A Pankhearst Interview
Who are you?
I write unflinching fiction with heart. I train in Burmese boxing and grappling. I’ve let women punch me in the balls to train them in self-defense. I am a computer administrator, and the editor of the Protectors anthologies to benefit PROTECT: The National Association to Protect Children.
Where are you?
Northern New Jersey. If you watch the opening of The Sopranos, you’ve seen where I grew up. Iron skeletons of railroad trestles stretching across the slicks of our muddy rivers, concrete cubes crammed elbow to elbow.
And how the hell are you doing?
Life is good. The world is a brutal place ruled by the rich and powerful, where we are fooled into fighting against our own best interests, but they aren’t shooting us in the streets. Not yet. I get to write every day, I get to fight for what I believe in, I get to drink beer with my wife and read great books. And my balls are okay, if you were wondering. I think they might have calluses.
Tell us about your new/latest book.
Blade of Dishonor is a pulp thriller where MMA fighter ‘Rage Cage’ Reeves comes home from war to find his grandfather embroiled in a centuries-old battle between ninja and samurai over a stolen sword. He teams up with Tara the hot-rodding ambulance driver and a secretive warrior to fight a shadowy yakuza family bent on dominating Japan and sparking a third world war.
Why are you publishing independently?
Pulp is very popular online and in ebooks, but is a harder sell in print. I knew I had an audience who would be easily targeted online. And I had a complete image. Roxanne Patruznick painted the cover, she does the covers for Blood & Tacos, and paints realistic figures. I wanted the book to look like the wild adventure epics of the ’70s and ’80s, action movies and paperback originals. I wanted control, because you live or die on your first impression. I’d heard a lot of writers blame the publisher, the editor, the publicist, the promoter, the cover artist, the market, whatever. I have no one to blame but myself.
How is publishing independently working for you?
PROTECTORS just passed the $2000 mark of donations made to PROTECT. I consider that a success. Anthologies are a hard sell, and that is less than one year of sales. My story collection, STEEL HEART, is doing well. There are no get-rich quick schemes. As many writers say, the best promotion for your first book is your next book. Keep writing quality stories that no one else can tell. Who else is going to write a heartfelt tale of redemption intertwined with a pulse-pounding thriller with cage fights, ninja assassins and secret missions of World War II? Me, for one.
What are you working on now? Can we get a peek, an excerpt?
My next novel is BURY THE HATCHET, about Jay Desmarteaux. Jay is released from prison 25 years after taking the fall for the murder of a vicious high school bully, and is looking for payback and answers. His bareknuckled fists unravel a twisted tale of small town secrets and good old Jersey corruption, and his old flames, old friends, and new enemies say they want to bury the hatchet… but they just may want to lop off Jay’s head.
Sorry, I don’t share excerpts until it’s done, but Jay Desmarteaux stars in two stories in my collection, STEEL HEART- “Gumbo Weather,” where he takes on a mob boss to free a child from a hellish home, and “Kamikaze Death Burgers at the Ghost Town Cafe,” which sticks him between a gang of bikers and a psychotic long haul trucker.
How much of you will a reader find in your writing? If you have a good example, don’t be shy.
You’ll find a lot of me in there. I am not shy with my emotions. Never have been. The Denny the Dent stories are probably my most personal. Denny is an outcast, a silent hulk. He is kind but people find him threatening. He is smart, but people take his silence, and the gouge in his skull that he’s had since birth, as signs of low intelligence. And he uses their misconceptions to his advantage, as he corrects acts of miscarried justice. He’s a junk hauler, a garbage man, a janitor; invisible to most people, despite his size. And the hurt he feels, because of how people see him, through no fault of his own, is raw and deep. I dealt with a lot of bullying, belittlement, and when I bulked up to fight back, I found I had another problem. I scared people. At work, I walk around smiling. Otherwise I look like I came to collect someone’s gambling debts, according to how people stare at me. I put that into Denny, and he’s the character people write to me about most.
Are your stories plot or character driven?
Character. Always. Even an action adventure like BLADE OF DISHONOR is about characters; Reeves scarred by war and only trained in combat; old Butch in his wheelchair, Tara the ambulance driving hot rodder, the young crime boss eager to please his father, the journalist who finds herself living in an samurai village that hasn’t aged for centuries- their motives, their experiences, their emotions are what drive the story. The plot is what unfolds from there.
What advice would you give to a new author?
Write. Don’t worry about anything but writing. Find your voice and trust it. That takes a lot of writing, and at first we usually imitate our favorite authors. That’s fine, but you’d better relax and write in your own voice, the stories YOU want to read, not what you think someone else wants.
Read. If you’re not reading your genre old and new, and books outside your comfort zone, you will not grow. Read poetry. A hardboiled crime author can learn a lot from poetry, because they pack more into one word than most writers do in a paragraph. A literary author can learn from reading Elmore Leonard and George V. Higgins, who built characters from dialogue, instead of internal monologue.
Daydream. That’s where my ideas come from. Put the phone down, go for a walk, a lazy drive, and daydream.
And don’t worry. Just write, edit it the best you can, and submit stories to editors who publish stories you love. You will improve with practice- no one wants to admit that writing takes practice- and that’s it. I write every day, but you don’t have to. But you have to write, finish what you write, and share it with the world.
What’s the best advice ever given to you, and by whom?
“Persevere.” Wayne Dundee signs his letters with that. He created Hardboiled magazine back in 1985, he writes the Joe Hannibal P.I. novels, westerns, horror, and more. You must persevere. That’s the difference between success and failure.
Everyone has their own dream. What’s yours? Best seller, feature film adaption, fame, riches, groupies, a gabillion followers on Twitter?
As long as I am able to write my stories and find an audience who enjoys them, I will be happy. The lake house, the awards, the film starring Tilda Swinton and Mark Ruffalo as two cons scamming their way around Louisiana, the TV interview with Stephen Colbert, getting to shake James Lee Burke’s hand, slap George Saunders on the back, and have tea with Annie Dillard at Tinker Creek, that’s all gravy on the biscuits. I’ve been lucky to meet many of my heroes, artists or otherwise: Andrew Vachss, Harlan Ellison, John Waters, Jane Goodall, Richard Marcinko, Lawrence Block, Karen Finley.
I’d like to see PROTECT be as well-known and as powerful as the NRA. They lobby exclusively for the protection of children from abuse and exploitation. I’d like children to not be treated as legal property before I die. And I’d like to drive across America in a ’71 Challenger convertible. But I stand with the first line. As long as I can write and be read, I’ll be happy.