Interview by David Cranmer.
Tell us about Stay God.
Stay God was my love letter to Baltimore (I wrote it when I was living overseas and homesick.) The book follows Damon and Mary, who've spent their days slinging drugs behind the chipped counter of their junk-shop front and nights watching horror movies, going to bars, and generally wasting time. They're usually joined by Damon's best friend, Christian. Mary begins to tire of the routine and wants to get away from The Life, but Damon, adverse to any sort of change and commitment, isn't so keen. Copious amounts of drugs are snorted, horror movies discussed in existential terms, much blood spilled, Baltimore's neighborhoods sightseen, and many a body drops. It's my mutant flipper baby of a novel, a combination of crime, satire, social commentary, horror and Evil Dead. In it's blackened little heart, though, it's really a frightening love story. It's about a man trying to temper his selfish and self-destructive tendencies for the woman he loves.
What is the writing scene like in Baltimore?
Awesome is always the first word that comes to mind. Baltimore as a whole is a very odd city, especially these days. I grew up south of the city, but have been around for the last fifteen years or so, and the ways in which the city is changing are...marked, I guess would be the best word. Baltimore is a blue-collar town, just people who do their own thing and don't ask for help, and there's been a huge influx of development in the last five-to-seven years, which has created a really interesting, and sometimes unfortunate dynamic. The art scene has followed suit, with galleries where there were hourly motels, performance spaces in abandoned warehouses, organic pizza joints in old shoots galleries. On any given night, you're almost guaranteed to find some type of reading, whether it's poetry, fiction, performance, or show-and-tell. The writers themselves reflect this weird amalgamation, somewhere between raw talent and 'I don't give a fuck, I'll just do it myself.' I think Baltimore was mainly known for the crime fiction, because you see it every day, but a lot of the writers round here have begun to get some real attention. Michael Kimball's latest book Us just made Oprah's reading list. Jen Michalski has a book coming out on Dzanc soon. Adam Robinson's Publishing Genius Press had one of their releases optioned by Spike Jones last year. It's like the rest of the world has finally tuned in to all the talented people around here. I'm sure a lot of cities could say the same thing and this is mainly hometown pride, but fuck it. I'm proud to be a Baltimore writer.
When did your writing journey begin?
I've been writing things forever, though the seriousness with which I took them has varied. I came up playing in punk rock bands and, because I though I was the next coming of Kurt Cobain, always wanted to sing and write pseudo-impressionistic lyrics. Around 20 or so, I discovered the Beats, Bukowski and The Perks of Being a Wallflower. You can imagine what that sounded like. I started thinking seriously about writing and stories when I was 24, riding rails around Europe. I'd find copies of Nick Hornby and Palahniuk and the like at hostels, devour them on a train-ride then trade them out in the next hostel. Shortly after, I found The Velvet and their authors (Will Christopher Baer, Stephen Graham Jones and Craig Clevenger.) Coupled with unearthing Garcia Marquez and James M Cain--like they were this Rosetta Stone of the soul buried just for me to discover when I was ready--that three-month period of maniacal reading pretty much blew my conception of literature from its hinges. It became real, tactile, something I could weld together with the bits clunking around inside my skull.
It's funny, though, to think back on the early stuff. Here it is today, seven years, a couple books, a clutch of stories, degrees and some teaching later, and I'm still trying to write a different version of the same story. I think that's a good thing.
How did you become involved with Dirty Noir?
There should be some super sleazy, Delta crossroads type of account for this, fire and whiskey spewing from the stomachs of virgins or something. Maybe I'll invent one. In the meantime: Doc and I had been in the same writing group for a bit. I sent him an excerpt of my novella, By the Nails of the Warpriest, and he dug it, mentioned that he needed help reading stories, and that's pretty much it. I really should come up with a sexier story.
That aside, we're getting Dollar Dreadful together, our quarterly e-publication, and are really excited by it. There's so much unexposed talent out in the ether, and we're wicked stoked to bring some of those people further into the darkness.
What kind of stories are you looking for at DN?
At the risk of sounding self-aggrandizing, I want to read the same kind stories I want to write. I want dirty, gritty stories where people are unspeakably cruel, but act that way because of a hidden wound. Some subcutaneous tenderness, maybe. People who are easily offended and react at a gut-level rather than intellectually. I really dig writers like Neil Smith, Tom Piccirilli, Matthew Funk, Tom Franklin, the guys who write real people doing really awful things, written really well. This is an old conversation, but the idea that crime/mystery/horror/whatever writing is, or should be, somehow sub-par to Booker Prize prose is offensive and just fucking stupid. Words are all we have to represent ourselves and they should be treated accordingly.
All of this is a long way to say I want to read stories where the knife is wavering beneath the table, unsheathed, rather than covered in blood.
You review books for Spinetingler, NoirJournal and The Nervous Breakdown. Have you ever written a negative review and heard from the author?
Thankfully, no. It's kind of on purpose though: I don't review books I don't like. I figure there's no reason to rail on a piece of work someone put a year or two of their lives into (theoretically, of course) just to tell people not to buy it. All that negativity is counterproductive to the writing community as a whole. If no one talks about it, no one will buy it. Also, karma's a motherfucker and I can't think of many things worse than flipping through the interwebs and stumbling on a two-page missive on how many goat balls my books can suck at once.
What is next on your schedule?
Things are slowing down a bit. My latest novella, By the Nails of the Warpriest, just came out a couple weeks ago, so I'm working on promoting that. Not doing a very good job of it, but working. I'll have stories coming out in Needle, the BEAT to a PULP: Hardboiled Anthology--two places I've long wanted to publish with--and an anthology from Thunderdome Press called In Search of a City: LA in 1000 Words. It's a ton of 1000-word stories alongside their photo prompt. I've only seen preview pages, but those few are stunning. Other than that, I'm taking a welder and belt-sander to two novels, getting them ready to heave them into the ether or submission queues. The both feature Elroy, the Elvis-impersonating cutthroat from That Pale Light in the West (Black Heart Noir Issue,) and I'm pretty proud of them. Not proud enough, yet, but getting there. At some point, I'll be releasing an e-version of Old Ghosts, my other novella. I'm shit at technological stuff, though, so it might take a bit. Oh, and a section in a top-secret novel-in-novellas project I can't talk about but conspicuously mention from time-to-time to create the illusion of interest. But I can't talk about that yet.