January Interview: Sam Wiebe

 

Last year, I waxed poetic about Sam Wiebe’s sophomore novel, Invisible Dead, in The Rap Sheet’s Best of the Year feature. As I said then, in that book Wiebe worked with just about all of the tropes of crime fiction and turned them around, pulling them masterfully beyond the cliché.

That was the first book featuring Vancouver, Canada-based Dave Wakeland, an ex-cop turned private eye. In 2018’s Cut You Down, we meet Dave again in a story that the jacket copy makes sound distressingly similar to Invisible Dead, but whose plot and execution just couldn’t be more different. Except the brilliance. Wiebe’s voice is strong, clear and lovely; his stories muscular and authentic. Wiebe is a master stylist and his is a voice you want to spend time with, especially on the Vancouver streets he draws so vividly.

January Magazine: Tell us about Cut You Down.

Sam Wiebe: This is the second novel featuring Vancouver private investigator Dave Wakeland. This time out, Dave is tasked to find a missing college student who disappeared in the wake of a scandal involving millions of dollars. The search leads him into a case of corruption, organized crime, and murder-for-hire.

What is it about the setting of Cut You Down that made you want to spend fictional time there?

Vancouver is a fascinating place. I don’t think a lot of people really understand it, and I’ve never really seen “my” city represented in fiction before. It’s a place of wealth and beauty for some, and desperation for others. Fertile ground for crime fiction.

What comes first, your characters or your stories?

The characters are really made by their choices in the story. For instance, Wakeland chooses to involve himself in Tabitha Sorenson’s disappearance, as well as helping a former girlfriend, police officer Sonia Drego, deal with a possibly corrupt partner. Both decisions put him in peril. How he deals with them, and confronts the reasons for ending up in such situations, defines him.

Tell us about where you work. What is your present or ideal workspace?

My present workspace is a desk and couch in my one-bedroom East Van apartment. My ideal workspace? Pretty much the same, though I’d have the rent covered a lot easier.

Which one of your characters is the most like you?

I’d have to say Dave Wakeland, just because he’s the viewpoint character. But Sonia and Dana Essex, the college professor who hires Dave in Cut You Down, both have aspects of me in them.

Do you remember the first story you wrote? Tell us about it.

The first good story I wrote was called “He’s No Humanitarian, But Damn, Can He Take a Punch.” It was about a corrupt private security force assaulting homeless people outside the building they’re hired to guard, and how they’re eventually stopped. Weirdly enough, months after I wrote it, I read a news article where that really happened.

What writer do you think has had the greatest influence on your work? Who do you love the most?

Tough. Skipping over the obvious ones like Hammett and Chandler, I really liked Josephine Tey. Daughter of Time is such an ingenious use of the detective story, and I feel like it absolutely destroys the idea that working in a genre is somehow limiting or less creative. Ian Rankin is a major influence, in the way he writes about Edinburgh. I think that city has a lot of parallels with Vancouver.

Is it less or more difficult being a writer now than it was 20 years ago? Why?

I think there’s less support for writers nowadays, at least from traditional sources, but there are more non-traditional sources. I think there’s a jackpot mentality among publishers and writers, where a book has to be a mega-success or else it’s considered a failure. The career I envision for myself is like Elmore Leonard, Donald Westlake, or any of that era of crime writers: a slow build of good work that eventually gets recognized.

Do you listen to music when you write? If so, what?

Anything without lyrics: jazz, classical. A lot of movie soundtracks. Nick Cave and Warren Ellis’s soundtrack for Wind River is a favorite.

What are you working on now?

The anthology I edited, Vancouver Noir, comes out November 6th from Akashic Press. I’m at work on a standalone crime novel set along the US-Canada border, as well as the third Wakeland novel. ◊

 

Linda L. Richards is the editor of January Magazine and the author of several books. Full disclosure: one of her short stories, “Terminal City” is included in Vancouver Noir.

News Reporter
Linda L. Richards is the editor of January Magazine and the author of several books.

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