What: His short stories have appeared in Thuglit, Needle, Otto Penzler’s Kwik Krimes, Akashic Books’ Mondays Are Murder, and many other places. THE THROES OF CRIME is his first published book. His comic book, FORTUNE, is available from Comixology, Indy Planet, and NoiseTrade.
Interview conducted by email. Some questions and answers have been edited.
Congrats on the release of your excellent short story collection, THE THROES OF CRIME. How did this project came together?
Thank you! I’m glad you like it. This is a collection of stories that have been published by various magazines and websites, plus a handful of brand new stories.
The first thing I remember publishing was a four-page, handwritten newsletter called The Atari Times back when I was in third or fourth grade. I wrote it, my father photocopied it, and we distributed free copies to people in our development trying to drum up some subscriptions. That didn’t work—I think there might have been a second issue, but I couldn’t testify to that. But it did plant the seeds of interest in self-publishing, or indie publishing.
So when I had enough short stories ready that the collection would be a good size—it’s just under 50,000 words—my natural inclination was to compile them and put it out indie style. I’m fortunate to be married to an incredible editor, Beth, and to know a super-talented artist, Dillon Samuelson, who created the skull for the cover.
All proceeds from THE THROES OF CRIME go to the James & Jeanne Arneson Memorial Scholarship Fund. Tell us about the scholarship and who it benefits.
My parents always supported my writing any way they could. When they passed away in 2015, I thought about ways to continue their legacy of encouragement. Establishing this scholarship fund to encourage high school students to write is an attempt to do that.
Each year, the scholarship will be awarded to a student from Wilmot High School in Wilmot, South Dakota, who writes a short story. This year, we had about eight entries and we were very impressed with the students’ creativity. The South Dakota Community Foundation manages the fund, and we set up a scholarship selection committee that consists of Beth and me, plus authors Jen Conley, Merry Jones, and Jon McGoran.
We chose Wilmot High School because my father’s family has roots there: My great-grandparents, Oscar and Caroline Olson, moved to the United States from Norway and spent many years in Wilmot. They’re buried in Wilmot Cemetery.
As a former editor for the flash fiction webzine, Shotgun Honey, what is the trick to writing good flash fiction?
My favorite pieces of flash fiction either tell a complete story or create an unforgettable picture—ideally, both. It’s difficult, but it’s very powerful when it all comes together.
On a related note, Shotgun Honey and Out of the Gutter Online are two amazing resources for crime writers. I’d encourage everyone to consider submitting to both. If you can put together a story that really hums in 700 words or less, go for Shotgun Honey. If it takes a few more words (up to 1,000), head over to Out of the Gutter.
Which of the stories included in THE THROES OF CRIME would you say was the hardest to write? How do you know when a story is done?
“The Late Engagement” went through several significant revisions, to put it mildly, before it came together in the version that appears in this collection. I wrote it as a single story, then split it into three mini-stories, then put it back together again, with lots of edits to every version. That happened off and on over a couple of years.
Generally, I know a story’s finished when Beth’s edits have trickled down to about one red mark per page. Any more than that and another draft is probably in order.
One of my favorite stories in the collection, “Alive,” takes place in Russia in 1953. Why is that the right setting? Do you research period pieces?
I’m glad you like that story. It’s among my favorites as well.
I think St. Petersburg in 1953 is the right setting for this story because it’s cold, stark, and lonely—but with a strong undercurrent of hope and love.
I definitely research period pieces. For “Alive,” all the research I needed was available online. (Too bad – I would have loved to justify a trip to St. Petersburg…) For “All Alone,” another story set in the past, I found a wealth of information in old issues of the Philadelphia Inquirer on microfilm.
One of the most inventive short stories in the collection, “Twitter and Coke,” is a collection of tweets that slowly ruins a politician’s career. What was the inspiration for that one?
I worked for the Senate of Pennsylvania for 18 years, and I’m still working for state government today, so my imagination often drifts to tales of political intrigue. Fortunately, “Twitter and Coke” was not based on any actual experience, although former Congressman Anthony Weiner’s use of Twitter certainly makes it clear that something very much like it could happen in real life.
“Twitter and Coke” is the only story I’ve written in that form. I’m sure someone else could do something interesting with it, but no other Twitter-style story ideas have wormed their way into my brain.
I never thought about a connection before, but you may be on to something. My favorite games are those which offer players different paths to victory – the ability to adjust your strategy and tactics as the game goes on to respond to what other players are doing. Characters in a crime story are always responding to changing circumstances.
Got any other publishing plans for the rest of 2016 and beyond?
Nothing more this year, but hopefully my first novel, DRAGONFLY, will be available next year. I’m also developing a pitch for a comic book series, a couple of scripts for television pilots, and a noir-ish children’s book called MULDOON.
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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 October 2016. His standalone novella, CROSSWISE, is available from Down & Out Books.