Conversations with the Bookless: Jason Duke

You can read the full introduction to the series here. In short The Conversations with the Bookless series is designed to raise the profile of and increase the exposure of some of the emerging writers we knew were out there.

In this installment we talk to Jason Duke.

After the jump check out the full interview.

Why do you write?

For fortune and glory, but mainly because I love telling stories. We are a story-telling species. The majority of communication is done through the stories we tell, from the insignificant, to the grandiose.

And we love to embellish.

You get in a fight with some prick and land a punch in his face before it’s broken up, but when you tell the story to your buddies, you laid his ass out. You fuck some broad and when you tell the story, you had an orgy with Paris Hilton and three Playmates of the month.

I remember one time, I was down in San Diego kicking it with crime partners Jimmy Callaway and Josh Converse, we’re kicking it at Hardrock drinking overpriced Captain Morgan and Cokes, and I tell them about my most recent jaunt to Vegas. I tell them the story, make good on my delivery, and they like the story. Convincing story? Yeah, it was a convincing story, they say.

Later, I tell Jimmy that about 90% of that story was true.

“No shit?” he says “…which part?”

What is the value and purpose of short fiction in Mystery/Crime fiction for you? For you personally and overall for the form and genre?

For me, telling the story is what it’s all about. Length doesn’t matter. With novels, you have a lot more room to maneuver to tell the story than short fiction, but the story gets told either way. At least, that’s what we hope.

I think all stories, regardless of length, have value, even the bad ones. Short fiction fills a niche. It’s been around for a long time and I think its record speaks for itself as far as value, otherwise no one would write, and continue to write, from generation to generation, in the short fiction form.

This is true for crime, just as it is for horror, fantasy, science-fiction, etc.

Personally, I enjoy short fiction more than novels because I’m a lazy motherfucker and it takes less time to read.

What do you most value in the fiction you love?

Like I said, I think all stories have inherent value, even the bad ones. I definitely have a taste for, and anyone who knows me can vouch, a taste for depraved, bottom of the barrel, straight from the gutter, dark, seedy, twisted shit.

Unlikeable, unredeemable characters – check.

Blood, violence, lots of action – check.

Sex and profanity – check.

Now, I don’t think a story can make it on these merits alone. A lot of editors and writers toss around advice such as ‘in moderation’ and ‘tasteful.’ I tend to agree. But there are some stories that are well told, for example Roger Smith’s “Wake Up Dead,” and are criticized for too much violence, too much profanity, being too bloody, too dark, what have you.

Personally, I’d tell these pussies to go fuck themselves.

Maybe it’s the generation I belong to. Maybe I’ve been a Soldier too long. Maybe I was in Iraq for too long. Maybe I’ve seen too much shit in my life and it’s jaded me. But the world we live in is violent, is bloody, is profane, always has been, and these stories are a reflection of that.

That aside, there’s one last thing I value in fiction. Perhaps the greatest thing. I love the violence, the profanity, etc. It’s all gravy. But I want a message. I am a firm believer in existential morality tales.

Most of my stories, the characters are unlikeable, they know they’re pieces of shit, the dregs of society, but they all want to change. They all want to change their lives, turn it around in some way, and by the end of the story, they have survived all the hell, all the trials, I have to offer.

The story ends with the protagonist, in his final moment, final choice. He needs to make a decision. Will he take the final step to turn his life around, or will he continue as is.

The end.

The choice is ours. It’s up to us. And I’m probably not telling you anything you don’t already know.

Sometimes, we just need to be reminded.

What’s your favorite story written by someone else?

That’s a tough question. There are no stories I dislike, which makes it hard to pin a favorite. I’m as much of a hypocrite as the next person, and I’ll talk shit about a story if I think it’s bad, but I still give the story-teller his or her props. The good stories will come to the forefront and it works itself out in the end. Stories with a message, that make me feel something, get me thinking afterward about this thing we call the human condition, those are my favorite. And by feeling, I’m not just talking about getting my dick hard, though that’s a plus. Oh, and stories that use the words ‘cocksucker’ and ‘prick’ a lot.

Who are your influences and what is your most unlikeliest influence?

I didn’t start out writing crime. I started with horror, fantasy, and science-fiction. This was back in 1995-96. My first publication was actually an adventure for Dungeon Magazine that I wrote in 1996.

I was big into the classic versus the contemporary writers, such as H.P. Lovecraft, Edgar Allan Poe, Bram Stoker, Mary Shelley, H.G. Wells, Ray Bradbury, Dante, Milton, Tolkien, Eliot, Stevenson, etc. About the only contemporary horror writer I read at the time was Clive Barker.

Two major influences were Aldus Huxley’s “A Brave New World” and George Orwell’s “1984” which were mostly responsible for developing my propensity for stories that convey a message about the world we live in. Also, the philosophies of Descarte, Pascal, Kant, Hume, Sun Tzu, Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, Sartre, Camus.

I had some horror and science-fiction stories published between 1996-98. I don’t know why. They were pieces of shit. But then, sometime around 1997-98, I started writing this horror/crime story called “HBK” and just like most of my stuff, it earned rejection after rejection.

It was during this time frame while I was still searching for a mag to publish “HBK,” around the end of 1999, beginning of 2000, that I stumbled on two e-zines that marked a turning point in my writing. One of them catered to this cool genre I had never heard of called crime-noir. The other was an edgy, part counter-culture, part literary, mag.

The crime mag was Plots With Guns.

The other was 3am Magazine.

This led to discoveries of other mags such as Blue Murder, Suspect Thoughts, Outsider Ink, Crimewave, Shred of Evidence, etc. I loved these stories, and I found myself writing less horror, fantasy, and science-fiction, and more crime. It seemed to me that my crime stories rang truer than my horror. I got more crime stories published than horror. I got to know some of the editors, Kenneth Wilson (3am), Greg Wharton (Suspect Thoughts), Sean Meriwether (Outsider Ink), and the man, the myth, the legend, Anthony Neil Smith.

So, I thought I wanted to be a horror writer. Those were the kinds of stories I thought I liked to tell.

At the time.

I had no idea I had another voice locked away, stronger, truer.

I tell my crime stories the way I’ve experienced life, and maybe that’s why. I know on some level we all try to write about what we know, but I don’t want to write about something I haven’t experienced firsthand in some way.

I want it real.

That’s why I’ll venture out from time to time, see what kind of trouble I can get into, for the experience, to tell my stories, embellish on them and turn them into good yarns. At least, that’s what I hope. I try to do the same with horror, and I still write horror, yet I don’t feel as comfortable with it compared to my crime stories.

What issues or ideas about fiction have been foremost in your mind of late?

Short shorts.

I know they serve a niche too, but I just don’t care for them as much. For me, it’s like jerking off to a porno, wishing for the real thing. They just don’t deliver the way a normal short story does. They’re quick to read, which is great because like I said, I’m a lazy motherfucker. They just don’t hold the same appeal. Probably because every time I try to write a short short, I can’t tell my story the way I want to without going over the word limit. So, yeah, I suck at writing short shorts and I’m fucking bitter for it. But hey, just because I don’t like them, there are some really good writers with a genuine talent for the short short. Paul David Brazill comes to mind.

Print versus online.

This is something that’s been an ongoing debate, but has resurfaced recently, serving as the driving force behind Steve Weddle’s Needle Magazine. There aren’t a lot of good print mags around. Most everything is online and I find myself paying attention to the online mags more. Other than Needle, there’s Out of the Gutter, Crimespree, and a U.K. mag no one seems to remember called Crimewave. Those are the only ones I know about. I don’t think print will make a comeback anytime soon, but it’s nice to have the option. That’s why I’ve bought copies of Out of the Gutter, subscriptions to Crimespree, copies of Crimewave. And that’s why I’ll be chipping in some scratch to get my hands on a copy of Needle.

Book trailers.

Love ‘em. Nothing original, they’ve been around for awhile, but I love watching them. Just like stories, some are bad, but fuck it, they’re still fun to watch. Same goes for video interviews. I still prefer written interviews, but the videos are fun to watch because you get to see the authors, how they respond and react, hear their voice. Add podcasts to that list as well, though if you’re going to do a recording, try and give a performance, use some inflection. The act of reading it isn’t enough. You need to sell it.

What else? Oh YEAH.

Facebook.

I’M SICK AND FUCKING TIRED OF PEOPLE COMPLAINING ABOUT WRITERS USING FACEBOOK TO PROMOTE THEIR STORIES. Or any social networking site. Personally, I don’t give a shit. I don’t care if I know them or not, if their only sole purpose is to promote their shit. More power to them. I don’t turn my back on anyone who wants me to be their fan, be their friend. DOESN’T MEAN I’M GOING TO BUY THEIR FUCKING BOOK. Or pay attention to every post they make, right?

Who is the best short story writer that people haven’t gotten hip to yet?

The best? Meaning better than me?

I know of a lot of good short fiction writers that people haven’t gotten hip to yet. Most of them I track through Facebook, another reason why I don’t mind them using Facebook to promote their works. Facebook is a great way to track them, or through their Blogs.

For example, Chad Eagleton has a blog called Dogfight where he and Brian Roe swap back and forth between writing chapters for a novel with the same name. There are also the various mags, of course, though it seems we keep losing them, like Tony Black’s Pulp Pusher, which I was sad to see go. I’m also getting worried that Neil is going to close the doors on Plots With Guns again. Seems like it’s coming. I hope I’m wrong.

But for me, to pin the best short story writer that people haven’t gotten hip to yet is like trying to pin my favorite story. You want to get hip, check out the mags, like Darkest Before the Dawn, or A Twist of Noir. You can spend weeks reading through their archives. Check out Facebook and the Blogs.

What do you like most about short fiction?

I like everything about it. I don’t need to invest a lot of time in it to tell my story. Short fiction can be challenging in the same way that short shorts are challenging. There’s not a lot of room to maneuver. The 2,000-5,000 word range is a good fit for me, something I’ve grown increasingly comfortable with over the years, though I know I can do just as well with a longer word count such as a novel. I think with so many things competing for a person’s attention nowadays, makes short fiction a contender.

Where are you, right now, as you’re writing these answers?

In the NCO Barracks on Fort Irwin.

When did you start writing short fiction and what prompted you to do so?

I actually started writing when I was about 10 years old. I was in the fourth grade. I had a buddy, this mulatto kid named Rennie, that used to stay over the night all the time at my house. He was a tough kid and we were good friends. We used to get into all kinds of trouble together. We also liked to write stories and read them to each other. I forget how it started or who started it, but he was a good story teller, and I remember envying him at times. I still wonder to this day what happened to Rennie, what became of him, if he still writes.

Of all of your stories, which is your favorite; the one that showcases best your abilities?

I would have to say “Phoenix Nightlife.” That one’s my baby and I’m pretty happy with the way the story turned out. I also like the way my story “Running to Zero” turned out.

Do you have any short story publications forthcoming?

Quite a few, actually:

“Less Than Living” in Spinetingler Magazine.

Midnight Hellride” in Plots With Guns.

“Route Cobra” in House of Horror.

My serialized novella “Phoenix Nightlife” in Darkest Before the Dawn and CrimeWav.com.

And finally, last but not least, “Guns, Drugs, and a Shitload of Blood” in Crimefactory.

How do you plan to rectify your booklessness?

I’m going to continue to write and tell my stories. The plan is to try and get noticed enough that an agent or publisher will take a chance on me and give me a shot at writing a novel. I know, it’s not an original plan, and I think a lot of writers aim for this. If it works, no need to reinvent the wheel. So far, the longest story I’ve written is “Phoenix Nightlife,” but I have an incomplete crime novel I’ve been steadily working on called “One-way Haiku.”

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Keith Rawson

Keith Rawson is a little-known pulp writer whose short fiction, poetry, essays, reviews, and interviews have been widely published both online and in print. He is the author of the short story collection The Chaos We Know (SnubNose Press)and Co-Editor of the anthology Crime Factory: The First Shift.(New Pulp Press) He lives in Southern Arizona with his wife and daughter.

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About Keith Rawson

Keith Rawson is a little-known pulp writer whose short fiction, poetry, essays, reviews, and interviews have been widely published both online and in print. He is the author of the short story collection The Chaos We Know (SnubNose Press)and Co-Editor of the anthology Crime Factory: The First Shift.(New Pulp Press) He lives in Southern Arizona with his wife and daughter.

6 Replies to “Conversations with the Bookless: Jason Duke”

  1. “I had no idea I had another voice locked away, stronger, truer.” Oh yes. We all discover that smaller, more potent voice behind the initial knee-jerk reaction to the writing. You sound fantastic. I’ll try to find some stuff on you. ANd yeah I might find you on facebook. 😉

  2. Great interview. I’m a big fan of Jason’s writing- and I’m not just saying that because he gave me a hat tip. There is a real rush to his writing. It’s smooth but slick.

    “Running to Zero” is my favourite but if you pop over to PLots With Guns and read “Midnight Hellride” you’ll find a very clever and exciting story.

    It’s only a matter of time before Jason hits big.

  3. And that Vegas story was bad-ass. If you ever meet Duke in person, have him tell it, but tell him not to tell you that it’s only 90% true.

  4. Great interview. Thanks Jason for sharing your insights with us so incisively. I’ve read and admire many of the writers you mention. Really enjoyed ‘Running to Zero’.