Thursday, July 12, 2018

Ink-Quisitions with Mike Creeden

Q. Like Hector Duarte Jr. you earned a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) degree in Creative Writing from Florida International University (FIU). But to enroll at FIU you relocated about 1,500 miles from Massachusetts—and set aside your lucrative career as a Technical Writer to become a poor bastard. What tempted and compelled you to make such a drastic lifestyle change and take a gander at writing fiction?

A.  First, I’m marking this as the first time the word “lucrative” has ever been used to describe a portion of my life, so thanks for that. I’ve loved reading my whole life, and a desire to spin my own words led me to pursue my undergraduate writing major. But as a first-generation college student, I had to study something practical: and technical writing fit the bill. Thirteen years of writing in such thrilling genres as online help, computer manuals, proposals, white papers, and software test plans hadn’t managed to kill my desire to write fiction. So I packed up the car and headed to Miami to study at FIU on what I thought would be a three-year break from the real-world. Sixteen years later, I’m still here. Hopefully my days of living in the real world are over.

Q. If I understand correctly, the first draft of your debut novel, ALL YOUR LIES CAME TRUE was written while attending FIU. So how do you think your creative writing studies helped your development? Do you think it’s likely you would’ve enjoyed any success writing fiction if you hadn’t enrolled at FIU? Or might you have achieved success—but perhaps your path might have been longer?

A. I think FIU helped enormously. And I doubt I would’ve had much success, if any, without FIU and the people I met there. As for the MFA experience in general, getting into a program is a confidence booster because you have people with some experience telling you “we think you have potential.” For that they gift you three years of focused time to read, write, and hang out with people who like to do the same. You can get all that at most MFA programs, but what makes FIU special in my mind is that their program not only focuses on storytelling and craft, they also embrace popular fiction. 

I remember talking with a friend who was studying at another big name school about what we were doing in FIU workshops and classes. She sighed deeply and said: “Oh wow … you actually talk about craft? Over here we try not to indulge the baser instincts … like thinking about readers and markets.”  

Obviously, I’m paraphrasing—but I think you get my drift. 

While I was at FIU I got to know and study with some great writers who mentored me and steered me toward my first publications: people like John Dufresne, Lynne Barrett, Joe Clifford—who was a classmate—and Les Standiford.

Q. Like many authors, prior to getting your novel published, you’ve also written short stories: and some of these have appeared in a trio of anthologies. Several of these works showcase the antics of two young adults named Kenny and Leanne. Kenny’s been described as a Keith Richards wannabe. And Decklan St. James—the central character in AYLCT—also happens to be a failed guitarist who still thirsts for rock-n-roll fame. 

What influenced you to create characters like Kenny and Decklan?

A. I’ll save the gory details for my memoir. For now let’s just say that with the exception of the Desert Hot Springs bedroom scene in ALL YOUR LIES CAME TRUE—which takes place when Deck and Stevie are locked in the basement—I’ve experienced everything Kenny and Deck have.

I guess these characters are alter egos of a sort. Deck’s the devil on one of my shoulders, and Kenny’s the angel on the other. Kenny’s a version of me in my early twenties: innocent, but longing to be a badass cool guy. While Deck is the version of me ten years later: no longer innocent—still trying to be cool … but often stuck on being a selfish asshole.

Q. Punk rock drummer turned Crime Writer Steve W. Lauden recently shared that the two of you teamed up with Joe Clifford, Tom Pitts and Eric Beetner to form a band of your own.  But a la REO Speedwagon, you guys quibbled over artistic differences—and decided to split up before your first rehearsal. How did you cope with this tragedy? Did you start shooting black tar heroin?

A. Let me start by saying that as a drummer Steve W. Lauden is definitely playing against type. Drummers can be pains in the ass, complaining constantly while not doing much to get stuff done. But in our Supergroup that never was, Steve was the voice of reason, the leader, and the one person who was really trying to make it happen. If that Punk Noir band ever gets its shit together to the point where we plug in and make some noise, the world will have S.W. Lauden to thank.

When we broke up prematurely, I coped as best I could—drowning all my sorrows in donuts and black coffee—while playing along to YouTube versions of the songs we should have covered.

Q. Your short story “Sunday Morning, Coming Down” appeared in the Anthony award-nominated Johnny Cash tribute anthology, JUST TO WATCH THEM DIE—edited by Joe Clifford on behalf of Gutter Books. As an amateur musician, how did it feel to be included in this anthology? And what drew you to this particular Cash song for your title?

A. It was amazing. I’ve loved Johnny Cash since I was a little kid, and that collection includes some of the coolest writers on the crime scene right now. 

Sunday Morning, Coming Down is one of my favorite songs of all time. And probably the best evocation of that hung-over, depressed, “I do-not-want-to-participate-in-normal-life” feeling that’s ever been put to vinyl. It’s like a short story—the protagonist waking up, popping a cold one, throwing on his cleanest dirty shirt, then stumbling out into Sunday morning—where he walks a few blocks … sees a loner kid, then a kid with his father—and eventually he listens to Sunday school worshipers singing. I feel like I spent my early childhood driving around with my father … songs like that playing on the AM radio: dead of winter in Massachusetts, heat blasting in the car, windows shut, my old man lighting one Pall Mall off another, neither of us talking much … just listening to the radio and soaking in the sadness.  

For what it’s worth, I think the definitive version of Sunday Morning is the done by songwriter, Kris Kristofferson on the Austin Sessions record that came out in ’99 when Kris was already in his sixties. 

As an added bonus, we get backup vocals by Steve Earle.

Q. This story once again features Kenny and Leanne. But after reading this tale, I had to ask myself if these two characters are evolving or plotting devolution. As the daughter of a Pentecostal preacher it seems like Leanne’s transformed herself into a Christian Vixen—who’s trying to redefine the boundaries between heaven and hell. And while Kenny’s tales have traditionally been spun as first-person narratives, you decided to pen this revenge story from a third person perspective. 

What impetus led you to craft this story and its plot in this particular fashion? 

A. If I ever sit down to write the collection I envision for these two, then one focus will be how different the inside and the outside of the same person can be. And how twisted—but not necessarily evil—the inner lives of spiritual people can be. 

When Kenny visits a Pentecostal church for the first time, he’s this rocker kid who seems cool on the outside. But on the inside he’s inexperienced and immature. He’s a follower. First he idolizes Leann’s father, Jack Moody: the reformed badass turned preacher, who pastors the church. But then Kenny falls for Moody’s daughter, Leanne. She and Kenny, I guess you could say, are drawn to their opposites. Kenny sees Leanne’s savvy—and Leanne digs Kenny’s innocence. “Sunday Morning, Coming Down” is where the sparks between these two start to catch fire.  

Q. These days, besides sweating in Miami, you’re devoting much of your writing time to penning more novels. And rather than continue with Decklan, you’re creating new characters while taking your themes in a different direction. Without talking plot, what kinds of characters are you building at the moment? 

A. I’m playing around with two different stories. One’s set in South Beach and features a female bodybuilder who does fetish sessions and stumbles into detective work. The other characters include a bunch of gaming nerds, some washed-up celebs—and possibly a Buddhist monk. The second is set back in Massachusetts. This one involves three childhood friends: a woman and the two men who used to crush on her—as well as a drug-addled bad mom, and a satanic cult.  

My stories often feature some kind of cult because most days I walk around thinking everyone out there has life’s answers … and they’re keeping them from me. I also think that when the world is really fucked-up—like it is now, people go for easy answers in comprehensive story form—which is what cults offer. 

Q. You and your wife Adrienne discover you’ve been assigned to play host to a quartet of Crime writers who are in Miami for the weekend. Where would you take them to dinner on Friday and Saturday nights? 

A. None of these places are protypical of Miami, but they are some of our faves: 

The Yardbird is a five minute walk from where we live in South Beach. Southern cooking. And they do the best fried chicken and waffles this side of Roscoe’s in California. 

Mandolin in the Design District does Mediterranean. Lots of Greek dishes. Excellent vibe—outdoor dining and great service. It’s where we take our classy (read: Adrienne’s) friends for a night out.

And since I’m heading home to Fall River, Massachusetts in a few days—and dreaming about the great Portuguese food that can be had almost everywhere there?  I would definitely take them to Sagres. Lots of fresh baked rolls. Spicy Shrimp Mozambique for the appetizer. And a Portuguese steak for the entrĂ©e—which means a fried egg on the steak. And we’ll do fries and rice on the side. Because you can never get enough carbs. And who needs vegetables when you’re on vacation?

Anyone who wants to sink their teeth into some great fiction—including Mike’s story, “Sunday Morning, Coming Down”—can buy the kickass Gutter Books Johnny Cash tribute anthology JUST TO WATCH THEM DIE on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Just-Watch-Gutter-Books-Anthologies-ebook/dp/B075KKGT7H/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8

Rock music junkies can check out Steve W. Lauden’s 2016 interview with Mike on Steve’s Bad Citizen Corporation blog: https://badcitizencorporation.com/2016/08/01/interrogation-mike-creeden/

And you can visit Mike on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100007571499908

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