Max McBride is a lawyer, novelist, playwright, and poet. He writes. He reads. He works. The bulk of his time is spent at the office. He will never read all the books by his bed or watch all the shows saved on his DVR. Max enjoys art, design, college basketball, ballet, modern dance, and sacred music. Bob Dylan, Shakespeare, Rumi, and Yeats are just a few of the greats who have had an impact on him. His book Mink Eyes, a novel he calls “white noir,” and Tenebrae, a collection of poetry centered around the death of his wife (but also including several snapshots of growing up Irish in America) are both available for purchase in print and digital form from Amazon, B&N, and bookstores nationwide, as well as directly from the author. McBride is also a social commentator of sorts, and his occasional observations about culture, travel, and—when he can’t hold it in any longer—politics can be found on his website: www.Max2theMax.com.
October 1986—the tarnished heart of the “Greed Is Good” decade. Private detective Peter O’Keefe is a physically scarred and emotionally battered Vietnam vet. Hired by his childhood best friend, ace attorney Mike Harrigan, O’Keefe investigates what appears to be merely a rinky-dink mink farm Ponzi scheme in the Missouri Ozarks. Instead, O’Keefe finds himself snared in a vicious web of money laundering, cocaine smuggling, and murder—woven by a mysterious mobster known as “Mr. Canada.” Also caught in Mr. Canada’s web is the exquisite Tag Parker, who might be the girl of O’Keefe’s dreams—or his nightmares. Mink Eyes weaves murder, addiction, obsession, sex, and redemption into a fast-paced, compelling detective novel that also brings in themes of duty, fatherhood, friendship and love. Peter O’Keefe is a reluctant hero who struggles every day to choose in favor of life over death.
Who are your influences?
I am able to say who my “inspirations” or “admirations” are, but I am reluctant to call them “influences” because they all wrote so differently, and so much better, than I do. In poetry and drama (and everything else), Shakespeare above all. In poetry, Wordsworth and especially Yeats. In prose, Dickens, Turgenev, Joyce, Fitzgerald, Faulkner, Salinger, Donleavy, Joyce Cary, Simone Weil, Joseph Campbell, Robert Stone, E.L. Doctorow. In detective fiction, Chandler and the MacDonalds (Ross and John D) showed me how good it could be, and Elmore Leonard showed me not only how good but how funny it could be and how ordinary people could be its heroes.
When did you begin writing?
Since high school I have felt the strong and persistent “call” to “write.” But, due to an unfortunate combination of not knowing how and where to enter and not having enough confidence in my abilities to take the risk of plunging into it as a full-time vocation, I instead pursued a career in academia and then in law, both of which involved a lot of writing, creative in its own way but not of the imaginative variety. Yet I have periodically managed to find enough time to actually finish a creative writing project. I have written several plays, one of which received a staged reading at a theatre in NYC, but it didn’t go anywhere from there. I have written a few short stories that I have just kept in a drawer, an occasional poem, and two other plays.
Finally, the “call” was just too strong to resist any longer, and, while continuing a very busy legal practice, I wrote and have now published, a novel called Mink Eyes and a book of poetry called Tenebrae.
How do you come up with your stories, characters, character names, POV, etc?
The milieu of Mink Eyes—lawyers and courts and bankers and financial manipulations, both legal and otherwise–is one I have worked in all my life, but the plot itself is pretty much pure imagination (although I did get involved with a failed mink farm once, although it was far less exciting than the events portrayed in the novel), which I worked out very deliberately, knowing how I wanted it to end but working hard to figure out the best way to achieve that end and asking myself at every step—is this realistic, could it really happen in the real world? It’s easy enough to have a message but so much harder to embody it in believable characters, situations, and outcomes. I am not sure where the names of my characters come from; they often change and more than once, as the writing proceeds. The main characters are in my mind from the start although some good ones “pop up” as the plot moves along, and characters have their own way of evolving as the book evolves. As for POV, although it can be very tricky, I like the omniscient with fairly frequent changes in POV.
Tell me about your favorite scene in your novel.
That’s a really hard one, and I am afraid to give too much away, but three stand out in my mind as I answer this—the Halloween scene, the interview with Ullman, and the last chapter of the book.
Can you tell us a little about your writing philosophy?
Make it interesting, with main characters that people will care about; make it worthwhile in terms of themes and message; and make it real—believable in every way--believable characters with believable reactions, thinking and saying believable things, in believable situations with believable outcomes.
Have you ever tried writing in any other genres?
A screenplay of Mink Eyes. I have written several plays, in fact my original efforts were all plays, one of which has enjoyed a staged reading in New York, and several of which I still hope to get produced. Also a few short stories, no publications.
I have also recently published a book of poetry, Tenebrae. The lead poem in the collection, Tenebrae: A Memoir of Love & Death, is an interlocking chain of 15 verse and prose poems that amount to a single narrative of my wife’s final sickness, her life under a death sentence, and her death itself, a hero’s journey (heroine’s in this case) if there ever was one and one that we all are fated to take. My effort in poetry is to be as clear and direct as possible, but to use poetic techniques of concision, rhythm (and even rhyme occasionally, violating the contemporary notion that rhyme is puerile), and relatively simple, but hopefully exalted, language to reach as personal and as deep an emotional level as I can. As in Mink Eyes, I try to convey the way that the foundation literature of the West—myths and fairy tales—are still with us and how the grand rituals of Western religion, even emptied of their original theological content, still can connect us with the sacred in our everyday lives.
Do you have any interesting writing-related anecdotes to share?
Writing itself is pretty uninteresting really. Often painful too. Best I can come up with is this bit of irony: One of my specialties as a lawyer is business bankruptcy. Mink Eyes was accepted by a publisher that was unable to complete the publication because it had to file bankruptcy. The world can give with one hand and take away with the other.