What: Greg Barth is the author of SELENA, DIESEL THERAPY, SUICIDE LOUNGE, as well as the forthcoming ROAD CARNAGE and EVERGLADE.
Interview conducted by email. Some questions and answers have been edited.
I just read SELENA and found it really hard to put down. It was a total punch to the gut. Tell me how this character and this story came together for you?
That story started with a single idea. There’s a tired trope in slasher movies where the victim frantically attempts to get away while being stalked. She finally makes it to a car, gets inside, fumbles with the keys, drops them, and—while the slasher’s shadow looms over the car window and squeaky slasher music plays louder and faster—attempts to start the car. And the ignition never works. Never. It just grinds and grinds while the victim’s foot taps the gas pedal. “Come on!” she says.
In my twist on this scene, she’s unable to start the car because it’s equipped with an ignition interlock device, and she’s not sober enough to unlock the switch. It seemed like a funny idea, but I also knew the consequences of being caught would be severe. And there’s no slasher, but it’s quite bad.
The character, Selena, comes from a hundred different places—pieces of people I’ve known over the years—but the two most prominent literary influences are Stieg Larsson’s Lisbeth Salander and Ken Bruen’s Jack Taylor. I remember thinking during an all-out binge of the Taylor novels, “This kind of character would never work as a woman.” The idea stuck, and it became a challenge.
There are currently three books in the series, including DIESEL THERAPY and SUICIDE LOUNGE. How has the Selena character developed over time?
She’s grown more lethal, more aggressive. She’s learned to fight on her own terms, not her enemy’s. She’s perfected every nasty trick life has taught her. By the end of SUICIDE LOUNGE, we see Selena is no longer the emotional killer that we met in the first book. She’s now determined and calculating. If anything, Selena’s resilience has only grown stronger over the three novels, but so has her tendency toward self-destruction. She’s her own worst enemy in the end, and—if you’ve met her other enemies—that’s saying a lot.
Why did you decide to write from the perspective of a female character for this series? How did your approach differ from previous stories you’ve written that feature a male protagonist?
I wanted to break with cliché. I wanted an unlikely protagonist, someone who is physically diminutive, with questionable morals, has a selfish interest in pleasure, somewhat nasty, low self-esteem; and she would have to win readers over to her cause as quickly as possible. We’ve enjoyed a great era of male anti-heroes (Tony Soprano, Walter White, etc.), and I love the current era of female heroes (Katniss, Rey, etc.). But I’m all about the female anti-hero at this point (Cersei Lannister, long live the queen).
There are action heroes out there who are always the smartest person in the room, who are never seriously injured, they never change, they never fail (think James Bond, Jack Reacher, Jason Bourne). Selena is not one of those characters. She makes mistakes. Big mistakes. She gets outsmarted. She gets hurt. Hell, she even hurts herself. And, while you might want to have a drink with her one evening, you wouldn’t take her home to meet mom.
It’s a different approach, writing from the female perspective. Especially since I’m a guy. I’m sure I’ve gotten a million things wrong. To do it, I’ve taken my experiences as a male and flipped the perspective 180 degrees. I didn’t want to create Selena as a standard tough-guy and just use a woman’s name and female pronouns (some say that’s how you should write a strong, female character. I disagree). I wanted Selena to be feminine, have a woman’s interests and desires, display a broad emotional range, all while being a strong person. What I appreciate about her is her resilience. She goes through hell, but she doesn’t give up. She finds a way to make it through. Admittedly, I haven’t given her much to work with, but she finds a way.
The first person narration from her perspective was crucial. I wanted readers to experience her pain and emotion from the inside. Otherwise this book would have been exploitative at best, or misogynistic, degrading torture at worst. When Selena takes a punch, I want you to cringe.
Are there plans to write more books for the series? Did you have an end in mind when you first sat down to write SELENA?
From a writing standpoint, the series is complete. As far as publishing is concerned, there are two more volumes yet to be released. They are currently titled ROAD CARNAGE and EVERGLADE. Both are written and are in very good hands; however, they’ve yet to be edited, and I don’t have release dates at this time.
I had a vague notion of where the first three books would go by the time I finished the first volume. The last two ideas came later. And I actually wrote the fifth (and final) volume before writing the fourth.
I knew Mike Monson through social media. I’d read some of his stories; he’d read some of mine. There was a good bit of mutual respect there. I initially self-published the first 100 pages or so of SELENA through Amazon KDP. Mike read it, liked it, gave me a call. We talked about the book, the series, and the possibility of doing something with All Due Respect Books. Mike was the first to recognize potential with SELENA and share the vision of what the series could ultimately look like.
Writing is a lonely and personal craft. Publishing is a team sport. Working with Mike, along with Chris Rhatigan and Rob Pierce, has been a joy from day one. They do the hard work necessary to put out a quality product. I couldn’t have picked a better team, and I can’t recommend them highly enough.
The vast majority of my reading for the last three years has been indie/small-press authors. It’s hard to talk about my favorites, because I’m afraid of overlooking someone. There’s just so much great stuff out there right now; and I know I’ve got some excellent things on my Kindle that are still waiting to be read. Currently I am reading THE SIN TAX by Preston Lang, which I am loving. CLEANING UP FINN by Sarah M. Chen was another great one. ROUTE 12, Marietta Miles, that one stands out. There are many others that should be on this list that I’ve just not been able to get to yet.
You recently took over as the host for Noir on the Radio. What plans do you have up your sleeve for that audio series?
I’m excited about this opportunity. Like I said before, writing is a lonely craft. By hosting this program, I get to speak directly to some of the greatest writers in the noir space. I plan to continue with the Dames in the Dark series—readings and interviews with women writers of noir—and incorporate some panel discussion consisting of topics relevant to women writers.
I also plan a steady line up of both new and established noir authors for interviews and to discuss their latest works. There will be more flash fiction showdowns. I’ll be kicking off some mixed panel discussions centered on topics and trends in noir fiction. Special thanks to Pam Stack and the Authors on the Air network for asking me to host.
If you could fight any author, living or dead, who would it be? Why?
It’s a toss-up between Ernest Hemingway and Jane Austen. Ernest Hemingway because it’s the right answer—sounds tough and macho. He’d kick my ass, we’d get drunk afterward and write a “true” novel. Jane Austen for entirely different reasons. I’d fight her because I had to read EMMA in college. Don’t get me started. Plus, I think I could take her. Maybe.
Got any other publishing plans for 2016 and beyond?
ROAD CARNAGE and EVERGLADE are up and coming. Those will conclude the Selena series. I also have a short story included in an anthology Michael Pool is putting together called FAST WOMEN AND NEON LIGHTS. Aside from those, I am about twenty percent into my current work in progress, a standalone crime novel that I’m pleased with so far. Working title is SECOND SKIN.
- Jason Pinter
- Benjamin Whitmer
- Joe Clifford
- Ryan Gattis
- Dharma Kelleher
- Bryon Quertermous
- Sarah M. Chen
S.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.