Dave Warner, creative powerhouse. He’s just come out with a new crime thriller, Summer of Blood, set in sixties San Francisco; and he has a new album out. For Warner, setting his latest novel in a city and a time that had immense influence on him as a wide eyed suburban lad made perfect sense.
Dave chats to The Starfish:
Dave congrats on the latest book, Summer of Blood. How many books have you written?
Overall, about 20 books; this is the 12th of what I’d call ‘adult crime’ novels.
It’s set in California?
Yes, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, set in 1967, the Summer of Love, hence the play on words, the summer of blood. Researching this book was a lot of fun.
How old were you then?
I was 13, and going to Christian Brothers college in Perth. Where you got expelled if your hair even touched your collar. Complete opposite of what it would have been like in Hayt-Ashbury: free love, flower power, and the music of Frank Zappa and Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison.
Were you exposed to that music as a kid?
Absolutely. My friends and I – and I’ve dedicated the book to a couple of my garage band mates – we used to just pore through everything we could get. In those days there was a lag before you got the records. They were never played on the radio in Australia. The way you’d find out was through magazines, like Circus, Hullabaloo. You’d start to read about these bands before you ever heard their music. So you’d read about Frank Zappa or The Doors and think, “these sound really interesting.” And a few months later when the first copies of these albums hit, you’d rush out and get the albums.
How would a pipsqueak at 13 afford it?
You’d save up your pocket money, or do whatever. And we couldn’t all afford to get all the albums so maybe, I’d get Strawberry Alarm Clock and my friend would get The Blues Magoos and someone else would get Blue Cheer and someone else would get Hendrix. So you’d listen to each other’s albums and borrow them. And try and keep them in pristine nick. You always had someone who didn’t – who left your album in the back of the car and the vinyl got warped!
Did that make you think then, I want to be a singer, I want to do this?
Absolutely. The weird thing is, when I was about 12, we had to fill in a thing at school: “what do you want to do in life?” I put that I wanted to be a writer because I loved reading books and making up stories in my head. But I knew I couldn’t be a writer, even at 13 or 14. I thought, well I can’t be a writer until much later ,when I’ve got some life experience. But what you could do, was get together with your friends and play music.
Albeit very roughly, the most basic three chord songs or blues riff or something. We could get together and make songs up.
So, it was a way, for whatever that creative urge was, “I want to be part of this,” that you could do it through music. And those two loves have stayed with me. And they kind of blend in this book!
It’s not the first book in which you’ve blended music as well?
Certainly the 2019 one, River of Salt, in which a hitman from Philadelphia plays in a surf band. And I actually wrote a song. Because I got to a part in that book where I wanted to describe a scene. And I had to kind of almost hear the song in my head. So I wrote the song. And then a week after the book was published, I thought, “you’re an idiot, I should have recorded this.” And made it a bit of extra fun. So I’ve learned this time; there is song I’ve already done, and recorded to go with Summer Of Blood.
When the book launches will you be performing the song?
Yes, I will be. My band and I have learned three or four songs that are specific to this area like I Had Too Much To Dream Last Night, The Electric Prunes, and Incense and Peppermint, Strawberry Alarm Clock.
Do you have found there’s much crossover between your book fans and music fans?
There’s definite crossover. A lot of the people probably who read my books were originally music fans. I’ve still got more music fans I think, than book fans, in terms of what I call “fans.” Most of my readers, you never get the opportunity as an author to get engage with. I don’t. It’s not like I get invited to hundreds of literary festivals! And very few write to you or communicate with you in that way. So the books, kind of exist in this world where I don’t have one on one communication. Whereas with music, you’ve got much more one on one with the audience. But I certainly know a lot of my music people read my books and come and buy my books. I’m not quite sure how many of my book people cross over to the music. I’m assuming much less.
What inspired you to set this story in California?
I thought it would be a great idea to write a story set in San Francisco in 1967, with that music scene, with a crime story in there. And since I did Big Bad Blood, my second crime novel, set in Sydney in 1965 – probably the most complex, plot-wise, of my books – I’ve always wanted to bring back the two Australian cops from that story into this American story.
You’re quite prolific. Do you find it’s taking less time to write books now?
No! Before, I could sit down for an eight hour stretch and write. Now, I just can’t do that!
Why not? You just don’t want to be hunched over the computer for ages at a time?
When I was younger, I could keep much greater focus, intense focus, for much longer. Now I just get more mentally tired and need a break!
I used to writing a book every six to nine books. Fremantle Press tends to release them every 12 to 15 months. So I’m always OK! I’ve already finished the next book that will come out of this one. And the first draft of another one.
That’s amazing. And you’ve won the Ned Kelly crime award. What was that one for?
That was for Before It Breaks, the first one I set in The Kimberley.
Is there a reader’s favourite?
No. A lot of people come out and tell me their favourite was City Of Light, my first book. So that’s a bit depressing because you think, ooh maybe I haven’t got better since then! I think a lot love that character Snowy Lane, who I’ve used in two books. Personally, I really liked Big Bad Blood, Though it wasn’t one of my biggest sellers, it was complex and I was very satisfied with that story. People who liked that, they loved it more than any of the others.
When you sit down to write a crime mystery, do you know in advance whodunit?
I have a good idea where I’m heading overall. Probably the thing that changes most is the very end. Sometimes I get to that place and I think, “that’s the sort of thing other crime writers would do.” So I can change the ending sometimes and who the baddie is.
So what’s next for you?
I’ve just written a screenplay which I want to adapt and turn it into a stage musical. But loads of different things. And I’ve just recorded a new album, Dirty Windscreens, Heartache, And Beer. And I’ve got a couple of gigs with The Suburbs coming up. Hope to be back in Perth next year.
Summer Of Blood, Fremantle Press, is out now.