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Interview with Pharoah Cain

Please enjoy our interview with Pharoah Cain, conducted shortly after the book went to press:

DuckRiverPress: Let’s start with the main character, Django “Jake” Shepherd. With all his bad habits, flaws and demons, why is he still so likeable?

Pharoah Cain: I think Jake is ultimately likeable for a couple of reasons. First off, his intentions are good and in spite of his many faults he’s still trying to do the right thing. His heart is pure. Another reason is his sense of humor and the fact that he can almost always find the irony in a situation. And finally, I think, because Jake is a dreamer and it’s hard not to have a soft spot for dreamers. They’re the romantic underdogs of the world.

DRP: When you started writing was it your intention to become a mystery writer?

PC: Not really, I’m just a writer and I write what interests me. To be honest I don’t really think of Django as a mystery novel—I’m always more interested in characters than in creating some formulaic maze of plot intricacies. In that sense, I see Django as being a southern novel as much as anything else, though I can understand why some folks would tag it as a mystery.

DRP: I’m curious, why would you think of it as a southern book?

PC: Because southern novels are almost always about redemption in some form or another and Jake, if nothing else, is certainly looking for and in need of deliverance.

DRP: Okay, then, let’s compromise and call it a southern mystery. I have to say that one of the things that struck me about the book, as opposed to most books with Nashville as a setting, is the fact that it’s not the same tired old story of someone’s quest to become a star or sing on the Opry stage or some other worn out cliché.

PC: Jake is a writer, fallen from grace perhaps but in truth he just wants to get back to being able to make a living writing songs. In the old days, Nashville was a writer-driven town. “It all begins with a song,” was a phrase you heard often back then. And it was true that your entire life could change with one three minute song, and I touch on that a bit in the book. It’s a different world today. Not that good songs aren’t still important but they seem to have taken a back seat to production and promotion and business plans and vocal histrionics. But that’s just all a part of the way music changes, which is the way it’s supposed to be. I’m out of the demographic now, country music is no longer geared for my generation and I have to accept that. It reminds me of the early 70’s when Roy Acuff and several of the Opry stalwarts were reacting against Willie and Waylon and Tom Paul Glaser for their long hair and scruffy beards and for singing about something other than mountain hollers and the wages of sin. It all comes back around. And there is still a lot of good music being made, you just have to find it. Thank God for Satellite Radio!

DRP: What writers are you reading now?

PC: I confess that I’m a bit of a lazy reader these days. I tend to read and re-read favorite writers whose work I’ve admired over the years. I think Cormac McCarthy’s Border Trilogy is a masterpiece, and I really enjoy reading him. I’ve been reading Jim Harrison’s books and poetry for years; when I was younger I was a big fan of Harry Crews and I read all his books. Flannery O’Connor is another. And I’m in awe of William Gay’s work- he’s up there on another level entirely. He lived just down the road from here but passed away a few years back and the literary world is much poorer for that. He was something of a modern day Faulkner and his prose always seemed so skillfully crafted and intricate. No one writes like that anymore and it’s a shame.

DRP: Did you ever meet him?

PC: Not really. I shook his hand once at a book festival and told him how much I enjoyed his work but that’s it and, in truth, that’s quite enough. I learned a long time ago in the music biz that it’s best to just leave your heroes on the pedestal.

DRP: Would you care to elaborate on that?

PC: Nope.

DRP: Okay, fair enough, we’ll move back to the book. I have to say that, in my opinion, the tone and flavor of Django brings to mind some of the early work of James Crumley.

PC: I consider that a high compliment. I used to read him a great deal, beginning with his first novel, One to Count Cadence. And The Last Good Kiss has the greatest opening sentence of anything I’ve read in a long time. Crumley himself was a larger-than-life character, as big a character in real life as those he wrote about in his books.

DRP: Pharoah Cain, thank you for consenting to this interview. I know you are reclusive and you claim not to enjoy this kind of thing but I’d swear that it looked like you were having a good time with this.

: Well, a couple of drinks and I loosen up a bit. Doesn’t everyone?