Monday, June 19, 2017

A Conversation With Angel Colon

Officially, Angel Colón is the Anthony and Derringer Award-nominated author of No Happy Endings, the Blacky Jaguar series of novellas, and the upcoming short story anthology, Meat City on Fire (And Other Assorted Debacles). His fiction has appeared in multiple web and print publications including Thuglit, Literary Orphans, and Great Jones Street. He’s repped by Peter Steinberg at Foundry Literary.

Just between us, we’ve been online friends for a few years now and there are few who are more fun to trade ideas with. Read on if you doubt me.

One Bite at a Time: Tell us about this Blacky Jaguar character.
Angel Colon: Blacky Jaguar is the last son of a bitch you need walking into your life. Ex-IRA, current FBI most-wanted, and all-time asshole. He's a swaggering, loudmouth, villainous prick who happens to let his conscience--what little of it there is--get the better of him on most occasions, though, there's usually an obscene amount of collateral damage left in his wake.

I like to say he's a hurricane what walks like a man.

In other words: the ideal drinking partner.

OBAAT: So how’d he get hooked up with the Cool Clux Cult?
AC: Blacky's an idiot, but he's not dumb. After his exploits in The Bronx during Fury the man knows he's working against the clock and will be behind bars before long. That said, he figures a road trip to Graceland is in order as it's been on his bucket list. Unfortunately, Blacky needs money and finds himself wrapped up in an old friend's mess against a shadowy internet cabal making life pretty damn difficult for the residents of a Tennessee town. The Cool Clux Cult is a frustrating problem for Blacky - how does he win against something he can't punch? And how does a man with a background in a heavily political movement (which is me putting the IRA lightly, I know) handle coming face to face with ideologues and modern American social justice?

OBAAT: As a fellow Down & Out author, I was tickled to death to see No Happy Endings was recently nominated for an Anthony Award for best novella. Give us some idea how proud the other nominees should be to have been included in your company.
AC: Who doesn't want to be on a slate with a story about stealing semen in the middle of a hurricane? That's some prestige money can't buy!

All jokes aside, it's insane to see No Happy Endings get enough love to even be shortlisted. I'm proud and also pretty fucking humbled that enough people thought enough of the story to include it in their lists for nomination.

That said, it is infinitely entertaining a novella about a sperm heist and Johnny Shaw's outstanding short story, “Gary's Got A Boner,” were both nominated. I think this year's B'Con may have a subtle theme.

OBAAT: Let’s talk about writing in general for a minute and the process that earned the nomination. Do you edit as you go? Throw anything into a first draft knowing the hard work is in the revisions? Something in between?
AC: It's a big mix but I ultimately edit as I go and then I edit some more followed by ugly crying and more editing. Novellas are a little easier to burn through and come back to sorting out in multiple revise phases. The length is also useful as I can read the story out loud to my wife - which is sort of a tradition for Blacky - and spot where the voice is off or when I use redundant phrases.

Honestly, the hard work is constant. No Happy Endings, which earned the Anthony nomination for Best Novella this year, went through three completely different protagonists and a POV change. It took me a while to find a sweet spot that lived up to my initial "pitch" and even then what was printed was not what I originally had in mind - which is pretty fortunate!

OBAAT: I know the feeling. I was 40,000 words into my third Nick Forte novel when I realized I had a tar baby on my hands. I outlined what had been done, outlined what else needed to happen, and threw away a bunch of stuff. End result was a Shamus nomination. My current novel, Resurrection Mall¸ started out as a Forte story until I realized 50,000 words in it didn’t belong there, so I threw away almost everything and started over with it as a Penns River novel that eventually got a contract from Down & Out. At what point did you realize you had to go back to the drawing board, and what was your reaction when you decided you had no choice. Mine was, “Awwww, fuck.”
AC: It's a palpable, ragged breathing, veiny-necked anger when you have that moment of "Awwww, fuck." It happened with Blacky Jaguar Against the Cool Clux Cult, too. I had entire subplots in this bad boy that forced two from-the-ground-up rewrites. One bit: there was going to be a pair of teenage girls on a Bucket List style road trip—one was dying from leukemia—and  they literally latch onto Blacky in the middle of this whole mess. Ultimately, they were a distraction and had their own legs. Silver lining there is maybe that becomes its own thing. Really, that's about what keeps me sane sometimes - the idea that what I throw out isn't necessarily a wasted effort. Sometimes it's just meant to fit somewhere else.
OBAAT: You’re into novellas, as No Happy Endings and the Blacky Jaguar series all fit the form. What appeals to you most about novellas? Do you have trouble getting your stories to fit comfortably between short stories and novels?
AC: I've actually completed five novels now. One is with my agent and the other two are being retooled. What I like about the novella is the format allows me to tell stories that aren't 'aligned' with whatever the latest flavor of the month 'sure path to publishing success' may be. I can chase those random concepts that have legs longer than flash or short fiction would allow without having to pad the damn thing into oblivion.

Let's be honest, Blacky Jaguar is fun as hell and I love that people always ask for more of the character, but I truly believe I would not get that response if I made you read through 300-plus pages of the character. I think writers need to recognize that finding the right length for a project is just as important as the actual project. I can't tell you how often I read a novel that could have lost 100 pages easily or read a short that has the legs to be novella/novel length but falters.
Writers have so many options these days. Exercise them!

OBAAT: Excellent point about how Blacky—all characters, all projects—have a prime length. Too short and people feel unsatisfied. Too long and you’re trying to wring blood from a stone. (We’ve all read books—and series---where that happens.) You and I have a similar take on that. The catch is that the archetypical “best seller” has an approximate length that people expect, and one deviates from that at one’s own peril. As a fellow deviant, what are your feelings about writing books that may limit your mass appeal? More to the point, who do you write for?
AC: I write for my kids - weird answer, so let me elaborate. I write material that makes me happy and doesn't necessarily compromise my specific vision because I want my rugrats to see that this pursuit, and all the goddamn work that comes with it, is meant to be satisfying to the artist as much as to the consumer. Can I write to the market? Sure. Will I? Maybe. I can't say for certain an idea might grab me that leans heavily to the mainstream. (Hell, one or two novels I'm working on just might). That doesn't mean I'll ever sacrifice my voice, though. It took me a long damn time to be comfortable with my voice and I don't want to walk away from that.

In short - if I can be an example to my kids in that sense - it's 100% worth it. I don't want them to believe the payoff has to be money or fame. Those things are certainly nice and definitely something to strive for, but the satisfaction of creating and sharing is something that I am so happy to have had the good luck to experience.

OBAAT: Novellas have made a bit of a comeback recently as e-books, largely because production costs make it difficult for print publishers to find a good price point. Down & Out is bringing Blacky out in paperback. Was that your idea, or theirs, and how did it come about?
AC: Down & Out rocks? It's a pretty cool partnership now that Shotgun Honey and Down & Out have joined forces. That said, I've been lucky that all of my releases so far have been available in print and digital! I am that damn cool. On a more professional note, though - I think there's still something to holding a physical book no matter the length. With the way Amazon and other sellers are built, I think it's ridiculous to not offer readers an option - especially if the cost is at a minimum.

OBAAT: So I’m guessing I’ll see you in Toronto. Tell you what, if you don’t win the Anthony, first drink’s on me. If you do win, first drink’s on you. I mean, you’re celebrating and almost certainly wouldn’t have won without the OBAAT bounce, right?
AC: For sure I'm in Toronto, but I'll be on a plane when they don't call my name. Scheduling demands my ass back in the States on Sunday afternoon. My wife and kids give me a wide berth for this stuff, but being gone from Thursday is pushing it. (Also, the only other flight out would have me landing later than I need to be driving on the Jersey Turnpike than I'd enjoy). Still, we'll certainly have a drink or two and I'll bitch about something involving the current state of crime fiction politics as is required at Bouchercon.

OBAAT: We’ll just have to have that drink in advance. I’ll buy and you can pay me back after you win—with interest—in St. Petersburg.

Thanks, Angel. This was great fun. Looking forward to more from you.

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