Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

On Writing, with Mike Knowles

Share |
On Writing, with Mike Knowles

Open Book talks to Mike Knowles about noir fiction, a "return to the wrong side of the tracks" and his latest novel, Grinder (ECW Press).

Open Book: Toronto:

Tell us about your latest book, Grinder.

Mike Knowles:

Grinder was released in September 2009 with ECW Press. The book takes place a few years after Darwin’s Nightmare left off. Wilson left his old boss alive and his old life behind in exchange for a clean slate. He held up his end of the bargain and stayed off the grid. For two years, Wilson had some peace until a man came calling. The man brought a gun — and a woman in his trunk. Over a thousand kilometres from home, Wilson learns that the city doesn’t let go and people don’t forget. The city is more than bricks; it’s a hammer, it’s blood, it’s a machine running on the backs of hard men and women, and the hardest man there remembers Wilson. And now he wants him to come home.

Mobster Paolo Donati’s nephews are missing and the only suspects are his own men. Wilson is pulled back from his new life to work under the radar and find out who is responsible. Wilson is back to being what he was — a grinder. Now all bets are off and before he’s done, everyone will pay.

OBT:

Did you have a specific readership in mind when you wrote your book?

MK:

I write the kind of books that I would want to read. I love seventies pulp, hardboiled crime stories and noir fiction. In the last few years there has been a shift away from those kind of books and it has become harder and harder to find gritty crime fiction. I try to give readers a break from the current barrage of quirky PIs and eccentric police detectives. My books are a throwback to the crime fiction of Richard Stark and Mickey Spillane. My writing is in the same hard, gritty style of the giants before me and I think readers will welcome a return to the wrong side of the tracks.

OBT:

Describe your ideal writing environment.

MK:

Anywhere is a good place to write, so long as I have an idea in my head that I want to get on paper. Some of my best work has been put on napkins and scraps of paper while my students are outside at recess.

OBT:

What was your first publication?

MK:

ECW Press published my first book Darwin’s Nightmare. If you haven’t read it, shame on you.

OBT:

If you had to choose three books as a “Welcome to Canada” gift, what would those books be?

MK:

John McFetridge’s Dirty Sweet would be number one. Everyone thinks Toronto is some kind of light version of American cities. McFetridge gives people a hard look at Toronto the Good, and the city doesn’t blink.

All Shook Up by Mike Harrison is another great book. It turns the private eye genre on its head by changing the setting to Alberta. The location is something fresh for the genre it spawns characters and action that could take place no where else in the world.

Sean Chercover’s Big City Bad Blood should count as a Canadian read because Chercover grew up in Toronto, and because the book is awesome. Chercover puts new life into the private eye genre with his character Ray Dudgeon. The book is worthy of all of the hype.

OBT:

What are you reading right now?

MK:

Right now I am reading 100 Bullets by Brian Azzarello. Every summer I read the entire series as a sort of pilgrimage. 100 Bullets is everything that is great about noir fiction. It is a sprawling story of corruption covering different locations, people, and events. 100 Bullets is one of the best examples of contemporary noir fiction that I have ever read. I love it to pieces and I always get something new from it every time I re-read it.

OBT:

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received as a writer?

MK:

When I first met with my publisher at ECW, Jack David, he told me about what first interested him in my book. He was into some of the darkest things that I wrote, some of the things I thought would prevent me from ever being published. That meeting taught me to always take chances and to write what I want to write as opposed to what I think someone else wants me to write. I’m sure this will bite me later on down the road when I write something so off the wall that I get locked up in an asylum.

OBT:

What advice do you have for writers who are trying to get published?

MK:

Write everyday. Every time you put pen to paper you get better. You also need to be constantly on the lookout for ways to get your writing into the hands of people who can help you get published. Seek out publishers and agents who accept unsolicited manuscripts, and listen to every bit of criticism they give you. You aren’t always going to hear things you like, but you need to be able to adapt your work in order to get it out to the public.

OBT:

What is your next project?

MK:

My third book with ECW Press will be coming out in September of 2010. The book is tentatively titled Bent. In the book, Wilson learns there are people in the city who are more dangerous than the mob — people with guns and badges. Wilson will be cornered like never before and it will take all of his skill to escape alive and out of custody.


Mike Knowles studied writing at McMaster University before pursuing a career in education. He became an elementary teacher and currently teaches in Hamilton where he lives with his wife and dog. Darwin’s Nightmare is his first novel.

For more information about Grinder please visit the ECW Press website.

Buy this book at your local independent bookstore or online at Chapters/Indigo or Amazon.

Related item from our archives

JF Robitaille: Minor Dedications

Dundurn

Open Book App Ad