What: He’s slung hash, worked on the docks, trained in martial arts in Japan, and even swept the Guggenheim museum (but not as part of a clever heist). He is the author of BAD BOY BOOGIE, his first Jay Desmarteaux crime thriller, and BLADE OF DISHONOR.
Where: New Jersey
Interview conducted by email. Some questions and answers have been edited.
Congrats on the release of BAD BOY BOOGIE. Can you tell us a little about your protagonist, Jay Desmarteaux?
Jay is a Louisiana boy transplanted to New Jersey when he was a kid, he’s got Cajun gumption and Jersey attitude. His mama said there are some people who just need killing, and his papa Andre was a hard-working man… and he’s constantly torn between the two, where people with money, power, muscle, or all three think they can step on your face if you’re “little people.”
Bullies are everywhere, not just school. It’s part of our mythology, that people who “get things done” are cruel, break the rules, and belittle people to get what they want. We buy their BS because we’ve been sold this image of toughness, when bluster and cruelty aren’t tough at all, they’re easy.
I was a fat kid who had his nose in a book, of course I was bullied. So I hit the gym and got “yuge” and put ten years in the cage at a fight gym. Trained with police, fighters who went pro. Keigo Kunihara, who fought in UFC55, he cracked one of my ribs, when we were just playing around. I was never going pro, I just wanted to learn how to fight, and better yet, how to avoid a fight. Once you’ve finished a round after a 6’4” Marine boxer used your face like an Everlast punching bag, you get enough confidence to not let your fear do the talking. Bullies don’t scare you anymore, you see how pathetic they are. And you learn there’s always someone tougher than you.
BAD BOY BOOGIE bounces between Louisiana and New Jersey. Why were these the right settings for this story?
My wife’s from Louisiana, but I fell in love with the state before I fell in love with her, thanks to James Lee Burke. Jay owes a little to Clete Purcell, from his books. Louisiana is practically its own country—it’s been Spanish, French, then American. It’s a rough place, in Cajun culture you’re expected to hold your own, but they also have a good time like no one else. They reminded me of New Jersey Italians, like myself. Catholics who would throw a big party right before Lent, they’re my kind of people. And the other similarities kept coming. We both have swamps, except ours has Jimmy Hoffa in it. Organized crime has a big history in both states. Both have great beauty spoiled by pollution, thanks to endemic corruption. Corruption’s a way of life in both states.
How does BAD BOY BOOGIE differ from your previous books? How do you feel you have evolved as a writer?
To quote Joyce Carol Oates, we must be fearless enough to trust our own voice. I’ve found stories ten years old that read the same as something I edited heavily, because I was trying too hard on the first draft. Once I take the time to know the character, I find it much easier. For me, it’s about knowing the antagonist as well. Sometimes they can just be a mean, rotten, son of a bitch, but you need more, or they’re just targets lining up like in a video game.
Your bio describes your writing as “unflinching fiction with heart.” What does that mean to you?
“Heart” means standing up. Someone that you know has your back, doesn’t quit when it gets tough, has heart. For me, that means not giving into cynicism or nihilism. I love noir, but I’ve read a lot of fiction from the middle class perspective that looks upon the underclass like they’re Morlocks out to kill them for their money. Fairy tales that middle class shnooks whisper to each other in the dark, that if you wander out the cul-de-sac you’re gonna “see some shit”.
I prefer to write from the blue-collar perspective, even though I’m yuppie scum now. My father was in construction when he was working, my mother was a hairdresser, my grandfather a truck driver. We had a house because my uncle, who ran gay bars for Murder Inc., gave us the down payment. When my parents split we bounced from relatives to apartments while my mother worked double shifts and my father worked off the books to skip child support. I didn’t come from nothing, but I know what it’s like to struggle and be looked at like you’re a born criminal. To me, stories that neglect to realize that the “tough culture” of the underclass is a survival mechanism, they have no heart.
The Protectors Anthologies benefit the National Association to Protect Children, which lobbies for stronger child protection laws. The second book, PROTECTORS 2: HEROES, directly supports The H.E.R.O. Corps, a joint operation between SOCOM and ICE to train wounded veterans to assist law enforcement with the apprehension of online predators. The majority of recidivist violent offenders suffered abuse of some kind or another, whether it was emotional, sexual, or physical. And putting them in the juvenile justice system only teaches them to mimic the abuser. Beyond the obvious moral imperative of protecting them, fighting the abuse of children attacks violent crime at the root.
On a personal level, someone close to me was abused as a child and by the time she let us know, the abuser had left the country. If you made me dictator tomorrow, every nonviolent drug offender would be released and every violent sex offender would be given a provisional life sentence. Right now we “monitor” them and cycle them through the probation-parole system which gives law enforcement a lot of jobs, but they’re not accountable when someone we know is dangerous offends again. When we get around to testing rape kits, we find out many, many are victims of serial rapists.
You have published over 50 short stories. How does your experience with the shorter form influence your longer form writing?
I love writing short stories, but they are much more difficult to write than novels because of the limitations. You can’t waste words. The reader is likely to consume it in one sitting, so you have to be on your toes. Writing flash fiction helps you cut the chaff, for sure. And that helps you keep novels from getting too enormous. In BLADE OF DISHONOR, one reviewer said there was enough action for a novel twice its size, and I took that as a compliment. Readers of genre and commercial fiction, the largest audience, prefer shorter chapters. So learning to write a concise scene in five hundred to fifteen hundred words, about two to five pages, is a good skill to have in the crime fiction arena.
What other publishing plans do you have for the rest of 2017 and beyond?
I’m editing what I call my craft beer rock ‘n roll hipster suburban Nazi cozy, about two slackers who inherit a dive bar which gets infested with hipsters, who they try to get rid of, until one winds up dead. It also explores what happened to Bon Scott’s lost lyric notebooks. Then I plunge into the next Jay Desmarteaux novel, as he rips through Louisiana, from the bayou to Bourbon Street to the Angola prison rodeo. That’ll be called HELL AIN’T A BAD PLACE TO BE. After that I’ll lay off the AC/DC for a while. I have a story in Lawrence Block’s next art themed anthology out in December, called “Truth Comes Out of Her Well to Shame Mankind,” and I have a story in the second issue of Down & Out Magazine. And they want to publish a short story collection of mine, LIFE DURING WARTIME. I’ll be visiting Los Angeles in May to drop into Book Soup, Book Carnival, and Noir at the Bar L.A., and I’ll be at Bouchercon and Murder and Mayhem in Milwaukee this year. Hope to see you, and anyone reading, at one of those events.
Some Recent Interviews:
S.W. Lauden is the author of the Greg Salem punk rock P.I. series including BAD CITIZEN CORPORATION and GRIZZLY SEASON (Rare Bird Books). His Tommy & Shayna Crime Caper novellas include CROSSWISE and CROSSED BONES (Down & Out Books). He is also the co-host of the Writer Types podcast. Steve lives in Los Angeles.