With his first collection of short stories, Love and Other Wounds, Missouri-native Jordan Harper kicks the door of crime fiction off its splintered frame.
Some of these stories almost read like Murder Ballads.
I came from a music writing background, and I’m a major fan of what I call American Death Songs. There’s a strong current of songs in America about outlaws and doom and violence, and it transcends genre. I wanted to suggest that broader picture, the American mythos of the bandit. That’s the context in which I’d like my stories to be taken, adding to that conversation.
What do you find so compelling about doom?
I’ll put this as jovially as I can: I feel like we live in a godless anarchic universe and we are all doomed. I don’t think I’m a pessimist; I’m an optimist in a pessimistic world. I always try to give hope its place in stories; I just don’t think it always wins. I remember reading that a short story should take place on the most important day in a person’s life. For people who live this kind of life, the day they die is going to be that day.
Some of these stories were published before in a different book.
For a long time I was under the assumption that nobody would publish a short story collection. A couple years ago I was bored with my day job and had been publishing short stories in places like Thug Lit and Out of the Gutter. So I decided to put them together myself into a collection called American Death Songs, which served more as a calling card at Hollywood meetings than anything else. Anybody who bought a copy was probably a crime fiction writer I know or a fan of The Mentalist [Harper was a producer and writer for the series].
How have your ideas about conflict developed?
Television is such a concise form that it makes you get to the point very quickly—particularly network television. I feel like I got paid to get my M.F.A. I don’t write a lot of character scenes; I tend to favor the more David Mamet approach of putting conflict in immediately. We live such conflict-free lives now that crime fiction can do for your sense of danger and morality what Superman comic books do for your sense of gravity.
Why’d you leave New York?
Having been broke in both New York and LA, I can tell you that LA is a much better place to be broke. I loved Brooklyn, but I fled New York after experiencing the largest change that’s ever happened inside me one night. It was January and I was getting off the subway. I’d already stepped in somebody’s puke. I was walking up the steps at Court Street, and the wind was digging into me, tunneling down the stairs, and I came face to face with this enormous Jackson Pollack of bum dung against the wall, just—splich—like a shotgun splatter. It was like a twig broke inside me.