Photo: L.A. Crime Author "Steve" S.W. Lauden
Greetings, ladies, gents and miscreants. Your host Mick Rose here. When I constructed Center Stage: lovingly laid the hardwood floors, hung the burgundy curtains, cushioned the leather seats, and fastidiously strung the lights, I never imagined featuring bloodbaths. Who in their right mind would allow a knife-wielding psychotic dominatrix to repeatedly stab them in exchange for free publicity?
The answer's obviously no one. But many Writers are far from "normal"—and crime writer Jesse "Heels" Rawlins fiendishly takes full advantage of their lust for fame and fortune—and more likely, their kinky thirst for pain. Marching under today's spotlight is Los Angeles crime writer and musician "Steve" S.W. Lauden. While Steve's always beat the drums, I've got a sickly suspicion he'll soon be singing out of key. Could he possibly look more stoic? I can't decide if I should admire Steve ... or pity him. While I muddle this question, it's time for me to march to my safe and comfy balcony seat. Please join me in raising a glass to Mr. Lauden and Ms. Rawlins. Two sick puppies without doubt!
JHR: What 12 words best describe your Anthony Award-nominated crime book CROSSWISE—and its companion follow-up CROSSED BONES—which feature disgraced former NYPD cop Tommy Ruzzo and his manipulative Florida-born love interest Shayna?
SWL: Girlfriends who love cocaine too much are really bad for NYPD careers.
JHR: You grew up living a punk rock life in Southern California, and these days you live in Los Angeles. Your Greg Salem private investigator trilogy and your recently-released power pop heist THAT’LL BE THE DAY are also set in California. So, Steve, what inspired you to unleash Tommy and Shayna roughly 3,000 miles away in fictional Seatown, Florida?
SWL: My family vacationed at a beautiful beach town on the panhandle of Florida. We stayed in a big clapboard house with a huge front porch and balconies that faced the white sand beaches and crystal-clear water. I got up early every morning to write while my wife and kids were still asleep. The area was so peaceful and relaxing that my crime writer brain decided it was the perfect place to set a series of murders. I had a lot of fun playing with crime fiction tropes and Florida clichés. Crosswise started out as a short story, but eventually grew into a novella after a little encouragement from my editor at the time. Down & Out Books, which is based in Florida, was the perfect publisher for that one and the even crazier follow up, Crossed Bones.
JHR: You called these Ruzzo capers crazy. Other readers have as well. I tend to describe escapades like this “Zany.” No guy—or gal—in their right mind would continue to pursue the affection and attention of a babe like Shayna. I got the impression from our chats last year that your punk rock private investigator Greg Salem lives a much darker life.
Yet despite the levity in CROSSWISE, the murders are truly gruesome. You just don’t clobber us with details. In what ways are the Ruzzo capers similar to the Salem series, Steve? And in what ways do they differ? Meanwhile, where does THAT’LL BE THE DAY play into this mix?
SWL: The Greg Salem books are much darker and probably more self-serious. I was writing from personal experience about the things I had seen first-hand—or heard about from reliable sources in the punk scene I grew up in and around. I witnessed and took part in a lot of self-destructive behavior during my high school and college years, but somehow managed to find my way to the other side of it. Meanwhile, I have friends who are still living that life and those books were really about me questioning what my life would have been like if I never left and never changed. In a way I admire them for sticking to their guns, but I also know that it’s ultimately not the life for me.
Crosswise came along after I had gotten a lot of that out in the first Greg Salem book, Bad Citizen Corporation. I think that I needed to tackle something that wasn’t so personal, and maybe even a little funny, at least according to my own warped sense of humor. Meanwhile, That’ll Be The Day sort of strikes the balance between Greg Salem and Tommy Ruzzo. In my opinion, it’s some of the best writing I’ve ever done.
JHR: Crossword puzzles play a strong central role in CROSSWISE. I chanced to discover online that CROSSED BONES hinges on a quest for rumored hidden treasure. Did you do any factual historical research, Steve? Or is this treasure simply the concoction of a demented crime writer who spent too much time baking in the Florida sun?
SWL: The pirate treasure in the book is meant to be an overblown example of the lengths Shayna will go to in her never-ending quest to entertain herself. The research I did was more about the types of small Eastern seaboard tourist traps that rely on their historical connection to Blackbeard and other famous pirates to drive the local economy. The pirate treasure and backstory were really fanciful and mostly the product of my own over-active imagination. It was a lot of fun to write, but I’m not sure readers totally understood what I was going for—which means I either missed the mark or I’m a lot more like Shayna than I care to admit. Pick your poison.
JHR: Despite my love for music, I dove into the Ruzzo series first because of a comment you’d made about Shayna. She’s not a major character in CROSSWISE—she’s the force that drives most of Ruzzo’s actions. And a cold and calculating dame she is. But you mentioned she took on a life of her own when you wrote CROSSED BONES. Would you say she’s evolved or “devolved,” Steve? Her lust for hidden treasure suggests she’s still incapable of genuinely caring about anyone except herself.
SWL: It became clear in writing and publishing Crosswise that Shayna was the real star, so it seemed natural to center the second book in the series around her. But she’s absolutely insane compared to Tommy Ruzzo, so Crossed Bones is consequently a lot crazier and unhinged than the first book. As a character, Shayna’s a bundle of energy with a huge brain that’s always working overtime. She’s wickedly smart and absolutely ruthless, but also way too easily bored. It’s a dangerous combination that often doesn’t end well for her or the people closest to her.
She has neither “evolved” or “devolved” because she’s known exactly what and who she is all along, and she makes no, er, bones about it. It’s everybody else around her, and perhaps a few readers, who insist that there’s a heart of gold somewhere in there. That’s the power she has over people and she’s not afraid to use it to her advantage again and again.
JHR: Your latest work THAT’LL BE THE DAY is a self-published project. How long did this affair take you start-to-finish? And what do you think of the process? Did you run into any pitfalls the rest of us might learn from?
SWL: I honestly spent longer thinking about That’ll Be The Day—and convincing myself to explore self-publishing—than it took me to write the thing, get it edited and hit “publish” on Amazon. It has been one of the most satisfying experiences I’ve had in publishing. A lot of that has to do with the length—17,000 words, and the subject matter, power pop. I’m currently putting together the outline for the second book in the series which I hope to self-publish in early 2020.
The main thing I’ve learned from self-publishing That’ll Be The Day is to have realistic expectations. This isn’t the kind of project that lends itself to unrealistic fantasies about seeing your book in airports, or even most bookstores. That’s freeing in a way, especially when it’s a world you really love and that you truly believe the right readers will find over time, even if there aren’t thousands and thousands of them. At least I hope so. I’m really proud of it.
JHR: Since I hate math, here’s a Bonus Question. Maybe I’ll stab you; maybe I won’t. Got any new work hovering on the horizon? Or is a writing break just what the doctor ordered?
SWL: The inspiration for That’ll Be The Day actually came from a non-fiction project I co-edited with Paul Myers. It’s an essay collection about power pop bands like Big Star, The Bangles, Sloan, Fountains Of Wayne, A.C. Newman/The New Pornographers and others called Go All The Way that will be published by Rare Bird Books this October. I also have another crime novel that will likely see the light of day in the second half of 2020.
Thanks so much for repeatedly stabbing me!
JHR: I'd say the pleasure's all mine, Steve. But in your case I highly doubt that. You're still engaging in self-destructive behavior, just like in your youth! A second childhood, perhaps? I'm on my third. And I plan on staying here.
Meanwhile, the dedicated Story and Grit medical staff flew in from Oklahoma on their own dime, and they're gonna stitch you back together. As for our kind and attentive audience, I offer some thoughts on CROSSWISE, which Mick and I both awarded 5 out of 6 Stilettos.
Crosswise launches quickly—and, without fanfare, we meet P-whooped Steve Rizzo and his love-interest Shayna Billups. I would've welcomed a bit of foreplay in the form of a Prologue portraying their time in New York City. But the action in Seatown, Florida warms us hot and fast. We're suddenly at a murder scene: and the killer needs catching!
Lauden's keenly created some of the craziest characters I've ever encountered. And he tosses these tropical fruits in a whirring blender, along with some coconuts. A certified recipe for disaster as the death toll mounts like a raging hurricane. If you're looking for a serious police procedural, you may wanna whistle past this particular graveyard. Absurdity routinely routs sound reason in this zany crime caper.
But if you enjoy humor, action and who-dunnits? Rizzo, Billups and a cast of miscreant misfits should keep you smirking and entertained in this hot, breezy read—where the players shroud their motives. And missteps do prove fatal. While Steve readily admits to employing tropes and stereotypes, I found his corporate moguls splendidly unique, and even more bizarre than legendary Howard Hughes.
Thanks for hosting us Mick Rose. Y'all stay safe out there and thanks for joining the show.
Addicted to tawdry tales that sometimes make her blush, Jesse typically writes crime, mysteries, and humor. You’ll usually find her stories on the wrong side of the tracks, including flash-zine Shotgun Honey, The Rye Whiskey Review, and Punk Noir Magazine. She dazedly accepted the online publishing torch for 10-year-old Crime, Pulp & Humor mag the Flash Fiction Offensive in February 2019. And her murderous band of writing cohorts keep Jesse on her “heels.” Wanna say “Hello?” You can visit Jess on Facebook:
Photo: Crime Fiction Writer & Editor Jesse Rawlins