Thursday 19 May 2011

Pearce Hansen interview: Street Raised

Street Raised by Pearce Hansen
Amazon UK, Amazon US

Pearce Hansen is an East Bay native who writes about what he knows: the mean streets of Oakland and her sister cities, the place where he grew up.  His work inspired by his experiences on those streets, Pearce has been writing 15 years and published over 80 times; STREET RAISED is the first of his three novels to date.  Pearce currently resides up on the Lost Coast behind the Redwood Curtain, empty nesting it with his wife and their spoiled fat Egyptian Mau cat.

Can you sum up your book in no more than 25 words?

No.  But I still think the jacket pitch I wrote for STREET RAISED’s initial release sums it up best:

When Speedy raises from prison, he hitchhikes home to Oakland only to find his brother Little Willy a homeless crack head and his best friend Fat Bob bouncing in San Francisco's underground hardcore clubs. When two of their childhood homeboys get wrapped in chains by Mexican slangers and thrown in the American River alive, our heroes somehow get it together enough to plot revenge.

Sure, it maybe takes the edge off Speedy's game a little when he starts playing house with beautiful phone psychic Carmel, and it complicates things a bit more when Louis, the same cop who put him in prison, starts dogging their steps like an unwelcome relative. But when a racist coven of skinz comes howling for Speedy & Carmel's blood, and a serial killer with a monster in his head decides Speedy is the answer to all his unholy prayers, things get really interesting . . .

What was your motivation for writing it?

I started writing per se on a fluke – I was chauffeuring my wife to and from college, a Creative Writing class was open next to hers, and the first story assignment was to write about a personal experience.  I described the time I helped my best friend’s brother-in-law recover all his worldly goods, which were stolen from him by a gang of drug dealers who kicked him out of his own house and took it over to sell from; I recruited a truck full of skinhead friends with baseball bats, and ‘justice’ of a sort was served.  Ah, youth!

My Creative Writing teacher creamed his jeans, and I commenced writing.  I had to revisit some dark places strip mining my own experience growing up in Oakland and the East Bay.  But in the end, after a lot of bullying and chivvying on the part of friends and family, I opted to try my hand at the novel format and STREET RAISED was the result.

Who designed your cover?

My wife came up with the idea for the cover, which was ultimately photographed by my good friend Mark McKenna (  Another good friend TJ is the model, dressed in a ratty flannel with a lot of history in its own right.  He’s brandishing my beat up old Thompson submachine gun in one hand, and clutching my friend Libby’s kitten in the other.  We did the shoot at the graffiti infested Ruins behind our local Mall – a place where bodies are dumped on a semi-regular basis.

When we parked the car, a lot of people drove away fast when I brought the Tommy gun out wrapped in a blanket.  As we were doing the shoot, at one point we heard sirens coming closer.  Mark had a terrible thought and called the Police Department on his cell.  At the time Mark was head of the photo desk for our local paper – he explained to the police we were doing a publicity shot, and convinced them it was a fake gun.  The sirens stopped the instant Mark was done with the call.

Mark ultimately did hundreds of shots, looking for that perfect one.  There was a moment when the light was just right, and TJ and the kitten were both looking in the exact same direction.  I pointed at them, starting to open my mouth – Mark said “Ssssh!  You’ll scare the kitty!” and nailed the shot.

Do you have any other projects on the go?

My second novel STAGGER BAY is currently being represented by the Donald Maass Literary Agency (Contact: Stacia Decker).  Don and Stacia are very good at what they do, and we’ll see how that one goes.

I’m 70K words into my third novel, THE STORM GIANTS.  I’m also editing up my first anthology of short stories, no working title just yet.

What crime book are you most looking forward to reading?

I finally picked up a copy of your own book KISS HER GOODBYE, Neil Smith’s YELLOW MEDICINE, and Julia Madeleine’s NO ONE TO HEAR YOU SCREAM.
As soon as I get things finalized with the STREET RAISED re-release, I plan on taking the time to enjoy all three.

Do you read outside of the crime genre?

Yes I do.  Omnivorous reading has been the only thing that has saved me from total ignorance, I’m pretty much self-educated.

At present I’m reading a lot of Laird Barron, an incomparable horror writer from the depths of rural Alaska.  Laird is an auto-didact like me – to call his work neo-Lovecraftian would be an understatement, he has an amazing voice and his story structure is impeccable. I’m also reading Thomas Ligotti. Ligotti’s horror is more existential, almost philosophic – while there’s nothing graphic in his work, I assure you he is not for the faint of heart.  Hallucinogenic and nightmarish are appropriate adjectives for him.

How do you feel about reviews?

They’re important.  Not just for the ego stroke that can help keep us going in what is ultimately a very lonely business; but because of the feedback.  More than that: the negative reviews are more helpful that the positive ones.  As an analogy: if you’re wandering around a big party with something hanging out your nose, would you rather have all your friends say nothing because they’re too nice to hurt your feelings?  Or would you rather someone has the guts to come up and tell you?

Hey, at least then you have the opportunity of running to the bathroom and fixing things.  I’ve made great editorial improvements on my work based on negative reviews.

How do you feel about awards?

Again, like reviews, they’re a real ego stroke, a validation within the writing club, and a reward for all those solo hours at the keyboard.  More than that, while I don’t have the numbers to back it up, I suspect that “Edgar Award Winner” blazoned on the cover sure isn’t going to hurt a book’s sales, and winning an award is also likely to gain the attention of the kinds of agents and publishers you want to be courting you.

What made you decide to rewrite STREET RAISED?

In first writing STREET RAISED, I was writing about a time and place and environment I knew intimately, having grown up there.  But after examining the finished product I came to realize I’d totally wasted Oakland and the East Bay as a milieu – I’d failed to bring the novel’s unique, intense background to life for any reader that wasn’t familiar with the locale.  Idiosyncratic, often clannishly xenophobic neighborhoods like the North Pole and Dogtown, Ghosttown and the Dirty 30s, the Twomps – I hadn’t even given them a mention.

And I realized as well: why not set it specifically in the early 80s, the actual period that inspired the novel?  Why not immerse the reader in what it was actually like to be running the East Bay streets during one of its most savage evolutions?  Two years later, this is the result.

What changes have you made?

It’s about a third longer in material at 110K words.  I changed it structurally, and in the order of the chapters.  I fine tuned a lot of the dialog and interactions – you know how it is even after you ‘finish’ a book, the characters whisper to you in your sleep about how you misquoted them here or there.

Also, as said I researched the East Bay in the 80s, adding a lot of period stuff for background; Naval Air Station Alameda is still open, and the sailors of Reagan’s 600-ship Navy still carouse along Webster Street; the Cypress Structure double-decker freeway still cuts West Oakland in half – the ’89 Loma Prieta Earthquake hasn’t pan-caked it down on top of all those poor motorists yet; there’s still the nightly ‘manic minute’ at sunset in Dogtown, when the residents use axes and guns to fight off the packs of feral dogs marauding from the wetlands next to Naval Supply Center;  Carol Doda – the Perfect 36 – is still stripping at the Condor; the black dudes have to sleep with plastic bags on their heads to keep their Jheri curl from soaking their pillows; the Stone, the Mabuhay Gardens and the On Broadway are still open in North Beach and hardcore punk is still in its prime; Too Short and Metallica are still newbie up-and-comers scrabbling to get any kind of career traction for themselves.

What made you decide to e-publish it?

The sense of striking while the iron is hot, and dissatisfaction with what currently feels like a traffic jam in the whole brick & mortar book sales system due (in my opinion) both to panic over the current economic meltdown, and the impact of the new technologies on the traditional publishing process.

Make no mistake: I’ve been a reader since I was a little kid, I love books, and as a writer it was and is still my dream to get print books published by a traditional house and sold in physical stores – but given my experience after 15 years of writing and paying my dues, I’d be remiss not to explore these new opportunities.

How much have you researched the ebook market?

Quite a bit.  I believe that Kindle Direct Publishing – which has only recently become widely available – in conjunction with Smashwords for other platforms, will give me the opportunity to reach a far larger audience, readership and market than I had access to with the traditional process.  I know I’m going to be able to set a price that my fans will find affordable and fair.

People have pointed out that many Smashwords and Kindle books sell no copies at all.  Those comments ignore the fact that publication itself is only an opportunity, not a guarantee – good is good and bad is bad, and ultimately the reader decides.  I’m happy to take my chances like everybody else.

Bottom line though, this isn’t ‘self publishing’ – it’s a re-release of a book that had a traditional agent, was professionally edited, and was initially printed by a brick & mortar publisher in physical format, to critical acclaim.  Heck, last time I checked signed copies of the first edition of STREET RAISED are going for $80 at Abebooks – it’s a freaking collector’s item!

What are your marketing plans?

I’ve been on Facebook and Myspace since forever, and will of course put clickable links on them both when the ebook goes active.  I’m just now learning Twitter, which is much more fun and powerful than I would have expected – expect pertinent updates there.  I’m setting up a personal website.  After the book link goes active, I’ll be seeking reviews both traditional, and on the plethora of ereader specific sites.  I’m available for interviews, and I’m already posting samples on the larger social publication sites such as Scribd.

What are your hopes and expectations for STREET RAISED?

That it gets the exposure and success it deserves, no more no less.

Its first publication was blurbed by folks like Joe Lansdale, Ken Bruen and Jason Starr.  Eddie Muller gave it a good review in the San Francisco Chronicle.  Gary Lovisi, Jennifer Jordan and Anthony Neil Smith all loved it.  Heck, the blurbs and rave reviews STREET RAISED garnered prints out at over five pages; quite a few respectable folks called it one of the best crime novels of 2006.

Andrew Vachss, Jess Mowry, James Frey – all these people said they liked the novel.  It had the brilliant Mark McKenna cover that riveted everyone who saw it (and is being reprised for this re-release).  It had a Borders book signing.  It was even in submission for the Edgar for Best First Novel with a strong chance to win before the publisher was removed from consideration and STREET RAISED thus deemed ineligible through no fault of it’s own.

STREET RAISED got a lot of positive attention and still fell through the cracks.  I hope to correct that, but ultimately it’ll be what it’ll be.

Street Raised by Pearce Hansen
Amazon UK, Amazon US


  1. Fine fine interview... and damn it yet another crime writer I have to read... Just down loaded it. Prepped and ready. Looking forward, to a return to my NorCal roots. I lived in the Hotel California, across the street from hookers stroll as a teen. It will be fun to stomp those streets with new travel guide.

    -Josh Stallings

  2. Josh, I get the feeling you're really going to like this book :-)