Monday, January 28, 2019

Six Stabs With Jesse Rawlins

Hey, yall!

We're changing things up in 2019 and are adding a new feature to Story and Grit. If you've followed the 'zine you're familiar with Jesse Rawlins interview series Ink-Quisitions and her book review series Bad-Ass Book Reviews. Six Stabs is a sort of combination of the two. In it Jesse will be taking six stabs at the author, their books, and their writing. The interview will be followed by Jesse's review of that author's current work. 

Jesse has a great lineup of Six Stabs coming. Hope y'all follow along and enjoy what she brings. 

Have a good one,


Jesse Rawlins and Six Stabs with Tom Pitts

1. Where do the settings for your latest novel 101 take place, Tom? And why?

TP: Most of the action takes place in the hills of Humboldt County and Oakland. And of course, along the northern stretch of California’s Highway 101. The book’s set in the world of pot growers—and Humboldt County has long been ground zero for some of the best weed in the world. It’s the Napa Valley of marijuana. 
2. Do you consider your latest novel similar to your other books? Or different than your other books? If different “how?”
TP: 101 is the third in what I call my Northern California Quartet, and although it’s not a series, they have a few common denominators. It’s a fast-moving crime story told mostly from the criminal’s perspective. It was unintentional, but each book expands a little further geographically. The next one, Coldwater, actually is set in Sacramento, but finishes in Malibu, of all places.  
3. What Six words do you believe best describe 101?
TP: Fast, bloody, unrelenting, savage, funny, and hopefully, satisfying.
4. How kind of you, Tom. You just gave me 8 words. You’re a sicker puppy than I thought: I get to stab you two extra times.
Ah! Aren’t you the wide-eyed-boy. So what are your three favorite movies?
Sorry, I couldn’t hear you. Don’t rush—get your breath back.
TP: True Stories, Goodfellas, and Phantom of the Paradise
5. Who are your three favorite sources to buy weed from?
Just kidding. Let’s keep things safe. What are three of your favorite bars—any place, anywhere—and why?
TP: Blind Kat at 24th and Treat Street in SF. Why? I have a lot of history there. We’ll leave it at that. Um ... so many choices. Hell, I could give you three this side of Cezar Chavez. Specs in San Francisco, off Columbus, has a great vibe. Right across from City Lights. It’s one of the last remnants of the Barbary Coast. My current fave is an old lesbian bar on Cortland Street called the Wild Side West. No pretense, no bullshit. I love that joint. 
6. What are three of your favorite places where you’ve done a “Reading?”
TP: The Mandrake in LA. I think that’s my favorite. Always a good crowd at the LA Noir at the Bars. But in San Francisco? So many places. Perhaps the Beauty Bar at 19th and Mission. And Green Apple Books in SF, that’s a good one, too. Of course, after this I'll be thinking of plenty I-should’ve-said readings, but off the top of my head, that’s three.  

JHR: Well, thanks, Tom. Couldn’t have played 6 Stabs without you. Before S&G’s onsite medical staff attends to your wounds, I brought you a copy of Dragon’s Naturally Speaking software in case your hands don’t recover properly. You talk—and Dragon will do the typing for you. Even if your hands work well, some of the other writers in this series may not prove as fortunate. So I hope you’ll give Dragon a ride and also write a review so the Lit community can benefit.

Badass Book Reviews

Okay, Ink-Quisitive audience let’s dive into 101!

If you’re the type that likes things simple, I rated this book a kick-ass 5 stilettos—go forth BUY and enjoy!

Maybe curious to hear more? Wanna learn my thoughts (for whatever they may be worth)? Awesome, here they are: they’re aimed at letting you know what you will and won’t find in 101.

I look for three key things in a crime book: hard-asses, dumb-asses, and hot-asses—and the two big questions are—does this assembly of asses keep their booties in constant action while keeping me entertained?

Soon after we step inside his roving 101 tour bus, Pitts dumps us in the middle of nowhere—a surreal place called Garberville, where indigent hustling addicts roam the street. He also tosses us two dumb-ass kids (Jerry and his main squeeze Piper) who set this saga’s wheels in motion. And plenty of asses pay for these two shitheads’ fuck-ups.

Next stop on this tour? Hidden pot plantations—where “trimming” doesn’t mean hanging tinsel on family Christmas trees. Orange Dream. Strawberry Sunshine. An array of different “cookies.” Lemon Dream. Dragon Berry. These ain’t the names of Little Debbie snack cakes.

But if you think Humboldt County California sounds like a slice of heaven, you’d better guess again. The hills of Humboldt County ain’t at all like Beverly Hills. At least not on “The Hill” where these particular growers live. Most folks wouldn’t survive there for two main reasons—

The cell phone reception sucks. And Domino’s doesn’t deliver. (Neither does anyone else.)

While the scenes Pitts presents us with are vivid and easy to see—and the characters and their lifestyles intrigue us beginning-to-end, the book fails to give us a wide-angle look at Humboldt County itself. As a storyteller he’s concerned with events on “The Hill”—which we see is forested in some places. And we learn “The Hill” stands about 270 miles north of San Francisco.

Readers could easily get the impression that this Napa Valley of weed is nothing but Redwoods, cedars, brambles, and pot plants. And that other than the growers and those who work for them in season almost no one tends to live there. Me being inquisitive me, I felt compelled to research further. Sure the region’s rural. But it ain’t the top of Mount Everest either. According to Google, about 137, 000 people dwelt in Humboldt County in 2017. The county’s western border kisses the Pacific, and about 27,000 live in the county seat port city of Eureka—which lies only a hundred miles south of the Oregon border. Where the remaining 110,000 live I didn’t check (but they’re out there somewhere). Google search results failed to quickly show how many miles inland Humboldt County stretches; only that the entire area encompasses a bit more than 4,000-square miles—with about 1,000 of them (25%) consisting of protected or strictly preserved Redwood forests. 

I read this book in three sittings. And in no way did the lack of these details detract from my enjoyment while reading 101. Only each time I put the book down did these questions about the region spring to mind. However, what I perceive as a lack of geographical context in terms of being introduced to one lone hill while learning nothing else about the rest of Humboldt County did influence my decision to award 101 five stilettos instead of six. (A minor event near book’s end also left me feeling incredulous: though likely intended as humorous I felt it wasn’t necessary since the book as a whole presented itself as fairly credible.)

I believe two factors falsely colored my expectations for thinking 101 would prove a novel that went well beyond being a typical crime adventure in terms of fact and scope: 1) Humboldt County’s factual history as a premier environment for cultivating marijuana and 2) Prior to my reading this book, exposure to Public attention and comments about 101 drew attention to another historical fact—the book takes place in May 2016 … just as California is on the verge of making recreational marijuana legal (recreational use retail stores ultimately opened their doors for the first time on January 1, 2018).

These two misperceptions aside, to his credit—and our satisfaction—Pitts delivers plenty of action. As well as some circus side-show freaks. Meth Master Mike? Vlad the Inhaler? Who wouldn’t want a front row seat? (Pot brownies not included.)

Speaking of seats and asses, one thing you won’t find in 101 is hot-ass sex. Yet as an added bonus (which almost makes up for the absence of hot-asses), Pitts presents us with lard-asses—more respectfully known as “Bikers.” The bikers in these gangs must be pretty low on the self-respect totem pole though. Unlike the bikers I’ve been around, none of these dudes have motorcycle chicks. A pretty big reason why 101 has no sex scenes. (As a writer I don’t blame Tom; not his fault these guys are losers and can’t get laid on a Friday night. Let alone the other six days of the week.)

I’m guessing the potency of the pot up there in Humboldt County also contributes to the lack of sex in 101. After a night of drinking and sampling some of the region’s primo stuff for the first time, dickhead Jerry passes out in a chair … and wakes in the morning … his mouth and throat about as dry as if he tried to swallow granny’s cotton tighty-whities.

But not everyone in 101 suffers from impotency. Bad-ass grower Vic knows how to charm the ladies (and yeah, he’s gettin’ some, but always behind closed doors). Meanwhile San Francisco cop Roland Mackie sports a hellacious hard-on for Vic’s bad ass. He even dreams about the dude almost every night. Mackie wants to nail Vic bad—

Though not in a boyfriend kind of way.

Seriously though … in this novel, Pitts excels as a writer in three key ways. First, we meet a caravan of characters—many of them fairly quickly: and it’s this veritable army of misfits that drives the suspense throughout this bus ride, while the plot’s tires screech on the countless hair-pin turns. Adding to the intrigue, many of the hell-bent major players are obsessed with the dumb-ass kids—but for secret reasons. Who might prevail? That’s anybody’s guess.

Unlike lesser writers, however, Pitts avoids the common trap of merely bombarding us with a bunch of meaningless names that leave us comatose or confused. Nor like many writers does he continually slam the brakes on the bus—bringing the action to a dead halt time-and-time-again in order to describe every zit and hair that sprouts from each of the character’s noses.

His skills particularly stand out as we meet and get involved with some of the individual bikers. In fact I found this the most fascinating part of 101—because even though some are merely foot soldiers rather than major players, Pitts provides us with psychological insights as to why they became members in this clan of brotherly thugs.

Also significantly to this tale, the central bad-ass Vic didn’t become a Legend easily or overnight. The dude’s got a grim backstory. (And that’s likely why Tom chose the word “savage.”)

Pitts swiftly introduces Vic’s backstory in 101 … but abandons that past just as quickly, allowing our curiosity to fester. And unlike unskilled novelists, Pitts never jams Vic’s backstory down our throats. His hand-feeding’s more like foreplay: and when the timing’s right all the taunting veils get peeled like an orange—and the longed-for-juices drip. But in bright red detail.

Bullets fly and people die in 101. So, yes there’s blood …. But think of chefs cooking steaks: they can range from oozing-rare to bone-dry shoe leather. Compared to other books I’ve read, blood doesn’t drip from Pitts’s pages in this saga. I’d call 101 “medium rare.” And that’s a compliment, not a “knock”—I’m not into gratuitous violence. Readers get to mentally choose how they visualize the violence based on the blood trail evidence Pitts smatters in his scenes. My biggest WHOA moment in this book involved a single sentence that didn’t mention blood or visceral words of any kind. But I literally backed away from the pages—and read the line once again to try and visualize the event—while re-thinking my “take” on this particular character.

I didn’t find a boatload of humor in 101—but I enjoyed the occasional lines I encountered. The best quips prove even more enjoyable because they’re usually delivered in dialogue—and the dumb-asses the barbs typically get directed at don’t get the punchlines.

I’d describe 101 in just three words: fast, unrelenting—and satisfying. If you’re looking for a fast-paced thrill-ride without gratuitous or graphic violence that seems reasonably credible, I believe you’ll enjoy 101.

You can purchase a copy of 101 at Amazon