JJ DeCeglie is a 30-year-old writer born and bred in Fremantle, West Australia. For the last six months he has been living in Melbourne. He is the author of ‘Damned Good’, a novel set in the world of high-stakes underground poker. His next work, ‘Princes Without a Kingdom’, an esoteric and existential examination with Dostoyevskian overtones, will be published at Disruptive Press later this year. You can find out more about his work, and read interviews and reviews at: www.jjdeceglie.com
Can you sum up Damned Good in no more than 25 words?
A psychological and philosophical noir novel about high-stakes underground poker. The entire book is one big metaphor for the search for authenticity in your existence.
What was your motivation for writing it?
Well I love poker. And had written some short stories with it in (like ‘The Wench is Dead’).
‘Damned Good’ actually started out that way. The first chapter was a short story that didn’t end. I felt the character and the world he was living in had some real possibilities, so I just kept pushing to see what would happen. And the work started taking this philosophical bent, about a man who wouldn’t quit, about a man who would keep going back even when he knew pain was going to meet him there. A man with belief enough in himself to ride the pain of putting everything into something and losing, with enough to rise from those ashes and push on.
I really dug the idea of writing that man from the inside out.
And portraying the life of the archetypal “Authentic Man”.
There is much Nietzsche, Heidegger, Hemingway and Sartre in there.
Whole bunch of personal mythology too.
Style wise, Walter Tevis was an influence. And Fleming, especially the first Bond book.
How long did it take you to write?
In its entirety, about a year. This includes a three-month break after the initial short was written (I wrote a bunch of other short stories in between), and the editing process.
I went over every poker scene with Blair Rodman. He is a Poker Pro, a World Series of Poker Bracelet winner. And we made some changes to most of them on account of Blair’s advice. We wanted the most genuine poker book possible, didn’t want pros to pick it apart or the like, and Blair was great, very generous with his time and help. It became a better book because of Blair’s help. More complex and layered.
I also rewrote the ending. Didn’t really want to, but took the publisher’s advice in the end and reworked the original ending into a different structure. The original ending was very dark and experimental in tone and arrangement. I incorporated it all as best I could into the new ending, and it turned out really well. That said, I really did like it the other way too damn it. It was a beautiful, twisted annihilation.
As a reader, how would you describe your taste in crime fiction?
Well...varied. Jim Thompson, Raymond Chandler and Patricia Highsmith are all-timers for me. Jason Starr, Ken Bruen and Adrian McKinty are the ones I’m reading everything I can get my hands on right now.
Read ‘White Jazz’ by James Ellroy late last year and thought it was genius.
Have been reading Eddie Bunker as much as I can, he is the real deal.
Also have been digging Lehane and Winslow of late too.
What was the last good eBook you read?
I bought ‘You Can’t Win’ by Jack Black. I knew it was influenced William Burroughs much when he was writing ‘Junky’ and ‘Queer.’, and Burroughs was a great writer, and personal favourite of mine. I’d never been able to get the paper version, then stumbled across an eBook version. Read it very quickly. Great book.
What are you reading now?
‘Henderson The Rain King’ by Saul Bellow. I was reading one of the last interviews that Henry Miller did and he said he loved the book, so I sought it out and I gotta say that it is a fantastic book. Life-affirming brilliance, I can see why old Henry loved it so much.
I just finished McKinty’s ‘Falling Glass’, which was good. McKinty is a real hard-assed talent. Poetic and brutal at once.
Was reading ‘Eight Million Ways to Die’ by Lawrence Block at the same time. It was very cool too. Nice, strict noir.
Who's your favourite living writer?
That’s a very tough call to make. I think in terms of whose books I anticipate the most, the guys I’d camp out for...I’d say Dan Fante, Paul Auster and Michel Houllebecq.
Where do you find out about new books?
From reading books, seeing who my favourite authors read and mention. Online interviews are a great way to get a new writer on your radar too. Every writer you really dig will give you ten more that they do in an interview, their influences and the like. And if you’re lucky, like I said they’ll mention them in their work too.
Ken Bruen does it all the time.
Henry Miller and Kerouac are inexhaustible literary guides.
If you had to re-read a crime novel right now, what would you choose?
I couldn’t pick just one. I’ll give ya five though:
Pop 1280 – Jim Thompson
The Talented Mr. Ripley – Patricia Highsmith
Farewell, My Lovely – Raymond Chandler
Tough Luck – Jason Starr
The Guards – Ken Bruen
And ‘Crime and Punishment’ by Dostoyevsky. Probably the greatest crime novel ever written.
How do you feel about the ease with which anyone can publish?
I’ve been saying for a while now that writing should be like music and film. The independent variety should be getting the respect that those forms do when that label is put on them. If you hear about an indie film, or band, there is a level of respect that comes with the brand.
I think writing is going this way too.
The independent writer will give you writing that the mainstream cannot offer. It’s surprising that we’ve taken so long to catch up.
Do you read outside of the crime genre?
Absolutely...Henry Miller, Dostoyevsky, Kerouac, Hemingway, Bukowski, Burroughs and Cormac McCarthy.
Too many to mention really.
What are the greatest opportunities facing writers these days?
There is a chance now, with eBooks, with smaller publishers focusing on niche genres; I think the whole scope is changing.
You can take a chance on getting your work out there with very little financial burden.
Publishers can do the same and serve up exciting work to starved readers. It is a time full of possibilities.
So we should all take that chance and really get cracking on something big.