Best known for his comic novels, Ames tries his hand at noir in You Were Never Here (Vintage Crime/Black Lizard, Jan.).
How did the book originate?
I originally wrote this on assignment for Byliner.com, which doesn’t exist anymore. They were looking for fiction with a pretty high word count, and I saw this as an opportunity to write something noncomedic. For years, everything I had written was generally speaking somewhat infused with comedy—my novels, essays, and, at that time, my one TV show. But I was in a dark frame of mind that fall and wanted to write something that wasn’t funny. Also, I had been obsessed with genre fiction, and wanted to see if I could emulate what I had so enjoyed. That has often been my m.o.—to write the kind of books I enjoy reading. My novel Wake Up, Sir!, for example, came out of my love of Jeeves and Wooster, and my wanting to write something with a similar effect. So the inspiration for this book was my love of Richard Stark’s Parker novels. I had devoured all of them, and wanted to write my version of a Stark book.
Are there parts of you in Joe, your protagonist?
Yes, certainly. He was a metaphor for how I was feeling about myself at that time in my life. I wanted to be as quiet and invisible as possible so as not to cause others pain. This, naturally, is impossible. So Joe was born out of a certain horror and shame and self-hate I was feeling about myself in the fall of 2012.
Why did you set out to write something fast-paced?
Well, I was fascinated by authors who could get you to turn the page. I wanted to understand the craft behind such writing—the craft behind making a page-turner, the kind of book that you can’t put down, that you just want to speed through it’s so compelling. This, generally, is achieved by an exciting story and by efficient, not overly indulgent, writing. The plots always feel urgent, and this is often achieved by keeping the time-frame of the story quite tight—the old ticking clock. I was entertained by such books and wanted to entertain in a similar fashion.
What did you learn from P.G. Wodehouse about writing?
I saw a quote once from Wodehouse in which he said something like, “Try to give pleasure with every sentence.” I’ve never forgotten that, and I can’t achieve it, but it’s a good goal to have as a writer—to think of each sentence as something you are giving to the reader to provide pleasure and entertainment and to keep them reading.