Friday, April 28, 2017

Crossing Paths on Crossed Bones: A Conversation with S.W. Lauden

S.W. Lauden has written one of the craziest, wildest novels I've read this year and I'm thrilled to be able to catch up with him to discuss Crossed Bones, a strange crime tale of low-lifes, bad decisions and, oh yeah, pirates. Crossed Bones, the follow up to Crosswise, debuts this Tuesday (May 1st!), so go ahead and pre-order now....
https://www.amazon.com/Crossed-Bones-S-W-Lauden/dp/1943402574/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1493403796&sr=8-1&keywords=crossed+bones+s.+w.+lauden


Steph Post: Okay, Shayna and Tommy... wow. I'm not going to ask how you came up with these two crazy main characters—because I might not want to know—but I did want to ask about their role in the novella. Would you say that Crossed Bones is more plot-driven or character-driven? And is this style found in all of your work?

S.W. Lauden: Thanks, for having me, Steph! And thanks for the great blurb for Crossed Bones.

Writing the two Tommy and Shayna novellas has been an interesting challenge for me. The first book, Crosswise, started out as a short story I wrote while vacationing on the panhandle of Florida. I came up with the crossword puzzle concept and started writing without knowing too much about the characters. Because of that, Tommy and Shayna truly unfolded as I wrote the story and just kept developing as it evolved into a novella.

When it came time to write the sequel, I had every intention of centering the action on Tommy’s search for Shayna. But as I wrote, her story kept demanding more and more attention. I found myself needing to answer the question of why he’s so obsessed with her. The best way I could figure out to do that was letting her take the wheel (helm?) for a few chapters. The result is that Crossed Bones is probably more character-driven than Crosswise.

By contrast, I’d say that the character development and storylines in my Greg Salem punk rock P.I. novels are more intentional, and decidedly less crazy. The Tommy and Shayna books are definitely a separate animal.


SP: Shayna, in particular, is more at home in the underbelly of the various places she winds up in for both books. That's probably why I enjoyed her character so much; I'm usually the one rooting for the loser or underdog. What attracts you to writing this type of character? And why do you think readers enjoy them so much?


SWL: Shayna’s a real bad apple with a serious taste for trouble. Tommy’s no angel either, but his law enforcement background keeps him honest most of the time—at least until he gets around her. Then all bets are off. There’s something about the nature of their relationship that makes him kick morality to the curb whenever they’re together. Maybe it’s love, or maybe she brings the real Tommy out into the light. Whatever the reason, the two of them together is a pretty dangerous combination.

I like writing these two characters precisely because they are so over-the-top. Everybody has some amount of darkness lurking around, but most of us manage to keep the darkness under control. It creates a sort of morbid fascination with the types of people who give into those temptations, giving the rest of us a glimpse of what might happen if we ever gave in too.

SP: It's funny; the only two places I've ever lived are Florida and North Carolina and both are places where Shayna and Tommy find, and cause, trouble. In your mind, what is the connection between the two states? Is this just an east coast beach bum coincidence or was there something else at work here?


SWL: I did want to keep Tommy and Shayna near the ocean, but I’ve also had great experiences in Florida and North Carolina over the years. Having been to both places, I felt a little more comfortable writing about them, but I still fictionalized the main settings. The plots and characters in the Tommy and Shayna books are extremely dark and cartoonish, so I didn’t want anybody to think I was actually trying to describe a real community. These stories are meant to be collages that I'm pushing to one extreme or another.

The panhandle of Florida—with it’s white sand beaches, crystal clear water and laid back resort vibe—seemed like a great place to set a series of murders. That was the inspiration for Crosswise. Once I decided to make the sequel about a modern day pirate treasure hunt, the outer banks in North Carolina was the obvious choice for Crossed Bones.

https://downandoutbooks.com/bookstore/lauden-crosswise/


SP: As you just mentioned, Crossed Bones has a bit of a pirate theme, both at the campy and serious level. Pirates and crime would seem to go together, but you still don't see this combination in many contemporary crime fiction novels. So first of all, why don’t more people write about pirates? (I mean, come on, everybody loves pirates) And second, what brought you to the "pirate-noir" genre?


SWL: I'd guess that more people don’t write about pirates because the pirate meme has jumped the shark so many times in popular culture. At this point it’s pretty hard to picture anybody besides Johnny Depp whenever the word is conjured, and that’s a character most of us could use a break from. So you run a very serious risk of being completely cheesy or terribly derivative by embarking on a pirate tale, especially one that makes no pretense of historical accuracy.

That said, pirates remain an enduring symbol of self-indulgence, greed and violence—and I wanted to send Shayna on a strange and desperate adventure—so I took a stab at it. I think the campiness of the pirates helped to balance out the violent rabbit hole the characters go down in this book. There’s a healthy dose of absurdity built into the DNA of the Tommy and Shayna books that allowed me to play with that theme, or at least that's what I was going for. My hope is that people will have as much fun reading Crossed Bones as I did writing it, but I won’t be surprised if a trashy/campy beach book about cocaine-dealing pirate impersonators isn’t everybody’s cup of grog.


SP: Along with the fabulous Eric Beetner, you host a monthly podcast called Writer Types. It's a fairly new podcast, but has quickly gained quite the following. What makes Writer Types stand out in the crowded sea of literary podcasts?


SWL: I'd say that it comes down to the quality and variety of the guests. Eric and I have been pretty stoked by the caliber of authors and industry professionals that have appeared on the podcast so far—and we're getting more request every day. The crime and mystery universe is vast and diverse, filled with a lot of characters that are pumping out some truly amazing books. From that perspective, other than giving ourselves the daunting challenge of doing so many interviews for each episode, we've gotten pretty lucky so far. You can ask me again in another couple of episodes and I might give you a totally different answer.

SP: As you are someone who has a pulse on the literary crime scene, I'm dying to know what novels you're looking forward in the coming year. Any titles I should really have my eye on?


SWL: Right now I'm looking forward to Jo Nesbo's new Harry Hole novel, The Thirst, Don Winslow's The Force and Into The Water by Paula Hawkins. What else? Jordan Harper's She Rides Shotgun promises to be amazing, and so does Joe Clifford's next Jay Porter novel, Give Up The Dead. I've also got an advanced copy of Jeffrey Hess's short story collection, Cold War Canoe Club, took a sneak peek at Tom Pitts' American Static, and I'm looking forward to A Negro and an Ofay from Danny Gardner. Did I mention that Angel Colon is releasing Blacky Jaguar Against The Cool Clux Cult this June? And Rob Hart's next Ash McKenna book, The Woman From Prague, drops this July, Further down the road, I'm looking forward to Naomi Hirahara's next Mas Arai book, Hiroshima Boy.

That's just off the top of my head. A lot of good books coming our way in the near future.


SP: Okay, my reading list just got completely updated.... So, finally, book-wise what's next for you?


SWL: Rare Bird Books will release the third book in the Greg Salem trilogy, Hang Time, in October of this year. After that, I'm working on a new novel that is still in the early stages. It's fun to write about new characters and new landscapes after spending a few years with Greg Salem and Tommy and Shayna. I'm hoping that one will see the light of day sometime in 2018.

https://badcitizencorporation.com/

Thanks to S.W. Lauden for stopping by! Don't forget- Crossed Bones will be released May 1st from Down and Out Books. Be sure to pick up a copy and, as always: read, review and share!

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Florida Talk

Check out my recent discussion with fellow Florida writer Alex Segura (Dangerous Ends) over at LitHub. We're chatting all things Florida: crime, fiction and what makes this state so crazy. Cheers!

http://lithub.com/florida-man-talks-to-florida-woman-about-florida-crime/





Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Sunlit!

Lots happening with the St. Pete Sunlit Festival this month! If you're a local and want to stop by to say hi, I'll be at the MFA on Thursday, participating in the Literary Carousel and at the St. Petersburg Main Library this Saturday as part of the "Writers, Winners and the Publishing World" event. Hope to see you there!

http://www.tampabay.com/features/books/events-sunlit-festival-continues-with-florida-antiquarian-book-fair-more/2320060




13 Ways to Support an Author

Today, I'm over at LitReactor giving advice on how to support your favorite authors on the cheap. Some of these only take 10 seconds, and all are free, but they honestly mean so much to an author. Take a look!

https://litreactor.com/columns/13-ways-to-support-an-author-without-spending-a-dime
 
Thirteen Ways to Support an Author Without Spending a Dime

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Into the Infinite: A Conversation with Nicholas Mainieri

 

Today I'm sitting down with Nicholas Mainieri, author of the literary thriller The InfiniteAs it will soon become obvious to you, Mainieri is a master craftsman when it comes to story and language and I'm grateful of the opportunity to pick his brain on topics such as setting, revision and style. And, as an added bonus, Mainieri was kind enough to share the books he is most looking forward to this year. Read on!
 
https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/28374088-the-infinite


Steph Post: The settings of New Orleans and Mexico are conspicuous and vivid in The Infinite. In the way that they contributed to the novel, I felt that they were almost characters themselves. How important were these two settings to your story and, in general, what is the significance of place- especially real places- in a work of fiction?

Nicholas Mainieri: Setting is one the most important aspects of good fiction, regardless of whether that particular setting is a real place or not. A purposefully described setting establishes mood, echoes character’s emotions, and makes things like extraordinary acts of violence or goodness seem plausible. Actions are woven out of the fabric of setting. When that setting is a real place then things like the moment in time, the specifics of a local culture matter as well. It can be a fine dance between making a certain place “accessible” and being too esoteric. I think New Orleans and Mexico are kind of natural bedfellows. Complicated, beautiful places. I frequently return to the author Jorge Hern├índez’s phrase regarding Mexico as a place of “enduring contrasts,” and I believe that applies to New Orleans as well. Divides between rich and poor, life and death, play and work, good and bad seem both more pronounced and somehow more blurred. The great themes of literature live and breath. Specifically, these settings were logical bookends to a story that is in part about the cyclical journeys of things like drugs and cash but also people.

SP: I’m also curious about what drew you to the setting of New Orleans, and specifically post-Katrina New Orleans. Did The Infinite need to be set in a city still reeling and rebuilding from the effects of a catastrophe?

NM: I think of The Infinite as a sort of post-post-Katrina story. It’s set in the spring of 2010, a time that seemed to me then as a transitionary period, a complicated slide out of reconstruction and into new development or redefinition. When the rebuilding work was drying up, when the school system was undergoing the final moments of an extensive overhaul, and so on. I was interested in thinking about those who are going to bear the illest effects of massive social change—the young, the poor, the immigrant. And certainly I was thinking about my home, this city I love, that had been rebuilt by immigrants even as our public discourse increasingly vilified them.
SP: The Infinite is a lyrical novel that clearly utilizes your deftness with language. Oftentimes, language and story can be at odds with one another, as one element is sacrificed for another. This seems to occur in both literary and genre fiction, but I didn’t see that struggle in The Infinite. How can you make “poetic” language best serve, and not interfere with, the story?

NM: Well, thanks, Steph. Language is often where I have the most fun with a story, and I believe that one element does not always need to be sacrificed for the other. They can serve each other—the writing can be artful and the story can move. Doesn’t mean that it always works out. Some folks, mainly a few former teachers, would still tell me I’m too precious with language, and there’s some truth to that. Bringing these things into harmony has to come in revision, the continued rewriting, polishing, trimming, culling. I let it flex as best I can on that first draft, then don’t let anybody see it. One thing I ask myself, when considering a particular word choice or syntactical shape or whatever, is whether this particular arrangement of language is doing more than one thing—is it just pretty? If so, then it’s got to go or be rewritten. But if I can justify that it’s doing something in addition to being pretty (like complicating character, echoing emotional truth, advancing plot, resonating with theme) then I work to hone it best I can.

SP: One of the things I loved about The Infinite is that it’s clearly a literary novel, but one with grit under its nails. Did you ever encounter problems with either writing or selling a novel that balks somewhat at the “literary style?”

NM: I was ready to encounter it, sort of expecting it. The books I like the most are those literary novels with grit under their nails. I know I’m not alone in that, and I was just trying to write a story I’d like to read, myself. I got super lucky as this book found the perfect agent and editor for it—I never had to explain anything along these lines. From the get-go, they both saw it as a serious work of fiction first and foremost.
SP: The Infinite is an adult novel, but the two main characters are teenagers. Was it difficult for you to get inside the heads of Jonah and Luz? As a high school teacher, I’m around teenagers every day and the rollercoaster of emotions is staggering. Did portraying Jonah and Luz come easily to you or was it something you struggled with? 

NM: I think the adolescent rollercoaster of emotions is a thing we’ve all been through. It’s a true thing. I imagine that most writers have the realities of those days tucked away in their little mental folders of material. What was more challenging, perhaps, was portraying young people who aren’t just contending with those things, but also the profound realities of poverty and death and violence and true hopelessness. I thought to myself that Luz and Jonah are two people who would have grown up quickly. I wanted them to be able to meet their challenges thoughtfully and determinedly. They are “teenagers” technically, but I never thought of them in that way. The first time somebody at my publisher referred to them as teenagers it kind of surprised me, believe it or not, but it is of course undeniable. However, they’re dealing with and handling things that a lot of “adults” will never have to.

SP: And finally, just from your writing style alone, I’m guessing that you have pretty good taste in books…. What upcoming novels are you looking forward to this year? Who should I have on my radar?

NM: I recently read advanced copies of a couple really great books coming out this year. The Boat Runner, by Devin Murphy, is an exceptional epic of WWII and refugees—it crushed me, in the best sense. In the Valley of the Sun, by Andy Davidson, is an artfully written and very scary story, like Barry Hannah meets Stephen King. I’m also looking forward to Lidia Yuknavitch’s The Book of Joan (sci-fi Joan of Arc! From one of the coolest writers working today). The great Percival Everett has a new one coming out, So Much Blue. I don’t know much about it, but he wrote it, so I’ll read it, excitedly. And will this be the year that Cormac McCarthy’s The Passenger hits shelves? I will drop everything.

http://nicholasmainieri.com/

Me too! Thanks so much to Nicholas Mainieri for stopping by. The Inifinte is now available and you should definitely pick up a copy. Happy Reading!

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Writers Read

Check out my book recommendations over at Writers Read today!

Here's a hint of what I'm recommending....

http://americareads.blogspot.com/2017/04/what-is-steph-post-reading.html

Friday, April 7, 2017

Sunlit Festival

It's April now and that means its time for the St. Pete Sunlit Festival! Literary events of all shapes and sizes will be happening around the city and I'm proud to be participating in two:

April 20- The Literary Carousel at the MFA (short stories inspired by archival photos)

April 21- Writers, Winners and the Publishing World (I'll be reading from and talking about Lightwood)

Hope to see you there!

https://www.facebook.com/events/1878315125786376/

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Girl Talk

Today I'm over at LitReactor discussing one of my biggest literary pet peeves: The "Girl" title trend. Enjoy!

https://litreactor.com/columns/give-the-girl-a-name-already