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....
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.
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.
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!