What: His stories have appeared in Plots with Guns, Revolver, Thuglit, Pulp Modern, Water-Stone Review, East Bay Review, Hawai’i Review, Martian Lit and The Best American Nonrequired Reading. His latest crime novel, A BURDIZZO FOR A PRINCE, is available now from Fahrenheit Press.
Interview conducted by email. Some questions and answers have been edited.
Congrats on the release of your latest novel, A BURDIZZO FOR A PRINCE. What was the inspiration for this one?
Thanks, man. The inspiration actually had a lot to do with stupid BuzzFeed headlines. Back when I ran a writer blog (my third attempt), I posted this thing about how dumb BuzzFeed was and how dumb their dumb headlines were and then I was like, “somebody should write a book about some dumb BuzzFeed employee who blogs about his life using dumb BuzzFeed headlines as chapter titles.” Initially, I only made it as far as the headlines. That first attempt can be found here.
A few folks from the crime writing community thought it was funny so I decided to take note, thinking nothing would come of it. Two years later, after I burnt myself out writing FOREIGNERS in hopes of making a splash in the crime fiction world and then further burning myself out writing BOONDOGGLE just trying to get something in the hands of an agent who liked a story of mine called “Dick Joke,” I had a little fuck-it-all response and wrote BURDIZZO with no real goal. It ended up being the most fun I ever had writing anything. Never thought a publisher would go for it. Many didn’t. The agent liked the first 50 pages then said it was too much of a farce. His comment stuck with me enough to brand the work as “absurdist revenge noir”—which is a thing that I don’t think exists, but, you know, you put bullshit in queries to sound like you know what you’re talking about.
Eventually, I abandoned trying to explain the book and started submitting it with only the chapter titles with a note saying, “if you like the chapter titles, you might like the book.”
Dumb BuzzFeed headlines weren’t the only thing that influenced the titles. I was highly under the influence of David James Keaton at the time. I was writing BURDIZZO right around the time his amazing book THE LAST PROJECTOR came out. I got one of the first copies (signed with crazy Keaton scrawl all over it) and shortly after that I was fortunate enough to work on his next book, PIG IRON, for Burnt Bridge. I edited PIG IRON and designed the interior and did my best to help Keaton get it in front of eyes. I was snorting all sorts of Keaton literature and in PIG IRON he used hilarious chapter titles, and you can’t help but be influenced by the pitbull hurricane of transgressive crime. I’m still recovering.
Thing is: that agent was totally right. It was, or still is a farce. My plan was to write a 100K word dick joke because he liked my “Dick Joke” story and my brilliant idea was to couch it in the only idea I had at the time: my dumb BuzzFeed headline idea. Voila. BURDIZZO was born. You can see all 50 original chapter titles here. Still cannot believe Fahrenheit Press jumped on it, but Chris McVeigh is an absolutely awesome publisher with a twisted sense of what works. Hopefully other folks feel the way Chris does.
Where did you first come across a “burdizzo?”
I first came across the word “burdizzo” when I was researching castration images on Wikimedia and thought I’d have to put BURDIZZO out myself. I wanted to create a cover with real artistry…something super subtle, like a dude missing his nuts. Luckily for the reading and viewing public, Fahrenheit picked it up and went with a far more appropriate image for the cover. Marketing geniuses, those guys.
By the way, Wikimedia is an absolutely fantastic resource for royalty-free images. Wacky, wacky shit in there. My first novel, CITY KAIJU, uses an image from Wikimedia. Couldn’t believe it. You gotta do some work and search it all out, but incredible stuff. Not like those fancy Getty images. This is just regular schlubs uploading garbage to a wiki for idiots like me to exploit. So, exactly how the internet is supposed to work. It’s a mess.
How does A BURDIZZO FOR A PRINCE differ from previous novels like BOONDOGGLE or CITY KAIJU?
BURDIZZO has more in common with my first crime novel FOREIGNERS, then those other two. Only because both were written in first-person, which is a POV I fall into now and again and sort of struggle against. I like the immediacy and intimacy or whatever, but I’ve been trying to break out of the first-person mold since forever—since I started back in 2002. Back then I thought I was going to be some creative non-fiction memoirist—the same crap every 22-year-old wants to do. I should’ve bought a guitar instead of going to writing school. I did buy a guitar. But I also went to writing school.
I had a real “I” problem with my work. I think maybe to challenge myself I tend toward third more often. There’s more control in third without having to be locked into a voice—which can be restricting.
Maybe I should go back to first-person. I don’t know. Who makes these decisions? The story just happens the way it does and you follow along. Sometimes it works. Usually it doesn’t.
Oh, man. Good question. Honestly, I still don’t really know what bizarro is. No offense to all the bizarro folks out there because I know our worlds often intersect and influence one another in astounding ways. On the same token, I shit you not, I’m not entirely certain what crime fiction is even though I’ve written a mess of crime fiction stories and five crime fiction novels. All I know is that crimes happen in these fictions, but the umbrella seems pretty broad—and there always seems to be territorial disputes over who is what and why it matters.
I don’t think it does, by the way.
The only way it matters to me is through the people you meet. If they’re cool, roll with them. It wasn’t until Murder & Mayhem in Milwaukee this year where I was like, “maybe I am a crime fiction writer,” but that was due to the comfort I felt with the community—the acceptance and belonging that I haven’t really felt among other writing communities. And I’ve been in a bunch—spent years in an MFA program, lived abroad for a few years and fell in with writer types, lived out in CA and fell in with other writer types, been part of countless online communities and writing groups and usually wondered why everybody was yelling at one another about a thing that is so personal as to almost be unintelligible when you try to explain it. Anyone remember HTMLGiant? That site made me afraid of writers and I had been going after it for like 10 years by that point.
To tie this baby up: Genre seems only to exist for readers to find books in a library or bookstore—and as a reader I understand that. Appreciate it. Keep shit organized. Thank you Dewey Decimal. But from the writer side of things—the idea of genre breaks down when the goal is to write the story you’re feeling at the time with the characters who crop up. Who controls this? You follow their lead. If they kill a guy, maybe it’s crime. If a monster bursts out of the ground, it might be something else. If you’re staring at your navel and listening to Jeff Buckley in a dark basement and, you know, really getting in touch with your own genius, I think that might be literary, but I’m not sure.
Poppyseed bread. It’s a sweetened bread my grandma would make that she learned from her Polish mother. Poppyseed bread is a holiday treat among the Eastern European folks in Minneapolis. The way we make it isn’t exactly like the way you’d find it in a traditional Polish cookbook—or at least from what I’ve found. I’ve even asked modern-day Poles about poppyseed bread and they don’t seem to have the same affection for it, or even know what it is. I tend to think it might be one of those Americanized dishes that immigrants put together combining baking techniques from the old-country with whatever ingredients they could find in the new—or the closest equivalent to what they were going for. Inventive slop that tastes good. The American dream.
Through the years I know the recipe has changed. My grandma always made the best, my mom started baking it after my grandma died, and now I bake it for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter. The recipe has always been passed on through word-of-mouth and each generation has tweaked it. I’ve tweaked it myself (hint: you double the amount of butter my former aerobic instructor mom would put in).
Though a close family secret, if anyone is curious about what this bread is all about and how their life may change because of it, email me at mrrapacz [at] hotmail [dot] com and I will ask you a series of Polish-American history questions that you need to answer correctly to have the recipe grace your inbox.
What’s next for you?
Continuing to push the three other novels sitting in my crap basement on a crap IKEA bookshelf. The IKEA shelf is the saddest part of this whole situation. I don’t even have the letter on my keyboard to call the shelf by its proper Swedish-gibberish name.
I also started outlining another novel because I decided I should give outlining a shot again. So far, I’m undecided. Wrote the first chapter using my outline and I’m not feeling it. I got all jazzed about the outline, you see. Now I know the ending and I can’t figure why I need to write the book. Maybe I should just write outlines from now on. I even made a spreadsheet for this outline. Holy shit, it’s a beautiful spreadsheet. You should see it. All the colors. The labels. The headings. Amazing headings. Quite a thing.
I guess you could say I’m officially between projects and trying to be OK with that. I am OK with that. Sort of.
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S.W. Lauden is the Anthony Award-nominated author of the Tommy & Shayna novellas, CROSSWISE and CROSSED BONES (Down & Out Books). His Greg Salem punk rock P.I. series includes BAD CITIZEN CORPORATION, GRIZZLY SEASON and HANG TIME (Rare Bird Books). He is also the co-host of the Writer Types podcast. Steve lives in Los Angeles.