Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Brett Riley Interview - Comanche

Photo Content from Brett Riley

Brett Riley is professor of English at the College of Southern Nevada. He grew up in southeastern Arkansas and earned his Ph.D. in contemporary American fiction and film at Louisiana State University. The published author of a body of short fiction, Riley has also won numerous awards for screenwriting. Riley lives in Las Vegas, Nevada. Comanche is his debut novel.

Tell us your latest news. 
My novel Comanche was published on Sept. 1, 2020, and CrimeReads recently published my article about different kinds of hauntings (https://crimereads.com/searching-for-haunted-fiction-in-american-literature/). I’ve got a dystopian novel, Lord of Order, coming out on March 2nd, 2021. I’m currently going through the second round of edits for my young-adult novel Freaks, which is under contract. And, of course, I’m still tinkering with short-form projects. 

Who or what has influenced your writing, and in what way? 
My family influences me to work at my craft every day. I want them to be proud of me, and I hope I can leave a positive legacy for them. My love of animals also gets me started and keeps me going. They remind me there’s good in the world—unconditional love, grace, strength—even when humans make me think otherwise. 

In terms of style, I’ve always been drawn to writers who streamline their prose while still including rich detail, which, to me, suggests they’ve made good decisions about what to cut. That can refer to anyone from writers like William Faulkner (whose density of detail always staggers me); like Cormac McCarthy, who combines a spare style with the sensibility of a poet; like Toni Morrison, who packs incredibly deep emotion and meaning in her sentences; like Louise Erdrich, one of my very favorites, who writes entertaining and deeply enlightening stories that are also master classes in prose styling; and a thousand more excellent writers. I also greatly admire the masters of the short form—Tobias Wolff, Alice Munro, Lorrie Moore, and so many others. And all this doesn’t even get into nonfiction. 

I look for the good in what I read; there are already plenty of people ready to tear down whatever art they come across. But if I had to pick a kind of writing I’m most drawn to, it would probably be (at least in terms of fiction) the kind that straddles the alleged divide between literary fiction and genre work. This can refer to anyone from the magical realists to writers like Kelly Link, Karen Russell, China Mieville, and more. It might be controversial, but I’d put at least some of the work of George Saunders and Marlon James in that category. 

I could go on with this forever, but I probably shouldn’t. 

Tell us your most rewarding experience since being published. 
If you mean “since Comanche was published,” it’s only been a few days as of this writing, but I’d say it happened today. I opened my social media accounts and saw a bunch of pictures of people with the book. Some of them congratulated me, and some talked about the book, and some mentioned how they hadn’t read it yet but couldn’t wait. Regardless of the specific content, each one of those pictures represented someone who had done me the great honor of making my work a part of their lives. What could be more rewarding? 

What do you hope for readers to be thinking when they read your novel? 
You always hope they’ll like the book, of course, and in this specific novel, I hope they’ll be thinking about the different ways people can be haunted. That’s part of what I wanted to explore—what “haunted” can mean and how a given person in a specific situation might react. 

Beyond that, I hope they’ll consider supporting independent authors, independent presses, and independent bookstores. Plus, I’ve got a body of short-form work out there, which is only one reason I also hope readers think about throwing some support to literary journals. 

In your new book; COMANCHE, can you tell my Book Nerd community a little about it.
On the cover, the incomparable Tod Goldberg calls it “the best western-horror-thriller-ghost story-PI novel ever written.” In terms of the reader, I hope that means you’ll find your own way into the story, given that the book kinda-sorta fits into a lot of genres without really living full-time in any of them. 

As for the story itself: An alcoholic, grieving private eye is summoned to the small, central-Texas town of Comanche to help solve a series of murders. The local authorities don’t want him butting into their business. As the book progresses, he realizes that his adversary isn’t human. How do you fight a ghost? How do you kill something that’s already dead? And how does all that relate to his own struggles? 

I guess what I’d like readers to know is that this novel is, at heart, a story about people fighting to live their lives even when it seems easy to give up. I hope that resonates. 

What was the single worst distraction that kept you from writing this book? 
People kept expecting me to work another job for a living and do stuff like pay my mortgage and buy food. What’s up with that? 

Seriously, I love my job as a college professor. I think my biggest distraction was my addiction to story. I love good movies. I love good TV. I love good books. There are so many interesting stories in various media that I sometimes had to remind myself to stop engaging with other people’s work and go produce some of my own. 

If you could introduce one of your characters to any character from another book, who would it be and why? 
I’d introduce Raymond Turner to Stephen King’s Roland Deschain. I imagine Roland could give Ray some useful advice on how to run a ka-tet—what to do, and what you absolutely shouldn’t do. Plus, Roland’s used to dealing with all kinds of supernatural and/or sci-fi stuff, so I doubt the Piney Woods Kid would hold much terror for him. He could just look at Ray with those “blue bombardier’s eyes” and lay out a plan. 

What was the most surprising thing you learned in creating Raymond and Darrell? 
I was pretty surprised when, around draft three, I learned that Raymond Turner and Rennie Roark were siblings. In earlier drafts, they weren’t related and didn’t even know each other until, for rather labyrinthine reasons, she sought him out over the Internet. In streamlining the plot and getting rid of clutter, I found those initial scenes between them changing. It’s always pretty cool when the people living in your imagination begin to act on their own. 

I had initially conceived of Darrell LeBlanc as a Gary Cooper-style cool-as-the-other-side-of-the-pillow tough guy. Some of that initial characterization remains, but he’s much more approachable and grounded in the everyday than I first imagined him. 

I wasn’t surprised that things changed significantly during revision; that’s just how the process works. But I was often surprised at the direction some of those changes took. 

These books weren’t necessarily published this year, but I read or re-read them in 2020. 
  • 1. There There by Tommy Orange—The book traces the history of and connections between a group of Native American characters navigating life in Oakland. Structured like As I Lay Dying and A Gathering of Old Men, Orange’s often lyrical yet always grounded prose is a joy to read.
  • 2. In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado—An experimental memoir about surviving an abusive lesbian relationship, the book highlights Machado’s rich imagination and suggests new and exciting forms that personal writing might take.
  • 3. Call Them by Their True Names: American Crises (and Essays) by Rebecca Solnit—One of American nonfiction’s most interesting thinkers, Solnit has written an essay collection for our turbulent times. She takes on subjects such as Donald Trump, gentrification, climate change, police violence, and the American prison system. Whether you ultimately agree with her or not, Solnit’s work is absolutely essential to our historical moment.
  • 4. The Hunger by Alma Katsu—An excellent entry in the speculative historical fiction genre, this book imagines the journey, crisis, and destruction of the Donner Party. Supernatural predators! Cannibalism! Power struggles! Shady pasts! Sexual politics! What’s not to love?
  • 5. The Friend by Sigrid Nunez—A short and heartbreaking novel about grief, recovery, and the relationship between humans and dogs, this novel won the 2018 National Book Award. Read it with a box of tissues close by.
  • 6. The Yellow House by Sarah M. Broom—This memoir focuses on an African American family’s life in New Orleans before, during, and after Hurricane Katrina. Enlightening, gripping, and heartbreaking, the book should be on everyone’s must-read list.
  • 7. The Line Becomes a River by Francisco Cantu—This memoir chronicles the Latinx author’s complex relationship with the Mexican-American border. As a young man, Cantu joins the Border Patrol against his mother’s wishes. During and after his time on the job, Cantu learns much about the nature of borderlands, of policing, of how border policy affects human lives on both sides, and more. And his prose rocks.
  • 8. The Wind Through the Keyhole by Stephen King—Though I devoured King’s Dark Tower series as they appeared on the market, I was late to the party with this one. The delay was partially due to my busy life, but I was also apprehensive about a book King wrote later and wedged into the middle of the series. I was pleasantly surprised. King has constructed a nesting-doll novel with three different but intertwined stories—not the easiest feat to pull off, but he does it well.
  • 9. Night Sky with Exit Wounds by Ocean Vuong—I re-read this poetry collection this year, and as always, I was stunned by Vuong’s voice and imagery. I love his frank and honest portrayal of his subject matter. If you’re in the market for some good poems, and especially if you are interested in LGBTQ literature, I recommend this book.
  • 10. Summer of Night by Dan Simmons—I wanted to include the book I’m currently (and slowly) reading in what I laughingly call my spare time. If you don’t know Simmons, he’s a prolific writer with a cool imagination (The Terror is one of my favorite books ever). This book has a lot of cosmetic similarities to Stephen King’s IT: a sometimes idyllic, sometimes chilling setting in a smallish town (this time in 1960 Illinois); supernatural violence that the kids discover and that at least some adults know about; a core group of childhood friends, and so forth. In the book so far, Simmons seems less nostalgic for the past than King does, though he also evokes the wonder and sheer thrill of summertime, along with a dawning sense of horror at how the world can go awry. This book is the first in Simmons’s Seasons of Horror series; again, I’m late to the party here. I’m really interested to see where he goes next.
What’s the most ridiculous fact you know? 
Man, there are a lot of possibilities, but here’s one I read about recently. I have not investigated this in depth, so if it isn’t true, don’t @ me: 

The can opener was invented decades after canned food. 

Doesn’t the mind swirl with comedic possibilities? See this guy try to open his can of soup by beating it with a rock! Watch this person hurl their can of tuna fish off an eight-story building! 

What was the most frightening moment of your life? 
There are two candidates: 
1. A few years back, I awoke to find my wife sitting in bed beside me. She started talking, but she was speaking word salad and didn’t seem aware of it. I shot out of bed and got dressed and took her to the ER, where an incompetent jackass tried to tell me she had overmedicated, which I knew was nonsense. We found out she had suffered a mini-stroke due to a genetic blood-clotting disorder she never knew she had. I was terrified until I knew the doctors (not the incompetent jackass, whom I had to avoid, lest I end up in jail) had it under control. 

2. I was eighteen when my oldest daughter was born. Everything went well, so the hospital released us after one night. As I was buckling her carrier into the back seat of our car, I realized that I had no idea how to take care of a completely helpless human being. I was eighteen! I was a smart kid, but when it came to babies, I knew nothing! How could they just let us leave? Didn’t they know we were totally unprepared? Was it legal, moral, or ethical just to send us home and hope for the best? Luckily, the fear passed quickly, and I came to realize that nobody knows what they’re doing the first time. 

Best date you've ever had? 
Every date with my wife would qualify. We do cool stuff together as much as possible. Here’s one example: she’s a huge Monkees fan, and Mike Nesmith was playing the Troubadour in Los Angeles, so we popped over there, stayed in a nice hotel, heard some music at an iconic venue, ate some good west coast food, and came home, all in 36 hours. When you love the person you’re with, the adventure never ends. 

If you could go back in time to one point in your life, where would you go? 
I’d always love to revisit my south Louisiana years. As much as I love living in Las Vegas, I miss the food from home, which I believe is the best in the world. And I miss my grad-school buddies from LSU. I do not, however, miss hurricanes and tornadoes and floods and ice storms. 

I’d also like to go back to perhaps 1982 or 1983 and tell my younger self, “I know you’re in great pain. I know you’re furious. I know you often can’t see the point in going on. But you will survive this, and find love, and be happy. And though it will take longer than you ever thought it would, you’ll eventually reach your goals.” 

What is one unique thing are you afraid of? 
I don’t mean this to sound braggadocious, but I’m not afraid of much. For whatever reason, I never have been. But there are two things that terrify me: heights, and the possibility I’ll leave this world without having made my wife and kids proud of me. I know neither of those fears is unique, but that’s me. 

Favorite things to do alone? 
Read. Watch movies. Watch sports, mainly football and MMA. Nap. 

Something is killing the people of Comanche.

In 1887 near the tiny Texas town of Comanche, a posse finally ends the murderous career of The Piney Woods Kid in a hail of bullets. Still in the grip of blood-lust, the vigilantes hack the Kid’s corpse to bits in the dead house behind the train depot. The people of Comanche rejoice. Justice has been done. A long bloody chapter in the town’s history is over.

The year is now 2016. Comanche police are stymied by a double murder at the train depot. Witnesses swear the killer was dressed like an old-time gunslinger. Rumors fly that it’s the ghost of The Piney Woods Kid, back to wreak revenge on the descendants of the vigilantes who killed him.

Help arrives in the form of a team of investigators from New Orleans. Shunned by the local community and haunted by their own pasts, they’re nonetheless determined to unravel the mystery. They follow the evidence and soon find themselves in the crosshairs of the killer.

You can purchase Comanche at the following Retailers:

And now, The Giveaways.
Thank you BRETT RILEY for making this giveaway possible.
2 Winners will receive a Copy of Comanche by Brett Riley.


  1. Not unique, but I am afraid of bugs! Thank you

  2. I am afraid of falling into our empty pool so I walk as far away from it as I can. Not really unique, though.