I cuffed Mick Rose and dragged him into Messy Business. The short story writer and editor for esteemed mags Center Stage and The Flash Fiction Offensive, managed to turn the tables and cuff me to a toilet roll holder. I could have escaped, but he had this to say:
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?
Assuming your friend hasn’t been lobotomized? Doesn’t have a severed spinal cord? Or tragically suffered brain damage as the result of violent trauma—and therefore you pity this individual? Then I’m guessing this sod must have some redeeming value, Jason. Though I certainly don’t see the need to insult Philistines by comparing them to this lunkhead.
But seriously. To never have experienced the thrills of reading good fiction? That’s like being a forty-year-old virgin. Thank god you and I don’t live such a pathetic life.
What must a protagonist have to make you read on?
I don’t view the world in terms of “black and white” the way a lotta folks do. So literary terms like antagonist and protagonist don’t mean anything to me. Especially in our modern age when so-called “anti-heroes” run rampant.
I’m also keen on “situational ethics.” And consider Iago in Shakespeare’s play Othello one of the most intriguing characters I’ve ever encountered. Iago has more lines in this play than any other character. He’s obviously driven by hate, and most would call him a villain. But people tend to consider Othello a “faultless” good guy—and that’s simply not the case.
Iago suspects Othello had sex with his wife … and perhaps that’s paranoia. Who knows? Nevertheless, during the so-called Holy War crusades, Sunbeam white bread Christians sought to reclaim Jerusalem in Israel from Muslim peoples. So Shakespeare’s highly focused on the social attitudes of the Middle Ages and the results of the crusades—as well as the behavioral practices of “royal courts.”
Othello’s referred to as “The Moor”—because he’s a mixed-race descendent of Berbers and Arabs from northwestern Africa. He’s utterly unprepared for rubbing shoulders with high-fallutin’ white royalty and the chance to marry Sunbeam bread Desdemona. Significantly, Othello and Iago are life-long soldiers: and Iago likely saved Othello’s ass in battle numerous times by “having his back.” While I haven’t read this play since college, I considered the Sunbeam courtly favorite Cassio—who’s awarded the position of Lieutenant over Iago—a dandy or a fop: a man who’s excessively concerned with his clothes and appearance … and who knows nothing about war. Although Othello now wields considerable influence? He doesn’t lobby for Iago who’s been loyal to him in battle. Instead he wishes to “fit in” with this new Sunbeam bread society.
I don’t condone Iago’s vengeful actions. But I’d be fucking pissed, too. According to traditional literary thinking, Othello’s the protagonist in this play, and Iago’s the antagonist. But protagonists are also often defined as “the primary agent propelling the story forward.” Iago undoubtedly “drives” this drama and recites the most lines. Without the scoundrel? This classic would prove boring. So I don’t give a rat’s ass about such literary terms or debates. Strong characters trump weak characters in terms of sparking and holding interest. While TS. Elliot was penning “poetry” I got no use for “anti-hero” dolts like Alfred J. Prufrock.
Generally I read and enjoy two types of tales—humor that can range from simple-to-absurd; and crime or mystery stories with an edge that tend to reflect aspects of real life, while feeling “reasonably credible.” My wheelhouse sits smaller than a Major League Baseball strikezone. I can’t stand mundane pieces filled with domesticated stuff like taking care of kids, driving them to soccer or dance classes, doing laundry, or rambling on page-after-page about getting engaged or picking up grandma from the airport.
In terms of “household name” authors who’ve written some zany humor books I enjoyed years ago? Carl Hiaasen, Dave Barry, and the early-to-mid Stone Barrington series only easily spring to mind. On the so-called Indie side? This year I read and recommend Los Angeles writer “Steve” S.W. Lauden’s Crosswise—a deranged who-dunit mystery set in fictional Seatown, Florida.
And anyone who can handle a string of gruesome murders committed by a deluded pack of college girls with over-active libidos and insatiable cravings for girl-on-girl sex that includes orgies may find Satan’s Sorority by Graham Wynd amusing. Despite the title? The book doesn’t contain anything that even remotely resembles hard-core Satanism. But since these girls are young and immature? For me the book carries an undercurrent of so-called Young Adult fiction.
On the more serious real-life crime, mystery and thriller side? Household names are too numerous to mention—though I haven’t read a mainstream book in more than two years. But the style of popularly known books I liked include Donald Westlake’s Parker novels: all of them written under the name Richard Stark. Some of Andrew Vachss’s Burke series—Vachss is pronounced like Vax-rhymes-with tax. And the Pike series written by Robert Crais.
Nowadays I recommend reading novels such as the Indie crime-thriller 101 by San Francisco author Tom Pitts. A page-turner without doubt. A couple of minor scenes didn’t feel credible. Though I suspect they were intended as humorous—and they didn’t detract from my enjoyment in any way. Most of the action unfurls on a hill in rural northern California’s Humboldt County: long known as The Napa Valley of primo marijuana production. The book’s not an expose on the region’s illegal weed trade, but rather a struggle between competing criminals and some dumb-ass kids. Who will survive and get what they want is anybody’s guess.
For those who like violent anti-heroes hell-bent on revenge—usually in a quest for at least a speck of warped Justice? I suggest readers try delving the short story collections A Better Kind of Hate or The Big Machine Eats by Canadian writer Beau Johnson.
The Hardboiled and related crime collections from Dead Guns Press also contain gritty engaging stories from writers like Bill Baber, Bruce Harris, James “Jim” Shaffer, Chris McGinley, Robb White, Donald Glass, and Cindy Rosmus among others.
I ain’t tryin’ to sound like an Infomercial here, Jason. But if that “friend” of yours ever gets a yearning for Salvation? These books and writers strike me as good places to start.
Do you need a likable protagonist?
Prefer? Yes. Need? No.
I gravitate towards first-person narratives. For me? If such stories or books are well-written they create a dynamic between the writer and the reader that feels personal. Third person narratives are more like movies. Both these latter forms are voyeuristic: you’re not an active participant. You’re an outside observer rather than a confidante.
I always feel weird watching a sex or nude scene in a movie—especially if someone’s wife or girlfriend is present. I’ve got a buddy who moved to Miami. Known him most my life. He married a gal from the mid-west. I’d only met his wife twice. Went to visit them in Miami and he wanted to watch The Wrestler. Suddenly Marissa Tomei was topless. And man, I wanted to crawl under the couch.
I read but enjoyed two particular Indie crime books this year that are filled with bad, twisted, or deranged people. The first—Last Year’s Man is also zany—and is described as “screwball noir” by the Brit Grit author Paul D. Brazill.
This often dark, yet witty tale revolves around aging hitman Tommy Bennett and the horde of scoundrels that he knows or unwittingly meets. For me, the most likeable character in this book is Tommy’s daughter—who’s a truly minor character. She’s got just cause for bitterness … but she doesn’t cling to such. Too bad that gal is fictional. I’d welcome the chance to meet her.
The second, With The Right Enemies by Oakland author Rob Pierce, doesn’t contain a shred of humor. Pierce has filled this book with merciless male criminals—ranging from true psychopath to cold-blooded sociopaths and pure violent scum. The women aren’t guileless … so at times it’s tough to feel sympathy for them as well. I respect Theresa’s actions as her perilous life unfolds—although I don’t like her.
But Pierce’s dangerous world proves intriguing, engaging, fast-paced, and realistic. For anyone who can handle a dark, violent book where women get murdered, smacked and tortured? Where bad guys don’t get caught and innocent people suffer? I highly recommend Enemies.
Name a great novel or movie, and what they do for you.
At the risk of sounding like a jackass, Jason … the word “great” makes me wanna puke. Nowadays the word “great” gets tossed around quicker and more commonly than “fast food” gets inhaled all across America. I equate “great” to mean exceptional, extraordinary, or rare. But opinions as they say are like rectums—everybody has one. So what a twisted soul like me with deep southern redneck roots considers exceptional? I doubt the World cares!
A lotta people consider Brad Pitt a pretty boy who can’t act. And some of the roles he’s taken in his career certainly make him look like a buffoon. But the 2004 movie Troy, directed by Wolfgang Peterson, moved me greatly—ha-ha—in a multitude of ways. Pitt plays the fabled Greek Achilles. And Eric Bana portrays the Trojan warrior Hector—whose brother Paris steals Helen away from her husband Menelaus—and together they return to Troy. An epic saga like this one literally presents an army of different characters: and a host of motives.
At the end of the day? The movie’s simply a version of how the director Wolfgang Peterson decided to present this classic story to a modern audience. Like any artist? I’m sure he considered and discarded any number of plot devices and character motivations along the way.
But I think this flick’s a wonderful example of how terms like antagonist, protagonist, and “hero” often fall short or prove meaningless. Peterson portrays Achilles as a jaded egotist. Does killing Hector—who’s caught in this mess because of Paris, Helen and his father Priam—make the warrior Achilles a hero? As for Hector? The dude sure as hell doesn’t honor the warrior’s code when he intervenes in the fight between his brother Paris and Menelaus. For sure this movie stirs a lot of emotions and certainly makes me think.
What makes you throw a book out the window?
Since I live in America, a country where people can sue anyone for just about anything? I don’t advocate throwing anything out a window, Jason. I’m an avowed Murphyist: Anything that can happen will happen. And with my kinda luck? Anything I tossed out a window would land me in a shit storm straight out of a Matt Phillips crime noir! For anyone who doesn’t know what that means? I recommend reading Mr. Phillips. He’s got plenty of books to choose from.
I gotta admit though. I’ve been tempted to burn a few—rather than risk anyone wasting a single second on the dodgy buggers.
But ya know … degenerate-miscreant that I am … I’m trying to be a better person. Kind souls like my Dragon Nikki and Madilyn DeLeon are largely responsible for that. Writers come from all walks of life, while having different educational experiences. I doubt any passionate writer purposely intends to pen a bad story let alone a novel.
I had the good fortune to earn—and I mean earned—a B.A. in Writing Communications. My instructors lovingly beat the shit out of me. And I’ve spent two decades as a professional writer and editor. But I’ve yet to complete a novel. Never mind seen one published. So cheers to those who have—regardless of what anyone thinks about the finished labor. To constantly grow and get better at our passion is all we can hope for really.
Most of us poor art-loving sods will never be rich and famous. Even if we excel. Freelance editor and All Due Respect books publisher Chris Rhatigan made some excellent comments about that in an interview with Damien Seaman.
Do you grit your teeth all the way to the end of a dodgy novel?
Funny you should ask that question. I recently read a column by Delaware crime writer and Independent Book Reviewer David Nemeth at the decade-young website Do Some Damage called … drum roll, please: The Joy of Quitting.
The more time and energy I invest in anything? A book, a love interest, a friendship: The harder it is to quit when the endeavor’s not going well … and hasn’t for some time.
Before I became a professional writer I had a tendency to fight my way through to the bitter end even if I wasn’t enjoying a book. None of us are perfect. Perfection is a concept: not an Absolute that can be achieved. Give the writer a fair chance I kept telling myself.
Maybe one out of fifty times a book would prove worthwhile if I stuck with the bugger. But the more job deadlines and time constraints I faced? I didn’t see the point anymore. I read fiction for enjoyment. No need to waste my time and feel miserable as well. The money spent didn’t bother me: I believe in supporting writers.
Prior to the advent of Kindle, once I adopted that philosophy? I’d walk into a bookstore, grab books off the shelves. I’d give the writer five pages tops to convince me their book was worth my time and energy. If not? Back on the shelf that tome went. End of story far as I was concerned.
Since I tossed my hat into the fiction writing ring and joined Facebook, I’m routinely reading free stories online and learning whose work I enjoy. I also lean heavily on book recommendations from my Facebook friends who write—and that’s why I’ve mentioned so many writers and books during this here chat. Maybe your readers at Messy Business will enjoy them, too.
What gives you the writing itch? Does watching a great film, or TV show, or something you saw on the streets make you reach for the pen?
I spend so much time writing non-fiction I often feel burned out. I push through because I have to; that’s’ my job. When I get that fried? Nothing inspires me to sit down and pen fiction.
Just as I don’t like to read mundane stories? I try not to write them either. So I don’t force creativity. Typically my inspirations for stories rise from a single comment I’ve overheard or which someone may have made to me. Whether or not I actually say anything on such occasions, my smart-ass brain usually formulates a quip or two. These moments stick with me—and from them I do my best to conjure good stories. I can usually envision an opening. And I may figure the ending either roughly or exactly in advance. I often have a few lines for the middle, too. Those scenes tend to get written quickly. But connecting all the dots? Bloody hell. That’s tough stuff.
What did you learn from your last writing project?
I concluded that if I’m going to write novellas I need to write them as short story installments first—then stitch them together in a cohesive fashion. Wish me luck with that!
What are you writing now, Mick?
I’m finishing a follow-up story to “Fast Freddie & The West Texas Wives,” which kindly appeared at Punk Noir Magazine in January 2019—and got some awesome comments from readers—including crime lover Kevin Lear, who’s got an army of books on his Nook. Both tales feature talented computer hacker Colby Del Ray. Colby’s bored out of his skull after tangling with Freddie and the crazy women in his first adventure—and buys a strip club on a whim. So this story’s called “The West Texas Tittie Committee.”
But nothing in Colby’s life is what you first see on the surface. This fun-loving criminal keeps cards close to his vest. After buying the strip club Colby’s confronted by a powerful manipulator who could send our vulnerable hacker to prison if he finds the right evidence. And we don’t want that to happen.
Trying to give readers insights about the first tale—while advancing Colby’s newest conundrum—yet making sure I don’t write any spoilers for anyone who hasn’t read Fast Freddie has certainly proven challenging. And not all conflicts will resolve since I’ll need to pen installments 3 and 4 for the anticipated novella. It’s a helluva tightrope walk for sure. But the first two tales combined are nearly short novella length.
Where can readers connect with you?
Speaking of connecting, thanks for the chance to chat, Jason. I dig your interviews—especially the “Stuff I Wish I’d Written” series. Folks can catch me on Facebook or my website as well as on Goodreads.