What: Anonymous-9’s work has won awards from The House of Crime and Mystery, Spinetingler Magazine, and has been publisher-nominated for Thriller and Derringer Awards. Her hardboiled short story TRIANGULATION appeared in the debut issue of THE BIG CLICK alongside Tom Piccirilli and Ken Bruen. She has book deals with Blasted Heath (Scotland), New Pulp Press, Down & Out Books, and Uncanny Books. Anonymous-9 is the pen name of book editor Elaine Ash, who has no affiliation with the “Anonymous” group. Elaine’s latest book project is the untold story of legendary playwright Tennessee Williams and Mia Phoebus (now 93 years old), who shared a house the summer of 1940. The work of Elaine Ash and Anonymous-9 is almost schizophrenically different.
Where: Los Angeles
Interview conducted by email. Some questions and answers have been edited.
Your novel, HARD BITE, was recommended to me by several different writers and I was blown away when I read it. How did you come up with such an original concept?
I’d like to thank those writers. Who were they? It was by design. Competition in crime writing is fierce. Yet there’s a lot of pressure to conform to genre, to hit certain marks. I wanted to set fire to the curtains and blow the place up. Only stylistically, though. I strictly adhere to three-act structure, and pay a lot of attention to pace. To get read you have to write something enjoyable that readers can relate to. Or at least vicariously thrill to, even if they can’t relate. Benoit Lelievre over at Dead End Follies in Montreal, Canada did an excellent job of examining the core elements of BITE HARDER in this light. T. Jefferson Parker said (among other things), “…from the opening line on, [HARD BITE] challenges and confronts, attacks and confounds.” That says it right there. Anonymous-9 doesn’t write “safe.”
The set up of the HARD BITE series is outlandish, but you manage to create very compelling characters and great plot twists throughout. Is it difficult to strike that balance?
Yes. It’s gruesomely, fiendishly hard work and if I were a better writer it wouldn‘t be so hard. But it is. The first draft went out to New York agents and got “Meh” back. Some of my pals/beta readers were more enthused, but I knew it could be better. So I ripped the whole thing back, dumped about 20,000 words and replaced them with action. This time, the balance was right.
The second novel in the series, BITE HARDER, recently won a Readers Choice Award at The House of Crime and Mystery. Congrats! What unique challenges did you face when writing the follow up to HARD BITE?
Ha! The guy was in JAIL. What action hero gets jailed? (What action hero is disabled?!) Other than that, the challenges were the same as the first book—he’s in a wheelchair, he has a monkey that needs care and feeding. All these things hold him back that must be realistically, believably overcome. However, if you’ve got a great character that readers care about, they are forgiving. The reader’s mind is always asking, “Should I believe this and keep reading, or am I going to quit the story?” Most of my readers subconsciously decide, “Yeah, I’ll suspend my disbelief because I’m having fun with this adventure.” That’s my trade secret.
Can we expect a third HARD BITE novel?
Yes. Don’t ask when, though.
Your most recent work is the novella CRASHING THROUGH MIRRORS. This one deals with the subject of male rape. Why did you decide to tackle that?
I’d been mulling this one a long time. I found out that straight men don’t tend to report rape, they don’t seek help, they don’t tell anyone, they just suffer until life becomes unbearable and they kill themselves. A lot. We don’t talk about it, the information isn’t out there. Google “male rape” and see what information comes up. There’s almost nothing from a therapeutic angle. I found myself talking to Josh Stallings about this on different occasions. He has no personal experience, but he loaned a crime writer’s ear. I think the topic is much easier for a woman to write about. I can be objective about a man’s experience. I knew the core of the story had to be about this man finding the hero within himself again. And the only way to do that was to find him someone that needed protection only he could give. Men are very concerned with physical strength, but a theme through all my work is that the strongest part of a person is the mind. A strong mind conquers all.
BTW, CTM sells steadily. I self-published so I can watch the sales over at Kindle Publishing Direct and Smashwords. It only has 7 reviews. I think this is the result of its verboten topic. People are shy about leaving reviews in case somebody assumes they’re a victim. I’m okay with that. Reviews are always nice, though, and they help sales.
Music was an overarching theme in CRASHING THROUGH MIRRORS. Why was it important to you that the main character be a musician?
It wasn’t. But I knew the music business back when. I was a child actor, excused from school to do musical theatre and then I went on the road as a singer with a pop cover band. It was easy for me to assume that world, updated a bit. Technology changes, musical tastes change, but realities of the road and songwriting are the same. I hated the road, by the way. Hated it so much I quit the biz.
Much of your writing is set in Los Angeles. Why is LA the right place for your fiction?
It’s where I live so it’s easy to visit places and do research. I put myself in the shoes of the main character, I find the place where they physically live, and imagine everything surrounding them to make them feel real. I hope to have a second home in Texas or in the south. I would love to join the circle of southern writers in my own small way. What people, what characters, what settings!
In addition to your longer works, you have also published two short story collections. How does your short story writing differ from your novels and novellas? Do you take a different approach?
Back when, I got my degree in radio and television and trained early in ad writing. They teach you how to boil everything down into the shortest possible verbiage and it’s something that now comes naturally. I don’t take a different approach from a short story to a novel. It’s very hard for me to make novel-length word count. I’m like a writing anorexic that can’t gain weight. 48,000-words is my max lately and it’s hard to make even that. The good part is it sets a breakneck pace, and readers get an adrenaline rush from the read. The bad part is that style chews rapidly through plotting and a lot more twists are needed to make it novel length.
You have created one of the most unique voices in modern hardboiled mystery. What advice to you have for writers just getting started?
Wow, thank you. That’s incredible to hear. I think when you start, know that everybody isn’t going to love it. My stuff was so different that I knew it needed protection. Without the “blessing from the Pope,” aka T. Jefferson Parker, traditionalists could have shot me down and dismissed me as a crackpot. That would have been the end of Dean Drayhart. I was very, very lucky that Al Guthrie of Blasted Heath had already published Douglas Lindsay’s THE LONG MIDNIGHT OF BARNEY THOMSON, which is as insanely, hilariously different as HARD BITE, only set in a little Scottish town starring a homicidal barber.
So Al Guthrie had seen my type of writer before, he recognized me on the page as a literary cousin to Douglas Lindsay. He also barely touched a word, knowing that with this kind of material if you pull one brick out of the wall, the whole thing can come crashing down. I think he held his breath and put HARD BITE out there. Luckily, it went well. But again, Al Guthrie isn’t somebody you can easily dismiss in the crime community. So I had protection from those who may have been tempted to throw the thing in the trash before giving it a chance.
So back to the topic, if you’re starting out, and you’re writing very different stuff, find the writers you are most like and make a community with them. Ask for help. Find people online and send an email. Write them good reviews if you believe in their work. Put more work into writing than you do promoting. When you have a body of work to show, that’s when you work on a higher profile. When I have one more novel and one more novelette, I think Anonymous-9 will have proven she’s not a flash in the pan. Being able to consistently deliver quality needs to be proved. NEVER rush to publication. Don’t put half-baked material out there. Don’t proofread stuff before the structure is perfect. In advertising we called that, “polishing the turd.” Don’t polish turds. Gee, what a great way to end this question.
What publishing plans do you have for 2015?
Uncanny Books will come out with the DREAMING DEEP novelette. The book on Tennessee Williams will come out in ’15, and since I’m immersed in stageplays right now, I pulled a play out of the drawer that I wrote a lifetime ago set in the late 80s. It reads pretty well as a period piece and I want to workshop it with a good theater director. The screenplay for HARD BITE is finished and I need to get serious about marketing it to producers. In terms of writing, my dilemma is whether to write the next HARD BITE installment or expand CRASHING THROUGH MIRRORS into a novel and try to land a Big 5 with it. What do you think?
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. His novella, CROSSWISE, will be published by Stark Raving Press in June 2015. He is currently putting the finishing touches on his debut novel, BAD CITIZEN CORPORATION. You can read one of his recent short stories right HERE.