S.W. Lauden get around. He’s had short fiction published by Out of the Gutter, Criminal Element, Dark Corners, Dead Guns Magazine, Akashic Books, WeirdBook, Spelk Fiction, Shotgun Honey, and Crimespree Magazine.
His short story, Itchy Feet, was published in Unloaded: Crime Writers Writing Without Guns (Down & Out Books). His short story, Big Shots, is included in the anthology Fast Women and Neon Lights: Eighties-Inspired Neon Noir (Short Stack Books). His short story, Customer, appears in Waiting to be Forgotten: Stories of Crime and Heartbreak Inspired by The Replacements (Gutter Books).
He is the author of the Greg Salem punk rock P.I. series including Bad Citizen Corporation and Grizzly Season (Rare Bird Books). His Tommy & Shayna Crime Caper novellas include Crosswise and Crossed Bones (Down & Out Books). He is also the co-host of the Writer Types podcast with Eric Beetner.
One Bite at a Time: Hi, Steve. It’s been a little while since we chatted. Welcome back. Shayna Billups and Tommy Ruzzo are also back in Crossed Bones. Tell us a little about those two and their story.
S.W. Lauden: Thanks for having me back, Dana. Tommy and Shayna are star-crossed lovers who first showed up in my novella, Crosswise. She's a femme fatale who cost Tommy his NYPD badge before luring him down to her hometown on the panhandle of Florida. She leaves him high and dry shortly after he gets a job as head of security at a retirement community where several of the tenants start dropping dead. He tries to solve the murders to win Shayna and his badge back, but things quickly spiral out of control in the most ridiculous and violent ways.
By the time we catch up with Tommy and Shayna in Crossed Bones, she's off partying in New Orleans and he's a drunken wreck stranded in Florida. A chance meeting with a mysterious older gentlemen at a pirate-themed bar sends Shayna on a treasure hunt in North Carolina. When things get out of hand, Tommy and his bartender/boss/best friend set off to rescue her. They soon find themselves caught between a biker gang and a band of cocaine-dealing pirate impersonators. That's when things get interesting.
OBAAT: I see you fell back onto Raymond Chandler’s famous advice, that when stuck for what happens next, have a biker gang and a band of cocaine-dealing pirate impersonators come through the door. I know you didn’t expect to drop that on us and not have me ask you where you got the idea.
SWL: Chandler truly was a visionary! I’m not exactly sure where the inspiration for Crossed Bones came from—might have been a fever dream, or maybe I ate too much sugar—but I do know that I set out to have fun with these characters. The folks over at Down & Out Books started referring to the Tommy and Shayna books as crime capers, and I think that fits. In general, they’re a little more freewheeling and fun than the Greg Salem books. Something about the length and pace of novellas sets me off in a different direction I guess. The books are still pretty dark and feature lots of bad people doing terrible things to each other, but some of the situations tend slightly toward the ridiculous.
OBAAT: I think of you as an L.A. guy, yet Crossed Bones takes place largely in North Carolina, which is about as far from California as one can get without a passport. Why there?
SWL: I’ve lived in L.A. most of my life, but I’ve done a fair amount of traveling. In particular, touring in a band offers up a unique view of cities you might not otherwise visit. It’s just a series of very short, very intense experiences in specific places that often only reveal the most extreme parts of their personalities to you. You don’t leave there pretending to truly know the place—how could you?—but it’s possible to develop some strong, often misguided impressions based on your limited experience there. Years later, I find that business travel and certain types of whirlwind vacations (weekend weddings, etc.) can have the same effect. That’s kind of the perspective I was writing from when I created the fictional locations in both Crosswise and Crossed Bones.
OBAAT: Did you plan to have Tommy and Shayna come back even before you wrote Crosswise, or was that a more recent decision?
SWL: Not originally. Crosswise itself grew out of a short story I wrote while on vacation in Florida. That short story never got published, but a few people who read it encouraged me to expand the story, which is how it evolved into a novella. My editor, Elaine Ash, was a big supporter so she passed the novella along to Eric Campbell at Down & Out Books and he agreed to publish it. One of the things we discussed back then was potentially turning these characters into a series, but that's as far as we got. And then one day last year I got an idea for a story that quickly evolved into the second Tommy & Shayna Crime Caper, Crossed Bones.
OBAAT: You describe Tommy Ruzzo as a disgraced NYPD cop. Greg Salem, protagonist of Bad Citizens Corporation and Grizzly Season, also had a police career that didn’t work out so well for him. What about fallen cops plays so well into the stories you like to tell?
SWL: Believe it or not, I didn’t really realize I had done this until after Bad Citizen Corporation and Crosswise were both published. Could be a uniform fetish, but more likely there's a pretty pragmatic reason—an ex-cop has certain skills and training that will come in handy when they try to solve crimes, or otherwise stick their nose where it probably isn’t wanted.
I also like the idea of failed authority figures. There’s a certain romance to a flawed person who tries to do the right thing, only to succumb to the parts of themselves they were avoiding all along.
OBAAT: Crossed Bones and Crosswise are billed as novellas. What appeals to you about the shorter form?
SWL: I really like novellas as a reader, especially for crime fiction. There's not a lot of room for exposition, so the writing and the pace of novellas tends to be quicker. And, if you're somebody who reads a lot, it's nice to be able to finish a book on a long plane ride or when you’re on vacation beside the pool or at the beach. It's a unique experience that's different than getting pulled into a novel that takes a week or two to finish. Novels can be more of a commitment, but novellas are like a one night stand or lost weekend. Both are enjoyable in their own special ways.
OBAAT: We talked a little about your life as a musician when last we chatted in December of 2015. As a recovering musician myself, I wonder if anything you learned as a musician carries over into writing. Not just story ideas, but craft elements.
SWL: When I was still playing in bands, I always thought that playing shows was a lot more fun than rehearsing. That might seem obvious, but I've known plenty of musicians who are perfectly content noodling away in their bedroom or studio. If your aim is to get your music (or books or paintings or interpretive dance) in front of more people, you have to do both. One feeds off of the other. As tired a cliché as it is, I have to remind myself to sit down in a chair and type...and just keep typing. As far as I can tell, that's the only way that you're ever going to make anything happen. It can be lonely, tedious, frustrating, and emotionally exhausting, but that's the gig. It makes those agent and publisher phone calls, book launch parties, writers conferences, and five-star reviews that much sweeter when and if they come along.
OBAAT: The hero of your novels Bad Citizen Corporation (one of my favorite titles ever) and Grizzly Season is Greg Salem, former cop and punk rock legend. As a punk rock legend yourself, how much of you is in Greg?
SWL: Greg is a punk rock legend in his hometown and other little pockets of super fandom around the imaginary world I've created for him. I'm not even a punk rock legend in my own living room—just ask my wife and kids. But I did play in bands for a long time and I'm not sure I would have written a trilogy about a punk rock P.I. if I didn't have a personal perspective on that world and an emotional attachment to the people who inhabit it. Music—whether it was punk, glam, alternative, indie, metal, or good old fashioned rock and roll—was pretty much my whole eco-system from the time I hit puberty until, well...what's the opposite of puberty? Let's just call it middle age. Even now I can get lost in songs in a way that is unlike almost any other experience in my life. That's something that I've tried to build into Greg's character, both as a foundational part of his backstory and as something that he struggles with as he gets older.
OBAAT: You mentioned last time you were here there would probably be three Greg Salem books. Is that still the case, and, if so, what’s the status?
SWL: The third book in the planned Greg Salem trilogy, Hang Time, is with my publisher, Rare Bird Books. I'm pretty thrilled with how it turned out and have gotten some great feedback from beta readers. That book should be coming out in October of 2017.
OBAAT: You’re currently partnering with Eric Beetner on a monthly podcast called Writer Types that I’ve already come to look forward to, and I’m not usually into podcasts. How did that come to be?
SWL: I'm really happy to hear that you're enjoying the podcast! Eric and I hit it off pretty quickly when I started poking around the LA crime writing scene a few years ago. We both have backgrounds in music, and we both see the need to support the Indie crime/mystery scene in our own ways. He is, of course, one of the founders of Noir at the Bar LA and has given countless authors the chance to read in front of a supportive, drunken crowd. I've been doing interviews (much like this one) on my own blog for a couple of years now, often featuring many of the same writers from the N@B LA events. We are also both big podcast listeners, so all it took was a road trip to a book signing in San Diego to bring it all together. That happened last October and the first episode was published in January of this year.
OBAAT: What impressed me right away about Writer Types is the caliber of guests you get. The first four editions had the likes of Megan Abbott, Lou Berney, Reed Farrel Coleman, and Sara Paretsky, just to name a handful. That’s truly skimming the cream. How do you and Eric decide who to invite, and how hard is it to work out schedules?
SWL: When it comes to the crime/mystery community, we're truly spoiled for choice. There are so many talented authors to choose from in various stages of their writing careers. And so far the vast majority of the ones we've contacted have been responsive and open to giving us a chance to interview them, or have a little fun with them on microphone.
So, recording an entertaining conversation with an interesting person is actually pretty easy. Getting the stars aligned so that all the players are available at the same time and with a stable internet connection? Not so much. Everybody involved is busy, including me, Eric, and our reviewers, Kate and Dan Malmon from Crimespree magazine. But this whole thing is a labor of love, so it's all been worth it as far as I'm concerned.
Ask me again after episode six.