An Interview with Novelist Scott Phillips, Author of "The Ice Harvest"
(There’s a lot of talk this time of year about Christmas stories. Well, if you’re sick of the sugar coated, G-rated tales of self-sacrifice and giving (can we have a collective yawn?) then go out and buy “The Ice Harvest” by Scott Phillips. It’s a nasty, barbed pill of a crime noir novel that takes place on Christmas Eve in 1979 among the strip clubs and barrooms of Wichita, Kansas. It’s a novel filled with damaged, mean-spirited people who steal, strip, drink, and kill for a living. It’s the antidote for watching too many Rankin-Bass holiday specials. Scott has written several other crime novels and has also dabbled in screen writing. In between moving dead bodies around his house, he agreed to answer our questions about the genre he writes in.)
DaRK PaRTY: What do you think are the key ingredients for a crime noir novel?
Scott: Probably a sense of doom, characters struggling to retain or regain control over their lives, and a willingness to transgress to achieve thatgoal.
DP: How important is dark humor to the genre?
Scott: To the genre, I don't know. To me, very important. It's all whistling past the graveyard. A lot of my favorite crime writers of the moment are very funny; Ken Bruen, Megan Abbott, Vistor Gischler. Then again I like a lot who aren't. But my own stuff just seems to come out funny.
DP: Which crime noir writers have had the most influence on your own writing?
Scott: Charles Willeford, James Crumley, Jim Thompson, to name three closely associated with the genre. There are lots of others, though, outside it. The author I lately find myself imitating, unsuccessfully, is Rick DeMarinis.
DP: All three of your crime noir novels are set in Kansas (where you were born). Most people don't immediately associate Kansas with crime. Why do you think Kansas makes a good setting for a crime novel?
Scott: Because it's pretty boring and desolate, I suppose. Wichita is a town marked by a strong religiosity and a very vigorous sex trade, and I imagine the two are interlinked in all the usual ways. In Word War II a great number of single men flooded the town working in the aircraft plants, and that really opened up the gates for all the usual forms of vice. But I suppose I'd be writing about crime in Iceland or Madagascar if I'd come from there.
DP: Your debut novel "The Ice Harvest" was made into a movie in 2005. Did you like the film and what was the experience of working with Hollywood like?
Scott: My experience with the movie was overwhelmingly positive. They let me spend a fair amount of time on set, once they figured out that I wasn't going to tell them John Cusack had the wrong hat on or the real strip club was dirtier, or whatever.
The movie is funnier than the book, but it's still got its fair share of grisly moments. That's probably what doomed it commercially; it was being advertised as this wacky comedy, and the people who came expecting pratfalls and one liners were treated instead to drownings, shootings, people getting their thumbs chopped off, fingers broken... this can't have helped word of mouth. But I’m very happy with the way it turned out, except for the very end.
Maybe someday they'll let Director Harold Ramis re-cut it with the original ending, which is included on the DVD version.