S.W. Lauden’s short fiction has been published by Out of the Gutter, Criminal Element, Dark Corners, Akashic Books, WeirdBook, Spelk Fiction, Shotgun Honey and Crimespree Magazine. His debut novel, Bad Citizen Corporation, is available now from Rare Bird Books. His novella, Crosswise, will be published by Down & Out Books in 2016.
One Bite at a Time: Tell us about Bad Citizen Corporation. (Which is, by the way, a bitchin cool title.)
S.W. Lauden: Thanks for having me! Bad Citizen Corporation was always the name of the punk band featured in the novel, but I never considered it for the title until one of my beta readers suggested it. It made sense since the story revolves around the former lead singer of that band, Greg Salem, who goes on to become an East LA cop later in life. He ends up shooting a kid during a pursuit and might lose his badge over the incident—which is bad enough—but then his best friend gets killed by gunmen at a punk show. From there he goes rogue and tries to track down the killer in the beach town where they grew up.
OBAAT: Where did you get this idea, and what made it worth developing for you? (Notice I didn’t ask “Where do you get your ideas?” I was careful to ask where you got this idea.)
SWL: I grew up near the beach in SoCal and spent many years as a musician. I knew I wanted to incorporate those experiences into a crime/mystery novel, but didn’t feel inspired until I came up with the idea for a punk rock cop. I liked the conflict of him surfing and playing shows at the beach on the weekend, but having to be an authority figure at his day job. It’s a nice metaphor for growing up in general, only with more violence and murder.
OBAAT: How long did it take to write Bad Citizen Corporation, start to finish?
SWL: I started it five years ago, writing early in the morning and late at night. Probably had a first draft around three years ago. Made final edits and tweaks on it pretty much up until it got published this October.
OBAAT: Where did Salem come from? In what ways is he like, and unlike, you?
SWL: Greg Salem is all the disparate parts of my life—the good, the bad and the ugly—totally fictionalized, deconstructed, put back together wrong, run through the filter of a faulty memory, and rolled up into one neat little collection of contradictions.
OBAAT: In what time and place is Bad Citizen Corporation set? How important is the setting to the book as a whole?
SWL: The story is primarily set in a fictional SoCal beach town called The Bay Cities. South Bay is where Greg lives now, near the beach and among the wealthy elite. North Bay is the rough-and-tumble, blue-collar neighborhood where Greg grew up. The bulk of the action takes place in the last few years.
The setting was very important to me because, in addition to Greg’s own internal struggles with his past and present, I wanted to explore the juxtaposition between the beach towns I grew up around and what they’ve become over time. Although I have to admit that I rolled other well-known SoCal towns like Santa Barbara and Silverlake into the equation.
OBAAT: How did Bad Citizen Corporation come to be published?
SWL: At first I went the usual route of querying publishers and agents for about a year after I’d gotten to the fourth or fifth draft. Many rejections later, I started going to conferences and joining organizations like MWA and SinC LA. Through all of that, and doing author Q&As on my blog, I got to know the amazing SoCal writer Naomi Hirahara. She introduced me to the team at Prospect Park Books. They read my manuscript and thought it would be a good fit for Tyson Cornell at Rare Bird Books. He agreed. Here we are!
OBAAT: What kinds of stories do you like to read? Who are your favorite authors, in or out of that area?
SWL: I’m pretty immersed in a lot of really great west coast Indie crime and mystery fiction from the likes of Eric Beetner, Anonymous-9, Rob Pierce, Matt Phillips, Will Viharo, Sarah M. Chen, Josh Stallings, Joe Clifford—way too many to name. But, you know what? I’m also a sucker for hooky YA, I enjoy literary fiction, and I will even read the occasional science fiction novel. As for favorite authors, Kurt Vonnegut is the one who really opened my eyes. I also like a lot Umberto Eco’s books, Kem Nunn, Raymond Chandler, Lev Grossman, Don Winslow, Jo Nesbo, Arnaldur Indridason, Neal Stephenson. The list gets longer every day.
OBAAT: What made you decide to be an author?
SWL: I love to read. Not really sure it’s more complicated than that.
OBAAT: How do you think your life experiences have prepared you for writing crime fiction?
SWL: For this book in particular, my life experiences were important. In addition to my music background and where I grew up, a lot of the action is set in bars and clubs. I was a bartender for many years and believe that the people serving your drinks often have the best (and worst) stories to tell about you.
OBAAT: What do you like best about being a writer?
SWL: Coming from bands, it feels like I’ve gone solo. No more organizing rehearsals, gigs or driving around in a beat up old van with three or four other distinct personalities. But I still get to be creative. And I don’t have to worry as much about whether or not my skinny jeans fit (they don’t—deal with it).
OBAAT: Who are your greatest influences? (Not necessarily writers. Filmmakers, other artists, whoever you think has had a major impact on your writing.)
SWL: Hard not to name drop punk heroes like Henry Rollins, Keith Morris, Patti Smith, Iggy Pop and Ian McKay. Dave Grohl and Marc Maron have been great sources of inspiration in recent years, along with Seth Godin. Paul Westerberg always makes me smile. Same with Ryan Adams. James Gunn too. I’ve watched the Grant Hart documentary Every Everything about five times. Everybody should watch the Mike Judge movie Idiocracy.
OBAAT: Do you outline or fly by the seat of you pants? Do you even wear pants when you write?
SWL: I outlined the first draft of BCC, or at least tried to, but Greg Salem wasn’t having any of it. Neither was his sidekick Marco, who wasn’t even in the original concept. Marco was born of long, sleepless nights and a certain kind of computer-fueled punch drunkenness. I’ve come to the conclusion that pants are overrated, unless they’re those sweats that look like jeans.
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?
SWL: I have to accept that it’s done when I publish it. That’s true of short stories and longer works. Up until that point I will happily tinker and tweak until they come to take me away. So I start at word one and just tap-tap-tappity-tap myself silly. But I do leave extensive notes for myself at the end of every session, making sure to capture whatever stream of consciousness I have managed to get flowing with the plot. Then, when I get to the end, I go back to the beginning and start shredding.
OBAAT: Do you listen to music when you write? Do you have a theme song for this book? What music did you go back to over and over as you wrote it, or as you write, in general?
SWL: It’s hard for me to write with music playing most of the time. Too easily distracted. That said, I had periods during the editing process where I was listening to some of my favorite SoCal punk songs. I made a YouTube playlist that features a lot of that music right HERE. (https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLbNzvRx9lF_Tw6oi-I8iYbhBWNf775kwR)
OBAAT: As a writer, what’s your favorite time management tip?
SWL: Don’t wait for inspiration to strike, the perfect environment, or the right mood. Just sit down and write, whether you’ve got fifteen minutes or a whole day to yourself.
OBAAT: If you could give a novice writer a single piece of advice, what would it be?
SWL: Just do it™
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?
SWL: It will probably vary from book to book, but in my case I would say: Character, Narrative, Story/Plot, Tone and Setting. At least that’s my answer at this moment.
I think they’re all important, but as a reader I am most interested in the characters. I’ve put setting last because, although it is crucial in BCC, I’ve found it can be easily fictionalized and manipulated based on character development. If Greg Salem told me he was moving to Bali, I’d follow him there.
Narrative is near the top of the list because it’s closely related to character in my mind, giving shape to the people who drive the action and finding a compelling way to let their stories unfold.
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?
SWL: Too many to choose from. So I’ll go way back and pick Breakfast Of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut. That book hit me in just the right way at just the right time in my life. Ripped my head clean off. I still think of Vonnegut as some kind of surrogate grandpa, although I can’t claim to have inherited any of his amazing talent. Those kinds of personal connections between writers and readers are beautiful things.
OBAAT: Favorite activity when you’re not reading or writing.
SWL: I still like playing drums, although setting them up and breaking them down has lost its luster. Hiking and biking are a constant. Also, long walks on the beach, holding hands and snuggling.
OBAAT: What are you working on now?
SWL: In the middle of final edits for my novella, Crosswise, which comes out from Down & Out Books next March. Just crossed the half way point in the second Greg Salem novel. There will probably be three of those, if everything goes according to plan. Does anything ever go according to plan?
Got your interest piqued? Keep up with Mr. Lauden at these fine Internet locations: