What: Author of NEW YORKED and CITY OF ROSE. His short stories have appeared in publications like Thuglit, Needle, Shotgun Honey, Joyland, and Helix Literary Magazine. Non-fiction has appeared at Salon, The Daily Beast, Nailed, Birth.Movies.Death., and the Powell’s bookstore blog. He’s been nominated for a Derringer Award and received honorable mention in The Best American Mystery Stories 2015. He’s also the class director at LitReactor and the associate publisher at MysteriousPress.com.
Where: New York
Interview conducted by email. Some questions and answers have been edited.
CITY OF ROSE is your much-anticipated follow-up to NEW YORKED. This time around, Ash McKenna is brawling his way across Portland, Oregon. How did you pick the location for book 2?
It was originally supposed to be Austin, Texas. I wanted the book to be a spin on a Western—stranger rolls through town with a chip on his shoulder and saves the day. Like Shane or Road House. But I know way more about Portland than I do Austin, and it struck me as a really odd place to set a Western. That pretty much sealed it.
I’ve been out there five or six times, to see a good friend. And I went out to take a weekend workshop with Tom Spanbauer, who is my favorite living writer. A lot of the book was just talking to people—other friends who live out there, my friend and his wife, who have since moved back to New York. I got lucky—people out there are real nice. I asked a question about the train station and someone went down and took pictures and video for me.
Once you chose the location for CITY OF ROSE, did your approach to writing the character of Ash McKenna change at all? Why was a missing child the right thing to pull him out of his self-imposed exile?
A missing child is one of those things that you can’t not help with. And I really dove hard into this around the time I found out my wife was pregnant. Our daughter was actually born two weeks before I delivered the final manuscript to my publisher. So part of this was me working some shit out.
In terms of approach: I needed him to grow a little from the first book, but leave room for more—he’s still got a lot of growing up to do. So it was a matter of finding the progression of his arc. In NEW YORKED Ash McKenna learned that violence wasn’t the answer. So for CITY OF ROSE it meant putting him in a situation where violence was the answer.
I actually found this one was a lot easier. One, because I went into it with an outline, so I knew where I was going. But also, because I found my voice and my process. That was the thing I got from the first book: I found my footing enough that I could proceed through this one with a small degree of confidence. Not that I didn’t have this huge crisis in the beginning. There was a week or two where I was pretty sure I’d never be able to write another book again. I didn’t even know how I did it the first time. Then I buckled down and got to work.
When the story opens, Ash McKenna is working as a bouncer in a vegan strip club. How victorious did you feel when you came up with that concept? Where were you and what were you doing?
It was initially a coffee shop, and it was so not working. I knew I needed a central business or location, and I don’t remember exactly when the ‘vegan strip club’ thing clicked. I know I’d written and re-written the first few chapters a couple of times. And then it hit me. I love the strip clubs in Portland. They all have food, and some of the food is really good. There’s a no touching rule, which keeps the temperature down. Crowds are way more mixed. Going to a strip club in Portland is like going to a bowling alley anywhere else. I think it said a lot about the town, and its identity, and the people who lived there.
One of the striking things about NEW YORKED was the first person internal dialogue that Ash McKenna has with his dead friend Chell. It appears with less frequency in CITY OF ROSE. Did you ever consider leaving it out of book 2?
The first draft had none. I added one flashback, and I was a little hesitant to even go there, but there was something about Ash’s stubbornness that I wanted to get across. My publisher read it and loved it. He felt it was a nice callback to the first book without overdoing it. I trust his instincts.
Is there a third book planned in the series? Do you already know where you will be heading next time?
Hell yes. I’m starting edits on the final draft of the third book soon, and it’s due to my publisher March 1. Tentatively scheduled for an October release. Since this is a series coming out in paperback, the idea is to keep it moving quickly, to build out some shelf space in bookstores. It means a lot of writing, but it’s coming along.
The third one is called SOUTH VILLAGE, and it’s set on a hippie commune in Georgia. The fourth, which I’m contracted for and is due at the end of the year, is tentatively titled PIGEON KNIGHT. That’ll be set in Eastern Europe. And I hope to finish the series with a fifth installment that brings Ash home. We’ll see how that goes.
Nothing! But given that Todd is one of the few crime fiction writers in the game who could legitimately stomp some serious ass in a bar fight, I wanted to poke some fun at him. He got a good laugh out of it.
What other publishing plans do you have for 2016 and beyond?
I’ve got a project I’m working on right now, between the editing of SOUTH VILLAGE, that I’m not allowed to talk about yet, but ought to be a lot of fun when it comes out. And I’m poking at a trilogy of YA fantasy books—it’s a story that I love, and it’s a gift for my daughter, so she has something to read growing up.
S.W. Lauden’s debut novel, BAD CITIZEN CORPORATION, is available now from Rare Bird Books. The second Greg Salem novel, GRIZZLY SEASON, will be published in September 2016. His standalone novella, CROSSWISE, is available now for pre-order from Down & Out Books.