Brian M. Wiprud is a name that is starting to get heavily noticed with his own unique story-telling style that merges the 'Gonzo-Chase' thriller with a heavy dose of offbeat and observational humour.
His first novel 'Sleep with the Fishes' concerned the later life of Sid Bifulco who turns States evidence against a Mafia Family, and while in prison, learns and falls in love with the art of fly-fishing. Once paroled, he heads along the Delaware to spend his remaining years pursuing his newly-found hobby. But with fishing rod and bait in hand he heads into more trouble than a box of maggots. A subtle character-driven novel, it is filled with surreal observations, complex and very funny dialogue, as the story becomes a metaphor for much, much more.
His follow-up is not the widely anticipated 'Dirt Nap' but a change in direction, with a caper thriller concerning the hunt for a 'stuffed squirrel' by Garth, a professional taxidermist, longing to re-examine his childhood. Joining Garth are an assorted bunch of weirdo's also seeking the squirrel - but for much more complex and sinister reasons.
Brian's work so far has been confined to 'Cult' status, which means in reality that only a lucky and enlightened following are truly aware of his skill as a writer. With 'Pipsqueak' I feel things will change, it's a tale that will trap a wider readership. The novel is filled with dialogue that questions memory; the baby-boomer mid-life crisis; observations into the crazy way we live our lives, and how some ties bind us to our own personal destiny. Wiprud's style is unique, and the well-meaning comparisons to Hiaason, Westlake and Leonard (which have been reported in many reviews) are rather disingenuous, as Wiprud's voice is uniquely his own, and very, very surreal.
So with a cache of rave reviews from within the industry, as well as from his contemporaries, Shots - The Crime and Mystery eZine decided to ask Brian Wiprud about his work, 'flash' cars, fly-fishing, taxidermy and the art of writing the caper novel.
Brian, it's great to have the opportunity to talk to you, and also to spread the word in the UK about your work.
Couldn’t be happier to oblige.
Firstly, could you introduce your two novels to our readers? And why should they get acquainted with fishermen and stuffed animals?
You’ve done an apt job of that already, Ali. Sleep with the Fishes is the story of Sid Bifulco, a mob turncoat who tries to retire to the simple country life after prison but finds it’s not so simple. PIPSQUEAK is the story of a Manhattan taxidermy broker and his gal, Angie, who pursue a squirrel puppet from a 50’s kids TV show and end up entangled in swing-band anti-technology conspiracy.
If you’re looking for something new, offbeat and with some laughs, these books are for you.
What were your thoughts when the reviews came-in, 'Pipsqueak' has garnered some terrific word-of-mouth?
Holding my breath, waiting for a bad review. Actually, I’m sort of surprised that PIPSQUEAK is being received this well. I thought Sleep with the Fishes (SWTF) was a more accessible book, that the story had a more conventional premise.
What attracts you to the caper-novel? And what caper novels have you enjoyed as a reader?
What can I say? I find complicated, clever plots challenging, and I think there’s a relatively under developed niche in the mystery genre for humour. (The big publishers don’t seem to agree.) Westlake is the king of the capers, hands down. His Dortmunder books are classics – I only wish they were all in print. Hot Rock has been reissued I think – which is perhaps my favourite.
I found both 'Sleep with the Fishes' and 'Pipsqueak' to be very, very funny (in an observational way), as well as being a metaphor for a more serious theme. What are your thoughts on humour in the mystery Novel?
As I intimated, I think this sub genre generally gets a bad wrap. There are people in the publishing industry who will tell you in no uncertain terms that humour doesn’t sell. I’ve been urged to write thrillers and very dark noir instead. That said, I think it’s inevitable that the trend will eventually swing the other way, my way that is. I would think readers would be getting pretty tired of serial killers and lawyers about now.
In 'Sleep with the Fishes' you fleshed out some pretty interesting characters, were Sid and Russ based on fellow-fisherman?
Many of the characters were all very loosely based on people I’ve met fleetingly while fishing the Delaware River, but Sid and Russ were not among them. I met Big Bob and Little Bob on the Delaware River in the pouring rain. They were with a group of guys, and they were actually called Big and Little Bob. Never saw them again. Warden Lachfurst was a character I ran into on the river, though I have no idea what his name was.
I know that you are an enthusiastic fly-fisherman, so I could relate to why 'Sleep with the Fishes' had fishing at its heart - in terms of a plot device, but in 'Pipsqueak' - taxidermy? Is that also a hobby? And what are your thoughts on entering the Norman Bates territory?
I collect taxidermy and my dwelling boasts the largest collection in Brooklyn – everything from a muntjak to a hornbill. In my view, it’s on par to collecting any other form of art and transcends the creepy Norman Bates stuff-Mother-and-put-her-in-a-wheelchair milieu. Though I have to admit, Norman was ambitious.
How much of Garth (from Pipsqueak) is actually you?
I was almost named Garth, and had that come to pass, I would have spent my entire childhood being taunted as "Barf." So I am definitely not Garth. But there are some similarities, which I think is inevitable when writing first person. I don’t look like a high school drama coach (at least nobody has said as much,) I don’t live in a storefront apartment in Manhattan, and I don’t deal taxidermy for a living.
So do you trawl antique shops looking for stuffed animals?
My consort Maggie and I delve into this hobby as a team, and we make forays to antique fairs. We once came back from Brimfield, a large fair in Massachusetts, with a coyote, a tarpon, a curassow, a wild pig and an antelope packed into and onto a Ford Escort. The coyote – a full body mount – was on top of the car, and was an attention getter. More than one person pulled up to us at a stoplight and asked:
"You do know there’s a coyote on your roof?"
Garth drives a pretty 'cool/flash' car. Are you a car-nut too?
Garth drives a 1966 Lincoln, a car I’d love to own one day. But I drive a 1963 Mercury Comet convertible, a smaller, sportier car with fins. I wouldn’t say I’m a car nut, but I cotton to older cars because their simpler, cheaper to fix and look cool. Not to mention they’re mostly half what new cars cost here in the US.
There is a conspiracy at the centre of 'Pipsqueak' - so Brian, are you really a grass-knoll type of guy?
I’d rather not get into that. You never know who might read this. No doubt they have a dossier on me and have been trying to slowly poison me with hypnotics in my Callard & Bowsers. That’s why I wash my hands constantly, drink only rainwater and eat only from condiment packets.
You wrote 'Sleep with Fishes' in third person, but went into first person for 'Pipsqueak'. What viewpoint do you prefer?
First person is a lot easier for me, and I can crank out a novel much faster in that voice. But the drawback is that you’re largely confined to a linear time line, and can’t jump into other character’s heads for different perspectives at different times, which takes some of the fun out of it. If I had to write in one or the other I’d probably pick third person.
What are your thoughts in being compared to Westlake, Leonard and Hiaason? as I don’t agree with those comparisons, as your work is very different?
I can’t help but like having my work compared to people who sell lots of books – it gives me hope that I might one day reach a larger audience. And it’s inevitable that I be compared to them because there are so few people who write caper/humour and satire in this genre. Because I’m so close to my own writing, I don’t have a very good perspective on my work as it relates to others, especially those so well established. As the underdog, I tend to second-guess the reach and appeal of my novels.
I felt that 'Pipsqueak' was a cool way for 'Baby-boomers' to re-live a naive era, now long, long gone, and I felt that a great deal of Garth's experience's may well have mirrored your own. Would you care to comment on that 1960's - 1970's era?
I was actually extending my experience back a few years to capture some of the earlier TV – Garth is about five years older than me. Most of those crappy puppet shows pre-date me, and I caught some of the last of them. Growing up in the Washington DC area was pretty strange, especially watching our Dad’s caught in the miasma between World War and Hippies. With the riots in 1968 and a bunch of Dads in the neighbourhood starting a militia to make sure our subdivision wasn’t attacked. They also had this bizarre obsession with growing grass – as I guess many people still do. You spend all this time and money growing it, only to harvest it and then throw it away. Who’s dog is doing what on who’s lawn? That crabgrass? Obviously your neighbour’s fault. "If that paper boy cuts across the lawn again, why I’ll…" Trivial stuff, but this is what they spent all their free time worrying about. As I remember it, music was really lousy in the 70’s, and I was so relieved in the 80’s when new wave and punk broadsided and sank the hulking disco barge.
So when did you really start writing seriously? Was it in that era?
I started writing screen plays not long after graduating from NYU, with a degree in film and TV. What a horrendous industry, and after a year I was pretty much out of the film and TV biz and pinning my hopes on the horror screenplays. One was "Zombie Beavers" about crazed beavers attacking a small town and the other was "Floaters" about all the dead bodies in New York harbour being reanimated. I wrote my first novel in 1985, I think, and the sequel a year after that. (Both of those will never see the light of day.) I had a crazy idea about using novels as a backdoor into writing screenplays.
You write for fly-fishing magazines, as well as Cartography journals. Could you tell us a little of your non-fiction writing?
The fishing articles are a natural extension of my obsession with fly fishing. I specialize in certain off-beat species like shad and pickerel, partially because there’s a niche there that few others are into. The competition among those who write about trout, for example, is pretty stiff, and the field in general is exclusive and very difficult to access. The other articles relate to my day job as a utility specialist, which means I map underground utilities. People are fascinated by underground New York. Most of this stuff is accessible through my website www.wiprud.com.
Who would you then cite as influences?
Other than Westlake? Going way, way back I’d have to say Fielding’s "Tom Jones" and "Joseph Andrews." More recently, George MacDonald Fraser’s "Flashman" novels. Of course, the prose of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler loom large for almost any mystery writer.
I noticed that Lee Child and Harlan Coben are fans of your work (citing just two writers). Have you read the 'Jack Reacher' books as well as the 'Myron Bolitar' series? And if so, what are your thoughts on their respective work?
I read both Lee’s and Harlan’s books, as well as Steve Hamilton. What can I say? Top notch, and I’m in awe of their artistry and craftsmanship. Their respective success is an ample barometer of their skills.
I read that you have four un-published books in your filing cabinet, would you care to talk about them?
There’s another series in which Nicholas, Garth’s brother, is the protagonist. That’s where the character Nicholas originated. Those books are about art theft and underground New York. I hope to publish them one day, but I want to continue with my current series for a while to establish a familiar rapport with my audience, not spread myself too thin. I already have people demanding sequels to the SWTF and "Pipsqueak" – with a third series they’d really put the pressure on! The other two novels, my first two forays, were early and wobbly attempts at finding my voice and narrative sensibilities. As I said, they’ll never see the light of day.
None in the last ten years. At present, they sort of seem like a waste of time for me. I mean, you go to all the effort to create characters only to abandon them thirty pages in. I’m committed to novels for now. Maybe in my dotage, between naps.
I read that you are a graduate of NYU's film school so could you tell us what that brought to your work?
A strong visual sense. I’ve had all sorts of rejection letters that accused me of being too visual. I listen to a lot of music while I write, which effectively puts a sound track to the film in my head as I write.
Is it right that you work in sewers?
I don’t actually work in sewers, but I go down in them occasionally in my efforts to map underground utilities. Most of the sewers I go into are combined, so there’s a lot of soapy water that cuts the smell. I bring little of my day job to my novels. Last thing I want to do is go home and relive my work day. If I ever get to quit my day job, I may consider using some of it – but now now.
I read a very interesting and rather moving account on your work during the 9/11 clear-up of Ground-Zero. Now a year on, that awful day is etched into all our minds, could you tell us what you were doing on that fateful morning?
At that time, I would come into the office building where I work, about 15 blocks north of ground zero, and have a secret wager on which elevator would show up first. If the elevator next to where I was standing opened, it would be a good day. On that gorgeous, sunny September morning, the elevator farthest from me opened: bad day. I don’t play that game anymore.
….and the clear-up work?
Very distressing. I was asked to help find a way into the collapsed basement, through utilities. I was unsuccessful.
So as a New Yorker, living in such a complex and multi-ethnic city, what (in your opinion) is the consensus/feeling in the city, now that it's over 12 months on since 9/11 - on a very general basis?
Things are back to normal, for the most part. But I think New Yorkers have a lingering fear that it’s not over for us, that despite there being all sorts of other lovely places in the US and elsewhere to blow up, the terrorists won’t rest until they finish off New York, either with fissionable material or with bio weapons.
You lead a very busy life, and your partner Maggie is an amazingly active person, and a real figurehead in the mystery/thriller community, so when do you guys spend time together? And do you book meetings in advance?
Despite being busy, we have dinner and take a long walk in the park almost every weeknight. On the weekends, if I’m not away fishing by myself or she doesn’t have a signing to attend, we make a date. We also have a place in Pennsylvania where we go for the weekend. A key element to fitting everything in is keeping TV viewing opportunistic rather than ritualistic.
So when do you write? Are you disciplined with a set time allotted daily or more ad-hoc?
It’s an intermittent regimen. Every night, Monday through Thursday, two hours minimum. It helps that I have short sleep cycles and don’ need any more than six hours sleep. Of course, I have periods where I don’t write for a month or so, even while I’m in the middle of a book. Sometimes I’m sort of stuck, and don’t have a handle on where the characters are going. Other times I get promoting the latest book and get out of the rhythm.
Going back to your writing, I was looking forward to 'Dirt Nap' (the follow-up to 'Sleep with Fishes' but then 'Pipsqueak' appeared first. When will we see 'Dirt Nap' and why did it get pushed back?
"Dirt Nap" got pushed back because "Pipsqueak" got pushed back due to technicalities with the publisher that I won’t bore you with. I like to release books in September anyway, just before Bouchercon and some other good promotion venues. I’m holding out slim hope that I might find a larger publisher fall for "Dirt Nap" so that it will get wider distribution.
And any clues as to what the future will hold for Sid in 'Dirt Nap'?
An exclusive hunting and fishing club hires Sid to inoculate them against poachers, but the cure proves worse than the disease. Most of the characters are back, with some new ones, including a rogue bear named Pickles.
Any plans to come to Europe?
The European tour hasn’t made the schedule yet. Stay tuned.
So what's next for Brian Wiprud?
After "Dirt Nap?" I’ll spend some time just promoting my work and recharging my batteries. Then in the February maybe I’ll start in on a sequel to "Pipsqueak." I should add that "Pipsqueak" is actually a sequel to the unpublished prequel "$50 Moosehead." But I may hold that one for later.
It has been a pleasure to have the opportunity to ask you some questions, and thank you for your time, and good luck with 'Pipsqueak'.
Absolutely! And really pleased you’re enjoying my work.
'Pipsqueak' is Published in September 2002 by iUniverse (ISBN 0-595-22727-9)Available from US Internet Booksellers such as B&N, Amazon etc 'Pipsqueak' is reviewed in the Shots eZine book review section.
More information from :-www.wiprud.com