Heath Lowrance is the genre hopping cult author of The Bastard Hand, Dig Ten Graves and, most recently, City of Heretics, a hardboiled rampage through the underbelly of Memphis. A city he returned to for the latest in Fight Card’s series of pulp boxing novels Bluff City Brawler. You can find Heath blogging over at Psycho Noir.
Here’s the man himself…
The Last Memphis Story
I lived in Memphis for a relatively short time. Five years, that was all. And I left the place almost fifteen years ago. In the big picture, Memphis was a blip on my screen. But it made an indelible impression on the shape of my life, and had an enormous impact on my work as a writer.
I was in my 30’s, was (and still am) a big fan of the cultural scene that took shape there decades before I was born. Blues, rockabilly, you know, all that great stuff. I visited the city as a tourist and decided to stay. Got a job at Sun Studio as a tour guide, met a few folks who lived and breathed music and underground/alt/rockabilly culture, and within a year I knew that city like I knew my own soul.
Every street, every alley, every hidden cemetery and after-hours joint. In an incredibly short period of time, I became part of it.
I still can’t say exactly what it was about Memphis that spoke to me so strongly. There were aspects of the city that were ugly and rancid and tired-out; it was in every respect a very modern place. Street gangs ran rampant on the south side, the Crips and the Bloods had moved in from points north and west, and there were areas of Memphis that, to put it bluntly, didn’t have anything to recommend them.
But there were other areas—some as blatant and obvious as downtown, others tucked away in various dark corners—that sang out the history of the place. If you knew where to look, Memphis wore its old Rebel heart on its sleeve. It was in the architecture, the lay-out of the streets, the old antebellum mansions on Adams Street. But more than that, it was a face that you’d catch glimpses of when you least expected it. It was like an elusive ghost, that’s what it was.
Memphis made me melancholy. It filled me with longing for something I couldn’t define. And it sparked something creative in me that I’d never felt before.
My first novel, THE BASTARD HAND, came from my moody love affair with Memphis and north Mississippi. The narrator, Charlie, was an outsider, and I tried to put all my feelings about the region into his voice.
I went to Memphis again, figuratively, with my FIGHT CARD novella, “Bluff City Brawler”. The protagonist, Tom Riley, was like me again in that he was an outsider in the city, experiencing it all for the first time.
Now, finally, with CITY OF HERETICS, I think I’ve come full-circle on my love affair with Memphis.
A friend of mine who has been to Memphis more recently tells me that the city is not what it was, even fifteen years ago.
A lot of the charm is gone now; its darker and more dangerous and the ghosts of the past have hidden themselves away, one by one.
CITY OF HERETICS features a protagonist named Crowe, a hard man just out of prison and back in Memphis after seven years in the slammer. The city he finds is not the city he left. It has moved on without him and he barely recognizes the place. He’s back for one purpose only: to even the score with his former employers, to take control of his life and sever all ties to the past, even if it means massive amounts of bloodshed.
But Crowe doesn’t count on the landscape shifting around him, doesn’t reckon on a city that has become something else while he was away.
Some of Crowe’s feelings about that come from my own reflections on what Memphis used to be and what it is now.
And for that reason, CITY OF HERETICS is the “Last Memphis Story” for me. I’m not part of it anymore; too much time has gone by and I don’t know it like I used to. In that respect, it doesn’t even exist anymore. If I visited Memphis now, I suspect my experience would be much the same as Crowe’s: I’d be a stranger, out of place, no longer remembered or remembering.
I would just walk away from it. Crowe, though… Crowe won’t be leaving until scores are settled and blood is spilt.