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ZERO AVENUE: AN INTERVIEW WITH DIETRICH KALTEIS

Dietrich Kalteis is one of the leading crime writers in the Pacific Northwest. His new novel, Zero Avenue, will be published October 2. Flash Fiction Offensive editor Rob Pierce found the book worthy of an interview, and that's what we have this week instead of our usual Thursday short story.
Dietrich Kalteis, interviewed by Rob Pierce

RP: Zero Avenue is set in the Canadian punk scene, specifically Vancouver, 1979. You write like you were a musician in that scene. Were you? And was drug dealing as big a part of that scene as you write it, or is that part specific to your characters?
DK: I loved the music of the time, but no, I never played in a band. I’m best kept in the audience, but I did know people who tried to make their mark on the music scene, and it gave me some insight. And it was the late seventies, and drugs were everywhere. My main character Frankie del Rey runs bags of dope just to make ends meet and to get the cash she needs to cut a record and get her band Waves of Nausea on the road.
One thing that sets the mood when I’m writing, I always listen to music that goes with what I’m writing. So, for the nine months that it took to write Zero Avenue, that’s what I listened to, punk. I got my hands on as much of the early Vancouver sound as I could find: D.O.A, the Subhumans, Pointed Sticks, the Dishrags, Payolas, Braineaters, Young Canadians, the Modernettes, the Reactors. I also threw some early Toronto bands on my playlists, bands like the Viletones, the Demics, the Diodes, the Cardboard Brains, the Mods, and the Ugly; and also Teenage Head and the Forgotten Rebels from Hamilton. I rounded it out with bands from the U.S. — the Ramones, Dead Kennedys, New York Dolls, and the Stooges. And there were the great British bands like the Clash, the Buzzcocks, the Damned and the Sex Pistols, and lots more.
RP: Your protagonist is female. You, apparently, are not. I didn't think about this at any time while reading the book; how did you immerse yourself so deeply into that character? Her sexuality is a major part of the story.
DK: At first I wasn’t sure I could pull off a lead female character, but as I started writing, it just worked out. I really like Frankie’s character, she’s so determined about her music, she’s good at it and won’t let anything or anyone get in the way of what she wants. Behind her tough exterior, she does have a sense of right and wrong, although Frankie’s senses may be a little distorted, just like her music. For me, any character’s words have to sound unique and natural to them, like they just flowed out. As Frankie’s character developed, I just kept out of her way and let her be herself. When it felt like I was just typing her words, then I knew I had it right. I think of Frankie as part unwitting heroine, part femme fatale and part voice of reason, but definitely not somebody you want to mess with — with or without her pink pepper-spray gun.
RP: It's almost as though the book has a soundtrack, but unless the reader is familiar with Canadian punk of that era, the soundtrack was strictly your words. Were you aware of this when writing the book?
DK: There was definitely this ‘vibe of the times’ and I tried to capture that. What I liked about the punk scene back then was its edge and the ‘us against them’ outlook, and how that indie ‘shake it up’ attitude threw a middle finger to the status quo. In Vancouver, the scene made a sharp contrast to what some considered a sleepy backwater town at the time, and it just seemed to be the perfect setting for a crime story.
RP: Although the specifics of Frankie's situation have to do with punk and drugs, to a large degree the story follows a traditional crime fiction trope: someone pinned into a lower-class position who is trying to move up from that situation. Was this a conscious decision on your part? If not, what did get you started on writing this book, telling this story?
DK: I suppose it was a conscious decision, which created more of a struggle for the character. I saw Frankie del Rey as this struggling musician with a one-track mind about making her music career happen. Her aim is to make enough money to cut a record and get her band on the road, and she’s determined not to let anything get in her way. And she’s willing to take some risks by running dope. The trouble is she’s running it for Marty Sayles, a powerful dealer who rules the Eastside with a fist. So, I like that she’s determined, yet she’s at a disadvantage dealing with Marty Sayles and his people. All of which just raises the stakes. I like how Frankie pushes forward, and deals with it when life pushes back. Her determination drives her, but her choices and the risks she takes get her in plenty of trouble along the way.
RP: Do you have future plans for Frankie or any other characters in the book?
DK: It’s sometimes hard to let go of some characters, and Frankie’s one of them. And while I haven’t had any thoughts for a sequel, if the right idea comes along, Frankie could be back.
My next one will be out in 2018. It’s called Poughkeepsie Shuffle and takes place in the mid-eighties and centers on a guy named Jeff Nichols. Fresh out of the infamous Don Jail, he gets mixed up in a smuggling ring operating from a used car lot in Toronto’s Junction. The outfit brings guns in from upstate New York, and Jeff’s a guy who’s willing to bend the rules to get on the fast track to riches, a guy who doesn’t let the lessons from past mistakes get in the way of a good score in the future.
I’m also working on a story set in the dustbowl days in Kansas. It’s about a young married couple struggling to hang onto their farm, and they’ve got some interesting, although not legal, ways to save their farm from the dusters, drought and debt.:
Dietrich Kalteis is the award-winning author of Ride the Lightning, The Deadbeat Club, Triggerfish, House of Blazes and Zero Avenue. Nearly fifty of his short stories have been published internationally, and he lives with his family in Vancouver, British Columbia.