“Spencer Fleury busts out of the gate in a frenzy with a dark, comic debut that will have you ripping through pages much like he wrote them: in a maniac’s glee. You won’t be able to put it down until the final, satisfying conclusion.” – Eryk Pruitt, author of DIRTBAGS and WHAT WE RECKON
Release Date: October 20th, 2017
Alton Carver has a problem.
A cocky lawyer in his mid-30s, he’s under federal investigation for embezzling and securities fraud. Instead of spending the next three to five years behind bars, he’s got a plan: stage his own death, take the money he stole and light out for Central America, leaving behind wife Nicole and daughter Clara. But when he sticks around town long enough to watch his own funeral, he makes the unpleasant discovery that the life he’s leaving behind isn’t the life he thought he had.
When he overhears the way his former colleagues talk about him now that he’s “gone,” Alton is forced to reconsider his self-image as a respected and admired pillar of the legal community. Then the shock of seeing Nicole in the arms of another man leads Alton to postpone his plan to run for the border. What comes next is a slow-burn train wreck, a tale of self-deception, revenge and bad decisions.
1. What (and why) are your favorite ways of building the suspense in a noir fiction?
Any suspense or tension has to come from the characters and the choices they make within the story, or it'll seem contrived and plastic. So you have to start there. For me, my preferred way to do this is to build it into the essence of the characters. In the case of Alton Carver, his choices are all predicated on his own misunderstanding of who he is as a person, and of how other people see him. So there's a natural opportunity to use his actions and reactions as vehicles to ratchet up the tension when his view of himself comes into conflict with obvious evidence of how others in his life see him.
From a more technical point of view, I like to include multiple plot points that change the trajectory of the narrative, and to space them closer together as the story progresses. That leads to a buildup in the suspense level that feels natural but is actually pretty controlled. I'm also a big advocate of the end-of-chapter cliffhanger.
2. Why a lawyer for your main character and what were the difficulties in creating his story?
I chose that field for Alton because I thought it would give him the kind of access to large amounts of money that he would need to execute his plan, and because it was vague and boring enough that people wouldn't dwell too much on the details of his work and career. I also chose it because I don't really know much about the legal profession, and when I'm writing about something I do know a lot about, I have a tendency to get bogged down in the minutiae of it all. So I figured one good way to avoid that pitfall was to give him a nondescript career that I could introduce and that would be useful from a plotting perspective, which I could then set aside and forget about.
3. Why did you use comic elements in your noir suspense? What are traps of using them?
It wasn't really a conscious or intentional thing; I've always been one of those people who has a hard time resisting a joke whenever I think of one, even if that happens at a wildly inappropriate moment. With Alton, though, I think a lot the humor that surrounds him is unintentional – he's more of a narcissist than anything else, and when he's funny it's often a result of his inherent cynicism about the world around him. But that cynicism is only ever directed outward; he never uses it as a lens for looking at himself or his own actions.
The comic elements in the book weren't nearly as present in the first two drafts, but after that I found myself having to actively keep it in check. I ended up removing at least two major scenes that I thought were pretty funny because they were interfering with the book's tone and pacing, but I did keep one – the scene at the brewpub – that ended up being my favorite section of the entire book.
4. What is your story as a writer?
I didn't start writing fiction seriously until I was in my forties, but I've always been a writer. I published an article at age 14 and got paid something like $25 for it, which made the whole “writing for money” career path seem a lot easier than it turned out being. I tried writing fiction when I was in high school and college, back when I wanted to be Bret Easton Ellis, but I hated everything I wrote and concluded that I just didn't have a knack for fiction.
It wasn't until I'd spent a couple decades writing music reviews, ad copy, technical documentation and just about everything except for fiction that I felt like I had developed my skills to the point where I might actually succeed if I decided to try again. More important than that, I felt like I actually had something to say about the world, and that I had stories worth telling that could help shine some light on the human experience. I wrote a few short pieces and got them published pretty quickly, and from there figured the time was right for a novel. And here we are now.
5. What are the advantages and disadvantages of taking writing classes? When talent it’s not enough? (is it true the saying “1% talent and 99% hard work”?)
I didn't get an MFA or an undergraduate creative writing degree, so I haven't taken a lot of formal writing classes. The classes I've taken have tended to be weekend workshops or conference seminars, so they are more limited in scope than the months-long MFA workshops. But I find that narrow focus is often helpful in illuminating one thing you could do to improve, not just with a particular story you're working on at the moment, but with everything you write going forward. Personally, I tend to get more from books about the writing process than I do from classes.
But whether it's books, classes, critique groups or something else, every writer should be studying craft in whatever way makes the most sense for them. Talent is never enough by itself; in fact, I've always believed that hard work can overcome a lack of natural talent (however we define “talent”) in a lot of fields, and I think it's especially true for writing.
About the author:
Spencer Fleury has worked as a sailor, copywriter, economics professor and record store clerk, among other disreputable professions. He was born in the Detroit suburbs, spent most of his life in Florida, and now lives in San Francisco. How I’m Spending My Afterlife is his first novel.