What: He has been a waiter, a securities trader, dishwasher, investment manager and an unpaid Hollywood intern. He’s quit corporate America, come back, been fired, been promoted, been fired again. Currently he is a screenwriter and author who writes stories about questionable people who make questionable decisions.
Where: Austin, TX
Interviewed conducted by email. Some questions and answers have been edited.
Your 2013 novel, REMO WENT ROGUE, is one hell of a read—fast-paced, vicious and dark. How did the character of Remo come together?
Thank you, sir. Glad you dug it. Yeah, Remo kinda came out of a fascination of defense attorneys and the weirdness of their jobs. All the information that must be swirling around their heads at any given time, knowing all the horrible shit that your clients have done and it’s your job to set them free or at least get the best deal possible. It’s extremely necessary to the legal process, but thinking of actually doing it as a profession is a whole different thing. I also really liked the idea of one of these guys having a crisis of conscience and falling off the deep end. So, those elements plus I have a deep affection for drunk, broken, pill-popping, foul-mouthed bastards with a heart of gold.
Thanks. I have a background in screenwriting and one of the great struggles, for me at least, in scripts is coming up with creative, smooth, non-shitty ways to get exposition out onto the page. I also wanted to start the story in a certain spot. If I was smarter, I probably would have written all of that backstory as a completely separate book but I’m not that smart. I really wanted the book to begin after all of that had taken place and kick it off with him already having made this life-altering decision. Plus, I think it’s a great introduction to Remo as a character. A man that feels the need to pontificate about violent events during sex says a lot about him. Not sure what, but it’s interesting.
Let’s say you find yourself in a tough situation and you need a lawyer. Would you personally consider calling a guy like Remo? Why/why not?
I don’t know. I’d have to be in deep, deep shit to call a guy like Remo. He is, however, very good at his job but damn expensive. I guess if I killed a few dozen people and took down an armored car or two, I give Remo a jingle. Couldn’t hurt. I’d probably be more inclined to go to Vegas with a guy like Remo. How about going to Remo’s bachelor party? Holy shit. Now we’re getting somewhere… that might be the next book.
Was REMO WENT ROGUE much of a departure from your debut novel, GETTING UGLY? How do the two differ? How are they similar?
They are similar, but different. GETTING UGLY is a novella, so the obvious answer is REMO is longer. The real difference is GETTING UGLY is meant of be a quick jam of adrenaline. A good time like an over the top action movie or a one night stand with a crazy person. There’s not much depth, so if you’re looking for a deep dive into understanding the human condition, look elsewhere. Malcom Gladwell it is not, but it is fun.
This is not to say REMO is meant to be a socially relevant think-piece either, but there is much more character and I think it’s more of a rounded book rather than a one-hitter like UGLY.
They are similar in the way action is handled. It’s pretty relentless in both and I’d like to think they are both fun to read. I write with intent to entertain.
I’m a tease.
No, if I could I’d crank out stuff at a Stephen King pace I would with a big-ass smile on my face, but life has unfortunately gotten in the way recently. There’s the annoying life thing and, as I mentioned, I’ve been involved in screenwriting so I had a couple things going on that side as well. They failed miserably, but even failure can be a time suck.
Anyway, I’m hard at work on a new novel that I’ll hopefully be able to take a swing with next year. I’ve also got another short story that should get published soon from what I understand.
Speaking of short stories, how does your approach to writing differ between shorter and longer works of fiction? Do you prefer one over the other?
Don’t know if I have a preference really. It’s really what the idea is. What kind of story it is. Some of them only want a few thousand words and some of them are needy fuckers that demand a lot more.
The approach is about the same though. I try to spitball some bullet points, scene ideas, piece together some vague form of outline, figure out some kind of three act thing and then start writing only to realize that all that work I just mentioned has become completely useless and have to wing it the rest of the way. But I need that pre-work to get to the other stuff.
Your bio says that you have been “a waiter, a securities trader, dishwasher, investment manager and an unpaid Hollywood intern.” How do those varied experiences factor into the stories and characters you create?
I think it’s huge plus, no question. As a writer the more experiences you have and the more people you meet can only help. Getting to know folks with different economic backgrounds, different upbringings from different parts of the country or the world. It’s good to have that.
Also working a variety jobs in a variety industries introduces to how different stuff works. You know? You get that behind the scenes thing. Like what it’s like working behind a bar with an angry crowd of drunks wanting to eat you alive, the experience of dealing with a 80 year old man with a net worth in excess of 100 million screaming at you because there was down day in the market and one of my favorites, overnighting Anal-Only DVDs to a producer’s cousin with only 15 minutes to get from Hollywood and Highland before the nearest Fed Ex shuts down. All of that and more can be in your head too, kids. Jealous?
You and I hung out at Bouchercon this year and you told me that somebody said you were “the next Tom Clancy.” What did you learn about yourself from that encounter?
For those playing at home, here’s the story. I’m in the lobby of a hotel at Bouchercon, sitting and nursing a hangover with a few other writers who were doing the same. This very nice woman sits down next to me and says, “Thank you for picking up where Tom Clancy left off. Me and my husband love what you do.” Now, for the record I’ve never written anything that could vaguely be confused with Tom Clancy so I say, “I’m, I’m not sure I’m doing that.” Nice woman says, “Oh but you are and you don’t even know it.” She continues to tell me how great I am, or who she thinks I am. I decide to use this as writer porn and not correct her, besides the conversation had kinda reached the point of no return. So I pretend that she does know who I am, has read my stuff and really enjoys my work. After about a good ten minutes of this she leaves, smiling I might add.
I think we both got what we wanted out of the relationship. Later I got a little depressed that I wasn’t the next Clancy, but the drinking helped. A lot.
I really just feel bad for the writer she thought I was. That guy was probably up in his room hoping that somebody would appreciate his work. Screaming at the heavens, “Please Lord, send me a sign to keep writing or give up” and unfortunately that sign was wasted on me.
Oh well, fuck it. I had fun.
Follow in my footstep? Yeah, aim higher. “Find some better feet,” is probably the best advice I can give. I know I’m still chasing other people’s footsteps.
Best advice I ever got was simple and easy to follow: Read and write as much as you can.
What was the last book that knocked your socks off?
I really dug LOVE AND OTHER WOUNDS. It’s a fantastic short story collection by Jordan Harper. Right now I’m tearing through THE SHORT DROP by Matthew Fitzsimmons. It’s a great new thriller, met Fitzsimmons at Bouchercon as well.
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.