Wednesday 31 August 2011

Dancing With Myself: JOSH STALLINGS interviews JOSH STALLINGS


I'm surfacing for air.

First of all, I'd like to apologise to anyone who has been expecting something for me or who has felt some alloofness from me of late.  I can only say that it's nothing personal.  Nothing I'm managing to control. 

It seems the only things I can do at the moment are the those in the category of 'avoiders', so stuff I'm supposed to do feels impossible to reach.

The explanation is simple, the death of one of my closest and longest established friends.  Maybe I'm allowing myself to wallow, but it sure is sucking the light from me.

One of the things I've done to avoid 'duties' is to put together a collection of my poetry as a memorial to him.  He took the photo on the cover and features in the work 'Inside The Head Of Summertime Number 9A' (for me, naming a poem is like finding a handle for an imaginary band for which I'm the imaginary singer and occasional guitarist/sax voice).  If there's money there, it will go to a memorial for Greg.  It's mainly to help his distant friends in the States to contibute in some way, but if you like poetry there'll be something in there for you.

It's called Busted Flat.

Another of my distractions has been making a short collection of children's poems for the kindle.  That one's called 'The Day My Coat Stuck On My Head' (see previous note).

Other duties I'm not really managing are the pushing of the amazingly wonderful Pulp Ink anthology (almost 100 copies sold in the opening fortnight) and even my own Beat On The Brat (which sinks like a stone).

I'd like to thank the people who've given me support over the last week and a half.  Tweets, retweets, messages, doing the work I should be doing, encouragement, sypathy etc have all been appreciated and have really made sure I'm still waving, not drowning.

And here's one of those guys.  He's showing me that the show must go on.

When I read Out There Bad I was blown away by the pure energy of the book.  Loved it. 

And here he is, the amazing Josh Stallings.

Run for cover.

The Pogues are rattling the windows as I enter Mr Stallings’ office.  It is a nice apartment over a garage, sink, fridge, bed, bath.  Not really the place one expects rage driven hard boiled prose to pour from.  Sitting at a desk the man himself is pounding keys and bouncing his head to the beat of Celtic punk.  I ask if I am late, is he ready for the interview.

            “This the part where I tell you a bunch of crap to make you interested enough in me to push my books right?  Well fuck it.  I have made only one deal with myself as far as writing, I will tell the truth no matter how it makes me look.  I look at the description of my office and want to start explaining that it is miles from the poverty I came up in.  I want to tell you about the broom closet I typed in when I was a young man trying to support a family.  But that is all my hoping I still have street cred, fuck that.  I remember sitting in a Unitarian Universalist church wearing a heavy gold ID bracelet that had been my grandfather’s.  I wore it hoping to fit in with what I perceived as rich folks.  Only old money Pasadena don’t flash that way.  Only ghetto rich boys slather on the gold hoping you won’t notice how poor they feel.  From that day to this I have been lucky.  I have worked as a film advertising editor and over time I have gathered a sack of shekels.  When I was poor I wanted to be sure you thought I was rich, now that I’ve got a few bucks I want to be sure you know I came up hard.

            What has this to do with writing?  Fucked if I know.  I think that it may have everything to do with it.  Moses McGuire is the character I write about.  He stands in for me, he is who I would have become if life had gone hard.  In novels, blah blah blah… Insert writerly bullshit here please. 

            Truth is - my son is a heroin addict - last week I found out he’d stolen my laptop and guitar - last week I asked him to leave and not come back - last week I lost all hope that it would turn out ok.  I looked back over the years, twenty five of them spent loving him and being his father.  And at this moment, this is how it turned out.  The first fifteen years being his father were brilliant, bright shiny days.  My wife and I loved raising him.  I worked, she stayed home.  He never came home to the empty house I did.  No one ever left him sitting on the curb whilst the school emptied out and janitors moved in.  Never, not once did he wonder if the lights would turn on or worry that there wasn’t enough dinner to go around.  Or enough love to go around.

            He wasn’t abused, beaten, neglected or tormented.  What he was, was dealt a fucked up genetic hand of cards.  He is fifth generation addict.  He is the son of a manic depressed alcoholic mad man.  He is brilliant and cynical.  He stole from me.  He is gone.”

            Josh gets quiet.  Looks out the window.  The Pogues play “If I Should Fall From Grace With God.”  Josh’s face is slack.  He has gone someplace we aren’t invited to.  He waits until the song is done before he speaks.

            “This is not what you were expecting I can tell.  I’m having a hard time separating pieces of my life right now, it is all a bit mushy.  Ok, here is another truth.  This afternoon I took a long nap with Cosmo our new puppy on my lap.  He and Riddle the kitten love to tear up the house playing come-and-get-me-and-I’ll-bite-your-face-off, unless you cry and then I’ll lick you.  It is all very fierce and funny.  My wife and I laugh our asses off watching them play.  Cosmo sleeps nestled down between us, Riddle wraps himself into the pile and we are a happy bed full of loving.

            Last week I was riding my motorcycle a bit aggressively and when traffic stopped, I went down and broke my ankle.  My wife’s deep rage at motorcycles led to a week of her barely speaking to me.  And my son is gone.  And we kiss.  And we laugh.

            This is how rich writing needs to be to capture my attention.  A novel is a lot of long hours to write, hell as a dyslexic it is a lot of hours just to read, and if it isn’t a full complex stew of life then I’m not sure why you do it.  I have worked as a screen writer, and the big deal was always to distill your idea down to one powerful sentence.  As a trailer editor I get that from a marketing stand point.  It comes down to how are we going to sell this with a few words on a poster.  But that is marketing’s problem.  As writers we are charged to tell the complicated messy tragically funny truth.  Moses McGuire fights to defend women of the strip club world.  He cares for them.  Loves them.  Uses them.  He is broken and flawed and strong and complete.  Somewhere in his revved up, blood stained, powder burned, sex soaked world I struggle to tell the truth.”

            I thank Josh for the interview, as I am walking out he call to me -

            Beautiful, Naked & Dead.”


            “That’s the name of my first book.”

            I know.

            “Yeah, but your readers may not, so tell them.  Second book is Out ThereBad.” 

            As I walk down the driveway I hear celtic punk music and the loud pounding of keys.



  1. Powerful and amazing, as always.

  2. A compelling interview. I like how you did that Josh, not just a bunch of questions and answers. That was very cool. Glad to hear you've come out of the closet, as a writer that is. Nigel, I hope you will feel better soon. Hugs to both of you :) XO

  3. Nigel, I can't imagine what you're going through. Creating a book of poetry in his memory is beautiful idea.

    And now off to buy Mr. Stallings book...

  4. Josh, you make a self-interview read like the opener to a novel I don't want to end. I know others have called you Crumley's heir, and now that I've read him, I have to agree.

    Two great writers here going through bad times. We'll be here if you decide you want company. You both have my honest condolences, as they are hardships I know. By the pure moral strength I know of you from your writing and online conversations, you will endure.

  5. If James Ellroy can be called "the demon dog of crime fiction" , Josh Stallings should be called "the underdog of noir". He's the writer you're criminally wrong to overlook. I was swept off my feet by BEAUTIFUL, NAKED AND DEAD and I ordered OUT THERE BAD already. Great interview Josh!

  6. continue to break my heart with your honesty and I love you for that. I agree with Tommy, this interview reads like the start of a novel; you are the master at hooking in a reader making us poor souls howl for more.

    Nigel - you are a beautiful man and I hope your heart heals soon. xx

  7. Josh- as magnificently intense as everything you write.

    Nigel- take care, mate.

  8. Nigel thank you for inviting me over. You are an honorable man to meet grief with art. Thank you all for giving it a read, and for the support and kind words. Now it is back to pounding keys.

  9. Mo McGuire's got nothin' on you for tough, Josh. Only thing I can say is, I been there with my kid, for the same genetic reasons you state. Hate that my dad passed it on and so did I. Only other thing I got is, somehow, so far my kid made it out. I think maybe, since I quit cold a long time ago, maybe I can hope that part's mine also. Seems to me we're both in the same fucked up boat of DNA. But, since you made it out, I made it out and my kid (for a year now) made it out -- after I kicked him out, maybe (fucking maybes will kill ya I know)your kid will too. Hope so man. (Hope's a fickle bitch, but sometimes . . .) Keep writing, it's brutal therapy but it helps.

  10. Josh, that was powerful and painfully honest.

    Nigel, I'm so sorry to hear of your loss.

    Be strong, my friends and take good care.