Q&A with Detroit Noir contributor Peter Markus

Posted on December 28, 2007

Peter Markus is orginally from the southwest side of Detroit. He now works with the InsideOut Literary Arts Project, which sends writers into Detroit public schools. He is the author of three books of short fiction, Good Brother, The Moon Is a Lighthouse, and The Singing Fish. His novel, Bob, or Man on Boat, is forthcoming in 2008.

We were on our way upriver, up to where the dirty river that runs through our dirty river town begins, it runs all the way up through the city, us brothers heading up there to see if we might catch us some of the big city’s big city dirty river fish, when out of nowhere in the night and in the river’s muddy dark we heard, then saw, a boat, much bigger than ours, it was cutting across and down the river, it was heading right for us brothers. There’s a boat coming right for us, Brother turned his head and said, as he held up the lantern light with that fire glowing inside it so that his face flushed full like the moon. I looked up at Brother then. There was a look that us brothers sometimes liked to look at each other with. It was the kind of a look that actually hurt the eyes of the brother who was doing the looking. Imagine that look. Do I look like a brother born blind? was what I said to Brother then, and I cut the tiller hard and to the right. But that boat, that other boat much bigger than ours, that boat with us brothers not sitting down inside it, it kept on coming toward us brothers, as if it didn’t see us brothers, as if us brothers weren’t even there.

–From “The Dead Man’s Boat” by Peter Markus

What are the challenges (if any) in writing about Detroit?
It’s always difficult to try to render any actual place authentically, which is why I prefer to make up my own fictional, mythical world whenever I possibly can.

Have you written other fiction set in Detroit ?
Yes, I’m most drawn to the city’s southwest side which for me is storied landscape. What attracts you to the (broadly-defined) Noir style? I honestly had little to no idea what “noir” meant prior to producing the story for the Detroit Noir anthology. I suppose the notion that noir could mean anything nightish, or dark, or violent, would naturally draw me into its net.

Is your story based on, or overtly influenced by, actual events?
No, the brothers exist nowhere but in my own head. The “dead man’s boat” refers, in fact, to a scene in my novel, Bob, or Man on Boat, that I’ve got coming out this summer from Dzanc Books. If you could write anything and see it published, what would it be? I’ve got a new sequence of brother stories, We Make Mud, that I’d like to see spined into a book.

Is there any particular effect you want your writing to have on the reader?
I want my fiction to swallow the reader entirely into its mouth. I want the world of my invention to displace the world that exists routinely out through the window.

Who are some of your favorite authors?
Cormac McCarthy makes the pen seize up in my hand. When I read McCarthy, especially his early-ish work, I find myself throwing up my hands and asking myself, Why even bother! I also admire the fictions of Yannick Murphy, Noy Holland, Gary Lutz, Ben Marcus, Beckett, Stein, Hemingway, Faulkner, Barry Hannah, Gordon Lish.

Detroit speed round: Eminem or the White Stripes?
The bands out of Detroit that I love are the ones that I grew up on in the early 80s art-punk scene: L-7, Private Angst, Sleep, Negative Approach, Chris Moore. I’ve seen the White Stripes a number of times, mostly before they broke it wide open, and liked them best when they acted and played like brother and sister who’d been forbidden to kiss. Also, Ken Waagner and the Linkletters.

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