Wednesday, May 25, 2011

HUNTING STORIES by Josh Stallings

I'm very pleased to welcome Josh Stallings to My Friends Call Me Kate.  Yesterday you read about his first book in the Moses McGuire series and today, well, you'll read about the research he does to get the story just right.  It's an excellent post and I know you will enjoy it. 

Midnight, East LA, barrio bar. I sit watching young ladies take their clothes off and dance on a Lucite stage while men toss dollar bills at them. “Research my ass.” My friend Parker laughs. He compares me to Verhoeven and Esterhaus when they were doing Showgirls. Problem is, they are pigs. Me I’m… just chasing down a story. This is how I work. I find a world. For Moses McGuire that is sex for sale in LA. It is also Armenian mobsters. I sit in a club and watch the hardcore power boys strut their Armani and flash their gold.

“What are you doing here?” She is pretty in a tattooed librarian girl-next-door kind of way.

“I’m working on a novel, about the Armenian mob.”

“Shut up, no really shut up. Aren’t you afraid?”

“Of what?”

Her eyes scan the room, flicking across the mobsters. Somehow it doesn’t freak me. I’m not brave. But I grew up hard, that and I feel my literary license will protect me. So far it has. I took my wife to the valley to dine at a Russian mob club. It was an amazing evening and the food wasn’t half bad.

When I’m chasing down a story I go where it takes me. I walk the streets where Moses will stomp. I have spent all night on the streets of Ensenada for Out There Bad (Moses #2.) I took a streetwalker out for tacos at 3AM and got her to tell me how she got where she was. I stood in front of a brothel talking to the bouncer, across the street was a farmacia. In it’s window was a sign – Viagra and US made condoms. The bouncer said Viagra had been a boon to his business, older and older gringos come in and they can go three or four times a night. That scene is in the novel, and I couldn’t have written it half as well as life did.

I troll the Internet looking for facts and cases to lead me to the next story. I read first person accounts of life in the Mustang Ranch, a legal Nevada brothel. I read interviews with the women who work these places. I take Moses on road trips, letting his character fill my mind whilst flying across the desert.

On iTunes I start to build the novel’s play list. Music that I will listen to loud as I pound the keys. I got in the habit of listening to music when writing when my kids were toddlers and my office was a broom closet with just enough room for a desk and my typewriter. To block out the raging sea of domesticity I would put headphones on and fill my head with noise of my own making. I still use it, only now I believe it helps to keep the logical side of my brain busy listening whilst the creative side gets the job done. Thus effectively quieting the mob of inner critics to a dull roar.

Ok, I do all this and I have not written word one of the novel. What I’m finding is texture. What I am searching for is a thread that I can follow, sometimes it is an image or a scene. With Beautiful Naked & Dead it started with the name Moses McGuire, then I saw him with a loaded revolver in his mouth. I started typing the first draft. And I just kept typing until I ran out of story. Then it was time for more research. More low rent bars. More talking to strippers and bouncers and car-parks and who ever else I needed to talk to so I could get my head back on track. Oddly, the places I do my best thinking are strip clubs, on my motorcycle and at the shooting range. Again, I think I need to distract my logical brain so that I can think. At 80 mph on two wheels with every asshole in LA trying to run you over, trust me the logical side is fully busy.

I write my first draft as quickly as possible. Charlie Huston calls it writing with velocity. I type as hard and as fast as my two fingers can go. Later drafts are for cleaning up plot holes and sprucing up the word choices. First drafts are for capturing with passion the reason I wrote the damn story in the first place.

Writing a novel is like moving a very heavy steel hulled boat across a sandy beach. I bust my ass pushing and pulling, dragging the beast into the water. And then it starts to float, inch by inch it gets easier to move. And then all at once the current takes it and we are speeding down a river. From that point my job goes from dragging it, to just keeping it off the rocks. Fitzcarraldo, more the documentary about Herzog making it, Burden of Dreams is all about dragging a ship over a mountain. It is an almost perfect metaphor for how it feels for me to write a novel.

Josh Stallings is your average ex-criminal, ex-taxi driver, ex-club bouncer, film making, script writing, award winning trailer editing, punk.   Over his time in Hollywood he wrote and edited the feature film “The Ice Runner,” a Russian/American co-production. “Kinda Cute for a White-Boy” an independent feature he directed and co-wrote with novelist Tad Williams, won best picture at the Savanah International Film Festival. He also wrote “Ground Zero Texas,” a best selling Sony video game with Edward Neumeier (writer of RoboCop).   His first novel BEAUTIFUL, NAKED & DEAD is garnering great notice from readers and reviewers alike.   OUT THERE BAD (Moses #2) will be published early summer.  He is currently working on the third Moses McGuire novel.  He lives in Los Angeles with his wife Erika, his bullmastiff Nelson, Lucy the lab pit mix and Riddle the cat.

You can read more about Josh Stallings at his website HERE!


Paul D. Brazill said...

Fantastic! Brilliant writing.

Elizabeth said...

Wonderful peek behind the scenes. Thanks for the great post. Counting the days until Out There Bad is in my hot little hands! :-)

Thomas Pluck said...

I enjoyed hearing how your wheels turn, Josh. It certainly worked for Beautiful, Naked & Dead. You've got a great character with Moses McGuire, and your research shows. And the playlist idea is great. I hope you'll share the playlists on your website. I have to make one myself, to drown out the domestic uproar.

sabrina ogden said...

This is quite the post, Josh. I loved reading about the research you've done to help create this dark little world that you've created. Looking forward to the next book, and the next book, and the next book, and the next book... Thanks for taking the time to stop by the blog!

Christine said...

Sabrina/Kate, first things, I'm not crazy after all per your email. Anyway, Sabrina/Kate you ALWAYS know how to entice us into readng good books from your new found novelists. You have a talent for that. Josh Stallings your creative mind is outstanding and very mysterious. Thanks for sharing your ideas. Good Luck to both of you.

Josh Stallings said...

Sabrina, thanks for having me over to your blog. As I read the piece I wonder if I might be just a wee bit nuts. Not that I'm going to change, just an observation. Thanks all for stopping in.

kathleen shoop said...

Great post on do a fine job--I'm interested in the end result--you sold me! Headed back to check out your books!

Sara said...

Wow, now THAT is dedication! The trouble you go through to write the best work shows that you care. What a great post!

nigel p bird said...

tough work, but someone has to do it.
average? don't think so.

Mystery Dawg said...

More great insight in what it takes sometimes to write an engaging novel. Let me ride shotgun on the next research expedition......

Josh Stallings said...

Mystery Dawg, back up is always helpful. My wife laughed at me last night, she said, "You are the only person I know who searches police crime statistics to find out where crime is up, and then go there." True. I do.