A little while ago, Tim O’Mara sat down with me (digitally) and he had questions. Good questions, all. I tried to answer them to the best of my abilities, but I must confessed, some were real wringers. Without further ado, I am providing the link to the original interview.
If the phrase “ripped from today’s headlines” weren’t so overused—and possibly trademarked by those Law & Order folks—I would use it to describe Liam Sweeny’s second Jack LeClere novel, PRESIDING OVER THE DAMNED (out now from Down & Out Books). Since I’m not going to use the phrase, let’s just agree that Sweeny’s novel could hardly be more timely than it is. Jack, a homicide detective in Upstate New York’s New Rhodes Police Department, not only has to deal with the lynching of a young black girl, he also has to navigate internal police politics and outside activists/agitators, all while recovering from the events of his last case, where his family was more than threatened.
I have to admit, friends and neighbors, that I have been snoozing. So let’s catch up. Since I last posted, I had an interview come up in ‘The Big Thrill’ for my book, Presiding Over the Damned, which was officially released in August. In other news, my volunteer work in the Red Cross has kicked into high gear with the devastation of hurricane’s Florence and now Michael. I have also recently taken on the position of Blog Editor at RadioRadioX.com. In fact, my work on their blog is what prompted me to come over and add this to my own blog.
I wish that I could say that I’ve simply been too busy to post on my own site, but that wouldn’t be true. I am a savant when it comes to slacking off and, conversely, giving myself busy work. Truth is, I don’t really know what to tell you all. I mean, I could tell you all about the writing conferences, book readings and events that I don’t go to because they’d be longer than two hours and my tolerance for other people is just shorter than two hours. That’s probably the truest statement ever to grace this space, and if I keep it in here, you’ll know me.
But things do happen. So let me just rattle off some life events, unencumbered by the expectation I have of myself that I have to write about things you actually care about. Cause frankly, that ship is about two hours off shore.
I’ve been deploying volunteers from the Eastern New York region of the Red Cross to disasters. This has been the noticeable ones, like Hurricane Florence and Michael, but we’ve deployed people locally, specialized volunteers to help a local community cope with a tragic vehicle accident that left twenty dead in Schoharie. Bear in mind, I’m not a ground troop. I have a souped-up computer and a phone that gets hot daily. I make calls and swing a mouse and my typing speed varies like the winds in one of those hurricanes. But I’ve learned a lot, some of which is not open to the general public, but if it was, I’d share.
I have accepted a job as the Blog Editor of RadioRadioX.com. I’ll be interviewing musicians and performers, and I hope to use my experience and talent as a writer to come up with some dynamite questions. Interviewing is new for me, and while I’d love to bring it here, I’ll have to see how it turns out. Interviewing writers means reading books, which takes longer than doing research on a local or regional band.
So I’ve explained what’s been happening in my life. I wish it was more fantastic, more spellbinding than deadlines and disaster deployments. Writers rarely have lives as exciting as the ones we write about. And I’m not a master of the mundane. I wish I was. Some writers can stub their toe and write a thousand words with an epilogue. I can’t, and that’s not a superior statement. I want to write that thousand-word story about how grandma cut me off this morning. Because that’s what I do. And if you pop on here and find my diatribe about how the people in my local convenience store can’t make two lines, you’ll know I’m hitting my A-Game.
But hey, carry on. And stop back for new stuff. I may surprise you.
The Leslie speaker surged and recessed, pushing out the sounds of the Hammond B3 like a rip current in a hurricane. Swan walked a funk-line with his left hand and peppered Jackson’s guitar riffs with the acrobatics of his right. He was surprised to hear DeeDee’s brushes on the drums, what with the firepower coming out of the rest of the gear. They fought about her bringing a mic, but only because he didn’t want to sing over her drums in the only PA at the gig. The crowd was telling him he didn’t have to worry. A glance at DeeDee was telling him she couldn’t hear herself and was playing by wire. She’d have to get a bigger slice of the night’s tips if he wanted to keep her next week.
The Bleecker Café was a political hangout in Albany. It was a quiet spot, where the music was no more than live background to deals struck in the shadows of the Capital building. Swan sometimes wondered, on a big tip night, what he was being paid to forget he’d heard. But that night was the night that the legislature took summer recess. It was the last night out in the city before they went home to their districts. Their mouths were open for drinks and gossip and off-season Auld Lang Syne, and they were on the floor, dancing like they knew how to, and throwing smiles, requests, and most importantly, tips around.
Swan turned over and aimed his voice low, “C sharp.” MacAvoy was a new pick up. He came in to a biker bar down by the river during one of the open mics Swan subbed for. He liked the cat’s blues lead, but maybe more the fact that, at the open mic, they seemed to be the only two musicians that gave a fuck. Going by MacAvoy’s inability to follow a chord progression or key change, he had quite a few fucks left to give. But at least he turned down when he was off in the weeds. Jackson had a spoon on his strings, improvising a slide. The crowd dug it, marveling at the ingenuity. They didn’t know Jackson couldn’t keep his hands on a real slide to save his life.
They played out the set and took a break around eight. Swan knew the waves of the gig, no matter what was happening down the road. The nine-to-twelve crowd was going to be crazier, but their requests were going to be closer to the songs a player has to put in their starter kit. Early crowds around there had a “let’s stump the band” feel. Swan wouldn’t have had it any other way.
Swan, MacAvoy and DeeDee were outside on the open patio. A penetrating rain was infusing the night air with the smell of ozone and the rejuvenation of an arriving cold-front. Swan even wondered if he had a sweater in the van.
“I’m trying to catch you, Swan, I really am,” MacAvoy said. “Can you play a few more blues tunes? Give me something I can go off on?”
“I could, but you can’t just go around being Stevie Ray Vaughan all day. You need to know the changes.”
“I know. I just don’t want to let anyone down.”
“Don’t worry. No one’s listening to you.”
“Oh, Swan, that’s rough,” DeeDee turned to MacAvoy. “Don’t listen to him. You’re doing good.”
Swan took out a cherry cigar. “When you get good, when you know the progressions and you know those songs, those deep cuts, you’ll play louder, and people will hear you. I’m not trashing you, it’s good that you play low. You don’t know a song and you step back. That’s what you’re supposed to do. But learn the songs.”
MacAvoy pulled the cellophane off a fresh pack of cigarettes. “I’m not used to these crazy chord-change songs,” he said. “Everyone I know rocks the one-four-five.”
“And that’s good when your set-list is five songs long, like those shows you guys set up. But doing a set like tonight, we’re going to go through sixty-, seventy songs. You can’t just sit there and jive out a one-four-five sixty-times, you know?”
Swan reached in his pocket for his black, plastic film canister and flipped aside the lid with his thumb. He pulled out a bowl made from threaded pipe, washers and the only piece he had to buy, the piece that right then was packed with sticky skunk bud. Even the screen came from the bathroom faucet of his boarding house.
“Mac’, go get Jackson. He’ll be a motherfucker if he don’t get any of this.” MacAvoy flicked his embers to the road and tucked the butt into his pocket before he dipped back in to pull Jackson off the two-for-ones.
“I’m gonna make him eat those cigarette butts.”
“Why does he do it?” DeeDee held her own smoke up to the glow from the streetlamp. “Put ‘em in his pocket?”
“He said he’s trying not to litter.” Swan leaned in and nudged DeeDee with his shoulder. “After the next set we’ll take him to the landfill and leave him there.”
They laughed. “You’re terrible,” DeeDee said.
“He’s a good cat,” Swan said. “He’s young. “When I was his age, I was in L.A., playing at a club that Pablo Escobar owned. I ever tell you that one?”
“I’ve heard it,” she said. “Not from you, though.”
“Oh yeah, Jackson showed up back—” Swan turned as the door opened and Jackson came out, trailed by MacAvoy. “Jackson, when did you show up in Escobar’s place?”
“I think it was around what, ’90? ’91? I just got divorced from Sandy, so, about then.”
“The place had iron bars on every window and cameras everywhere,” Swan said. “And you couldn’t take pictures.” He took a hit and paused his remembrance. “They paid us to
play Colombian music. I remember I had to go out and learn it. The owner gave me five hundred bucks when I showed up and told me to give it to a guy down the street. I spent a couple days with that cat learning folk rhythms. There were a thousand and twenty-four, and they wanted them all. But then they paid me good, man, real good. They were getting me whatever I wanted—drinks, drugs, girls—I just asked. And you showed up.”
“That owner was going to shoot me, I thought,” Jackson said.
“He told me he was going to shoot us both,” Swan said. “Me for bringing you. Fuckin’ Pablo Escobar’s joint.”
They stood out and watched the rain, and the voices that assumed themselves to be whispers were revealing themselves to be voices and gregarious shouts inside. The cabs were stopping more frequently, letting out new patrons in pairs. The nine o’clock crowd shook the rain off their umbrellas as Swan and the crew passed the plumber’s pipe, blowing the smoke toward the outside kitchen vent to let it mix with the smell of fried onion rings and chicken tenders.
Swan glanced down the street, exhaled, and passed the pipe to MacAvoy.
“That’s why ya gotta know all the songs.”
So I’ve got two kicked 11 oz. Starbucks coffees mixing with last night’s chicken ramen noodles to form a gastric concrete below decks. I’m restless and listless and nervous about the possibility of both success and failure, and I’m turning my pockets inside out with regret that I didn’t spend more on the Mega Millions or kept that money and used it to rent a tent at the local park for my book launch.
Hi, I’m a writer. I have a book coming out.
Writers get paid (sometimes) to talk about themselves. Oh, you thought that strong, central character was the product of research and cloth swatches and cologne/perfume samples? Ha! That was us. Not the clumsy ‘us’ that bumped into your cart in the seafood section of Hannaford. And it wasn’t the ‘us’ that called you when our satellite fizzed out during the Super Bowl (Oh, and sorry about that, by the way…) No, you’re reading the ‘us’ that runs through our head after that hour we spent in the DMV. Or the ‘us’ that just hopped off that love/hate roller-coaster we hopped on last summer. Or the ‘us’ that can’t bring back the daughter we lost last year about this time.
Maybe you might think, from what I wrote above, that writers are insecure dreamers. You’d be… fairly accurate. Not everybody, but most I’ve met. In fact, anyone I meet who brags about their writing ability, or their books, I don’t buy it. I’ll take it with a whole ocean floor full of salt. People who are fantastic at expressing themselves don’t have to write. They can just talk. Play tambourine, kumbaya or some shit. Writing, and I mean writing from the deepest part of your heart, is like controlling a full-blast fire hose with no training. Writing a book is like posting a phone full of nudes in your own name, you know, before that was social media currency. It’s tough.
It’s real tough to write, but there’s a huge community of writers that support each other. But we all exist, in this avocation (yes, sadly it’s usually an avocation) for you, dear reader. As sensitive as we are, as tough as it is, only some of the people I know are writing for specific empowerment or therapy. I mean, people do, and that stuff is damn powerful, but we’re mostly doing it for you. We want you to feel what we’re setting up in the plot and the characters. We want your skin to get gooseflesh over here, and we want you choking back a tear on this page, and by the fifth chapter, we want you to feel like you watched a deep, slow-motion papercut. Trust, none of that is for us. It’s for you.
We want you to feel the vibes we spent hours, days, weeks infusing into the many pages of that book on your shelf. And we do this knowing full well that most of the acclaim, praise and reviews are going to go to the few top people who already have a ton, and most of us will never really find out what you thought of it. And yes, we will bitch about that to ourselves. But not to you, because, no matter what you’ve heard, it is an unwritten rule in writing that the customer is always right. And that’s saying something in a subjective domain.
We’re the most ill-equipped hustlers to ever be given a sandwich-board. How many people had heard of James Patterson before he was smiling through his first round of TV commercials? Now he’s king. We’re the chroniclers and preservers of the world in which we live, and our best bet is to treat our books like Vince treats Sham-Wows. And I’m not even complaining, ‘cause I got a damn camera and I just need the right backdrop. It’s just how it is. We gotta sell ourselves. Books can only talk when someone opens them.
So I got a book coming out. And, in true form, if you buy one, I’ll double the offer (with a separate fee that coincidentally is the same amount as a book) for free! Call in the next ten minutes to claim this deal!
Suburban Dick is about the adventures of Gus Harris, a private investigator (“dick”), caught between the woman he can’t get serious with and the family life he ruined over her. The parents of a missing high school student send Gus on a wild trek through the seedy underbelly of Horton High’s wrestling program. The blood doesn’t stay on the mats.
SA: I’m a big fan of setting in any story. Suburban Dick takes place in a town called Horton. Let’s say I moved there a year ago, right next door to Gus Harris’s crash-pad/office. What do I know about Horton that someone passing by on the highway couldn’t know?
CD: It’s a town full of secrets, but I can’t give any away here. I’ll tell you it’s a fictionalized version of the small town I grew up in, and it’s been the setting for three of my books so far. I’ll also add that it seems to have a strangely high level of low lives and crime. Maybe it’s something in the water?
SA: Gus was a Horton Police officer before becoming a private eye. Was there a case that stuck with him, one that help shaped his investigative approach?
CD: There are two specific cases and they’re both mentioned in the book. One involved a dead girl when Gus was still a kid, it was local news and an innocent guy nearly went down for what in the end was a tragic accident. The media surrounding that case spurred his interest in police work, but also showed him a dark side, the fact that an innocent man was bullied and beaten into confessing to a non- existent crime. It made him aware of a path of least resistance in police work, which he vows to avoid. The second case is the one that ultimately led to his leaving the force and it again has to do with integrity. Gus is pressured by his superiors to look the other way regarding a local politician’s kid, classic nepotism. Gus is new to the force at the time and never really forgives himself for his lack of integrity. Despite his flaws Gus has a deep seated desire for truth and justice.
SA: I think every story has a theme, but that’s my opinion. I sensed a theme of “getting what you want at any cost.” I see it in Coach Hanson (the main baddie) but also in Gus when he needs something. If you were going for a theme, was it this? And what’s your take on having a “line” and having a justification to cross it? Do Gus and Coach Hanson both have a line that they cross?
CD: Without giving too much away, it’s pretty clear that Hanson crossed the line with the Horton wrestlers. Greed is his motivator, but ultimately it’s not the money itself, but the adulation of the community and school. This relates to the theme that I saw emerge which is about protecting what’s valuable, for Hanson obviously he’s protecting both his legacy and his cash cow. Gus on the other hand is protecting his family, his loved ones. There really is no “line” with regards to protecting the people Gus cares about and he demonstrates that a few times in the book.
SA: Another theme I noticed was a real “monster” theme, and you touched into a real fear about performance enhancing drugs. And it ties into the earlier theme I mentioned. What do you think drives a young athlete to dope? Is it just the competitive edge, or is it something else?
CD: Ha! Glad you picked up on the monsters. But as for performance enhancers, yeah, it’s the edge and what comes with it: wins, scholarships, maybe a payday down the line. We live in a culture that puts a very high premium on athletic ability, so it’s really no surprise that people want to give themselves that edge. Then you have the types of parents who get a vicarious thrill living through their kids and of course there’s going to be that cohort that who will put that success before the welfare of their kids.
SA: It definitely feels like Suburban Dick is the first of the “Gus Harris” series. I’m hoping you can get more into Gus’s complicated relationship with the Horton PD. Is there anything you can say about that part of his life to get us tuned in?
CD: I’ve got something happening for Gus but to be honest I’m not sure. I may relocate him. I live in southern Arizona and I have yet to write a book set here so that could be fun. Otherwise we can expect some more of the same. He’ll have ruined another relationship and managed to squander whatever goodwill he’d managed to generate in Suburban Dick. Hopefully, he’ll learn something from it.
It’s always an accomplishment to get a story in Shotgun Honey. With three tough-as-nails editors and a 700-word limit, SH features truly the best of the best. It is an honor that “Jailbreaker in the Briar Patch” made it.
I ran. I ran fast as I could, tripped over my laces and eased my body into forward leaps that turned into junk street somersaults. I ran past Ritchie’s Market, past Harry Dzembo as he held the
broom in his hands, slack-jawed. I heard him ask me what the fuck, but I was gone, man. I turned corners by radar; the blood in my eye sockets made my horizon a magenta mudslide. I went by the sounds of cans and bottles crashing against each other, surest bet I was heading into the bums’ squat. They wouldn’t dare lurk in there, and the cops would call for back-up first. I had some time to camo up.
You can read the rest of it here