AP: Thanks for being with us! Can you tell us a little about yourself and how you became a writer?
JWL: First thank you for the review and the interview. It is difficult for the novice to learn marketing and you guys are great to work with.
Y’know everyone says they started writing as a kid, and I know that’s true for me. I started telling and then writing stories as soon as I could hold a pencil. I learned to read and to write very early, and was reading a lot of classic literature late in elementary school. I used to drive my English teacher crazy with this very literary stuff when all she wanted was a theme about my weekend adventures. I wrote my first screenplay in Sixth grade, it was an episode of The A Team, it was terrible… Through High School I wrote a lot of Sci-Fi and combat stuff, war fiction and the super soldier stuff was big in the late 1980s. I didn’t write much when I was in the Army, but I did put on a lot of mileage.
By maybe 1999 or 2000 I was looking at taking it to the next level but I wasn’t quite sure what that was… I was writing a lot of very over the top stuff, but you don’t really know how to write anything beyond a few thousand words until you do it. My first real book project was an editing and rewriting gig with an old friend who was into mythos fiction. After that I was cranking out a lot of flash fictions and short stories over at www.zoetrope.com. It was one of those flash fiction contests that prompted my first novel.
AP: Who were some of the early influences on your writing style?
JWL: Good question, because I believe in a lot of ways you are what you read. I wasn’t allowed to play sports as a kid, so I spent a lot of time in my books and in my head. I read everybody from Judy Blume to Emile Zola. I loved comics, particularly horror and detective stuff. I read my way through Burroughs, Tarzan was my favorite. Robert Heinlein was and is a favorite, matter of fact I’m reading Glory Road right now. I discovered pulp in a box of comics and detective magazines bought for a dollar at a garage sale in the mid 1980s. It was racy stuff compared to David Copperfield. I still remember reading Paul Cain’s One, Two, Three for the first time. Wow.
When you’re a kid though, there’s a certain pressure to have an eye on what’s popular at the time, even if you’re not particularly concerned, and so I got into the fictional accounts and history of the Vietnam War. I read Platoon, Hamburger Hill, and Deadly Green, but the one that hit me hardest and still resonates is Body Count, by William Turner Huggett. He was writing a contemporary, gritty, war novel, but it was graphic in both its language, and depiction. He was a year out of Vietnam when he wrote it, the war hadn’t sat on his shelf long enough to mellow and age. In the service I read a ton of biographies about military people, all the bigger than life generals anyhow.
In the last 10 years or so it has been a mixed bag, Spider Robinson, pulp anthologies, Becky Benston, Bobby Nash, and the dystopian stuff like Fahrenheit 451.
AP: Your first book, Frank Testimony, was released in 2006. Can you tell us a bit about what it’s about and how readers can get ahold of it?
JWL: Frank Testimony is a legal thriller set in 1950s Mississippi. I didn’t even know that book was inside me until it sort of exploded. It was about this time (December 29, 2005) when I was gearing up for the weekly flash over at Zoetrope. As it turned out there was no regular contest because of the holiday weekend. Another regular poster who hosted a site called The Redrum Tavern, posted a prompt, ‘Death’. The very second I started writing I knew something was up because it was just pouring out on the page. 40 days and 144,000 words later I had something that I had a sense was very special, to me at least. It wasn’t until I started getting reader feedback that I realized that I’d turned a corner as a writer.
Frank Testimony is the story of jealousy gone bad. Frank Burchill is implicated in the murders of his would be sweetheart Mae Whitaker and her father. If it was up to Sheriff Cobb, the prosecutor and other good ol’ boys Frank would have a one way ticket to the gas chamber. But Judge Hull smells a rat, a big one named Bobby Lee Russell who is almost genealogically predisposed to criminal mischief, Klan violence, and just being generally hateful and nasty.
AP: A Week in Hell is your newest release and is the first in the Champion City series. What led to the development of this novel and how will future books carry the story forward?
JWL: Spade, Marlowe, and Hammer are all detectives in big cities, Gothams, Metropolises, everyone knows those places are dens of scum. Thurman Dicke is a big Slavic/German cop in a dying Midwestern blue collar city. Champion City is a big bowl of the low parts of Americana. It has a Tammany-esque political machine, restrictive ethnicity in neighborhoods, both Irish and Italian organized crime, dying industry, and dirty business. There are varying degrees of justice and as the top cop says: There’s a right way, a wrong way and the CCPD way.
The series will chronicle Thurman’s rise to glory, his fall from grace, and his redemption. Thurman won’t always be a beat cop, he won’t always work for CCPD, and there will be points when his white hat turns a very dark gray. He’s a bigger than life guy, and thus his highs are higher and his lows will be catastrophic. He isn’t a one man army, but he does what he has to do to get things done. I hesitate to say that each book builds on the last building up steam for the big finish, but the last book is already written, not set in stone… But I pretty well have it.
AP: The language and situations in A Week in Hell are pretty mature — was there ever a point when you were writing the story where you felt you were pushing the envelope too far?
JWL: It is a bit more than edgy. I count the book as a victory, but in the future my narrative can be accomplished with much more ferocity with less explicit display. I don’t think it oversteps its bounds much more than any of the so called Neo-Pulp, but I’m trying to do something more traditional that loosing a hedonistic gorilla on an idyllic hamlet. The masters of the style got it there without the use of such devices and I should endeavor to do so.
AP: What do you think about the modern pulp revival? What role do you think the hardboiled genre has to play in its resurgence?
JWL: I think it’s about time. There was so much great stuff written that laid the ground work for people who are writing now. I think the best stuff is yet to come, and there’s some guy or gal out there writing right now, something that will get passed on by a big house that will turn the pulp community on its ear, just like pulp did to so called polite society 70 years ago.
I think that when a lot of people think of pulp they think of the hardboiled genre. They don’t consider that it was ever about Heroes, Villains, or Characters other than those considered on the fringe. I guess I fall in that camp also because I equate the hardboiled style to a language and landscape painted in shades of noir with the good guys and the bad guys being varying shades of gray, and evil being true black.
I think that hardboiled stories are going to be an introduction to pulp for a lot of people. A resurgence or renaissance of traditional pulp is a great thing, and opened the genre for a brand new generation of readers and writers, ushering in a new era. I think that there are also some negatives, depraved things that masquerade as pulp that aren’t are where warning labels and censorship will come into play.
AP: What’s next for you?
JWL: Rewriting and editing the second book in the Champion City Series. Then I have a WWII story that I am very interested in, that came to me first as an April Fools shaggy dog in a small town newspaper. I’m a history nerd, and the story of Operation Pastorius is an excellent foil for plausible deniability, gets good mileage for the war effort, and makes great conspiracy… Fiction with firm foundations in real history make for very gripping stories…
There’s also an opportunity to write another pulp horror story. A hardboiled mythos thing. Not sure of a lot of detail about that at this point its still written ona napkin with a coffee ring…
AP: If readers want to find out more about you and your work, where can they do so?
JWL:I’m easy to find, Author J Walt Layne on facebook. I’m being pushed to relaunch my blog at www.championcityontheweb.blogspot.com but I don’t know that I have enough going on to devote an entire blog to it.