Five Questions
with Tom Pitts

Tom Pitts received his education on the streets of San Francisco. He remains there, working, writing, and trying to survive. He is the author of American Static (Down & Out Books), Hustle (Down & Out Books) and the novellas Piggyback (Snubnose Press) and Knuckleball (Shotgun Honey). He sat down with us for five questions about life, work, and how idle hands are the devil’s workshop. 

• • •

Your books are like a scenic tour of the noir world, involving blackmail, drugs, politics, murder, and even baseball. Your newest, “American Static,” is no different. How do you personally define “noir”? (I feel like it’s a nebulous term in a lot of ways, but also one that people tend to abuse — “future noir!” “underwater noir!” “clown noir!” — as a shorthand for, “My book has a bit of darkness or weirdness in it.”)

It’s true. The term has been watered down. It’s also a red flag for tropes. If you’re searching around for a movie or book, the word “noir” brings no promise of quality, or at least what I look for in a crime tale. If I’m cornered, I prefer to go with “crime thriller” when describing my own stuff. Neo-noir works nicely, too. I lean on the James Ellroy’s definition of noir a lot: The lead starts out fucked and things get worse from there. And for me, there has to be a ring of truth to it, a feeling like it could really happen.  That’s the feel I look for in noir, a sense that characters react the way people really would.

You’ve endured in the crime-fiction industry for quite some time. For every author, it’s often a hard road in terms of getting the word out about your latest books. What techniques have worked for you? 

It’s evolved, or changed at least. It used to be Facebook, right? I’m convinced we’ll look back on the years 2012 to 2016 and see it as a golden age of social media. A time when authors—and a lot of different artists—could get the word out on their own. There was a lot of interaction and a feeling of community. For whatever reason, post-election internet has flattened out. You can blame too much politics, not enough politics, whatever, but it feels like people don’t really want that same interaction. The population of sites like Facebook is high, but participation is low. I think that’s why Instagram is so popular right now. There’s almost no interaction. I rely on publicists a lot more now, but that’s not because my star has risen, it’s because of the de-evolution of social media.  I have to think about the ways that I find out about books I want to read. And it’s reviews, stumbling across websites, Amazon, and good old word-of-mouth. That’s still the best way. Word of mouth.

What kind of research do you do for your books? You obviously have your lingo down, and your knowledge of how down-and-outers tick. 

That’s about it. A lifetime of research in the gutter, unfortunately. I think the trick sometimes is to shape your narrative around what knowledge you have. For instance, if you have a scene with police on their radios and you’re not certain of their numbered codes or ranks (which sometimes vary from department to department), you may have to have the radio break, or the commanding officer may have to have a nickname. Sometimes those minor alterations lead to whole new plotlines. Don’t get me wrong, accuracy is deadly important, but you can make yourself crazy researching minutia. It’s more important to keep that plot moving.

What projects are you working on now?

Nothing! Technically. I’m wrapping up edits for my novel Coldwater, I’ve completed my marijuana opus, 101, and it’s being shopped. My script for Hustle is on hold while the powers that be hash out the details. I guess I’d better start brewing up ideas for the next novel before I get myself into trouble. Idle hands and all that.

All laws in the country are rescinded for one week. What do you do?

Keep my powder dry and stay the fuck inside!

• • •

Buy American Static today in print or digital from Amazon today.


Five Questions
with Marie S. Crosswell

When I first read Marie S. Crosswell’s Texas, Hold Your Queens, I was struck by the ferocity of its prose. It’s a novella with serious teeth, which it sinks into some pretty meaty themes: vengeance, justice, love, trauma, death. Although it takes place in the desert, it’s also a very different beast from the glut of neo-Western-noirs that have hit bookshelves over the past few years—a multi-character study that goes into some seriously uncomfortable places, and leaves you thinking.

Crosswell and I conducted a brief interview about the book, which, again, I recommend highly. Out of all the crime novels I read in the course of a given year, this one really stuck with me, and I think it’ll have the same effect on you.

• • •

Nick Kolakowski: You not only nail the lingo and details of a murder investigation, but you really get into your lead cops’ heads, how they notice things and move through the world. What did you do to prep for the book, research-wise?

Marie S. Crosswell: I think I did less research than you may imagine I did. What I remember researching the most is actually the historical femicide crisis in Juarez, which I mention in the book. Strangely enough, the situation gets hardly any airtime in the story, but that’s the topic I remember most, regarding research. I first learned of the murdered and missing women of Juarez when I was 17 years old and took a summer writing class at a local community college. The professor, Stella Duarte, mentioned it because she wrote her own book all about it. That crisis stuck with me, and even though Texas, Hold Your Queens isn’t about a woman killed in Juarez, it’s somewhat inspired by the women who have been murdered and disappeared there. The female victim in my book came from Juarez, and Mason and Farrah, the detective protagonists, imagine that she crossed the border to escape the dangerous environment of her city—which makes it all the more devastating to them that she got killed on U.S. soil.

Anyway, I did do some research about El Paso CID and the prison in New Mexico where the villain served a sentence for his previous crimes. This wasn’t my first time writing about homicide detectives, so as far as getting into Mason and Farrah’s heads, I think a lot of that was already there in my creative consciousness. I do watch and read a lot of crime/police procedural stories, which must inform my own storytelling.

NK: Your narrative really plays with time at moments. It’s incredible how you use chapter breaks, and jumping back and forth through the narrative, to build momentum and suspense. Are you a writer who outlines beforehand, or do you write and then re-write until the narrative assumes its final shape?

MC: I’m an outliner. Usually, I start out making notes on the basic events of the story and who my characters are. Then, I usually write out what happens in each scene with enough detail to know where I’m going. Each scene gets a short paragraph in the outline.

I’ve never written a story that has a non-linear time structure, other than this one, so it was an experiment for me. I think it turned out well—although I got a few comments from people I know who read the book, about not immediately realizing they had to pay attention to the dates at the start of each chapter—and I’ll probably use the format again.

NK: It seems like a lot of crime thrillers these days focus on criminality along the southern border. Whereas a lot of those books try to go large and make a geo-political comment, you seem much more focused on inner topics such as love and trauma and the righteousness (or unrighteousness) of payback. Where did the original seed of an idea for the book come from? Is the final book very different from your idea of it at the beginning?

MC: This might surprise you, but I haven’t actually read any border crime fiction, so I didn’t know one way or the other how other crime novels set on the border handle the setting. I chose to set the story in El Paso for two reasons: first, because of the background inspiration of Juarez’s murdered women (Juarez is right next to El Paso, separated by the border fence), and second, because I like to stay in the American West with my fiction. I’m not particularly interested in Mexican crime that crosses over into the States or traffics back and forth across the border, although I’m fully aware of it and how it’s an obvious theme for crime fiction set in border states and towns. I just had this idea of a Mexican woman who crosses into the U.S. to escape the violence and danger of her homeland, and ends up dead at the hands of a white American guy.

Yes, you can look at it through the lens of U.S./Mexican relations, illegal immigration, the highly politicized fight in the U.S. over border security, etc.—but I wrote the story and tend to look at it through the lens of global male violence against women, which is never discussed by any political party in any country. And the thing is, violence against women has no political party. Men everywhere commit it, regardless of how they vote or what ideology they subscribe to. That’s the big-picture politics I’m interested in, if any.

I didn’t think of this consciously when I wrote the book, but it’s in my nature as a writer to tell tightly focused, personal stories, even and perhaps especially when the characters are dealing with violence and crime that happens on a larger scale. At the end of the day, violence and crime happen to individual human beings whose immediate experience of the trauma and horror is completely personal, even if it’s symptomatic of a politics or an event or a war that is much bigger than them. Farrah and Mason exemplify this in the book, and the reason they get into trouble is because they make the murder of one woman personal. They don’t see her as a statistic in a bigger picture of male violence or murder in America or even in their own careers as homicide detectives. They take her death personally, which you aren’t really supposed to do as a cop, and consequently, they don’t act with professional detachment. Unbeknownst to her, the murder victim’s death ends up radically affecting the lives and relationships of these two women she never met. Which is to say, that even violence taking place in the context of a greater event has small-scale consequences for the people involved, consequences that are easy to overlook when you stay focused on the big political picture.

Love is always at heart of my fiction, even though I usually write in the crime genre. I’ve got the same pattern as a writer that I do as a reader and film consumer: I come for the action, but I stay for the love between two characters, usually a friendship. I think the central love in any of my stories balances out the crime; if there’s no love, no tenderness, in a story full of violence, then ultimately there’s no joy in writing or reading it. There has to be something good to give you relief from the nastiness and the pain, especially in stories that end without a perfect “happily ever after/goodness prevails” resolution.

It’s been a few years now, but if I recall correctly, the seed of this story might’ve actually been planted by Season 1 of “True Detective.” I’m a big fan. My book doesn’t really have any similarities to it, beyond belonging to the crime/police procedural genre(s) and following a pair of detectives, but hey, I’m sure you know that inspiration for a story can come from just about anything.

NK: Revenge, or at least the attempt to balance accounts through blood, seems like a thread that runs both through this book and your recent short story, “Tinder,” which appeared in Tough magazine. What draws you to it as a narrative device?

MC: Vengeance has been a theme in my crime fiction since I started writing it, and I’m not entirely sure why. I think the theme goes hand-in-hand with another one that’s prominent in Texas, Hold Your Queens, which is the inadequacy of the legal system when it comes to punishing violent crime. Sometimes, that inadequacy looks like a guilty man getting away with what he did or being under-sentenced, but even a lengthy prison sentence or the death penalty (which these days, means several years of life in prison prior to execution, anyway) can feel inadequate when the man in question has done something beyond the pale.

I could go deeper and say that my crime fiction questions (and ultimately dismisses) the idea that prison or even state execution are sufficient punishment for maliciously violent criminals, and that there is no such thing as justice for victims of rape or malicious murder. What are we even talking about when we use the word “justice”? Why does the state get to decide what that looks like, instead of the victim of the crime or the victim’s loved ones? Realistically, what satisfaction is there for them, in seeing a rapist or a malicious murderer go to prison? Why should a man who destroys someone else’s life or spirit get to live the rest of his life and enjoy physical safety to boot, and can we really call that justice? These are questions that my crime fiction wrestles with, sometimes below the surface.

The desire for revenge is a primitive human urge, part of the non-rational, animalistic brain. A quest for vengeance is one of the oldest themes in human story-telling, one that we never tire of. It’s cathartic for us as readers or audience members to see someone get their revenge; there’s a profound sense of the wrong having been righted or the scales being balanced, that I don’t think we feel in response to a criminal being convicted in a court. And I guess that there is a catharsis for me as a writer, telling stories about people who get their revenge, stories where “justice” is an eye for an eye.

In reality, the majority of bad men get away with their evildoing; the world isn’t fair or just. I think that’s one reason so many people, especially women, fall back on patriarchal religion and the notion of Hell. We all want the bad guy to get what’s coming to him, whether in this life or after death. Writing stories like Texas, Hold Your Queens, I get to make that happen. Maybe that’s why revenge is a recurring theme in my work. These days, I find wrongs in the world I wish I could vindicate on a daily basis.

NK: All laws in the country are rescinded for one week. What do you do?

MC: Round up a bunch of like-minded women, take possession of some serious firepower, and kill as many rapists and bad men as possible.

• • •

Buy Texas, Hold Your Queens today in print or digital from Amazon today.


In the Know: Hardway

Today, Shotgun Honey celebrates its publishing relaunch with the release of Hardway by Hector Acosta. Hector as he’ll reiterate below has contributed to both our flash fiction site content and the Both Barrels anthology series. His first anthology story featured Thursday Malone, a character I immediately gravitated, and considered with much potential. When we branched out into publishing longer works under One Eye Press, I hounded Hector for a Thursday Malone story until he finally submitted Hardway. My first reaction was Where is Thursday? And what am I supposed to do with a story about a hormonal kid with fantasies about wrestling? Instead of throwing it back and demanding Thursday, I dug in, and to my surprise I enjoyed what Hector submitted. It’s not typical OEP/SH stuff, but it was a story with heart, about family, and about the adolescent fantasies that lead to becoming an adult.

Let’s pulled down the mic, and get this event started.

So today is the big day, HARDWAY is entering the ring. What is the music blaring on the PA?

I have to preface this by saying that I’ve been accused of having HORRIBLE music taste. Most the stuff I listen to is either taken from wrestling (shocker), or musicals.

That out of the way, Hardway totally comes out to My Chemical Romance’s Welcome to the Black Parade, partly because I always thought that song would make a great wrestling intro, and also because there’s something about the way the song is structured that mirrors Hardway‘s story. It has a slow, melancholic start, but halfway through the tempo picks up and doesn’t let up for the rest for the song.

Every great wrestler has a great backstory, what’s the backstory for HARDWAY?

The idea of Hardway came after I fell down a Youtube hole and ended up watching a bunch of backyard wrestling videos. Backyard wrestling has a not entirely undeserved bad rap. But as I watched matches where teenagers beat the holy hell out of each, and crash through elaborate set ups even the WWE wouldn’t perform, I realized how much the kids also had to love wrestling. You don’t get thrown off a ladder and into hard concrete if you only sort of like something.

And that’s when Hardway popped into my head. I’d written a couple of stories involving wrestling before, usually from the perspective of a wrestler. And as much as Spencer, Billy, and the rest of their friends would like to think so, they are more fans than wrestlers. I conceived the first version of Hardway as a short story, but after being finished with it, I found I had more to say about Spencer and the RBWL and got to reworking it.

You’ve got Welcome to the Black Parade playing, the fans are rallied behind your backstory, what’s the signature move? What’s going to get fans rooting for HARDWAY?

If Hardway is in the ring, mounting a comeback and preparing end the match, I could hear the announcers (Jim Ross in this perfect, fantasy world of mine) screaming “THE KID HAS HEART,” in that great, Southern drawl of his.

Hardway is a book that ends up wearing its heart on its sleeve. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a crime, there’s people doing stupid things for stupid reasons, and ending up getting mired in violence because of it, but more than anything, it’s about Spencer, a kid who doesn’t quite fit in and is feeling more and more like an island. About the love he has for wrestling, for his brother, and for his brother’s girlfriend. Which is largely what gets him in trouble with a psychotic drug dealer and apartment over.

Being the man behind the mask, the great puppeteer, tell the fans about Hector Acosta.

I live in New York with an understanding wife who allows me to watch way more wrestling than any human being should and a dog which I have a love/hate relationship with. I’ve always enjoyed writing, and have a bunch of half finished vampire detective books to prove it. I became more serious about it when I discovered two things: Twitter, and Shotgun Honey. Both opened my eyes to an insane amount of talented, welcoming writers and their nasty (in the best way) stories. My first thing I ever submitted in fact was a flash fiction piece for Shotgun Honey, and I’ve been–too slowly lately–writing ever since.

HARDWAY has the title and the belt, and the brass wants you for a big tag team event, who do you want in your corner?

Short answer? Just just on my twitter (@Hexican) and pick up the book from everyone I follow.

Longer answer:

I’ve mentioned him before, but Gabino Iglesias needs to be read by more people. His barrior/supernatural/noir book Zero Saints was a game changer.

Angel Colon is one messed up guy, and I say that in the nicest way possible. No Happy Endings has probably one of the most shocking opening chapters I’ve read in a while. Plus the dude writes for the WWE comic, so I gotta say nice things.

I’m really looking forward to Thomas Pluck‘s Bad Boy Boogie. Really dig his short stories, and if you want a noir/superhero mashup, you have to read his Denny the Dent collection.

Dave White writes of New Jersey so well I basically have no reason to ever go there.

I’m still bummed Chris Irvin‘s wrestling opus hasn’t come out, but I’ll make do with his great short story collection.

Sheesh, this turned into a ten match didn’t it?

A regular Royal Rumble, for sure. As a fan for wrestling, what is your favorite moment, event, or match up?

Smackdown- August 28, 2003.

This will probably seem like a random choice to most, but it holds a special place for me for a couple of reasons. First, this was at what probably was my peak wrestling fandom. We’re talking ‘takes part in online wrestling roleplay’ level here. Secondly, the show was in El Paso, Texas, my hometown, so I got to experience it live with a bunch of friends. And finally, and probably most importantly, we got to watch the hometown hero Eddie Guerrero make a glorious, twenty minute entrance.

It’s funny, if you ask me what matches were on that show, I couldn’t tell you. All I remember is how the entire arena exploded at Eddie’s theme song, and how we hung at every word he said.

You’ve got the fans going crazy like Eddie with your entrance, what are you going to do for an encore?

I have a couple things I’m working on at the moment.

First up I’m looking to finish a crime story set in a border factory town. It’s the first piece of fiction where I’ve actually gone out of my way to do some research, as it not only takes place in factory town, but also in the 1960’s.

I’m in the revising stages of a horror novella right now. I’m hesitant to speak too much about because I’m not sure if it’ll see the light of day, so we’ll see. I will say that the thing which got me writing it is because for once, I came up with what I thought was a great, fitting title for it.

And finally there’s Thursday Malone. He’s a character who’s shown up in the Shotgun Honey anthologies and one of my favorites to write, and I’m not going to lie, a big part of it just because of the name itself. If everything goes as plan, I should have a new tale before the end of the year with him.

We definitely hope to see these get to the ring. What move would recommend other wannabe wrestlers have in their arsenal?

In a wrestling match, we often only remember the big moves- the finisher that knock a wrestler out, or allows their opponent to get the pin. But the reality is that very few matches would work if the wrestlers did their big moves over and over again. A good match needs to have a sense of rhythm, a back and forth that pulls the audience in.

In writing, sometimes we focus too much on the ‘big moves’. On making sure that the writing is perfect, that we have that great opening line, or that our dialogue sounds just right. And yeah, those are important, but what’s more important is the most basic of things– just showing up to write.

More talented writers have said this than I, and I”ll be the first to admit I don’t always follow this advise, but if you don’t sit down to do the work and build a writing routine, the rest isn’t going to matter. Just like a wrestler who can pull off a 450 off the top rope but doesn’t know how to run the ropes will probably not get anywhere.

Unless you’re Roman Reigns (kidding!)

Praise for HARDWAY by Hector Acosta

Hardway hits like a chair to the back of the head, but underneath all the bone-cracking action there’s also a surprisingly sweet story about a boy trying to make his way in the world. If you’re a fan of noir or wrestling – or both – this is one show you’ll want to buy a ticket to.”

Nick Kolakowski, author of A Brutal Bunch of Heartbroken Saps

“Witty, touching, and as melodramatic as any classic pro wrestling story, Hardway stands as an excellent debut from Hector Acosta.”

Angel Luis Colón, author of No Happy Endings and The Fury of Blacky Jaguar

“Hector Acosta delivers a fitting tribute to the passion of pro wrestling. Parts coming-of-age, crime, and nostalgia – with a bit of an 80’s vibe to boot – Hardway hits all the right notes.”

Christopher Irvin, author of Burn Cards and Safe Inside the Violence

“A novella that hits you where it hurts, forces you to grapple with your desires and defeat, but ultimately leaves you panting and begging for more.”

D.G. Sutter, author of La Maquina Oscura

Buy Hardway Today!


Richard Thomas and a Gamut of possibilities

gamutcover

When I think of dedication, hard work—any and all attributes I aspire to as a writer, editor and publisher—I think of Richard Thomas. That maybe a lot of praise to place on Richard’s shoulders, but having seen his work ethic on display over the last half decade I can’t think of a harder working and talented individual. And the company he keeps is a testament to his dedication to the genre and the writers he has worked.

This month launched a very important Kickstarter, one that is both ambitious and necessary. Gamut Magazine promises to be a diverse online marketplace boasting professional rates and opportunities to be published alongside some of the industry’s top talents.

At this point the Gamut Kickstarter is closing the gap on its $52k goal with just over 2 days to go. Richard and I talked about Gamut, and why it is important for this Kickstart to succeed.

If you look up the meaning of gamut in the dictionary it is defined as the complete range or scope of something. What does gamut mean to you and what is its significance to your project?

When I think about the fiction that I like to write, the stories and novels I like to read, the authors I have published, it’s a wide range of fiction. But typically I am drawn to dark, tragic work, so as far as Gamut, we’ll be focusing on dark fiction, in all of its many flavors. Even with horror there is quiet horror, and splatterpunk, and psychological, and classic. It’s important to me that we broaden our scope, at Gamut. I’m looking for a wider range of stories and perspectives. We’re 60% women, for example, and have authors from all over the world. I love to see new mythologies, new cultures, and new histories. I like to be surprised, so don’t expect to see the same plots, the same creatures, the same tropes.

On the Gamut Kickstarter page you suggest that to understand the aesthetics of the magazine, one only needs to be familiar with your work as an editor and writer. For those not familiar with Richard Thomas tell us about your past works?

Well, I’ve written three novels, the last two for Random House Alibi, the Windy City Dark Mystery series. Disintegration is Falling Down meets Dexter, and Breaker is a mix of Leon: The Professional, Of Mice and Men, The Green Mile and To Kill a Mockingbird. I tend to write neo-noir, transgressive fiction. I also have three short story collections, the latest, Tribulations, out in March with Crystal Lake. My last big story placement was in Cemetery Dance magazine, and I have short fiction appearing in the anthologies Chiral Mad 3 and Gutted: Beautiful Horror Stories alongside Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, Clive Barker and Jack Ketchum.

As an editor, I’ve put together four anthologies—The New Black and Exigencies (the latter getting a story, “Wilderness” by Letitia Trent into the Best Horror of the Year anthology), both at Dark House Press; Burnt Tongues with Chuck Palahniuk and Dennis Widmyer, at Medallion (a finalist for the Bram Stoker award); and The Lineup: 20 Provocative Women Writers, at Black Lawrence Press.

As Editor-in-Chief at Dark House Press I’ve put out six books to date, two I’ve mentioned already, as well as Echo Lake by Letitia Trent; After the People Lights Have Gone Off by Stephen Graham Jones (Bram Stoker and Shirley Jackson award finalist); The Doors You Mark Are Your Own by Okla Elliott and Raul Clement; and Vile Men by Rebecca Jones-Howe. Out this year we have novels by Damien Angelica Walters and Steve Himmer.

So that really covers a wide range (a GAMUT!) of fiction including fantasy, science fiction, horror, crime, neo-noir, magical realism, transgressive, Southern gothic, and literary fiction.

That is definitely a GAMUT of fiction. Will Gamut just be a fiction magazine? Or will there be other opportunities to contribute?

We will have new fiction every week, and a reprint every week. I hope to also do flash fiction. As far as other work, yes, we’ll have columns—three are set up now for Keith Rawson, Max Booth and RK Arceneaux. We’ll also do non-fiction essays, poetry, and maybe even a Saturday Night Special serialization. And there will be original artwork with every story.

Once the campaign is done, do you plan on submission cycles or continuously open submissions?

Well, I’ve already got 40 authors involved, as far as solicitations. Not ALL will have original work for me, but most will. So let’s just say I have about 36 weeks set. That leaves the rest of the 2017 to fill out. So, yes, we will open up to submissions later in 2016. Most likely we’ll use the lower Submittable package, which caps at 300 submissions a month. That will include fiction, poetry, non-fiction, etc. That’s why I have three fiction editors and two poetry editors, to help with that. My fiction editors—Mercedes M. Yardley, Dino Parenti, and Casey Frechette will be my first readers. I’ll still solicit now and then, I’m sure. And people will probably approach me as well, but most work will come through the front door. Anything with three yes votes will be forwarded to me with a highlighted status. Two yes votes, also forwarded to me, but not as urgently. One yes vote is probably a rejection, unless the one yes vote is adamant that I see it, then I’ll take a look. Three no votes and I probably won’t even see it. I trust my editors, they understand my aesthetic, but ultimately it’ll be my call. If we feel that we’re getting too many stories to process in a timely manner, then we’ll close the door and maybe do every other month. Whatever we do, I’m excited to work with the authors I know, and stoked to discover new voices as well. I mean, I could take a weird western and then an edgy literary story and then a dark fantasy and then a gritty neo-noir. You never know.

Gamut isn’t the first magazine to vie for a successful Kickstarter. What sets Gamut apart from the others?

Well, first of all, we’ll pay ten cents a word, which is different. Very few places pay that rate, especially with speculative fiction. We’re also focusing on that sweet spot between genre and lit, that hybrid-blending, genre-bending fiction. We’re not going to have “issues” per se, just new content every week, hopefully, every day if we can raise enough funds. We’re including original art with every story, and we’ll also have columns, reprints, poetry, non-fiction and maybe even a serialization. We’re also looking into eBooks and digital downloads, interacting with local theaters to showcase films that fit the Gamut vibe, a Best of Gamut print anthology, and some other services and swag. Only time will tell.

Only time, which starts at the end of the Gamut Kickstarter at 11 pm March 1st.

Should the Kickstarter succeed, and with your help it is guaranteed to hit its $52,000 goal, the first issue will launch January 2017 with stories, columns and industry staples available all online for a small price of $60 a year after the current campaign is complete. It’s going to be a great magazine with tons of potential for writers and readers of neo-noir, crime, horror, transgressive and a multitude of sub-genres.

 


Bad Citizen Corporation: An Interview with S.W. Lauden

Today we pull veteran Shotgun Honey editor Christopher Irvin back into the trenches to talk one on one with musician turned writer, avid indie book promoter, and dead eye interviewer himself, S.W. Lauden about his book BAD CITIZEN CORPORATION and his entrance into publishing. This makes a nice bookend to an interview that Lauden published over on his review and promotion site BadCitizenCorporation.com with Chris yesterday in promotion of Chris’s new collection SAFE INSIDE THE VIOLENCE (11/10/15 280 Steps).

swlauden-bcc

Let’s get right into this. You’ve had short stories published at some stellar venues over the recent year. Who is this S.W. Lauden guy hiding behind the drum?

Thanks for having me! I actually did this backwards, from what I can tell. I sat down to write the novel that became BAD CITIZEN CORPORATION about five years ago. I just sketched out the story idea, made a feeble attempt at an outline that I never stuck to, and started tapping away late at night and early in the morning. It wasn’t until I finished the first draft and started trying to connect with other writers that I became aware of the mystery/crime short story universe and the talented writers who populate it. That’s mostly thanks to Travis Richardson, who I got to know through the Mystery Writers of America in Los Angeles. He’s a great writer and I’m lucky to call him a friend these days.

SW LaudenWhile the novel was being revised, I set my sights on getting some short stories published. Again, backwards. The first thing I submitted got accepted by Akashic Books as part of the “Mondays Are Murder” series online. It’s actually a back story piece to BAD CITIZEN CORPORATION called “Swinging Party”. That put some wind in my sails, so I sent off a few more short stories. Then the rejections started coming, fast and furious. But each scrap of feedback I got helped me understand how to make my stories better. I’d re-work them, re-write them and submit elsewhere. Eventually I few pieces got accepted by publications like Crimespree Magazine, Out of the Gutter, Criminal Element, Dark Corners and Shotgun Honey.

I also applied my experience with the short story submission-rejection-feedback loop to my novel. The story has morphed quite a lot over the last five years as I’ve grown, and thanks to some thoughtful critique and criticism. What’s stayed the same is the core concept of a punk rock cop who trolls the beaches of Southern California. I’ve been a musician myself for many years, and I grew up near the beach, so I had a lot of experiences and observations to draw on. It’s a fictional universe, but one that was pretty easy for me to construct.

Congrats on all the success! That’s great to see you were able to incorporate the success (and rejection) of your short fiction into the novel. You mentioned Travis Richardson – there’s been a wave of impressive crime fiction coming out of California in the last couple of years – yourself, Travis, Eric Beetner, Joe Clifford, Steph Cha, Tom Pitts, Craig Faustus Buck, Jordan Harper (I could go on…) – do you do anything consciously to separate your voice/work from the pack? Any west coast writers influence and/or inspire your fiction?

Kind of mind-blowing to be mentioned alongside all those talented writers. There’s definitely lots of publishing action out here these days. I could easily add Josh Stallings, Matt Coyle, Sarah M. Chen, Mike Monson, Anonymous-9, Rob Pierce, Paul D. Marks and Danny Gardner to the list and we still wouldn’t be scratching the surface.

I think any influence the west coast writers had would be more noticeable in the the many revisions of BCC, simply because I hadn’t read many of them when I started it five years ago. What really inspired me to sit down and write the novel were a couple of European authors, Jo Nesbo and Arnaldur Indridason. I devoured their catalogues over the course of a year and really fell in love with their take on mystery and crime fiction. The subject matter and tone of their novels is somber and dark, as is often the case with the settings, but there’s tons of action and the characters are front and center. That’s something that I appreciate as a reader and aspire to as a writer. So I guess it’s a combination of all those influences, in addition to the literary fiction and YA I’ve been known to read.

I don’t think I have to do anything to set myself apart from other writers—west coast, European or otherwise—because I couldn’t possibly write like any of them even if I tried.

Was there an “aha!” moment during your writing where you found your voice?

There wasn’t really a specific moment when the lights went on, but I do remember BCC getting easier around half way through the first draft. I’d finally gotten comfortable with the characters and it seemed less like I was inventing them and more like I was reporting on them. After that I was able to loosen up a little and have more fun with it. I totally rewrote the Marco character at that point and he became the sort of comic relief that (I hope) he is in the final manuscript. Shit was getting too serious. I needed a junkie to swoop in and make with the funny.

Thinking back on the book, the influence of the European authors you mention is really interesting. While there is quite a bit of realistic action in the book, the central mysteries play a larger role, to a point where I think one could argue the novel is a mystery or detective novel with elements of crime. I mean that in the best way as I think it attracts a large audience. In your mind, who are your readers? Who do you want to be your readers?

I have been doing weekly author Q&As on my blog for the last year. One question I’ll often ask is about genre and how important it is. The tone of the responses varies (some writers really hate genre discussions), but the general consensus is that genre doesn’t matter much to authors—at least the ones I’ve interviewed. And I think that’s true for me too. When it comes to BCC, I’ve somehow managed to stay blissfully ignorant about whether it’s mystery or crime or some hybrid of the two. I think that as a reader I view mystery and crime as fraternal twins, anyway. And, like I said above, I regularly read stuff outside of those genres.

As for who my readers are, I’m still at the “I hope to hell somebody reads it” phase. It would be great if fans of Kem Nunn and Don Winslow find BCC because I think it fits in with their Surf Noir books (genre alert!). TAPPING THE SOURCE, THE DAWN PATROL and THE DOGS OF WINTER are among my favorites. Definitely not a comparison—those guys are true masters—but there are some obvious thematic and geographical similarities. Actually, now that I think about it, maybe I just want Kem Nunn and Don Winslow to read BCC. Can you make that happen? Thanks, bro.

Have you taken a look back at your short work as a whole? Seen any themes develop that you were unaware of (while writing) across them? If so, did they make it into the novel as well?

Funny you should mention that because I’m reading this really great short story collection right now. It’s called SAFE INSIDE THE VIOLENCE. Ever heard of it?! I recommend it highly.

But enough about you…

This might not sound terribly original, but a lot of my short stories contain some kind of moral struggle. As a reader I am really interested in what motivates characters, and that seems to find its way into my writing as well. I think there’s a lot of that in Greg Salem. He’s a total bro, but not necessarily the beer-swilling meathead variety. For guys like Greg, “bro” is shorthand for a specific kind of blue collar social contract that puts blind allegiance to friends above almost anything else. Sort of like a gang, only without all the structure. It really defines his personality and leads him to make decisions that aren’t necessarily in his own best interest. It’s an ingrained sense of duty, coupled with a mistrust for the local police, that ultimately compels him to find his friend’s killer.

Ha, thank you. And I see what you mean with Greg. One of my favorite aspects of Greg Salem is the very different (and separate) worlds he straddles – punk rock and law enforcement. You can immediately see parallels to many creatives who must work a full-time day job in addition to writing/drawing/etc. Did you draw inspiration from your own life?

Definitely. I had a lot of different jobs when I was pursuing a career in music, everything from bartending and waiting tables to journalism and temp work. You know, cleaning off the nail polish and washing last night’s glitter out of your hair so you could go bus tables at a wedding reception the next day. And now I’m a writer with a desk job.

With Greg Salem, I wanted to explore what that struggle looks like as he got older—the sacrifices and compromises that artists have to make in the face of the constant temptation to hang it all up in favor of stability (whatever that is these days). Making him a cop seemed like an extreme juxtaposition to the angry, idealistic punk he was as a teenager and I hoped it would give him an interesting internal struggle to deal with. Also, it’s fun to say you wrote a novel about a punk rock cop.

True! That’s a great tag line. What’s next for Greg? From an unexplored past (i.e. his brother) to an uncertain future, you’ve certainly left a lot on his plate.

I’m about half way done with the second Greg Salem book. Writing about Southern California is tricky because so many stories have been set here, but I think Greg and his crew are leading me in an interesting direction for now. He’s definitely bringing along some people, and baggage, from his past.

The cover of BAD CITIZEN CORPORATION is fantastic. How did it come together? Did you have any input during the process?

BCC Cover FinalWhen I told people that Rare Bird Books was going to be publishing BAD CITIZEN CORPORATION, the first response was usually “They make great looking books!” I’m happy to report that they lived up to that reputation in my case. Tyson Cornell, who started Rare Bird, found the painting by English artist Graham Dean and licensed it for the cover. I have to say that I was really blown away when I first saw it, especially since I was picturing something more along the lines of surfers and sharks. Maybe even a surfer holding a shark. And the shark has a gun in its mouth. A bloody gun. You know, something subtle

I hear you have a novella coming out in 2016. What’s the story?

Right before I finalized the BCC deal with Rare Bird, my amazing editor Elaine Ash put me in touch Eric Campbell at Down & Out Books. I had written a short story called CROSSWISE while on a family vacation, but it quickly evolved into a novella. I thought D&OB would be a good home for it and, lucky for me, Elaine and Eric agreed.

CROSSWISE is also set along the beach, but takes place on the panhandle of Florida. The main character is an ex-NYPD cop who follows his coke-addict girlfriend to her hometown. He’s working as a security guard at a retirement community full of colorful characters when she leaves him for her ex-husband. That’s when the murders start happening.

It comes out in March. I just saw the cover art for the first time and it looks amazing. Different vibe than BCC, but still no sharks. Hope to be able to share that really soon.

Looking forward to it (and the sharks, when you can get them). Now take us out! Any signings/readings/etc planned for BAD CITIZEN CORPORATION?

I was planning a traditional book launch party on Nov. 7 in Los Angeles, but it quickly spun out of control. You can take the drummer out of the band…

At this point there are 10 authors reading—both fiction and non-fiction—and four bands playing. It got so big that it completely stopped being about me or my book and became its own stand alone event, which I am calling “Read Out Loud”. It’s happening at a cool outdoor venue along the L.A. River and it’s free and open to the public. Proceeds from beer, wine and snack sales benefit Friends of the LA River. You can check out the Facebook event right here.

I’ll also be doing a reading at Book Show in Highland Park (L.A.) on Nov. 22 for the launch of the new Josh Stallings novel, YOUNG AMERICANS. And I’ll be at Mysterious Galaxy in San Diego on Dec. 5. More propaganda about all of that can be found on my blog.

S.W. Lauden’s debut novel, BAD CITIZEN CORPORATION, is available now from Rare Bird Books. His novella, CROSSWISE, will be published by Down & Out Books in 2016.

Chistopher Irvin is the author of FEDERALES and BURN CARDS. His short stories have been featured in several publications, including ThuglitBeat to a Pulp, and Shotgun Honey. His short story collection, SAFE INSIDE THE VIOLENCE, is out this November from 280 Steps.

Buy the Books

  • safeinsidetheviolence

Interview: Brian Panowich

Around the first anniversary of Shotgun Honey in April of 2012 we published the first story by Brian Panowich, a story about a pool cleaner who got unfair payment for “Services Rendered.” Brian followed up with a variety of stories, but a couple of bookend stories—one published here and the other published on The Flash Fiction Offensive—would take him up BULL MOUNTAIN and land him his first book deal. Today, his book releases to a lot of buzz and praise, all well deserved.

We are all extremely proud to see this release, and to celebrate I spent a week learning how Brian Panowich made it up that mountain.

Let’s see where it takes us.

Ron Earl Phillips
July 7, 2015

 

How’d you get the gun? Or rather what drew you toward crime fiction?

To be honest? I got it from you, Ron. Well, you and Elmore Leonard. Up until early 2012, I was still struggling to find my voice. In a way I still am, but I don’t think that will ever stop. My reading tastes are extremely varied, and back then it showed in my writing. I was dabbling in horror, westerns, superheroes, some real fantastical shit. The only real crime stuff I was reading on a regular basis was anything by Elmore Leonard, and John Connolly’s Charlie Parker series, and even those (Connolly) had a slight super natural slant to them. It wasn’t until I stumbled onto Shotgun Honey that I discovered Flash Fiction as a form of storytelling and then it was off to the races. I used your site like school, studying how to cut and trim a story down to the raw nerve. I discovered a lot of the authors I now consider some of my biggest influences, Chris Leek, Ryan Sayles, Jen Conley, Peter Farris, the list goes on. Outside of one story I’d written and self published at the time, called THEO AND FAT TERRY, my first submission to you was the only real attempt at writing a straight up crime story. It took me two days to write it ( Services Rendered ) and then over a month to whittle it down to 700 words, and I can still remember what I was doing when I got the email from Sabrina that told me it had been accepted for publication. One of the best days of my career. From that point on, I started reading a lot more crime fiction and the day I finished GIVE US A KISS by Daniel Woodrell, I had a profound moment of clarity that pointed me down my current career path.

Well, Shotgun Honey might have been a divining rod, of sorts, but the words were pretty solid when they got here. Shotgun Honey has published four stories by you between 2012 and 2013—so maybe you owe us a new one—but it was “If I Ever Get Off This Mountain” that inspired Bull Mountain, along with “Coming Down the Mountain,” a sibling story that appeared on The Flash Fiction Offensive. Where did these foundation blocks build from?

I had been toying with the idea of writing a story that flipped the white hat/black hat trope on it’s ear and showed that not all the good guys are right, and the bad guys are wrong. I knew I wasn’t the first person to want to explore that theme, so I came up with telling the same story twice but from the two different sides of that morality coin. Even then, I knew I had a cool format, but still didn’t have an actual story idea until one afternoon while I was out riding my mountain bike. Writing was the last thing on my mind and I was listening to a classic rock playlist when “Up On Cripple Creek” by The Band came on. The first line to that song is ‘If I get off of this mountain, you know where I wanna go’ and immediately the entirety of those stories, and what was to become BULL MOUNTAIN, hit me so hard I damn near wrecked my bike. I had to get off and record the plot points into my phone, because I didn’t have anything to write on. I cut my ride short and hauled ass back to the car to write it down, so I wouldn’t forget it. It was just one of those moments that come along that I can’t explain. Those two stories are what attracted my agent, who in turn, quite honestly changed my life.

We’re all glad you didn’t take a spill on that bike, for sure. Had you been actively looking for an agent at the time you wrote those stories? Was there something else in the works before you took that first trip up that mountain?

No, and No. I’d been tinkering with a superhero novel idea on and off for about two years that I’d long ago abandoned, and was shopping nothing. Those two stories we just mentioned were nominated, as you may know since you’re kind of the king of this community, for a “Best On The Web” award in 2013 by Spinetingler Magazine run by Brian Lindenmuth. I didn’t win the award, but they did get read by Nat Sobel of the Sobel-Weber Lit Agency in New York. He sent me a brief e-mail asking me if I had anything longer to show him and I told him I didn’t. He replied that when and if I ever did, to send it to him. I immediately looked him up on the internet and found out he was a legend in the industry. He represented folks like James Ellroy, and Wiley Cash among others, so I sat down to expand my experiment in Flash Fiction into a full length novel. I began to write it every third day at the firehouse (I work shift work as a fireman 24on/48off ) and it took me a year to finish. When I sent it to him, I didn’t even think he’d remember who I was, but he did. He loved the book and took me on as a client. Within a few months, I’d signed a two book deal with G. P. Putnam’s sons. It still feels surreal to me. The book comes out today and my head is still spinning, it happened so fast.

Nat Sobel is a one a handful of agents I am aware who visit our site and others like Shotgun Honey. When he approached you, was there any indication what he saw in those 700 words?

Only that he liked what he read and felt that I had a style that would be commercially viable. I don’t pretend to know what Nat, or any other experienced agent is looking for, and still have no idea what it is that makes one author more attractive than others in a business sense. SH is chock full of the most talented writers I’ve ever read, more so than I consider myself to be, so believe me when I say, if I could put a finger on it, I would, and I’d hold it down for the world to see, but I really think Veterans like Nat go with their gut. That’s also how I would encourage another writer to write his next story, by going with their gut. Damn the rules.

Speaking of rules, on those odd days at the firehouse expanding two short stories into what became BULL MOUNTAIN, did you do much prep work and organization? Or did you fly by the seat of your pants and fill in details later?

I took a couple of days to really flesh out the two main characters, the country sheriff, Clayton Burroughs and the hot shot city ATF Agent Simon Holly. I used music mostly. I wrote notes about Clayton to outlaw country music, rode around listening to that kind of stuff and tried to imagine how he’d act. ( Obviously, there’s a lot of me, in Clayton.) Then I’d crank up a lot of post-punk, and British troubedour shit, like Northcote, Frank Turner, and The Gaslight Anthem to put me in Simon Holly mode. Once I had a good feel on those two, I wrote the entire outline for the novel on one sheet of notebook paper. From beginning to end. I numbered the chapters, and wrote one or two sentences about each. I pulled my crew at the firehouse around the picnic table at work, and read the outline to them, basically asking them if they would read a book based on that sheet of paper. Firemen can be notoriously brutal in their opinions, so when I got an overall thumbs up from those guys, I knew I was on to something. I set that sheet of paper outline down next to my computer and just started to type. I knew where I was going to end up before I wrote the first word, but I wasn’t entirely clear how I was going to get there. I just started digging in and before long the characters began to dictate where the story was headed. I kept that road map next to me for guidance but I watched bit players become major players on their own, and before long the novel had practically written itself. Characters like Kate Burroughs and Bracken Leek dictated me. I’d also like to add that places that are famous for this type of criminal enterprise in places like Virginia and Kentucky are well documented in books and film. Georgia, I can promise, you served as the gateway to the northern states, and kept their shit off the radar. That speaks volumes about the intelligence of a people not looking to get famous…or caught. North Georgia is no joke.

It sounds like you had a lot of support at the firehouse, and I know you’ve got a great group online. How important were these groups in navigating up and down BULL MOUNTAIN?

My crew at the firehouse was supportive as far as giving me the place and time I needed to dedicate to the actual action of writing, and of course they’re my biggest fans, as I am of them. They are the very definition of “Heroes,” but the real backbone of support came from my brothers in the Zelmer Pulp Nation, Ryan Sayles, Chris Leek, and Isaac Kirkman, all of which I met through the online crime fiction community that Shotgun Honey is such a large part of. They were invaluable with their enthusiastic feedback, keen eyes for bad grammar, and most importantly, the pep talks and endless string of ridiculous Facebook messages they provided on days that I was convinced that every word of the book was shit. ZP is a perfect example of how we as writers and creators are supposed to treat each other. The boundaries don’t stop at a professional level. Those guys are my family and I’d bail any one of them out of jail, no questions asked. One founding member of our gang in particular, Chuck Regan, who also doubles as ZP’s resident cover artist, was 100% invaluable to the creation of the Bull Mountain Universe. Not only for his near-genius ability as a content editor and world builder, but as the one man in the group who never held back a punch, even when he knew it would bloody my nose. Chuck is the man that I didn’t want to let down, and he made me a better writer. Period. The love I have for that man is boundless. I challenge anyone out there reading this that thinks they have a perfect novel, to let Chuck give it once over, and if his red pen doesn’t teach you something about what real, honest, character development is all about, I’ll drink a work-boot full of deer piss. Zelmer Pulp is the blueprint for writers’s groups to follow. Go read their stuff on this very site, and it will become even more evident.

They say it’s a small world. So I might be responsible for Chuck, or maybe its just a cosmic coincidence. I’ve known Chuck going on twenty years, and when I connected with him on Facebook I encouraged him to submit to Shotgun Honey. Next thing I know he’s best pals with Sayles. Crazy world. It’s hard not be be pals with the Zelmer crew. They’re a diverse bunch, a lot of different influences. Earlier you said Woodrell gave you a profound moment of clarity, direction. What was that moment, and what other influence molded BULL MOUNTAIN?

Like I mentioned earlier, I’d been struggling to find my own voice for a while. I knew I had some talent, but I was lacking direction. I picked up GIVE US A KISS, and read it in one sitting (it’s pretty short) outside one afternoon in my hammock, and when I finished, it dawned on me that everything I wanted to write about was right there in front of me. My state. The southern foothills. I always wanted to be there as it was. I was drawn there to camp, and ride my bike and felt more at home there then anywhere I’d lived in my life, but never considered writing about it. I imagine Woodrell’s books come through so vividly because he has such an intimate relationship with the place, an not necessarily the characters he’d made up. I was spending so much time thinking about genre and plot lines that I was literally missing the forest for the trees. It’s hard to explain, but I stood up that day and knew exactly what I wanted to be known for. I’ll never forget that feeling. I immediately began to take notice of the backroads, and pig paths that broke off the two lane blacktop I’d driven hundreds of times before to get to my wife’s family gatherings in North Georgia and began to wonder where exactly those backroads led. The stories and ideas began to flow out of that.

So, I should avoid North Georgia? Sounds like a dangerous place.

No way. Not at all. The Blue Ridge foothills around Dillard, and Clayton County (see what I did there) is some of the most beautiful country around. The people are friendly and the food is amazing. Just don’t go poking down them dirt roads that ain’t got no sign on ’em. If people avoided places because they were dangerous, no one would ever leave the house. Remember, Bull Mountain is fictional, but the history is far from it.

Well, I might still tread lightly, especially in Clayton County. I did Google “Bull Mountain GA” just to know where I was keeping clear of, and see there is a Bull Mountain bike trail. I imagine one you’ve ridden before? You’re physically active as a fire fighter, an avid biker, and one tough mudder. Next we’re going to find out you’re a rockstar and Superman?

Well, I prefer Batman to be honest, and the rockstar thing didn’t pan out. I much prefer the seclusion of my office these days to any smokey nightclub. And you nailed it, Ron. I named my fictional mountain after that bike trail in Dahlonega, Ga. The place is known for it’s sprawling vineyards, hiking trails, and boiled peanuts. It’s a country mile from the place I created in it’s name. But don’t give away all my secrets. My Bull Mountain ain’t grown’ no grapes. You ca believe that.

You might not be Superman, but you manage to juggle a whole passel of bad men in Bull Mountain. Can you give the readers the story boilerplate?

It’s the story of a southern family rooted in the North Georgia Mountains that have been providing for themselves and the area’s residents through illegal means for generations. First through moonshine, then marijuana, and now meth in the present day. The sins of the father past down from son to son, until the youngest of the latest generation, Clayton Burroughs, decides to break from the family and become the Sheriff of a small township at the base of Bull Mountain. An uneasy truce exists between him and his brother, Halford, who currently runs the family drug trade, until an ATF officer with a plan to shut it all down comes into Clayton’s office and things get, well, complicated from there. It’s very much a story of family and dysfunction, and loyalty and how the line becomes blurred between right and wrong when blood ties are involved. It’s an exploration into what really define these people. The story unfolds through time starting in 1949 all the way through the present in an old school epic family saga style. I wrote it that way so the reader would understand just how deeply entrenched these characters are to the land and place, and each other.

Bull Mountain is very layered, jumping from chapter to chapter telling the story from different timelines and feeding the readers insight into the Burroughs clan—particularly Clayton, Halford, and their father Garetth—as well as ATF officer Agent Simon Holly. Did you ever find yourself in a corner with a subplot that you had to move the pieces around or leave it out altogether?

As far as cutting anything out, no. Luckily all the story I wanted to tell is in there, but I did do quite a bit of rearranging scenes to cut down on confusion. I also had a world class editor at Putnam ( Sara Minnich) that helped make that happen, as well as helping me flesh out one of the major players. I didn’t set out to write the story in the multi-perspective format, it just kind of dictated to me how it should be written. I needed those stories from the past to enhance the present, and it just sort of came out that way. If I’d have written this book in a more linear fashion, quite a few of the reveals that take place wouldn’t have been able to happen the way I wanted them to. It’s really a love it or hate format, I’m finding out, but there seems to be a lot more love than hate. We’ll see. It’s funny, the follow up I’m working on now, is a linear, straight forward tale, and I’m sure some people will be disappointed that the jumps in time and perspective are missing. You can’t please everyone, just yourself.

You can mark me in the love column, definitely. There was one chapter that showed the brutality of Gareth Burroughs. It was a mean stretch of words, but telling it in the order the way you did gave it so much weight to the end of the book. Of course, it makes it hard to story related questions, so many turns you don’t want to give away. So this is the first of two books. What’s next on the bill? Something related or separate?

I’m so glad you brought that chapter up. It represents something I’m pretty passionate about, and something I think gets a pass in main stream fiction. That chapter was definitely the hardest thing I had to write. I knew it was coming, and I knew it was vital to the story, so it had to be handled right, but I dreaded having to do it, because I needed the reader to remain sympathetic to Gareth despite the heinous thing he does. That scene in particular was one of the reasons I chose to write the book using the format I did. The timing and the execution of it needed to be spot-on for the story to work. I’ve never been a fan of violence for violence sake, I won’t name names, of course, but there are authors out there that seemingly try to shock the reader under the guise of it being “edgy” or “dark”, and then try to out-shock the reader with their next story/book, until before long ,that’s all it is. Shock with no substance. The worst part is normally that violence is against women for the sake of propping up a male hero. I hate that shit. It’s cheap writing, and I wanted to be very careful that nothing of mine drew any comparisons to that kind of garbage. I finally wrote the scene, and then rewrote it, and then rewrote it again several times over, until the violence wasn’t the point. The pain and rage of being born a Burroughs was the point. Hopefully I got that across. Chris Leek, who shares my views of exploitive writing, and whom I consider to be one of the best writers on the planet, told me after reading that scene, that it stuck with him for a long time and really broke him up after, but he understood why it had to happen. His approval was enough for me to feel like I got it right.

The new book is currently on it’s third draft, and tentatively titled LIKE LIONS is a sequel of sorts to BULL MOUNTAIN, but not directly involving the main players. I’ve never been that interested in trying to put my protagonist into a sticky situation and then trying to get him/her out of it in the form of a yearly series. A lot of authors do that incredibly well, but I don’t think I’d be one of them. So the second book has a lot of connective tissue to the first one, but can stand on it’s own with a very different set of themes. The only commonality I want my books to have is the place. McFalls county is the only guaranteed recurring character. The new book will be published by Putnam next year depending on how much surgery my editor, Sara, makes me do. I’ve also plotted out a third novel with that same tie-in feel to the first two that takes a bit player briefly touched on in the new book and puts him center stage. The story also takes place mainly in urban Atlanta. That book is in the “pitch” stage. If I’m lucky enough to continue to have a readership after the first two books, I think this third one will be the biggest risk I’ve taken yet. Because when in doubt, put it all on black, and spin the wheel.

Well, if LIKE LIONS is half as good as BULL MOUNTAIN I don’t think you’ll have a problem pitching that third book. I know I look forward to another visit to McFalls County. I’m a firm believer that good writers are good readers, what books are on your proverbial nightstand?

Since selling BULL MOUNTAIN it’s been tough to read anything. Working under a deadline is a brand new experience for me and it changes your perspective on your work ethic. I did manage to read SOIL by Jamie Kornegay, which was brilliant, but since serious work began on the new book, the only thing I can read for enjoyment has to be way far left of what I’m currently writing myself to avoid subliminal cross pollination, so I’m currently reading THE FOLD by Peter Clines, and the current run of THE GREEN ARROW by Benjamin Percy, but I’ll most likely break down and buy Harper Lee’s book this month and hopefully it won’t keep me from my own work too long.

GREEN ARROW was one of my favorite comics as a kid back in the Mike Grell days. One a handful of comics I’d love to write. What comic book would you want to tackle if given the chance?

It’s funny you mention that particular run, Ron. I’d take anyone I could get, but I do have a pitch ready and waiting for a HAWKEYE story that gives him a Mike Grell Longbow Hunters work over. Burt Reynolds via DELIVERANCE style. That’s a dream project for me that I hope I gain enough clout to at least get someone over there’s attention. I’d love to write a Simon Williams/Wonder Man story too. I’ve always loved that character.

Your takes on the characters would be interesting, and placing Clint Barton in the Georgia backwoods vis-à-vis Deliverance would a mess. Who would be your story’s Bobby Trippe? You don’t have to answer that. How’s it feel to be a Georgian writer on the shelf next to the likes of James Dickey?

I keep waiting to get found out.

Brian Panowich was a touring musician for twelve years before settling in East Georgia with his family. He now works full-time as a firefighter. BULL MOUNTAIN is his first novel.

Buy the Books

  • bullmountain

A Conversation: Patti Abbott and Rob Hart

A strange thing happens when you manage a site like Shotgun Honey where you become intimate with repeat offenders—authors who contribute frequently over the years. The fact that I can say years also gives me an inside look at the growth of many of those offenders. Authors like Joe Clifford, Tom Pitts, Matthew McBride, Matthew Funk, and so many, many talented folks. And when they sign that first contract I feel perhaps as jubilant at their success as they do. It may be misplaced, but I think of them as my friends. Reading their stories, I’ve already been in their heads.

Today Patricia Abbott and Rob Hart are releasing their debut novels with an amazing new publisher Polis Books, headed by author Jason Pinter (The Mark, The Hunter). Their novels Concrete Angel and New Yorked, respectively, share more than a casual relationship with Shotgun Honey, but a nearly devastating publishing history with the now defunct Exhibit A Press, sibling imprint to Angry Robot Books.

The day that it was announced that Exhibit A Press was folding and immediately ceasing publication my gut simultaneously twisted into knots and dropped. I couldn’t even imagine how it felt for the many writers who had signed with them only months before to have their contracts, theirs books ripped out from under them.

Patricia and Rob have taken time to talk about that news and how Concrete Angel and New Yorked found rebirth in the ashes.

Ron Earl Phillips
June 9, 2015

abbott-conversation

When you heard Bryon Quertermous’ voice on the phone, did you immediately sense it was bad news? I know I did–not just from his tone but from the fact that he had never communicated with me by phone before. And we are friends as well as editor/writer. I went to his wedding. So his voice on that phone sent chills down my spine. Forgive the cliché, but it was how it felt.I appreciate that he called though. That was the standup thing to do and he did it.

Also did you have some sense trouble was brewing before the call. I did here too because time was passing and I was getting no check and no communication. No response to an email or two I sent them.

hart-coversation

It wasn’t his voice that did it. He sent me an e-mail, asking me if I was free for a phone call. And I have no idea why, it was a plain, straight-forward message—but it carried such a foreboding sense of dread that I knew something was very wrong.

And at that point, I was so frustrated with Exhibit A—to be six months out of publication with no advance check, no cover, no edits, nothing, clearly they didn’t have their shit together. Part of me was in denial. I thought there was still time to pull things out. But once I got that e-mail, it wasn’t hard to put together what happened.I felt terrible for Bryon, because I could hear how much it hurt him to make that call. I like to goof on him and pretend it was his fault, but the truth is, we all got jerked around and then very unceremoniously kicked to the curb.

How did you cope? I spent a lot of the following week playing video games and drinking whiskey, convinced my writing career was over.

I think our ages played a part in our response to this debacle. Part of me felt relief.  I would not have to put myself out there. I would not have to consult Amazon numbers and wonder how to make a book sell. No self-promotion. Although another part of me felt extreme embarrassment. All the people I had told I was FINALLY going to have a book in print would have to learn I would not. After over one hundred shorts I was still novel-less. You cannot imagine how many people, over the last 20 years, have asked, “And when the novel?”

I remembered doing a piece for Spinetingler a few years back about why I didn’t have a novel. And why didn’t I? Was I that wedded to the short story form? Was I some sort of short story guru?

Because after a certain age, the ambition takes a nosedive. You begin to think, “So what?”

So when Bryon called, I was of two minds as I told him on the phone. Part of me was relieved. But part of me was enraged. How dare a publisher have so little sense of their economic situation that they made offers to writers. Does a contract mean nothing?

You had an agent. What did your agent have to say about this? I have no agent so I was on my own. 

My agent was great. After the phone call with Bryon I went outside and sat on the sidewalk and called her, and she was just completely on point. I was a blubbering mess. She cut through the bullshit, told me it sucked, yes, but everything was going to be fine, she was going to get to work that very instant, we’d find a new home, and not to worry.Of course, I was so bereft I didn’t believe any of it. Which isn’t a knock against her. I know there’s a lot of suffering in the world and it’s just a book, but in terms of my publishing career, my hopes and dreams for the future, that was pretty much rock bottom. It’s tough to see the light when you’re sitting at rock bottom.

I know what you mean, though, about being embarrassed. Because I work in publishing, so there’s a certain understanding I go into this with–but to have to explain to my parents, and my in-laws, and my siblings, and my friends–it’s tough. You have to tell the same story over and over, which in a way, makes it worse. If you’re like me, who likes to take shit like that and bury it and pretend it didn’t happen.

How did you end up hooking up with Jason after things fell apart?

Well, that was Bryon again. He emailed me, assured me my book was good, and suggested I try Polis Books where he had gone with Murder Boy. I really didn’t want to do it. I envisioned another round of disappointments. But in the end, I figured, what did I have to lose? I had not been diligent in finding an agent nor in finding a publisher. But finally I sent it out to Polis. And, at about that time, another publisher offered to read it too. So now two new people had some interest in it. But Jason was very quick and offered me a two book deal since I had another book ready to go.At every point along the way, I expected the same thing to happen. Polis was very new and had mostly published ebooks. But Jason Pinter seemed on the ball, doing everything in a timely manner. So I began to feel maybe this would work. And so far it has. I continue to be amazed at how professional Polis has been.

What has impressed you most about Polis, Rob? 

“Professional” is the right word. Last night I was out at my local Barnes & Noble, talking to the events coordinator about my signing there. And she said something like ‘It’s so nice that you actually have a publicist.’ Which is funny, because Jason is my publicist. And editor, and marketing team, and sounding board, and advocate…The amount of ground that guy can cover blows me away. He doesn’t sleep. He can’t. I don’t even see how it’s possible.

The thing about Polis is that, since Jason came out of the Big Six NYC meat-grinder, he has to tools and experience of a major publisher, with the passion and can-do attitude of an indie. So it’s a great marriage. He’s open to thinking outside the box, and I don’t have to be afraid of going outside the box for fear of offending someone’s delicate sensibility about “the way things are done.”

I want to take a step back to something you said before–yes, you’re a very prolific short story writer. I knew your name and your work before we became imprint buddies. How does it feel, after so many stories, to be standing on the cusp of a novel?

And in my case, I think of him as my agent too! He’s the only one I go to about any issue. And I am stunned at how quickly he answers me. I have heard stories about writers waiting for weeks to get a response from their agent, never mind their editor or publisher. Transitioning from short stories to a novel feels scary most of the time.  I never had expectations about people reading my stories. And I was sort of shocked when people had.

But for the first time, I could have more than three characters in the story. And it could take place over a longer period of time. If felt liberating but at the same time worrisome. Did I have enough to say? Was there enough plot/story to fill 300 pages?

In retrospect, I would not recommend writing short stories for very long before trying to write a novel–if that’s your goal. I think in my case that coming out of a writing program where we were encouraged to get our feet wet on short stories was a bad idea for me. My feet were the only thing wet for a very long time.

Did you have a sequel in mind from the beginning? Did you see your character(s) as needing more than one book to tell their story? 

New Yorked was intended to be one-and-done. There were other stories I wanted to write, but I loved the voice of the narrator so much, I eventually came to the realization that I could just write those stories using the same character, and make the series about this kid finding his moral compass and growing into a man.And once that dawned on me, the whole series came together pretty quickly in my head. I’m setting the next few books in places I’ve visited that I really loved–Portland, a hippie commune in Georgia, Eastern Europe. With the fifth coming back home. That’s the plan for now, at least. It’s exciting.

The second, City of Rose, comes out next year from Polis–that was part of my deal. Right now I’m nailing down the third one. Noir at a hippie commune. I think it’s going to be fun.

Is Concrete Angel a stand-alone? If no, would you consider writing a series? And what’s next?

That’s interesting. I think you fell in love with your character. You didn’t want to say goodbye because you knew what he would do next. No, my book is definitely a standalone. I was happy to say goodbye to Eve Moran and allow Christine to go to college and raise her brother. Of course, she did show an aptitude for finding evidence in the end.

My next book is called Shot in Detroit. Parts of it have appeared in several publications (as was the case with this one). When both books were written and it didn’t look like they would see the light of day, I began taking chapters out and rewriting them as short stories. Since I came from that background it was pretty natural for me.

Shot in Detroit is about a struggling photographer in Detroit. She finds a way to elevate her craft and gets into a lot of trouble because of it. I hope to have captured the Detroit of about five years ago, before its recent resurgence.

Can’t wait to read New Yorked, Rob. Thanks for sharing your experiences with me. It’s been great fun. And thanks to Shotgun Honey’s Ron Earl Phillips for suggesting it. 

Ditto. It’s a nice alternative to the standard pre-pub interview. And I’m very much looking forward to Concrete Angel. It’ll be nice, too, when you’re in town for the event at The Mysterious Bookshop with Bryon–we can all reminisce.

Patricia Abbott is the author of Concrete Angel and forthcoming Shot in Detroit (Polis Books). More than 135 of her stories have appeared in print, many of them with Shotgun Honey. She also published two ebooks (MONKEY JUSTICE and HOME INVASION) through Snubnose Press. She lives in Detroit.

Rob Hart is the associate publisher at MysteriousPress.com and the class director at LitReactor. His short stories have appeared in Shotgun Honey, Crime Factory, Thuglit, Needle, Kwik Krimes, Joyland, and Helix Literary Magazine. His first novel, New Yorked, is available now. The sequel, City of Rose, will follow early next year.

Buy the Books

  • concreteangel
  • newyorked-robhart

Interview: Matthew McBride

Cover: A Swollen Red Sun by Matthew McBrideI often talk about good people, the folks I’ve gotten to know over the last few years from the crime fiction community. Matthew McBride is good people. He is a past contributor of Shotgun Honey, and has had stories with Plots with Guns, Thuglit, A Twist of Noir and others. His first novel Frank Sinatra in a Blender is an inspired work that turns the PI genre on its head. His follow up A Swollen Red Sun has gotten early praise from Daniel Woodrell, Donald Ray Pollock, Johnny Shaw and many others.

I look forward to digging into Matthew’s latest, and with the help of Rob Hart and Mysterious Press I am offering an advance reader copy of A Swollen Red Sun to a lucky reader who tells us about their worst job in the comments of this interview. Any comments will be eligible, but the one with a good story will likely have chicken for dinner.

How’d you get the gun? Or rather what drew you to crime fiction?

Writing anything else would be boring.

Was there a gateway author? A writer or writers that made you want to write works like Frank Sinatra in a Blender and A Swollen Red Sun?

Not really. Growing up I always read a lot, but I never knew a genre such as crime fiction existed. This was pre-Internet, so all I had was our local library, and living in a small town offered a small selection. At one point, like so many other writers, I discovered Elmore Leonard, and I read a few of his books and liked them. But mostly I read King and Grisham and Hunter S. Thompson. Those were three of my favorites.

There are always new inspirations to be found. When did you first start writing?

In high school. I have always known I wanted to write, I just didn’t know what I wanted to write. Or how to go about writing it. I knew I wanted to be a writer, but the idea that some uneducated, small town boy from Missouri could carve a path into the publishing world seemed unattainable to me.

Yet, you did what many are afraid of doing; you quit your job to write. Jump us through that decision.

I built minivans for thirteen years and I hated it. I liked the people I worked with, but I hated the repetitive work of the assembly line. Plus, most of our bosses were assholes. But it wasn’t really their fault. Because their bosses were assholes too, and they instructed them to be assholes toward us. As strange as that may sound, that was their business model at Chrysler. So when they announced they were closing our plant I knew that I was done. “I have one chance to get outta that shit hole,” I said. Because I knew I would not get another. It’s like if I didn’t go right then and there while I could, I knew they would have me for life.

So I quit with no regrets. But now, looking back on those days, my decision was not without consequences. Almost halfway to retirement I went from making thirty dollars an hour to making eight. What I once made in one day I now made in six. And spending almost four years writing a single book was not without its casualties.

So, in the end, was it worth it? I don’t ask that question. You have to move forward and push through the detritus. But I am proud of where I am as a writer; the road to get here was just much harder than I could have anticipated.

Working the hard road isn’t new for you; I remember interviews around the time of Frank Sinatra in a Blender release of you writing on the line and anytime available. Did Frank start on the line or after?

Cover: Frank Sinatra in a Blender by Matthew McBride

I wrote my first manuscript on the assembly line, in between jobs. That one may or may not ever see the light of day. When I wrote Frank Sinatra in a Blender I was working as a tree trimmer, clearing power lines for an electric company. I used a chainsaw for ten hours a day cutting down cedars. On the weekends I also worked security at these MMA fights, and one night this dumb asshole in the front row named Chad [REDACTED] kept jumping up on his seat and yelling, he refused to sit down. So at some point the idea came to me I should write a story about a guy at an MMA fight who kept jumping up on his seat and yelling, who refused to sit down—so the security guard cuts off his legs with a chainsaw to teach him a lesson.

It was completely over-the-top, even more so than it sounds if you can believe it, but people liked the story so much it planted the seed in my head for a detective novel about a PI who drank copious amounts of alcohol, abused pharmaceuticals, and carried a chainsaw.

But A Swollen Red Sun is nothing like Frank Sinatra in a Blender.

So what is A Swollen Red Sun like? Give the readers the pitch.

When my agent pitched the book it generated interest pretty quickly from several big publishing houses—and some of them really loved it. But they said it was too dark. There was graphic drug use and brutal violence. But they’d read it again if I agreed to make changes. Tone it down?

But as far as changing the story, in no way was that appealing. I could not bowdlerize the book. So I said I’d pass on the changes—I wanted to be true to the characters. Even if that meant it would remain unpublished, that was fine with me; I knew eventually we’d find a publisher who loved the book as much as we did, so I stuck to my convictions.

While it is a world of fiction, one thing’s assured: The fallout from Meth ruins lives and breaks people. It’s about the chemical-ravaged heartland of Missouri and the people who were born here. It’s also about the Sheriff’s Department in Gasconade County, where I actually live.

Sheriff’s Deputy Dale Everett Banks is a good man, but he does something bad, which completely goes against his character. Of course, that’s what makes him an interesting character—there’s a lot of depth to him—so you take this good man and you test him—put him in a situation where he’s tempted to do something wrong. And he does. But the audience likes him enough to forgive him for it, because his reasons for doing what he did are genuine.

Then there is Jerry Dean Skaggs: A convict on parole for shooting a bald eagle (among other things), as well as a pot cultivator and a meth cook. He is the epitome of a lowlife scab if ever there was one—there’s his partner, Bazooka Kincaid, fresh out of prison for robbing Cracker Barrel restaurants to finance a derby car for the big fall smashup—but not just any smashup, this was The Firecracker 5000, the Granddaddy of all Demolition Derbies.

He also works on a turkey farm for a boss he’d like to kill.

Olen Brandt is a farmer who has lost everything in his life that is important, now the only thing he has left is the dog by his side, and a son in some prison he may never get out of, for a crime he surely did.

He plows field after field on his Allis Chalmers and looks for a reason to go on living. Somewhere in the pages of the book he finds it.

In the end, everyone’s worlds collide as a result of the choices Banks has made.

It sounds just like my kind of read; I’m a real fan of multiple POV and seeing how the writer brings it altogether. Are there any contemporaries you would compare with the story or your writing?

I’m not one to compare myself to other writers, but I’m sure comparisons will be made.

I suppose that is the job of others isn’t it? Let’s talk mechanics, what’s your writing process? You outline? A note taker? What’s your day look like?

I’ve never outlined anything I’ve written and I’m not sure how you do it, but the idea of writing down what you want to write about before you write about it seems like it would take the pleasure out of writing. For me, the beauty of the art is the discovery of words. My only real goal is to sit down, find the zone, and lose myself in the process. There is minimal note taking, because notes that I take I’ll just lose. It’s a spontaneous course of action. I never know what I’m going to write until it’s written, and I have no idea how something will end until it’s over. If I knew how a book was going to end I would not be able to finish it. Even as I write the last page I’m just as surprised as the reader.

But that’s an interesting question, because every writer has a way that is unique to them, sometimes they just have to find it. Like, last year, when I got smashed at a bar in New York, with my agent, Todd Robinson, and Glenn Gray. We talked about the creative process, and how most of her clients wrote linear—they write page 1, then page 2, and so on—just as the reader would read them. But for me that doesn’t work. The idea of rules just seems boring. I’ll write the end of a book, then the middle, then jump to out to the 3/4 mark, then go back and write a different beginning … then, totally out of the blue, create a new document page and write two new characters completely unrelated to the story and give them five pages and save it and return to the story I’m working on. Then three weeks later write the story up to the part where I throw in these two new characters. So, basically, I write books in scenes. A lot of them having no real frame of reference with the actual story I’ve been telling. I just blend them all together.

It might sound chaotic, but it’s the only way I know.

What is flowing out of the chaos next? Another novel? A new Nick Valentine? More short stories?

Classic Matthew

I don’t like to talk about future writing projects. It’s never a good idea and nothing good can come of it, but I have no plans to write a sequel to either Frank Sinatra in a Blender or A Swollen Red Sun. People ask, but I’ve never wanted to be that kind of writer. I understand people get attached to characters they like and they want to read about them again, but I feel like I need to create new bodies of work. And while I realize a writer that achieves success with a book could make more money with an ongoing series, and for the very reason I just mentioned, that’s just not me. Though it’s nice to get paid—it’s important to get paid, and I’m glad I get paid—it’s still not about money. I’m not even sure why I write, but creating something out of thoughts and words plugs some kind of vacancy that only writing books can fill.

Thank you for the time, but before you leave us do you have any parting words, pearls of wisdom, for our readers and writers out there?

I am not one to offer writing advice and I always feel strange when it’s asked of me, but on the rare occasion that it is, the best answer I can give is the same answer I always give: Don’t be afraid to have fun while you write—and if you know the kind of books you want to write, but don’t know what to write: Read the kind of books you’d want to write, then write the kind of books you’d want to read, so any book you write will be the best book you could write.


Interview: Terrence McCauley

me hatThis week we sit down with Terrence McCauley, a New Yorker with a passion for the past. His ex-heavyweight boxer turned enforcer, Terry Quinn, has appeared in joints like THUGLIT and ATOMIC NOIR, as well as recently released novels FIGHT CARD: AGAINST THE ROPES and PROHIBITION, and most recently in our own flashzine with “The Careful Hunter.” His new book SLOW BURN was released from the newly launched Noir Nation Books.

With so much going on, and he’s support of Shotgun Honey, how could we not help him sell some more books. You will buy his books! So let’s get on with it.

How’d you get the gun? Or rather what drew you to crime fiction?

I’ve always been drawn to unconventional stories. I enjoy the standard cops and robbers stuff, but I’ve never really wanted to write that kind of fiction. I’ve been in politics and government for most of my life, so I know there are no good guys or bad guys in life. We’re all capable of good and bad given a particular situation. I also didn’t want to write excessively about crooked/bad cops either because I think that’s just as unrealistic. I decided to write about people as they were, warts and all.

I set my Terry Quinn character in the past because I didn’t want to write a contemporary story about contemporary problems. Researching modern criminal and police tactics don’t interest me. Sure, they’re important in real life, but I didn’t want to spend time learning about them for my fiction. I wanted my story to be set in an interesting time period in America’s history in general and New York City history in particular. That’s why I set my story during the Prohibition era. It just naturally evolved into a crime story from there and I’m glad it did.

Our readers, some for the first time, got a taste of Terry Quinn the other day with “The Careful Hunter.” Tells them a little more about Terry, what makes him tick?

Throughout the course of the Quinn books and stories, I do my best to portray him as a guy who is much smarter than he thinks he is. He believes he’s just a thug, but no one really treats him that way. He’s every bit as smart as he is tough – and he’s pretty tough. He has a deep sense of loyalty to Archie Doyle, the crime boss for whom he works and the feeling is mutual. So many mob stories feature some kind of predictable schism between the head boss and the hit man. In the Quinn stories, I didn’t give myself that luxury. If anything, consistent loyalty between the two men has forced me to come up with more creative story lines for them.

Do the Quinn stories take place in our present timeline, or an alternate one allowing you more flexibility? What kind of research goes into setting a story in the Prohibition era?

The Quinn stories are set in the 1930s. The setting provides me with the flexibility to use historical figures and events to pepper my stories. I ignore them or pay attention to them, depending on how I feel they can serve my plot’s purpose.

That takes a lot of research which sounds like a lot of work. It is, but it’s also very rewarding. Research gave me new plot ideas and pushed me in directions I never intended to go. That makes my work better and the act of writing it very exciting.

Sometimes writers put a little of themselves in their characters, anything in former boxer turned PI that reflects you?

Well, Quinn isn’t really a PI. He’s more of an enforcer than anything else. I’d say that if there’s anything of me in Quinn, it’s his grit. I’m a great believer in not giving up on anything until every avenue is explored. My writing career has been like that. A lot of people told me to quit writing period fiction and forget about the Quinn character. They told me audiences want a hero they can admire; a character to whom they can relate. But I knew in my heart Quinn was a good character that audiences would like. He’s a cold blooded killer, sure, but he does it for the right reasons. He isn’t reckless about it and he always has a plan. He’s tough with a purpose and he never gives up. I didn’t give up when all those people told me to do so. Now I’ve got several short stories in print and three books on the market. Hopefully, it’s the beginning of a long career.

Forget the naysayers, who and what venues have given Quinn support? Where can our readers find the short stories?

Quinn has found a home in both short fiction and in novels. Airship 27 published PROHIBITION, a full length Quinn novel and FIGHT CARD: AGAINST THE ROPES is about the end of Quinn’s boxing career. Short stories featuring Quinn have appeared in THUGLIT published by the Honey Boo Boo of Crime Fiction today: Todd Robinson. Those stories are called ‘Lady Madeline’s Dive’ and ‘Redemption’. Matt Hilton’s ACTION, PULSE POUNDING TALES, VOL. 1 featured an action packed Quinn story called ‘Blood Moon of 1931’. Out of the Gutter Books ran a story of a 1950s Quinn in ATOMIC NOIR called ‘A Brave New World’. All of these works are available on Amazon. I’m proud that six different publishers (including Shotgun Honey) have proved the naysayers wrong and seen value in the Quinn character. He’s someone I’d like to write about for a long, long time.

FIGHT CARD is a notable series of boxing stories penned by under the pseudonym “Jack Tunney,” an homage I can guess to Gene Tunney and Jack Dempsey. Many of our contributors have been “Jack Tunney.” Being part of a series like that, were there any guidelines, rules to follow?

ROPESThe main rule is that the story has to center around The Big Fight in a boxer’s career. That makes sure the reader knows there will be some kind of dramatic payoff at the end. Yes, it’s a theme that’s been done to death in almost every boxing story ever told, but Paul Bishop and Mel Odom have done a great job of building FIGHT CARD into a damned respectable franchise. They’ve featured some of the best fiction writers out there today and I’m honored to be part of it. I encourage everyone to check out the series on Amazon. There honestly isn’t a weak story in the bunch. I’m especially proud of my FIGHT CARD entry because it’s one of the best things I’ve ever written.

PROHIBITION from Ron Fortier’s Airship 27 imprint was your first novel featuring Quinn. How did that come about and give us the pitch for PROHIBITION?

ProhibitionFINALaPROHIBITION is about Terry Quinn, an ex-heavyweight contender turned mob enforcer who must use his brains as much as his brawn to find out who is trying to undermine his boss’s criminal empire in 1930 New York City. It is a robust crime drama, filled with memorable historical characters like Mayor Jimmy Walker while portraying the way New York was at the end of Prohibition and the dawn of the Great Depression.

Back in 2008, I submitted PROHIBITION in the running for TruTV’s Search for the Next Great Crime Writer Contest. To my surprise, it beat out over two hundred other manuscripts and won the contest. Borders Book Stores was going to enter the publishing market and promised to not only publish the book, but heavily market it in their stores. Well, we all know what happened to Borders and, well, nothing ever happened with PROHIBITION. Publishers looked at the manuscript and, although they liked it, said no one was interested in period fiction any more. But I took into account their more technical criticisms of the work and revised the manuscript, hoping I’d find a publisher for it one day. If the big publishers weren’t interested, I figured I’d give the smaller presses a try. My agent dropped me at that point and I found Airship 27. Ron loved the manuscript, but told me that it was about 20,000 words too long for him to publish. So, I pulled an Ellroy and edited dialogue tags and other information. The result? I came under Ron’s word limit by a thousand or so words. He hired the great Rob Moran to do original interior illustrations and the cover of the book.

The result is a unique work that really stands out. FIGHT CARD: AGAINST THE ROPES was written in late 2012 as sort of a prequel to PROHIBITION, detailing the end of Quinn’s boxing career, which receives a mention in PROHIBITION.

It must be a thrill after nearly 5 years to see PROHIBITION in print? These last few months have been a big upswing, or should I say uppercut, with PROHIBITION, FIGHT CARD: AGAINST THE ROPES and your third novel SLOW BURN from Noir Nation Books.

Slow Burn CoverIt is a great thrill. Even though I kept getting rejection after rejection, I kept writing. I thought about self publishing for a while, but I’m so glad Quinn has found a home in a variety of forms with a variety of publishers. I also have another Quinn story coming out later this year in Big Pulp. It’s a story where Quinn and Doyle go up against Joe Kennedy. SLOW BURN is different from anything I’ve ever written. It’s told in first person from Charlie Doherty’s perspective. He’s a corrupt Tammany Hall cop who finds himself embroiled in a murder/kidnapping case that involves one of New York City’s wealthiest families. It’s set in 1932 during a heat wave that set the entire city on the edge. Throw in the fact that the Great Depression was starting to hit home and it sets the stage for a good story. I’m glad Eddie Vega decided to publish it as the first in the Noir Nation Books franchise.

Like most writers I know, this wave is a long time coming and has been tempered with juggling real world concerns. What’s your day job, and how and where do you find time to write?

I’m the Manager of Government and Community Relations for MTA Metro-North Railroad. We’re the largest commuter railroad in the country and deal with dozens of communities and elected officials, so I’m kept pretty busy. I find time to write any time I can: on the ride into work, on the ride home, at night and on weekends. Writing has always been a labor of love for me and is my way of relaxing. I enjoy every part of the process: drafting, rewriting, editing and especially the feedback I get on my work. Even when it’s negative feedback, as long as it’s valuable in making me a better writer. Of course, when it’s positive feedback, that’s even better.

What can we expect from you in the future?

While I’ll always love the 1930s and hope to write about that era and Terry Quinn and Charlie Doherty for a long time, I’m always interested in challenging myself as a writer. That’s why I’m currently working on a Western I’m calling THE DEVIL’S CUT as well as a short story for The Big Adios. I’ve also got several other projects in the works, including a modern day spy thriller, a space opera and a horror story I’ve been kicking around for a while. Maybe they’ll flop, maybe they’ll find a home. I don’t have any control over that. All I can do is turn out the best work I can and do my best to improve my craft and entertain my audience. I seem to be off to a good start. Here’s hoping it keeps going.

Terrence, thank you for sitting down with us. One last question before you go, can you give us, our readers, any parting shots or pearls of wisdom?

My advice to any writer is to just write. Don’t worry about publishing trends. Tell the story you want to tell. Tell it your way and find people who will give you honest criticism. Always be open to improving yourself and never give up.


Interview: Joe Clifford

joeclifford-gray

Last time I had the pleasure to interview Tom Pitts, who has been many things over the years, most recently co-editor for Out of the Gutter‘s The Flash Fiction Offensive. So I thought we’d piggyback Tom’s interview with his co-editor, friend and fellow survivor, Joe Clifford. The men two share many things in common, from writing to recovery to music, but having worked with them both I can say the most important thing they share is themselves. Joe is very candid about his life prior to writing, and his words bleed redemption. While every story, long or short, is as varied as snowflake, they each sing of Joe Clifford.

Aside from being co-editor of one of the best flash fiction sites, Joe has released his short story collection Choice Cuts through Snubnose Press, who is also soon releasing WAKE THE UNDERTAKER, as well as the memoir novel JUNKIE LOVE from Battered Suitcase Press. Joe also organizes an open reading series called Lip Service West featuring stories addition.

How’d you get the gun? Or rather what drew you to crime fiction?

What gun? Who told you I have a gun?! I have a felony. I can’t own a gun!

Crime fiction, eh? Few things. 1.) My thesis advisor in grad school, Lynne Barrett, pointed out in workshop one day how my stories seemed like they could go noir at any minute. Her words. To which I said, “Wow! Because that what I like to read!” And she gave me a “Well, no shit, that’s how it works” look. And that is what I like to read. Jim Thompson. Day Keene. Chandler, of course. So there’s that. Plus coming from the life I left (junkie, streets, etc.), it makes sense to write about that element; it’s the world I know best. And, also, because I was sick to fucking death of literary fiction. The purveyors tend to be douches. Furthermore, I don’t want to read literary fiction. I’d rather shoot myself in the fucking head than read David Foster Wallace. Even writers I like, like, say, Don DeLillo–I was reading White Noise, and I thought the writing was great, and it was gripping. For a while. Then nothing is happening halfway through the book. I put it down. And who cares? Because there’s no story to finish. Last, there is the community. It’s overly simplistic, but noir writers tend to be nicer, more supportive, less pretentious/elitist. Noir is the story of the common man. I don’t give a shit about lacrosse or rowing or using summer as a verb. Ain’t what I’m about. So all those things combined led me to crime.

You’ve been very open to readers and fans that follow your site about your drug abuse and addiction, and the choices you’ve made to feed the next fix. You’ve written a memoir of that time in your life, JUNKIE LOVE. Can you give us a glimpse of that period?

junkieloveIt’s hard to answer that question without the obligatory, “You’ll have to read the book!” But you really can’t summarize an experience like that. You’re right. I am pretty open about that period, almost to a fault. It’s harder for my wife, I think. Because Justine’s 85-year-old grandmother is going to read a novel called Junkie Love that details how I injected heroin into my neck and stole money from banks and had dirty sex. I mean, she doesn’t have to read it. But there it is. For me, though, I don’t see any reason to shy away from it. I spent so long as an addict, sniveling and ashamed; I’m not going to do that anymore. I made some bad mistakes, and I hurt a lot of people. I’ve got a lifetime of guilt I have to carry on my shoulders. The choices I made in those days weren’t the result of malice. I was young, aching, searching for a place to belong. It seems stupid, often regretful now. I get hate mail occasionally. Some people don’t like addicts, reformed or otherwise. But Junkie Love will get into the particulars more. The whys, wheres, hows. There was still beauty in that life, no matter how dark days got. It’s fueled by the Kerouac mad ones, roman candles and shooting stars, all that shit. The book will be released as a novel (i.e., not memoir) by Battered Suitcase Press in April. If you read it, you’ll see the book is less about drugs and more about just growing up. Plus, y’know, you can see how I met (Gutter Books co-editor) Tom Pitts (hint: we shot dope together in a shooting gallery called Hepatitis Heights).

Whoah, let’s roll back here a minute. The memoir’s a novel now?

The book was originally titled (I shit you not): The Prolonged Accusation of a Goldfish (subheading) The Diary of a Lunatic in Rehab (AKA) The Junkie Manifesto. The original text, written on 8 x 14 ” paper, longhand, a month into my sobriety was part memoir/part time-traveling, science fiction novel. Interspersed with narrative of my drug addiction, which was told in a series of non-linear, unconnected vignettes, there was a rambling, barely coherent plot involving very tiny monkeys on a top secret mission to kill god (small “g”). Obviously no one published that steaming turd (although a copy made it back to San Francisco, where it enjoyed some popularity with the underground tweaker sect. I still get notes, from time to time, how that book changed a life).

Then I went to school and learned how to write. I kept the vignettes as a foundation and then wrote a real book about my drug life around it. The title was changed to Junkie Love. But my agent at the time thought it might be causing us headache since that douche James Frey has gotten caught making up his junkie memoir. So we changed the title to Candy and Cigarettes. When I found out there was another book (by CS DeWildt) called Candy and Cigarettes, I thought it would be a clever to pitch it to his publisher, since at that time I’d parted ways with my agent. I sent my C&C to Vagabondage/Battered Suitcase Press.

They loved it. Wanted to publish it. But I’d have to change the title since they already had a Candy and Cigarettes (“So we were the new Originals…). I said how about Junkie Love? Great, they said. One last thing. Gotta publish it as a novel (since they don’t do memoir). Fine by me. That line between memoir and fiction is blurry with drugs anyway. I mean, I’m not a douche (like James Frey). All this stuff did happen to me. But I streamline trips, conflate characters. The experience is the same, but it doesn’t help the reader (or propel the narrative) to say, ‘Yeah, I got arrested in LA, then went back to CT where nothing happened for three months, then I went back to LA and lived in a shelter.’ Just say I got arrested and lived in the shelter in LA. I am using that as an example. I never got arrested in LA. I got arrested in San Francisco. And Massachusetts. And CT, too, I think.

Arrest records to the side, you’re readers have been able to reap the rewards of your writing. Having read, published and produced your writing in the past, your style is not easy to pin down. What should a reader expect from Joe Clifford?

I strive to be accessible. For me that is the biggest thing. I want a conversation with my readers. It sounds a little corny, I know, but it’s true. it’s the reason I made the switch to genre for the most part. Hardboiled, crime, noir, pulp, whatever you want to call it, it’s more fun to read. Les Edgerton made a comment in a thread the other day, something like, “Now that I am out of school, I don’t have to pretend to like shit I don’t like.” We were talking about our shared hatred of Jane Austen. She’s a good example of the exact kind of writer I don’t want to be. Superfluous layers. Phony, bloated. Comedy of manners? What the fuck is that? Pride & Prejudice could’ve been a fucklot shorter and saved me months of wasted time if Mr. Darcy had just asked the girl on a date on Page 1. Waiting 600 pages to try and get laid seems goofy to me. And it’s not just in writing, this accessibility. I try to do it in my day-to-day life. What do you want? What are you trying to say? Just say it, and then we can move on to the next part. Perfunctory drives me nuts. We have 70-something years (or 50-something if you are my family; the Cliffords are cut down early) to figure out what we’re doing here. Waiting 600 pages for a handjob seems like a waste of time.

600 handjobs in, what was your first published work? Do you look back and think, ‘What a turd, I can’t believe they published that?’

Actually, no. It’s pretty fucking awesome to tell the truth. It’s a…poem…called “Saturday Night in the Waning Days of San Francisco.” It’s a goddamn sonnet, too, dedicated to my ex-wife (it’s on the Internet and my website, easily found). I wrote it for an undergrad class after I sobered up. My professor at the time, Ravi Shankar (no, not that one), suggested I entered it into a contest the CT Review was having. I had so little faith in what I was doing (plus, I’m overwhelmed with any kind of paperwork) that I said, “Nah.” Ravi entered it for me. I won an award, was paid to tour the state as a CT Student Poet.

I don’t write poetry anymore. My first piece of published fiction was “Unpublished Manuscript #36.” I added a number after every rejection. By the time it was taken, it was pretty good (it kicks off my collection, Choice Cuts). Not that I didn’t stumble. My first attempts at novels sucked balls. I’ve mentioned often the first draft of Junkie Love was originally about six monkeys the size of field mice trying to kill god (small “g”). It’s laughably bad in parts. Some parts were good enough though that they made the final cut (Junkie Love comes out with the Battered Suitcase in April).

Honestly, it’s hard to get turds published. I actually once wrote a deliberate turd for a literary magazine, mirroring the crap they published. And, yup, they loved it (and published it). I won’t mention the piece or magazine since that’d be a dick move. But if you look through my published pieces, one stands out not like the others. It’s funny with early writing, the unpolished. It’s a little like rock ‘n’ roll in that respect. The early drafts, cuts, takes can be raw and rough, and later versions smooth and shiny. The latter is more professional. But there is something appealing about the unbridled, untamed energy of the former. Like “Can’t Hardly Wait” by the ‘Mats off Pleased to Meet Me vs. the outtake version from Tim.

Choice Cuts, let’s talk about that. How did the collection come about and what’s the process in cohesively matching stories?

ChoiceCutsAs I was gearing up for the Great American Novel, I was, of course, writing short stories. You don’t realize just how many you have, really. I’d been writing them (seriously) since I started this career back as an undergrad at CCSU after kicking junk. This would’ve been around ’01. And most were duds, so you throw those out. But you’re still publishing a four or five good ones a year when you get rolling. By the time I was ready to publish a collection, I had, y’know, 3 dozen short stories I was pretty proud of. Even though I didn’t make the official switch (not that I ever made an “official” switch; I mean, I never sent in my paperwork) to hardboiled and noir, there has always been an element of pulp in my work; it’s what I like to read (is this a good spot to say “Fuck Jane Austen”? I like to get that into every interview). When Snubnose started doing their thing, I wrote Brian Lindenmuth, Snubnose’s editor, and he said to send what I had. I scrambled to get something together. I had Wake the Undertaker ready (my old-school detective novel that Snubnose is publishing later this month). But it seemed like a good opportunity to get these short stories out, as well. And you’re right. What’s the…theme? We hate that word from school days, but you want some cohesion. Doesn’t have to be a Pink Floyd album, but something to tie the work together as a collective unit. And I found that a bunch of my favorite stories involved meat. I love meat. Got a goddamn grill in my fucking house, built right into the other side of the chimney. Eat a steak just about every day (I weight lift when my back holds up). Meat. Meat market. Human life reduced to nothing but pieces of. Parasites. Hosts. Butchers. Slaughter. Then it was finding the right title. Since all these stories also involve really shitty decisions, the word “choice” came to mind. And there you go.

WAKE THE UNDERTAKER is up next from Snubnose Press, drop our readers the pitch. Why do they need to buy it?

waketheundertakerEvery book is dear its author. This was the first real novel I wrote, and it was born from my first interests, pure in its execution, without the interference of market or viability (which are good things to pay attention to!). Wake the Undertaker is a love letter to my first boyhood obsessions–comic books, superheroes, pulp fiction, and later Chandler, Sin City. It’s based loosely on Chet Baker. Not really. I just saw a before and after picture of him (i.e., the heroin), and got the idea. It’s not about Chet Baker at all. Just how my mind works. The pitch? Something like…

Colin Specter is an up-and-coming singer at The Lone Palm, a nightclub in a darker, alternative San Francisco, owned by the Christos’ crime family. When Colin falls for the wrong girl, they order his vocal cords severed and he is set up for a crime he didn’t commit. After seven years in prison, Colin gets manipulated into working for his former tormentors, while he investigates citywide corruption and delves into the whereabouts of his former love, only to discover that nothing is what it seems in a rain-drenched underworld. The book draws on the rich tradition of noir novels like Jim Thompson’s After Dark My Sweet and Raymond Chandler’s The Long Goodbye, but is equally influenced by more recent anti-establishment offerings, infusing a fast-paced story with a modern and hip vernacular. Wake the Undertaker’s championing of the disenfranchised and subversive makes it as much Slaughterhouse Five and Catcher in the Rye as it does any Sam Spade, private detective story.

Sounds pretty cool, no? That’s the official pitch anyway. I liked what Les Standiford (my graduate program director at FIU) said: “It’s like the secret life of Batman if Batman wasn’t Batman…”

A lot of influences going on here, tell us who are you reading right now and who should readers be keeping an eye on? Besides you of course.

Y’know, I tout this woman and her writing so much, I really am feeling like a tween with a sparkly vampire on her wall. But Hilary Davidson. I am readying Evil in All Its Disguises on my Kindle right and highlighting damn near every other line, going, Wow, just wow. I think her Lily Moore series is fantastic. The thing is, I am a very male writer. Back in grad school, I was chided for my author list because it contained no woman (until Wuthering Heights cracked the list), so it’s a little strange to identify so much with a female author. I just can’t sing Hilary’s praises enough. Other than that? There’s this cache of noir guys coming up. I mean, you have the guys at the top. Hilary, Todd Robinson, Jordan Harper (Hard Bounce and American Death Songs make the early Best Of ’13 list), but I feel really fortunate to be working for Gutter Books with this current crop of noir & hardboiled authors writing their first novels. I can’t get them all in and feelings with get hurt. But Mike Miner, Mike Monson, Mike McCrary, basically a lot of Mikes. T. Fox Dunham. Nicky Murphy. I am continually impressed by the quality of work we receive.

Last time we interviewed you’re buddy, cohort, partner in crime, Tom Pitts. A lot of commonality between you two, which we’ve touch upon in the questions above. Tell us about your music. 

We really are inextricably linked, aren’t we, Tom and I? It’s rare for one junkie as far gone as we to make it out. Two? Love the man like a brother… My music? I have a band called The Wandering Jews. We are currently in the studio wrapping up our latest, All the Pretty Things. It’s taken me a long time to realize the secret to make a good record. “Get the fuck out of the way, Joe.” My friend Gluehead used to tell me, “You know what you should do, Joe? Write your songs, play guitar so everyone knows what the song is. Then get rid of your guitar.” My wife was listening to the rough mixes the other day, and she was, like, “Which guitar is yours?” I said, “Hear that really, really soft one, way in the background?” Truth is I can play guitar OK. But I can’t play like (WJ guitarist) Joe Dean (Tender, six hundred other local SF bands). I have certain strengths. Play to those. Write, sing. Let everyone else do their jobs. Tom Mitchell (Inferno of Joy) plays bass. Jarret Cooper (Pirate Radio) plays keyboards. And they are total pros. They know how to take the few chords I string together and make it sound like a song. This time we got legendary rock drummer Michael Urbano to play drums. You can look him up. Dude’s been on a string of Top Ten hits. Sheryl Crow. Cracker. Third Eye Blind. You name it. Played with Paul Westberg, my rock ‘n’ roll hero. I am never going back to a regular drummer. Your band is only as good as its drummer. Playing with Michael was insane. Anyway, I mention the Wandering Jews a lot in Junkie Love, so Julie Kazimer (who read an advanced copy) told me I should have a new record up on iTunes for some cross promotion. So we got the band back together, man! Ryan Massey (American Steel, The Reckless Kind) is doing the recording at Sharkbite Studios in Oakland. Just a prince of a man with an incomparable ear…

Well, it’s come to the end. We appreciate the one on one, but before you go, can you give us, our readers, any parting shots or pearls of wisdom?

Oh, man, just like my MIL, I LOVE giving unsolicited advice on how others should live their life (Kidding. Sort of. Not really)… Every day is a gift, that’s why it’s called…the present? Probably Bob Roberts said it best: Don’t do crack; it’s a ghetto drug.

Thanks for having me!