Today we talk to Thomas Pluck, a writer who knows how to tell a ripping thrill-ride of a tale. If you're looking for non-stop action, check out his Blade of Dishonor.
What's the book about? Ninjas, and guns, and swords, and fights, and assassins, and a storyline that encompasses a time from World War II to the present.
Hooked yet? You should be, if you like action, because this book is jam-packed with flying fists and feet, bullets, and badmen.
He writes other stuff, too, but mostly likes it gritty and tough. He's doing Noir at the Bar these days in New York. After I met him at Bouchercon, I discovered we'd already appeared together in the same anthology, Nightfalls -- a collection of stories to help a children's charity.
You know-- tough guy with a heart of gold.
So let's get to know him a bit more...
Q: So how did this novel come to be? Was it envisioned from the start as a bigger canvas, or did it expand organically out of an idea? Please tell us a bit about the origin.
A: I was toying with the idea of a Rambo style story where a drifter veteran gets arrested because he can find a place to let him use their rest room, when David Cranmer of Beat to a Pulp Press approached me with the idea of an MMA fighter named Reeves battling a ninja clan over a treasured Japanese sword. Blade of Dishonor exploded from there.
Q: Did you start with the germ of an idea and start writing to see where it went, or did you map a good deal out in your head (or even outline) before crafting?
A: I didn't outline at first, but once I knew where I wanted to go, with several set pieces, I put marks on the roadmap and figured out how to get there as I went. The story had a lot of steam, so it was easy to connect the dots.
Q: What do you feel is the main theme(s)?
A: That we all think we are heroes of our own story, and it comes down to how you comport yourself that decides what you are, in the end. Reeves, his grandpa Butch, the ninja clan, and others all want the sword for different reasons, but in the end, only one side is acting with honor.
Q: Why do you feel this is important, and what would you want a reader to take away from reading this book?
A: I love pulp adventures and thrillers, but I like complicated heroes and villains. I want the reader to know you can have a thrilling story and sympathetic villains who you still root against, who you want to see justice meted out upon. And from the reviews, I think I've accomplished that.
Q: What makes a good book or engaging story?
A: Ideas or locations that pique my curiosity, an interesting character with a good voice, that follows a plot where the ending or origin is in constant question. I love plenty of books where the story itself, the whodunnit, is already known. And let's face it, most of the time you know the protagonist will triumph. So where is the suspense? In the character. You want to see this particular person solve it, or work their way out of the problem.
Q: Are there writers with similar themes to yours? Who are your influences (can be writers, or even artists, musicians, or others) and what is it about their work that attracts you?
A: I consider my primary influences to be Andrew Vachss, James Lee Burke, Lawrence Block, and Joe R. Lansdale. The world is a dark place, but worth fighting for. Sometimes all a hero is, is someone who does right by the people most dear to him. His "family of choice," as Vachss would say. Musically, Bon Scott-era AC/DC, Warren Zevon, and the Pogues. With a little of Frank Zappa's sardonic satire. I love Daniel Woodrell's sense of place and how effortlessly he puts you into the minds of his characters. Robert Crais, the early Elvis Cole stuff and the Two Minute Rule are big favorites. Christa Faust, in how she focuses on the gladiators who sacrifice their bodies for our amusement, Josh Stallings and the way he digs up the filth we tolerate in our midst, and the rage he distills into every word. I also love Christopher Moore's insane sense of humor.
Q: Is storytelling mostly entertainment, or does it serve other functions? Do you have particular goals other than telling a good story?
A: In Blade of Dishonor, I wanted to tell the story of my uncles who fought in World War II, but also brush aside the mythology we've built around the war, to show the real people who fought it, without flinching from the brutal reality of war. I am a big fan of lesser-known history, the forgotten heroes and forgiven monsters, and I shined light on a few of them in between blistering action sequences.
Q: Any other goals you've set for yourself, professionally or personally?
A: As long as I can write the stories I want to write and find readers who enjoy them, I'm happy.
Q: Some writers write fast and claim not to rewrite much. Do you do this, or painstakingly revise? When you send the book off to the publisher, are you happy with it, or just tired of it?
A: I polish as I go, but I also revise several times afterward. I can always find something to change if I let myself keep picking at it. I'm happy when I finish, but also relieved.
Q: Do you have good editors, and if so, how do they help you? Do they look for particular things? Do you have different people for different editing levels?
A: I have a trio of crime writer friends that get the book first, because they have the most experience with the genre and books under their belt. Josh Stallings, Holly West, Neliza Drew, and Chad Eagleton. My friend and writer Lynn Beighley gets it next, because she's more of a literary writer and reader, and offers a different perspective.
Q: If a writer came to you for advice, how would you help?
A: It depends on what they're asking. I always preface advice with "this is what worked for me." Because we are all different, and there are no set rules. Write every day? Yes, works for some of us. Others do well writing on weekends, and holding down a day job. To quote my friend Wayne Dundee--author of the Joe Hannibal PI novels, and the creator of Hardboiled magazine--the one thing writers must do is "Persevere." A book has to be finished; craft must be honed; and as I'm sure you know, the road to publication is rockier than the road to Dublin.
Q: Stories can be told by using a different medium. Can you see your book as a film, audio, etc.? How would that alter the telling?
A: I'd love to see Blade of Dishonor as an action flick. I write visually, picturing scenes in my head. The cover artist based Reeves on Bradley Cooper. If he trains in MMA, he could play the part. I was raised on movies, so I imagine most of my work that way.
Q: What's the next step in your writing world?
A: I'm querying a crime thriller and revenge story titled Bury the Hatchet- here's the pitch:
When Jay Desmarteaux walks out of prison after serving 25 years for murdering a vicious school bully, he does his best to follow the advice of his convict mentor: the best revenge is living well. But his family has gone missing, and the favors he's owed from criminal cohorts have been flipped into debts. Old friends want him to disappear and new enemies want him dead. With his wits and his fists, Jay unravels a twisted tale of small town secrets and good old New Jersey corruption. He wanted to bury the hatchet… but someone's trying to bury him instead.
And I'm currently writing a comedic mystery about two guys who inherit a pub that becomes infested by hipsters, and someone is killing them off.
Q: Tell us a fun fact about yourself.
A: I can deadlift 555lbs and I also know how to crochet.
Q: Any other information you'd like to impart?
A: Write the stories you want to read.
Web page: http://www.thomaspluck.com
Where to buy: BookPeople, Barnes & Noble, Amazon