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).
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.
While 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?
When 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 Thuglit, Beat to a Pulp, and Shotgun Honey. His short story collection, SAFE INSIDE THE VIOLENCE, is out this November from 280 Steps.