Interrogation: Jay Stringer

JS2Who: Jay Stringer

What: He was born in 1980, and he’s not dead yet. He’s worked as a zoo keeper, a bookseller, a debt collector and a video editor. He writes crime, mystery and social fiction, and rides around Glasgow on a fixed-gear bike. His Eoin Miller trilogy is available from Thomas & Mercer, and WAYS TO DIE IN GLASGOW will be released on August 1st.

Where: Glasgow

Interview conducted by email. Some questions and answers have been edited.

I just read WAYS TO DIE IN GLASGOW and loved it. What was the inspiration for this story? 

What happened was, I spent a weekend in Seattle thanks to the hospitality of my publisher, and met a lot of fine, funny, and professional writers. I’d already written three books, each one had taken me around 9 months, and the writing had been a very moody, very angsty process. Talking to authors there, I got a kick in the ass about how much fun they seemed to have, and their work ethic. I went home and, in the space of around fifteen weeks, wrote this book. Grinning the whole time.

But the other aspect, the bit I learned later, was that I was itching to write about Glasgow. I’d been living here for 6 years by that point (almost 10 now) and I was finally starting to feel like I could do the city justice.

WTD JSThe story is told through the perspective of three main characters—Mackie, Sam and Lambert. Was it difficult to maintain these distinct voices? Why was this the best way to tell this story?

Keeping them distinct turned out to be simple. Mackie is written in first-person present-tense. That tells us he lives in the moment. He’s a live wire. Sam is written in first-person past-tense. She’s relatable, but a bit more thoughtful than Mackie. And then Lambert is written in limited-third, he has a few secrets, he holds the reader at a distance. Those three different approaches were what really sealed their voices, and made it easy to keep each one a distinct character.

But I didn’t really choose it as the best way to tell the story, rather, because it was because it was the most fun way. The most challenging. I want each new book to be some kind of  high wire act. I need to be able to fail, to fall. It also created a feeling of conflict, like the book was constantly butting up against itself, and that helped to keep the energy moving.

One of my favorite things about WAYS TO DIE IN GLASGOW was that the city itself felt like one of the main characters. Why is this the right city for this story? Is your love/hate relationship with Glasgow as pronounced in real life as it seems in the novel? 

As I mentioned above, it took me a long time to feel like I could write about Glasgow. I was working on this book at a time when I was finally coming to see it as my hometown, and in retrospect I think the writing process was part of that. If I read it now, I can see myself working these things out on the page.

It’s a perfect city to write about; it’s got every level of society, and some very deep political and social divides. People outside of Glasgow truly don’t understand it until they’ve lived here, because there are some very old, very pronounced, sectarian issues. But it’s also a very politically engaged city, with great music and a distinct sense of humour. Glasgow might steal your wallet, but it’ll buy you a drink with the money.

JS1The cover for WAYS TO DIE IN GLASGOW is one of my favorites in recent memory. How did it come about? As an author, do you think it’s important have a hand in developing the concept for the cover art?

When I was writing it, I kept calling it my “punk rock novel.” After three very moody books that explored social issues, this was me letting my other side out to play. Once I handed it into the publisher, my editor asked, without prompting from me, if I liked the sound of a punk rock cover, like an old Sex Pistols or Clash gig flyer. Then it became a fun game of seeing how far they’d go. I suggested using the Duke of Wellington statue. It’s a famous landmark to Glaswegians, he always has a traffic cone on his head. It’s become a tradition. The council take it down, someone comes along and puts a new one up. People risk arrest just for the sake of putting a bit of plastic on a statue. I never thought Thomas & Mercer would go for it, but they went further even than I’d intended. I love the cover.

It’s good for authors to have a say, because the book is their baby. But it’s also important to recognise that the publishers often know more about selling books than we do, and so it’s a two-way process. I’ve learned to listen to them.

Eoin 1You are outspoken about your dyslexia, and how comic books helped you learn to love reading. How did those factors help to shape your unique voice as an author? 

I’ve talked to Josh Stallings (read the interview HERE) about this, because he’s dyslexic too, and we both agree. Dyslexia makes us want to read and write prose that moves. Immediate. In the moment. Go. Go. Go. It also makes us see the page differently. We’re a step back from everyone else, and we see the written page as a piece of paper with an interesting ink pattern on it. And that pattern moves around. It can be played with, manipulated. Words can be put in different places, or arranged in an unusual way, to invoke reactions from readers.

The third thing, and this might be the most important for creating a crime writer, is that a dyslexic is a born outsider. All of society, with it’s various social and economic divisions, is designed for people who can read and write. Just take a walk down the street, or a trip to the shop, and think about how much reading you do on the way. As much as a dyslexic can learn to overcome that barrier, an important part of our youth is spent as someone on the outside, someone who just doesn’t get it. We watch, we observe, we find different ways to take part. We’re outsiders, and I think outsiders tell the best stories. I think we look for the people with the best stories to tell.

Panels LogoYou are also a contributor at Panels.net, a comic book zine. How long have you been writing for them? What has been the focus of what you write for them?

Panels launched last year, and I was part of the initial group of writers. My output for them has reduced a lot over the last few months. That’s down to me, not them. I’ve just not been having as much fun reading comics lately, and I struggle to find the time at the moment to find new titles. I love the work they do, though. There’s a real push to find diverse voices. They talk about race, and gender. They write in a way that empowers younger readers from a number of backgrounds, and shows them there is a comic book for everyone. My regular slot over there at the moment is a re-read of Hellblazer, along with comic book writer Dave Accampo. We started with issue one, and we’re going to see if we can go all the way to issue 300.

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As a newcomer to crime fiction publishing, I have been struck by the number of authors who are devoted comic book readers. Why are comics a good breeding ground for crime writers? Who are some of your favorite crime authors that share your love for comics?

I think a lot of it is generational. The generation of crime writers now who are, say 35-45, are people who were reading comics at the time when things were getting darker and, to use the buzzword, gritty. Watchmen and Batman: Year One. Then the boom in cool black & white titles, like The Crow and Sin City. Just before that period, there were creators like Denny O’Neil, who was very much a crime writer, and then after Miller and Moore came a decade of moody anti-heroes. That’s all going to have had an influence.

But larger than that, and across all age ranges, is something very simple. Superheroes are crime fighters, right? They are crime fiction. We grow up with that in our heads, and then look for more relatable, more real-life settings, and we find crime novels.

Music is also a great love of yours, and you are currently editing a short story anthology inspired by The Replacements. What drew you to this project? What has the response been from the crime writing community? 

I’ve always been threatening to write a book about The Replacements. I’d still love to write a biography of them, if I could get a publisher for it. Or a comic book, say a story of how The ‘Mats saved us from an alien invasion in the 1980’s, with Bobby Stinson fighting back the evil beasties. But seriously, I saw what Gutter did with the Springsteen anthology, and then one day on Facebook I said I’d like to do a Replacements collection. Tom Pitts (read the interview HERE), the mad evil genius, got in touch and asked if I was serious, and we started the ball rolling. It’s been fun talking to people about the band, using this collection as an excuse. Some of my favourite crime writers have turned in stories, and some less experienced writers are having a go. We’ve got a couple of touring musicians involved, and a film director. There are a couple of comic book writers who I’m still talking to about it, so it’s going to be a fun mix.

The project is called “Waiting to Be Forgotten: Stories of Crime and Heartbreak inspired by The Replacements.” We’ve not got a publication date yet, because I’m still rounding up the stories, but we’re getting close to moving on to the next stage, and then we’ll shout about the date.

Eoin 2What advice do you have for new crime writers trying to break into publishing? What one mistake would you advise them to avoid?

My biggest advice, on mistakes to avoid, is to avoid advice. Feedback is better than advice, and feedback is only useful once it’s based on a completed story. What new or young writers need to do, more than anything, is to finish. If you don’t have an end, you don’t have a story, and if you haven’t written to that end, you have’t written a story. Finish. Get there however you need to. Use whatever act-structure you want, whatever pacing or plot twists you want, and drag yourself to the finish line. Once you learn to finish a story, the whole world opens up.

But one thing I would say, is that we need honesty in our stories. Have a look around you, see what the real world is, and write about the things and the people that you see. Don’t write based on what worked in the 40’s, or about what works in a big Hollywood movie, just write about people, write with honesty, and the readers will find you.

Oh, and fart jokes. Include fart jokes.

What are your publishing plans for the rest of 2015 and 2016?

I’m going to see what kind of roller coaster WAYS TO DIE IN GLASGOW takes me on for the rest of this year. I’m noodling now on whether to write a sequel, so if people want one, now is the time to shout. I wrote a book last year called CRIMINALS. It’s my take on what would happen if Elmore Leonard wrote a Robin Hood novel set in modern England, and I’m really proud of it. We’re going to show that to publishers, see if anyone bites. Then there’s The Replacements anthology to finish, and I’d love to write a couple comic books. So…busy times.

Find Jay Stringer: Website, Amazon and Twitter

Previous Interrogations: Angel Luis ColonAnthony Neil Smith and Josh Stallings

S.W. Lauden’s short fiction has been accepted for publication by Out of the Gutter, Criminal Element, Dark Corners, Dead Guns Magazine, Akashic Books, WeirdBook, Spelk Fiction, Shotgun Honey and Crimespree Magazine. His debut novel, BAD CITIZEN CORPORATION, will be published in October 2015. His novella, CROSSWISE, will be published by Down & Out Books in 2016.

1 Comment

  1. Thanks for another great interview Mr. Lauden!

    And Mr. Stringer, terrific interview here. Especially your advice on avoiding advice. And on finishing, any way we can! Im on it, busy “dragging myself to the finish line” and can’t wait for that “whole world to open up!”

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