What: Author of three novels, Editor-in-Chief of Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing, an editor of Dark Moon Digest, and an ongoing columnist at LitReactor and Slush Pile Heroes. He works as a hotel night auditor.
Where: San Antonio, Texas
Interview conducted by email. Some questions and answers have been edited.
Your latest book, HOW TO SUCCESSFULLY KIDNAP STRANGERS, is about a writer who kidnaps an obnoxious book reviewer. Was there one specific review that inspired you to create this story? Have you ever had an altercation with one of your reviewers?
The concept of the novel was partly inspired by news stories at the time about this author confronting someone who gave her book an awful review on Goodreads. Like, actually tracking the reviewer down in person. Maybe the author killed the reviewer, or maybe they settled their differences over pies. And there was another author who lost his or her shit on a Goodreads review and just completely embarrassed himself/herself in the comments section trying to defend the book. Of course, now I can’t remember who either of the authors were, but I’m pretty sure I didn’t imagine these stories.
The weirdest altercation I’ve had with a reviewer was back in January I wrote a column for LitReactor about how reviewers do not have to finish a book before reviewing it. If a book really is that bad, then it is perfectly reasonable to review it without finishing. Well, the same day that article was published, I noticed very cruel one-star reviews on all of my novels. It was obvious the reviewer was just doing this to prove some kind of insane point. Anyway, I figured out it was some lunatic, who is—surprise, surprise—also an author. I probably would have shrugged and moved on, if not for the fact that this dude actually lives here in San Antonio with me and we go to a lot of the same local conventions. So I messaged him and asked what the hell his problem was, and he freaked out and started private messaging my close friends and family about how he “got one over on the legendary Max Booth III”. Long story short, I looked at his own books on Amazon and discovered an abundance of one-star reviews from people who admitted to not finishing them due to excessive rape scenes, so I guess my article just hit him where he was sensitive. I’m still waiting for him to eventually murder me.
This book is many things—very dark and very funny, for starters—but it also has some insightful advice for writers and publishers sprinkled throughout. Did it start out as an actual Indie publishing guide book?
The publisher actually contracted me before I had written anything. I didn’t have much of an idea at first, I just knew I wanted to poke fun at the small press scene. I thought about writing a literary version of Spinal Tap, but I had trouble nailing the format, so I settled on the next best thing.
You are the the co-founder and editor-in-chief of Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing. One of the main characters in HOW TO SUCCESSFULLY KIDNAP STRANGERS runs an Indie publishing house called BILF. How much of you is in Nick?
I share a lot of the same opinions about the industry as Nick does in the book. There’s a scene very early on where he thinks, “I run a small press and I can’t even afford a fucking Pop Tart”, and yeah, I can definitely relate to that. I’m betting many small press editors will be nodding along as they read the book. If they read the book, of course. Which they should do. Right now.
What has being a publisher taught you about being a writer? Tell me about some of the recent books that PMMP has published.
Even when you think a book is done, it isn’t anywhere close to being finished. Books are constantly evolving. From draft one, to draft two, to draft fifty-two. A good publisher will constantly be working with their authors to make their books the absolute best it can be.
Our most recent title was John C. Foster’s DEAD MEN, a nightmarish horror novel that Publishers Weekly described as an “odyssey of assassination”. Basically, there’s this priest who brings back three poor souls from hell and sends them on a journey through America to take out a girl with a deadly secret. It’s Foster’s first novel and it really feels like his tenth. Dude’s a pro and I couldn’t be more thrilled to be working with him.
Coming in September you can expect a collection of humorous zombie stories by David James Keaton titled STEALING PROPELLER HATS FROM THE DEAD. Then in November/December, you’ll see a collection of Baltimore-based essays by The Wire’s Rafael Alvarez called CRABTOWN, USA (we published his story collection TALES FROM THE HOLYLAND last year), and a new-adult road trip novel by T. Fox Dunham titled DESTROYING THE TANGIBLE ILLUSION OF REALITY; or SEARCHING FOR ANDY KAUFMAN.
2016 will be PMMP’s biggest publishing year to date. Some titles we’ll be releasing (that I can talk about) include Joe McKinney’s SPECULATIONS, Kris Triana’s THE RUIN SEASON, Vincenzo Bilof’s THE VIOLATORS, Christopher David Rosales’s GOD’S ON THE LAM, Ed Kurtz’s CALIBAN, Jeremiah Israel’s LIVE ON NO EVIL, John C. Foster’s NIGHT ROADS (the sequel to DEAD MEN), and an anthology titled LOST SIGNALS, which is actually still opened for SUBMISSIONS. Deadline on the anthology is Halloween.
There are other books in the works, but nothing official yet. Oh, and we are also now the publishers of Dark Moon Digest, which comes out once a quarter, so keep an eye out on that.
The most successful author on the BILF roster is named Sergio Placid. Was he based on you? An amalgam of Indie writers? Or totally fictional?
Sergio Placid was loosely inspired by author Carlton Mellick III. Now, I have no idea what Mellick is like in real life, so obviously the character’s personality is fictional, but Mellick definitely inspired me by the amazing rate he pumps out high quality books. So in that way, yes, Sergio is part Mellick.
How is HOW TO SUCCESSFULLY KIDNAP STRANGERS like your previous books? How does it differ? What have you leaned about yourself as a writer over the course of publishing three books?
I don’t tend to consider genre when I’m writing, and this results is a blend of many genres that certain readers find appealing. All three books are humorous and absurd. In TOXICITY, a drug addict teenager became convinced a house fly was Jesus Christ. In THE MIND IS A RAZORBLADE, a cult leader was inserting spiders into people’s brains. And in STRANGERS, a trunk load of severed heads begin talking to one of the main characters.
Where they differ is how I wrote them. Both TOXICITY and THE MIND IS A RAZORBLADE took several years each to write. But HOW TO SUCCESSFULLY KIDNAP STRANGERS? Only two weeks. I wrote it in a frenzy due to an approaching deadline that I’d slacked off on. I think the fast pace definitely shows in the book, too.
What did I learn? I learned to just write without worrying so much. Get the first draft done and the rest is golden. At least in my experience. I know others find the first draft the easiest and the revising the hardest.
One of my favorite scenes in HOW TO SUCCESSFULLY KIDNAP STRANGERS involved two characters locked in a car trunk together. The dialogue is sharp and the humor is right on target—like WAITING FOR GODOT on crank. Were you ever tempted to keep them in there for the entire book?
I had considered keeping them in the trunk more, because yeah, those scenes were a lot of fun to write, but the drivers had other plans. A book like this, you really have to let the characters’ reactions steer the plot. I’m a big fan of dialogue-only chapters, and those trunk scenes are strong examples.
I don’t even think Joe and Tom are aware of this yet. In the book, I’m pretty sure I mix up their names and call them Joe Pitts and Tom Clifford. I love both of these authors dearly, so no rivalry…yet. I have a lot of enemies in Indiana, though, so be prepared for an anthology in the future titled MAX IS AN ASSHOLE: ESSAYS FROM THE HOOSIER STATE.
You are also a columnist for LitReactor and Slush Pile Heroes. Do you think it is important for novelists to develop and sustain this kind of web presence?
I think it is absolutely important. Everybody seems to have a novel out, so you have to come up with more creative ways to get your name out there. A great way to do this is to come up with important, entertaining articles that potential readers can enjoy for free. Get them interested in you, then they will seek out your book.
What other publishing plans do you have for 2015 and 2016?
I doubt I’ll have anything else out in 2015. I’m trying to finish a new novel about a hotel night auditor being harassed by owls. If I do indeed finish it within the next month or so, and the press that originally showed interest buys it, then it’ll most likely come out next year. We’ll see!
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.