Christopher Irvin’s new story collection, Safe Inside the Violence, offers a terrific mix of hard-hitting crime stories and more subtle, more meditative explorations of the human condition—each of them simmering with tension and turmoil. I was pleased to interview Chris on the new book and his work in general for SleuthSayers. Here’s a sample exchange:
Safe Inside the Violence carries the subtitle Crime Stories, but I don’t think I’d categorize a story like “Digging Deep” that way—even as it brims over with constant tension, the threat of trouble. What constitutes a “crime story” for you? And more generally, how does genre—the expectations of genre—impact your writing?
This is a tough one. There is a great sense of melancholy in my favorite crime stories—perhaps a sense of inevitability, but not without hope. Underdogs I love to root for even though I know they’ll stumble and fall eventually. In some ways this feeling, or perhaps a focus on it, has pushed me from the genre definition of crime—a focus on criminal acts—to what? Literary crime? Dark literary fiction? I’m not entirely sure, but it is where I want to be—at least today. I wrote the four new stories in the collection (“Digging Deep,” “Imaginary Drugs,” “Lupe’s Lemon Elixir,” and “Safe Inside the Violence”) all without a crime publication in mind, and they all turned out in this vein. I was pretty anxious as a kid and I think that comes out in my work, even more so now that I’m aware of it. That’s what I’m interested in more than the crime—how people exist in situations that rub up against crime, what their fears/anxieties are, how they make it through the day. As confident as I may seem with the direction of my writing, “genre expectations” do weigh on my mind. When a reviewer praises these stories as being different, I take that as a huge compliment—but is it what people want to read? I hope so. I hope the emphasis on quiet moments, or quiet crimes, is something people can relate to/empathize with and be interested in delving into further.
Read the full interview here.