“There is always a bad guy in the ring. This bad force is the noir you cannot escape.” Chad A. Evans
I’ve just concluded my interview today with Canadian author and Australian resident, Chad Evans. Chad recently published Vincent Calvino’s World, which I have read and reviewed. The review was published in the Sunday Weekly of the Khmer Times and at this blog. You can read the book review here.
Chad Evans may not be able to leap tall buildings in a single bound or be faster than a locomotive as he was in his competitive boxing days but he’s still Superman in my book for writing Vincent Calvino’s World. Chad Evans has the necessary literary tools, sense of humor and sensitivity to write an entertaining study of the 15 novels penned so far in the Vincent Calvino noir crime series written by Christopher G. Moore.
With hindsight it occurs to me I never did ask the Adelaide resident, “How does your garden grow?” For that matter we never got around to discussing pretty maids all in a row, either. The Eagles tune by Joe Walsh, I mean. But we did discuss at length his writing journey in general and Vincent Calvino’s World in particular, when we weren’t talking about test cricket or the health benefits of Bangers and Mash.
Artwork by Monique Swan of the author Chad Evans in his garden holding his published book, Vincent Calvino’s World
Here are the highlights of that interview. Welcome to the world of Chad Evans and Vincent Calvino.
KC: You’ve got a new book out, Vincent Calvino’s World, a book I very much enjoyed reading. What was the motivation to take on such a project – what compelled you, besides sure-fire fame, riches and glory?
CE: I always dreamed of coming upon a writer named Cummings who would appreciate my belated genius. I have never had any motivation other than envy, and primarily that is called watching Jungle Atlantis on BBC or whatever and seeing that not only has my son fulfilled my ego dreams, but he controls and occupies the entire credibility of SE Asian archaeology and anthropology. I was looking for some means to kick the kid in the arse. I mean how dare he, Dr. Damian Evans show the world he is a laid back genius and Khmer barang God to the world’s media when all his father ever did was pursue grand failure.
Basically I glanced at a Thai Lonely Planet guidebook after having a good time in that country for a few weeks and saw a mention of a crime novelist, C.G. Moore. So I found two of his titles in Oz in the lending system: Spirit House and Risk of Infidelity Index and read them. I have probably read 7 or 8 thousand crime novels. But I was gobsmacked. It was like I was reading my own writing. Freaked me out quite frankly. Like I was reading a successful creative version of myself. So I tossed an email at this author, Christopher G. Moore, more or less saying this and not only did he reply he felt as though I had given him the ultimate praise from the heart.
KC: Who were some of your earliest influences in crime fiction and literature? Please be sure and include at least one Australian author.
CE: Gary Disher is my main crime guy in Oz. I mean he writes procedurals and criminal POV novels . . . but furthermore what I respect about him most is he wrote the best book ever on how to write a novel. So a teacher and not just a writer. Carol O’Connell is a class act as far as I am concerned, her Mallory novels have that wonderful accessibility for men . . . despite a superwoman feminist aspect the heroine is an absolute sociopath. James Lee Burke for his Faulkner hypnotic poetry of prose. Crais’s Joe Pike is a great character. But my main influences personally as a writer are mid-20th Century guys, possibly the same as Christopher’s actually . . . I liked Steiner and Koestler, polymaths, fully evolved left and right side brain guys. Plus they had Euro angst. But to be more honest really, I am most influenced in my formative years by a clutch of Canadian writers. I was mentored by a Wiccan poet, Robin Skelton . . . so was Margaret Atwood, so I am in good company there. Robin and Ginsberg were good West Coast mates so I am just a youngling at the haunted house parties Robin used to hold in his Queen Anne eclectic style house one night each week . . . a house filled with artists, booze and you name it. Then Robertson Davies impacted on me large . . . like confronting (as he was my Master at Massey College, University of Toronto) the most famous novelist in the world for a few years there. He taught me that a 63 year old could come off the practice course and go 10 under par in the U.S. Open. Aside from that I would say playscripts were my biggest influence, read them all, from Aeschylus to Pinter, and really I hate to tell you this . . . dramatists are lightyears ahead of most novelists as artists who understand the human condition. Fiction is about wasting time mostly. Not so, plays.
KC: Tell our readers about your previous writing projects. Did they prepare you for writing Vincent Calvino’s World?
There was a sea-witch, Susan Musgrave I think, who my Grade 10 teacher and other boffins were acknowledging as the great writerly hope. I was in the same class. Anyway I won the short story competition with a pornographic cookery recipe story . . . light years before this became a TV idiom. Over my beef and kidney pie I had baked for my enterprising and otherwise occupied Canadian family, I quietly mentioned my literary brownie point. My father said the pie was ‘tasty’. Then accused me of not writing the winning script. I was supposed to be uncomplicated, like him.
I guess you might say I was extremely well-educated in the late 1960s and early 70s. A Canadian West Coaster, locally we got the cream of American talent smart enough to escape the Vietnam Draft. Very radical guys all of them. This was my classroom, packing an anti-nuke banner past John Wayne’s converted minesweeper and him on the prow waiving his finger at the slope-shouldered kid Canuck: “Don’t tell us what to do with our bombs, son.”
I then went to Massey College, University of Toronto, and well I suppose this western cowboy, me, got the top grade of world thinkers: George Steiner, Frye, McLuhen, Ann Saddlemyer et al . . . an embarrassment of intellectual riches really at that time. Funny thing is we all ate the same meal every night at this underground place on Bloor Street, one dish, Hungarian Goulash plus a loaf, nothing else, and here you had Gordon Lightfoot, Josef Skvorecky, Maggie Atwood, McCluhen, Ondaatje, endless genius communicators and uni students all stuffing themselves with this goulash. I still dream about that joint. The communist meal was better than you think. Food so simple you had to talk about other mattters.
Anyway back to soporific Vancouver Island after that, oh about 1975, half the population of the island seem to be relatives of mine, and I wrote a novel then was drafted into the new heritage conservation bureaucratic movement as a thinker. The first thinking involved discovering in my attic the complete architectural drawings for the beautiful Parliament Buildings and Empress Hotel in Victoria, British Columbia.
So as a civil servant on contract I began to research and write about the ‘entertainment’ history of the Far West and that grew into my book Frontier Theatre which hit the U.S. shelves in 1984. I was like a rogue academic . . . too dangerous to actually employ within universities (5 have made attempts) so I suppose a kind of lost intellectual soul until Christopher G. Moore pried the lid off me.
KC: What do you hope the reader’s takeaway will be from reading Vincent Calvino’s World? Why should it be read?
CE: A pizza delivery app will spell the end of all that is good about Cambodia dear K. Slick capitalism works a treat in sucking any life out of a real place. But surely the underlying message is no message at all: namely that the most interesting place on earth is Southeast Asia because of the time travel aspect. Sadly, the Chinese overlords are now building, like dams, an almost 1960s concept of hydro enlightenment along the Mekong. It is the saddest story on the planet. Real people are being displaced by electrons and owners. I care for the wild creatures in the Cambodian forests.
I am old school, like a Moog synthesizer and I suppose I was influenced by George Steiner and Arthur Koestler more than other writers. You know a polymath type bridging everything, pooling all the connections, meaning I wanted my book Vincent Calvino’s World to be the one-stop cultural museum for SE Asia. It is not as easy as it looks . . . creating a monograph that will stand through time as a necessary reference. It probably helped that I have Khmer family who I love dearly so the emotional bond was preformed before I executed a major intellectual examination of the region culture using Christopher G.Moore’s fiction as my prism. I thought this Moore guy deserved, for so many reasons, to be treated like the great writer he is: so I sort of became Ben Jonson to his Shakespeare. And like a Thai dish, the take away has the full spectrum of color and taste and any serious reader should enjoy the meal if they sustain an open mind. Thailand and Cambodia are wonderful magical places that change you forever.
KC: Early on in VCW you describe Calvino as a closet humanist. For readers who may be unaware of Vincent Calvino describe who he is and elaborate on some of his humanist qualities and explain why it’s a good idea he remain in the closet or should he now come out?
CE: First up, thanks for the breezy little question, Kevin. You must have tortured yourself all night long figuring how to ask me this simple question.
Look whether you are a detective or a dangerous writer you pretty much have the same situation. If you reach say, the age of 45 as such, you will have learned the drill, the margins of discovery, creativity and truth. You know you live in a veil of lies and must be a submariner: run silent run deep like Calvino does.
I am not sure if America or Canada for that matter produces Vincent Calvinos anymore. Existential beings who are honest and straight up and do not subscribe to all the media porridge. Calvino via his accidental approaches to truth finds the truth in the end and discovers that the world does not want his discovery. Our world is a world of lies not truth. Otherwise how else could us mammals destroy most of the plant and her capitalist vermin talk about bigger suburbs and more population? If that is not dementedly sick what is?
Sometimes it is all about space. I used to box a bit and you learned, like a stage ballerina I suppose, your map, your perimeter, the length of your left jab down to the millimeter. You could feel that rope near your ass. Maintaining proper distance is all, and Calvino through his creator sustains a kind of calculated distance which is disrupted by his uninvited noir involvements. So maybe the big story is how did this guy survive in such a dangerous neighborhood for oh thirty years.
I am biased. C.G. Moore and I come from very similar backgrounds (something I did not know incidentally when I took on the impossible job of writing a biography of a fictional character created by a living author living in a foreign country). By similar I mean we come from a time when people still loved and stood up and finished the damn job, without all this media wank of complaint about being abused or whatever we have now. Just get the job done and shut up.
But to answer your question, Kevin, well Vinny is maybe the kind of boomer hard-core guy my generation all wanted to be: tough yet sophisticated, a boxer who speaks heart talk. If you want life you have to reach out . . . people in trouble reach out to Calvino . . . and he does not flinch. Even moreso, he is utterly independent and really if you look behind the plots . . . he picks his own cases by inventing them.
KC: In the Bangkok Post (Sunday) page 11, there is a piece by Stephen L. Carter where he quotes Blakey Vermeule, an English professor at Stanford University, author of Why Do We Care About Literary Characters: “Fiction rather uniquely primes our moral intuitions, our sense of right and wrong, of good and bad, of fair and not fair. When we suspect that justice is being thwarted, we want to lodge a protest–and the protest is a deeply moral one, against the unfairness of outcomes.” Does Calvino prime a reader’s moral intuition?