One of the best short story collections I’ve read in years is the recently released Uncage Me. It was edited by Jennifer Jordan. There are 22 stories written by 22 different authors. I suppose you’d classify the stories as noir, but they push that genre in twisted, sick, and spectacularly entertaining new ways. One of my favorite stories, Fire Girl, is about a sexy pyromaniac girl-for-hire who masturbates as she watches a house burn.
My good friend – the very talented writer Greg Bardsley – also has a story in the Uncage Me. It’s called Hotshot 52. It’s great! Greg has published close to a dozen short stories, which you can checkout on his blog.
Q. Uncage Me is such a strong collection of stories. And it includes a number of well-established authors. How does it feel to be part of this group?
When I saw the contributor list, I was shocked and honored to be one of the few no-names. When I received the hardcover edition, it was an even bigger rush. I have to admit I opened it and smelled the paper and ink, the binding glue. I’ve always done that with books I love. .. Um, was that too much information?
Since then, as I’ve read the pieces, it’s felt really good in a very incremental way. As in, “Damn, that was yet another really fine story. I mean, damn fine.” And then I’ll finger back to my story, look at it, and fan the pages to the Konrath story that follows it, and then to the Gischler story that precedes it, and think, again, “Damn, I’m in here, too. I mean, really?” It’s a high to have my piece sandwiched between those guys (that sounded disgusting, but you know what I mean).
Q. What compels you to write crime, noir fiction?
Some people in my regular life are asking that question these days. I think a few might be shocked and disturbed by my stories.
Why do I write this stuff? I’m not sure. I have admit to completely backing into noir on the dance floor of my life. I never really aimed for any kind of genre – literary, noir, pulp, crime, hardboiled, whatever – it just happened to me. A few years ago I sent a crazy piece called “Upper Deck” to novelist Anthony Neil Smith, who edits the legendary and influential ‘zine, Plots with Guns; little did I know it was just the kind of transgressive fiction he wanted. Blind luck on my part. My point is, folks like Neil are far smarter than me — they understand the fiction world in which they write and read, and they can put things in context. I’m kind of like this guy wearing earplugs and a blindfold, blowing a kazoo as I stumble down a crowded boulevard, slamming into poles and wobbling into intersections. Not proud of it, but that’s the reality.
What I do know is that crime fiction fascinates me, and it allows me to take truly interesting characters right over the edge. That, and I’ve always loved comic crime fiction. I mean, the possibilities …
Q. In addition to writing, you also have a full-time job, and a family. When do you find time to write?
Interesting you bring this up. This challenge has been front and center with me lately, as I have come to accept that I must be more disciplined. So now I‘m just telling myself that I must write every day – at least for an hour, if not 90 minutes or more. What does that look like? It’s stealing moments from my regular life – whether it’s during lunch at work or, more likely, after everyone’s asleep. I thank guys like Keith Rawson, Frank Bill and Kieran Shea for the inspirational example of their commitment and discipline – these guys are making real sacrifices to achieve serious word counts each and every day (or close to it), and it shows in the excellence of their work, and in the quantity of that work. I am sick and tired of taking years and years to complete a manuscript, so now I’m writing every day no matter how nasty real life is, and loving it – it’s like I’m putting the noise of life into this nasty Peruvian necktie, repeating, “You *will* cooperate. You *will* give me 90 minutes a day.”
Q. What are you working on now?
One is my next novel, and I’m really excited about it. It’s a recent-era historical piece that touches on some themes and issues that are important to me, but it’s told using a variety of insane, kookie and entertaining characters and storylines that are so dear to me. So, I’m having a blast. I’m hoping I’ll be done with a first draft by spring.
The second project I can’t really discuss much, other than it’s been a ton of fun and I’ve been able to collaborate with some insanely gifted writers. It all started with a crazy idea I developed with two others, and we’ve been thrilled to see it take a life of its own. My agent is really enthused about this one, so hopefully someday we’ll be able to tell the world.
Q. What is the best advice on writing that you’ve ever gotten?
Wow, that is a tough one. … There are so many great slices of wisdom out there. .. For me, maybe it was, quite simply, “Keep writing.” As in, if you want to write seriously — for a living or otherwise — you just have to keep writing. The more you write with a mind for improving, the better you’ll get. I figured that I wrote at least 2,000 bylined news stories during my first five years after college – I left newspapers about 14 years ago, and I haven’t stopped writing. I guess you could say it’s a labor of love.
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