“If I’m eager, I know I’m on the right track”

MHVesseurInterview with M.H. Vesseur, biographer of Bizz Jockey Carl Pappas.

M.H. Vesseur, you are the author of the fictional Bizz Jockey crime novels, but you refer to yourself as “the Bizz Jockey biographer”. Is Carl Pappas that real to you?
M.H. Vesseur: “Absolutely. For me he is a genuine man, who is slowly revealing himself to me. I didn’t ‘make up’ Carl Pappas. It’s more like he emerged. Or rather: like he is emerging.”

How did you get started and why?
M.H. Vesseur: “I was very eager to enter the new age of the e-book. I felt it would be appropriate to think things over before jumping on the train. At that time, the train was already moving very fast. The thing I found out very quickly was that I wanted to do a series. Until then my work, mainly short stories, was not suitable for serialization, so I had to come up with something new.”

If I started a crime series, I’d first come up with a police detective or a private eye. How did you come up with a disc jockey?
M.H. Vesseur: “I sat down one morning and within one hour I had decided it had to be a disc jockey. That was fairly easy. I did not want to come up with another police inspector or detective or private eye. There’s Columbo and there’s the 87th Precinct by Ed McBain and so forth. There’s endless amounts of crime scene series on television with psycho killers and ultra violence. There’s usually se law enforcement agency at work in crime novels amd TV series. There’s tough new characters on the block, such as Jack Reacher, who’s been in the army. So while I was thinking about a baker and a shoe salesman and so forth, I thought: why not do something with a big love I had when I was a boy, which was radio. That was so exciting. We had only two television channels and most of the time there was just nothing worth looking at, and of course there was no VCR yet. So I spent hours and hours every week listening to the radio while doing my homework. I absolutely loved that mysterious studio mood and the mystery of the voices. In these days, the 1970s, disc jockeys were faceless men. So much unlike today when they are often also seen on television and in magazines and so forth. Back then I knew nothing about them but how their voice sounded. They were funny men — hardly any women — and they had their lines ready. They knew what to say. Some were downright obnoxious when they were forced to play a record they didn’t like. Others were charming and nice. I remember this guy with a soul music program. He would get Lionel Ritchie on the line, or a Bee Gees member or one of the Brothers Johnson, or even Quincy Jones, and talk about their new album. I thought: this ambiance of the radio studio will be that way for me forever. If I come up with a disc jockey and give him something meaningful to do other than play records, I have something new and something sustainable.”

How about the other regular characters, the producer and the sound engineer?
M.H. Vesseur: “There’s not much to report. I just allow something to happen. Vangelis once that that he functioned as a channel through which music emerged from the chaos of noise. It works that way for me too. Don Wozniak, the sound engineer, has a lot to do with all the sound engineers I’ve worked with through the years. I’ve made quite a few radio commercials. These were guys — somehow they’re always men — who work in a confined space all day. That does something to a guy. They were never athletes, they were indoors guys with a uniqueness to them. That makes sense because it’s very intense work that they do, for hours and hours. Hitomi Sakamoto, the producer, also comes from my experience in media, where women are often in the role of producing stuff, managing creative people, kicking ass.”

Is she modeled after anyone you know or knew? Are the other characters?
M.H. Vesseur: “No. They’re all from my imagination. I would never put someone in that I know or knew because I’m not a big fan of reality. I don’t see the point in escaping into a fantasy world, away from reality, and then write about people I know. That sounds boring to me.”

Still the Bizz Jockey series is realistic. Why not write fantasy? Or SF?
M.H. Vesseur: “Why not indeed. But it’s like I said: I came up with a radio studio and a disc jockey first, and the business thing second. That wrapped it up and put me on the trail of a crime series. One thing led to another.”

Why does business play such an important role in the series?
M.H. Vesseur: “That was the final ingredient I came up with in that first hour of thinking: it had to be relevant so that I could put some serious stuff in there as well. Without that it would have been a problem for me to work on it for a long time. I want a story to have a bite. I want Carl Pappas to be someone who speaks up, who comments on things that are bad. That makes it relevant. Not very relevant, but still. I think that after the downfall of Lehman Brothers and the subsequent economic crisis I’ve felt the need to do something with that as a writer. I’ve written short stories about economic topics in the past. It matters to me. If Carl Pappas was just an easy going police detective who focusses on crime only, I would lose my interest very quickly.”

Carl Pappas is not really interested in crime. He’s interested in business.
M.H. Vesseur: “Absolutely. He gets involved against his will. And the crimes are also not very big, at least at this point. I’m not sure where we’re heading, of course.”

Bloodier crimes?
M.H. Vesseur: “I don’t know. To quote Harrison Ford in his immortal Indiana Jones role: ‘I’m making this up as I go.’ So far every new Carl Pappas episode is new to me, it brings me new stuff and learnings. I will experiment if I can, but always within the framework of the series. I want my readers to feel comfortable with every next episode, in the sense that we won’t move into graphic violence and hard sex all of a sudden, but we also don’t want to be bored.”

How will you avoid that?
M.H. Vesseur: “If I’m eager to attack the new story because I’m curious about how it’s going to work out, then I know I’m on the right track. I have to satisfy my imagination first, before I can satisfy anyone else’s.”

There’s the running gag where Don Wozniak plays Rod Stewart’s “Passion” when Hitomi comes in. Is Carl Pappas a Rod Stewart fan and if he is, is that your musical taste?
M.H. Vesseur: “That’s among the stuff I’m finding out as I proceed. There’s this relaxed radio ambiance that needs a relaxed kind of music, and a lot of that stems from the 1970s and 1980s, in my opinion.”

So he’s your age then?
M.H. Vesseur: “Yes, but that works as a brake rather than a throttle.”

Excuse me?
M.H. Vesseur: “He’s my age, so it would be easy to plug my taste in there by the dozens. You know, novels, movies, songs. Instead I try to do the opposite and not get into that at all. It helps me create a mood while writing, you know, putting on Hot Chocolate and the Buggles and the Babys and Gerry Rafferty. It creates the proper mood, a lot of the time. But that’s it. I’m not putting those songs into the stories because I hope readers develop their own studio sound in their imagination.”

Were you influenced?
M.H. Vesseur: “I’ve been a reader all my life so there are probably more influences than I’m aware of. Writers that have inspired me at different times are J.G. Ballard, J.M. Coetzee, Stephen King, Ed McBain and Warren Adler. There’s the unique storytelling of “The Strange Case Of Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde” by Robert Louis Stevenson. But there’s also the influence of the movies. There’s always the storytelling technique in Stanley Kubrick’s movies, the speed and humour of Steven Spielberg’s, even way back to the days when he directed the first Columbo episode “Murder By The Book”. My favourite Columbo episode by the way is “Now You See Him”, for its ambiance, its classic story of the Nazi turned magician an in the end for the slightly over the top performance of Jack Cassidy as bad guy Muller, aka The Great Santini. Things need to be a bit exaggerated in fiction, I like that. A bad guy grinning maliciously from ear to ear, on a crisp Thunderbirds set, unreal, detailed. Larger than life.”