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BRUTAL & STRANGE is an anthology with crime fiction stories inspired by Elvis Costello songs. Editor Jim Fusilli rounded up some of the best in the genre like Meg Gardiner, George Pelicanos, and Peter Blauner. Jim was kind enough to take some questions about the book and artist who inspired it.

SCOTT MONTGOMERY: What made you think Elvis Costello would inspire strong fiction? 

JIM FUSILLI: Elvis is the rare contemporary composer who writes fully formed stories.  When he does, his lyrics have all the elements of crime fiction:  vivid setting, clearly delineated characters, a disruptive act and a moral dilemma.

S.M: As a writer what do you admire about the lyrics in his work?

J.F.: He’s a storyteller.  He trusts his ability to tell a story in any genre of music.  He has a strong point of view and isn’t afraid to assume unpopular positions.  His wordplay is brilliant.  He can be very funny and very disturbing, even within the same song

S.M.: While they may have not have always worked directly from the song's lyrics, it felt that most of the authors captured the vibe of the tune they chose. Did you have any mandate in how the authors had to approach their stories?

J.F.: When I edit these types of anthologies and serial thrillers, my position is always to let the authors write what they choose to write.  If you pick authors you trust, that works well.  The only issue I can recall is that I wanted to be sure we had Elvis’ obscurities as well as his hits.   That happened naturally.  Most of the contributors were very familiar with his body of work.

S.M.: What made you choose Almost Blue for your story?

J.F.: The atmosphere.  It’s something out of the past – the post-war years.  It reminds me of West Coast jazz of the period; I make direct reference to that sound in my story.  There are two lines in the lyrics that caught my attention:  “There’s a girl here and she’s almost you” and “There’s a part of me that’s always true.”

S.M.: Which story surprised you the most in how it used its song title?

J.F.: I’d hate to pick one.  Mary Anna Evans approached “Watching the Detectives” in an unexpected way.  George Pelecanos gave “Motel Matches” a surprising twist that he concealed beautifully.  Catriona McPherson’s “Tramp the Dirt Down” is a sinister delight.  I could go on and on.

S.M.: What are your top three Elvis Costello songs?

J.F,: “Stranger in the House,” “You Turned to Me,” “They’re Not Laughing at Me Now.”  Though I might name three others in a day or two…


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