When I was shopping Broken Glass Waltzes to agents, I told them it was a heavy metal crime novel. At least one agent replied that people who listened to heavy metal didn’t read, and vice versa. Similarly, when I was working on my Master’s, I had a creative writing prof express consternation about all this hard rock stuff I was listening to and writing about, in my fiction and in reviews and such as well. “What’s the deal with all this heavy metal stuff?” he asked.
“I like it,” I said. “I’ve played it in bands and I listen to it and enjoy it.” All of which was true, although I listened to a lot of other stuff too. The year before, I had a front-row seat to see Miles, and I had seen Bill Monroe at a grungy little place in Nashville. But having spent my teens in the Cincinnati burbs in a pre-Internet era, metal was the most common form of loud, fast, technically challenging music, and I liked it. So I wrote about it.
After the professor walked away, my officemate looked at me and said, “You blew it. Now [the prof] is going to think of you as that guy who listens to stupid people music.” And maybe he did – I know he wasn’t real pleased with the fact that I wrote genre fiction, either.
And that ghettoizing attitude is part of why I left the academy for a while. But in some ways, it’s also why putting Broken Glass Waltzes in the world of heavy metal’s minor leagues made so much sense to me.
I knew I was writing noir, and noir isn’t a genre about the powerful – it’s about the folks on the fringe of polite society, the gropers, dopers, and all-round no-hopers, wanting their piece of the rancid scraps that were once the pie. It’s about the ones who are thrown off the hay truck around noon. It’s about powerless people, buffeted by fate and their own wrong choices in a world that is indifferent at best, and likely scornful of them.
Hell, that’s why metal won’t go away. When you’re a fifteen-year-old boy, you’re awfully powerless. You can’t drive, and the girls like guys with cars. You go to school and it feels like they’re measuring the things you don’t know, and most of those are things you don’t care about anyway. Your parents are busy, and it feels like they only notice you when it’s time to take out the trash. But if you have a guitar and a big enough amp, you can make people hear you – even if they don’t want to listen. That’s a kind of power. And if you wear a Cannibal Corpse or Slayer T-Shirt, you can make people notice you – even by shocking them into looking away. That’s a kind of power, too. And there’s always a fresh crop of fifteen-year-old boys, and a lot of us never forget what fifteen felt like. Metal is a way to be powerful and to be dangerous, even when you’re just another fifteen-year-old (or seventeen-year-old, or warehouse worker…) in the burbs.
And society does its part by ghettoizing it, by turning it into “stupid people music”, whether the people who listen are stupid or not. They make it outlaw music. And it’s that outlaw aspect that made it perfect for Broken Glass Waltzes. If you set a noir novel in a jazz club, no one would blink. But jazz – although it’s still marginal – has been adopted as a sort of high-cultural marker, which it wasn’t in the days of juke joints. It isn’t outlaw music anymore. If you want music that’s dangerous now, you go for metal or hip-hop, and because I’m of my place and my time, I chose metal.
So, metal. So, Broken Glass Waltzes. I hope you like it.