What: Author of CRIMINAL ZOO, a disturbing look into a dystopian near future where criminals pay for their crimes in torture and blood. His second book is scheduled for release fall of 2017.
Interview conducted by email. Some questions and answers have been edited.
CRIMINAL ZOO is a fresh take on the crime novel. Tell us a little about the inspiration to write this story.
May, 2005, an article in the Billings Gazette: Man Killed Two Girls Out of Rage. I sat in my office with a client of mine and discussed this article (by day I’m a mild-mannered personal trainer, by night I write stories that cost you sleep). According to the article, an ex-convict stabbed his 8-year-old daughter and her 9-year-old friend to death with a steak knife. He alleged he did so in self-defense. “I wish I could be locked in a room with this monster,” I told my client. “I would say, ‘I’m not an eight year old girl. What can you do to me?’ Come back an hour later and let out whoever is still standing. I guarantee it will be me.”
Two years later, I sat down and let the story out. In all fairness, however, I must give credit where credit is due. Dante Alighieri beat me to the punch by 700 years. In his DIVINE COMEDY, Dante explained his hell. “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.” What you did to land in hell is done to you for an eternity.
I knew CRIMINAL ZOO was a very bad place. A place of terror and torture. A place where only the most heinous of criminals go. Inhabited by individuals I refer to as “Animals disguised as humans.” So it was only natural for me to create a very bad person to put in there. A monster we could follow throughout his life, watching his atrocities. Dare I say commit them with him? I would like to introduce to you Samuel Bradbury. A chance encounter with him could leave you minus your ears, eyes, and tongue.
As far as blending concept and character in this story, I really didn’t. I don’t know if this makes sense or not, but when I write, I kind of go to sleep. I go to wherever these stories exist. I watch them unfold and then I bring them back with me. I record them on paper for the rest of the world to witness.
You are unflinching in describing the heinous crimes committed throughout the book. Was this difficult for you as a writer? Did you do research for those parts of the book?
Samuel Bradbury’s crimes are vicious. He is unencumbered by conscience. Upon recording his killing scenes, I questioned whether this material was too graphic to see the light of day. Too horrifying to put on your bedside stand. Ultimately, I decided to let you the reader decide.
As far as research for my monster, I had the expert guidance of Dr. Eldon Olson, forensic neuro-psychologist and former homicide investigator, Oakland Police Dept. Dr. Olson is now a professor of Criminal Science at Montana State University Billings. As well, I watched documentaries and read books and articles on the likes of Jeffrey Dahmer, John Wayne Gacy, the BTK Killer, Ed Gein, Edmund Kemper, and Aileen Wournos, to name a few.
I know I called CRIMINAL ZOO a “crime novel,” but you could just as easily apply other genres to it like sci-fi, dystopian, etc. What kind of book did you set to to write? What kind of book did you ultimately publish?
I fancy myself a horror writer. With CZ, I feel I missed my mark. Yes, the novel is horrifying in its own way, but if crammed into a genre—I honestly don’t feel any traditional genres can contain this book—it would have to be in the “Crime Fiction” section of the library. I could only hope great noir writers such as yourself would welcome me in if I came knocking on your door! I promise to leave my knife outside…
Does genre matter to you as a writer? How about as a reader?
Genre…the great classification of our books, magazines, films, and TV shows. Oh what would we do without them? Personally, I feel the whole genre push is stale. What if I want to write a really scary book that has a really funny character that falls deeply into a romantic relationship with a beautiful, yet deadly serial killer, before falling apart in the pursuit of true love, losing sanity while chasing delusional dreams (let’s say like…trying to get published, for example) and bringing it all back together and hitting a home run in the end—did I happen to mention my hero is a Puerto Rican minor league baseball player?
So there I am, typing my query and scratching my head as to what genre to declare for my piece. Sure, we want to know if we are going to watch a movie or read a book that is going to scare us. If we are in the mood to laugh, we want a comedy. Valentine’s Day, let’s hit that romantic comedy. And surely we can’t forget Christmas. I would’ve been pretty damn disappointed if I were looking for a serious drama and I went to see Christmas Vacation. But do we need to force everything into a traditional genre? Or perhaps now that we have this thing called Google, we can just look up the title and see if it’s something we’re interested in. Hey, you asked.
CRIMINAL ZOO forced an internal debate in my head about the nature of crime and punishment, justice and rehabilitation. Did you enter into this with a fixed opinion on that? How did it change or evolve as you wrote?
In CRIMINAL ZOO, I ask the question, “How far are you willing to go to protect those you love?” A conversation occurs in the book between Gov. Jon McIntyre and a television host that covers both issues raised by this work—”Should we concern ourselves with preserving the rights of those who would just as well kill us as have breakfast with us?” The governor argues that those wired to kill are malignant cancer cells to the body of civilization. He believes they should be cut from the body, for the very survival of society. The TV host argues for rehabilitation and forgiveness—”Forgiveness will get you killed these days,” Jon returns.
I want this book to be discussed in coffee shops, beauty salons, grocery store checkout lines, restaurants, and martini bars across the country. Oh and by the way, if you’re waiting for me to answer this question…I don’t.
Who are some of your favorite authors? What are you reading right now?
I am a disciple of Stephen King. IT is an all-time favorite! He and Dean Koontz shaped my young horror mind. I thoroughly enjoy Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child. William Peter Blatty wrote arguably the scariest novel of fiction in history, THE EXORCIST. I enjoy F. Paul Wilson, Thomas Harris, Harlan Cobin, and am still a huge fan of the late Michael Crichton. JURRASIC PARK? So damn much fun! And how about CHEMICAL PINK, by Katie Arnoldi? One of the quirkiest, perverse, and unbelievably engrossing books I have read! Loved it! Lately, however, in promoting CZ, I have had the opportunity to meet wonderful authors I haven’t read before. S.W. Lauden, Stephen Graham Jones, Dr. Stephen Stein, and Burt Weissbourd. All excellent! I just finished BAD CITIZEN CORPORATION—Bravo! And am now picking up THE LAST WEREWOLF, by Glen Duncan. There is hope for me yet!
What other publishing plans do you have for the rest of 2017 and beyond?
I just handed in my next manuscript to Pat Walsh of Defenestration Press (San Francisco) and Tyson Cornell of Rare Bird Books (Los Angeles.) Working title is HANNAH, but will be retitled during editing. It is scheduled to be released fall of 2017.
I am presently working on my next manuscript (untitled) scheduled for release fall of 2018. I am also having a great time with a short piece of fiction titled, CANNIBAL MANIFESTO REDUX. If you thought CZ was dark, wait ’til you get a load of this! Wherever it is I go, this disturbing realm from which these stories are born, it’s only getting darker. And at this time I would like to give a shout out of gratitude to Pat and Tyson. Because you two believed in me, my delusional dreams are coming true!
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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, was published in October 2016. His first Tommy & Shayna crime caper, CROSSWISE, is available from Down & Out Books. The second novella in that series, CROSSED BONES, will be published in May 2017. He is also the co-host of the crime/mystery podcast, Writer Types.