The Sweetest Debut: Kathleen Kent on Writing Her Detective Novel — and Why Gatsby is Overrated

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Welcome to The Sweetest Debut, a regular installment in which we reach out to debut (or near-debut, we’re flexible!) fiction, poetry and nonfiction authors working with presses of all sizes and find out about their pop culture diets, their writing habits, and their fan-fiction fantasies.

Kathleen Kent’s The Dime is a classic detective novel that’s perfect for the current time in many different ways and has gotten the proverbial pre-publication raves. “Violent, sexy, and completely absorbing. Kent’s detective is Sam Spade reincarnated—as a brilliant, modern woman,” writes Kirkus. She told Flavorwire about why she thinks Gatsby is overrated, her writing process, and how she would cast Lady Gaga in a vintage Helen Mirren role.

What is your elevator pitch to folks in the industry describing your book?

The Dime is about a tough, seasoned narcotics detective from Brooklyn, who moves with her girlfriend to Dallas. Her first assignment as lead on a major drug deal will pit her against the Mexican cartels, a homegrown, meth-dealing religious cult and members of her own team who are about to show Detective Betty how “things are done in the South.”

What do you tell your relatives it’s about?

A sparky, red-headed cop who can’t stay out of trouble.

How long was this project marinating in a draft or in your head before it became a book deal?

The Dime started out as a short story in the crime anthology, Dallas Noir. Initially, I thought it would just be a one-and-done deal. But my agent, and later the editor, thought it would make a unique, full-length novel given the setting, which is Dallas, a town not usually thought of as being a major crime town, and the raw energy of the lead character, Detective Betty Rhyzyk. It took me a little over a year to finish the book once I committed to the story.

Name a canonical book you think is totally overrated.

The Great Gatsby. The characters, to me, are types, not complex, fully formed individuals. Written as a morality tale—Money and Absolute Power always corrupt —I found myself seething at the vacuousness of the people inhabiting the book. Even the author admitted to failing in crafting a believable, substantive relationship between Daisy and Gatsby.

What about a book you’ve read more than twice?

All of Cormac McCarthy’s books and James Michener’s The Source.

It there a book or other piece of art that influenced your writing for this particular project?

I love novels, whether they are historical fiction or crime, with strong, in-your-face female protagonists. When I was a teenager, I was smitten with author Mary Renault’s magical re-imagining of the Greek legends. Her female characters were complex, courageous, and often fell outside of the social norms. I think she set the stage for my writing later on.

What’s your favorite show to binge watch when you’re not writing?

I loved Stranger Things, Sense 8, and many of the English and Scandinavian crime series.

What’s the last movie you saw in theaters?

Hidden Figures.

Do you listen to music while you’re writing? If so, what kind?

I love listening to music before and after writing. But while writing, I have to have quiet; even instrumental music can distract me because I find myself being drawn away from the written word and into the world of sound. While writing The Dime, I listened to a lot of female rock and jazz singers. I made a CD of “Det. Betty’s” favorite tunes (ex. Lorna Fothergill, Back In Black; Dorothy, Gun In My Hand) and gave them as gifts to friends and family.

Who is your fashion icon?

Currently, I’m reading Vivienne Westwood’s biography, and I’d forgotten what a pioneer she was, not just constructing unusual “frocks” for casual wear, but in making a statement encompassing politics, music, and art, as well as fashion. She really challenged societal norms, including gender identification, influencing many of our most beloved pop icons. She makes me want to start wearing things on the street that stir things up a bit.

If you could buy a house anywhere in the world just to write in, where would it be?

Anywhere I can fit my desk that’s peaceful and quiet is heaven. But, if I were to have a fantasy location, it would be on some rocky, Cornish coast, high on a bluff, where I could watch the sun the disappearing into the ocean every night.

What did you initially want to be when you grew up?

A writer!

Did you have a new years resolution for 2017? If so, what?

I’m going to try to hang on to my compassion, my patience and my sense of humor.

What freaks you out the most about four years of Trump as US President?

What freaks me out the most? That we will have four years of Trump. Before I took to writing full time, I worked for ten years with the U.S. Department of Defense doing defense conversion work in Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia. I saw up close the Presidents for Life (respectively, Lukashenko, Nazarbayev and Putin). We need to stay vigilant if we want keep our democratic political systems intact.

Do you prefer a buzzing coffee shop or silent library?

Definitely a silent library.

Do you write at a desk, bed or couch?

Usually at my desk. But, at times, I will admit to propping myself up with a lot of pillows in bed. I try not to feel guilty about how wonderful that is.

Is morning writing or late-night writing your go-to-time?

Mornings are best for me, usually between 9:00 a.m. and noon.

Do you tend towards writing it all out in one big messy draft and then editing, or perfecting as you go (or something in between)?

I may be the world’s slowest writer as I seem to labor over every word, writing three sentences and then erasing two. I’ll usually do a treatment first, where I outline the basic story line, but it changes during the actual manuscript process. The characters often have their own idea of where they want to go.

How do you pay the bills, if not solely by your pen and your wit?

I am happy, and very fortunate, to say that I live by the pen (or computer in my case).

What is your trick to finding time to write your book while also doing the above?

I worked for most of my adult life in the business world and always wanted to write, but rarely had the time or energy to pursue it. It wasn’t until I took an early retirement, and my son started school, that I was able to write full time. My first novel wasn’t published until I was in my late forties, so I’m late to the party.

If you could write fanfiction about any pop culture character, real or imagined, who would it be?

I would cast Lady Gaga in an updated script of the iconic film, The Cook, The Thief, His Wife, And Her Lover (the lead, Georgina, originally played by a young Helen Mirren), a savage satire on tyrannical governments and power-hungry boors elected to high office (the director had Thatcher’s administration in mind, but other, more recent examples come to mind). The plot: an English gangster (Albert) takes over a high-class, well respected restaurant, making nightly appearances with his retinue of slavish, dangerous thugs. His oafish behavior causes frequent confrontations with his abused wife, and the long-suffering employees. The costumes for the film were designed by Jean Paul-Gaultier, so Gaga would be fully justified in resurrecting her meat dress, as the setting is almost entirely filmed in the restaurant.

Care to give us a few sentences of micro-fiction about that character?

INT. BOOK DEPOSITORY – NIGHT

Georgina (Lady Gaga) meets her secret lover, Michael, in the deepening shadows of the towering shelves of dusty, forgotten history books. They embrace passionately, tearing at each other’s clothes. They only have a few short hours to be together.

MICHAEL

Are you certain we’re safe here?

GEORGINA

Without question, my love. Albert doesn’t read,