme fatale.
That’s not a question.
What I’m saying is, maybe that’s not the most politically correct trope these days?
True. I’m not saying I endorse the worldview that women are evil, or that they always lead to the demise of a man, or that they exist only to be objectified. It’s a flaw in Chandler Cain’s character, perhaps, and a weakness of the genre, although one could argue that the femme fatale is actually a strong, independent woman.
Chandler Cain falls for a student. Is this ethically fraught? And isn’t that itself a tired trope?
You are really hitting me with some hard questions. One of Chandler’s main flaws is his attraction to women. He falls hard and often. Yes, he objectifies Susan when she walks into his office, but, again, this is a genre convention. I suppose the notion of the male prof/female student relationship is a bit tired and cliche, but Chandler Cain lives in a cliche. He is a walking cliche.
Are you being a bit defensive?
Are you Chandler Cain?
No. I mean, any writer puts him/herself into characters on some level, I suppose, but is Stephen King a possessed murderer a la Jack Torrance? I don’t think so. Maybe a little? I do fear people will read this and think I endorse everything Cain does. I think I’m fairly straightforward in portraying him not as a hero or someone to be emulated, but some hapless schmuck who’s trying to find his place in life. That part comes from real life.
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