Listening In is a series of author interviews, featuring authors whose works have been transformed into audiobooks! Jon Bassoff is a gothic-noir and psychological thriller author who has written nine novels. His latest, Beneath Cruel Waters, was recently published as an audiobook narrated by actor Chris Henry Coffey.

Listening In #12

Jon Bassoff

Jon Bassoff was born in 1974 in New York City and currently lives with his family in Colorado. His mountain gothic novel, Corrosion, has been translated in French and German and was nominated for the Grand Prix de Littérature Policière, France’s biggest crime fiction award. He is a connoisseur of tequila, hot sauces, psychobilly music, and flea-bag motels. Beneath Cruel Waters is his ninth novel.

Audiobooks by Jon Bassoff on Kobo

Please tell us more about Beneath Cruel Waters. Why should we listen to the audiobook?

Gabriel García Márquez once wrote that everyone has three lives: a public life, a private life, and a secret life. In a lot of ways, this novel is about those different lives and the chaos that ensues when those lives interact. My quick pitch would be this: a young man, Holt Davidson, returns to his hometown for his mother’s funeral, who was found days before hanging from a cottonwood tree. He hasn’t been back to his hometown in years, and he spends the night in his childhood home. As he searches through the house, trying to find some remnants of nostalgia, he discovers an old music box that had once been his older sister’s. Inside the music box is an unsigned love letter, a loaded gun, and a photograph of a dead man. Who is the dead man? Did his mother or sister have something to do with his death? The more he investigates, the more dark secrets he finds out about his family—and himself. It’s a suspenseful and psychological thriller, and I’m really grateful that so many people have taken a chance on this one.

Could you please tell us about your career as an author? What first drew you to writing?

Beneath Cruel Waters is my ninth novel, so I’ve been at it for a good while. When I was a kid, I used to write short stories, and they were always centered around crime. Even at that time, I think I was more fascinated by the criminal mind than by the solving of the crime itself. What can I say, I always dug the villains! Then when I was in my early 20s, I read an old pulpy crime novel called The Killer Inside Me by this fellow Jim Thompson. It was a strange novel, especially considering it was written in the 1950s. The novel is told from the point-of-view of a small-town sheriff, except instead of solving crimes, this sheriff commits them. In fact, he’s a complete psychopath. I’d never read anything quite like it and I was hooked. I knew I wanted to write something like this, and my first attempt at writing a novel, back in 1998, was a really bad rip off of The Killer Inside Me. I’m very thankful it never saw the light of day. But I kept plugging away, and over time my influences expanded. I became inspired by Franz Kafka, Albert Camus, Flannery O’Connor, Ralph Ellison among others. And I think by imitating these great authors badly, I eventually formed my own style and voice. I finally got my break when my gothic noir novel Corrosion was published back in 2013. Even after all of these years, there’s really nothing I enjoy more than crafting these stories. You start with a blank page and somehow, miraculously, a creation is born.

We’d love to hear about your writing process. Please elaborate!

I’d love to say I have a straightforward routine, but that would be a lie. I’ve got a fulltime job teaching high school English and a family and the rest of it, so I’ve always just written whenever I can write. My family is pretty supportive though, so they understand when I duck out of family time to jot down some ideas, and every summer I head up to the mountains for a few days to write my guts out. But even though I don’t have a routine, I do have discipline. After all, you’ve got to write to get these novels written, and I don’t miss a lot of days. Also, I’d say that I’m definitely an outliner and planner. I’ve tried sitting down and just writing whatever comes to mind and it was a disaster. I know other authors who can do it, but I’m not one of them. I need to know where the story is beginning and where it’s headed. Of course, it’s always fun to take those little detours along the way.

What drew you to Gothic Noir and Psychological Thrillers? When did you know that they were the genre you wanted to write?

Well, I mentioned The Killer Inside Me, but there have been plenty of other novels and movies that have pushed me toward gothic noir and psychological thrillers. I love the southern gothic genre, especially novels like Wise Blood by Flannery O’Connor and the short story “A Rose for Emily” by William Faulkner. When I was thirteen years old, I saw the movie Angel Heart with Mickey Rourke and Robert DeNiro, and that really affected me. But I think all creators are products of their own experiences, and I’ve had my own struggles with mental illness and depression. Fiction became a vehicle of expression and self-analysis of that darkness.

Where is your favourite place to write?

The great thing about writing is that you can transform yourself no matter where you are. In fact, I write quite a bit in my classroom before the students arrive for the day. My home office is also a good place. I’ve got all sorts of weird stuff in there that keeps me inspired: a hundred-year-old Underworld typewriter, an antique mining lantern, a dead bat, a bunch of old pulp magazines and paperbacks. It’s the only part of our house that I’ve been able to decorate; the rest of our house looks like it’s from Crate & Barrell, which doesn’t do it for a noirish writer. But really, my favorite place to write is up in the mountain town of Leadville, Colorado. It’s an old mining town, the oldest incorporated town in the United States. I stay in a beautiful old hotel called the Delaware Hotel, and I assume it’s haunted. It has to be!

Describe your writing style in five words or less.

Dark, disturbing, suspenseful, twisty, lyrical.

Any advice for emerging writers?

I think it’s really important to hone your craft before you start stressing out about publishers and markets and all the rest of it. If your main purpose for writing is for recognition and sales, it’ll probably be a frustrating ride. But if you feel impassioned by the craft itself, and you are able to write stories that provide you with energy and passion, it’s incredibly rewarding. While eventually it’s good to know the market trends, I think it’s a mistake to try and chase those trends. Create your own.

What do you do when you experience writer’s block or reader’s block?

I tell my students that there’s no such thing as writer’s block. You can always write—although often time that writing will be really bad. I think giving yourself permission to write those crappy pages can be really powerful. The wonderful thing about writing is that you can always go back and fix those words later, change them from mediocrity to brilliance. But if I’m being really honest with my students, I would also tell them that there is a time to put down the pen or computer and wait for those ideas to float into your room like spastic butterflies. They don’t always come right away, but they’re around.

What has been the most exciting part of having your novels transformed into audiobooks?

It’s really gratifying to hear somebody’s artistic interpretation of the novel—and I do think that narrating a book is a type of art. It gives it a certain life that it might not otherwise have. And I’m just happy that more people have the opportunity to access my work.

Actor Chris Henry Coffey is narrating Beneath Cruel Waters. Did you have any say in his initial casting? What made Coffey right for the job?

He’s absolutely fantastic. I did have some say. Blackstone emailed me a few different samples. I played them to my family and friends, and most of us agreed that Chris was the best. Everybody I’ve talked to says that they loved the narrator, and I’m thankful for that. Even those who criticized the book for this or that had nothing but good things to say about him. I don’t think I could do what he does. The patience and passion to read an entire novel that way is pretty impressive.

Please recommend an audiobook you absolutely adored!

For recent novels, I really loved White Horse by Erika Wurth, narrated by Tonantzin Carmelo. It’s gritty and haunting and beautiful. And then I recently listened to Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro and narrated by Rosalyn Landor. One of the best novels I’ve ever listened to. 

What are you reading (or listening to) right now?

I’m reading Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff, which is a trip. It’s got that pulpy sensibility that I love, but it also exposes the disturbing history of racism in our country. I’m about halfway done and am sure this is going to be one that I’m recommending to anybody who’ll listen. I just wish I had more time to read and watch film and listen to music. Because that’s what fills my soul.

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