Wednesday, December 1, 2010

An Interview with Steve Weddle

By day a poetry-writing, gun-hating sissy boy, by night Steve Weddle increases his insidious presence through the web’s mean streets of noir fiction. Aside from his own web site and blog, Steve is a contributor to the group blog Do Some Damage and co-conspirator collaborator with John Hornor Jacobs on Needle, The Magazine of Noir. His short fiction has appeared in such prestigious sites as Beat to a Pulp, Crime Factory, and A Twist of Noir. He is also a regular contributor to online flash fiction challenges, which is what got him started on the downward spiral that culminated in an interview with yours truly, when he became co-editor with Patti Abbott of the e-book collection of flash stories, Discount Noir.

OBAAT: As you’re a co-editor of Discount Noir, tell us a little about how it came to be.

SW: I saw the People of Walmart website and started talking about it on Twitter. I linked up some pics from the site and we all had huge laughs.

Keith Rawson and I thought it would make a great flash fiction challenge. Then we bugged Patti Abbott, as she hosts flash fiction challenges.

Patti’s site ended up with a huge number of great stories. She and I thought it would be cool to see them together, and I enlisted the help of the world’s best agent, Stacia Decker. We then harassed the hell out of some more really talented authors, asking them to contribute flash pieces. Everyone was terrifically kind and generous with their time and talents.

Stacia worked with Untreed Reads on the deal, and soon enough the book was out in the world.

OBAAT: Patti Abbott has had several flash fiction challenges. Why do you think this one gained enough momentum to become a book?

SW: I think this one speaks to people on a number of levels. So many of these sites – People of Walmart, Awkward Family Photos, Passive Aggressive Notes, and so on – already create mini-stories from the artwork they provide. And, as writers, I think we do this all the time. You see a dumb picture and you think up a caption. Or you see a photo of a woman with a purple wig, fishnet hose, and a tanktop that says “Jesus is the Reason” and you just have to write the story.

Also, I think timing has a good deal to do with the success of any flash challenge. You catch folks when they have time. They have to be able to write and read. Lulls throughout the year, you know? Thanksgiving week, for example, would be a bad time to host a challenge like this.

And one of the bonuses from a challenge like this is that you get to hop around to people’s sites and read what they’ve written, see comments from folks you might not yet know, and generally just wander around the internet as if it were some huge party sprawling across the entire neighborhood.

And, of course, it doesn’t hurt to have the talent and reputation of Patti Abbott behind something like this.

OBAAT: It’s hard to say much about a piece of flash fiction without giving it away. What can you tell us about your contribution to Discount Noir, “Code Adam?”

SW: I’d had a couple of stories about this character, Oscar Martello, recently published. One the first week of the year at Beat To A Pulp and one in the first issue of the relaunched Crimefactory. Both are fantastic publishers of fiction, by the way. So I had these Oscar Martello stories and they were fitting in to a nice, longer story I had in mind. Probably a novel. Martello is trying to get out of “the business,” but then he’s pulled in by the murder of his son. I knew he had to get from a job in Kansas to a big meeting in New York City. I already had a story in mind for a stop in Pennsylvania. Stopping at a Walmart in Ohio just made sense, you know? Of course, when doesn’t it?

OBAAT: “Code Adam” has one of my favorite opening lines: “You just don’t have the kind of day I was having and not kill someone.” It sets the tone and establishes expectations for the reader. Do you feel hooking the reader quickly is more important in flash than in a longer work, or will readers hang with a piece they know is flash because it won’t last too long?

SW: Thanks. That’s nice of you to say. I had the line before I had the story. Sometimes it happens that way. And other times the first line doesn’t survive the writing of the story and I have to set it aside for another story. In cooking, first you make a roux. In writing, well, first you get that one line down. And you have to be in control the entire time when you’re writing flash. In a novel, you can develop some ideas that won’t come through for a hundred pages. You’re in control, but it’s more a cross-country race with a novel. Like “Cannonball Run” as opposed to the drag race off Exit 119.

In flash, you’re much more focused on tone, on action, I think. Hooking the reader? Hell, that’s all flash is – the hook. You don’t have time to pull the reader into the boat, fillet his ass, and grill him for dinner. Just hook the reader. That’s plenty.

OBAAT: You’re a founding member of the collaborative blog, Do Some Damage. Where did the idea for DSD come from, and how did the original seven writers come together?

SW: I was visiting my agent, Stacia Decker, in New York a couple summers ago. She was talking to me about other writers. At the time, the only person I knew in the writing world was my agent, really. So she mentioned Jay Stringer, an Englishman over in Scotland. He was a bit of a noob, too, I think. So I emailed back and forth with him and I suggested we find some folks and start up a group blog – with noobs like me and seasoned, published people. You know, to kinda show the different stages of awesomeness? Dopes like me with no track record and nothing to show one day, then another person talking Hollywood deals the next. I’d been reading Murderati and First Offenders and any number of writer blogs. I get these dumb ideas and it’s important that someone is there to explain to me why it won’t work. But Jay thinks it’s a good idea, so we start grabbing folks. Stacia suggested John McFetridge, because she’d worked with him when she was an editor. And Jay knew Russel McLean. And we just started bugging folks. What has surprised me is the amount of engagement from readers. The folks who stop by every single day and comment and move the conversation along. It’s as if we have hundred of bloggers, not just eight. It’s a helluva community, and I’m just awed and appreciative. Nice to be part of something with so many cool people.

OBAAT: The Do Some Damage writers have an electronic anthology of their own out, called Terminal Damage. Tell us a little about that.

SW: Well, we’ve got me there as well as some real talent, right? So we’re thinking we should pool resources and see about this ebook hoohah folks are talking about. Not sure if you’ve heard anything about it, but someone said the other day that ebooks are a big deal. And, of course, the stories had to be linked. So we emailed back and forth until everyone started marking my replies as spam. We had some starts and stops, but did manage to get the TERMINAL DAMAGE out a little after our first anniversary. What I like most about it is that you have people in one story popping up in another. And that each story is so different. Sure, they all take place somehow at the airport. But Joelle’s voice is much different from Scott’s. And Bryon’s stripper is nothing like Jay’s wrestlers. And Dave and John and Russel all come with such different takes on the idea. It was just really cool to see what everyone did within that set of parameters.

And the thing has been selling pretty well on Amazon and Smashwords. Jason Pinter was nice enough to write the introduction. So we put it together – edited and proofed and so forth – and John Hornor Jacobs did a great cover for us, and folks were downloading the book and reading it right away. It was pretty cool to see it all come together. Really nice of people to be so supportive of the project.

OBAAT: You give the impression of being a well-adjusted, intelligent, friendly person with a good sense of humor, yet every time I spot you on the web you’re engaged in some manner of crime. What is it that draws such a man to crime and noir fiction, or is the whole well-adjusted, intelligent, and friendly persona a ruse?

SW: I spend a good deal of time self-medicating, so that could have something to do with it.

I think if Faulkner were writing today, people might call him noir. Melville, too. Dostoyevsky. Good fiction is full of conflict, and, in a sense, crime is conflict at a societal level. I’m not entirely sure I know what the hell I’m talking about, but I think you can have family conflicts and national conflicts. But I’m a country boy. Those were my conflicts. I grew up in a papermill town. I grew up in the woods.

Someone in my family, and I’m not pointing fingers, but someone turned a bunch of hogs loose in south Arkansas many, many years ago rather than pay taxes on them when the government men came around. Never got all the hogs back, either, damn it. If that were fiction, would it be crime fiction? Southern fiction? Noir fiction? Agri-fiction?

Also, I guess, writing is an attempt to make sense of the pain, right? The loss. The emptiness, the hollow feeling that comes in at three in the morning and just pulls the spark out of your soul while you lie there waiting for daylight. Sorry. Time for a glass of medicine. Or my notebook.

OBAAT: Who are your major influences as a writer? Favorite books?

SW: One of the best books I’ve ever read, a book that combines the awfulness of the human condition (whatever the hell I mean by that) and the absolute hilarity of life is Joyce’s Finnegans Wake. I read this in graduate school, for class, and we devoted an entire semester to it. Read history books to understand the jokes. Studied ancient manuscripts to get the references. I mean, this was an all-encompassing kind of read. Really, really cool. I can’t imagine doing that on my own. But that’s my all-time favorite book. I know I sound like a complete douche for picking that one. You know, like when you say your favorite song is “No Scrubs” by TLC and someone else says, “Oh, mine is “Symphony Number 162 in K Major by Rudebaynov.” Still, I do love me some James Joyce.

The two books I’ve just recently finished that I love are PIKE by Benjamin Whitmer and THE DAMAGE DONE by Hilary Davidson. Great books. In fact, we’re talking about PIKE over at the Do Some Damage book group on if you’d like to join us. And I read THIS DARK EARTH by John Hornor Jacobs, too, and hope everyone gets the chance to see it. Post-apocalyptic awesomeness. And OLD GOLD by Jay Stringer. Great characters and story in that one.

OBAAT: Aside from Discount Noir, where else can people find your writing?

SW: I should be fairly well linked up over at if anyone gives a damn. TERMINAL DAMAGE. Beat To A Pulp. Crimefactory. A Twist of Noir. Places everyone should know for their fantastic stories anyway.

OBAAT: What are you working on now?

SW: Right now we’re finishing the proofs for NEEDLE magazine, which is always exciting. This is our third issue and features the first installment of Ray Banks’s brand new novel, WOLF TICKETS. I’m friggin thrilled as hell that we’ve got the opportunity to serialize Ray’s new novel in the next few issues.

Also working on another anthology by some of my favorite writers, something with a country flair. And I’m talking with John McFetridge about a larger project we think might work, something in the ebook publishing realm.

And I’m working on my second Alex Jackson novel right now. I like this one because it starts with a dead stripper. And Alex’s best friend, the internet porn kingpin, is the suspect. So, you know, a book for the kids.

If my agent asks, I’m also working on the Oscar Martello novel she wants. Oh, and Roy Alison novel, too. I have a Roy Alison story coming out in an anthology soon, so I really should work on that book. But, you know, there isn’t enough time to write my stuff and read all the other great stuff. And I’m working on Bill Cameron’s DAY ONE right now. Sometimes, you know, you just have to set aside your own writing to read something great. Still, seriously, DO NOT tell my agent. I told her I’m writing the books she told me to write. So, you know, shhhhh.


pattinase (abbott) said...

A book for the kids! Without Steve's ability to attract an agent this piece of work would reside on my computer only.

Steve Weddle said...

Thanks for taking the time and giving the space for the chat, sir.

And, Patti, we all know how much work you did. Much thanks, again

Kathleen A. Ryan said...

Thanks, Dana, for this enjoyable interview with Steve. A very busy, talented guy! Looking forward to 3rd issue of NEEDLE.