Chin Wag At The Slaughterhouse: Interview With Les Edgerton

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Crime fiction has many styles, there is the formulaic and the safe, there is the whodunit and the forensic, among others. There are writers who try to take on the image of crime, and there are those writers who know exactly what they are writing about. Les Edgerton is one such writer. He is a rare breed. Les is a highly literate man who has seen life from inside and outside a prison and knows more about writing than most reviewers for the establishment journals. He is the author of some of the grittiest and most incisive crime fiction out there, as his novel The Bitch illustrates. It is not for those who seek a morality inside a genre which, if realistic, ought to, on balance, deny it, it is for those who want to read a real crime story told by a writer at the top of his game. Les met me at The Slaughterhouse, where we talked about the sanitisation of crime and No Country For Old Men.

Do you think that most readers of crime fiction want to read about real crime, or a sanitised version of it with a morally conservative ending?

Tough question! It depends on what kind of “crime fiction” the reader is reading. If they’re reading cozies, or detective novels, or most of the subgenres, they probably want that morally conservative ending. For instance, those who like Jack Reacher want him to wreck havoc on the bad guys in particularly violent ways. Same for the fans of Harlen Coben, Joe Finder, Robert Crais and most bestselling crime writers.

I think most of those readers gravitate to like what I call “daydream” stories. Fairly superficial, in that they often operate on a vengeance level. Common plot—similar to the “skinny kid goes to the beach to see the girl he’s secretly in love with and hoods find him and depants him and embarrass him in front of her and he goes to the gym and lifts weights and learns a martial art and comes back and kicks their asses and gets the girl.” Same plot as the Charles Bronson movies, the Rocky Movies, etc. Revenge rules. Very definitely a kind of “morality” story, especially the endings.

But, while I enjoy much of that kind of fiction and read it often, I’m more interested in dark or noir story and I suspect those readers are more interested in real crime, or, to be more particular, in real criminals. I don’t think it’s so much the crime itself that attracts the noir reader as it is the sensibility of the criminal character.

My idea of noir is that it’s closer to the Jungian idea of story. The “nightdream” story. Not “nightmare” although it can be a nightmare, but the night dream, which is without a moral bias. As you know, Carl Jung felt that since language was composed of symbols, communicating via language was flawed and contorted truth as it added a layer between truth and actual communication. He felt that real truth was revealed through dreams (i.e., the “nightdream” definition), in which the barrier of language (symbols) was overcome via the images the subconscious revealed in the dream state. That if you could decipher dreams properly, you could decode the real truth of the individual. The nightdream kind of story operates on this level and this is what I feel noir is. I don’t think it’s a stretch to posit that William Faulkner came up with stream-of-consciousness writing as he was nothing if not a noir writer. He found a way to make language less symbolic (in some ways—in other ways it’s even more symbolic) with this technique.

Noir requires a higher level of participation from the reader. The reader who delves into the pages of Cormac McCarthy has to do more work than the reader of Lee Child’s work. This isn’t a pejorative comment against Mr. Child at all—I’m simply using his well-known body of work to further the definitions. Noir is less cinematic and more literary. In Marshall McLuhan’s vision, a novel such as Heath Lowrance’s The Bastard Hand occupies a “hotter” place on the “hot media” scale than does The Concrete Blonde by Michael Connelly.

There’s an interesting element at work within crime fiction readers of all stripes than in readers of other literary genres. In other genres—say romance, for instance—the reader is a person who probably has a first-hand experience with love or sex. They bring at least a minimum amount of experience with them as they approach the story. They’ve been between the sheets themselves and know what a meaningful look looks like and how to create the “two-backed beast.” In other words, those who read a Shirley Jump novel have an experiential knowledge of the subject matter.

Lots of cowboys read Westerns.

Lots of doctors read medical thrillers.

Lots of lawyers read legal thrillers.

Lots of cops read detective thrillers.

Lots of people who came from dysfunctional childhoods read memoirs.

And, to quote Kurt Vonnegut who was always the smartest guy in whatever room he was in: “And so it goes.”

The point is, the fans of most crime fiction (including noir) don’t feel the same level of identification with the characters in the story as do readers of other genres. You can’t say, for instance, that “lots of criminals read crime novels.”

Crime fiction in general and noir in particular are perhaps the only genres that have very few readers who come from the same ranks. The “same ranks” would be… criminals. And, in proportion, very few criminals read anything, and in particular, even fewer read noir… or are even aware of its existence. Noir isn’t going to be found in many prison libraries. Zane Grey books are as close as it comes to anything noirish.

The thing is, most inmates of state prisons aren’t well-educated. When I was in Pendleton, the average educational level was about third grade. In federal joints, it’s higher, but for a large percentage of those folks, I wouldn’t consider them true criminals. White collar crime just isn’t the same as sticking a gun in the face of the liquor store dude who’s got his own meathook eight inches away from the sawed-off under the counter. The federal prisons are vastly different than state joints also.

And, yes, I do know that there are murderers and other mean-spirited types in federal joints. Just not nearly as many as in state joints. Not even close. A lot more accountants and lawyers and politicians in federal prisons… You can write that down.

What does all this have to do with the question? Well, the question was: Do you think that most readers of crime fiction want to read about real crime, or a sanitised version of it with a morally conservative ending?

Just Like That book coverTruth is, most readers of crime fiction don’t have a clue what real crime is and how the mind of a real criminal works. I was made aware of that when my novel Just Like That came out and a number of reviewers stated that they had no idea the criminal mind worked like it did for my protagonist Jake in that story. Some of the reviewers were crime writers themselves. Well… most criminals think and act exactly like Jake does. Readers of crime fiction were surprised by Jake because the only fiction they’d read was from the pov of writers who… weren’t criminals. Writers who obtained their knowledge of crime and criminals primarily from the same kinds of books they write themselves. Or worse—from movies…

Most readers of crime fiction simply want to live a bit vicariously, just as do most writers of crime fiction. It’s kind of neat to get close to real crime without having any of it actually get on you. It’s a mindset I used to use to my advantage with ladies in my salad days… Bad boys are very aware of the “bad boy syndrome…” There are those readers who venture closer to the criminal than do others. Most find it fairly comfortable to get close to a larger-than-life almost cartoon character superhero like Reacher than they do to a guy like Jake Mayes who sticks his shank into Toles’ gut simply because he didn’t know his name and therefore disrespected him. And is mostly curious in watching his eyes to see how they change as he dies. That’s too close for many folks. That’s close enough it may rub off or it may make them aware that deep down, they’re very close to Jake in ways they don’t want to admit.
Noir approaches the true nihilistic nature of man better than most genres. Which means it will never take up a lot of shelf space at Barnes & Noble.

Crime fiction will. It’s safe to read about the same kind of character one might encounter on their Gameboy or at the multiplex. It’s kind of fun to imagine oneself as that skinny kid on the beach who develops muscles the size of Buicks and creams the mean bullies. It’s a bit too scary to imagine oneself as the Everyman who simply pulls the trigger on someone who didn’t remember his name. Even though we’re all very close to that guy… Nobody’s scared of a cartoon. Most people are by a real-life badass.

Crime fiction readers are the ones who cross to the other side of the street when they see three black dudes wearing hoodies approaching…

Noir readers are the ones who keep on walking and put their hands in their jacket pocket to be sure their nine is there…

I can write noir realistically because I still retain the same mindset I did when I was a practicing outlaw. I don’t commit crimes anymore not because I’ve had my “come-to-Jesus” moment or that I just want to be a productive, contributing citizen to society. I don’t commit ‘em because I don’t want to go back to prison. It’s that simple. Being on the bricks is just a lot more fun. And, the food’s better.

If anyone wants to know how criminals really think, just read Just Like That or The Bitch. And, then, think about this. There are currently about 3 million people in the joint. That means there are probably at least 3-5 times that number who’ve been in prison and are now out on the bricks. Living in your neighborhood, most likely. Most just don’t know that as they think criminals look like what Central Casting comes up with for movies… And, they assume they all move to the slums when they get out or in worse neighborhoods than they live in.

Right…

If you think most criminals are like what you read in books or see on television or in the movies, consider that while I’m not the norm, I did spend time in the joint. And, I also taught college classes, cut hair, and coached little league. I’m not the norm… but I’m not far off. The guys I hung out with in Pendleton were pretty much like the guys I hung out with at the local American Legion post or down at the neighborhood Starbucks. You may be closer to getting some on you than you imagine…

My short answer to the question is that I think most readers want to read a sanitized version with a morally conservative ending. That doesn’t require a genius to figure out or a government study. Hang around the checkout line at your local B&N and see what’s selling. More people buy Lee Child than they do Allan Guthrie even though both writers are supremely gifted.

“You know what date is on this coin?”
What do you make of Anton Chigurh’s philosophy in No Country For Old Men?

Man! You’re going to make me have to think, aren’t you, Richard!

Okay. Here goes. I’ve never read an interview of McCarthy’s or any articles on his book so this is purely my opinion and that’s all.

First, what characters do or say isn’t necessarily the author on the page. Often, they’re just what they seem to be. A character. That includes philosophies like that expressed by Chigurh in the coin toss scene. On the surface, it expresses a fatalistic view of life. A Calvinistic belief in predestination. Ordered by an omniscient God. That hoary trope, that infamous “butterfly that flapped its wings in South America” beginning a chain of events that resulted, weeks later in a “tsunami in Indonesia” kind of thing. We’ve seen this before, notably in Ray Bradbury’s short story, “A Sound of Thunder.” And, ol’ Ray adopted it from Edward Lorenz and some other proponents of chaos theory. One might posit that this is McCarthy’s personal philosophy. I don’t know if it is or if it isn’t and I don’t think it matters.

I only say this because too many times readers make this kind of absurd leap—assuming the character is the author or represents the author’s beliefs or philosophies—perhaps not his or her public persona but maybe their private self. Sometimes that’s the case. It’s pretty obvious that Ayn Rand’s Howard Roark is doubtless a manifestation of Rand’s philosophical outlook on the body politic, but Nabokov’s Humbert Humbert probably isn’t an expression of that author’s belief system. In fact, he was fairly adamant in public utterances that it wasn’t. That he felt compelled to even address it is proof positive that he acknowledged there were some who felt Humbert was, in some way, Nabokov. Some dark corner of his psyche, perhaps. It’s this kind of mindset that I think prevents some writers from creating characters like a Humbert Humbert. Most of the folks who come to these kinds of conclusions don’t have a platform other than the washeteria in their trailer parks, but on occasion opinions like this gain publicity.

I’ll face this kind of absurdity myself when my novella, The Rapist, comes out. The protagonist is a vile man by any reasonable definition and I think he’s accurately portrayed—there are folks out there who think and act just as Truman Ferris Pinter does, but he’s not me nor even a small part of me.

It seems to me that what’s important about the philosophy McCarthy gives his character isn’t the religious or political or social view it expresses. It seems to me that there’s something deeper going on with Chigurh and why the author gives him this expression of his take on existence.

In my view, this shows a writer who understands the criminal mind better than most writers. It’s why I enjoy and respect his books and especially this one which is an absolute work of genius. He knows how my mind works.

Here’s the deal. Many sociologists and other social scientists and your average citizen down at Starbucks enjoying their soy lattes come up with all kinds of theories as to what creates a criminal. Economic conditions are an oft-cited reason. Poor people commit more crimes because they’re… well… poor. Abused people commit crimes because they’re… well… abused. Kids from broken homes commit crimes because they’re… well… you get the picture. As that sage philosopher Kurt Vonnegut would say, “And so it goes.”

Well, they all miss the real reason some of us are criminals. They all approach criminality via a cause and effect point of view. “Sixty percent of those incarcerated come from poverty.” “Seventy-one point three percent of those in prison were abused as children.” And… so it goes. (Thanks for the leit motif, Kurt.)

These folks never seem to have a good answer when skeptics point out that the two brothers and three sisters from the same social and economic background as the armed robber brother doing ten and a quarter didn’t end up the same way.

These folks are oh-so-close but unfortunately understanding people accurately isn’t scored like a horseshoe match.

There is one thing only that creates a criminal and a criminal mindset.

Control.

More accurately, the overwhelming sense of a lack of control. Control is often confused with power, but power is simply the active element of control.

As we know from being told in countless articles and lectures in Intro to Soc 101, rape isn’t about sex; it’s about power. Well, yes and no. It’s really about control. Power is just one of the facets of that control. The rapist is a person who sees himself as being without control inasfar as the opposite (or even same) sex is concerned. He’s a guy who’s tongue-tied around women. A guy whose hands sweat even thinking about holding a girl’s hand or touching her skin. He’s a guy who stands in the corner at a nightclub, afraid to approach the women at that table across the way. He’s positive they’re going to laugh at him. He has no control over women. Or, on the outside he may appear to, but inside he knows he really doesn’t.

But… he does. He figures out a way to gain control of women–or men, sexually–or children, sexually. When he has a knife in his hand or a gun or a terrifying look and voice, or is physically stronger, and there’s no one around but him and his victim. For a brief period, he’s gained control.

As has the armed robber, the burglar, the purse-snatcher, the check-kiter, the confidence man or woman, the murderer, the arsonist. All of ‘em. Each crime, each criminal, arrives as a reaction to a deep sense of the lack of control in the miscreant’s life in a particular area.
It’s why the siblings of the armed robber doing time aren’t in there with him and have never committed crimes themselves. They don’t feel the same degree of lack of control in their lives. They haven’t reached the place in their own lives that convince them they have no control.

So, yes, in a way, poverty, bad childhoods, and all of those factors help create criminals, by convincing the individual that he or she lacks significant control over their lives. Most of the time the child molester was molested himself during childhood. In a graphic and up-close-and-personal way it was brought home to him that he didn’t have an ounce of control when Pappy had him down and was drilling him. The only way to regain any sense of control is to control someone else. Briefly, he has control and it’s an exhilarating experience. But, it’s soon over. But, he remembers the feeling of being in control and so he has to repeat the action to regain the feeling. It’s why serial killers, serial rapists, serial molesters, career robbers and burglars and all the other forms of criminals keep on keeping on. To recapture that feeling of being in control. All other times and events in their lives simply… what’s the word I want?… oh, yeah… simply suck in comparison.

We criminals call it “the high.” It’s better than sex, we say. Better than drugs. Breaking into a bar and walking out with the contents of the cash register is an indescribable high. You’re king of the mountain. You feel just like the politician who just got elected mayor or president. Same deal. Why do you think the mayor then wants to be governor and then president? Same impetus as the guy who snatches purses, then burglarizes bars, then holds up banks. Control furnishes a high but just like any drug the user requires more and more and in stronger doses.

And, McCarthy understands all this. For me, this is his genius. He doesn’t give us Chigurh’s terrible or happy childhood. It doesn’t matter. Chigurh could have been the son of a Fortune 500 CEO or he could have been raised in a tarpaper shack. Somewhere along the line—no matter what his circumstance was—something happened to him that convinced him he lacked control over his life or at least a significant part of it. It’s just more likely to happen in an impoverished circumstance. So, he did what any half-intelligent person does. He regained control. By killing folks. Every time he stood over someone he’d just rendered room temperature, he got that feeling not to be had anywhere else… of control. The moment before he killed them was the very best part. It’s a place where he knows and his victim knows that he’s in total charge of them. It’s the feeling the ancient kings enjoyed.

The high.

He (Chihurh) probably even came up with his philosophy of order in a chaotic universe with the coin bit. If it hadn’t been that, it would have been something else. Probably something like that of Jules in Pulp Fiction just before he kills the frat boy drug dealers. In fact, if Julies did go forth and travel the land as he proclaimed he would, he could have become Chigurh. They come from the same place and, not coincidentally, are both the best examples of the true criminal mind in literature I can think of. What film critic Mark T. Conrad noted about Pulp Fiction—that it was about “American nihilism,” could be just as accurately applied to Chigurh’s character. It’s a different brand of nihilism than British nihilism but both are cuttings from the same plant.

(Although, one thing disturbs me about Chigurh. He doesn’t “feel” like an American. He feels more like a Russian. Maybe it’s his bad haircut…)

Here’s the scene from the movie version:

GAS STATION GUY: I didn’t put nothin’ up.
ANTON CHIGURH: Yes, you did. You’ve been putting it up your whole life you just didn’t know it. You know what date is on this coin?
GAS STATION GUY: No.
ANTON CHIGURH: 1958. It’s been traveling 22 years to get here. And now it’s here. And it’s either heads or tails. And you have to say. Call it.
GAS STATION GUY: Look, I need to know what I stand to win.
ANTON CHIGURH: Everything.
GAS STATION GUY: How’s that?
ANTON CHIGURH: You stand to win everything. Call it.

It’s the tsunami arriving, courtesy of that butterfly flapping its wings weeks before. (In this case, 22 years before.) Only one new element introduced in this scenario. God. Chigurh has inserted himself into the equation as the Almighty God of this particular universe. He alone can decide if the tsunami is going to happen. If not the God himself, the instrument of that diety. I imagine others might see him as Satan, but I think he sees himself as the avenging angel of God.

He’s in control.

In the midst of chaos.

And, that’s what I make of Chigurh’s philosophy… And why I think No Country for Old Men is one of the best American novels ever written. This is noir at its gothic best.
As a note unrelated to the above, I’ve been curious as to what symbolism critics give to the captive bolt gun. Personally, I think it’s simply a MacGuffin. I’d love to turn the tables on the interviewer here and ask you, Richard, what do you think it represents?

Although, the more I think about it, by employing the captive bolt gun—which is designed to render livestock killings as more “humane” as it is used to stun the animal before killing to prevent pain and suffering as they bleed out—that makes Chigurh more the agent of a fierce Old Testament God who only extracts justice, as opposed to Satan who would most certainly desire pain and suffering.

How important is body language to a criminal and how does it inform your writing?

It’s absolutely crucial to survival. Both inside and outside the walls.

Inside, anybody in there can go “off” at any second. If you’re not prepared for that eventuality, you may well end up room temperature. I think it’s why a lot of guys who’ve done time are above-average poker players. Of course, most guys inside the walls have probably played more poker than the average straight on the bricks, simply because of our lifestyles, but you quickly learn to read the “tells” everyone has.

On the bricks, it’s easier to spot significant body language, mostly because more people aren’t aware they’re signaling a potential action. Fewer people read body language so when you’re aware someone is, you know that’s a person to watch. And, on the bricks the observers stand out, much more so than in the joint where everybody is watching each other.

Staying alive depends a lot on avoiding dangerous situations. There are dozens and dozens of signals people give off but I’ll give you just a couple. If I’m in a bar, just having a peaceful glass of beer, and a guy walks in and sits a couple of stools away from me and I see he’s ordered a beer, I keep an eye on him. I want to see what he does when he empties the bottle. If the barkeep comes over to remove it and the guy grabs it and smiles at him that he wants to keep it, I usually move to a table or at least farther down the bar. It’s what I do. It’s what most ex-cons do. The first thing we do when we walk into a room is find a weapon. In a bar, the easiest is to just hang onto that beer bottle. Don’t give it up until it’s replaced by another. Sometimes, I’ll spot a guy who walks in, sits at the bar, orders a drink and then reaches over and grabs a large ashtray. When he doesn’t begin to smoke and doesn’t look as if he plans to, I again get up and move. He’s just selected a weapon in case things go hinky. It doesn’t necessarily mean he’s itching to use it, but if someone comes in and starts some shit, he’ll have it ready and probably clip the nearest guy to him with it. It’s just a good idea to remove yourself from the near vicinity of someone who’s made a point of obtaining a weapon.

Even at this far remove from my prison days, I retain some habits that are so ingrained I doubt that I’ll ever change them. Here are just a few:

1. I will rarely, if ever, sit in a public place with my back exposed. I want to know who enters the space immediately.

2. The second thing I do after entering and locating a potential weapon, is to figure out at least a couple of escape routes should the need arise. Usually, in a restaurant, a table by the kitchen is considered a negative. I see it as a positive, simply because that’s where the nearest back door is.

3. When walking down the street I avoid direct eye contact in a way that’s hard to describe. Looking away is a sign of weakness, while making direct eye contact is a sign of aggressiveness. But, there’s a way of looking directly at a person that’s neither and doesn’t threaten or signal submission. I wish I could explain how to do it, but I can’t. I just know how to do it and most who’ve done time also know how. It’s kind of like when Justice Potter Stewart was asked to define pornography and he said he couldn’t define it, but he knew it when he saw it. I can’t define the technique, but I know it when I see it.

4. If I see a guy who keeps touching his front pants pocket I assume he’s got a knife or mayb a gun there. If I see him touching his wallet in his back pocket, I laugh as he’s expecting pickpockets and has read too many crime novels and his actions are only going to draw a thief as he’s just exposed himself as being perhaps a bit naïve and from a small town. In other words, a probably easy mark.

5. In a public bathroom that’s unoccupied when I enter, I always select a urinal on the end and never one in the middle. I’ve just cut down the possibilities in half of someone next to me attacking me. If someone comes in and there are 4-5 urinals and I’m on one end and he picks the one next to me, I’m going to deliver some fairly overt body language that tells him to back off. Most likely, I’ll just say something. Before I do, I’ll already have cut the flow and zipped up.

The most important body language however, is delivered via the eyes. You can tell just about everything you need to know about someone via the eyes.

There’s a look almost all inmates hate to see. The guy looking at them with bovine eyes. The “look of love.” Once you’ve seen it on a guy, you never forget it. And, you want to go to a planet they’re not currently on. It’s a look that makes your blood curdle. The instant you see it, you know there’s going to be blood on the floor. Yours, his, or both of yours. It’s a foregone conclusion almost always.

There’s that “comfortable space” thing. I forget the dimensions other than Europeans will allow other folks to get closer to them than Americans will. In the joint, the allowable space is closer to the American model but further than that allowed in civilian life.

There are dozens and dozens of things body language tells you, if not hundreds. It would take a thick book to list them all and then I’d miss some.

As far as how it informs my writing? I think it has a huge impact, perhaps not consciously but at least on an experiential level. I’m extremely aware of how characters’ actions not only inform their character but also create character arc. I’m currently writing a new writer’s how-to, A Fiction Writer’s Workshop at the Bijou, and this is one of the most important subjects I’m exploring. I use the movie Thelma & Louise, and as one example show how the action of smoking works both to establish character as well as show character growth. In the beginning, Louise is smoking and Thelma is nibbling on a candy bar. One is the action of an adult and the other of a child. As the story moves forward, Thelma pantomimes Louise smoking, dragging on an unlit cigarette and obviously mimicking Louise. Eventually, Thelma begins to smoke, but she places the cigarette in the middle of her mouth. Near the end, Thelma has become a chain smoker and the butt hangs loosely from the corner of her mouth.

I try to use body language and actions just as Callie Khouri (the screenwriter of T&L) did. For instance, in one of my short stories, “Blue Skies,” the protagonist in the turning point suddenly realizes his teenaged daughter Celsi is never going to change from the mentally-challenged child she was at the age of six, when he sees her bite into a sandwich from the middle, just as she did when a young child. He realizes adults almost always bite the tip off first and knew from that, that she was never going to be any older mentally than she was at the age of six.

Body language and actions are extremely powerful, both in real life and in effective fiction.

Do you think killing and fucking are related?

No.

Okay, I was having fun with that one.

There’s a long tradition within civilized history of the two being connected. Look at the metaphysical poets like Andrew Marvel and John Donne in the 17th century. Writing at that time was restricted to the educated which meant the clergy. And, their output was severely restricted and censored. Bad things—like dismemberment and other nasty things—happened to writers and other thinkers who violated the precepts of the Church. The only problem was, poets then were pretty much like poets now. Mostly what they wanted to write about—mostly what they thought was writing about—was sex. Since they were writers and therefore clever fellow, they wrote about sex.

By the only way available. By using coded language. These guys were dripping with testosterone and wrote verse that was basically porn. And not just soft porn, but lots of hard-core porn as well. How did they do that and keep their heads attached?

Easy. When they wanted to express the joys of a sexual climax, they just used the code. They didn’t say their character was “getting his rocks off” in whatever the popular vernacular of the day was. Nope. They just said he had a “little death.” Everybody was in on it, even Church officials. Especially Church officials! Under those robes beat a throbbing… well, you know… Ol’ John might have meant something else by that “no man is an island…” thing.

Killing and sex are Siamese twins joined at the hip. It was entirely natural to use death and killing in those codes for sex. They knew they were related.

Probably three-fourths or more of all murders are linked to sex in some way. Probably a higher percentage than that. Even the murders ostensibly over money are more often than not about money as a means to gain sex. It takes money for a really ugly, really fat, really old guy to get the kind of sex partner he lusts for. Killing the wife gains not only a life insurance policy, the family business, but at the end of that rainbow, a newer, thinner, less-wrinkled piece of tail.

And, it cuts both ways among the sexes. Equal opportunity. Just as many horny women killers as there are male. It takes money for a really ugly, really fat, really old woman to get the kind of sex partner she lusts for. Killing the husband gains not only a lie insurance policy, the family business, but at the end of that rainbow, a newer, thinner, less-wrinkled lover. Again, a form of control.

The connection between the two goes back much further than history. Prehistory gives us the image of Thog with his club knocking out the woman and dragging her back to the cave by her tresses. What’s missing in that cartoon panel is the start of the story. Thog cracking the woman’s mate over the head first…

Early nihilism…

Sex is both a need and a desire and the time-honored and time-proven way to get it is to kill whoever or whatever’s in the way. Whoever being the current sexual partner. Whatever being the capital to secure the sexual partner.

This probably isn’t the answer you expected, Richard, but it’s the one I’m giving. Sometimes, we make things more complicated that they are, yes?
Of course they’re related.

Tell us about your novel The Bitch.

The Bitch book coverAha! This is what we call ”the money shot” in porn movie parlance…

The Bitch is the book I’m the proudest of. Well, co-proudest of… I have a new novella coming out next year—The Rapist—that I’m equally proud of, but this question is about The Bitch, so I’ll restrict my remarks to it.

It marks a break-through for me from something learned during the writing of it. I’d written several endings to it and while each one would have been fine—at least on a commercial level—each left me unsatisfied. First, the protagonist in this book—Jake Mayes—is as close to being myself as any character I’ve ever created. He’s not my alter-ego—he’s my ego.

I kept writing endings that while not “happy” endings, still stayed within that parameter of commercial endings termed “satisfactory” endings. Not the ending I wanted, but the ending I thought the reading public (whoever they are) would accept. You see, I’m like a lot of other writers—I want to sell books.

I also want to have integrity in my writing. Finally, I took the plunge and wrote the ending I felt true to my character and to the story. Figuring I’d just lost either a publisher or the market. It was… dark. And then I sent it out to Brian Lindemuth, the editor/publisher of Spinetingler Magazine and Snubnose Press for a possible blurb and when I got his response back, I knew I’d trusted the right instincts. Here’s what Brian said:

“I liked The Bitch so much that I wanted to publish it. But we lost out and Bare Knuckles Press got a hell of a book. The Bitch is a dark crime fiction story that never once pulls a punch or ducks behind some bullshit like ‘happy endings’ or ‘closure’. The Bitch isn’t afraid to stay dark until the very end.” — Brian Lindemuth, editor of Snubnose Press and Spinetingler Magazine.

It was the last two lines that told me I’d done the right thing in trusting my instincts.

This was the first time I knew it was all right to end a novel in a dark place, without the Hollywood happy-sappy ending or, as Lindemuth said, with “closure.” (Whatever that is…)

To those more learned than I am, it’s no doubt old news that one could write an ending like this and get published. I didn’t know it was possible. The feeling I got when I learned this was the same as when I discovered writers like Charles Bukowski and Brian Everson and realized I could write about the kinds of people that populated my own life. I was overwhelmingly naïve about what was possible in fiction. This was enormously liberating and it was a release from what I assumed were the limits of publishable fiction that allowed me to pull out a manuscript I’d written 20 years before and send it out. I’m referring to a novella titled The Rapist that’s coming out next year from New Pulp Press. I’d written it for myself and not for publication, believing it wasn’t at all publishable and with the response to The Bitch realized that it might be. It was the book I wished someone else had written and they hadn’t so I had to write it myself… and I did. Thinking that it would forever only be read by myself and maybe a carefully-considered friend or two that I trusted.

That first friend was Cortright McMeel. Cort instantly called it a work of genius and the best thing he’d ever read. The opinion of someone I respected so very much, coupled with Brian Lindemuth’s words about The Bitch, have changed my entire writing life. Now, I know anything is possible and that’s incredibly liberating.

The Bitch is about Jake Mayes, a guy who’s done two bits in the joint and has been out on the bricks for a few years now and for all intents and purposes has become a regular citizen. He’s married a wonderful young woman, they’re expecting their first child, and he’s about to open his own business. And then… His former cellmate, Walker “Spitball” Joy calls him out of the blue to demand a favor of him. A favor he feels duty-bound to honor as Spitball saved his life one time back in the joint. The favor centers around Jake’s former specialty, burglary. He was the best in the business. He wants nothing to do with Spitball. His life’s on track and his situation is a dangerous one. If he gets caught, he faces the “three-strikes-and-you’re-out” ha-bitch-ual criminal statute” (hence, the title “The Bitch, which is what cons refer to this law as), and will end up doing life in the joint.

It’s a story that was birthed by my own prison experiences and even present life. As Jake faces events transpire that plunge him further and further into the abyss, he makes the same kind of choices I’d make in the same situations. Choices that might not play down at the First Baptist or on Main Street, but that I’d make under the same circumstances.

Writing this novel felt more like writing a memoir than it did fiction. It’s very up close and personal. If I’d had a cellmate like Spitball to whom I owed a favor I couldn’t refuse, my own life might well have turned out the same as Jake’s does. Actually, I do have a former cellmate to whom I owe such a favor. So far, he hasn’t turned up demanding I repay him. If he does, my publisher may want to repackage this as autobiography…

It’s difficult to talk about this novel in terms of plot as it’s nearly impossible to do so without revealing spoilers. What has been extremely gratifying about it is the fantastic blurbs and reviews it’s received from writers I have the utmost respect for. I’m very proud it won the Preditors & Editors award for Best Novel for 2011, even though it wasn’t released until the middle of December and all of the other nominees had a many-months’ head start on it for votes. I’m extremely stoked over the fact that it has been awarded a nomination for Best Novel in the Legends category by the prestigious Spinetingler Magazine. As it’s only available at present in ebook format and therefore not eligible for the Edgar awards, this is my own, personal “Edgar” nomination.

To what extent do you think Jung’s notion of the shadow criminalises some people and alienates others?

You ask the toughest (and best) questions I’ve ever been asked in an interview, Richard. I feel like I’m preparing for my orals… Remember, I’m just an ex-con who spent much of my time lying on my bunk in my cell, giving my toes names and teaching my trouser worm to sit up and do tricks…

Okay. You just happened to pick the one guy I think knew something about the human psyche more than just about anyone else… I’ll do my best here.

From my (very!) rudimentary awareness of Jung’s shadow theory, it represented kind of the negative part of Freud’s subconscious, which makes it the interesting part…

And, it was more prominent during the individual’s childhood; as the person grew older, the conscious more and more suppressed it. That kind of makes it where truth resides in my personal interpretation. It’s governed more by instinct or race memory than the “logic” gained through “education” or “socialization/acculturization.”

My problem with this question is that I don’t subscribe to the same general definitions of criminality as most appear to. What is termed a “crime” and a “criminal” seem to be artificially-imposed upon the particular culture or society an individual finds himself in. What’s a crime in one society is deemed an activity to be lauded in another or totally ignored by yet another. Also, I have another problem with the shadow and animus in that they were assigned moral values by Jung as well as his followers and I think that by giving it weight in that fashion if it exists, then it’s been corrupted by the morality component of the definition.
My feeling is that once you introduce morality into the equation, it becomes just another brick in the myth of deity governing man.

So, I don’t think it criminalizes or alienates anyone except in the minds of those who subscribe to notions of morality.

For instance, if the “authorities” in a Western culture were to come upon a woman performing fellatio on her infant son or even her infant nephew or just a random baby, she would undoubtedly be punished for what would be deemed a transgression. However, a like woman in one of several American Indian cultures of say two hundred years ago, performing the same act, might easily be honored for the same deed. Why? Well, because this was one of the evasive tactics when warriors from another tribe were near and the at-risk tribe would be killed if detected and it was the custom for a woman (or even a man) to suck on a baby’s penis to keep him quiet and avoid detection.

One arguing that it’s the intent that separates one act from another, similar act, but isn’t that always the standard? And, if so, how can one determine what is in the heart of another?

I just can’t subscribe to a moral view of nearly anything. I always view morality as a contrived set of rules or beliefs that shift vast degrees, depending on the culture or society and only useful for the ruling class to maintain control. And, the older the culture, the more twisted and tortured that moral code becomes as it’s cannibalized and perverted over time by particular interests who hold sway at various periods.

Each side of a debate claims morality as his authority. If this is so—and it is—who determines which is the true moral person? The answer is simple. The one who wins the battle. That’s what it always and ultimately comes down to.

One person’s “crime” in one culture is another person’s laudable deed in another. The criminal only exists when his acts are judged according to an artificial code. A code which is often illogical.

What is the difference in the druglord who sends his minions to kill the opposition’s men who are taking over his drug trade in a particular neighborhood, from the king or president who sends his minions to kill the opposition’s soldiers who are taking over his land in a particular locale, from a religious leader who sends his minions to kill the opposition’s men who are trying to supplant his brand of religion with another? I don’t see any difference. In the end it’s always about control of another and the “morality” is determined by the winner in each case.

With all due respect, I think the question is wrong here. Wrong for me. I don’t operate my life by a moral code as much as I do by an expediency set of values. If I commit what society deems to be a crime and I don’t suffer consequences, then I’ve done nothing wrong in my universe—in fact, “wrong” isn’t an accurate word. Right and wrong don’t exist as far as I’m concerned, at least not in the same manner of definition as would be deferred to by most others.

Jung’s shadow made sense until he began explaining that it was the irrational side of man. I propose it’s the opposite. I do agree with him that it represents the creative side of man.

Which accounts for the lack of true creativity in many. It seems to be civilization’s goal to sublimate the shadow side of man. Which may be why they call it the “dark” side.

What are you working on now?

Lots and lots of things! I’m blessed with being ADD, which is a beautiful thing to be if you’re a writer. I’m able to compartmentalize well and focus narrowly and intensely, and I use it to my advantage. I keep an average of about 20-25 writing projects going at a time. That includes a wide range of activities, including novels, nonfiction books, articles, letters, blog posts, research, reading and a variety of other writing things going on at once. It means I don’t waste much time and get a lot done each day. What happens is if I get tired (I won’t say “suffer writer’s block” as I don’t believe that exists) of a particular project—say a novel I’m working on—I simply pull up another file—say another novel I’m writing—and continue on with it.

At present, I’m working on a new thriller I’ve titled THE FIXER, about a hitman from New Orleans who hires out for assassinations but with a twist—all of his hits are made to look like accidents. For instance, he’s in the process now of killing a Vermont woman for her husband so the hubby can gain her family fortune, and the method he’s chosen is to give her rabies. Her husband invites him to their home for dinner under the pretext that he’s a business associate and during the meal, The Fixer, aka Francois Roberge, Jr., born in Opelousas, Louisiana, drugs the wife and while she’s sleeping, inserts her with live rabies. The beauty of rabies is that when a person learns they’re infected with the disease… it’s too late for much of anything other than scribbling out a will… I’m having a lot of fun writing this one as I’ve accumulated a lot of “perfect crimes” that I get to use here. What’s going to be really neat is that Francois is never going to get caught.

I’m also writing another novel that’s along the lines of my forthcoming noir novella, THE RAPIST, and which I won’t talk about as it’s still in the evolving stages when too much said about it kind of takes my edge off when I really need it.

I’m writing a new writer’s how-to craft book, titled A FICTION WRITER’S WORKSHOP AT THE BIJOU, that I’ve been working on for several years. Had the proposal sold twice and an advance of $10,000 offered and each time pulled it back as the publisher wanted things in it I didn’t. I think I’ll end up self-publishing it instead and that way I know it’ll be what I want and I won’t have to do some of the things the publisher wanted me to do with it. For instance, include “exercises.” I frickin’ hate exercises. I frickin’ don’t think they do much at all except look cute and eat up time for writing teachers. So, my version won’t have any frickin’ exercises. Be ye so forewarned. Did I mention I frickin’ hate writing exercises?

Hate ‘em enough to give up a sure 10K… I’m kind of an idiot, aren’t I…

I’m doing final rewrites on several books that should come out in the near future. I have a YA I’m working on, titled MIRROR, MIRROR for StoneGate Press which I’m told will come out soon. Working on last-minute changes to a black comedy novel, titled THE GENUINE, IMITATION, PLASTIC KIDNAPPING about a couple of low-lifes who are in debt to the Italian Mafia and work out a plan to end their indebtedness by kidnapping the head of the Cajun Mafia and amputating his hand and holding that appendage for ransom. And writing a follow-up novel to it.

Working on my memoir, ADRENALINE JUNKIE. And, figuring out how to get a fake passport and new I.D. for when it comes out as I name names…

Have a couple more novels and nonfiction books I’m working on. Plus, teaching a private online novel-writing class, and teaching a class via Skype with author Jenny Milchman for the New York Writer’s Workshop. Coaching a few individuals privately on their novels. Getting ready to teach video classes for a new venture Kristen Lamb is creating.

Doing pub work for FINDING YOUR VOICE. This was my first craft book, published by Writer’s Digest Books in hard- and softcover, and my agent, Chip Macgregor secured the ebook rights to it and we published that version ourselves. Trying to get the word out that it’s available.

Reading. I average about 3-4 novels a week and consider it the most important part of writing other than the actual writing I do myself. It’s how we learn first to be writers and then how to keep improving our craft. As it so happens, one of the novels I’m reading at the moment is your own MR. GLAMOUR.

Doing this interview! This has been the most exhaustive interview I’ve ever been involved with. It’s really made me think. After we’re done here, Richard, I just want to go away with a bottle of Jack and find a deserted beach somewhere and just get blotto for a week… What this reminds me of are the Paris Review interviews, only I think yours are even more personalized and more in-depth (read: intense) and those are pretty good interviews—really the best in the business, I thought, until I met you!

How much pleasure is derived from fucking during a porn film with a camera crew filming you and what did those experiences tell you about the average sex life and the prevalence of voyeurism in modern culture?

I imagine you’re talking about the stag movies I made when I was in Bermuda at the tender age of 20, right? That’s how long ago it was—the term “porn” wasn’t even around then. They were just… stag movies.

What happened was a friend of mine and I were walking down a beach in Bermuda on our usual quest—to pick up girls. We had a little “routine” we used all the time. He carried a camera—that didn’t even have film in it—and I carried a notepad and pen. We’d walk the beach until we spotted a pair of girls we deemed attractive and then “Mike” (not his real name) would begin walking around them, snapping pictures. I’d start jotting things down in my pad. One of the girls would ask what we were doing and we’d explain that we were doing a feature for Life Magazine on the “College Week” phenomenon in Bermuda. That they might well make the cover! It was a con that worked often and well. Almost always we ended up with the girls.

Well, this day a guy was watching us and laughing to himself—we weren’t too hard to figure out—and he approached us to ask if we’d be interested in making a movie. A sex movie.
Of course we were! We were 20 years old and fancied ourselves as studs to begin with so he didn’t have to sell his proposition very hard.

The upshot was, we ended up making a movie that turned out to not have much of a plot. Two girls in nurses’ uniforms walk into our “doctor’s office” and pretty soon shucked their dress whites and we got rid of our stethoscopes and were soon doing the horizontal boogie on a couple of examination tables. Fairly low-rent production.

When we finished the “film” the guy in charge gave Mike a hundred-dollar bill, and thanked him, and asked me to stick around. Mike left and the guy asked if I’d be interested in making more movies. Of course I would! I ended up making two more “movies” that day and made a couple hundred more dollars. He asked me to come back the next day and I said I would, but something or other came up—a party probably—and I never went back.

That wasn’t the end of it though. Years later, I was back in Indiana and getting ready to get married. A friend hosted a bachelor’s party for me and somebody brought stag movies. I never watch those things—most are boring—and, in fact, was engrossed in playing in the poker game we had going, my back to the screen, when somebody yelled out, “That’s Les!”
I turned around and sure enough… it was moi. In one of those godawful stag movies I’d “starred” in. As I was striving to keep my past hidden in those days (I’d already done time in Pendleton at the time), I managed to convince everybody it wasn’t me. It was a fairly grainy copy so it wasn’t all that hard. It could have been embarrassing if my fiancée had discovered my acting days…

As to your question, I’m not sure if I can provide a good answer. Screwing in front of a camera just wasn’t a big deal at that time. Before that time, I’d logged in many hours in another establishment in Bermuda that was far more risque. A guy owned a huge loft downtown that consisted of dozens of mattresses laid end-to-end and covering the entire floor and there were large movie screens on three walls. On which were being shown porn movies continually. To get into the loft you simply paid five dollars a person. It was a “date” scene. At any time, there would be up to 20-30 people and occasionally more—men and women, men and men, women and women—you name the combination, they were there—all doing the nasty on the mattresses while the movies played. We used to take the little college coeds visiting the island there and they were thrilled to experience the seedier side of life. It’s amazing what girls will do when they get away from home and no one knows them… Mostly girls from Vassar and Bennington and the like… So screwing before a camera just wasn’t a big deal. I don’t remember thinking much about it. If I’d been in the States and never ventured anywhere else it might have been, but fucking in front of the camera just didn’t represent much of a wow factor.

And, when you say “modern culture” my observation is that we did a lot more risqué things then than folks do today. By the time I was twenty, I’d been to bed with more than a hundred women and with the advent of all the STD’s today, I’d be an anomaly today I suspect. Then, I was just a normal young male. The culture today seems much more Puritanical, although the younger generation would want to argue about that I imagine, taking for granted that they’re freer sexually. Not so, my young grasshoppers…

Today’s kids talk a good game. I’m not sure they play as hard as we did…

Graham Greene said writers have a piece of ice in their hearts. What do you make of his observation?

Many writers do. I do. I’m not sure if those who write for publications such as Guideposts do. My instincts say they do not. Like a lot of sayings like this, often they could be made clearer with qualifiers. In this case, perhaps what he said could be improved by saying, “Good writers have a piece of ice in their hearts.”

Before I was aware of Greene’s observation, I’d come to the same conclusion myself. I think that nearly all writers of real ability do the same. Often, I would tell students that “if you want to write, you should write every day. For instance, I love my mother (this was before I found out my mother was a lying bitch–another story) and if she died tomorrow, I’d be very sad and go to the funeral. But, when I returned home, I’d write. Probably about the funeral.”

That’s what Greene is referring to. The art of detachment from the emotional to be able to observe an event and describe it accurately and dispassionately. It’s what allows us to write dramatically instead of melodramatically. It is simply the ability to maintain alertness and keep your own emotions at bay when describing events, especially events that carry emotion personally. It’s not “coldness” or “calculating observation” as some would say. It’s simply maintaining the reporter’s stance when writing drama so as to maintain the drama and not tip over into melodrama.

The writer who creates the scene with the young mother walking down the street with her beloved toddler, hand-in-hand, laughing at the child’s antics, and then abruptly, the little girl tears her hand away from her mother’s, darts into the street and is struck by a van and instantly killed in a particularly bloody manner, attendant with gore and bits of the child’s brains spattered against the vehicle’s bumper—the writer who writes such a scene and portrays the mother as then running into the street, screaming at the top of her lungs, cursing God as she shakes her fist at the heavens, and then prostrating herself across the dead body of her baby, wailing and moaning and screaming by turn, tearing out handfuls of her hair—that writer is one who isn’t aware of Greene’s description of a (good) writer. However, the same scene rendered by one who has a character facing the same scene—the mother—and has that woman simply slump to the curb, eyes dry, and instead given that “thousand-yard stare” that soldiers in combat have—this is a writer who has that piece of ice in his heart. Two writers—one who sees and writes about what they see in melodramatic terms—and one who sees and writes about what they see in dramatic terms.

Having that piece of ice in our hearts is what allows the good writer to lower the volume instead of raising it. Thereby creating true emotion and not surface emotion, cheaply and easily wrought.

That first writer is who Oscar Wilde was referring to in his famous criticism of that most melodramatic writer of all time, Charles Dickens, when he said, “One must have a heart of stone to read the death of little Nell without laughing.”

Indeed.

To be fair, there is another point of view concerning Greene’s statement. His own cousin, Barbara Greene, said of him that: “…most of humanity was to him like a heap of insects that he liked to examine, as a scientist might examine his specimens, coldly and clearly.”

So, you have that, too…

I suspect Babs enjoyed Dickens’ books more than she did her cousin’s…

Why we have readers of romance novels and readers of noir…

Just sayin’…

Do you think Faulkner merged Noir with Southern Gothic and that the history of the South provides a rich soil for Noir fiction?

Absolutely, on both! My personal opinion is that the best U.S. writers in any genre come from the South. It’s because of several factors. One of the biggest is that language is more important to Southerners than for those of other regions. It’s a class-conscious society to the nth degree and what you say, the words you choose, and how you say it tell a native exactly who you are, where you came from, and what your status is. And status is important to Southerners. It’s all about family. Unlike Yankees, money isn’t the determining factor in your status. It’s family. Old money is good; new money is suspect and not well-regarded. Those folks are better regarded in towns like Miami and Dallas which are two towns that aren’t considered all that southern by the surrounding natives. Too many carpetbaggers. Atlanta’s getting there if they’re not there already… Houston for sure.

For instance, I’ve lived in New Orleans for much of my life, and I can easily identify nine different accents from different parts of town. An Uptown accent is much different than one from the Irish Channel as is a Downtown accent much different than one from the Ninth Ward. And so on. If I hear a teenaged girl say “Jeezum” I know almost to the block where she’s from. And, where a person is from is important to most natives. We live in a class society in the South and what class you belong to impacts the way you’ll be treated by others. It determines how you think of yourself.

I consider myself a Southerner even though these days I find myself in Indiana. Most of my stories are set in the south. I’ve written a few set in the north, but I’m always uncomfortable. It feels like I’m writing about a foreign country. The north “feels” sterile to me. Family doesn’t seem to matter—the history of families doesn’t seem to matter. The class lines are blurred and seem to focus more on wealth than anything else. The north feels like TV; the south feels like movies. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novels feel like soap operas—TV—James Lee Burke’s novels feel like movies.

Here’s a real-life anecdote that somewhat illustrates the differences. My wife Mary is a born and bred Yankee, having been born in New Hampshire and living most of her life in Ft. Wayne, Indiana. Before we got married, I told her there was no way I could live in Ft. Wayne, and she was happy to move with me back to New Orleans. At the time, we were both hairstylists. She found a job in a salon a block from our home on Burthe (pronounced “Butte”) on Carrollton where it ends at the levee and takes a turn onto St. Charles Avenue. Across the street from the little strip mall where the Camillia Grill is. I worked uptown at a salon in the Fairmont Hotel, “Busta’s at the Fairmont.”

One day, shortly after we’d moved to New Orleans, Mary and I were walking from our house to the Camillia Grill for breakfast and I saw this young lady with a young man. In passing the couple, I overheard her say something to her escort. Without thinking, I pointed her out and said, “Looks like she’s trying to pass.” Being from the north, Mary didn’t have a clue what I was talking about, so I had to explain.

“That girl’s black,” I said. “She’s trying to pass for white.” She was with a young white guy which is why I made the assumption. To me it was obvious for a couple of reasons. One, the couple went into Madigan’s which was a neighborhood bar and not a bar a black person would ordinarily go into. Also, when she spoke to her companion, her syntax told me she was black. I wish I could remember what it was she said, but at this late remove I can’t. All I remember was it told me she was from the Ninth Ward.

Mary looked at me like she thought I was nuts, and said, “You’re crazy! That girl’s whiter than I am!” Well, her skin color was but she had other features that told me she had some black blood in her, plus her language. I didn’t pursue it or try to convince her otherwise and I thought that was the end of it.

Until the following day. When Mary came home from work the first thing she did was tell me about an incident at work. Seems that the same girl we’d seen the day before was a client of one of the other stylists at her salon and came in for her appointment. Another of Mary’s co-workers, a black lady who was one of the shampoo assistants, walked by Mary and whispered to her, “That hussy! She’s passin’!” Mary said she went into mild shock and told the girl that’s what I’d said when I saw her, to which the girl just shook her head as if amazed that Mary couldn’t see what was obvious to both her and me.

The point of this little anecdote isn’t to show that racism is alive and strong—of course it is—but to show the difference between the north and the south. Both a southern white man and a southern black woman were instantly aware that a black woman was trying to pass as white. And, it mattered to them, at least enough to comment on it. The Yankee (Mary) didn’t “see” what we saw and even when it was pointed out to her, she just didn’t see why it mattered. That’s because she doesn’t share a history. She’s not even aware of a history. I also know that if this was in the north—say in Cleveland or in Bridgeport—and that same woman had walked by, a northern black very likely would have taken her appearance, speech and circumstance in and come to the same conclusion—that she was passing. The northern white person wouldn’t have.

Blacks and whites are intertwined with their joint histories in the South in ways that doesn’t occur anywhere else. It’s a bloody, violent history and renders the perfect tableau for noir and gothic, more so than any other region. It’s simply a dark, twisted history. Fertile loam for story to grow in. The climate also contributes. As Ellen Gilchrist said, to survive in New Orleans “requires equal amounts of sugar and alcohol.” That isn’t something that would hold water if she were talking about say, Des Moines or Santa Barbara or Albany… It would apply to Biloxi, Houma, or my hometown, Freeport, Texas.

It’s thousands of seemingly little things like this that make language extremely important to Southerners. There’s a rigid class system at work and it’s why that young woman was trying to pass. If she could be taken as white, at least in her mind, she would have improved her station in life. It doesn’t matter that some people think that’s a bunch of hooey or not—it exists and that’s what’s important.

Faulkner, as a native Southerner, was also well aware of it and wrote from that place. It’s why his fiction resonates with so many. Even readers from other sections of the country and other countries can just “sense” that history bubbling beneath the surface. A dark history, not available in most other places, at least not over a significant period of time. You can’t fake that. It lends his writing a verisimilitude that has to be earned by coming from a particular place. It’s the same kind of thing that happens when I read criminal characters from writers who have never been criminals nor have ever done time. The verisimilitude isn’t there. There’s no experiential “heart” to the writing. A TV show, not a movie.

Language is all. It’s why overall, the Irish are the best writers and the American Southerner the second best. Which makes me wonder if there isn’t another relationship going on—after all, the American South was populated originally mostly by the Scotch-Irish…
In my opinion…

(I expect other opinions will surface… most likely from those not Irish or Southerners…)

Thank you for this opportunity, Richard. This has been the single toughest interview experience I’ve ever had!

Thank you Les for a great and heavyweight interview.

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Links:

Author website

The Bitch at Amazon US or UK.

Just Like That at Amazon US or UK.

All Les Edgerton works listed on Amazon US and UK.

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24 Responses to Chin Wag At The Slaughterhouse: Interview With Les Edgerton

  1. A fantastic interview. Les has a great understanding of people and writing, which he is why he is one of the best storytellers around. Great questions. Great answers.

  2. K. A. Laity says:

    Another excellent interview, Les and Richard: a good subject drawn out by a dogged host. Insightful views on the genre, Faulkner and McCarthy. I do chafe a little at the characterisation of the 17th century. You can’t get much more explicit than Donne’s Elegy “To His Mistress Going to Bed” where he cheekily says “To teach thee, I am naked first.” A quibble, no more. And after the Puritans take over — well, no one has any fun.

  3. Les Edgerton says:

    I have been waiting for this interview to appear. It is without any doubt, the most intensive questioning I’ve ever undergone and it was exhausting. Richard Godwin is the most superb interviewer I’ve ever been honored to have participated in such a venture with. As I told him, this “felt” like one of those Paris Review experiences. I’m very proud of it and of anything I’ve ever taken part in, would be pleased to have this as my epitaph on what I feel about the art of writing..

    If folks like this, it’s all because of the genius of Mr. Godwin. He is, simply, the best.

    Thank you for having me. I’m humbled and honored.

    Blue skies,
    Les

  4. B.R. Stateham says:

    Les is a talkative sonofabitch (that’s a compliment, by the way). But for anyone thinking about becoming a writer they ought to carefully read and reread this one. Thought-provoking doesn’t come close to describing what’s going through my mind now! Great stuff! Great Questions! Great Answers!

  5. Jason Michel says:

    Goodness!
    I’m speechless. Fantastic gents …

  6. “Noir approaches the true nihilistic nature of man better than most genres. Which means it will never take up a lot of shelf space at Barnes & Noble.”

    Yes!

  7. nigel bird says:

    Was that an interview? I was making mental notes of quotes I wanted to flag, but then lost them as there were so many.

    Just a con? Don’t think so, Les. You’re not ‘just’ anything.

    Interesting answers all, some of which passed over my head. I’ll come back and take them one at a time another day.

    Thanks both.

  8. Thomas Pluck says:

    Fine interview, as always, Richard! And Les always has something interesting to say. A great read.

  9. Best. Interview. Ever.

  10. Richard does make one think, and Les is the perfect thinker to be prodded! OK, first I have to say, read THE BITCH. It’s true it’s not a daydream book (which I happen to love). It’s true it won’t restore order to anyone’s disordered world. But it, like Richard’s interviews, will make you think and feel and despair. And that’s what great fiction does.

    I’m also wondering what it says about me that despite never having been inside, I follow almost all of Les’ safety tips except for the one at the urinal?

  11. Les Edgerton says:

    Thanks, everyone! Good point, K.A. He did write some “out front” verse, didn’t he! I like his “coded” stuff maybe better–makes one feel good and dirty… Donne’s my favorite poet and I almost decided to get a doctorate on the metaphysicists–particularly Donne (not nearly as big a fan of Marvell’s), but went for the MFA instead. Should have followed my instincts… Just nice to see a fellow “fan”…

  12. Catie Rhodes says:

    I loved reading this interview. Les, you are one of the most fascinating individuals I’ve come across. I could “listen” to your stories forever. Loved reading your insights here both on human nature and on fiction. I learned a lot. Keep on rockin’, Les.

  13. Maybe the best interview of an author I’ve ever read. I did exactly the sam thing as Nigel, noting quotes I wanted to remember, but had to give up because there were so many. Great job on both ends of this interview…

  14. Rick Bylina says:

    Great interview, Les and Richard. I wouldn’t survive five minutes in the state pen. Might get by in a federal prison, as long as I was isolated 24 hours a day. So much to mull over here, my head hurts. But that’s good for a mystery writer. Now, if I could only find the plot I left lying on the floor.

  15. Scott Phillips says:

    Great interview….just got started reading Les’s stuff, and am completely blown away by it.

  16. A fabulous interview! But, Les, I have to disagree: A good interview requires not only a person who knows what questions to ask, but another who’s willing to actually answer them. It’s why most interviews in any format these days are such utter tripe. People telling you what they think you want to hear – or what they want you to hear – rather than the truth.

    So, well done to both of you. I’m pointing people here for an ACTUAL study in writing and characterization.

  17. Tracey Edges says:

    Excellent – don’t need to say anything more as it would be superfluous.

  18. AJ Hayes says:

    Thanks for the hat tip to “Southerners and Irishmen,” Les. I could not agree more. Probably doesn’t matter that I’m both of those oh-so-desirable states of being, does it? Of course not. Many thanks to the both of you for this massive effort, both ways. Reminds me of Proust, sort of. I mean it’s got the physical dimensions and duration of “Remembrence” and, like that tome, contains some of the most clear edged, diamond bright images and opinions I’ve seen.
    Are criminals smart? Define smart. (Never really met a criminal genius, myself. But that probably means the crook I don’t know about is a genius.) Ah, just too much meat here to reiterate (requrgitate?) in a comment.
    Have known and worked with many guys fresh out of the joint. In my last job (twenty years worth of job) probably every eight guys out of ten we hired were in a halfway house, so I can tell when somebody is bullshitting about “heavy time.” No BS in the above, none at all. It’s absolute truth. I got stories, good, bad and heartbreaking about those guys.
    Thanks Les and Richard. Another superior outing in the Slaughterhouse

  19. richardgodwin says:

    Les thank you for a classic and brilliant interview.

  20. Jenny Hansen says:

    This interview was so good and so full of information, I’ve had to read it a little sip at a time. Though Les is definitely a shot of good tequila, rather than some snooty French wine (thank the Lord).

    This is an interview to be revisited multiple times, and savored. I appreciate the time and effort that BOTH of you put into this.

  21. Vero says:

    One of the best interviews I’ve ever read, and certainly one of the sharpest writers and best writing teachers I’ve ever met—thank you, Les!

  22. Eddie Vega says:

    This is the kind of interview you want to print out and include in a course packet for a college writing class.

  23. Lee Thompson says:

    Great interview, fellas!

  24. Fantastic interview. Thanks, Les for sharing all of this. SPOT. ON. Had a great time in OKC and San Antonio with you, hope we can do it again real soon.

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