November 9, 2015

Citizen Reno: an interview with Mike Monson, author of "What Happens in Reno"

About What Happens in Reno by Mike MonsonPreviously out-of-print hard-core noir by Mike Monson, author of Tussinland. 

Matt Hodges is not a good husband. He’s unemployed, a drunk, and a compulsive gambler. His wife Lydia has basically written him off. However, with a small inheritance coming, Matt promised Lydia he’d not only pay for the cosmetic surgery she so craves, but that he’d also get them out of debt. Unfortunately for Lydia, as soon as the check is cashed, Matt heads for Reno to try his hand at high-stakes poker, and to stay as drunk as possible for as long as possible. 


Meanwhile, back home in Modesto, Lydia plots with a local violent criminal (who happens to be her new lover) to find Matt and get the cash for themselves before it’s all gone. What happens when they all finally meet in Reno will be our little secret, okay? 


Gef: What was the impetus behind What Happens in Reno?

Mike: I got this idea one day, what if I took a guy who'd gone to Reno and he'd totally ruined his life? Lost all his money, lost his car, lost his wife and family. All because he was a drunken compulsive gambler. So, then, he has just enough money to get a cheap motel room for the night. He wakes up in the morning, broke, alone, determined to quit drinking and gambling and to turn his life around. But, he has no money and he's lost all the people and things he cares about. What does he do? How does he stay sober? How does he slowly rebuild his life? 
So I thought that was pretty interesting. But, when I started to write it ended up to be something completely different. The characters and the situation took hold of my imagination and I started to follow the new impulse. 

Gef: The book's original release had a bit of a rocky start. How did it come about to call All Due Respect home for this book, as well get into the publishing racket yourself?

Mike: The original publisher had this great idea to publish genre novellas and ebooks only and to sell them for 2.99. He had all kinds of ideas for sales and promotion -- subscription service, etc. He signed up dozens of writers and was going to put out book after book at an amazing rate. When I talked to him on the phone it all just sounded so great. So he put out Reno and about eight others and had all these marketing idea and then everything just stopped. After a while I started pestering him about stuff like marketing, promo, when he was going to put out all the other books, sales reports and payment. But nothing really happened though he continued to be quite charming and enthusiastic. Eventually, when it was clear he was never going to pay me, I was able to send a letter saying that he was in total breech of our contract (because by not paying me he violated the central terms of the contract) and that I wanted him to take the book out of print and give it back to me. Which, he did, thank  god. 

I joined Chris Rhatigan at All Due Respect when it was just a twice a month ezine. Web only. Soon after I joined we decided to put out an issue quarterly, pay the writers, and sell on Amazon as an ebook and print on demand. That was fun and went pretty well, and we had a chance to learn something about putting together books to sell and a little about promo. Then, summer of 2014, I had my novel Tussinland ready. Chris had done a lot of work on it as an editor (especially advising cuts most of which I made). At the same time we started talking about starting All Due Respect Books. I sent Tussinland to one agent who represented a lot of the noir/crime indie type writers I like and felt I was similar to and she rejected me and it. I sent her 10 pages and she wrote back that she didn't find the characters likable and compelling enough the give the book the support it deserved. I also sent it to another agent and three or four indie publishers. The indie  publisher that I most liked and most wanted to be with rejected it, said that the dialogue was 'too expository' or something like that. So, I told Chris about these two rejections, and he asked if Tussinland could be one of the first titles put out by All Due Respect Books. I said hell, yes, and immediately got the book back from the other publishers and agent. 

We've been publishing almost a year and a half now and I really like it. It is very satisfying and fun. We don't make much money, but we pay all our expenses (cover art, writer royalties, nominal advertising) and most months there is a couple of hundred dollars extra. We'd love it to be a couple of thousand extra, and I guess that is possible at some point. But, the main thing is that we aren't like other publishers, all we care about is whether or not we love a book -- that is our only criteria. I know other publishers, especially mainstream, need to think about whether or not the book, writer, or idea is marketable on a mass scale, but we don't have that pressure. So, I think, there is a really good chance that when a person reads an ADR book, they will be reading something unique and original. 

Gef: How much emphasis do you place on setting as character?

Mike: I'm not sure. I know I'm interested in setting. I always love a crime book that has a distinctive and real setting that I can get into in a voyeuristic way. And, I thought that Modesto and California's Central Valley was a good setting for crime and noir, and one that hadn't been used very much. If I got nothing else going for me, at least I have the concept that I'm a 'Modesto crime/noir writer,' you know? Also, for some reason, Modesto inspires me, the people and the places really fire up my imagination, the seedy part of my imagination. 

Gef: While Reno kind of plays the second fiddle to Las Vegas for would-be gamblers and thrillseekers, how do you find it stacks up as a backdrop for storytelling?

Mike: I prefer it to Vegas because it's less glitzy than Vegas, more working class, and less complicated. 

Gef: Who do you count among your writing influences?

Mike: Westlake (Richard Stark too), Jason Starr, Chris Rhatigan, Block, Elmore Leonard, Goodis, Lansdale, there are so many. What I like are novels that are easy to read and that get to the story right away. I don't like fancy writing, shit that is so poetic and wonderful that it calls attention to itself and takes me out of the story. I also like stuff that isn't afraid to have unlikable unheroic characters, and that shows people the way they really are -- when they are being bad. 

Gef: What do you consider to be the saving grace of the noir genre?

Mike: I'm not sure I understand the question. Do you mean what is it's appeal? For me, reading about losers ruining their lives makes me feel happy. Weird, huh? 

Gef: What's the worst piece of writing advice you ever received? Or what piece of writing advice do you wish would just go away?

Mike: Huh. I rarely get into conversations about it. I think writing advice is really kind of worthless. People need to have the determination to figure out on their own how they write a book. Does that make sense? 

Gef: What kind of guilty pleasures do you have when it comes to books or movies or whatnot?

Mike: The word quilty doesn't really work for me because I am totally unashamed of my 'bad taste.' I like reality shows like Big Brother and Survivor and American Idol and The Voice and so many others. I like reality shows in general. I love television. 

Gef: What projects are you cooking up that folks can expect in the near future, and how can folks keep up with your shenanigans?

Mike: At All Due Respect we got some great books coming up: Nine Toes In the Grave by Eric Beetner, Diesel Therapy, the second of three Selena books by Greg Barth, The Debt Crusher, by Michael Pool, Route 12, by Marieta Miles, and a lot more all through 2016. My website is mikemonson.org, but I haven't done a lot with it since ADR Books started and ADR's website is allduerespectbooks.com

We've got a new novella from me on the schedule for February 1, 2016. . It's called A Killer's Love and it's about a guy who travels the country killing and robbing lonely women who ends up falling in love with one of them. 



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