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What can't he do? "Drive" writer James Sallis goes in-depth

James Sallis, harmonicat and author.
James Sallis, harmonicat and author.
Courtesy James Sallis/Three Legged Dog

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UPDATE: "Drive" opens Friday, September 16. Here's the Off-Ramp interview with the man who wrote the novella the movie's based on. Translator of French obscurata, poet, sci-fi author and editor, bluegrass musician, noir novelist, musicologist, Friend of Haefele. James Sallis, writer for almost 50 years, is finally a bit famous because he wrote the novel "Drive," which the new Ryan Gosling movie is based on. In a special Off-Ramp podcast, KPCC's John Rabe talked with Sallis about his long career.

James Sallis says a few years ago, long before Drive drew such advance praise at this year's Cannes, he was flying back from Europe with his wife after a book festival. "I was revered and I was asked very intelligent questions, and everyone treated me like I mattered," Sallis remembered. "Halfway through the flight, my wife, Karen, leans over and she says, 'You know, with every mile we go, you're getting less and less important.'" Sallis appreciates the new attention, but it's not like he was moping before Hollywood optioned Drive. He's been too busy writing. Back in the 1960s, he wrote for an edited the English sci-fi magazine New Worlds, and he can argue the roots of modern French poetry. He told me in an email that he's written "a truckload of poetry, a hundred short stories, and three volumes of musicology." Plus, he wrote the definitive biography of Chester Himes, who wrote the Harlem Detective novels and was also revered in France. As if that weren't enough, Sallis is in a band, Three Legged Dog. That's him on the right, with banjo.

Sallis says Drive, starring Ryan Gosling and directed by Nicolas Winding Refen, is the best noir picture he's seen. He says the filmmakers treated his book well, making necessary changes but working to stay close to the book. Driver, the main character in the book, is a bit of a sociopath, with some humanity. Sallis says he's more violent in the movie. "The violence in the film bothered me a bit. I shouldn't say it bothered me. It affected me, and it usually doesn't." Download our special Off-Ramp  podcast, and you'll also discover Sallis's connection to Off-Ramp's resident literary and arts correspondent, Marc Haefele.