What: Jedidiah Ayres is his real name.
Where: St. Louis
Interview conducted by email. Some questions and answers have been edited.
I tore through PECKERWOOD, your small town epic from Broken River Books. What inspired you to write this story? How did you come up with the three main characters—Terry, Jimmy and Chowder?
Thanks, I’m glad somebody finally tore through it. Most folks say it took a huge guilt trip from me and a whole lot of mood-altering substances to finish it. And they never follow that up with comments about how glad they were that they stuck with it.
I actually wrote it when I failed to write the sequel. I was writing a novel that I couldn’t crack the structure of—I didn’t want to split it into two parts and I didn’t want to rely heavily on flashbacks. That novel (SHITBIRD) is about what happens in the aftermath of the events of PECKERWOOD… I realized I had to back up and write an entire other book to come before the original story I wanted to tell.
As far as the characters go—Terry is just me without a filter or functional conscience. He’s completely without the concept of responsibility or the social contract and un-interested in anything that doesn’t serve himself or immediately gratify whatever whim he’s taken with at the moment. Easily the most fun character to write and also the most unnerving. I’d step back from his point of view and think, “wow, that escalated quickly.” But I loved being able to let go with him. He has absolutely no need to justify himself.
Jimmy, on the other hand, does. He feels the weight of responsibility for the well-being of the folks he polices, but he’s also a pragmatist and engages in plenty of illegal and immoral activity in an attempt to protect and serve. When I feel guilty, I write Jimmy. He’s a moral failure like me—claiming ideals he can’t live up to. He’s of a prototype I first became interested in exploring after watching the Matthew McConaughey character, Buddy Deeds, in John Sayles’s amazing 1996 film Lonestar. Go see that film if you haven’t. You’ll thank me. I’ll wait.
Chowder is the devil Jimmy knows. He’s a lesser evil—a career criminal, but not a psychopath, not without conscience—someone Jimmy can reason with. Their relationship is symbiotic and they both seem to understand what they and their partner bring to the deal. I like too that he’s a small business man, who’s locally sourced and giving back to the community… and pretty evil. I hope there’s a nice contrast there.
I knew what kind of book it was going to be going in, but it wasn’t important to me to fit any particular genre. And if rural noir is the thing you like to read, I hope you like PECKERWOOD, but let’s be honest, I’d recommend twenty other books before my own. It is interesting to see the way other people view your work. Sometimes I find my stuff placed along other authors and works that I owe great and obvious debts to and other times mine is an anachronistic reading choice for the author of that particular blog or Goodreads profile and it’s interesting to speculate on how the reader came to the material.
How does PECKERWOOD differ from your novella, FIERCE BITCHES? Are they stylistically different?
Oh yeah, they’re different. Thematically I think they match up, but the approach, the feel and the structure are quite a bit different. Currently, I’m most fond of FIERCE BITCHES among my titles. It’s a weird, nasty, hopefully potent piece that I actually think of as possibly the sweetest love story I’ll ever write. I don’t want to give anything away for folks who’ve not read it, but I’ll say it’s broken up into three parts and is not chronologically structured. It’s also dedicated to my wife. I’ve had just a little pushback for dedicating a book with that title to her, but like I said, I think it’s sweet.
You also published the short story collection A F*CKLOAD OF SHORTS. What originally attracted you to short fiction? Does your approach to short fiction differ from your novels/novellas?
Murdaland magazine is what drew me to writing short fiction. I already liked to read it, but as far as “crime” fiction went, I’d never seen it treated as seriously as I did in Murdaland. That magazine got me to pick it up with Daniel Woodrell and Ken Bruen and then introduced me to Vicki Hendricks, Tom Franklin, Gary Phillips, Anthony Neil Smith, Scott Phillips, Tim L. Williams, Don Carpenter, Rudolph Wurlitzer, Les Edgerton, Mary Gaitskill and Patricia Abbott. Man they hit it out of the park every time with their too-short run. I read that first issue and just had to be part of that scene. The quality of the writing paired with the subject matter just nailed me. I wrote my first short stories specifically to submit to them. But they disappeared. Thanks to Michael Langnas for steering me toward publications like Neil’s Plots With Guns, Todd Robinson’s Thuglit and Matthew Louis’s Out of the Gutter. I was hooked.
My approach differs for sure, though sometimes I wish it wouldn’t. Often a short story is something that comes rushing out—a story that can’t be bothered to last a couple hundred pages… I don’t tend to write single-scene short stories either. Mine sprawl. I feel like I’ve written a novel when I finish one. I know lots of great writers who can churn out a short story in a day or two, but most of mine have taken months to produce. But hey, I’ve never claimed to be very good at it. Plenty of people better than me who are a lot more prolific too.
And I hate them.
Rumor has it that you and Eric Campbell from Down & Out Books did some kind of blood-swapping ritual during Bouchercon in Raleigh, North Carolina. Can we expect anything but evil to come from this unholy union?
You can. I plied Eric with drink and took advantage of his good mood. Got his bloody signature too. So he can’t back out. I can’t tell you about the deal, but let’s just say, Eric’s a hell of a good guy and I am not.
Thanks, man. That was a lot of fun and, hey kids, Steve’s reading was something to experience too. I read out loud for sure, but I do that as I write anyway. I prefer to read short stories because they tend to be punchier, a little more value for the time restrictions.
If you could fight one other crime writer, living or dead, who would it be and why? What would be your secret move?
Christa Faust. I’d fight Christa ’cause nobody would make fun of me for getting my ass kicked. ‘Cause she’d kick it. And she’d kick yours. Everybody knows Christa would kick their ass. And I can think of worse ways to get my ass kicked. The one move I’d try is just to fall on her. ‘Cause she’s tiny. And I’m not. I think I’d only have one chance, so I’d have to make it count, but if I could manage to land just right, I just might win.
Any advice for writers who want to follow in your footsteps? Any warnings for writers who get in your way?
Anybody who’d want to follow in my footsteps is so desperately in need of guidance I couldn’t in good conscience just tell them to get lost. Seriously though, if you’re looking up to me you’re in a baaaad way. As far as writers in my way… You’re all in my way, if you’d just bug off and give me some room I’d appreciate it.
That’s not true. If everybody left I wouldn’t have much reason to keep writing. I could find another hobby. You guys make it special though.
Last book you read that blew your mind?
Don Winslow’s THE CARTEL. But c’mon, you all know that one, right? A couple recent ones you might not know—FOUR DAYS by Iain Ryan (out in November from Broken River Books), and DIE DOG OR EAT THE HATCHET by Adam Howe (just out from Comet Press). Go find ’em.
S.W. Lauden’s debut novel, BAD CITIZEN CORPORATION, is available now from Rare Bird Books. His novella, CROSSWISE, will be published by Down & Out Books in 2016.