Johnny Cash Anthology Roundtable

Last week, Gutter Books released their latest music-themed anthology, JUST TO WATCH THEM DIE: CRIME FICTION INSPIRED BY THE SONGS OF JOHNNY CASH. The collection was curated by Joe Clifford who got an Anthony Award nomination for his previous rock anthology, TROUBLE IN THE HEARTLAND: CRIME FICTION BASED ON THE SONGS OF BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN.

I was aware of Johnny Cash growing up, but didn’t develop a passion for his music until I discovered roots-influenced punk bands like The Blasters, X, The Cramps, Social Distortion and The Gun Club. By the time I reached college, Cash’s music was in heavy rotation on my stereo. To this day, one of the best concerts I ever saw was The Man In Black live at The Pantages Theater in Hollywood with Beck as the opener. So when I heard Gutter Books was putting this collection together, I knew I had to submit a short story. The song I chose was “25 Minutes To Go.”

Now that the collection’s out in the world, I’m thrilled to see my name alongside talented authors like Rob Hart, Jen Conley, David James Keaton, Lynne Barrett, David Corbett, Tom Hazuka, Mike Creeden, Nik Korpon, Sarah M. Chen, Terence McCauley, Gabino Iglesias, James Grady, Danny Gardner, Rene Asher Pickup, Hector Duarte Jr., Ryan Leone, James R. Tuck, Angel Luis Colón, Jennifer Maritza McCauley, Steven Ostrowski, Terri Lynn Coop, Max Booth III and Heath Lowrance.

In honor of the release, I contacted Joe Clifford and a handful of contributors to find out what Johnny Cash means to them. I think you’ll enjoy their responses almost as much as this fantastic anthology (which you can snag RIGHT HERE).

Joe Clifford—Editor

What inspired you to create a Johnny Cash-themed crime anthology? 

We did the Springsteen one, which did pretty well, in terms of sales. But, man, so many people wanted to be in it (and were sorta pissed at me for not asking them). So we tried to do another Springsteen one, but his lawyers said no. So I tried to think of another Americana artist who embodies that crime fiction spirit, and who better than Cash? So I asked a bunch of new writers (and then there were some more writers I didn’t ask who sorta got pissed.)

What Johnny Cash song were you surprised that nobody claimed?

I’ll cheat a little here. Ryan Leone took “Folsom Prison Blues,” but his story was originally called something else, and when he learned that no one had claimed FPB, he changed his title (which works better for the piece anyway).

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Interrogation—Glenn Gray

Who: Glenn Gray

What: His stories have appeared in a wide range of online and print magazines and anthologies. His story collection, THE LITTLE BOY INSIDE AND OTHER STORIES was published by Concord ePress.

Where: New York

Interview conducted by email. Some questions and answers have been edited.

Your short story, “Break,” kicks off the new Broken River Books anthology, HARD SENTENCES. How did you come up with the idea for this one?

That was all David James Keaton’s fault. Seriously. I was racking my brain for an idea, something medical. Maybe the infirmary at Alcatraz, from a physician’s point of view. I started researching Al Capone and his well-known history of syphilis in his later years. It was all pretty interesting, but nothing good jumped out or clicked as far as story. I considered various angles, but most were dead ends for me. Nothing unique enough. Then DJK posted a list of concepts in the HARD SENTENCES guidelines that he wanted to see written. One of them was, “a story inspired by that Russian guy in the news who squeezed through the food slot in his prison cell.” I was like, huh? So I searched online and found the video and was like, hell yes, we may have something here. I watched this lanky naked dude wriggling through the food slot of his cell like some kind of slippery fish. He plops down on the other side of the bars, puts his clothes on and nonchalantly walks away.

The wheels started turning. What if there was no food slot? How could someone squeeze through the bars? What would stop you? Bone, of course. If we had no skeleton, we’d just be a blob and could squeeze through anything, and I thought of that liquid metal guy in Terminator 2. So I started thinking about diseases, anomalies, syndromes, anything that could help. And for me, the medicine has to make sense in order to write it. It can be fantastical but it has to be based in some real medicine or disease. And the anatomy has to be perfect. I had some diseases in mind, did more research, settled on osteogenesis imperfecta, and quickly realized I had something workable.

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