For me, it was that minimalist language that made the bombed-out dystopian city so easy to envision. In your mind, how much different does the New York City you write about look from real NYC, 2014?
I’m so glad to hear that, because that was a real challenge for me — trying to convey the look and feel of this city without it turning into a kind of tour bus ride: “On your right, you’ll notice that the Port Authority bus station has been shut down and demolished…” I hoped certain well-chosen details could convey the desolation. In this NYC, some parts of the city are more scarred than others — in the same way that, if you go to modern-day New Orleans, some parts of the city show no scars from Katrina and others have never recovered. For example, in the Red Hook section of Shovel Ready, it was easy for me to imagine a really battered version of Red Hook, since that neighborhood (and others) was hit so hard by Sandy, and we’ve all seen photos of NYC that looked very apocalyptic. But in other parts of the city — say, the east side of Midtown — I really do picture it as basically just like today, but with half as many people. One characteristic of modern NYC is just how crowded it is, especially in Manhattan, especially with so many tourists, so imagining the same streets with no tourists and half the citizens seemed apocalyptic in its own way.
Although I can trace a relationship to certain cyberpunk works from the ’80s and ’90s, more than anything, Shovel Ready reminded me of Repo Man, and evoked Blade Runner more than Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? But there’s also the pronounced noir influence. Do you think the book leans towards one genre more than the other?
I would definitely characterize it as a noir book with a sprinkling of cyberpunk, rather than cyberpunk with a sprinkling of noir. I see its roots pretty firmly in books like the Parker series by Richard Stark, or a few Cormac McCarthy novels, or going even further back to Chandler and Hammett and Cain — i.e., a hardboiled antihero in an inhospitable terrain. It just happens that, in this case, the terrain is near-future New York. Technology is an intrinsic part of that terrain because it’s already such an intrinsic part of the world we live in now.
I was very conscious while writing it that there are practitioners of cyberpunk and other speculative fiction who are incredibly well-versed in current trends and technology, but that’s not something I was looking to bring to this book. I wanted Spademan to basically have the same comprehension of his technological world as an average person today (i.e., me) has about our world (i.e., not that much). He can tell you what something’s called, and what it does, not so much about how it all works — just like I can tell you there’s a thing called an iPhone, and what it does, but I don’t have much insight into its operating system or the details of how it was developed.
You’re at work on a second Spademan novel. Where do you see the story going?
It’s a true sequel, in that it picks up the story roughly one year after the events of Shovel Ready. I’d originally thought a second book would be more in the spirit of a series, in that it’s basically another Spademan adventure with new situations, but it seemed like there were too many big issues left unresolved in the first book to not explore them further. I’m loathe to give away too much about the plot, since that would give away a lot of what happens in the first book — but there are certain circumstances in Shovel Ready that would naturally progress over the course of a year and then present new and interesting consequences. Also, Spademan’s now dealing with the fact that, as a hitman, he’s used to ending people’s lives, not becoming tangled up in them. His life has been totally upended — and now we’ll see just what that means for him.