What: An actor/musician/talk show host and writer. He’s been a columnist for the San Francisco Bay Guardian and LA Weekly. His first novel, LOOKING FOR LADY DEE: A PUNK ROCK MYSTERY, was self-published in February.
Where: Los Angeles
I found out that Johnny Angel Wendell was finally writing a book like a lot of other people did—on Facebook.
Having followed Johnny’s colorful exploits on social media, I was excited to watch the process unfold. My curiosity was piqued because Johnny and I are both LA musicians, and because I have recently embarked on a crime/mystery writing career myself. But that’s where the similarities stop.
While I took the more traditional approach of publishing short stories, going to conferences, and querying agents and publishers, Johnny skipped straight to self-publishing on Feb. 27—less than two months after he started writing his debut novel.
As of this morning (March 30) the ebook of LOOKING FOR LADY DEE was #4 on the Amazon Best Sellers list under “Punk Music,” alongside the likes of John Lydon, Richard Hell and Henry Rollins.
I needed some answers, so I went to the source.
Interview conducted by email. Some questions/answers have been edited.
I just read your novel LOOKING FOR LADY DEE: A PUNK ROCK MYSTERY and I got really wrapped up in the edgy, fast-paced story. What was the inspiration for this novel?
It’s been suggested for years that I write a book based on all my band days and those stories but I felt that would be boring as I am not a “name” musician. I’d also considered writing a story about the disappearance of one of my girlfriend’s from that time, “Dee”. So, LFLD is somewhat a mash-up of two
different ideas and that it became a mystery was of its own evolution.
I became aware of LOOKING FOR LADY DEE by following your Facebook posts as you wrote it. In my mind it took less than two months. What was the actual time it took from word one to publishing? What was the process?
Maybe 6 weeks. I made myself crank out a minimum of four chapters per week. I’ve dealt with deadlines since 1988, it wasn’t an issue. Essentially, once I had the ending, I was good to go.
LOOKING FOR LADY DEE is part autobiography and part fiction. What made you decide that you should blend the two rather than choose one or the other?
My life’s story (as I said above) isn’t that interesting, not to me, anyway. And some of the circumstances in the book, the “dosing” and the evil character that did so, those are fictional. Real life–when people have no genuine interest in its nuts and bolts–isn’t that fascinating. And as a journalist by trade, I know the difference between a factual story and a juiced up, augmented one–which is what I went for.
Second wave punk rock in Boston and New York is a major theme and setting in the novel. Do you feel that writing and publishing the novel so quickly was in line with the spirit of that late 70s/early 80s movement?
It was written as a stream of consciousness/memory. It’s deliberately crude because that is the feeling I wanted to convey. It’s fast for the same reason, punk rock is fast, a book that uses punk should be fast also.
Is the character Dee McLain based on an actual person or an amalgam of personalities from that scene?
She is a real person. I did change her name. “Nick Rowland” is the only amalgam, he is at least 6 different people, one of whom is female!
Is the style in which you wrote this book similar to your songwriting style? Do you think you could have written it any other way?
Yes. I have no interest in making songs or writing stories that are too complex and veer too far away from a basic idea or rhythm. I’m wired that way, I can’t do it in any other fashion.
A lot of writers labor over their first novel for years—maybe even decades. Now that you’ve published your first book, what advice do you have for other first timers looking to get in the game?
Well, it’s no different than the advice the Ramones proffered onto the British punk bands in 1976—just go out and do it, don’t sit in your room for 20 years. If you have good ideas, let the world know they exist.
If you had it to do all over again, what would you change?
I’d have sprung for a copy editor and formatting expert! Everything was trial and error until I finally gave up and had the fantastic Janiss Garza (my former editor at RIP) fix the mess. Writing it was easy. The computer stuff was a nightmare.
What can we expect from your book release party at La Luz de Jesus gallery on April 16th? Will you be performing any music as part of the festivities?
Yes, we’re gonna do the old beatnik/Patti Smith thing of reading over music. Brian Forsythe will be comping on guitar, Brock Avery on percussion.
Can we expect a follow up to LOOKING FOR LADY DEE? If so what will it be and when can we read it?
I think so. Maybe next year. It does look like another “punk rock mystery”, but a lot more conventional mystery like.
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 in 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.