Monday 2 October 2017


Canadian author, Dietrich Kalteis author of Zero Avenue joins me for the second time to answer a few questions ....

ZERO AVENUE is your fifth book, please can you tell us a bit about it?

Zero Avenue is a crime novel set to the cranking beat and amphetamine buzz of Vancouver’s early punk scene. The story follows Frankie del Rey who aspires to launch her music career and raise enough money to cut a demo record and take her band Waves of Nausea on the road. To make ends meet she mules drugs for a powerful dealer named Marty Sayles. Things are going well when she gets in a relationship with Johnny Falco, owner of a struggling club on the Downtown Eastside. That is, until Johnny decides to raid one of Marty Sayles’ pot fields. When he gets away with it, Frankie’s bass player finds out about it and figures that was easy enough and rips off another one of Marty Sayles’ fields. When he goes missing, Johnnie and Frankie try to find out what happened. Meanwhile Marty Sayles comes looking for who ripped him off the first time — a trail that leads straight to Johnny and Frankie.

From the blurb, I read - Vancouver, drugs, the early punk scene - dare I ask, semi-autobiographical?

No, not at all. I didn’t move to Vancouver from Toronto until the early nineties, so I missed that early punk scene on the Coast by over a decade, but I loved the music of punk bands back east like the Viletones, the Demics and Teenage Head. And I was aware of some of the Vancouver bands like D.O.A, the Subhumans and the Payolas, but I became more familiar with the rest once I started researching for the book: Pointed Sticks, the Dishrags, Braineaters, Young Canadians, the Modernettes, the Reactors, and more.

Was it a much easier book to write than your last, HOUSE OF BLAZES?

Not easier, just different. House of Blazes was set in 1906 during a time of great corruption amid a terrible natural disaster. I loved how the setting had this western-meets-modern-city feel. Some people rode horses while other drove around in cars. Some carried six guns, others made plans to see Caruso at the opera.

For Zero Avenue, the punk scene had this edge, an us-against-them outlook. It threw a middle finger at the status quo and made a sharp contrast against what some considered a sleepy backwater town at the time. And it made the perfect setting for a crime novel.

How long did it take from conception to completion?

Probably about eight months. It’s hard to be exact since I wrote Zero Avenue at the same time as the one coming after it. I alternated drafts, so when I got to the end of the first draft of one, I’d switch to the other. And so on. The idea was to step away from one and give it a rest while immersing myself in the other.

Did it turn out how you expected or were there any surprises along the way?

I start the same way every time, with a single scene in mind. I don’t exactly know where the story’s going at the time or how it will turn out. Perhaps it’s an unconventional approach, but I like to let the characters develop and guide the way by their own true nature. And ideas pop up as the story grows, and these ideas are better and stronger than anything I could have come up with if I sat down and outlined the whole story beforehand.

Are you already working on your next? Any teasers you can offer us? 

My next one is Poughkeepsie Shuffle which I wrote more or less at the time of Zero Avenue. It’s due out next year. The story takes place in the mid-eighties and centers on a guy named Jeff Nichols. Fresh out of the Don Jail, he gets mixed up in a smuggling ring operating from a used car lot in Toronto’s Junction. The outfit brings guns in from upstate New York, and Jeff’s a guy who’s willing to bend the rules to get on the fast track to riches, a guy who doesn’t let the lessons from past mistakes get in the way of a good score in the future.


I don’t have a favorite. Ride the Lightning was the first, which sprung from a short story I had been working on. The next two were also west coast crime stories set in modern times, and there are scenes in each that I’m very fond of. For The Deadbeat Club, I liked the romance that grew for my pot-growing protagonist amid a turf war. And there was the scene that Triggerfish grew from — the one where the hero takes a date to a secluded bay on his fishing boat right when a Mexican cartel sub loaded with cocaine pops up in the same secluded bay. I was drawn to the craziness of the Barbary Coast for House of Blazes, and the punk scene in Zero Avenue. I enjoyed writing each of them, but I think if I ever write one that becomes a favorite, I might try my hand at turning it into a series.

Is there one you would press upon readers more than the others?

I guess it depends on what the reader prefers: west coast crime, punk rock, or a bit of history. I find when I like an author, it’s more about the voice than the individual story that draws me in and has me reading more of what they wrote.

Any unpublished gems in the bottom drawer?

Yes, there’s a novel that I had been working on. It was a departure for me, more literature, less crime. When I got near the end of the second draft, it just wasn’t working, so I’m giving that one a rest. But, I haven’t given up on it and plan to get back to it down the road.

HOUSE OF BLAZES seems to me the odd man out among the collective because of the setting, San Francisco around the 1906 earthquake - is there a plan to write more historical fiction in the future?

I grew up reading swashbucklers and westerns, and I heard more than my share of war stories growing up. So, there’s also this fascination with different periods in history; and, yes, I will definitely be writing more historical fiction. In fact, the novel I’m working on now is set during the dustbowl days in Kansas in the late 1930s. It’s about a couple trying to save their family farm from drought, depression and debt. And they come up with interesting, although not legal, ways to hang onto their land amid some very tough times.

I recently read a short story from you in Michael Pool's 80s themed anthology FAST WOMEN AND NEON LIGHTS, do you still write a lot of short stories? 

Not as many as I did when I started out. Before I tackled my first novel, I wrote a lot of short stories. It allowed me to experiment with different genres and just find my voice, and discover where my writing fit. It also let me gain some confidence by submitting one short story for publication while working on the next one. Getting a story accepted sure has a way of giving a budding writer a shot of confidence.

Are they a different beast from novels?

The scope of the short story is obviously limited by the word count. Basically there’s barely room to explore more than one character and less time to get into any of their back stories. Also, the stories usually take place in a constricted stretch of time, and there’s also less time to hook the reader. A short story can be a single scene, and it might just hint at a three-act structure. While a novel has time to explore more than one central character and generally goes deeper into the main story, there are also subplots that can be woven in. I think for me, the short story taught me to get straight to the point and drive the pace. And I still love writing them.

Any plans for a collection of your short stuff?

I have given this some thought. Since I started out writing short stories before I tackled a novel, it gave me a chance to explore genres, styles, points of view and above all, to find my voice. And I’ve written so many of them, a collection might offer new readers a good cross-section of my writing and style.

We had a previous chat on the blog back in 2014, your writing schedule was .....

Itʼs very simple: Walk dog, eat, write. Repeat. I do throw in some strong coffee and loud music, writing every morning until noon, often coming back to it later in the day, but morning is the best time for me. Iʼm sharp, focused and more energetic then

.......... is it still the same or has it evolved at all?

It’s basically the same because the routine allows me to jump straight in and get to work. If anything, I get up a little earlier and start right to work. And coffee and music remain constant and just as necessary as ever.

Any under the radar Canadian writers I should be keeping an eye out for?

There are a lot of deserving Canadian writers that could be listed; the danger of course is leaving someone very deserving off such a list. So, I’ll just mention a few I’ve recently read. I don’t consider Owen Laukkanen as flying under the radar, but I read his latest The Forgotten Girls and found it hard to put down. The guy can really pace a story and bring characters to life, not to mention he throws in some nice twists. And there’s the late Marc Strange who gave us four great mysteries that I think deserve a lot more notice than they received: Sucker Punch, Body Blows, Follow Me Down and Woman Chased by Crows, all of which I highly recommend. And Sam Wiebe’s also a rising talent with a great voice, and after his impressive debut Last of the Independents, I’m looking forward to finally getting to his second Invisible Dead and his soon to follow Cut You Down. I also recently read John
McFetridge’s One or the Other and really liked it just as much as his previous seven novels. He’s another Canadian writer who I think deserves more notice.

I asked the same question three years ago - if I check back in a couple of years' time, where do you hope to be?

Working on my tenth.

Thank you very much for inviting for a chat, Col. It’s been a lot of fun.

Bio: Dietrich Kalteis’s fourth novel House of Blazes won this year’s silver medal for historical fiction in the Independent Publishers Awards. Kirkus Reviews hailed it a cinematic adventure. Publishers Weekly called his third novel Triggerfish high-octane action that keeps readers on the edge of their seats. Crimespree Magazine said it satisfies the need for all things dark and leaves the reader breathless. The National Post called The Deadbeat Club a breakout for Kalteis, and his debut novel Ride the Lightning won a bronze medal for best regional fiction in the Independent Publishers Awards, and was hailed as one of Vancouver’s best crime novels. His upcoming novel Zero Avenue will be released in October of this year through his publisher ECW Press. Nearly fifty of his short stories have been published internationally, and his screenplay Between Jobs is a past-finalist in the Los Angeles Screenplay Festival. He lives with his family in West Vancouver, British Columbia and is currently working on his next novel.
Thanks to Dietrich for his time.

He has his website here, blog here, Facebook page here and is on Twitter@dietrichkalteis

Our previous Q+A was in September, 2014 and is here.

Zero Avenue is released today by ECW Press and was featured on the blog yesterday - here.



  1. This is really interesting - thanks, both. I've started stories the same way - with just one scene in mind. Interesting how that one scene can develop. I wish you much success.

    1. Margot, I'm always interested in a "peek behind the curtains" with authors I've enjoyed reading. I bet you all have more in common than not.

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  2. Thanks, Margot, and a big thank you to Col for the Q & A.

  3. Interesting author and interesting interview. House of Blazes sounds good.

    1. Tracy, cheers. I think you might like the setting for House of Blazes, maybe Glen too.

  4. Col – Thanks for the interview. I definitely have to get to Mr. Kalteis’ books soon. Someday, I hope to achieve his schedule (minus the dog walking – we have a big old tabby cat who goes where he wants and does what he wants).

    1. Elgin, good luck in that goal. Glad you enjoyed the interview.