Saturday, January 6, 2018

CRIMESPREE MAGAZINE INTERVIEW

Hi folks,


A few months ago, Anthony Campbell interviewed me for Crimespree Magazine. Anthony asked some of the most intelligent questions I've ever been asked. Here's the interview and if you're interested in glomming onto a copy of the magazine, you can buy the ebook copy on Amazon here.

Not sure when the paperback copy will be available for sale, but when it is I'll post that info here.


Les Edgerton Interviewed
By Anthony Campbell
Issue 66 Crimespree Magazine

Les Edgerton isn’t the writer who is here to judge you; over the course of a few emails we traded back and forth, I found him to be one of the most receptive and open individuals I have had the chance to correspond with.
With over 19 books ranging from hard-boiled crime novels to business guides under his belt, not to mention the countless short stories he has had published, Edgerton certainly is a busy man with the honest work to show for it. Just this year, he informed he has “at least three more works of fiction coming.” Readers may have heard of him from THE GENUINE, IMITATION, PLASTIC KIDNAPPING, THE BITCH, THE RAPIST or THE DEATH OF TARPONS.
His current short story collection, LAGNIAPPE, is available through Down & Out Books. I was able to discuss two of his prior novels, THE RAPIST and THE GENUINE, IMITATION, PLASTIC KIDNAPPING as well as history over two months of emails.





Anthony Campbell: Thank you again for taking the time to let me reach out and interview you. I wanted to start with a few questions on your 2013 novel, THE RAPIST. This was your first novel that I read and I found it to be quite the tour-de-force. Where did the idea of the novel come from?

Les Edgerton: The germ of the idea came from reading a Charles Bukowski short story, “The Fiend.” At that point, it was just a glimpse of a potential story, what Blake Snyder calls “the smell of the night on the road at dawn.” What does the term mean? It’s that germ of an idea for a story triggered by any number of stimuli. It can be a glimpse of something—the “smell of the rain on the road at dawn” for instance. Driving home from a night of partying, hung over, you turn onto a country blacktop and see a man hitchhiking in Army fatigues in the fine mist that’s falling. Aha! There’s a story about this guy, you think. You begin to imagine a character who’s passing through town—and you kind of visualize a story about him. If you’re David Morrell, you end up with a story titled, FIRST BLOOD.
Or, you hear a story about a man whose mother has just died and the police came to inform him and they’re put off by his seeming lack of emotion about the tragedy and become suspicious. If you’re Albert Camus, perhaps you write a story based on that anecdote you’ll title, THE STRANGER If you’re me, you come up with a story titled THE RAPIST.
All of us as writers get ideas triggered like this and any number of other ways. Thinking about the scene or idea makes us feel that there’s a story there. Usually, when we see or conceive of a story idea that way, it elicits a powerful emotion from us. The guy in our vision, standing on the road at dawn in a drizzle, wearing fatigues, triggers a feeling of sadness, say. We have an urge to write this guy’s story so that the reader will feel this same intense feeling of sadness as we do.
And so, we break out the Bic, turn on the ‘puter, put a piece of white paper in the Underwood and begin to write. And it fizzles out.
Why? As Blake Snyder says, we’ve simply fallen in love with an inspiration. That’s all it is. There’s no story there yet mostly because we haven’t yet come up with a story. All we’ve got is a guy standing in the rain on a blacktop and a feeling that this is a story. It’s gossamer. It’s not a story because we haven’t taken the time to think beyond this image very much.
This is what I suggest for those who get that “Smell of the rain…” kind of image and inspiration for a novel. Sit on it for a while. Think about it. Kick the tires. See if it has legs. See if you can see any depth in it. If something else comes up and diverts your attention away from it, that probably means the idea really wasn’t novel-worthy to begin with. But…the idea that won’t go away, that begs to be told, that begins to unfold in your imagination over a period of time of at least a month or two and hopefully even longer—that’s probably an idea that has legs and one you can run that marathon with.
And that’s what I did with THE RAPIST. Let it percolate in my brain for about ten years. I won’t go through the entire process, but I kept niggling the original idea around, adding a piece here, a piece there, until I had a bona fide story.

AC: How was constructing the character of Truman Ferris Pinter different than others you have made before? Was it more difficult to fit into his voice than others?

LE: Referring back to the first question, as the story began to take shape in my mind, Truman became clearer and clearer until I had him nailed. Not so much in a superficial way—what he looked like, for instance, but how his mind worked. How his background shaped him. What makes him different from most other rapists. Once I had that, his voice became mine. As Whitman said, “We contain multitudes.” And, we do. What I became was an actor playing a part. The more talent one has as an actor, the better he or she can mimic others. The catalyst came when I realized who he really was. Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ whose father, God, played a cruel practical joke on. Oddly enough, this is where most reviewers missed the whole point of the story. Since most see him as an unreliable narrator, they saw the very last line as the absolute proof that Truman was an unreliable narrator. He was…until the very last line, which was the exact moment his eyes were opened and he saw clearly who he was for the first time in his earthly life. That was the illumination and why it had to be the end of his story. Everything that happened to him led to that precise moment when he realizes he’s Christ. And, it’s a true realization, not the “truth” of an insane person—an actual, literal truth. The veil has just been lifted.

AC: Many literary allusions abound and comparisons have been made to Camus’ THE STRANGER. I personally found the shape of this novel to fit in a similar vein as a Kafka story or a Lynch film. Do you find the comparisons by reviewers to be surprising? Have there been any which you had found to be of particular interest?

LE: I understand the Camus comparison but don’t think it’s accurate. I wrote it in a similar tone as THE STRANGER mostly because both Meursault and Truman view their experiences from an amoral standpoint. Also, many reviewers see my book as an existential book and reviewers often believe Camus was an existentialist writer. He fought against that opinion all of his life, at one point getting together with Sarte to run an add stating clearly that they had nothing in common, philosophy-wise. I am often referred to as an existential writer and I feel the same as did Camus. So, in basing that on an inaccurate belief system neither of us claims, it’s an accurate comparison. I think we’re both subject to a wrong take on our philosophies. I can also see you comparing it to a Kafka story. On the surface, it appears that Gregor and Truman are similar. Where I don’t think they are is that Kafka’s character both starts and ends as an unreliable narrator, Truman doesn’t, but to a certain mindset it appears they are the same. The reviewers I thought came closest to what I intended were Cort McMeel and William Joyce.

AC: Although Truman doesn’t seem to particularly care about the judgment society passes against him, by recounting his crime and life, he constructs a testimony for the reader. He places the reader as the judge. Does Truman care about what we, as readers, think of him?

LE: Although he claims he doesn’t, he’s an unreliable narrator which is fairly clear early. Since the way a reader tells the protagonist is an unreliable narrator is to match his actions to what he’s saying, and since he claims he doesn’t care, his action in presenting his story tells us he does care or else he wouldn’t have bothered telling his story.

AC: Still a few weeks after my first reading of this novel, the entire last part and the ending of the novel resonate with me, making me still question not only these parts of the novel, but more importantly, giving way to re-evaluating how I considered some things in society. When you finished writing this novel, did you feel like this was certainly something which readers would take away from? Did you think it would make readers challenge preconceptions and ideas they held?

LE: What I hoped for from readers was based on a belief I possess. That there are thousands and thousands (millions?) of ideas that are floating out there and that many of those ideas are shared with many others. A zeitgeist, if you will, or a kind of race memory. That there’s a field of electricity—kind of an invisible “soup” if you will, that’s everywhere in the atmosphere, where ideas come from individual minds and that enter other minds that are receptive. I think that as people get older they cease being receptive to these ideas for lots of reasons—a religious body of belief for instance, that’s been indoctrinated into their minds and won’t tolerate deviances from the official canon; a physical experience that we experience in childhood that gets sublimated as we grow older and that we learn through ridicule by adults to deny in our hearts; awareness of other dimensions as a child, that awareness trampled over again by seeing those kinds of ideas routinely derided by everyone else as we grow older.
For example, I have very clear memories of being able to leave my body and hover in space when I was a child. That memory is one that got ridiculed and attacked any time I mentioned it, so little by little I forced myself to look at the experience as just something I dreamed so I could escape ridicule. And, then, in my twenties I happened on some literature about a group called “Eckanar” which was composed of people who swore they had out of body experiences just as I had and that was the beginning of my belief in a zeitgeist. I believe that, little by little, our existence becomes more and more an artificial one in which others gradually imprison each of us into a world that isn’t actual but is induced by others who are fearful of the actual world or who really don’t know what is real and what isn’t but are afraid of admitting they think differently from those around them for fear of ridicule or worse—worse being locked up in mental wards or in prison, or even killed, or simply shunned by the majority of people in their society as that is the nature of the mob—to reject anyone whose beliefs fall outside what they consider “safe” parameters.
In other words, I came to believe that we’ve all been brainwashed, not necessarily by some evil group of people whose aim is to control or enslave people, but by a mindset that to open oneself to ideas and thoughts outside the parameters of their particular society will only lead to anarchy. I don’t see this as any “plot” by a few people, but more as a natural thing for most people who sense that any thinking they don’t share is dangerous. I don’t think this is an inherited way of thinking but more of a learned behavior. That most people are fearful of anyone different and to protect themselves they either invent or adopt stances toward those they see as different. And, so, little by little we lose the insights we had as children and learn to sublimate any ideas outside the main. I think this may be what Jesus was talking about when he said that to enter Heaven, one must become as a “little child.” To go back to that age where we all had original thoughts and didn’t dismiss things out of hand that adults would consider aberrant behavior.
I know this is a longwinded reply to your question, but I think the question demands a lengthy answer to be clear. A bumper sticker reply won’t suffice for what I see is a very intelligent question about a complicated issue. I have to say that your questions are a welcome change from many interviewers who often ask idiot questions like “where do you get your ideas” or “what time of day do you write in?”
To sum up my answer, I think those readers who still challenge the status quo in their lives upon encountering issues raised in the book will feel a sense of déjà vu in that they’ve also had these same thoughts. To those who shrink from any challenge to their core beliefs, I think they’ll not feel challenged in the least and may even dislike it intensely.

AC: Just a year after this novel, 2014 saw the release of THE GENUINE, IMITATION, PLATIC KIDNAPPING. This was a far different story, loosely based on your experiences in New Orleans, offering more of an entertaining than a thought-provoking read. Of all the characters in this novel, Cat is easily the most memorable for me and jumps from page. Reading her dialogue was like witnessing a character reach out of the book and slap me across the face, especially considering how she appears to me as a beacon of hope. Did you intend Cat to be a radiance that cuts through the underbelly of New Orleans in this novel, as a reminder of a way out? Does Cat know you put her in this novel?

LE: The portrait of Cat is very much like the real Cat. I just wanted to remain true to her truly unique character—in almost every sense she is a singular person. And, I doubt if she’ll ever read it—she’s not a reader. Now, if it ever gets made into a movie, I’m in trouble…
Cat was sold by her junky mother to the head of the Mafia, Carlos Marcellus, for a hundred bucks when she was nine or ten. He kicked her out when she reached the age of 12—way too old for his tastes. She went down in the Quarters and survived by prostitution and selling drugs and rolling sailors. She just isn’t afraid of anything. Here’s a typical “Cat” story. One Sunday, we were just sitting around our apartment when out of the blue, she asks me if I wanted to go down to the Quarters to roll sailors. Why not, I said, so she called up another call girl friend, Jackie, a black girl who lived in the Ninth Ward and we met her down at the Seaport Café. I was there to provide “protection.” Yeah…
Well, they hooked up with this Norwegian sailor and took him back in the little alley that goes to the Dungeon and Jackie gave him a blow job. He wanted Cat to do him next, but the girls demanded payment first. Fuck you, he said, the first thing he’d said in English as he’d been pretending not to speak the language. I was coming toward them to provide that “protection” when Cat said, Well, fuck you too, and she pulled out her switchblade (which I’d given to her for a birthday present) and stuck it in his stomach. He gave a little sigh and went down. I told Cat to check his socks as that’s where I kept my money when I was in the Navy and sure enough, he had wad of bills she grabbed and we beat feet. When we got a couple of blocks away and ducked into a bar, Cat started to divvy up the money but got really pissed off. Except for a twenty, it was all Norwegian money. Fucking funny money she said, and told Jackie to keep it all. We never found out if the guy was dead or not. Lots of things like that never make the paper. If everything like that made the paper, the tourist business would dry up.
The next Sunday Cat asked me if I wanted to go back into the Quarters with her and Jackie, and I told her she’d have to go without her “protection.” Fuck that happy shit…

AC: The setting in this novel also really stuck out to me. The descriptions Pete provides to develop the layout and scents of New Orleans stuck me right alongside him in his criminal attempts. How did living in New Orleans stick to you? Did you fall in love with the city in the same way Pete did?

LE: I’ve always loved New Orleans from the time I lived there as a child to when I returned as an adult and lived there many years. It’s a dirty, corrupt, dangerous, gorgeous, bewitching town and so unlike any other city in America. It contains all of the excesses that are interesting. I can’t imagine anyone ever being bored in The Big Sleazy.

AC: The crux of the novel examines the idea you lay out of the abstract and the real in regards to a million dollars or any large sum of money for a kidnapping. Do you find there are other things where the illusion or abstraction doesn’t pan out to what actually happens? This examination of money in such a way I found to also extend to a question of Pete’s status as a privileged ex-baseball player navigating New Orleans in an entirely different realm than those who live in dire poverty and straits. Did you anticipate an economic disparity to grow between characters? The best example of what I’m referring to would be in regards to Pete being broke, but saying he never had to do desperate measures to get food, whereas Cat has been through hell and is still trying to grow as an individual.

LE: First, Pete wasn’t any “privileged ex-ballplayer.” He was stone broke and had been for the last ten years after he’d been drummed out of baseball. But, he’d always been a hustler and if you’re a hustler you’re never going to be truly poor. There’s just too many lames out there to make a buck from. He and Cat were basically the same. She was a call girl and had been a prostitute so she was in the same financial boat as Pete. Both knew how to survive on the street.
You very accurately named the crux of the novel. In a period of my life that I’m ashamed of, I sold life insurance. (Don’t like to reveal that as that was one of the few lame periods in my life.) The “million dollars on the kitchen table” was the first thing my boss taught me. When you’re trying to sell a million-dollar policy” to someone, he sees it as an abstract thing. It just isn’t real to him. But, if you lay out an actual million dollars in cash, it immediately becomes a very real thing. And, that’s what my manager did. He’d open a suitcase and dump out a million bucks. Of course, it was just Monopoly money, but seeing that mound of hundred-dollar bills almost always led to a sale. The same thing happens in a kidnapping. Up until the money’s laid out on the kitchen table it’s largely an abstract, meaningless number. The victim is all gung-ho up to that point to get his beloved Gladys back, but once he sees that mound of bills, all of a sudden, he has a change of heart. That’s when he calls the cops, the Fibbies. He claims he loves his honey Gladys, but it’s pretty clear which he loves more…

AC: Finally, is the inclusion of the crazed inmate a sly reference to THE RAPIST? Or just a minor re-examination of a similar element?

LE: Pretty sharp, Anthony! Yep. Same character. He’s based on a guy I met in the New Orleans jail and what he did is what the real guy did. I just like the guy…

AC: Where did you take your inspiration to tell stories from? When you were a younger man, did you find yourself always being the one in a group to entertain others with amusing stories?

LE: My inspiration mostly comes from my own life. I’ve purposely put myself in situations where both good and bad things can happen. A lot of them were bad but those were the ones I gravitated toward the most. Graham Greene said writers have a piece of ice in their hearts. What Greene is referring to is the art of detachment from the emotional to be able to observe an event and describe it accurately and dispassionately. It’s what allows us to write dramatically instead of melodramatically. It is simply the ability to maintain alertness and keep your own emotions at bay when describing events, especially events that carry emotion personally. It’s not “coldness” or “calculating observation” as some would say. It’s simply maintaining the reporter’s stance when writing drama so as to maintain the drama and not tip over into melodrama. Having that piece of ice in our hearts is what allows the good writer to lower the volume instead of raising it. Thereby creating true and deep emotion and not surface emotion, cheaply and easily wrought. That melodramatic writer is who Oscar Wilde was referring to in his famous criticism of that most melodramatic writer of all time, Charles Dickens, when he said, “One must have a heart of stone to read the death of little Nell without laughing.” Indeed.
And, yes, I was that guy who took over the conversation. I had (have) a desperate need to hold the floor. Mostly to “play the dozens” which is a disappearing art because of that political correctness bullshit. It’s probably lack of a healthy ego—I find I need constant confirmation that I have value—laughter and grins being the coin of that realm.

AC: Do you believe there is a power books and written word is able to hold other mediums of expression lack?

LE: Certainly! I subscribe to Marshall McLuhan’s theory of hot and cold media. The media is judged by the extent of the audience’s participation. In hot media, the audience is passively consuming what is presented. In cool media, the audience has to actively analyze and interpret what is presented to make sense of what they see and hear.
Hot media are those that affect one sense and the participant is required to bring their imaginations and stored knowledge to bear to have a good experience. Examples of hot media are books and radio. Cool media is media that affects two or more senses, leaving less for the participant to bring to the experience. An example of cold media is television. By utilizing more than one sense, much of the work is done for the participant; therefore, one’s participation is minimal. You sit back and let the media do all the heavy lifting.
Experiencing a television show requires little from the participant who remains passive. Reading a book is a participatory exercise in which one has to do some of the work. Therefore, reading a book is a more intense experience as the reader has to bring to bear the whole of his imagination, memory and intellect. And, when the participant is required to do some work in order to make full use of the experience, it becomes his or hers and he or she “owns” the interpretation of it. This is precisely what philosophers and educators are referring to when they decry “the dumbing down of America.” That’s because watching television does very little to affect the mind. And that’s the power of books over other mediums.

AC: How do you describe your role as a writer?

LE: I have several duties as a writer. One is to write entertaining stories to the best of my ability. Another is to always write as honestly as I am able to—my mantra is, “If it’s fiction, it has to be true.” That doesn’t mean being detail-true but it means my personal mandate is that fiction be written honestly and not shirking anything in that fiction that intentionally misleads or lies to the reader. My main duty over everything is to write the best fiction I am capable of and to never take short cuts or offer up anything that is in any way less than I am capable of. That is my stock in trade and I hope never to write anything that doesn’t reflect an honest and true heart.

AC: What lessons would you have to impart on younger authors?

LE: I’ll steal this from Jim Harrison, if you want to become a writer read the whole of western literature for the past 400 years. If you live long enough, read the whole of eastern literature for the same period. For, if you don’t know what passed for good in the past, how can you know what’s considered good in the present.

AC: What projects are you currently working on? Which book are you most proud of?

LE: I’m working on about ten projects currently. Working on three short stories for various anthologies I’ve been invited to submit to. Have four novels I’m working on. I’m writing a new craft book. Am preparing notes for appearances at several writing events I’ve been invited to present at. For instance, I’m appearing at Lee Lofland’s Writer’s Police Academy where he’s scheduled me to give at least two talks. I’m preparing notes for those so it will appear that I’m talking extemporaneously. And, the other day he asked me if I’d serve as the auctioneer for an auction they hold, so of course I have to do research so I won’t look too much as a doofus. That means I have to watch episodes of Storage Wars so I can learn how to be an auctioneer. Us writer types have to have many skills…
I’m working on two main projects—a new novel titled HARD TIMES based on a short story of that same title. And, my memoir, titled Adrenaline Junkie, which has been a true labor of love and one in which I don’t dodge anything, but include both the best and the worst of my life. It’s the book I’m most excited about and hope when it comes out it’ll be viewed as the best work of my life. I’ve had several publishers want it, but I’m waiting for a Legacy 5 publisher so that it might end up on bookshelves and be available for reviewers reviews by the best reviewers.
There are two books I’m the proudest of: THE RAPIST and THE BITCH.

Fans who would like to reach out to Edgerton can email him at butchedgerton@comcast.net. His newest short story collection, LAGNIAPPE, is available through Down & Out Books at https://downandoutbooks.com/bookstore/edgerton-lagniappe/.



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