As the temperature dips, there is no better time to curl up with a piano-wire-taut pageturner. Which is why we are so excited to welcome award-winning author Dietrich Kalteis as our October 2020 writer-in-residence here at Open Book. With eight novels and over 50 published short stories, he's been called "the heir-apparent to Elmore Leonard" for his smart, intricately plotted, witty storytelling.
His newest book, Cradle of the Deep (ECW Press) keeps readers guessing with sharp twists and cinematic, fascinating characters. Like Bobbi and Denny, who join forces to rob aging gangster "Maddog" Palmieri. When Maddog discovers the pair's betrayal, he sends a ruthless killer after them, kicking off a chase that spans from British Columbia to the wilds of Alaska.
We're excited to introduce Dietrich as we discuss Cradle of the Deep with him today, and we look forward to a month of original writing from him on our writer-in-residence page. Get to know Dietrich here as he tells us about the first scenes that came to him for the novel, the tattoo that inspired the book's title, and why not all research should make it into the final pages.
And stay tuned for his new writing all through October on Open Book!
Do you remember how your first started this novel or the very first bit of writing you did for it?
Cradle of the Deep started as some loose ideas that drifted together. There’s a scene at the beginning where the two protagonists, Bobbi and Denny, bump into each other in the middle of the night, each trying to rob the same gangster’s house. This originally started out as a short story, but I felt there was more story that wanted to be told. For Bobbi it’s the crime boss she’s been seeing, a thrill at first, but now she’s seeing him as a total bore. Discovering where he hides his stash of cash, she starts getting ideas. For Denny, it’s revenge for being sacked as the crime boss’s driver — fired in the middle of a downtown street — kicked out of the car while beautiful Bobbi sat watching from the back seat. Denny had heard rumours that the old guy kept a lot of cash hidden in his big house, and he gets ideas of his own.
Another scene that popped up early on was about a stolen car being chased by local mounties in a blizzard and abandoned on the thin ice of a lake by a small northern town. I pictured the car thieves getting away in the storm, and the locals at the bingo hall watching it out there the next day, betting on the exact time it would fall through the ice.
Other ideas showed up like the naked people in Whistler, a forgotten town in Alaska where locals shoot at anyone speeding down the main drag, and a stoned war vet flying over the hinterland in a water bomber. Other pieces kept showing up and the story came together.
I was in Oakland as I started work on the early chapters, and I saw a piece of art depicting tattoos of ancient mariners. One of the images had the words "In the Cradle of the Deep" woven around an anchor and chain. I loved the phrase and knew I had my title.
How did you choose the setting of your novel? What connection, if any, did you have to the setting when you began writing?
Well, I live in Vancouver, and it seemed a good place to start, and 1973 was the right timeframe. As our protagonists fled the gangster’s house with his cash and Cadillac, they just kept driving north, so they chose the rest of the settings. I didn’t know where they were going, they just kept driving, and I just followed and kept typing. They ran out of road at the fictional town of Ripley, with Killik on the Alaska side. Towns loosely based on Stewart on the Canadian border, and Hyder just inside Alaska.
Did the ending of your novel change at all through your drafts? If so, how?
You can probably guess from my approach that I had no idea about the ending when I started writing. I liked that Bobbi and Denny were unwitting and on the run, getting away from a madman who sends killers after them, which lent tension, humour, and a good pace from the beginning right to the last page.
Did you find yourself having a "favourite" amongst your characters? If so, who was it and why?
I love all my characters, even the nasty ones, of which there are plenty in the novel. Choosing a favourite would be like admitting to having a favourite child.
If you had to describe your book in one sentence, what would you say?
Well, the way it’s coined on the back cover certainly sums it up. "Getting into bed with the wrong guy can get you killed."
Did you do any specific research for this novel? Tell us a bit about that process.
I was familiar with certain locations and others I had to do some digging. I double checked facts, and triple checked anything I googled. The hard part was deciding what to keep and what to toss. When researching for a book, I always end up with far more than I can use, and I know if I include too much, I risk dragging the story and boring the reader, and that would be the worst crime of all.
Did you celebrate finishing your final draft or any other milestones during the writing process? If so, how?
I’m not sure it’s celebrating, but I feel good when I’m through the final draft, and I feel it’s polished, done and ready to send to my publisher. And getting an acceptance letter in return, now that’s always something to celebrate.
Dietrich Kalteis is the award-winning author of Ride the Lightning (bronze medal winner, 2015 Independent Publisher Book Awards, for best regional fiction), The Deadbeat Club, Triggerfish, House of Blazes (silver medal winner, 2017 Independent Publisher Book Awards, for best historical fiction), Zero Avenue, Poughkeepsie Shuffle, and his latest Call Down the Thunder. 50 of his short stories have been published internationally, and he lives with his family on Canada’s west coast.
Author photo credit: Andrea Kalteis