Friday, July 29, 2011

V.K. Scott on writing influences

(V.K. is author of the well-written inaugural release DEATH BEFORE SWINE).

How Mystery Found Me
By V.K. Scott

It all started with a song.

When I was sixteen years old, I stumbled onto the music of John Zorn. Commonly described as a jazz artist, Zorn’s compositions range from experimental to klezmer to classical string trios to... Well, you get the idea. The guy’s eclectic.

Looking to expand my musical horizons, I picked up an album titled Spillane at my local CD store (remember those?) with the money I’d earned working the summer at Fry’s. I took it home and put it in my stereo.

My ears were happy. Clocking in at 25 minutes, “Spillane” was a musical journey through seedy nightclubs and rain-slicked alleys. Saxophone riffs faded into the sound of echoed footsteps and thunder. A man’s deep voice narrated: “I feel like I just smoked a deck of cigarettes and forgot to blow out the smoke... There are only so many ways a woman can undress. I thought I’d seen them all.” It sounded like, well, the soundtrack to a fast-moving film noir.

Now, the music won’t be to everyone’s taste (probably not even most everyone). But that’s not the point. The point is this: I read the liner notes and discovered that “Spillane” was, in fact, an homage to writer Mickey Spillane.

Mickey who?

I dug more and found “I, the Jury,” at a used bookstore. After knocking through it in a few days, I was hooked for life.

Mystery had found me.

I do think the seeds of my mystery love had been planted earlier, in reading the Encyclopedia Brown books and watching Columbo with my father.

But “Spillane,” the composition, and Spillane, the writer, were what did me in. It wasn’t so much the whodunit, or even the “howdunit” either. It was the atmosphere, the feel of slithering through a world gone wrong. And maybe, if the protagonist was smart enough, and quick enough, he’d live to fix a small part of it… at least until the next book.

Fast forward another decade and a half. My first book, Death Before Swine, is now out. I’ll give you three guesses what the genre is. It certainly isn’t hardboiled like Spillane (I’ve come to like my mysteries a least a shade or two lighter than noir), but the influence is still there, lurking in the background.

When I think back on it all, the whole series of events serves as a reminder to follow life where it leads me. Whether it’s to new music, new books, or the decision to self-publish, I try to remember not to be afraid of change.

So that’s how I found my genre. How did you find yours? Was it as simple as picking up a book with a neat-looking cover, or was your path more twisted, like mine? If you’re not a writer, how did you find your favorite genre to read?

For updates on V.K. Scott and his writing, you can read his blog at or follow him on Twitter at


Brenda said...

Seems like I started with Creepy(?) comic books, then Nancy Drew, and of course, Columbo. Got hooked on Jim Thompson. Have you or Scott ever read any Megan Abbott? Talk about atmosphere! Don't know how she does it.

author Scott Nicholson said...

Hmm need to try some Abbott! I have heard the name. You don't see many female Jim Thompson fans!

V.K. Scott said...


Glad to see another Columbo lover! I actually haven't read any Megan Abbott. Do you have a recommendation on which book to start with?

Brenda said...

My favorite Megan Abbott novel so far is Bury Me Deep. You'll see what I mean about atmosphere. I now see several "new" Abbott books I need to read. And, Scott, Thompson's treatment of women is pretty brutal in his books, but once I read some Thompson biographies, I saw where he may have gotten a tarnished view. But, Thompson's stories are incredible.

David Gaughran said...

I've always been tempted to end a story with "Just one more thing..."

I loved the story of how you found your genre. Mine is equally convoluted. Up to the end of my teens I read mostly F with some SF on the side. My favorite football player was interviewed before an important match and he spoke about the profound influence that philosophy had on his life.

I was curious, and my Dad had a huge library, and I asked him if he had any philosophy books. I think he was worried (it was just coming up to the time when I had to pick my major) and he gave me "The Phenomenon of Man" Pierre Teilhard de Chardin which is pretty much the densest most unreadable philosophy book you can give a newbie.

I got about half-way through before I discovered a dime store guide called "Philosophy Made Simple". That switched on something in my brain, and I made the last minute decision to switch majors to Philosphy, much to the consternation of my parents.

I then went through a phase of reading a lot of the classics, always more attracted to work set in exotic places. Next came more modern stuff like Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and through him, Louis de Bernieres.

That instilled a permanent love for all things South American, so it was only a matter of time before I hopped on a plane and went to check the place out myself, and ended up writing my first book about a story from the independence wars.

It's funny, I never linked up the sequence of events until I read your story.

Oh, and now I want to check out John Zorn and Spillane too.

author Scott Nicholson said...

Hi David, thanks for dropping by--it's funny to look back on all the minor detours that get us where we are!

V.K. Scott said...


Thanks for sharing your story! Like I said, I'm always fascinated by the random breadcrumb trails we follow through life.

If you're really interested in Zorn, you may want to start with a few of his "easier" albums. Some of his experimental work gets too crazy for even my ears.

I'd recommend "Filmworks XIII: Invitation to a Suicide" for a great film soundtrack, and "Masada Live at Tonic 2001" for jazz with Jewish musical influences.

David Gaughran said...

Thanks VK, I'll check those out. I'm listening to a lot at the moment, a listener funded jazz station out of New Orleans, who also play some great blues, cajun, all sorts.

David Gaughran said...


What were the chances that footballer + microphone = profound philosophical discourse?

Anonymous said...

It was very interesting to read about this in your article. blood pressure