Angel Luis Colón is the author of No Happy Endings, The Fury of Blacky Jaguar, and the upcoming short story anthology, Meat City on Fire (And Other Assorted Debacles). He’s an editor for Shotgun Honey, has been nominated for the Derringer Award, and has published stories in multiple web and print pubs such as Thuglit, Literary Orphans, All Due Respect, RT Book Reviews, and The LA Review of Books. He’s currently repped by Foundry Literary + Media.
Keep up with him on Twitter via @GoshDarnMyLife
One Bite at a Time: Tell us about No Happy Endings.
Angel Luis Colon: It’s a story about idiot criminals, terrible families, and secret
Heartwarming stuff, really.
OBAAT: Readers love to ask where authors get their ideas and most authors reply with something along the lines of “we’re tripping over them. The trick is to find the idea that works best for me.” What made this idea worth developing, and how much development from the original germ was required?
ALC: The whole tripping over ideas thing is true for me. I tend to have to fight back the temptation of new ideas whenever I’m working on a project. Starting is easy, finishing is the hardest bit.
This one took me some time to really nail down. I’d start it up and then abandon it to work on a short or another project. What mattered was that I did keep coming back to it – so at the end of the day, while NHE started as a bit of a joke concept in robbing a sperm bank with messy (har har) results, there was something inside the character relationships and the themes that kept my attention long enough to really flesh them out.
OBAAT: How long did it take to write No Happy Endings, start to finish?
ALC: Maybe over a year. With the breaks and a complete rewrite at one point, there were a lot of delays.
OBAAT: Where did Fantine Park come from? In what ways is she like, and unlike, you?
ALC: Fantine came a little from my desire to read a female character with more baggage than perks. Like most characters I write, I always ask if they feel real enough to have a drink with – Fantine was my attempt to create someone we normally don’t think of having a drink with.
I don’t see a lot of me in Fan beyond the mouth. She’s got an issue with admitting when she’s out of her wheelhouse which I’ve suffered from a little too.
OBAAT: In what time and place is No Happy Endings set and why was this time and place chosen?
ALC: No Happy Endings opens in 2007 to give readers a taste of our villain’s world and to show us Fantine during one of her greatest failures.
Then we jump ahead to 2012 where the action takes place – specifically October of 2012, right before a certain Superstorm slammed into the Northeast.
OBAAT: How did No Happy Endings come to be published?
ALC: I took a chance and pitched it to Down & Out books via email. The response was pretty positive, so we took off from there. My favorite bit was pretty much handshaking the deal in a hallway at Bouchercon 2015 on the way to a panel.
It was painless, which is a rarity in this business.
OBAAT: What kinds of stories do you like to read? Who are your favorite authors, in or out of that area?
ALC: I’m a weird reader. Fluff loses my attention easily so I tend to gravitate towards stories that don’t overly rely on standard tropes to fill in gaps (i.e. procedurals that fill the word count with scenes and interactions we’ve seen a million times before presented the same way over and over). I’m a fan of writers who really test our loyalties to convention – who can take something we’re comfortable with and completely upend that comfort.
Favorite authors include Ted Lewis, Douglas Adams, Clive Barker, Donald Westlake, and S.E Hinton but I can add to that list for days.
OBAAT: What made you decide to be an author?
ALC: I have no memory of learning to read. Words have always been a part of my life and I was a quiet kid in a house with nobody to play with most times. I think it’s easy to start running wild with your imagination and sooner or later it spills out onto a page either in pencil or crayon. I couldn’t draw worth a shit but I sure as hell could describe what I wanted you to see – so the choice was pretty much made.
OBAAT: How do you think your life experiences have prepared you for writing crime fiction?
ALC: I grew up in the Bronx and while that doesn’t make me any expert (I was pretty much a good kid with good grades) I was also exposed to a lot of interesting people from all walks of life. The common thread among them was working class status and a constant need to hustle for their well-being or the well-being of their families; from cops to mobster wannabes.
It was funny. Crime fiction was not my first choice in the genre I wanted to write but realizing where and how I grew up, it’s amazing I could think of anything else.
OBAAT: What do you like best about being a writer?
ALC: It used to be the sense of calm it gave me. Now I really love that there are people willing to give my rantings a shot. That never gets old.
OBAAT: Who are your greatest influences? (Not necessarily writers. Filmmakers, other artists, whoever you think has had a major impact on your writing.)
ALC: Martin Scorcese is a massive influence on how I visualize most anything I write in my own head. I think you can take any of his films and pluck scenes of all kinds that help your writing. Comic books sort of serve the same purpose too. I’ve been a comic book nerd my whole damn life and visual storytelling has been a huge influence on how I write action or frame a scene (descriptions, item placement, and body movement during conversation). I think sometimes we can neglect those things when we’re only focused on story.
OBAAT: Do you outline or fly by the seat of you pants?
ALC: I write very rough outlines. More like mission statements. Then I ignore that and fly by the seat of my pants. I normally know where I want to go but I have no idea how we’re getting there.
OBAAT: Give us an idea of your process. Do you edit as you go? Throw anything into a first draft knowing the hard work is in the revisions? Something in between?
ALC: I used to edit as I wrote but that drained me. Now I keep my head down and write the damn thing. The revisions will fix it and I’m a complete basket case of an editor. Not a damn thing I write goes through less than four revisions – even my flash fiction.
OBAAT: Endings are hard and can make or break a book. Americans as a whole tend to like happy endings, and those are the books that tend to sell best. What do you look for in an ending?
ALC: Endings should be organic. If that means the ending is happy and ties everything up in a bow, sure, so long as that feels like where we’ve been headed. If the ending is dark and challenging, that can work too. What matters is you meet the expectations you set from the start. The most disappointing endings for me are the ones that fizzle out, leave dangling plots for no reason (I don’t care if it’s a series, if you call it out more than once, give us something) or goes against the grain just to go against the grain. Readers don’t always need a twist.
OBAAT: Who is your intended audience?
ALC: Whoever’s willing to part with their time and money. I write what I would like to read. If anyone wants to join in, I’m thrilled to welcome them.
OBAAT: If you could give a novice writer a single piece of advice, what would it be?
ALC: None of this will ever get easier. Accept that you’ve chosen to be a professional reject and an amateur success on your best days and keep writing.
OBAAT: Generally speaking the components of a novel are story/plot, character, setting, narrative, and tone. How would you rank these in order of their importance in your own writing, and can you add a few sentences to tell us more about how you approach each and why you rank them as you do?
ALC: Character rules. I learned early on in life that we will never invest care or time in a story that doesn’t have characters we can relate to or learn to love/hate. Without defined characters, everything else will fall apart.
After that, it’s story/plot, narrative, setting, tone. I feel like each informs the former but character is the glue that holds it all together.
OBAAT: If you could have written any book of the past hundred years, what would it be, and what is it about that book you admire most?
ALC: Thomas Hardy’s Return of The Native. It was his sixth book and it was published in the late 19th century over a year in a magazine. That book gave no fucks for any of the conventions of its era. You can cite that book as the very beginnings of a turn in literature but rarely anyone outside of a classroom knows that.
That’s the kind of book I’d love to write.
OBAAT: Favorite activity when you’re not reading or writing.
ALC: Hanging out with my wife and kids – being the nerdy dad.
OBAAT: What are you working on now?
ALC: I’ve been wrapping up a few things I owe folks but I still have to hammer out a short script and another short for an anthology (my first horror antho) I was invited to contribute to. I’m wrapping up a novel I’m hoping to pitch to a few pubs soon and then work starts on the third Blacky Jaguar novella (the second one, Blacky Jaguar Against The Cool Clux Cult!!! Should drop next year).