What: Author of RUMRUNNERS, THE DEVIL DOESN’T WANT ME, DIG TWO GRAVES, WHITE HOT PISTOL, THE YEAR I DIED SEVEN TIMES, STRIPPER POLE AT THE END OF THE WORLD & the story collection, A BOUQUET OF BULLETS. He is co-author (with JB Kohl) of the novels ONE TOO MANY BLOWS TO THE HEAD and BORROWED TROUBLE and the upcoming OVER THEIR HEADS. He co-wrote the upcoming THE BLACKLIST with author Frank Zafiro. He has also written two novellas in the popular Fightcard series, SPLIT DECISION and A MOUTH FULL OF BLOOD.
Where: He lives in Los Angeles where he co-hosts the Noir At The Bar reading series.
How long have you been writing? What/where was the first thing you published?
I’ve been writing in earnest since high school, though when I started writing it was screenplays and stage plays. I had an honorable mention in some young playwrights thing for a play I wrote in high school (which was terrible) and instead of a college essay, I wrote a script. It worked, I guess, since I got in.
I took one screenwriting class in college, which I didn’t care for. I wrote all the movies I made in college and finished my first feature script my junior year. Since then I wrote 17 full features and even made a few bucks along the way, although nothing I wrote ever got made other than a mid-length film I directed myself which played festivals.
I never thought I had the patience or the eye for detail to do a novel. Plus, I was just too movie obsessed. When I wrote my first novel in 2008 I didn’t tell anyone I was doing it since I wasn’t sure I would finish and I didn’t want to be that guy. But I did and I kept going from there. (that book, however, is permanently in the drawer, never to be seen. Trust me, it’s for the best)
Your new novel, RUMRUNNERS, is out in May 2015. The publisher, 280 Steps, describes it as “Smokey and the Bandit meets Justified and Fargo…” Is that an accurate description?
I love that they came up with that, and yes, I think it suits the book. People often tell me I’m funny when I write and I think it has that gallows humor I put in very unintentionally. It just sneaks in, I guess.
And yes there are car chases and explosions of violence, so I think the description fits quite well.
I just read THE DEVIL DOESN’T WANT ME, which features classic cars and a bullet-ridden road trip. Is this a running theme?
Total accident. These are the only two books I really make any big deal about what kind of car anyone drives. I like cars, but I like the aesthetic of them. I don’t know engines, but I appreciate beauty. And I’ve written mostly about American muscle cars, which are not my preferred passion. I was a kid who grew up with Ferrari pictures on my wall. I love mid-60s Italian car design. I like weird, one-off concept cars from 40-50 years ago. I drive a Prius though, so obviously my car thing is a fantasy world.
I did get a chance to drive a Ferrari finally. It was pretty awesome.
And for the record, all my writing is bullet-ridden. That’s a theme for sure.
I also loved the roll that music plays in your writing, specifically classic rock. Why is that such an important element for your plots and character development?
We’ve talked about the fact that, like you, I play music, and I’ve found so many parallels between the music biz and the publishing biz. But it’s also a great shorthand for character. What kind of music someone is passionate about says a lot about them, I think. For Lars in THE DEVIL DOESN’T WANT ME, I used music also as a way to set him apart from the younger generation. Nothing digs a deeper generation gap than what music you’re passionate about.
And, again, to set the record straight, the music that Lars is passionate about is not what I’m into. This is fiction, after all. I’m not a classic rock guy. I like AC/DC as much as the next guy and I do think Van Halen has sucked ever since Dave left the band, but that stuff or Judas Priest and the like is not where my playlist leads you. And not at all what I played when I was in bands.
On the other end of the spectrum, I also recently read STRIPPER POLE AT THE END OF THE WORLD. Was it a challenge to write something outside of the crime genre?
Not at all. That book was a blast to write. The assignment was to write a B-movie, and my brain is so filled with hundreds of them from my younger days that it was easy to write in that style. I took elements I loved from trapped-room stuff like Assault on Precinct 13, Return Of The Living Dead, Demons and stuff like that. I didn’t want to do zombies so I chose cannibals and a slightly post-apocalyptic setting, though the disaster that has ruined society was very much a reality-based financial/societal collapse rather than an armageddon.
But I loved writing the over-the-top gore and the more horror elements in that one. But you replace the cannibals with gang members and you’ve got essentially a crime story at the heart of it.
In addition to your longer works, you have published a lot of short fiction. Is one form harder than the other? Do you enjoy one more than the other?
I do love short stories, but I feel like I’ve backed off from them lately. I should probably do more. I don’t know that I like one any more than the other. There is more instant gratification with shorts. And the way my brain is wired from my day job as a TV/Film editor, I like cutting out all the extra bits. Some people have a hard time with the brevity required in shorts, but I take to it naturally since all day every day I take material and cut it shorter while still trying to maintain the story. It’s why I’ll never write a 150,000 word novel. I just couldn’t do it.
If I ever decide to throw in the towel and stop writing I could still run a side business in taking people’s manuscripts and trimming them by 25%. I can cut anything down and I have very little patience for a bloated novel.
You are also one of the founders of Noir at the Bar L.A. What was the original inspiration for these events?
I wanted to do it after all the bookstores in L.A. were closing. Specifically the Mystery Bookstore in Westwood. I wasn’t getting a chance to see my writing friends and hang out with the people who gave such good advice and encouragement when I was just getting published. So I asked Jed and Scott in St. Louis if I could co-opt the name and threw the idea out to a few other L.A. writers to see if they would show up. Stephen Blackmoore said he was thinking the same thing so we teamed up. 4 years and counting now.
It has stayed pretty true to the original idea. We like to have a mix of new and established authors. We don’t set limits (other than time) on what people read. We like diversity and anything new like when Jordan Harper showed a short film adapted from his story or when Megan Abbott had an actress friend read with her to have real 2-person dialogue.
We love it all as long as readers get exposed to someone new and writers have another place to come out and meet people, sign some books, have fun with the tribe.
About writing? I guess it has confirmed that people like a little humor in their crime writing. Funny pieces always go over very well.
About writers? More writers need to learn how to read. I mean that in all seriousness. Public readings are a part of being published. It is a fact that if you are a good reader of your own material you will sell more books. My sister is constantly going to events and she’ll pick up a book by the other authors on a panel or a reading night even if she had never heard of them before based on a good reading.
Seriously, people. Practice at home. Do it in a mirror. Record yourself. Know your material well so you’re not stumbling over your own words. Keep it short, stick with action instead of exposition. Give us a short set up, not one (as I swear I’ve seen authors do) that is longer than the piece you are reading.
Be personable and confident. Nobody likes a weak reading by someone who is too self depricating.
Biggest of all – rehearse. You don’t have to memorize it, but you should have read the section through – out loud – at least a half dozen times before you’re ready to present it to an audience. And don’t be afraid to add some emotion into it. Do character voices. If someone in the book is shouting, then you shout.
Listen to your favorite audiobooks and see what you like about that person’s read. Those are professional actors so you could learn a lot.
We’ve been very lucky and have had only a small handful of duds at our events, but we’ve all seen plenty of bad readers, I’m sure.
I love that now every reader we’ve ever had is going to be thinking, “Oh, crap, was I a bad reader?” Except Johnny Shaw. He knows he’s great.
You are a prolific writer and writer’s advocate. What advice do you have for new writers?
Find your way of working. Don’t worry about someone else’s word count goal, just reach yours. Don’t worry about how prolific someone else is, write at your own pace.
I don’t buy into the ‘write every day’ thing. I get burned out. I get tired. We’re almost all doing it as a sideline to a day job/family/kids/responsibility. If I’m not feeling it, I don’t write that day. No big deal.
Don’t try to imitate a writer you love, even if they are a best seller. That way lies madness.
Read like a fiend. Read out of your genre.
And it might be right for you, but I certainly don’t go for all that “bleed on the page, man” stuff. That ‘write like a motherfucker’ mentality works for some. I think it should be fun. It should be all about wanting to read the story more than writing. I come up with an idea I want to read and the only way I’ll get to is by writing it, so off I go. If it’s torture or if it makes you feel like you’re emptying your soul, then I think you’re doing it wrong. But, y’know, you do what works for you. Go ahead and bleed on the page if that’s what gets it done.
In addition to RUMRUNNERS, what other publishing plans do you have for 2015?
After 2014, which held several scrotum-kicking setbacks and bad news writing-wise for me, I’m really looking forward to 2015. Down and Out books will release two novels I wrote with co-authors. OVER THEIR HEADS which is my 4th collaboration with JB Kohl and THE BLACKLIST which is my first collaboration with Frank Zafiro. OVER THEIR HEADS is a wild, speeding bullet of a cluster fuck. So much fun to write that book.
THE BLACKLIST is the start of a series (hopefully) and was another easy and fun collaboration. I think people will really love the two characters in that one.
I’ll also have the full omnibus edition of my serialized novel THE YEAR I DIED 7 TIMES from Beat To A Pulp press. Plus, I’m involved in a collaborative novel that will be out this year and I’ve submitted a novella which hopefully will be accepted.
If you could recommend one piece of your writing to somebody, what would it be?
I guess I always point people toward THE DEVIL DOESN’T WANT ME. Right now it’s only in ebook, but I’m currently working on getting the rights back from Dutton so I can get it out in PB as well and finally get the sequel out there. I wrote that sequel about 3 years ago and for a lot of reasons, they passed on it while very kindly complimenting the book. I like it a lot and would love to go and finish the trilogy I planned originally.
But for now, THE DEVIL DOESN’T WANT ME is still available as a pretty cheap ebook.
What are some of the best novels you read in 2014?
Not all came out in 2014 but I loved ANGEL BABY by Richard Lange, DEEP WINTER by Samuel Gailey, MIXED BLOOD by Roger Smith, THE BIG UGLY by Jake Hinkson, CROOKED LETTER, CROOKED LETTER by Tom Franklin, THE CARRION BIRDS by Urban Waite, THE ODDS by Kathleen George, THE THICKET by Joe R. Lansdale.
What are some novels you are looking forward to in 2015?
I’ve been lucky enough to already read CANARY by Duane Swierczynski and it rocked, I’m looking forward to Chris Holm’s new standalone, THE KILLING KIND, there’s a new Joe Lansdale on the horizon (more than one I’m pretty sure) so that’s always good. Josh Stevens has two books with 280 steps and I really dug his first book. Rob Hart’s NEW YORKED, Bryon Quertermous’s MURDER BOY, the new Victor Gischler, STAY, Terrence McCauley’s debut novel SYMPATHY FOR THE DEVIL.
Mostly I’m just looking forward to actually getting through some more of the giant pile I still haven’t read from this year.
S.W. Lauden is a writer and drummer living in Los Angeles. His short fiction has been accepted for publication by Out of the Gutter, Akashic Books, QuarterReads and Crimespree Magazine. He is currently working on the novella, CROSSWISE, and his debut novel, BAD CITIZEN CORPORATION. You can read one of his recent short stories right HERE.