Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Interview with Brian Panowich – Bull Mountain

Please welcome Brian Panowich whose new novel Bull Mountain is called Southern Noir, see why and if he agrees!

ISBN: 13: 9780399173967
G.P. Putnam's Sons
Release Date: 07/07/2015
Length: 304 pp
Buy It: B&N/Amazon/Kobo


From a remarkable new voice in Southern fiction, a multigenerational saga of crime, family, and vengeance.

Clayton Burroughs comes from a long line of outlaws.  For generations, the Burroughs clan has made its home on Bull Mountain in North Georgia, running shine, pot, and meth over six state lines, virtually untouched by the rule of law. To distance himself from his family’s criminal empire, Clayton took the job of sheriff in a neighboring community to keep what peace he can.  But when a federal agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms shows up at Clayton’s office with a plan to shut down the mountain, his hidden agenda will pit brother against brother, test loyalties, and could lead Clayton down a path to self-destruction. 

Read an Excerpt:

“Family,” the old man said to no one.
The word hung in a puff of frozen breath, before dissipating into the early morning fog. Riley Burroughs used that word the same way a master carpenter used a hammer. Sometimes he just gave it a gentle tap to nudge one of his kin toward his way of thinking, but sometimes he used it with all the subtlety of a nine-pound sledge.
The old man sat in a wooden rocker, slowly squeaking it back and forth on the worn and buckled pine slats of the cabin’s front porch. The cabin was one of several hunting shelters his family had built all over Bull Mountain throughout the years. Rye’s Grandfather, Johnson Burroughs, built this one. Rye imagined the elder statesman of the Burroughs clan sitting in that very spot fifty years earlier and wondered if his brow ever got this heavy. He was sure it did.
Rye pulled a pouch of dried tobacco from his coat and rolled a smoke in his lap. Ever since he was a boy, he’d come out here to watch Johnson’s Gap come to life. This early, the sky was a purple bruise. The churning chorus of frogs and crickets was beginning to transition into the scurry of vermin and birdsong—a woodland changing of the guard. On frigid mornings like this one, the fog banked low over the veins of Kudzu like a cotton blanket, so thick you couldn’t see your feet to walk through it. It always made Rye smile to know that the clouds everyone else looked up to see, he looked down on from the other side. He reckoned that must be how God felt.
The sun had already begun to rise behind him, but this gap was always the last place to see it.
The shadow cast down from the Western Ridge kept this section of the mountain almost a full ten degrees cooler than the rest of it. It would be well into the afternoon before the sun could dry up all the dew that made the forest shimmer. Only thin beams of light broke through the heavy canopy of oak trees and Scotch pine. As a kid, Rye used to believe those rays of light warming his skin were the fingers of God, reaching down though the trees to bless this place—to look out for his home. But as a man, he’d grown to know better. The children running underfoot and the womenfolk might have some use for that superstitious nonsense, but Riley reckoned if there was some Sunday school God looking out for the people on this mountain, then the job wouldn’t always fall on him.
The old man sat and smoked.
The sound of tires crunching gravel soured the morning. Rye tamped out his smoke, and watched his younger brother’s old Ford flatbed pull up the drive. Cooper Burroughs climbed out and snatched his rifle from the mount on the back window. Cooper was Riley’s half bother, born nearly sixteen years apart, but you wouldn’t know it by looking at them side by side. They both had the chiseled features of their shared father, Thomas Burroughs, but carried the weight of life on Bull Mountain heavy in the jowls, making both men appear much older then they were. Cooper pulled his hat down over his shaggy red hair and grabbed a backpack from the front seat. Rye watched as Cooper’s nine-year-old son, Gareth, appeared from the passenger side and walked around the truck to join his father. Rye shook his head and breathed out the last of the cold smoke in his lungs.
It’s just like Cooper to bring a buffer when there was a chance of tempers getting flared. He knows I wouldn’t put an ass whuppin’ on him in front of his boy. Too bad he can’t use them smarts when it matters.
Rye stood up and opened his arms. 
“Good morning, brother…and nephew.”
Cooper didn’t answer right away, or bother to hide his distain. He curled up his lip, and spit a slick string of brown tobacco juice at Rye’s feet.
“Save it, Rye, we’ll get to it soon enough. I got to get some food in me before I can stomach listening to your bullshit.”
Cooper wiped the sticky trail of spit from his beard. Rye dug his heels into the gravel, and balled his fists. The boy standing there be damned, he was ready to get this thing done. Gareth stepped between the two men in an attempt to ease the tension.
“Hey, Uncle Rye.”
Another few more seconds of stink-eye, then Rye broke his brother’s stare and squatted down to acknowledge his nephew. “Hey, there, young man,” Rye reached out to hug the boy, but Cooper shuffled his son past him and up the front steps of the cabin. Rye stood, dropped his arms, and tucked his hands into his coat. He took another solemn look out at the Sawtooth oaks and clusters of Maple, and thought again on his grandfather. Picturing him standing there doing the same thing Rye was doing now. Looking at the same trees. Feeling the same ache in his bones. It was going to be a long morning.

“You got to keep stirrin’ those eggs,” Cooper said, and took the wooden spoon from his son. He carved off a chunk of butter and dropped it into the bubbling yellow mixture. “You keep stirrin’ it ‘til it ain’t wet no more. Like this. See?”
“Yessir,” Gareth took the spoon back and did as he was shown.
Cooper fried some fatback and bacon in a cast iron skillet, and then served it up to his son and brother as if that pissing contest outside hadn’t just happened. That’s the way brothers do things. Gareth was the first to speak.
“Deddy said you killed a Grizzly out by this ridge back in the day.”
“He said that, did he?” Rye looked at his brother who sat shoveling eggs and fried meat into his mouth.
“Well, your Deddy ain’t right. It wasn’t no Grizzly. It was a brown bear.”
“Deddy said you killed it with one shot. He said nobody else could’a done that.”
“Well, I don’t reckon that’s true. You could’a took it down just the same.”
“How come you don’t got the head hanging up in here? That would sure be something to see.”
Rye waited for Cooper to answer that, but he didn’t look up from his food.
“Gareth, listen to me real good. That bear? I didn’t want to kill it. I didn’t do it to have something to see, or a story to tell. I killed it so we could make it through the winter. If you kill something on this mountain, you better have a damn good reason. We hunt for necessity up here. Fools hunt for sport. That bear kept us warm and fed us for months. I owed it that much. You understand what I mean by ‘I owed it’?”
“I think so.”
“I mean that I would have dishonored the life it led if I killed it just to have a trophy on that wall. That ain’t our way. We used every bit of it.”
“Even the head?”
“Even the head.”
Cooper piped up. “You hearing what your Uncle is telling you, boy?”
Gareth nodded at his Pa. “Yessir.”
“Good, ‘cause that’s a lesson worth learnin’. Now enough talking.  Eat your breakfast so we can get on with it.”
They finished the rest of the meal in silence. As they ate, Rye studied Gareth’s face. It was perfectly round, with cheeks that stayed rosy no matter the weather, peppered with freckles. His eyes were set deep and narrow like his father’s. He’d have to open them real wide just for someone to tell the color. They were Cooper’s eyes. It was Cooper’s face, without the calico beard, or the grit…or the anger. Rye remembered when his brother looked like that. It felt like a hundred years ago.
When their bellies were full, the two older men grabbed their rifles and stretched cold, morning muscles. Cooper leaned down and adjusted the wool cap on his son’s head to cover the boy’s ears.
“You stay warm, and you stay close,” he said, “You get sick on me, your Mama will have my ass in a sling.”
The boy nodded, but his excitement was setting in and his eyes were fixed on the long guns. His father had let him practice with the .22, to get used to the recoil and feel of the scope, but he wanted to carry a man’s gun.
“Do I get to carry a rifle, Deddy?” he said, scratching at the wool cap where his father had pulled at it.
“Well, I don’t reckon you can shoot anything without one,” Cooper said, and lifted a .223 rifle down from the stone mantle. The gun wasn’t new, but it was heavy and solid. Gareth took the weapon and inspected it like his father had taught him. He made a show of it to prove the lessons had stuck.
 “Let’s go,” he said, and the three of them took to the woods.

Brian Hi! Welcome to The Reading Frenzy. Wow your new novel sounds fabulous.
Tell my readers a bit about it.
Thank you. It’s a multigenerational story about a criminal family in North Georgia that has been slowly building it’s empire over the course of several decades, first by running moonshine, and then by growing marijuana, and eventually transitioning to meth. Each successive generation has controlled the area known as Bull Mountain with an iron fist, until the youngest son of the current regime bucks his heritage to get out of the family business and become the Sheriff of a neighboring community. I don’t have to tell you, that decision comes with major consequences.   

Is it set in the present?
The main story centers around the youngest Burroughs son, Clayton, and the events that happen to him are in the present, but the book spans over seventy years, told from the perspective of the Grandfather, his son, and the sons to follow. The women of Bull Mountain and several other key players are also followed to give the reader a real sense of scope, and how the decisions made by the leaders of one southern family decades ago effect everyone throughout the ages in the region.

From the book blurb Bull Mountain sounds very Appalachian-ish, plus it’s also a real place.
Are you personally familiar with the community you write about?
The Bull Mountain in my novel, as well as the surrounding McFalls County are both fictional, but they are very much rooted in the real foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Northern Georgia. I opted to create a fictional place so I wouldn’t be tied down to any exact geography, but yes, the area these places are based on is very real, and I try to spend as much time there as I can. As far as the real Bull Mountain in Dahlonega, Georgia, in reality it is more or less a mountain bike trail, than a residential piece of land, and it is exactly what I named my mountain after.

Brian from reading on your website I get the feeling that we’ll be seeing more Bull Mountain novels.
Am I on the right track?
Yes. Although the players may change quite a bit. The idea behind this novel was always to let the mountain itself and the landscape of north Georgia be the only recurring character, and to tell stories that intertwined and had connective tissue, but not necessarily involving the same people, or even the same time periods. I’m a huge fan of world building, as opposed to writing a linear series about one person or a recurring group of characters. There are only so many things that I have to say about the key players in this novel, but the mountain itself and the region are chock full of stories to tell.

In your “day” job I understand you’re a firefighter and in fact wrote the novel in the firehouse during down time.
How did your firefighting buddies react to your writing?
Outside of my wife, these guys are my biggest fans, and my best friends. If fact, I’m writing my answers to this interview in the same small upstairs room at my firehouse where I wrote Bull Mountain.  When I told the guys I wanted to write this book, and ran a brief one page plot outline by them, they immediately thought I was on to something and had my back. Every third day, if something wasn’t burning, I was holed up in this room typing away. They were incredibly supportive, and I’m grateful to my entire crew. They were also always there to run ideas by. Sometimes that was a good thing, but for anyone that knows firemen, they can be brutally honest and don’t pull any punches. Even now I can count on them to keep me grounded.

Brian your novel is called Southern Noir.
Do you like that genre description?
Sure. I’m not really the type of reader that reads books by how they are labeled or classified, so I didn’t sit down to intentionally write this book to fit any particular genre, but I understand from a marketing standpoint, we have to call it something. I set out to write a kick ass story that would entertain anyone who liked to read as varied as I do. It’s a crime novel, it’s a mystery, it takes place in the south—since that’s what I’m familiar with—and it can be pretty dark, so I suppose Southern Noir works, but to be honest, I think the familial aspect of the book transcends a lot of the labels that have been put on it. On the other hand, John Connolly called Bull Mountain, Hillbilly Noir, and John Connolly is a genius, so that must be right.  

This is your debut novel, but you have other works noted on your website.
What types of “other works” are they?
I have various short stories floating around in the ether on a few esteemed crime fiction websites, as well as a few genre stories in different small press anthologies I wrote while still trying to experiment and find my voice. I’m very proud of some of those early stories, and some I wish I could have run by an editor first, but there is nothing out there in a longer form. I’d never attempted to write a novel before this one. I wasn’t even sure I could. I’m grateful my friend and agent Nat Sobel prompted me to do so, because here we are.

Brian congratulations on all the early reviews, including a glowing review from Kirkus that says “Panowich deftly delves into “something deeper than bone” between fathers and sons, between the land and it’s people.” And Booklist says “Reminiscent of John Steinbeck…”
If you had to compare yourself to another author who would it be?
That’s a loaded question. My favorite authors are Elmore Leonard, John Connolly, and Wiley Cash, but I would never compare myself to them. They are brilliant writers, and I still wake up every morning finding it hard to believe something I wrote is being grouped in with such a talented group of creators. When Booklist compared my work to Steinbeck, I was floored. It was an incredible moment for me that I will always be grateful for, but it was also very daunting. John Steinbeck is practically a mythical figure to a guy like me, and it was humbling to say the least. I think all artists are composites of their influences until they find the right balance and their voice becomes their own. I also think as a writer, I’ll never stop trying to improve that voice and make it more unique to me.

So what’s your personal take on reviews, like them, love them, hate them, read them all, read none?
I’m new to this, so of course I can’t help but read my reviews. I hope that dwindles, because it can become obsessive, but I’ve found it to be a mixed bag. I think a great review can cause your entire day to be great, but a bad one can have the opposite effect. I try to lengthen the effect of the former, and shrink the effect of the latter. I remember before the Internet, when I was younger and browsing bookstores or thrift shops looking for something to read, I’d read the flap summary. If that sold me, I’d take a shot at it. If I didn’t like it, I’d give it to someone who I thought might. If I did like it, I’d loan it to someone I hoped would give it back. I wish we could revert back to that.

Are you a reader?
What type of read do you enjoy?
My reading varies as much as my musical taste. I love crime novels, southern lit, and well done suspenseful thrillers, but I also like supernatural stuff like John Connolly’s Charlie Parker Books, or Jonathan Maberry’s Joe Ledger series. I also am a comic book junkie and devour graphic novels constantly. Right now, I’m catching up on my Classics. I just started Oil! By Upton Sinclair.

Brian thanks so much for taking the time to answer these questions and good luck with the novel.
You’re welcome. Thank you.

Will you be touring with the release?
Yes, the kind folks at G. P. Putnam’s Sons were gracious enough to send me out on the road this summer to meet all the wonderful independent booksellers that are responsible for letting me do this whole writing thing. I can’t wait to meet not only them, but also all the avid readers out there. The tour kicks off on 7/7/15 and all the details of when and where I’ll be can be found right here.

Connect with Brian - Website - Facebook - Twitter

Brian is the author of Bull Mountain, a southern crime saga coming 7/7/15 from Putnam Books. He has several stories available in print and online collections. Two of his stories, "If I Ever Get Off This Mountain" and "Coming Down The Mountain", were nominated for a Spinetingler award in 2013. He is currently a firefighter in East Georgia, living with his wife and four children. Bull Mountain is his first novel.

Today's Gonereading item is:
Car window decals
proudly display that you're a
reading family this summer.
Click HERE for the buy page


  1. Aw that's so awesome that his buddies have his back and encourage him. Very cool. And whoa what a big of rebellion the hero had.

    1. Yeah I thought so too Anna, Hey GF thanks for the comment ;)

  2. I love the opening line in the overview, it sounds fantastic!

  3. Fantastic interview I love that his buddies support him. The setting and mult-generation crime family intrigues me. Thanks for sharing

  4. Fantastic interview I love that his buddies support him. The setting and mult-generation crime family intrigues me. Thanks for sharing

    1. Thanks Kim, yeah I'm really glad the guys rallied around him