The California Triple Lindy with the Dirty (Half) Dozen

People of California:

Mr Goombah Gumbo is coming to the city of angels and its immediate environs. I love the posters Eric Beetner came up with, though to my enduring shame I often mix this classic up with Kelly’s Heroes, because Donald Sutherland and Ernest Borgnine are in both (I was only thinkin’ positive thoughts about that goddamn bridge!)

Come join us for what’s sure to be a fun time. I’ll have Bad Boy Boogie and Blade of Dishonor on hand, and if you don’t know the crew I’m rolling with, they are great crime writers. From pulp and noir maestros Duane Swierczynski and Eric Beetner, the bad-ass noir poet of L.A. Josh Stallings, to up and comers like the acclaimed Joe Ide, SW Lauden, and Nolan Knight, Gotham writer Jordan Harper, and Stoker-winning author Maria Alexander.

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May 20, West Hollywood, CA, 4:00PM: Reading at Book Soup with Josh Stallings, Eric Beetner, S.W. Lauden, Duane Swierczynski, and Nolan Knight. Address: 8818 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood.

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May 21, Orange, CA: Reading at Book Carnival with Josh Stallings, Eric Beetner, S.W. Lauden, Duane Swierczynski, and Nolan Knight. Location: 348 S. Tustin Street, Orange.

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May 21, Culver City, CA: 6:00PM: Reading at Noir at the Bar L.A. at Mandrake Bar in Culver City, with Joe Ide, Eric Beetner, S.W. Lauden, Duane Swierczynski, Maria Alexander, and Jordan Harper.

Bad Boy Boogie uncovered!

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Ain’t she a beauty? Designed by James Ray Tuck Jr., a fine author in his own right. Working with Eric and Lance at Down & Out Books has been a dream. The book will be published in April. It will be available for pre-order soon, and I will share the links once they are live.

So you can’t read it yet, but here’s what people who have read it have to say:

“Thomas Pluck has with this novel launched himself into the rare category of … must-read novels … must re-read … must tell all and sundry about. It is that fine, that compelling. Made me relive all that a wonder novel yields. Just tremendous.”
Ken Bruen, author of the Shamus and Macavity Award-winning Jack Taylor mysteries

“Thomas Pluck’s BAD BOY BOOGIE is a vivid dose of New Jersey noir with heart, soul and muscle.”
– Wallace Stroby, author of the Crissa Stone series

“Thomas Pluck is a crime writer to watch. Steeped in the genre’s grand tradition but with heart and bravado all his own, his writing is lean, smart and irresistibly compelling.”
Megan Abbott, author of You Will Know Me and Queenpin

“Jay Desmarteaux is a worthy addition to the list of crime fiction protagonists.  He’s Louisiana heart mixed with pure New Jersey grit.  Thomas Pluck’s prose is taut, muscular, and pulls the reader through the book’s violent bursts at a light speed clip.  Look out for this one.”
– Dave White, Shamus Award Nominated writer of the Jackson Donne series

“My first Thomas Pluck novel won’t be my last. Bad Boy Boogie is a superb, taut, little thriller that hits all the right notes and sustains its central conceits to the very last page.”
– Adrian McKinty, author of the Sean Duffy crime novels

“Beautiful Bad-assery. Full of lyrical longing for a youth unfulfilled and the brutal truth of an adulthood gone dangerously wrong. Brilliant. Thomas Pluck may well be the bastard love child of James Lee Burke and Richard Stark.”
– Josh Stallings, author of Anthony and Lefty Award nominated Young Americans, and the Mo McGuire series

And here’s a little taste:

When Jay Desmarteaux walked out the gates of Rahway Prison, the sun hit his face like air on a fresh wound. The breeze smelled different, felt charged, electric. He had spent twenty-five years as a monk locked inside a dank Shaolin temple dedicated to violence and human predation while the men who put him there lived free from fear.

Men who needed killing.

I’ll be touring, so if you want to hear me read, grab a beer, arm wrassle, or set my beard aflame, check out my Events page.

 

The Art of Cracking a Safe

 

While the rest of us were eating hot dogs in puff pastry, popping champagne corks, or wearing goofy 2017 sunglasses, two intrepid thieves hammered their way into a diamond merchant’s digs on 36th street in Manhattan, blocks away from phalanxes of NYPD officers, and opened two safes, cleaning them out of $6 million in merchandise:

“a team of burglars broke into a jeweler’s office on West 36th Street on New Year’s Eve. The crime was widely reported for its scope — the thieves made off with $6 million in diamonds and other gems — and its brazen timing, occurring as the ball dropped six blocks away in a neighborhood teeming with police officers. Surveillance video showing two people hitting a sixth-floor door with hammers was taken immediately after midnight, the police said, when the sound of cheers would have most likely drowned out any banging.”

I love a good safe cracker story. After reading Agatha Christie Ms. Marple novels on my English teacher’s spinner rack, my introduction to crime fiction was Michael Mann’s movie THIEF, starring James Caan as a professional burglar dueling with the mob. Loosely based on criminal Jean Seybold’s (pseud. Frank Hohimer) memoir The Home Invaders, it is rough and flashy like an uncut diamond. The book is much different. Mostly they broke into rich homes and stuck a gun in people’s face. It all fell apart when a Senator’s daughter was the victim and was assaulted. So don’t buy the honor among thieves line. (Save that for Bernie Rhodenbarr, Lawrence Block’s bookstore-owning burglar.)

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There’s many ways to open a safe. Nitroglycerin, drills, sledgehammers. In THIEF, James Caan’s Frank famously cuts open a bank vault with a thermal lance. Our daring safe crackers, according to this fine article by the NY Times’s crime beat reporter Michael Wilson, did not force their way into the safes. Investigators think they got the combinations from the installer (or that’s what they’re telling the press). Another theory, mine, is that they just cracked the safes. This isn’t something every Joe can do, but check out fellow Jersey boy Jeff Sitar. Here he is, cracking a bank vault in five minutes:

 

Jeff is the best public figure who cracks safes. He offers his skills to people who have lost their combinations, with proper documentation. But how many can do what he does, or close to it, who have chosen a different career path?

It makes one wonder, and appeals to the desire for “hidden knowledge” that drives much of my favorite crime fiction: where we get a tour into the dangerous outlaw world from the cozy confines of our safe European homes. If you like books about safecrackers, I can recommend two of my favorites: The Lock Artist by Steve Hamilton, and Young Americans, by Josh Stallings. Two short, great reads.

Do you have a favorite novel about a safe cracker? Share it below!

 

Blood & Tacos!

Blood and Tacos Cover

 

Blood & Tacos: The Beginning is now available! The print-only omnibus that collects the hard-fisted, pistol-packing fiction stories from the first four issues of Blood & Tacos, including BROWN SUGAR BROOKDALE #17: TITTY TITTY BANG BANG by Jerrold Olden Earnest, which I discovered in a hidden dojo beneath the Baxter Terrace projects in Newark.

Brown Sugar is a Vietnam Vet who learned the mystic arts of Kung Fu at the Shaolin Temple after fragging his lieutenant before he could napalm an innocent village. Now he’s back in the States, ready to break his foot off in the ass of the Man!

A loving homage to Enter the Dragon, Kill and Kill Again, Black Samurai, Cleopatra Jones, and the films of Fred Williamson, “Brown Sugar Brookdale” is just one of many stories from the thrilling to the hilarious, in this collection. For the record, I can’t even say L.A.N.D.B.O.A.T.: The Boat That Goes On Land without laughing, and Chingón: The World’s Deadliest Mexican always brings down the house when Johnny reads it at signings. If you like Machete, you must meet The Explosionist, Father Dukes, the Irish street priest, and Sunshine: Stripper Assassin by Josh Stallings.

Johnny Shaw has limited signed copies available. Writing for Blood & Tacos is always a blast, and this collection is about to go supernova in the spiral arm of your brain galaxy. Get some.

 

 

Who Asked You? 5 Writing Habits That Work For Me

I do not consider myself a success.

That is not self-deprecation, nor am I trolling for compliments. It is a state of mind, meant to stave off complacency, the enemy of all artists, writers in particular. I resumed writing regularly in November 2010, and three years later I have had 50 stories published, published three anthologies, and written one novel, with another novel and story collection nearly completed. I’ve won a Bullet award, had an anthology nominated for a Spinetingler, I’ve made dozens of new friends in the crime fiction community, and one of the stories I edited- Dave White’s excellent “Runaway” in the Protectors anthology- was listed as a distinguished story in The Best American Mystery Stories 2013.

Not bad. But it’s never good enough.

This from nothing. It began with a big bang of enthusiasm after I was coaxed into writing a novel in one month for NaNoWriMo 2010, which I called “Beat the Jinx.” Two revisions later I call it Bury the Hatchet, and I am about to unleash it into agent slushpiles everywhere.  How did I do it? Same way I went from being a chubby weakling into the man-ape hybrid you see before you, who outwrestles athletes half his age and can lift over a quarter ton.

By observing successful writers I admire and cultivating their habits:

Drive

Friends have called me the most driven writer they know. I  write nearly every day- 3-5 hours, until I feel tiredness at the edge of my eyes, when I know any further effort will have diminishing returns. But in my mind, I’m a slacker. And that keeps me driven.

If writing is a chore to you, perhaps writing isn’t for you. Let’s face it, it is work. But it should be a pleasurable work, like building one of those cakes that look like they require a degree in architecture. There will be failure and struggle as you learn by doing. But you get to lick the spoon. Write every day for a month. Pick a time that works, whether you can devote a half hour or three hours. Say you will write for 5 minutes. You will usually write longer. Force yourself to do it for three weeks to a month and it will become a habit. When you skip, you will feel a pang of guilt. You will scribble things down whenever you can. If you don’t know what to write about, maybe you’re not a writer. Ideas are a dime a dozen. It’s what you do with them that matters. In the beginning, I said “yes” to everything. Guest blog, interviews, anthologies, moderating. It forces you to write and make deadlines. Now I have to say “no” to new projects I want to participate in, to meet my commitments.

Patience

How does this jive with drive? I just told you to get off your ass and do, do, do. But be patient while you improve. Be patient while your stories sit in editor’s inboxes, waiting to be read. Be patient as you get rejections. Be patient as your rejections improve from form letters, to “Best of luck, it’s not for us,” to “we just published one like this,” to “if you edit this, this, and this, we will reconsider.” Be patient with editors. Remember, it is your responsibility to translate your thoughts into words that others can understand. If they don’t “get it” they aren’t necessarily dense; maybe what you wrote is unclear. If you trust the editor–and why else would you submit to a market, unless you enjoyed what they published and think the editors will like your work–you will work with them. You should also sit on a story before editing it, to approach it with a clear head. Don’t ship it off right after you type “The End,” no matter how excited you are about it. In the afterglow, you’re not in a right mind to edit.

Focus

This goes hand in hand with Drive. It is the one I struggled with the most. I am easily distracted, and I love starting new projects. But unfinished projects are nothing. They are a waste of energy. Must you finish everything, even a story you realize is bad? In the beginning, yes. Make something of it. A bad story can be fixed, an unfinished one is useless. No one wants to believe that writing takes practice, despite the mantras of “10,000 hours of practice before learning,” or “you must write a million words of crap before you’re a writer.” How do you expect to improve without failure? I wrote 50 stories, a novel, and edited two anthologies while I was supposed to be revising my first novel, Bury the Hatchet. I have all sorts of excuses for this. My writing has improved due to all those projects, and the novel has benefited, but if I had finished it first, that improvement would still have occurred. Do not let distractions drag you from finishing your work. Starting something new when you are in the middle of the hard work of finishing a story is just procrastination in disguise.

Perseverance

Sometimes, you hit a wall. With deadlines, writers often crash through these walls and finish the story in a way that works, but shows the wreckage. I’ve noticed this in many novels, even stories I’ve enjoyed. “Oh, you painted yourself into a corner there.” Then they cut a window into the wall to escape, and the house is still a house, and pretty from most angles, but there’s a weird window that sticks out. But at least you didn’t have to paint that room twice, right? WRONG! Fix the damn story problem. It will take perseverance. First to finish a story, and again to fix it. Writers have all sorts of vile analogies for revision. You get sick of your own story. And it doesn’t have to be perfect. It just has to be better than “good enough.” If you’ve read enough good books, you will get a feel for it. If you say to yourself, “No one will notice,” that’s a big hint that it needs work. Or if you skim that part and get to the good bits. With me, I get a queasiness, a desire to shirk. And I bold that section for later, if I have no idea what the hell to do. But I always go back to it. Thanks to my friend Wayne Dundee, author of the Joe Hannibal PI novels and creator of Hardboiled magazine, for “persevere.” That’s how he signs his letters. And it encapsulates everything. If there’s one habit that’s most important, it’s this one.

Enthusiasm

Do you love books? Do you love reading a great story, and wishing you could write it? I hope so. You can’t be driven 24/7.  If you find yourself sneering at everything you read and saying you could do better, you might need a break to recharge your enthusiasm. Ever read something you know damn well you could never have written, and yet feel outrage that THIS won the Nobel Prize/Edgar/Hot Poop Award? While your genius went overlooked? It has been known to happen. It means your enthusiasm level is critically low. Read a book by a favorite writer, for enjoyment only. An old favorite. Or stop reading for a week and watch movies you love. Read or watch the stories that inspired you to be a writer in the first place.

What happened? You may have fallen into a validation trap, where you write to hear the applause of the audience. For a time, I found it easier to write quick stories and get the thrill of an acceptance, rather than buckle down and finish a novel. My friend Josh Stallings had the opposite problem- he loves writing novels, but convinced himself that he couldn’t write short fiction. After several of us cajoled and harried him into writing for us, he wrote several excellent stories, which broadened his audience for the Mo McGuire novels. It also supercharged his enthusiasm. He wrote his breakout noir memoir ALL THE WILD CHILDREN, and Mo #3, ONE MORE BODY, will be out soon.

Yes, “only writing is writing.” But writing takes more than typing, and keeping the brain happy–but just a little bit hungry–is part of the maintenance.

I hope this helps. I learned it by mimicking the writers whose careers I want mine to emulate. People who worked hard and were rewarded. Lawrence Block, who has always been an inspiration. He’s 84 and just hammered out another novel while on a world cruise, just to see if he could do it. Joelle Charbonneau, who juggles three series and still has time to blog, tweet, go to conventions and live a busy life. Joe Lansdale, who says he writes 3-5 pages a day. Last time I checked, he’s written 35 or so novels. Plus he runs a dojo. Perseverance personified. He also posts excellent no-BS writing advice on Facebook. George Pelecanos, another prolific author, said he writes 4 hours in the morning and edits at night. Whatever works- the common element is they go the distance, they write whether they feel like it or not, and get the job done.

Now it’s your turn.

Belly Up to the Bar with Josh Stallings

“Josh has done an incredible job with the hand life dealt him. I admire the hell outa that. All the Wild Children is simply Stunning.” – Ken Bruen

Josh Stallings is the author of the Moses McGuire novels, BEAUTIFUL, NAKED & DEAD and OUT THERE BAD. His latest book is the noir memoir ALL THE WILD CHILDREN, which follows Josh and his feral siblings through the apocalyptic wasteland of the ’70s to the uncertain future. It is white-hot and fierce writing, as vivid and alive as Ken Bruen’s dead zero poetry and James Crumley’s bittersweet songs of American heartbreak. Josh’s stories have appeared in Shotgun Honey and Protectors: Stories to Benefit PROTECT, and will appear in the Tobacco Stained Sky Anthology edited by Andrew Bergen. I found Josh through his writing and met him at Bouchercon 2011, and I am proud to have him here.

Josh Stallings

Tom Pluck BeerIt’s not everyone who can write compellingly about his own life, but with ALL THE WILD CHILDREN, you made me gasp, laugh, cry and squirm. (The only other man who’s done that to me is John Waters, after a six pack). After the Mo McGuire books, what drove you to write about your own life?

josh stallingsJS: Thank you man, really.  As for the question, you got it just right, I was driven to write ALL THE WILD CHILDREN.  But to be fucking honest I don’t write what I’m not driven to.  My life is way too busy and complicated and writing is too hard for me to work on anything that doesn’t grab me by the nuts, squeeze hard and say “Write me you bastard.”  A couple of the cats I run with make a living at this game.  Mostly from film options.  So if I ain’t getting rich and it’s hard work and it takes away time I could be fooling around with Erika, then it better matter.

For the past four years, hell longer, the memoir has been calling my name.  Everything I ever wrote was in one way or another dealing with the mess of my life, characters standing proxy for the real life players.  Finally it seemed time to start naming names.  Ok, that is only partly true.  Closer to bone, right?  You want truth.  My older boy Dylan, this amazing retarded young man.  Yes I said retarded.  Fuck developmentally-disabled-delayed-differently-abled bullshit.  All that crap is for folks who aren’t Dylan and me.  We can use the “R” word, we earned it.  My son is retarded, that means behind or delayed.  As a film editor I tell sound mixers to retard a music track by four frames.  Last week I almost took a kid’s head off for calling his bud’s jeans retarded.  It doesn’t mean broken, stupid, ugly, out of style you little prick, in means be-fucking-hind.  So if I say those pants are so nigger, totally kike, spick-ginny- micked-up, Dude, how’s that wash?  Kid was too thick to get it.  Should have ripped off his nut-sack to be sure he didn’t procreate and move on…  Fuck, I’m on a rant.  Calm down.  Breathe.  Ok, what was the question?

beautiful naked dead

Tom Pluck BeerIt’s cool. Did anyone tell Bukowski or Miller to chill? Your life, why write about it now?
 
 
 

josh stallingsJS:  The dark days of my dangerous youth had come hunting and found me.

One son in the hospital for an O.D.  The other in a lockdown psych ward.  Whatever sense of a reasonable universe shredded.  At a conscious and subconscious level I needed to understand my life.  Map the trail that lead to this moment in time.  Moses #1 starts with a gun in his mouth.  That shit was real.  That was me telling it as plain as I could.  I lost friends because they said they couldn’t stand worrying about finding me dead.  Take a dark man and add this on top and it gets pretty fucking bleak.  The memoir started as a few essays, a way to deal with shit that didn’t fit into Moses’ world.  When it crested 70,000 words I thought maybe it was a book.  By then the beast had me by the throat and demanded to be finished.  Books are like needy lovers, break it off early or shut the fuck up, grab the oh-shit-bar and enjoy the ride.

all the wild children

Tom Pluck BeerIt takes guts to confront the narcissism of the post-war generations. ALL THE WILD CHILDREN takes place as Hunter S. Thompson’s “wave” of the ’60s rolls back, dragging you and your siblings through the wreckage. Drug fiction usually bores the hell out of me, but you told it true, with a wicked sense of humor. Who makes you laugh, these days?

josh stallingsJS: Post-war is a bit of an odd concept isn’t it?  The killing has to stop before we can have a post-war. “Life is war without end.  Leave no wounded, eat the dead, it’s ecologically sound.” – James Crumley, and that makes me laugh.  My sister Shaun makes me laugh, she is working on a collection of snarky mommie-lit essays called “Armageddon Is My Backup Plan.”  Her only regret in life is that she wasn’t born a gay alcoholic so her essays would sell better.   She and I talk or text every day.   She could put a snarky spin on a death camp and I swear she’d have me laughing.  My siblings and I place a high value on humor, a lot of days it was all we had to keep us from breaking.  Tad Williams and I became friends mostly because we made each other laugh.  That and the sex thing.  Kidding.  Or am I?  Gossip sells more books than facts… I think.  Anyway, Tadly, his new Bobby Dollar books have given him a place for his silly fucked-in-the-head humor.  Friends make me laugh.  You, Mr. Pluck, make me laugh.

For a while my niece, her friend, Jared and his girlfriend all lived with us.  I couldn’t swing a dead pederast without hitting a twenty-something.  I had two rules, don’t fuck with me when I’m in my office writing, and make me laugh or take it on down the road.  Jared’s dog ate a pair of my shoes, but she leapt and danced like a Chocolate Lab circus dog.  She made me laugh.  She still lives with me.  My big sister Lilly told me I should write comedy.  I said “I thought I did.”  Bloody violent painful comedy.

I don’t search out funny much.  Life is a mean bitch, but also comical.  Laugh or cry, those are the only options on the table.  So, laugh.  Big Vikings look fucking silly crying.

“Nothing is as wicked as another couple’s sex life, or as justifiable as your own.” –ALL THE WILD CHILDREN

Tom Pluck BeerI’m close with my sister too. Veterans from the same foxhole, right? When I read your first novel, Moses McGuire described Los Angeles like he was talking about an abusive parent. He’s more than a tortured hero, you let him make mistakes. Tell us about him and where he came from.

josh stallingsJS: LA.  It birthed both me and Moses.  I love this tarted up whore of a town.  Money is moving east, gentrification is rolling over the heart of Moses’ world.  Friday I ate at a taco joint, watching the street.  There was a mentally ill homeless lady spraying herself with a thick cloud of room freshener.  It was dripping off her arms.  A $170,000 four-wheeled penis extender sat at the curb.  She was shadowed by a high-rise with condos that start at a mil-five.  We just voted not to increase sales tax by a penny, for cops and firemen.  LA, right.  L-fucking-A.

Moses is a man of his city.  Born and raised in her arms.  If you wanted to burn her down, he’d offer you the match then do everything he could to smother the flames.  He is deeply flawed, but he has the heart of a bear.  He is a man of ambiguous moral character.  He’s a good man but he thinks he’s a piece of shit.  He is also a man on a downward spiral, the closer he gets to discovering a moral place to stand the crazier he gets.  The thing he does in Out There Bad leaves permanent scars.  One More Body may be his last outing.  I don’t know if he will survive it physically or emotionally.

He is who I would have been without my siblings.  If at fifteen I had pulled the trigger and killed that guy, gone to jail, I might well have been Moses.  He is a stand-in for me in many ways.  The fierce protection of those he loves is pure me.  His rage is me.  His love/hate relationship with sex in America in the twenty first century is also me.

I wrote many, many drafts.  I think I was trying to figure James Crumley out.  I started out playing in Crumley’s sand box, but Moses wouldn’t be contained.  He is not Milo or Sughrue.  He is Moses.  As the drafts went on I found my voice, yes it echoes of Crumley, but it is mine.  I can hear when it’s true and when it’s faux Crumley I hit delete.

Out There Bad

Tom Pluck BeerThere’s no denying you have your own voice, your own rhythm. OUT THERE BAD tackled sex trafficking, the great atrocity of our time. Every town has a strip club and there’s always the chance some of those dancers are working off debts they will never live to repay. You did some deep research for that book. What kind of places did you go, and what people did you meet?

josh stallingsJS: My sister was a stripper, my father dated strippers.  I’m no stranger to that world.  I’m also not afraid to go where ever a story leads.  4:00 AM Ensenada I met an American hooker, she was too tired to put much enthusiasm into her pitch.  When I said fucking was off the table but I’d buy her breakfast she looked relieved.  She told me about the Mexican Romeo she hooked up with in LA.  They shared some laughs and coke.  She lived with him in Mexico, but he split, they all do, she told me.  By then she was hooking to pay for her drugs, drugs she need to get through a life of fucking strangers for money.  Vicious circle?  You bet your sweet ass.  She had no passport, no way home either physically or emotionally.  We talked until dawn.  I wish I could have helped her.  But she had to carry her own freight.

Another time I was in an Armenian-run strip joint.  A big titted gal with translucent hair whispered at me a warning to quit asking questions, if I wanted to make it home.  I Laughed.  She said it was no joke.  I stopped laughing.

Oddly people smirk, “Oooh, hanging out in strip clubs and bordellos as ‘research’ riiiight?”  Truth is after all night talking to broken babies and watching sweaty men pay to put their fat piggy fingers up stripper’s snatches, all I want to do is go home and scald my skin in a shower.  Some days I long to write a book about a florist who solves crimes with the help of his tabby cat Jeeves.  Or maybe a Zombie cozy.

They even have a street name for this – gorilla pimping.  They traffic in young flesh, drag girls across state lines.  The average age these girls start is between eleven and twelve years old.  Boys they start at six.  Let that sink in.  SIX YEARS OLD. 

For ONE MORE BODY I have done street research, but I have also spent a year reading every first person account from prostitutes, cops, social workers and volunteers, anyone in contact with streetwalkers in the U.S.  I discovered that international sex traffic is a drop in the bucket.  Most of the trafficked girls are U.S. citizens.  Girls kidnapped and forced to suck and fuck adult men.  They even have a street name for this – gorilla pimping.  They traffic in young flesh, drag girls across state lines.  The average age these girls start is between eleven and twelve years old.  Boys they start at six.  Let that sink in.  SIX YEARS OLD.  The more I research the angrier I get.  As a society we either eat our young, or we don’t.  Here in the USA, we eat ‘em with an extra helping of hypocrisy.  A little White girl is taken in California and we get Megan’s Law.  Poor girls of color are snatched at a rate that should have us all puking in our Post-Toasties and we do shit.  Not true, we do less than shit.  In the San Fernando Valley they had a get tough measure, if you catch a man buying sex, you impound his car.  His car?  Really.  Laws are all on the John’s side.  He is a man after all, with natural urges.  They floated the idea of putting his picture in the paper.  Scary stuff?  Fuck that.  Fuck a child go straight to hell.  And no matter how you dress her a twelve year old is a child, as are thirteen and fourteen and fifteen and sixteen year old girls.  Men who are willing to trade these girl’s childhoods just to bust a nut should be shot, slow, I.R.A style.  One joint at a time, then left to bleed out alone in a dirt field.

Tom Pluck BeerI like what Vachss says, if we can’t cure them, we can certainly CONTAIN them. But let’s cool down a bit. One thing that sold me on the McGuire books is the music. The Clash, ’70s soul. Your words have a rhythm to them, a flow, that doesn’t let us get bored. Does that come from the music, from your skills as a film editor, or both?

josh stallingsJS: Yes and Yes.  I am massively dyslexic and I read slowly so I hate overly wordy fat books.   Music drives my brain and my film cutting.  Trailers are tightly condensed highly rhythmic stories.  Ok, I didn’t go to University, you know that, but I am a self taught man.  I’ve read everything Shakespeare wrote, read and read until I got what he was saying.  Without knowing it, structure seeped in.  I would find a writer and read all their works in order.  My old man was a painter and sometime poet, he gave me Dylan Thomas and Richard Brautigan, they both informed pace.  But in truth I think it is just that I can’t type any faster.  All The Wild Children is around 76,000 words I think.  It is my longest book.  If you’re gonna type slow, you gots to make every word count.

Tom Pluck BeerAnd while we’re on music, we know you love The Clash, Parliament, and The Tubes, but I know you listen to newer music. Who’s got your ear these days?
 

josh stallingsJS: In Tecate I found a CD by Cafe Tacuba, great sound, I love Mexican musica alternativa.  And Lila Downs.  For the new book I’m immersing myself in modern hip hop.  My go to for peace is Admiral Fallow, a Scottish band not unlike Elbow.  Gossling’s dreamy sound is in my headsets as I type this.  Antony and the Johnsons.  And more Clash, more Pogues.  Can’t have enough of them lads.  I have a copy of Josh Rouse doing “Straight To Hell” as a ballad.  Fucking blows my mind.

Yeah, it amuses me when people ignore all hip-hop, or any style of music. I like everything from bluegrass to rap to pop. Just needs something real in it. I didn’t know it, but you cut the trailers for some of my favorite films. Robocop, Dead Presidents. Do you watch the whole film first, how does it work? Does distilling a two hour movie into a one minute spot help you write the most important parts of a story?

josh stallingsJS:  Yes I see all the films.  For Oliver Stone’s Twin Towers I had eighteen something hours to pull from.  Elmore Leonard said he leaves out the parts people skim.  That is what a trailer is.  As for the most important moments, for me they aren’t the trailer moments.  It is the subtle moments that I am most proud of.  In an early chapter of the All The Wild Children I am having my last breakfast in Half Moon bay with my pops.  The wheels are coming off my family.  I am eight and feeling the weight of it all.  The trailer moment would be me, one tear rolling down my cheek as he drives away.  But that didn’t happen.  While we were driving home to pack and dissolve our family, I used the sleeve of my sweat shirt to wipe away the condensation, a small patch through which I could see the world.  That little human moment would never make it into a trailer.

Tom Pluck BeerYou know how the Kinks say “Everybody’s in show biz, no matter who you are,” in Celluloid Heroes? Today especially, with reality TV and YouTube, I think we live like we’re in our own movies. But you’ve worked behind the scenes for years, even directing. Tell us about your moviemaking experiences, and give me your favorite three films.

josh stallingsJS: Dawn is breaking on an indie film Tad Williams and I wrote, I’m directing, we are trying to beat the sun for one last night shot.  “Come on people we’re making a movie here!”  I shout.

Sean the crusty sound guy looks up at me, “Josh you’re making a movie, me I’m pushing records on my Nagra.”

There was the whole Russia adventure, then I got paid to write a screenplay called Thor, but the real Thor, historical Norse myth.  I was over the moon.  Bear and me worked our asses off.  We explored the archetypal conflicts between Loki the half god and Thor – Loki always being there for Thor, but never earning his father Odin’s respect.  In the end, Loki brings on Ragnarok.  Can you imagine a Norse man like me getting to tell those stories?  The producers read it.  And had a panicked meeting.  They wanted Thor to be frozen in a block of ice and discovered in Middale Kansas.  Encino Man meets, well Encino Man.  I worked on a few more scripts, doctored a few but my heart wasn’t in.  They had broken it real good.

Hollywood is no place for creative types.  Hollywood needs creative types.  Hollywood hates creative types.  Hollywood idolizes creative types.  They offer a bag of shekels in trade for giving up caring.  Crumley made more money off movie options than selling books.  Charlie Huston had Caught Stealing optioned before he sold the publishing rights.  Hollywood may be our new patrons.

All that said, I fucking love Hollywood.

Favorite films?

#1 The Wild Bunch.  I have watched it every year on my birthday for many years.  It is the last sincere film I remember being made here.  No quips, no winks at camera.  Bruce Willis would never say “They’re men, and I wish to hell I was with them.”  Not without a wink.  Also that last unspoken moment before all hell breaks loose, the moment when they look at each other and decide to fuck it?  That is a pure film moment, wouldn’t work in any other medium.

#2 Taxi Driver.  It was the first film that made me feel it might be possible for the stories in my head to find an audience.

#3 The Big Lebowski , because, oh fuck it Dude, let’s go bowling.

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Tom Pluck BeerYeah, Lebowski in the theater, first run, is one of my favorite film experiences. That loving parody of Chandler, and how everyone in that flick except maybe Donnie, is playing a character they want to be. I want to be more Dude and less Walter.

Your memoir reminded me of some of the best I’ve read, like Frank McCourt, because you find humor in the hell. Which to me, is the truth. Donald Ray Pollock, Frank Bill… they write dark but put humor in there, because that’s the reality. Humor is a defense mechanism. Who are your favorite writers, period? Not just crime. Dead or alive.

josh stallingsJS: Hemingway.  Crumley.  Bruen.  I didn’t have to think.  I love tight spare prose with not a word wasted.  Thanks for the comment about humor.  It is what makes us interesting.  We primates are the only creatures that can laugh at ourselves, and isn’t that brilliant?  Stunning, really.  All this evolution to deliver a good solid joke.  Works for me.

me-josh

Tom Pluck BeerAnd you may pretend to be vegan or a healthy eater, I’ve seen you attack platters of bacon like a Viking on a Pictish village. So where’s your favorite place to eat? When I hit the your coast next year, where are you gonna take me to knock me out with a food coma and save California from my rampage?

josh stallingsJS:  Where the fuck did you get vegan healthy eater?  I don’t eat gluten, corn or dairy because they rip my guts up and I’m not in favor of drinking my own blood.  The taco truck two blocks away on Colorado, in the gas station parking lot makes the best carnitas in town.  Two blocks from that is Oinkster, best goddamn burgers going.  Gus’s BBQ in South Pasadena will break your heart and leave you screaming for more.  If you really want a meat orgy come by when Erika throws down on the grill.  Then when your colon needs a rest, Lemon Grass has fine vegetarian Vietnamese food.  Years after we bought in Eagle Rock it was discovered by wealthy hipsters.  My punk son used to scream at them as they drove down our quiet streets.  But the hipsters sure did bring good food with them.  Moses wouldn’t recognize these tame streets.

I’m relatively certain I have bungled this interview to the point where it may crash your site.  But know, I am honored to be here.  Your support of my writing is wonderful.  Your friendship is pure gold.  In the words of my pops, “Kill ‘em all but six, save them for pallbearers.”

Tom Pluck BeerBrother, if we don’t champion what we love we deserve the shit sandwich the world tries to serve us. Thank you for coming by for a balls-out no punches pulled interview.

You can find Josh at his website, JoshStallings.net

ALL THE WILD CHILDREN is available in trade paperback and Kindle from Snubnose Press. BEAUTIFUL, NAKED & DEAD and OUT THERE BAD are available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Five Big Things (safe for work)

The 5 people I tagged last week for The Next Big Thing have posted their posts:

Jen Conley talks about her novel NIGHTMARE.

Lynn Beighley at her aptly named site, Should Be Writing talks about her anthology to benefit folks hit by the superstorm, Oh Sandy! An Anthology of Humor for a Serious Purpose. You should submit a story.

Josh Stallings… Bueller? I know Josh is working on his next Moses McGuire novel. Hoping for a tease. The big lug’s birthday was yesterday, so I hope he’s sleeping late after a great evening.

Chad Eagleton talks about his ’50s greaser noir anthology HOODS, HOT-RODS, AND HELLCATS. I can’t wait to read this one. I have a story in it, and Chad’s sounds like a doozy.

Steve Weddle at Do Some Damage keeps his cards close to his chest and goofs around.