Rob was kind enough to answer a few questions for me....
I’m guessing the book writing’s maybe not full time? If not, what’s the day job and can you give us a quick biography of yourself?
What the day job will be is up in the air. I’ve been with a printing company nearly twenty years, managing a store the bulk of it. My store closed recently, so who knows?
I’ve not long put down your most recent novel – Tommy Shakes, published by All Due Respect books. (Great book, by the way). Can you pitch it to a potential reader in 50 words or less?
Tommy’s a guy with problems, physical and emotional. The physical leads to some of the sickest comedy you’re likely to read. The emotional leads to him pulling a heist he shouldn’t because he thinks the payday will save his marriage. It’s noir, so three guesses how that works out.
That’s 52 words, but I’m not Twittering it down for you.
I believe it’s your fifth book to be published and all of them have been put out by ADR, how have you managed to forge such a strong bond with them?
Mike Monson was their initial reader at the time. Their initial initial reader, I might add. Mike tells a terrific story about how he cringed when I submitted the book, because I’d been submitting to the magazine and the stories never quite worked for them. And he liked me, we were friends who’d met at an event set up by Joe Clifford. Then he read Uncle Dust. The day after I submitted he accepted the book. I’d been trying to sell that thing for years.
Is it a partnership that will endure do you think?
I would leave them only if someone offered me big money. Which is damn unlikely, despite me being the best writer alive.
Confession time, prior to reading Tommy Shakes, I’ve only read Uncle Dust, (thoughts here) though the others sit on the pile (With the Right Enemies, Vern in the Heat and the short story collection, The Things I Love Will Kill Me Yet) which is your favourite?
I love With The Right Enemies. It was truly painful to write, and to read as well, I’m sure. It’s about what happens when you align yourself with the wrong guy. That said, I think the one coming out in September, Blood by Choice, may be better. It’s the next in the series.
Which one would you press into the hands of a new reader?
Uncle Dust. It’s the setup for Enemies. It’s a chronological series.
Can you remember what your first published piece was and when?
Not a clue. Flash Fiction Offensive ran a couple. I think the first was a war story, and in the second the narrator could easily be seen as a racist. I didn’t think he was, but I left it open to question. Better story that way. You can always go to the FFO site and search my name.
Do you have a favourite format to work in? Short story, novella or novel.
Not novella. I liked what we did with Vern in the Heat, a story basically saved by Chris Rhatigan. He said something late in the edits that got me to rewrite the ending, and it works now. But that started as a nine page short story that gave the female short shrift, so I bulked it up but it wouldn’t grow to novel length.
I like novels, but damn they take a long time. So I punctuate the process, hit a lull and write a few short stories. Which I love, although they also take longer than they “should.” Basically, my idea of how long a story should take to write needs adjustment.
Do you have a typical writing schedule?
Not mornings generally, that’s for damn sure. I really have difficulty writing until after dark. A couple drinks in and the words flow. I’m not a day drinker. Bless ’em, though.
Do you insert family, friends, and colleagues into your characters? I’d be keen to hear if Tommy is based around a close acquaintance.
Tommy was based on me. Marriage crumbling, too much drinking. Not the crimes part, or the incompetence on the job. I was pretty deep into the book when my wife moved out. Made it my most noir book yet. Mike Monson asked me how I wrote the character of Uncle Dust. I had to verbalize a shrug. I was telling a story on the page. That’s the game, right?
When you have an idea and you sit down to construct your story – do you know what the end result is roughly going to look like? Are you a plotter, or do you make it up as you go along?
Uncle Dust started with the premise, rambled on from there. With the Right Enemies started with me pretty much knowing the ending. Middles tend to be tricky. I let them write themselves, then I get pissed at them and start crossing shit out.
Are there any subjects off limits? From some of the vivid descriptions of Tommy’s unfortunate digestive system, perhaps not.
If you’d asked Jack Ketchum that before he wrote The Girl Next Door, he might have mentioned child abuse. Off limits is a limit—to the imagination. Which, as writing tools go, is pretty damn important.
How long from conception to completion did Tommy Shakes take? Was it a smooth process or were there many bumps in the road along the way?
Did the end result mirror your expectations at the start of the process, or is it a very different book to what you imagined?
I started writing it while I was sick. There’s your exegesis for the premise. It took about a year, a year of working on it damn near every day. It was hard as hell to write. I don’t remember what I expected. I liked the ending, that’s all.
Are there any unpublished gems in your bottom drawer?
Ha ha ha. Hell no. The only possibilities are out for submission, and I guarantee someone will publish them.
What’s the current project in progress?
The sequel to Blood by Choice, if I can make it work. Another short story while I pause in thought.
What’s the best thing about writing?
When the results exceed what you were going for. That happened on a story I wrote recently. It ventured into turf that’s new for me. A lot of my short stories have a basic plot and a slam bang finish, but sometimes something organically turns into something never intended and it’s beautiful.
The uncertainty. Not that I’ll never be able to write again, but that I won’t be able to finish this story. It’s tricky when one of your phobias is about losing control of your mind and you always count on your mind to write. I think that’s it, the fear. My mom suffered from dementia in her later years. I already had the phobia, but I guarantee that didn’t help.
I believe you have also done a lot of editing work as well.
Is it an easier gig than the writing or more difficult? To the uninitiated what’s actually involved in the process ……. correcting punctuation, tidying up clunky sentences, advising on pace, plot, character, direction???
It’s generally easier, and it generally pays better. Not that most of what I’ve edited has paid well. Most of what I’ve edited has been well written but in dire need of grammatical help. Which I offer, but it’s always up to them. I ain’t the fucking writer. Thing is, I also get edits from writers who are really good, whether it’s through ADR or they sought me out. Shout out to Tom Pitts, who not only sends me damn near everything he’s written, but has referred some damn good writers to me.
Are authors always receptive to suggestions and perceived improvements or can there be resistance and resentment?
I’ve noticed resistance but not resentment. Always do your edits as suggestions and those are the results you should get. Now, when I published my own magazine, I had a couple of writers withdraw their work because they didn’t like the process. I was bothered by the second guy because I loved his basic story and I really thought our edits would have tidied it up. And again, they were suggestions. I don’t remember the writer’s name. I think that entire exchange is lost in an email account I haven’t been able to access in years.
Is it easier to edit the work of a stranger or a friend?
Depends on the friend and the stranger. I used to introduce my work in writing groups with “Eviscerate it.” Which is how I edit. So, no more writer’s groups for me except with friends who want that.
What are the last five books you’ve read?
Three Fifths, John Vercher. The Unrepentant, E.A. Aymar. Hollywood Homicide, Kellye Garrett. The Kingdom, Fuminori Nakamura. Dope Fiend, Donald Goines. I’ve also read a lot of dead white men; I’m currently rereading The Hunter by Richard Stark. You know this is a dangerous question to ask a writer, right?
Who do you read and enjoy?
Besides the excellent crop of new kids (always say things as though you’re talking down to people, they love it), Stark, Jim Thompson, Hammett, Himes, Highsmith. I’ll stop while I’m in the H’s. Basically, I love great noir.
Is there any one book you wish you had written?
I wish I had the knowledge to write The Maltese Falcon or Red Harvest. Or damn near anything by David Goodis. But I love reading those guys, and it’s not that I’d have wanted to write their books. Other great books: Leonard Gardner, Fat City, and George V. Higgins, The Friends of Eddie Coyle. Plus a zillion great books that aren’t noir. Dostoyevsky, Borges, the Eastern European World War II writers. It’s incredible that I write anything with the knowledge that there’s so much still to read.
TV addict or not? What’s the must watch show in the Pierce household?
The Wire. I’ve seen each episode at least a half dozen times. So brilliantly written, acted, directed, and seen. And I mean seen as a full event, a five act play, one act per season. Where certain things need to happen each season, but certain things need to happen by the end of the show. And they never knew, season to season, if it would be their last. It was like a book contract.
What are the last three pieces of music you’ve listened to?
The latest Jason Isbell, the new one by Cup, and I don’t know. I’m currently listening to Kristofferson. “If booze was just a dime a bottle, boy, you couldn’t even buy the smell.” My music tastes run all over the place.
Many thanks to Rob for his time.
You can catch him at the following haunts..
And check out Tommy Shakes...
He’s in a marriage he wants to salvage. He convinces himself that his wife, Carla, will allow him to stay with her and their teenage son, Malik, if he can bring home enough money. She tells him that won’t do it, he needs to quit crime altogether, but Tommy gets a crack at a big heist and decides to pull the job.
The job is ripping off a popular restaurant that runs an illegal sports book in back. A lot of money gets paid out on football Sundays; the plan is to pull the robbery on Saturday night. The back room has armed guards but, according to Smallwood, Tommy’s contact on the job, there’s no gang protection.
Tommy recons the job and finds two problems: Smallwood’s plan will get them all killed or up on murder one, and one security guy works for a local gangster, Joey Lee. Tommy’s desperate for money and figures he can make his own plan. As to the gangster, there’s enough money that it’s worth the risk.
They pull the robbery but one gang member gets gun happy and it turns into a bloodbath, which includes killing Lee’s man. Now they’re wanted for murder, and the law is the least of their problems.
Praise for TOMMY SHAKES:
“With his pitch-perfect ear for dialogue, his knack for crisp pacing, and his unerring eye for what might be called the milieu of functional dissolution, Rob Pierce has revealed himself in story after story as a poet of the luckless, the bard of the misbegotten. In the hero of his latest and best, Tommy Shakes, he has found his Frankie Machine.” —David Corbett, award-winning author of The Long-Lost Love Letters of Doc Holliday