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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2016: Favorite Rock and Roll Reads

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If you like reading about rock and roll as much as I do, then 2016 was a really good year. Not only were the bookshelves stocked with amazing punk rock non-fiction from the likes of Keith Morris and John Doe, but The Replacements came back into my life in a BIG way. I also discovered a few other crime writers out there who, like me, are using rock and roll as the leaping off point for their violent tales of intrigue, lust and woe. And it was another great year for music-inspired short fiction as well.

Here are a few of my favs, in no particular order.

Nothing’s more rock and roll than a list!

TROUBLE BOYS: THE TRUE STORY OF THE REPLACEMENTS—Bob Mehr

There have long been theories about why this Minneapolis punk outfit-turned-critical darlings never achieved their long-predicted commercial success. Rumors of self-doubt and self-sabotage were the stuff of legend. This well-researched book sets the record straight in a way that even the most die-hard fans will appreciate.

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ALL YOUR LIES CAME TRUE—Mike Creeden

It’s hard to read this high-octane thriller without thinking of your favorite rock and roll duos—Axl Rose/Slash, Mick Jagger/Keith Richards, or David Johansen/Johnny Thunders. Creeden does a great job of wrapping this page-turner in a glittery cape of rock and roll imagery to keep the action pumping. Strong characters, a fast-moving plot, and a killer back story deliver some unexpected twists and turns. This is a dark, but fun read that you won’t be able to put down. Read my interview with Mike Creeden.

UNDER THE BIG BLACK SUN: A PERSONAL HISTORY OF L.A. PUNK—John Doe & Tom DeSavia

This collection of overlapping essays about the first-wave of LA punk is a fascinating look at how legendary scenes are born. It’s incredible to think that a hundred kids, one apartment building and a handful of clubs gave us decades of great music from bands like X, The Germs, The Go Gos, The Minutemen and The Blasters. It goes by fast, so read it twice.

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FLIGHT 505—Leslie Bohem

A private jet powered by broken dreams, regret and self-delusion. Fame might have eluded Mickey and Al, but that doesn’t stop them from getting back in the chase—long after their expiration date. A fun, fast read that brings the 80s LA New Wave scene to life in vivid color, and explores the meaning of success through the perspective of three very different, but hopelessly intertwined characters. A great read for anybody that ever chased the brass ring down Hollywood Blvd. Read my interview with Leslie Bohem.

MAMA TRIED—Edited by James Ray Tuck

I can’t think of a better marriage than the one between crime fiction and outlaw country—and this collection doesn’t disappoint. What started out as a random Facebook post according to editor, James Ray Tuck (“Someone should do a crime fiction anthology based on outlaw country songs called MAMA TRIED so I can write a story for it.”), turned into one of the best music themed anthologies of 2016. Stand out stories include Eryk Pruitt’s “I’m The Only Hell My Mama Ever Raised,” Christa Faust’s “Truth or Consequences (Waiting’ Round to Die)” and Eric Beetner’s “Pardon Me (I’ve Got Someone To Kill).”

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PEEPLAND—Christa Faust & Gary Phillips

I don’t always read comic books or graphic novels, but when I do they’re about a peepbooth worker and her punk rock ex-partner. The brutal murder of a public access pornographer puts this unlikely duo under fire from criminals, cops, and the city elite, uncovering a web of corruption that leads right to city hall. Christa Faust and Gary Phillips are two of L.A.’s best pulp and noir writers, and Andrea Camerini’s artwork in PEEPLAND is fantastic. Read my interview with Christa Faust and Gary Phillips.

MY DAMAGE: THE STORY OF A PUNK SURVIVOR—Keith Morris & Jim Ruland

Keith Morris is a founding member of two groundbreaking SoCal bands, Black Flag and The Circle Jerks (among others). But this well-written book goes beyond those stories to show you his winding path to underground infamy. It’s been a strange trip for this soulful punk icon, and it just keeps getting more interesting.

CRIME + MUSIC—Edited by Jim Fusilli

Jim Fusilli, editor for this fantastic short story collection, starts his forward this way: “I don’t suppose it would be much of a surprise to discover that there’s a dark and deadly side to the world of popular music.” What is surprising about this anthology is the diverse talents of the contributors, including Zoe Sharp, Peter Robinson, Reed Farrel Coleman, Tyler Dilts, Bill Fitzhugh and Erica Wright—among many others. Every one of these stories hums, sings or (in the case of Gary Phillips’, “Shaderoc The Soul Shaker”) rips your head clean off.

DESERT CITY DIVA—Corey Lynn Fayman

I came into the Rolly Waters series in this third installment, but had no problem getting acquainted with the character and his San Diego. This book is a romp across a SoCal desert full of paranoid outsiders and lost souls. Love the musical references threaded throughout, and Rolly’s ability to solve the action-packed case without constantly waving a gun around or punching through walls. A fast, fun read that will keep you coming back. Read my interview with Corey Lynn Fayman.

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WAITING TO BE FORGOTTEN: SONGS OF CRIME AND HEARTBREAK INSPIRED BY THE REPLACEMENTS—Edited by Jay Stringer

Putting aside my own contribution to this anthology, Jay Stringer has assembled a truly impressive collection of crime and mystery writers including Johnny Shaw, Kristi Belcamino, Josh Stallings, Angel Colon, Jen Conley, Tom Leins, Alex Segura and Mike McCrary—among many others. Not to mention, talented contributors like Franz Nicolay (The Hold Steady) and Gorman Bechard (Director of “Color Me Impressed: A Film About The Replacements,” and “Every Everything: The Music, Life & Times of Grant Hart”). Read my interview with Jay Stringer.


BCC Cover FinalS.W. Lauden’s debut novel—about a punk rock musician turned disgraced cop—is called BAD CITIZEN CORPORATION. It was released in October 2015 from Rare Bird Books. The second Greg Salem novel, GRIZZLY SEASON, was published on October  2016. His standalone Tommy Ruzzo novella, CROSSWISE, is available from Down & Out Books.

Interrogation—Mike Creeden

Creeden Pic1Who: Mike Creeden

What: His work has appeared in Tigertail, Miami Living, The Florida Book Review, EVERYTHING IS BROKEN, and TROUBLE IN THE HEARTLAND: CRIME FICTION INSPIRED BY THE SONGS OF BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN. A native of Massachusetts, Mike now lives in South Florida and teaches writing at Florida International University.

Where: Florida

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

I just finished ALL YOUR LIES CAME TRUE and I kept getting the strange sensation that the book was written specifically for me. Who did you think the reader of this story would be when you wrote it?

It was written specifically for you, Steve—you and anyone else who’s ever played in a band, or been obsessed with a band or walked around all day, every day with song lyrics and guitar riffs and concert footage running through their heads. I was thinking about the kind of reader who measures the quality of a movie by what songs are on the soundtrack, someone who gets excited when a writer mentions a rock song or a band in a novel.

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