Josh Stallings is your average ex-criminal, ex-taxi driver, ex-club bouncer, film making, script writing, award winning trailer editing, punk.
Over his time in Hollywood he wrote and edited the feature film ‘The Ice Runner’, a Russian/American co-production. ‘Kinda Cute for a White-Boy’ an independent feature he directed and co-wrote with novelist Tad Williams, won best picture at the Savannah International Film Festival.
He writes gritty hard edged prose in a strong highly readable narrative voice. His first novel ‘Beautiful, Naked & Dead’, published March 2011, is garnering great notice from readers and reviewers alike. Its sequel, ‘Out There Bad’, was published three months later to equally stunning reviews.
He met me at The Slaughterhouse where we talked about Noir and gender.
Do you think Noir with no sex is lacking and if so why?
Naa, there is plenty of good sexless Noir, BUT being who I am I like my Noir with a heavy smell of lust and desire. Sex is one of the strongest human motivators, it drives people to all sorts of dark behavior and thus is good fodder for… shit I’m starting to talk like a lit professor instead of the undereducated mug I am. Truth; strippers, prostitutes, lap dance queens, bouncers and low rent gangsters are the world I understand. The world I write about. Is this because my pop dated a stripper or the fact that my sister was dancer? Hell I don’t know. For whatever reason I write graphic sex like I write graphic violence. Here is the deal, if you put sex in, make it real. No fucking waves breaking on the beach metaphors, give me an erection. If you write about violence make it hurt, make me cringe.
Do you think killing and fucking are related?
They are definitely kissing cousins. Primal. Both can be acts of passion. Then again both can be cold calculated acts. Good question. There is a scene in Saving Private Ryan where a US soldier and a Nazi are struggling over a bayonet, it is as close to sex scene as Spielberg has ever directed. In Moses’ (the protagonist in my novels) case I think they are polar opposites. Sex is his way of fighting to feel wanted, killing is how he protects those he loves, it is the net result of protecting others. To do it he lets loose his inner berserker. For the Russian pimps in Out There Bad fucking is all about control over others, the same goes for killing, so for them I’d say they are identical.
You’re given a large sum of money to carry out a hit no questions asked. How would you do it to avoid detection?
Years ago I read an interview with a hit-man, he said that he always killed people in public places with the biggest loudest gun possible. Scare the shit out of the witnesses and their minds go fritz, they would alternately say he was a tall white man and a black midget, a bald hispanic, an albino. So I would buy a Colt Walker black-powder pistol. They were made in 1847 and until the 357 Magnum came along in the 1930’s to combat mobsters, they were the most powerful handgun made. Italian replicas are plentiful and in the States you can buy black-powder guns without needing ID or registration. The Walker has a 9 inch barrel and when fired it shoots flame and smoke 10 feet out. Fire that in restaurant and I guarantee no one will remember anything but the boom, the smoke and the ruin.
Do you think female killers are motivated by different things to male killers and what do those differences show about gender?
Yes, no, um maybe. Ok I’ll go with yes. I think in a broad sweeping generalization, women are more bound to protect life than take it. That said the most ruthless killer I have written is a woman. I think once you push a woman to kill, look out. When my son Jared was little I asked him if he was afraid of me. He thought it over and said “No.” When asked if he was afraid of his mother he didn’t even wait a millisecond, “Oh hell yes.” I think he was pointing out a true fact, I’m a big bruiser of man but at my core I’m a softy, their mother has a will of steel. She has never stuck our boys and maybe once or twice did she even raise her voice, but the potential for mass destruction is there if pushed.
We socialize women to think that to get mad or god forbid violent is a sin. Once let go of it’s a powerful lot of pent up rage waiting to come out. Hum, none of that answers your question… Men are motivated to kill by lust for power or pussy, women kill to protect those they love or for revenge on those who have harmed them or those they love. Moses McGuire kills to protect those he loves, and with the hope for future pussy. He is a dualistic character.
Thank you for asking a question sure to get me in trouble with every woman I know.
Do you think traditionally the gods are messengers?
I suddenly have a vision of Thor on a bicycle bag full of parcels. I want to act all smart and shit so I sneak a quick goggle, get Hermes, I try and come up withy clever way to construct a sentence with him in it. Truth is I don’t know about god or gods. If they are messengers they must have deemed me unworthy of letters, because I have been stumbling blind my whole life.
Tell us about Beautiful Naked and Dead.
Beautiful, Naked & Dead is a hard-boiled redemption tale. When it starts Moses McGuire has a gun in his mouth. He is trying to decide if he should pull the trigger. This was the scene I saw that made me want to write the novel. The thought that there was nothing more dangerous than a man who doesn’t give a shit what you do to him.
Fuck it, I’m crap at pimping my own work, so here is what others said about it…. “gritty, bad-ass, crime-drama. This book is sick.” -Julia Madeleine. “Stallings is masterfully understated in his handling of the seamy underworld that is sex for sale in America.” -Elizabeth A. White. “a violent, boozy road trip… From Los Angeles to Las Vegas, from the mean streets to the mountains, from bars to bordellos, this is a vivid, exciting, funny and touching piece of hardboiled noir.” -Paul D. Brazill. “It is a rough, bleak yet heart warming tale of hopelessness, evil and love.” –McDroll. “Moses McGuire is the most elaborate, strong and charming protagonist since Dennis Lehane’s Patrick Kenzie… Josh Stallings might be one of the most talented newcomers in the literary landscape this year.” -Benoit Levievre “It truly is an amazing book. Hard-boiled, dark, full of suspense and fast cars… Seriously. I didn’t call Moses hubba-hubba superlicious in a previous post for no reason, ladies.” -Sabrina E. Ogden
Not bad for dyslexic kid from the poor side of town. The head of a local college’s English department told a friend how much he loved Beautiful, Naked & Dead. I laughed and was real proud. When most kids were going off to university I had a wife and baby and was knocking out the bills. But the one thing I did was read like a hungry monster, still do.
William Burroughs used addiction in his fictions as an analogy of power structures and explored addicitons to violence, sex, word patterns and power as an extension of the more obvious addictions to substances. What do you make of his view?
Well he was an unrepentant old junky so I’ll have to take his as the final word on addiction. Having danced, myself on that dark side of the road it is clear that anything and anyone can become tangled in addiction. The best definition of addiction I know is “when the pleasure to risk equation becomes way out of balance.” If getting a blowjob could cost you your marriage and the presidency of USA, and you still get that blowjob, I’d say you are addicted to blowjobs. Modern culture is addicted to the all mighty stuff. If we just get enough stuff it will make us whole. We are willing to mortgage our lives and pound away our futures to get more stuff. Storage space is a huge growth market in the US, we have more stuff than we can keep in our homes and still the addiction continues. There is a real advantage to the power structure at large in us continuing to be addicted. Junkies of any kind are easy to control, keep them supplied and they will whore themselves out just to keep it coming. If we didn’t have these irrational fears and desires ruling us, I don’t think any one would be ok with the sixty-hour workweek. Hell we would strike to get it down to twenty.
To return to my novels for a second, Moses is dangerous for two reasons: He doesn’t care if he lives ore dies, and he doesn’t give a rat’s ass about stuff, so he can’t be bought. Of all the addiction out there I think the need to own more is the most dangerous. I’ve never seen a heroin addict start a war because he was jonesing.
Do you think the need for degradation is tied to the need for redemption in the human soul and is that in itself an addictive pattern?
I think degradation comes when we take shortcuts to normal human needs. The need to be loved is shortcut by spending shekels to have someone pretend to love us. This degrades both hooker and the John. I’m sitting in a diner, the waitress with a by god beehive hairdo, drops twenty and some singles for change. I notice she miss counted and give her back fifteen dollars. I do this because my self worth can’t be bought for fifteen dollars, there is a price I’m sure, hell we all may have one, but it sure as hell isn’t fifteen dollars. If it had been two hundred I might have kept it. Hard to say. That is a short cut to money I didn’t bother to earn. As a youth I broken into houses and stole, I sold some drugs, ran around with guns, hurt more than one lover with infidelity. I was and am a flawed human, because of this I have to believe redemption is possible. If not then once we slipped why ever try and do better. Striving for redemption is more than a addictive behavior, for some of us it’s our only shot at surviving.
Has one particular event influenced your writing?
I have been writing most of my life, I was eight when I wrote my first play. Awful I’m sure, I remember lots of sword fighting. When I was twelve I wrote a sequel to “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.” Awful again I’m sure, lots of shootouts and saloon girls. Writing has been part of my life, thus it is hard to think of one event, when all events influence my writing. I went to high school in East Palo Alto, a notorious northern Californian ghetto, the violence there effected my writing. Having kids changed how I viewed the world, it stripped away my nihilistic teenage world view. In my early twenties I was hit on my Harley and snapped my femur, I learned about pain in a visceral way, I know my writing got more painful after that. Yeah, it all effects my writing. My friend Tad Williams, writer of epic fantasy novels, says he puts a lot of characters in play when plotting a large multi volume book, it will take him six or seven years to complete, and by the time he gets to book four life will have changed him, so he’s not entirely sure who he will need standing to tell the tale that is both true to the novel and true to who time has morphed him into. I write short noir novels but each new Moses book is changed by what life has tossed my way. Writing is an echo of my life, a shadow cast on the page by the events I live through.
Why noir crime fiction, out of all genres, why not one that has more, um, money attached to it?
I am a hungry reader, have been all my life, odd seeing as I am also hopelessly dyslexic. I fell in love with Raymond Chandler as a teenager. It was at this same time I discovered Martin Scorsese, I was watching Mean Streets, and committing crimes at the same time. I was a shitty criminal, but that’s another story. In Scorsese I saw that it was possible to tell stories that were true to how it felt to be me. This also set me on my path to filmmaking. It wasn’t until I got hooked on James Crumley that I started to think about writing crime novels. I read everything he wrote, and then had to wait painful years until he wrote another. I decided that if I wanted that flavor more often I would have to write it myself. Early, um, bad, short stories were mock Crumley. It wasn’t until I discovered Moses and wrote Beautiful, Naked & Dead that I discovered my own voice. Now I can’t shut it up. Truth is, if I could write a more profitable genre I might take a crack at it, but it’s not as they say, in my personal wheelhouse.
Thank you Josh for a low down dirty and honest interview.
Josh Stallings is currently working on the third Moses McGuire novel. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife Erika, his bullmastiff Nelson, Lucy the lab pit mix and Riddle the cat.