Suspect’s Viewpoint: L.A. Sykes

LA SYKES (3)Unlawful Acts recently reviewed L.A. Sykes’ The Hard Cold Shoulder, published by Near to the Knuckle, calling it ” a strong and savage book.” Sykes also has a collection of short stories, Noir Medley, also published by Near to the Knuckle. He lives in Atherton, Greater Manchester, UK, and works in acute psychiatry – we’ll get to the later. He’s had work featured in or soon to be featured in Shotgun Honey, Powder Burn Flash, The Big Adios, Blink Ink, Daily Love, Dark Dreams Podcast, Nightmare Illustrated, Spelk Fiction and others. For this interview, we’ll call him Lee, since, you know that’s his name.

David:: I need to get this out of the way first: are you a Blue or a Red?

Lee: Rugby League Red: Leigh Centurions

David:: The Hard Cold Shoulder is a journey into the mind of a man slipping into the abyss. Given your work history working in acute psychiatry that obviously had influence over the creation of the main character Pitkin. In many popular books, tv shows and films, the mental illness of a criminal is often used as a prop or a plot point. Not in your book. I found Pitkin to be skillfully drawn. Can you talk about creating Pitkin and his disease if any? Also, could you define in layman’s terms what is meant by acute psychiatry?

Lee: With Pitkin, I wanted to create a character whose job was more than just a pay cheque. He was a copper because he wanted to be with a strong sense of vocation.

Through him, I wanted to address (amongst other things) post-traumatic stress and the impact it has on someone on the front line – people who we take for granted to deal with different forms of carnage for want of a better word. With this I also wanted to look at his sense of identity, and how it led to a deteriorating psychological state when he was taken from his duty.

I think post-traumatic stress is an important issue, and with Pitkin in the prime of his life having been forced out of arguably the main crux of his identity, he carries on as a private investigator in an effort to keep himself from the oblivion of his sense of self. When people do jobs that involve high risk of burn out or post-trauma, unfortunately most of the time they get very little effective help and end up lost, discarded – usually replaced by someone cheaper because they are seen as just a number, which is a tragedy and an indictment of the treatment of mental health problems. In Pitkin’s case, he ploughs on doing what he was made to do, arguably to avoid facing a future even bleaker from his perspective than the one he hurtles towards – a life without the purpose and meaning he had in his work as a copper.

Acute psychiatry in layman’s terms just refers to the stage of an illness; the acute stage is where the symptomology is most florid to the point where hospital admission is necessary, which is where I worked.

David: Our fascination with the darker elements of crime fiction is well-known and as Will Viharo points out in the introduction to your short story collection, Noir Medley, we are tied to these noir characters, “But the hard truth is, they are us.” Do your stories reflect Viharo’s statement? If so, how?

Lee: When Will Viharo says, “…they are us”, he adds, “Just bolder and perhaps more honest in their endeavours to survive…”. And I think he is absolutely spot on in the sense that they’re striving for the same goals as everyone else, it’s just that they’re willing to transgress, take bigger risks and engage in destructive and immoral behaviour to get there. If we accept we are all part of the human race, then we are on a spectrum of behaviour and capabilities, and who knows what people are capable of once desperation, opportunity, and other variables present themselves. In a society where most people (as I’ve often seen reported) are three pay cheques away from the street, it’s no wonder people choose to transgress moral codes and the law of the land, to escape financial insecurity as quickly as possible (although obviously there are other factors too).

It also boils down to recognizing the darker aspects of the human being, and in the fact that no matter what a crime or noir writer fictionalises, someone somewhere is doing something even more horrific right now – at this very moment.

David: Give me five authors or books to read, genre doesn’t matter.

Lee: Very difficult to stick to just five, but I’ll go with: 1984 – George Orwell.
A Clockwork Orange – Anthony Burgess; Blood Meridian – Cormac Mccarthy; Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoevsky; and GB 84 – David Peace.

Spoiler Question
David: Toward the ending of The Hard Cold Shoulder, there is an ambiguity much like The Awakening by Kate Chopin. The lead character in Chopin’s book walks out into the ocean and there’s debate on whether she was committing suicide or not. Towards the end of The Hard Cold Shoulder, you have Pitkin staring into the blackness of the railroad tracks. Why did you choose this ambiguity?

Lee: I chose to end it like I did because I wanted to immerse the reader as much as possible in Pitkin’s journey, which includes the ending. I wanted them to be sat right next to him as the story closes, seeing what he sees and feeling what the reader infers he feels. I felt it was a more powerful effect and is more akin to real life in that there are no easy answers – and I wanted the reader to get the same sensations as Pitkin, in that very moment of his experience.


Suspect’s Viewpoint: Chris Rhatigan

chris rhatigan (2)An interview with Chris Rhatigan, a freelance editor and the publisher of All Due Respect Books. He is also the author of several books: The Kind of Friends Who Murder Each Other, Squeeze, and Race to the Bottom  His occasional blog about writing is worth a read. I asked him several questions over emails.

David: Mike Monson, co-publisher of All Due Respect Books, left this past summer. Can you talk about his enduring influence on ADR as well as how you are filling the hole within ADR due to his absence?
Chris: Mike had been with ADR since the early days, back when it was a short fiction website. He shaped ADR’s identity as a magazine and publishing house exclusively dedicated to lowlife literature. Mike has high standards for storytelling, and we had a policy for every manuscript we accepted–we had to both be excited about it. No easy feat! He also wrote some killer titles for us.
On the second part of your question, teaming up with Down & Out Books has been a great experience. I’m constantly learning from the D&O team, Eric Campbell and Lance Wright, and they’re improving every aspect of ADR from the process a manuscript goes through to promotion and marketing. I also work with a consulting editor (Nigel Bird, Rob Pierce, or Chris Black) on every book we publish.

David: With the recent release of Matt Phillip’s “Accidental Outlaws” and eight books scheduled in the next ten months, it seems that ADR has its work cut out for you all. BTW thanks for piling on to my TBR. Can you talk for a moment about your production processes and the rhythm created for ADR’s upcoming releases?
Chris: We started off publishing one book every month. They were selling well, so we decided to publish two books per month. That was too much. We weren’t giving each title the attention it deserved. So I’ve rolled things back a bit and put some cushion in the schedule. I prefer to read each manuscript at least four times before its released.
Also, one of the important things as a small publisher is communicating with authors. I need adequate time to communicate with writers on each step of the process. I want every author I work with to be proud of the final product.

David: Submissions are still open for ADR and hopefully, you’re getting some activity there, you read a ton personally as shown by your Goodreads reviews, you’re a freelance editor, a teacher, a husband and a new father, how do you find the time?
Chris: I actually left teaching in 2015. Since then, I’ve been doing freelance writing/editing. This is a cliché, but it comes down to what I’m passionate about. I love reading crime fiction and I love working with authors to bring their work to publication. So I get up before my daughter at around 5:30 every day. That’s when I drink an unreasonable amount of coffee and edit. Unfortunately, I haven’t written much over this last year. Lack of time is the number one excuse for not writing, but there it is. Hope to get back to that this year. I was just jotting down some notes for a new book about Lionel Kaspar, scumbag newspaper reporter. The three fans of this series are probably peeing themselves with excitement.

David: I read that you’ve been in India for 6 years. I lived in Venezuela for a few years and I found it to be quite educational to be an American overseas. It is difficult enough to acclimate yourself to a new culture, but even grocery shopping or getting a cup of coffee is just a little different. How do you think it has affected you?
Chris: Educational is a good word for it. A couple of things stand out about my time overseas. One is that when I’m in India, I’m very aware of how American I am–my tastes, my accent, my way of thinking. Then when I return to the States, I feel somewhat less American. Like I’m a step behind everyone else. I’ll come back to an American grocery store and it’s like a bad acid trip. There are just no places even a little bit like that in India.
I live in a small town in the Himalayan Mountains so things are relatively simple. There are only a couple of roads; cows wander around the hillside; we tend to walk almost everywhere we go; we eat Indian food for almost every meal. I’ve enjoyed my time here but I’m ready to go back to the States. We’d like our daughter to grow up around family…and we miss IPAs, pizza that doesn’t taste like ketchup on cardboard, and having a vague understanding of what the fuck is going on at any given moment.

David: Give me five books/authors to read, genres don’t matter.
Chris: Pablo D’Stair should be a legend. His five-book series about con artist Trevor English is a master class in crime fiction. It was this series that got me interested in independent publishing. They have this mundane, grim quality that you’ll never see in books from large publishers.

Kanae Minato is a Japanese writer who has two books translated into English, Confessions and Penance. Both are slow-burn psychological thrillers I’d highly recommend.

Patti Abbott is a writer I always want to talk about, but particularly now since she recently released a short story collection, I Bring You Sorrow. Her novels Concrete Angel and Shot in Detroit are also excellent. There isn’t a crime writer out there who does characterization better.

I recently read How’s the Pain? by Pascal Garnier. It was recommended in a list of noir novels by French authors. This is an interesting take on the old hitman-about-to-retire plot. It’s more like a weird road trip story with all these tragic, nihilistic characters bouncing off one another. It has this wonderful sense of the absurd and a healthy dose of black humor.

Charles Willeford is a pulp writer from the golden era I only found out about a year ago. Now I can’t get enough. He has a different approach than other writers in this era, taking a more deliberate pace, but if you like hanging out in an evil character’s mind, there’s no one better.

Chris Rhatigan is a freelance crime fiction editor and All Due Respect Books publisher. He is the author of The Kind of Friends Who Murder Each Other, Squeeze, and Race to the Bottom.