HOTSEAT- Not shallow: 'Deepwater' author makes 'Tracks'

When the Hook last caught up with Charlottesville-based novelist Matthew F. Jones, the film adaptation of his deeply layered psychological thriller, Deepwater, was making its regional debut at the Virginia Film Festival (October 27, 2005: "In Deep: Local writer goes big-time").

But despite a good review from Variety, the low-budget Deepwater never made it past the art-house scene.

"I understood from the start that with a small-budget film it would be an uphill battle," says Jones. "Obviously I would have loved a big theatrical release."

Deepwater was released on DVD in August, and Jones has returned to penning "literary noir," as The Washington Post calls his fiction. His sixth novel– the tense, gritty Boot Tracks (Europa Editions)– debuted May 15 to rave reviews from The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Washington Post, and Entertainment Weekly.

Jones says Boot Tracks was inspired by an ex-inmate the author know. "Talking with him," Jones says, "I started to get a feel for what his life might be. Eventually I got a picture in my mind of Charlie Rankin [the protagonist of Boot Tracks] who became an entirely different guy than the real guy.

"Then I saw Charlie walking into a flea-bag motel on his first day on the outside and, from there, Charlie, in a strange way, told me the rest." 

Although Jones has another novel partially finished, he put it on hold for the last few months while he transformed his 1996 novel, A Single Shot, into a screenplay. The story of a hapless poacher who accidentally shoots and kills a 15-year-old girl– who, to complicate matters, is carrying $100,000 in cash– received wide critical acclaim.  

The L.A. Times declared it "the finest portrait of guilt since Crime and Punishment," People termed it "part Crime and Punishment, part Deliverance, and all white-knuckle suspense," and Christopher Lehman Haupt of The New York Times said it was "a harrowing literary thriller... a powerful blend of love and violence, of the grotesque and the tender."

The novel has been optioned many times over the last decade, and two other screenwriters took stabs at adapting it. Jones, who had approval over the finished script, was dissatisfied with both versions. Finally, Halcyon Entertainment, a British production company that had been trying to obtain the rights to the book for years, hired Jones himself to do the honors. 

"I was a little hesitant at first because I wasn't sure if I could write a screenplay," Jones reveals, "but then I couldn't pass up the opportunity to try to adapt my own vision."

Age: (no answer)

Why here? To escape the northeast winters 

What's worst about living here? There aren't enough shoulders on the roads. It makes bicycling a high-risk sport. 

Favorite hangout? Somewhere outdoors and quiet

Most overrated virtue? Unquestioned loyalty 

People would be surprised to know: I don't always wear a hat. 

What would you change about yourself? I'd be more punctual. 

Proudest accomplishment? Working hard every day at what I believe I'm supposed to be doing.

People find most annoying about you: My reclusive tendencies 

Whom do you admire? Anybody who tries to do the best with what they were given. 

Favorite book? To Kill a Mockingbird 

Subject that causes you to rant? Our current administration

Biggest 21st-century thrill? I'm still waiting for it. 

Biggest 21st-century creep-out? Reality shows 

What do you drive? Saab 900 turbo

In your car CD player right now: John Lee Hooker's Best of Friends 

Next journey? Spain. 

Most trouble you've ever gotten in? I'm gonna plead the Fifth....

Regret: I quit taking piano lessons when I was 12 and never started up again.

Favorite comfort food: Grape Nuts 

Always in your refrigerator: Vanilla yogurt 

Must-see TV: The Sopranos 

Favorite cartoon: Blondie

Describe a perfect day. Several hours of productive writing, a seven-mile run, dinner with my wife and son, a good book 

Walter Mitty fantasy: Being the first 5'9" white shooting guard to start for the New York Knicks

Who'd play you in the movie? Jack Nicholson 

Most embarrassing moment? Getting lost on the way to a good friend's wedding, then showing up at the wrong church and ceremony

Best advice you ever got? Don't listen to everything the old folks tell you; follow your own path.

Favorite bumper sticker? I prefer unadorned bumpers.

Matthew Jones