August 11, 2015

Full of Rage and a Twelve-Gauge: an interview with Greg Barth, author of "Selena"

About Greg Barth's Selena:

Scatter shot revenge.

Selena is living the dream on her terms – carefree and sloppy and all in the pursuit of pleasure. When a careless act of petty theft puts her in the crosshairs of a violent crime syndicate, her choices are clear – either curl up and die, or tear down the whole damned organization one bloody shotgun blast at a time. 

Nothing will satisfy her but savage retribution. Nothing can stop her. Get ready. 

Available at

I had the chance to ask Selena's author, Greg Barth, a few questions about his new book and writing in general. Enjoy!

Gef: What was the impetus behind Selena, the character as well as the novel?

Greg: The impetus for me was the character. I fully intended to write about someone who was basically amoral and willing to do things that most people would not but would still be likeable enough to win over readers. What caught me off guard was what writing this character would do for me as a writer. Selena is someone who demands freedom, lives life her way on her terms, is not ashamed to put it all down on the page, and refuses to give up when she is wronged. The sheer emotion that I could capture through Selena gave me a charge that pushed this story farther and faster than I had planned for. She has a conflicting psyche that compels her to be self-loathing and self-destructive while at the same time pursuing pleasure and refusing to roll over and die when she is hurt. It’s as though she is content with killing herself the slow way but is not accepting any help in the effort. While possessing an underlying lack of self-confidence, there are a lot of things that she is quite good at. She learned some nasty skills just to survive, and she naturally gravitates toward those when she has nothing else to fall back on.

Gef: Did you take any inspiration from grindhouse cinema or maybe some of the grittier, more noir-ish fiction from years gone by?

Greg: From a cinematic standpoint, Death Wish was the most influential film in mind while writing Selena. I Spit on Your Grave was a distant second. I saw both during that influential, early-teen period of life when imagination was everything. But in some respects Selena is not true to that Rape/Revenge film genre that spawned Death Wish and so many others. While Paul Kersey’s journey was an influence, I had no interest in describing the actual rape scene in my novel. We know it happens, we know it’s horrific, we see the aftermath, but Selena doesn’t give the details—it’s the one (and probably only) thing she is uncomfortable talking about. Selena is willing to go a lot of places, and I took her to those places and described the gory details of what happened there in the book. The rape, however, occurs completely off stage. It is not my intention to exploit my character to that extent, and I extend her that personal courtesy.

Gef: Crime fiction legend, Bill Crider, mentioned in his quite positive review of the novel that it's more like three interconnected novellas than what readers might expect from the more traditional novel. Is this how you originally envisioned the story playing out, if accurate, or did it kind of morph out of something else you had in mind?

Greg: I’ve had feedback from some readers who state that it feels like one book. Others have said it feels like three stories (each with their own beginning, middle, and end) that are interconnected. The truth is, the story was originally written as three novellas titled SelenaHostility, and Ravage. Each is complete while also integrally connected to the others. Taken together they formed one overall story. Hostility begins within minutes after Selena ends. Ravage picks up minutes after the final scene of Hostility. The fade out scene of one is the opening scene of the next. Each individual part takes Selena both deeper into her problem while also bringing her closer to resolution.

The details behind the scene are much too boring to hash out here, but there were some compelling reasons to release the first three in one volume. And I think it works well for the most part. There are two additional novels that are already written that follow Selena. These are complete novels vs. any combination of novellas, and the complete three volumes (SelenaDiesel Therapy, and Suicide Lounge) should make for a nice collection. Overall I am very pleased with the presentation of Selena, Hostility, and Ravage in one volume.

Gef: There's no shortage of revenge tales out there, and like any genre there are the pitfalls of tropes, cliches, and reader expectations. Did you keep any of that in consideration in creating this novel or was it a matter of putting it all out of mind and solely focusing on the story you wanted to tell?

Greg: I didn’t keep much of it in mind while writing. I am fairly familiar with the tropes from having read the excellent Men Women and Chainsaws by Carol Clover. My sole intention in writing Selena was to have the character totally own the point of view of the story. Readers would not get to be a spectator watching her being attacked or her taking her revenge. The reader would be inside her head for both experiences. I made every effort to elicit the same emotion in the reader that Selena felt. Aside from that, I made sure the hurdles got larger and that she had opportunity to grow into them. As a writer who also loves to ready gritty crime action stories, I limited the amount of help she would have when trying to get out of the nastiest situations. I wanted her to use her wits and what she had at hand.

I wanted to craft a compelling story, and I didn’t worry too much about what was a trope or cliché and what was original or subversive. My take on writing is you have to have a great story and a great character. It helps if you are a skilled writer, but—even if you are not—a great story and a great character can survive mediocre writing. On the other hand, it takes a highly skilled writer to make a mediocre story work. So I focused on story.

Gef: Who do you count among your writing influences?

Greg: First and foremost Richard Stark. Then there would follow Ed McBain and Lawrence Block with their straight-forward writing styles. Stieg Larsson’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo was impactful, as it showed me that you can write this kind of story with a unique, female protagonist. I was reading a lot of the Jack Taylor novels by Ken Bruen just before I started writing Selena. Sometimes I think I see a bit of Taylor in her. They both like to drink.
I’ve also picked up some additional influences that affect me today but not necessarily while writing Selena, as I had not read them then. I am a raving fan of Mike Monson, Vicki Hendricks, and Jake Hinkson. Jake Hinkson hands down wrote two of the best things I’ve read – ever. Those would be The Big Ugly and The Deepening Shade. Alec Cizak is amazing too. I have to be careful with citing present influences, both out of fear of going on all day long about them as well as the fear of leaving someone out. Oh, yeah, there’s Eryk Pruitt. Everybody should check that guy out. Today.

Gef: What do you consider to be the main selling point of crime fiction among its fans, and its saving grace among those that aren't?

Greg: Not everybody is going to be a fan of this stuff. That’s what genre is for. You can take something you like and juice it up a bit. Distill it. Make it stronger than the watered down works that transcend genre and wind up on the shelves at the front of the bookstore. It won’t hit the New York Times Bestseller List, but some people might get a kick out of it. I don’t look down on any writer. The fact that I don’t read E.L. James or romance novels does not mean that I don’t respect what those writers are doing, and—most importantly—the fact that there are people out there (a lot, apparently) that read it and love it and get enjoyment out of it. Crime fiction is much the same. Selena is a bloody, sexy, stomach churning book. It fits in niche in a genre that a few people enjoy.

I think what draws people to crime fiction first and foremost is that the stakes are so high. We are literally writing about life and death, and mostly death. But also I think you reach a point in your life where you are somewhat stripped of illusions, you have days where you are depressed, work can be meaningless and overwhelming, life can be so demanding, the difficulties in familial relationships are trying, and you’ve got all those people lined up to take your paycheck before you even get it. You feel like you’ve been sold a bill of goods. You might drink a little on weekends to turn off the stress and take a mental break from it all. You think you’re on the brink of a breakdown, but you have just enough fortitude that keeps you from falling apart. There’s a sense of desperation. The more difficulties life hands you, the more you start to feel a little pissed off. On days like that, reading the current bestseller may not crack through what’s left of your exhausted brain. You might get more of a kick out of a story about some bank robber whose girlfriend is a stripper and takes drugs. The bank robber is betrayed by a partner, and he’s going to get his revenge. You might even drive by that bank yourself a time or two… Such fantasies are best lived out on the printed page.

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?

Greg: I don’t think of it as advice, more of an expectation. That expectation is that you take a story and suck the life out of it. Your character can be flawed, but your character must be good. You cannot write something that is too explicit, or violent, or sexual. You’ll be an embarrassment and no publisher will ever look at you. And—worst of all—you have to take your story and bloat it with description and subplots and everything else until it’s the right size for mass transportation to the book stores. A thick, doorstop of a book that has just enough story for a novella.

I don’t believe any of it. Back in the 1970’s we had something called the R rated movie. Ever heard of it? TV was for the family, but the cinema was for adults. Then along came the PG-13 rating and the cinema has been about family entertainment ever sense. There are few strong, adult-oriented films being made these days. TV is where it’s at currently. Look at the success of The Sopranos, Breaking Bad, Ray Donovan, Banshee, and Game of Thrones. Grown-ups crave grown up entertainment, pure and simple. The small press and independent publishers active today are doing the same kind of thing for novels. I couldn’t tell you the last time I read anything that was not put out by an independent publisher. The mainstream press is all Coke and no rum. Too sweet. Does nothing for me.

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

Greg: I don’t think of them as guilty pleasures necessarily, but my entertainment intake doesn’t deviate much from what I write. I love movies like The Drop, and Nightcrawler. I enjoy the old Bogart and Bacall films. With music, I’ve been a Stones fan for most of my life—my favorites being the brilliant back-to-back string of Let it Bleed, Beggars Banquet, Sticky Fingers, Exile on Mainstreet, and Goats Head Soup, but quite honestly I like them all. In regards to more current music, I haven’t listened to much else since the latest Dead Sara album came out. That thing is freaking beautiful. When it comes to TV, I tune in to things like Ray Donovan, True Detective, Banshee, and Game of Thrones. A true “guilty pleasure” would be Big Brother (Go Vanessa!)—can’t miss that show.

When it comes to reading, crime noir dominates. The people I love include, but are not limited to Vickie Hendricks, Jake Hinkson, Alec Cizak, Chris Rhatigan, Tom Pitts, Mike Monson, Jason Starr, Todd Morr, CS DeWildt, and on and on and on. There is so much good stuff coming out, it’s like being fed from a fire hose, I just take in all that I can. And then some of the old guys as well like Jim Thompson and David Goodis, and Richard Stark, McBain—you name them, I’m probably trying to read them.

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

Greg: First and foremost there are two additional Selena novels that should be released in the relatively near future. They’ve been written, but I expect they’ll need some polishing. I also have a couple of nasty short stories that are in good hands, and I hope will be out soon. As far as new content is concerned, I’m at work on another novel that is chock full of poor choices, bad behavior, good times, and extreme violence—and I’m having a blast working on it.

The best places to keep up with me are:
Twitter - @GregBarth1

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