Dave Jaggers blinks as he gets accustomed to the light I just switched on. He runs a hand through the nest of needles on his chin as he catches me sat in the hard wooden chair opposite his desk.
“Well, this is a bit of a surprise,” Jaggers says. I look for a tongue-shaped lump in his cheek.
I watch him down the barrel of my shooter and wave him to his desk. He sits, careful, bemused, amused. Behind him are well-thumbed crime novels. To the side are barely read discards. He’s got some corkers on those shelves.
“It’s time,” I say.
I allow and he pulls out a bottle. Johnny Walker Blue.
“Now, what’s all this, then?” he says.
“This, Jaggers, is the time to answer my questions.”
“What, you still think I’m Mr Big round here? I’m not what I write.”
I lean forward, all Elliott Ness. I’m onto him and he damn well knows it. That Mona Lisa smile won’t skid me off the track. “I know everything.”
“Fiction, Mr Beech. That’s what you know.”
The flicker in my eyes is all he needs. He splashes his whiskey shot in my peepers and curve-balls the tumbler at my gun hand, rendering me harmless. He presses a buzzer and in comes a man carved from the Alps. The fella shoots me with his bullet head and splits my nose. I taste copper as I snort the blood back and hold my hands out at the hail of blows about my head. I scramble to the gun and finish off my attacker.
I don’t have time to aim at Jaggers for another man swoops in with a rolled-up magazine which he slams into my chest. I catch Ariana Grande on the front cover – and she hurts. He bashes my temple, the back of my neck, and my right kneecap. I smash to the floor and the gun goes off. And so ends number two.
Jaggers rolls his eyes and tuts at the incompetence. Before I have time to bring the man to heel, another of his goons swings through his window and two-foots me through the doorway. He jumps me and we tumble down the stairs in a blur. Once we reach the bottom my attacker can only offer his dead, glassy eyes.
I catch my breath, straighten my t-shirt, and sit on the hard wooden chair again. Cross a leg and make a question mark out of my eyebrow. Jaggers reveals his gun from behind a copy of Knockemstiff.
“I’m going to answer your questions, all of them – but only if you forget what you saw here tonight. And clean up the mess.”
I scan the broken glass, the books, the skewed lampshade, the dead bodies.
Dave Jaggers writes about bad people doing bad things to other bad people. His Down in the Devil Hole had rave reviews and highlights his sharp style. He’s scrawled across a whole bunch of great crime fiction magazines and anthologies. He’s a good, good read.
A friend of mine doesn’t read fiction, paraphrasing Frank Skinner about it all being made-up and he has no time for any of that?What words do you have for such a philistine?
Dave Jaggers (DJ): Well, I can understand that some people feel that way. I went through a period after college where I only read non-fiction. To each his or her own I guess. However, if you don’t read fiction don’t expect me to invite you out for a drink.
What must a protagonist have to make you read on?
DJ: Above all, they have to complicated. There needs to be some kind of inner conflict and messy contradictions for me to build enough empathy for the character to be invested in them. I mostly write my stories around anti-heroes, so I naturally gravitate toward that type.
Do you need a likeable protagonist?
DJ: As I said earlier, I prefer anti-heroes so in a word, no. Actually some of the best stories I have read have protagonists that repulse me in some way. But like most things in life it’s complicated. Take a character like Jimmy McGill from Better Call Saul. The fact that he is so likeable makes the questionable things he does have more impact. So likeability is definitely effective.
Name a great antagonist, in a novel or movie, and what they do for you.
DJ: There are so many. Cormac McCarthy’s Judge Holden, Mr. Dark from Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes. My favorite as of late is Patrick Bateman from American Psycho. He is the perfect blend of hate, rage and total narcissism.
What makes you throw a book out the window?
DJ: Disconnected, flat dialogue. To me there is nothing worse. I feel like my time is being wasted if the characters have nothing to say or say it in a bad way.
Do you grit your teeth all the way to the end of a dodgy novel?
DJ: No, I’m afraid I bail out at the first whiff of boredom. Sometimes, if the dialogue is good, or the point of view is handled in an interesting way, I might soldier on for a chapter or two, just to see if I can learn something. But I have a graveyard of partially read books in my office.
What gets you writing? A great novel? Something you saw on the street or on TV? Something else?
DJ: Sometimes it’s a great book. After I read Knockemstiff by Donald Ray Pollock, I was on fire. I wrote almost all of Down in the Devil Hole in an inspired fury. Other times, it’s a snippet of dialogue between two potential characters that sparks something, or a clear scene that I can’t seem to shake. I once was driving on the highway listening to Black Keys and had to pull over and write about 500 words of a story that eventually got published. Certain phrases or combinations of words trigger inspiration.
What did you learn about writing from the last book you wrote?
DJ: That voice and tone is the key to cohesion. Down in the Devil Hole is a collection of short stories all connected by place and time, centered on an event (a tornado). I struggled with how to interlink the stories in a way that would pull the reader from one story to the next. Eventually after many rewrites, it occurred to me that having a consistent voice or style and a similar tone in each story made all the difference. That might sound obvious to some smarter writers than me out there, but it was hard-fought knowledge for this guy.
What’s your next book, in 30 words or less?DJ: A small-time enforcer, haunted by past choices and growing mental illness is dragged into a deadly series of events that leads him toward his own destruction.
Where can readers connect with you?
DJ: You can find me at www.straightrazorfiction.com I have a print release and updated edition of Down in the Devil Hole coming out soon, but the digital version can still be found right here: https://www.amazon.com/Down-Devil-Hole-David-Jaggers-ebook/dp/B019JAUSXK
Here’s a few stories of his to get a taste:
The Tattoo at Near to the Knuckle
Mercy Kill at Shotgun Honey
Headshots at Pulp Metal Magazine