Friday, June 28, 2019

S. W. Lauden, Author of That'll Be The Day

I can appreciate how good a writer George Pelecanos is, but I never got into his Derek Strange books because he spends too much time talking about cars and music I know nothing of. S.W. Lauden’s new novelette, That’ll Be The Day, revolves around music I know practically nothing of—it’s damn near about music I know nothing of—yet I read it in a single sitting. Literally couldn’t put it down. That’s some storytelling.

Steve stopped by to dish about the book, writing, and music.

One Bite at a Time: We’ve discussed how much I like That’ll Be The Day, yet the more I think about it the more things I find to like. Let’s start with the characters. It’s often said of a book that no character is all good or all bad, but you pulled that off in convincing ways I’d not seen before. Did you have the characters sketched out in advance?
S.W. Lauden: Thanks so much for the kind words! It definitely helps that I played in bands myself for many years and have plenty of personal experience to draw on. And there’s something about a story of this length (17,000 words) that I find easier to write than either short stories or full-length novels. There’s an immediacy to the pace of the storytelling, but the end is always in sight. All of that makes it easier (for me, at least) to focus on the characters.

OBAAT: Jackson Sharp is a man who can hold a grudge. He wants the fifty grand he had to leave behind when he was sent up mainly so he can afford to find and kill his father. He undergoes quite a change by the end. Was that the point of the book when you started, or did things evolve to there?
SWL: Music and fandom are the framework, but I always thought of this story as Jack’s journey to accepting that his dreams weren’t going to come true (at least not the way he once envisioned them). Jamie has made a kind of peace with his shitty life and found ways to be happy, but Jack can’t even see the point in trying. A big area of focus for me was their simultaneous relationship with music and crime, because that’s what’s in their bones. I wanted the guns and guitars to seem interchangeable to some degree. I was also riffing on the proud history of battling brothers in rock bands (like Ray and Dave Davies of The Kinks, Noel and Liam Gallagher of Oasis, etc.).

OBAAT: Russell Patterson is as fucked up a character as I can remember and in a completely unique way. I suppose people as rich as he is can afford all kinds of off the path hobbies, but what gave you the idea for his personal rock-and-roll memorabilia Hall of Fame?
SWL: Patterson’s definitely a piece of work. I wanted him to embody an overblown version of ‘toxic fandom.’ With any artform, there is always a small but extreme group of fans who take their passion too far and kind of lose sight of the innocent reasons they connected with something in the first place. He’s a shady (sometimes violent) businessman with a very specific kink when it comes to music, but his outrageous collection is really just an extension of his massive ego. The music isn’t enough for a guy like Patterson, he needs to hoard important artifacts from the band’s history and keep them to himself.

OBAAT: Having been a musician myself, I think the reason I’m able to get past the fact I don’t know a lot of the music in the book (I’m more of a classical and jazz guy) was because, unlike the Pelecanos reference above, your musical references are more about the life of a musician than the music. I don’t want to spoil a nice plot point, but I was particularly taken by how Jack and his brother need to make a detour on their way to a job so they can afford to do the job. Musicians live that way, one job to the next. You came up with a creative way to show that while not lessening the motion of the story. (Yeah, there’s no question there. Talk about it.)
No more ever says, "More cowbell!" when
Steve Lauden's around.
SWL: There was an earlier version of this book (in my mind only) that was just going to be the two brothers driving to the heist—kind of like a rock ‘n roll Waiting For Godot or My Dinner With Andre. I ultimately didn’t take the story to that artistic extreme, but I still wanted to capture the mind-numbing delirium of life on the road. Bands tackle a lot of the world’s problems while barreling down the interstate in the middle of the night. They also get into pointless, heated debates about their favorite bands and songs.

Then there’s the musical genre that inspired this story. I previously published a trilogy of books about a punk rock PI (Bad Citizen Corporation, Grizzly Season and Hang Time) that was more aggressive, much darker and almost cartoonish in some respects because I felt that embodied the punk rock lifestyle I had seen firsthand growing up. Power pop, on the other hand, is melodic (sometimes jangly) guitar pop that includes everybody from Raspberries, Big Star and The Knack to The Bangles, Fountains Of Wayne, and The New Pornographers. Power pop bands are usually inspired by the early music of 60s bands like The Beatles, The Who, The Byrds and The Beach Boys. All of that’s a bit more nuanced than punk, especially hardcore punk. So much of the tone, pace and dialogue was set by the music I was listening to.

OBAAT: Jack never wants to play again and his brother Jamie doesn’t really want to do anything else, making great sacrifices to allow him to keep his hand in. To me, the two brothers represent an internal struggle a lot of less than successful musicians have within themselves. Is that what you were going for?
SWL: You hit the nail on the head. Music, especially commercial music, is mostly a young person’s game. It’s a lot of blood, sweat and tears (hey, that would make a good band name!) that most often leads nowhere. So it can be difficult to keep doing it simply for the love of music, especially when it comes to lugging gear around and playing to empty bars in middle age when you should probably be home with your family and/or trying to achieve more reasonable goals.

OBAAT: What’s up next? Will we see you in Dallas for Bouchercon?
SWL: Funny enough (especially given my answer to your last question), I just recorded an album with some good friends as The Brothers Steve. We have a digital single coming out at the end of June. The vinyl album will be available in late July.

I also co-edited an essay collection about power pop with Paul Myers called “Go All The Way” that will be released in October by Rare Bird Books. As you can tell, I really love going down musical rabbit holes like this.

No Bouchercon for me this year. I’m too busy with the book projects, the Writer Types podcast, and music. That’s in addition to the day job and my amazing family. Speaking of which, I should probably go…Thanks again for having me back!

BIO: S.W. Lauden is the author of the Greg Salem punk rock P.I. series including Bad Citizen CorporationGrizzly Season and Hang Time. His Tommy & Shayna novellas include Crosswise and Crossed Bones. A new novelette, That’ll Be The Day: A Power Pop Heist, was released on June 18, 2019. S.W. Lauden is the pen name of Steve Coulter, drummer for Tsar and The Brothers Steve. More info at

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