Interrogation—Joe Clifford

Clifford 16.2Who: Joe Clifford

What: Acquisitions editor for Gutter Books and producer of Lip Service West, a “gritty, real, raw” reading series in Oakland, CA. He is the author of several books, including JUNKIE LOVE, LAMENTATION, and DECEMBER BOYS, as well as editor of  TROUBLE IN THE HEARTLAND: CRIME STORIES BASED ON THE SONGS OF BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN.

Where: San Francisco

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

Congrats on the release of DECEMBER BOYS, your latest Jay Porter novel. What can you tell us about the latest installment in the series?

The condensed version? I like Jenny Milchman’s blurb from DECEMBER BOYS, which I think is true for all Jay Porter novels. [These novels] are about “broken people who come back swinging, achieving the kind of partial triumphs and halfway heartaches only real life―and the best writing―can depict.”

At least I hope the “best writing” part is true. The broken people and not going down without a fight part certainly is. I love Springsteen.

December BoysThis is the second installment in the series. What did you learn about yourself as writer with this follow-up? What did you learn about Jay Porter?

I learned that Jay Porter is not a fun skin to occupy for lengthy periods of time (and I think my lovely wife Justine will agree). He is a frustrated, unhappy man, and without a healthy outlet, his is given to fits of rage, indignation, and excessive drinking.

He feels wronged by the world. And he has been wronged. Getting out of his own way is tougher. Jay is plagued by the duality of the way the world should be and the way the world is. He can’t reconcile the two. No one can. He often thinks he is right when he is wrong, and even when he knows he is wrong, Jay has tough time abandoning noble causes. But his heart is in the right place. I mean, if you think intentions matter, and the actions he takes do result in a modicum of success. But it comes at a heavy price. You realize life is less about those two dichotomies and more about the mutually agreed upon definition. I mean, what good is being “right” if no one else agrees?

Where are you with the third Jay Porter novel? What’s it called and what can you share about it?

I’m done! It’s called GIVE UP THE DEAD. Best of the bunch, if you ask me.

If you had to rank them, which of the three was the hardest to write? Do different books in a series present different challenges?

They all present their own challenges. Starting a series is hard. Following up (what folks have deemed) a successful debut is hard. Hitting book 3 and trying to avoid Murder She Wrote is hard.

Early on I made the choice that Jay wouldn’t be a professional investigator. No knock on those who employ the trope. It’s time-honored and produces a ton of quality work. But for me, I need an investigator in the game because it’s personal and not a job. Of course that means each time I need a reason for Jay to take on a case (in which he often—i.e., never—getting paid). Whatever this reason is serves as a catalyst for the narrative. And it must be organic because everything hinges on it.

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You recently left your position as managing editor for The Flash Fiction Offensive. How would you summarize your time in that role? What did you learn about writers and writing?

I love editing. Loved the magazine. Just no time. As life, job, family are demanding more time, I needed to make some cuts. Hector Duarte, Jr. has signed on to help Tom (Pitts). The magazine is in good hands.

Editing teaches you what not to do. When you get 12 stories about a serial killer slash lone wolf PI (who can’t let a woman get close), you know not to write a serial killer story, that kind of thing. I miss working one-on-on with writers, especially new ones. “Discovering” a Nicky Murphy or Marietta Miles always gave me a bang. Early publications mean a lot to a new writer. Like Todd Robinson did for me at Thuglit. I hope I did the same for others, pay it forward, etc. I like to teach and share what was taught to me.

UnloadedDoes your exit from TFFO also mean no more anthologies for Gutter Books?

No, we are still doing anthologies. After completing two novels since November, that part of my brain is raw burger. I’ll spent the rest of the year editing. We have a new Johnny Cash anthology coming up. I am about to release my last book of original fiction with Gutter, Mike Creeden’s ALL YOUR LIES CAME TRUE. I am also working with David James Keaton on an Alcatraz-themed anthology for Broken River.

Do you still have time to write and publish short fiction yourself?

Rarely. The last story I wrote was “Tattoo” for that gun violence-awareness anthology you and I are in together, UNLOADED.

What other publishing plans do you have for 2016 and beyond?

Oceanview has just asked for two more Jay Porters, so that brings us up through 2019. I have a bunch of conference and retreats I am teaching at. Plus, being a dad, which is, and will always be, priority #1 . . .

Find Joe Clifford: Website, FacebookTwitter, Goodreads

Previous Interrogations:

BCC Cover FinalS.W. Lauden’s debut novel, BAD CITIZEN CORPORATION, is available from Rare Bird Books. The second Greg Salem novel, GRIZZLY SEASON, will be published in Sept. 2016. His standalone novella, CROSSWISE, is available from Down & Out Books.

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