Thursday, March 22, 2018

Ink-Quisitions With Steve W. Lauden, part 2

Welcome back to the Rack, Steve. So let’s crank—and spill some Ink. Like your co-contributor Terri Lynn Coop in the Johnny Cash tribute anthology JUST TO WATCH THEM DIE, you happen to be someone who’s achieved success in one profession, then maneuvered into book writing. But whereas Terri worked as a criminal defense attorney, you spent many years as a drummer for various California bands. Can you tell us about a few of the bands you played with?

A. I played drums pretty consistently for about twenty years, but only did it “professionally” for a decade—and even then I usually had to wait tables or write freelance articles to pay the rent. I played with a couple of South Bay punk and surf bands in the early 90s that released songs with Theologian Records. Then I started playing with a Hollywood pop punk band called Ridel High. We recorded an album for Joey Cape’s My Records that later got picked up by A&M Records. The last full-time band I recorded and toured with was called Tsar, a power pop group signed to Hollywood Records. None of my bands ever sold many records, but I had some truly interesting experiences. That was over a decade ago. I still dust off my drums to record with friends or play an occasional show, but it’s definitely more of a hobby now. 

Q. Now according to Urban Legend, you became embalmed in Punk rock culture at the impressionable age of thirteen. But at what age did you start playing drums—and how old were you when you joined your first band?

A. I think I got my first drum set when I was 12 or 13. Prior to that I took accordion lessons, which might explain my fascination with pirates. My first “real” high school band was a straight up hardcore 4-piece called Six Feet Under. My mom used to cart me and my drums around to the lead singer's house once or twice a week for the month or two we were together.

So, the roots of my musical independence are in punk, but my tastes developed pretty quickly from there. I never left punk behind—I still listen to bands like Black Flag, X, Social Distortion, Gun Club and Descendents—but my friends and I moved backwards to Velvet Underground, Big Star and David Bowie by the time we graduated high school. I also kept listening to hard rock and metal like Guns 'n Roses, and even old country by Johnny Cash and Hank Williams. We were primed and ready when college rock became alternative rock thanks to The Replacements, Husker Du and The Pixies. I even got into grunge and Brit Pop, but drew the line at Nu Metal. It’s important to set boundaries.

The methods to my madness are rarely evident. Not even to me. But you’ve written a trilogy that started with BAD CITIZEN CORPORATION. You next followed with GRIZZLY SEASON. The series recently concluded in January with your well-received novel HANG TIME. And, drum roll please—your central character in this trilogy somehow chances to be an aging punk rocker named Greg Salem. (Who, like most of us, has also worked various day jobs.)

Q. Throughout the series you’ve colored Greg as guy who struggles with the notion of growing up. And eventually he’s beset by a full-scale mid-life crisis. Without discussing plot, as someone who’s lived a musician’s life, can you give us some psychological insights into Greg Salem? And if there are parallels between Greg’s life and your metamorphosis, perhaps you will share some with us.

A. Greg Salem definitely isn't modeled on my own life, but I'm in there along with dozens of other people that I knew, met in passing or idolized. The concept for BAD CITIZEN CORPORATION was actually born of two things—watching the area around my hometown get swallowed up by a tidal wave of money, and seeing how some of my old friends and acquaintances continued to live a blue-collar beach life despite being squeezed out. It got me wondering what my life would have been like if I never moved away. The result is the three books in the trilogy. Not sure what it says about me that I imagine a really dark existence for my parallel universe self, but that's the way the story unfolded.

Ultimately, Greg can't get out of his own way. He's got just about everything in life a guy could want, but he's weighed down by anger and resentment that fuel his self-destruction. A lot of that character development came from basing Greg on the psychotic energy and over-the-top lyrics of bands I grew up listening to, some of which borders on the cartoonish. Of all Greg's character flaws, his alcohol addiction and struggles with sobriety are probably most closely related to my own experience. I don't drink any more, but I do remember what it was like to want to quit way before I actually did. In that respect, I have a much happier life than what I've created for Greg.

Q. You told Authors on the Air host Pam Stack in January that you’d already written your first Greg Salem novel BAD CITIZEN CORPORATION and your crime caper novella CROSSWISE before "arriving" on the Indie crime writing scene. When did you start and finish these works? And once finished, how did you go about trying to get them published?

A. I finished an early draft of BAD CITIZEN CORPORATION before I started poking around the crime-publishing universe. I was lucky to have some guidance and support from a talented LA writer named Travis Richardson. He introduced me to a few people and I quickly realized that many of the other new writers were busy publishing short fiction with magazines and websites, so I dove in. Meanwhile, I was trying to figure out what to do with my first Greg Salem novel. I sent query letters and sample chapters to countless agents and publishers, but nothing ever came of it. The endless flow of rejections and non-responses got pretty exhausting, so I started looking into established Indie publishers. I met Tyson Cornell at Rare Bird Books through another publisher and he eventually acquired the Greg Salem trilogy. Tyson’s a rocker too, so it’s a good fit.

At the same time, I was having moderate success with short story placements. One piece I wrote was about a disgraced NYPD cop who becomes head of security at a Florida retirement home filled with septuagenarian gangsters. A short-lived e-publisher encouraged me to expand it into a novella, but they soon went out of business. By then I was working with my editor, Elaine Ash. She encouraged me to submit CROSSWISE to Eric Campbell at Down & Out Books. If I have the timing correct, he agreed to publish it before BAD CITIZEN CORPORATION hit the streets. I've been working with Rare Bird and Down & Out ever since. Good people, one and all.

Q. I understand you have new feature character that you’re hoping to launch through your Agent. Since the topic of Agents mystifies many of us, how did you go about finding and landing one? And how long did this process take you?

A. After that initial flurry of rejections prior to BAD CITIZEN CORPORATION being published, I pretty much stopped actively looking for representation. Then a writer friend told me about an agent named Amy Moore-Benson a couple of years ago. She ended up signing a few other authors I'm connected with. One thing led to another and Amy and I started working together after Bouchercon in New Orleans. I really enjoy working with Amy and the team at Meridian Artists. As with my publishers and editor, I've found that having qualified people in your corner helps to keep the persistent imposter syndrome in check.

Q. I’d like to end with another question that’s likely to spark more controversy: What are some of the best taco trucks in LA? 

A. In reality, the LA publishing community already has a resident taco expert named Ryan Gattis. He also happens to be one of my favorite modern crime writers (read ALL INVOLVED). Anything I suggest taco-wise would pale in comparison to his recommendations. That said, you can't go wrong with La Estrella in Highland Park.

Thank you kindly Steve for paradiddling with Story and Grit. All my best to you. And congratulations not only on your writing accomplishments—but also for achieving a long run as a musician. I sometimes wish I could’ve done likewise. Instead I scarf burritos. And drink a load of bourbon. Unfortunately there ain’t no taco trucks back here in Parts Unknown.

The Johnny Cash tribute anthology Just To Watch Them Die—which includes Steve's story "25 Minutes to Go"—is available at Amazon.

You can find Steve on his websites: and

Or y’all can visit him below on Facebook:


  1. Feed the authors, show em some love.

  2. Solid interview here!
    Luv that Steve broke down how it all happened. Especially the hard times getting rejected at first.
    Gives a crime-minded writing girl hope!
    Thanks much for this, guys!