5 Questions with Tom Pitts

Tom Pitts

Tom Pitts is a longtime fixture of the hardboiled scene. His new book, “101,” is a ferocious journey through Northern California’s weed business, set on the cusp of legalization. Its central character, Vic, is a reclusive weed farmer and all-around badass who ends up tangled with some very bad folks. The bodies pile up, along with the double-crosses, as Vic finds himself running out of time and options.

To say anything else would spoil the book’s twists and turns, so we’ll just plunge into our five questions with Mr. Pitts:

101: A Novel by Tom Pitts

Q. It’s clear you did a ton of prep for this book—the detailing around weed, guns, biker gangs, etc. is really impressive. How did you research, and how did that vary (if it did) from your research routine in previous books?

Funny you should ask. I’ve known folks in the pot business a long time. It’s always been a big business in Northern California. Right before I wrote the book, my son started working at a grow in Humboldt County. I went up there to visit and get my hands dirty with the intent of filing away my observations for a book. I still don’t feel like I got it all in; I mean, how could I? But I will say that when my boy (and just to clarify, he’s 28) read the book, he said he got the “feels” ‘cause it made him miss the hills so much. As for the biker end, I interviewed another pal who’d prospected for the big club (the one you’re not allowed to mention), and he gave me a lot of details, like what kind of bikes outlaws prefer, that kind of thing. Texture mostly. But that stuff matters.

I guess technically I did more research than the previous books, although this didn’t feel like research, more like immersion. Yeah, let’s just say I was embedded for a while.

Q. Vic is quite an anti-hero. I don’t think I’ve ever read a ‘suiting up’ scene in a book where, in addition to loading up on a considerable amount of firepower, a character packs an equally considerable amount of alcohol. He’s scary, yet he seems to have a code, and people respect him. How’d you come up with this bad boy, and does he have any real-life inspirations?

He does, actually, but I can’t say who. That’d be “putting yer shit out on Front Street” as they say. But he’s an amalgamation of a couple of tough guys I’ve known. I wanted him to be the strong, silent type, you know? And I needed the reveal of Vic as a mentor to poor Jerry to be slow. It’s clear he’s the alpha dog, but the more delicate side of his nature had to come later.  The anti-hero in “American Static” [Pitt’s previous book—ed.] was such a smartass psychopath, I wanted Vic to be a little more down to earth. And just for the record, I think Vic’s the hero, not the anti-hero. He may get his hands dirty, but he’s always maintaining his code. It’s not the criminal code—God knows there ain’t one of those. It’s more like his own version of the cowboy code.  

Q. The weed business is undergoing some fundamental shifts right now. Some folks even think we’ll see some kind of nationalized legalization at some point (at least after Jeff Sessions stops being Attorney General). Are you ever concerned that something like that would “date” books that deal with weed-based crime? 

That’s the reason I set it “on the cusp of legalization.” I knew it was going to be an issue, but there has to be a line somewhere. Before Prohibition and after, WWI, the late Sixties—things are set in time, there’s no way around it. Good art captures eras; I hope this does the same. It’ll be hard to tell for a few more years.

The characters in “101” are scrambling to grab what chips they can before recreational weed hits the market. Before 2016, the medicinal market was still plenty corrupt. Growers could walk into a dispensary and unload their harvest—if they knew somebody. Nowadays it’s done with licensed brokers only. It takes a lot of money to get one of those licenses, and you have to show it’s clean cash. Laws and bylaws are being created to bust out the Mom ‘n Pop outfits. In fact, they’re adding so many laws and rules, they’re going to kill the taxpaying goose and drive that stuff back underground. That’d be okay with me. And my pals in the hills.

Visit TomPittsAuthor.com

Q. What’s the crime-fiction scene like in the Bay Area right now?

You know, I think I’m plugged into the community, and then I find out something new is happening and I realize I don’t have my finger on the pulse like I thought I did. I’m kind of isolated. Not intentionally, just by work and the drudgery of life. I’m also stuck in San Francisco. Most everybody else in my social strata has been forced out of the City and into the East Bay. It’s a mere fluke I’m still here, hanging on.

Q. With this book out of the way, what’s your next project?  

My next release after “101” is called “Coldwater.” It’s my take on a suburban horror story. A nice couple moves to the ‘burbs and the empty house across the street is suddenly occupied by squatters—if that’s really what they are. The clash between the couple and the squatters and what’s really going on in that empty house is what drives the story forward.


William E. Wallace and the completion of the OEP Re-Issues

It’s been a while, and kind of a crazy year. How have you been?

Last year, almost a year ago, I announced our new partnership with Down & Out Books. I can’t say enough great things about Eric and Lance, who have done a stand up job with their own line of books, and have become home to so many talented writers with the inclusion of new imprints like ABC Group Documentation, All Due Respect Books, and of course Shotgun Honey. Also, respect to those imprint publishers Jeremy Stabile and Chris Rhatigan.

Overall, the change has been positive, and I have some really exciting books coming out in 2018 and 2019 which I might not have had a chance to work with if not for Eric and Lance. However, change has its obstacles, and of course I’ve thrown a few wrenches, maybe some lawn furniture, in the mix. The end result were some really tight deadlines for scheduled books and delayed releases of the One Eye Press re-issues. I know Lance says a a prayer and a curse for me every night.

What? Get to the point? Okay, okay.

Shotgun Honey is pleased to announce the re-issue of Face Value by William E. Wallace. Originally released in the summer of 2016, Face Value, would end up being William’s last book before losing his battle to cancer on February 25th of this year. It would be the only Eddie Pax novella, though we had talked about future books. I loved the work William put forward not only for himself, but for others, and the moments of compassion. In 2016, I discovered I had a brain tumor, and when you hear that kind of news your thoughts go towards the worst end of the spectrum. I was scared, but William without pause was there to lift me up and say positive things. This was when he knew that he had an expiration date that was already past.

Face Value is the final One Eye Press re-issue, which means that if you missed them prior you can pick them up again.

Next year brings a new batch of books, but one returns Shotgun Honey back to it’s anthology days with a collection that I’m proud to issue in late February titled Deadline: A Tribute to William E. Wallace. A collection of short stories written in tribute to William by authors who worked or have been supported William’s reviews and promotional efforts on his blogs. It will be edited by Chris Rhatigan, who also published works by William, and artist/writer James R. Tuck Jr., who will provide the cover work for the anthology. The line up is still evolving, but will include the works of:
  • Patricia Abbott
  • Scott Adlerberg
  • Elaine Ash
  • Greg Barth
  • Eric Beetner
  • Paul Brazill
  • Sarah M. Chen
  • Alec Cizak
  • Joe Clifford
  • Jen Conley
  • Sean Craven
  • Nick Kolakowski
  • Preston Lang
  • S. W. Lauden
  • Sean Lynch
  • Cathleen McCarthy
  • Todd Morr
  • Brian Panowich
  • Gary Phillips
  • Renee Pickup
  • Rob Pierce
  • Tom Pitts
  • Eryk Pruitt
  • Travis Richardson
  • Ryan Sayles
  • Will Viharo

So pick up a book (or two) today. And I hope you’ll come back as we announce more about 2018 and the Deadlines anthology.


Tom Pitt takes over Do Some Damage

image001Coughs, comes up to podium, remembers sage advice: Open with a joke. Open with a joke!

Um … The novel walks into a bar, followed by the novella.

Bartender says, “What’s with the new guy?”

The novel says, “It’s a long story.”

(Stolen from @IsTheNovelDead on twitter)

A few years ago, when I tried to pen my first longer work—the piece that eventually became Knuckleball—a friend told me, “The novella is dead!”

image003I’m happy to say this friend (I’m looking at you, Joe Clifford!) was wrong.

Although, I’m not sure he was wrong at the time.

They’re always proclaiming something is dead. God is dead! Rock’n’Roll is dead! Or my personal favorite: Disco is dead!! But there was something a bit more sinister at work here. The publishing industry really did their best to kill off the novella—the brunch of literature, the Opie-size opuses, bite-sized book, the orphan of the epic.

It wasn’t really that reader’s appetites for shorter works had died off. Far from it. The reality of printing skinny little hardcopy books that had to be shipped, invoiced, and stored (thus keeping the price close to what a full-length novel would be) made it tough to rationalize keeping them in the game. If a customer saw a big fat book for 12.99 and a thin volume for 10.99, they’d most likely pick up the bigger tome to get more bang for their buck. Who could blame ‘em? The big houses saw their out and gave the novella the squeeze.

image006Enter the eBook—enter the era of the 99 cent book. Hate on ‘em if you must, but the eBook continues to eclipse their older, heavier brothers with ease, convenience, and price. Now it’s possible to crank out plenty of shorter works without the price-heavy network necessary to get novellas to the readers.

And the public responded. Turns out they dig novellas. In spades.

The publishers responded too. From Don Delillo’s Point Omega to Eric Beetner’s Dig Two Graves, the publishing world has been kicking out tiny tomes left and right.

johnsonI don’t know about y’all, but when I’m trying out a new author I often want to dip my toe in the water. Get a taste. When I first tried out Denis Johnson, I bought Nobody Move, his noir novella. (Loved it, by the way, although a lot of his hardcore fans didn’t. It did the trick. I’m now a fan. I went on to read Tree of Smoke and other longer works of his. Train Dreams, another tight little novella of his remains a personal favorite.)

I just finished, The Drop, Dennis Lehane’s superb novella. It’s perfectly balanced and great example of a shorter book packing a punch. Tough to argue with success via satisfaction.

In fact, when my own novella, Piggyback, was published by Snubnose in 2012, I felt like I was in the midst of a novella renaissance. A novella-lution. Okay, that phrase doesn’t work too well, but you know what I mean.

One Eye Press answered the call in a big way and decided to put out a series of novellas—their Singles series. There’re a few other publishers, both big and small, that have been doing the same thing.

You might say it’s the shorter attention span of readers these days, or the ease of e-publishing, or the aligning of the planets. Whatever the reason, there’s something nice and satisfying about a novella.

oeps-knuckleball-pitts-3dcover-bWhen I think about Steinbeck’s the Red Pony or Of Mice and Men, or even the goddamn Great Gatsby—which by most folk’s measurements would be classified as a novella—there’s direct and concise quality about a thin tome that gets lost inside of a 500-page doorstopper.

So … here’s to the novella.

Oh, by the way, my own novella, my first born, the piece that holds that special place in my heart, KNUCKLEBALL is out now and available from One Eye Press.

Bio: Tom Pitts received his education on the streets of San Francisco. He remains there, working, writing, and trying to survive. His novel, HUSTLE, and his novella, Piggyback, are available from Snubnose Press. His new novella, Knuckleball, will be released by One Eye Press is out now. Find links to more of his work at: TomPittsAuthor.com


Book Launch: Knuckleball

0692370773One Eye Press is thrilled to kick off the 2015 Singles season with the launch of Knuckleball by Tom Pitts.

About Knuckleball

Hugh Patterson is an old-school cop and die-hard Giants fan rooted in the San Francisco Mission District. When he’s struck down in the line of duty, the whole city is aghast. But Oscar Flores, a 15-year old Latino boy obsessed with baseball, witnesses the gruesome crime and has a plan to assuage the city’s grief and satisfy his own vision of justice. Against the backdrop of a weekend long series with the Dodgers, the gripping crime story plays out against the city’s brightest monuments and darkest alleys.

Buy Now

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Early Praise for Knuckleball

“Knuckleball is a bruiser of a story that reads as fast as the title implies, and sits heavy in your mind long after you’ve read the last page. Pitts obviously knows the darkness of his city’s gangland and portrayed here against the light of America’s favorite pastime, while showing both sides their proper respect, is nothing short of remarkable. It’s classic good and evil, hope and despair, but with Pitts, nothing is ever that cut and dry, and rarely does anyone get away clean. Conversational prose, brilliant ensemble casts, ratcheting tension, and the hint of something unexpected right over the next page is the reason to read Tom Pitts in the first place, but with Knuckleball, I’d say he knocked it out of the park. Top notch.”

—Brian Panwich, Author of BULL MOUNTAIN

“In Knuckleball, Tom Pitts finds the beating heart of San Francisco’s Mission District, then reaches into its chest and rips that heart out. An ambitious and tightly-packed slice of modern crime fiction.”

—Jordan Harper, Author of LOVE AND OTHER WOUNDS

“A gut-punch of a story written at a blistering pace by a master of street noir. If you dig tales with wire-tight tension, stuffed with characters that massage the margins of life then pick up Mr. Pitts latest work.”

—Mike McCrary, Author of REMO WENT ROGUE and GETTING UGLY

 About Tom Pitts

Tom Pitts received his education on the streets of San Francisco. He remains there, working, writing, and trying to survive. His new novel, HUSTLE, and his novella, PIGGYBACK, are available from Snubnose Press. Tom is an acquisitions editor at Gutter Books and editor of the Flash Fiction Offensive. Find links to more of his work at: TomPittsAuthor.com.

 

 


No Moral Center: Knuckleball

0692370773So I just finished reading Tom Pitts’ new novella, Knuckleball.  It’s a quick read that manages to pack a lot of information in its limited space. We are thoroughly introduced to a handful of characters whose lives will unfortunately intertwine as a result of a tragic shooting. The drama of solving the murder of a police officer unfolds and is then brought to what seems to be a satisfactory conclusion. Except, of course, this is not a glossy version of reality. This is the kind of fiction where truth intrudes more than it ever could in non-fiction. The novella ends on an ambiguous note appropriate to the tone of the entire story. Justice has many faces, and sometimes, those faces don’t fit so well within the parameters of the law. If you’re like me, if you can’t stand tidy endings where little birds land on a windowsill and sing zippety-fucking-doo-dah, you’ll enjoy Knuckleball.

Review by Alec Cizak
No Moral Center
http://nomoralcenter.blogspot.com/2015/02/knuckleball-by-tom-pitts.html


Knuckleball cover reveal, Pre-order goes live

We are just 2 months shy of our 2015 Singles season, kicking off with KNUCKLEBALL by Tom Pitts, formerly LIFE OF SERVICE.

We’ve been sitting on the cover art for a couple weeks, but we are thrilled to have another compilation by Dyer Wilk, providing the foundation art and the voodoo he do so well. Cover dress by Ron Earl Phillips, OEP’s man of many hats.

0692370773

We have launched a KNUCKLEBALL page, where you can get all the specifics on our newest novella from Tom Pitts, including an excerpt.

KNUCKLEBALL is a 96 page novella releasing in both print and digital format, and includes a two chapter excerpt from our next Singles release, THE GUNMEN by Timothy Friend. Releasing March 24, 215, KNUCKLEBALL is now available for pre-order from Amazon for both the paperback and Kindle editions. Nook, Kobo, and Smashwords to be available for order on the day of release.

Pre-Order Today!

[button link=”http://amzn.com/0692370773 ” type=”big” newwindow=”yes”] Pre-order Paperback[/button] [button link=”http://amzn.com/B00SP5WB1S” type=”big” newwindow=”yes”] Pre-Order for Kindle[/button]

 


One Eye Press Adds More Singles

oepfaviconEarlier this fall we announced the acquisition of Tom Pitts’ novella, LIFE OF SERVICE, with a tentative release of March 2015. Pitts novella kicks off our second season of the Singles line, and while on schedule we have changed the title to KNUCKLEBALL and should have a cover reveal late January, early February.

Today we are happy to announce the three novellas following KNUCKLEBALL. Coming May 2015, One Eye Press returns to the western with a buddy shoot ’em up titled GUNMEN by Timothy Friend, followed by THE FURY OF BLACKY JAGUAR by Angel Luis Colón in July, and  HURT HAWKS by Mike Miner in September.

About GUNMEN by Timothy Friend

Owen Ash and Charlie Brittle are the dead-broke owners of the least popular saloon in the desert town of Olvidados. So when a known bank robber with a bounty on his head is spotted in the vicinity, the pair see a way to quickly improve their fortunes. Capturing their man proves to be easy enough. But while attempting to collect the reward they find themselves at odds with the notorious Scault gang, a vicious outlaw family widely feared for their ruthlessness.

After a violent encounter leaves one of the family dead, the Scaults retaliate, leaving Owen and Charlie no choice but to track them to their lair in the heart of the desert. Each leg of the journey brings more brutality and death, and the reluctant bounty hunters are forced to embrace their own savage natures when they finally face the deadly Scaults in a showdown at the ends of the earth.

About Timothy Friend

Timothy Friend photoTimothy Friend is a writer and independent filmmaker whose fiction has been published in Crossed-Genres, Thuglit, and Needle: A Magazine of Noir. He is the writer and director of the feature film, “Bonnie and Clyde vs. Dracula,” distributed by Indican Pictures. He holds an MFA from the University of Missouri-Kansas City. For more information, visit http://www.timothyfriend.net/

About THE FURY OF BLACKY JAGUAR by Angel Luis Colón

Blacky Jaguar—ex-IRA hard man, devoted greaser, and overall hooligan—is furious. Someone’s made off with Polly—his 1959 Plymouth Fury—and there’s not much that can stop him from getting her back. It doesn’t take him to long to get a name, Osito—the Little Bear. This career bastard has Polly in his clutches, and Blacky doesn’t have long until she’s a memory.

The sudden burst of righteous violence gets the attention of Special Agent Linda Chen—FBI pariah and Blacky’s former flame. Linda’s out to get her man before he burns down half the Bronx and her superiors get the collar.

All roads will lead our heroes to an unassuming house in one of the worst parts of the South Bronx, where fists and bullets will surely fly, but maybe—just maybe—Blacky will find a better reason to fight than a car.

The Fury of Blacky Jaguar is the story of friends, enemies, and one sweet ass ride.

About Angel Luis Colón

angelcolonAngel Luis Colón‘s short fiction has appeared in All Due Respect, Out of The Gutter, Revolt Daily, Shotgun Honey, and Thuglit. He hails from The Bronx and works out of New York City, but has been exiled to live in the northern wastes of New Jersey with his family—thankfully; he has access to good beer and single malts. For more, visit angelluiscolon.com.

About HURT HAWKS by Mike Miner

Captain Patrick Donovan was once a real American hero. Used to run missions for special forces, for the CIA. Now he is a pirate, a mercenary making a handsome living in the Southwestern U.S. as a bag man for the cartels, a liaison between the suppliers and the buyers. He is haunted by the sins of his past, by a mission gone terribly wrong. He can’t stop thinking about the soldier who rescued him, Chris Rogers. The man who took a bullet in his spine to save Donovan and his men.

When Donovan learns that Chris was murdered by local thugs, guilt nags him. He and his men will tear Dorchester, Massachusetts apart to find the gangster responsible and avenge Chris’ death. But nothing in life is simple. When Chris’ young son takes matters into his own hands, the stakes are raised and Donovan faces a choice. Walk away or sacrifice himself for Chris’ wife and child.

Donovan is done with walking away.

About Mike Miner

miner b&wMike Miner lives and writes in Connecticut. He is the author of Prodigal Sons (All Due Respect Books), The Immortal Game (Gutter Books) and Everything She Knows (SolsticeLit Books). His stories can be found in the anthologies, Protectors: Stories to Benefit PROTECT and Pulp Ink 2 as well as in places like Thuglit, Beat To a Pulp, All Due Respect, Burnt Bridge, Narrative, PANK, The Flash Fiction Offensive, Shotgun Honey and others.

 

Join us in welcoming these new additions to the One Eye Press family. And for those who haven’t tried our books and collections, all One Eye Press Kindle editions are just 99¢ during the month of December. Happy Holidays.


Announcing LIFE OF SERVICE

Tom-Pitts-Photo-2One Eye Press is happy to welcome Tom Pitts and announce the acquisition of his novella LIFE OF SERVICE.

Tom Pitts is an exciting addition to our small cabal of authors who have contributed to the OEP Singles line. After reading just the first few pages of LIFE OF SERVICE, we knew that Tom’s book would be a perfect fit with our previous crime thrillers WHITE KNIGHT by Bracken MacLeod and FEDERALES by Christopher Irvin, and by the end we were thrilled to accept his novella.

About the Book:

Hugh Patterson is an old-school cop and die-hard Giants fan rooted in the San Francisco Mission District. When he’s struck down in the line of duty, the whole city is aghast. But Oscar Flores, a 15-year old Latino boy obsessed with baseball, witnesses the gruesome crime and has a plan to assuage the city’s grief and satisfy his own vision of justice. Against the backdrop of a weekend long series with the Dodgers, the gripping crime story plays out against the city’s brightest monuments and darkest alleys.

About Tom Pitts:

Tom Pitts received his education on the streets of San Francisco. He remains there, working, writing, and trying to survive. His new novel, HUSTLE, and his novella, PIGGYBACK, are available from Snubnose Press.

Tom is an acquisitions editor at Gutter Books and editor of the Flash Fiction Offensive.

Find links to more of his work at: TomPittsAuthor.com

LIFE OF SERVICE is expected to be released March 24, 2015 both in print and for the Kindle.


Tom Pitts Takes Over

Last week I called up Ron Earl over at Shotgun Honey and asked if I could get some promo in for my new novel, HUSTLE.

His answer? NO. Didn’t even think about it, didn’t even take a breath, he just said NO. Then I tried Irvin. Same thing: Flat out NO. (In fact, Chris may have even giggled.) I thought Jen Conley may be more receptive to my plight.  “Ron already called me,” she said.  She should’ve said Ron already warned me. Another NO.  Maybe Erik would give me a different answer. Hell no. He wouldn’t even pick up the phone. Now that I think about it, he may have slipped me a wrong number back in Albany. Fuck this, I decided. These were the guys that published my first crime fiction piece, the ones that first put me on the printed page; I wasn’t going to take the cold shoulder lightly.

 

tompitttakeover3

I packed my gear—thirty copies of HUSTLE, my Remington pump, a case of Red Bull, a bottle of Jack, and a box of shells—and headed out to their fabled secret lair in West Virginia. It wasn’t hard to find. I just watched for plumes of chemical smoke churning up into the air above the sacred hills that used to be home to the best stills of the worst outlaws in the country. I put my truck in low gear, loaded my shotgun, and took one last hit off the bottle of brown.

After miles of mud and back-road ballyhoo, I found their spot and rode up, ready to kick in some doors and do some shooting, but … the fuckin’ joint had no doors, barely even had walls. This is where the country’s best flash fiction has been filtering through? This is the hallowed hall of acceptance and rejection that so many of the best crime writers submit to? It looked like a fucking meth lab. In fact, except for the pictures of me and Joe Clifford scotch-taped to a makeshift dartboard, it was a meth lab. Not the kind you see in Breaking Bad either, but the real deal. Reggie LaDoux would have been proud of that set up.

 

tompitttakeover4

I wanted to plead my case, sell some books, get my message out to the street, but all I found were some ancient penthouse magazines, warped vinyl records, and fifty gallons of acetone. No computers, no internet. I wondered how Ron Earl et al. were able to keep up their weekly servings of flash. Then I saw it, the secret to their success: a pile of books stacked in a corner beside a rusted metal device that resembled a meat grinder. Gooey, pulpy paper was being squeezed out of the grinder’s holes. It hit me, that’s how they do it. They’ve been taking the best crime fiction and distilling it down into 700-word bites and serving to America as new. Brilliant.  

Well, no way was I gonna let my book, HUSTLE, my baby, fall victim to their scheme. I was such a sucker too; I’d brought a trunk-load of copies of HUSTLE, straight from the Snubnose Press, to use as payment for the promo. All I’d really done was bring fodder for their literary cannon (or meat grinder as the case proved to be.)

 

tompitttakeover

It was just as well. To breakdown HUSTLE, a story so sleazy, so explosive, so action-packed, in their pulp grinder would be too explosive—too much for the reading public. It would have blown the lid off their whole scheme. I had half a mind to leave a few behind, let them find ‘em and see what would happen. It’d serve ‘em right.

Instead, I opted for wrecking the grinder by sticking in some Emily Bronte and Dan Brown at the same time. The result? The thing gummed up and pitched off the edge of the bench it was bolted to. I can only guess it was an act of mechanical suicide.

You’re welcome, America. I’ve made crime fiction safe again for all of us.

Now get out there and buy yourselves a copy of HUSTLE.


With a Little Help from My Friends

“You got a freezer. Part the fucker out. Every week or so you slip a foot or a hand in with the trash. Right in there with the coffee grounds and the other rank shit.”

“No good. Problem with that is you end up with maybe fifteen chances of gettin’ caught. It raises the odds, man. No, we gotta get rid of this fuck in one go. I gotta figure out how to do this, like, tonight. We can’t be sitting around cuttin’ him up and treating him like last week’s leftovers.”

“We? You mean you. I didn’t kill the guy. I wasn’t even here.”

“You’re here now, aren’t you? That’s enough. I didn’t call you over to fuckin’ complain about my predicament, I called for help.”

“Why call me? What do I know about this shit?”

“You’re always talking like you do. All your tough-guy bullshit. Now it’s time to man-up and help me deal with this.”

“What’re you saying, I’m an accomplice? For picking up the phone? Fuck that. It ain’t a crime to pick up the phone.”

“Look, man, I don’t wanna sit here and waste time arguing about this shit. What are we gonna do with this fuck? Look at him, he’s gotta weigh at least two-fifty. I can’t very well lug him around myself.”

“Shit, shit, shit.” His friend rubbed his temples and sucked on his teeth. “I don’t know. You want to dig a hole, that’s hard work. Looks easy on TV, but digging takes hours and hours. Forever. You got to make it real deep, too. That fat piece of shit will be stinking to high heaven soon. You still got that freezer out in the garage, right? We could empty it out and stick him in while we figure it out.”

“The big one? No, that thing hasn’t worked for years.”

“What’s it still doing there?”

“What do you mean, what’s it still doing there? I’ll get rid of it when I get around to it. Fuck, man. That’s not really the issue here.”

“I can’t believe you dragged me into this shit. What am I supposed to tell Sarah? I get up and walk out in the middle of a movie and don’t show up for days? How’s that gonna look?”

“You were at the movies?”

“On TV, dumbass. I was at home. She’s still sitting there waiting on me. Phone rings, I up and disappear. Then I show up god knows when with blood and dirt all over me? She’s gonna kill me.”

He moved behind the dead man, looking at his dimensions, figuring on how to lift him up. “Sorry that I called you with a problem. I mean, shit, you’re my bro. If you can’t reach out when you got a problem, then—”

“Problem? This isn’t a problem. Getting crabs from a hooker, that’s a problem. Blowing a valve when you’re far from home, that’s a problem. This … this is a fucking catastrophe, that’s what this is.”

“I didn’t intend for it to happen. I wasn’t planning on killing a guy in my living room fer Christ’s sakes.”

“What the fuck did happen?”

“He pulled a gun on me. We were talking about how this deal with Andre went south and the fucker pulled a piece. What was I supposed to do?”

“Where were you?”

“Sittin’ right where you are now—looking right at him—trying to reason and shit.”

“Goddamn. What’d you do with his gun?”

“I got it right here.” He reached behind the dead man, picked up the gun from the floor, and stood up behind the lifeless body. He pointed the barrel at his friend and fired. Once—right in the chest. He wiped down the piece and fitted it into the dead man’s hand. Then he moved over to his dying friend and placed his own pistol in his friend’s hand. And, gently squeezing his friend’s finger, he popped off a shot into the wall.

“See? I knew you could help me out.”


Interview: Tom Pitts

tompittsMy first experience with Tom Pitts was “A Loaded Question” which he submitted to Shotgun Honey back in October 2011, we pretty much ate it up and published it a few weeks later. That was followed up with a longer story, “Luck,” that he submitted and we published in our first anthology BOTH BARRELS. He has publish stories with A Twist of Noir, Darkest Before the Dawn, Near to the Knuckle, Literary Orphans, All Due Respect and others, plus had the release his first novel PIGGYBACK by crime fiction publisher, Snubnose Press.

From the first story about a routine traffic stop to his novel about a drug dealers tracking down a lost delivery, Tom pulls from dark places that dwell in us all, that he has experienced first hand for the benefit of the reader and the detriment of a life delayed and dreams deferred. His words captivate me, so let’s get on with the interview and let the man speak for himself.

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

Way back in the nineties, when I was strung out on junk but not yet out on the street, I found myself in need of a greater escape than heroin could provide. It was then that I discovered true crime. I devoured endless Mafia books and wound up developing quite a collection. (It was later confiscated by the Feds, but that’s a whole nother story.) It was all true stuff, I had no patience for fiction. I decided that I would write my own book about San Francisco organized crime and set out to become an investigative journalist. I went so far as to call the FBI’s famous Bill Roemer and got him to give me his blessing to call his former partner still active in SF. I got shut down from there and decided to give up and try a novel. Drugs got in the way and I didn’t pick up the pen till 2010. That unfinished novel from the nineties still sits on floppy discs beside my desk.

We are the sum of our experiences, and like you life took a detour, but I found that my writing is richer for the experience. Tell us about your journey back and how it benefited or hindered Tom Pitts the writer?

It’s a double-edged sword as far as the writing goes. On one hand, I was able to experience a darker side of life not many people live to tell about. By the time I was done, I’d taken it about as far as you can go. It’s invaluable in crime-writing to experience criminal life first hand. However, had I not been wasting my life in the dregs, I may have had 20 more years of writing under my belt by now. My mind was sharp then and it has since been dulled by my excesses. The regret of a late start haunts me.

The other catch-22 is the limitation of the experience. I’ve read book by guys who know a great deal about stuff I never will. Greater minds than mine who were able to absorb all of life’s experience. Writers who expound on everything from police procedure to the coming-out parties of New York debutantes. I know nothing of cars, or sports, or foreign lands. I write what I know, and that is scumbags.

As far as the journey back goes, it was a slow one. I’d often professed to be a writer back in the old days, and perhaps because I was a songwriter in a band, people assumed it was true. But in reality, I never really did any writing. I was lost on the treadmill of addiction. When I cleaned up in 2001, I got together with my wife and took on the responsibility of fatherhood–two stepsons, 10 and 5 at the time. That put me on a whole new treadmill. I stayed focused on that until about 2010 when I started writing in earnest. (I got my liver fixed int 2009, perhaps that gave me the proverbial “new lease on life.”)

The novella PIGGYBACK came out last year from Snubnose Press. This was your first published long fiction? How did your experience in the drug world influence this story?

Piggyback coverThe impetus for the story came from a similar situation a friend of mine in “the business” had. The trunk-load of weed gone missing with the two girls, that is. The similarities end there. Where my experiences in the drug world really play in is the characters. One thing I learned committing petty crimes and running drugs is: things never end up the way you think they will. Murphy’s Law. Nobody’s on time, the money never adds up, and your co-conspirators are annoying as hell. People will let you down, there is no code. The fact is, most people in the criminal world are like the book’s character Paul, not the anti-hero, Jimmy.

Characters almost as annoying as dilettante interviewers, I imagine? Some time has passed between questions and since I’ve read an op-ed that touched upon your pet peeve of people assuming writing songs and fiction are similar. I do have to ask though, how has your past life as a musician played towards your writing career?

None really. I’m a strong believer in the rhythm of words, but I don’t think it’s tied to music. It’d be nice to tie music and writing together with a poetic connection, but I think the rhythm of words is part of natural speech. It’s a different rhythm than is required for music. I do make a lot of comparisons of writing to music, though. I don’t believe in heavy re-writes, maintaining it’s the same as thinking you can “fix it in the mix” when you’re recording, stuff like that. The experience did, however, teach me a bit about the business end of creating “art.” The band I was in was signed to an respectable independent label. (Back in the early days when there were only a few of them and they were truly independent.) I think it’s very similar to the publishing business these days. The ability to do-it-yourself has upended the industry. Ultimately, that’s probably a good thing.

For those who may be interested, what was the scene like as a musician? Tell us about the band?

It was the late ’80’s. Pre-Nirvana. Everyone was still traveling in vans, not buses. My band was called Short Dogs Grow and we did okay, considering. We toured the country a few times. I miss those days. I was a great way to see the land. From Miami to Boston, Minneapolis to El Paso, we covered a lot of ground. Shitty gigs, lots of beer. Motel 6 and pizza. It was before the drugs really began to kick my ass. We were lucky enough to play with a lot of the era’s punk rock biggies. Black Flag, Descendants, DOA, etc … We didn’t fit the mold well, though. We were a quirky outfit that were more rock than punk. We released two albums with Rough Trade records and then walked on our contract thinking we could do better. We were wrong.

Do you ever consider turning those early days into a story, either fiction or non? A memoir or a fictional shit storm?

It’s been suggested to me plenty. Truth be told, I didn’t retain a lot of memories from those days. If I ever get a memoir going, some of those days will be weaved in. The reality is: the stories from those days are rather juvenile. Getting drunk during radio interviews and abusing the callers, getting jailed for speeding in Beau Bridge, Louisiana. Scabies in El Paso, going on last at CB-GB’s and telling yourself you’re headlining. It seemed cool to be halfway-wrecking motel rooms, but when you look back, all we did is leave a big mess for the maid to clean. What jerks. (When our bass player Carmela first quit the band, she told us, “I’m tired of living in a van with three adolescent alcoholics who think they’re Led Zeppelin.” Ouch.) When you’re young and in a band, it takes a lot of energy and self-confidence to push it in everybody’s face all the time. All that time handing out flyers and trying to get people to come to shows. Bravado. Sometimes I look back and feel like, damn, I was full of shit. Perhaps it’s like Bukowski said for years before being able to write about growing up in Ham on Rye, “I just don’t have enough distance yet.”

If not memoir of those days, do you have one in the works? A collection of experience from your drug days? I’ve seen the stories you share with Lip Service West. They are humorous and horrifying all at once, you bring a genuine experience to the story with an entertaining flare.

Joe Clifford insists that I assemble a collection of my junkie tales. I counted them up the other day and I think I fall short of a book’s worth. I even added in some good shorts from my bike messenger days–being a bike messenger in San Francisco in the ’80’s, now that was a scene. If I can pen a handful more, I’ll look into putting them out. There’s a humorous quality to them that doesn’t seem to come through in my crime fiction. If you can call accidentally shooting up mouse feces humorous. Right now I’m still trying to find an agent to represent me for my “unsavory” novel, Hustle, and I’m trying to squeeze out another novel as we speak. Between writing and co-editing at the Flash Fiction Offensive, my plate is pretty full.

On the chance there’s an agent or two out there reading this, what’s the pitch for HUSTLE?

Hmmn. The ol’ one-sentence synopsis, huh? Okay, here it goes: When two young hustlers, caught in an endless cycle of addiction and prostitution, decide to blackmail an elderly client of their who happens to be a criminal defense attorney, they find that their victim has already been targeted by a much more sinister force.

Okay, let the bidding war begin.

Between writing stories, editing for The Flash Fiction Offensive, the JOB and family, how do you find balance? What method works you through the writing madness?

Easy. There is no balance. My job is from midnight to eight am. That keeps any chance of balance permanently off-kilter. It’s a constant struggle to carve time out for each and all of the above. Sometimes it seems like it was easier to only have to worry about procuring another twenty dollars for dope. I know that’s not true, but sometimes when I see a poor soul lodged in a doorway, drool running down their chin, I think, fuck, that guy has it made. No worries, no responsibilities … what a life. The grass is always greener, huh?. Of course, I know from personal experience, the poor bastard has to sweat hobbling to the soup kitchen in time on a leg swollen with abscesses, oh, and where to find enough cigarette butts to make it though the night, then there’s still that twenty bucks, and on and on and on. I consider myself lucky to be on the crazy treadmill that is my life.

Thank you for taking time with us, can you give us, our readers, any parting shots or pearls of wisdom?

I think that most writers become writers to expose us to their view of the world, not because they have some need to create art, to make the world a more beautiful place. Write because of the muse? The muse? You kidding? When you write you have to wake the muse up, kick the sides of her bed, check her pulse, make sure she’s not dead.

Oh, and go buy Piggyback before they run out.

Thanks for everything, Ron. It’s been a pleasure.


A Loaded Question

First came the red and blue lights, followed by a surge of adrenalin in Eric’s heart. He could hear his own breath, shaking through his nose.

“Shit.”

He gripped the steering wheel, hoping that the cruiser would fly right by him. Then the whoop whoop of the siren, that fucking cop wasn’t going anywhere.  He pulled over to the side of the highway and watched the luckier drivers fly past.

He waited for the cop to walk up to the car. He wanted a cigarette, but that seemed to him like a guilty move, a tip off, a cover up. He reached over and switched the radio on. Classic rock. He turned it up just a little.

“Good evening, sir.” The cop leaned into the window of the car. Typical cop. Stone faced, accusing, dumb-ass thinking he’s a hard-ass.

“Do you know why I pulled you over tonight?” Trick question.

“Well, I don’t think I was speeding, was I, Officer?” Eric answered. He didn’t like the sound of his own voice.

The officer smirked and shot the beam of his flashlight past Eric to the empty passenger seat. What is this dumbfuck looking for, thought Eric.

“I stopped you because you have a taillight out.”

Eric sent up a look of hurt surprise.

“Really? Damn it. I’ll get it fixed first thing in the morning.”

“Where you heading tonight?”

“Home, Daly City.” Keep it simple.

The officer took this in, weighed it.

“License and registration, please.”

Eric began to fumble with his overstuffed glove box, letting old tickets and napkins fall to the floorboards.

“Had anything to drink tonight, sir?”

“No, Officer, not a drop,” said Eric handing over his license and wrinkled registration. The officer held them, but kept looking at Eric. The cop walked back to his car, Eric watched him in the front seat of the cruiser, reading Eric’s whole life on the mounted monitor. It took forever; Cops loved this part.

“Step out of the car please.”

“Excuse me?”

“Take the keys out of the ignition and step out of the car.”

***

Inside the trunk, Paula struggled. She had no idea why Eric pulled over. She’d heard the siren, prayed it was for them. She was bound tight with duct tape, a sweaty sock stuffed deep into her mouth. After the tape, he hogtied her, roped her limbs onto the spool for the spare tire. It’d taken her twenty minutes just to bang her knee into the taillight. There was tape on her eyes, her whole head; there was no way of telling what was going on, all he’d left exposed were her two snotty nostrils. She thought she heard music, not a good sign, then, definitely a car door shutting. She rocked her body, she tried to scream, but all that came out was a moan. She was like an insect in a cocoon.

***

“Now follow my finger with your eyes, carefully.”

Eric followed.

“With your feet together, I want you to reach back and touch both index fingers to the tip of your nose.”

Eric touched his nose. It was easy, he was stone cold sober.

After a few more exercises the cop gave up.

“When was the last time you were arrested?”

Trick question, he’d already run Eric’s name.

“June, 2010, domestic violence,” recited Eric.

“Are you still together with your wife?”

A loaded question. Better make it good.

“No, we split up last year.” Eric paused, then said, “Marriage, that’s what’ll drive a man to drink.”

The Officer smiled for the first time, “Get that tail light fixed first thing tomorrow, and be careful driving home.”

***

In the trunk, Paula heard the door open and shut, could feel the motor start up. She could soon tell that they were back on the road. She figured she had about forty minutes left. She wished that she could just will her self to stop breathing now. Save the bastard the trouble, deny him the satisfaction.