Tuesday 23 August 2011

Keith Rawson interview: The Chaos We Know

The Chaos We Know by Keith Rawson

Keith Rawson is a little-known pulp writer who lives in the alkaline desert waste of southern Arizona with his wife and very energetic daughter. His stories, poems, interviews, reviews, and essays have appeared in such publications as Plots with Guns, Needle Magazine, Out of the Gutter, the Lineup,, Powder Burn Flash, A Twist of Noir, Beat to a Pulp and many others. He is a staff writer for Spinetingler and publisher of Crimefactory magazine.

Can you sum up The Choas We Know in no more than 25 words?

Nasty, trangressive pieces of hard-boiled dirt

What was your motivation for writing it?

I just write. I can’t stop myself anymore. Seriously, I’ve tried to kill it but it won’t go away.

How long did it take you to write?

Well, since The Choas We Know is a short story collection, it’s about a quarter of my output for the past 4 years. It’s a combination reprint/out of print/never before published collection. There’s a ton of new material slated for upcoming anthologies and online/print magazines that I wanted to include, but I figured the editors I’m working with on those projects would most likely kick my ass if I did.

How much difference does an editor make?

A HUGE difference. A good editor makes you see things in a different light even if you initially don’t like the changes they want you to make. Believe it or not, probably my most effective editor has been my friend Kieran Shea (co-editor of the upcoming anthology, D*CKED, and all around talented mother fucker.) Shea is such a perfectionist with his own work that he demands the same from the people who are writing for him.

Sure, I wanted to kick his ass a little (just a little) when he came back with the edits for my story in D*CKED, but in the long run it made the story so much better.

Brian Lindenmuth is also a HUGE asshole of an editor, but he’s one of the few guys who I know won’t blow smoke up my ass about a story.

Who designed your cover?

Mr. Ben Springer ( @pokerben on the Twitters, you should follow him)

How much difference does a good cover make?

On a personal level, not all that much. Of course, I buy a ton of books and the book description and premise mean much more to me than the cover. But for most book buyers, I guess a solid cover makes a difference. But, seriously, who the fuck buys a book solely for the cover and without reading the premise first? (and this is by no means a shot at cover designers like Boden Steiner, Ben or John Hornor Jacobs, all of these guys are doing some important work)

What's the best piece of craft advice you've been given?

Write one thing at a time. This was advice I was given a long time ago and I heeded it near religiously up until this past year. I don’t know if it had to do with some big life changes I was going through or if I was just bored with what I was writing? But for the first six months of the year I was juggling three lengthy projects, plus taking on more than a few short stories.

Finally I just had to give myself a break from writing before I permanently burnt myself out. Now I’m back to being focused on a single project with a short story or two thrown in there keep the voice fresh.

What's your favourite part of the writing process?

I love plotting. I love coming up with what motivates a character or group of characters. I love coming up with the meat of a story and putting it down on paper. I hate endings, though. When I’m plotting I can see the entire picture except for the end. I don’t know if this is because I like to keep it a surprise when I’m writing it or if it’s my creative blindspot.

What aspects of marketing your book do you enjoy?

Pretty much all of it.

A few years ago I discovered I was adept at the marketing side of publishing. I love being able to spot trends and then learn how to exploit them. I love coming up with strategies to help push sales and interest. I don’t really know if anyone is paying attention to what I have to say, or cares, but much like my writing, you can take it or leave it, because I’m going to write what I want and market it the way I want.

As a reader, how would you describe your taste in crime fiction?

I like my crime fiction much like my women and coffee: Dirty, violent, funny. How can a cup of coffee be funny? Well, your woman can dump it in your lap, break your nose with the mug, and then laugh hysterically while you hop around the kitchen with your crotch on fire and trying to stanch the flow of blood gushing from your nose.

Ah, my 5th wedding anniversary, I remember it like it was yesterday.

What was the last good eBook you read?

I’m reading Harvest of Ruins by Sandra Ruttan right now and like Sandra’s past novels, I’m really enjoying the hell out of it. She has a gift when it comes to writing a procedural.

What crime book are you most looking forward to reading?

Uuuummm, all of them.

Like most fans of crime fiction I’m omnivorous, I more or less want to read every book that comes out, but being on a limited book budget, I, of course, have to pick and choose. So if I had to narrow it down here’s a breakdown: Crimes in Southern Indiana by Frank Bill, (Yeah, I’ve already read it months ago, but I’m still going to buy it.) The Cut by Pelecanos and The Drop by Connelly (what can I say, I like my big blockbuster books) The Killer is Dying by James Sallis (reading it right now to prep for an interview with him on August 18th, but once again I’ll still buy it) The Outlaw Album by Daniel Woodrell (Same thing as Sallis, but once again I’ll buy it because, hey, I’m a sucker like that.) So that wraps up this month…

I’m also really looking forward to Duane Swierczynski’s next Charlie Hardie novel, Hell & Gone, and Charlie Stella’s next novel from Stark House… Yeah, I read way too fucking much.

What are you reading now?

My “just for fun” read is Southern Gods by John Hornor Jacobs. Great supernatural southern gothic, it’s a ton of fun.

If you had to re-read a crime novel right now, what would you choose?

Probably The Bottoms by Joe R. Lansdale. Great novel that I haven’t read in close to ten years.

Who's your favourite living writer?

That one flip flops for me on a yearly basis, but this year it’s Lansdale. I went on a binge of re-reading Lansdale after finishing off his latest Hap & Leonard novel, Devil Red. I think the most important thing about Lansdale for me is his control of the BIG voice. The natural storytelling voice that I think most writers possess but either choose to ignore or convolute due to market concerns

From an artistic rather than financial perspective, what book do you wish you had written?

The Cold Six Thousand by James Ellroy. I love all of that conspiracy stuff like a fat kid loves anything he can fit in his mouth.

What did you do before you became a writer?

Everything. I worked as a busboy, a fry cook, a bartender, a gas jockey (being a gas station attendant, believe it or not, is still the favourite of my old jobs. I worked graveyard shift, so I spent a good portion of the night doing nothing but reading.) staff at a group home, manager of a day program for the developmentally disabled, a college enrolment advisor, and now I work as a social media manager

Where do you find out about new books?

The blogs mostly. I’m a big fan of Patti Abbott’s forgotten books Friday, plus blogs and sites like Hardboiled Wonderland, Pulp Serenade, Bookgasm, etc.,

What's the best collection of short stories you've read?

I’m still a big fan of Hemingway’s Men Without Women. I also love Hubert Selby’s Song of the Silent Snow. Of course, Selby is one of my cornerstone authors, so I pretty much love everything he put down on paper,

What are your views on eBook pricing?

Nothing should be priced under $2.99 unless it’s a short story single, otherwise all you’re doing is shooting yourself in the ass. Yeah, you might gain a wider circulation (and that’s a big maybe for most writers), but when you price yourself at 99 cents you’re not only cheapening all of your hard work, but you’re making jack shit on the money end to boot.

I don’t know, maybe I’m wrong, but with all of the writing I do, I’d like to make a little money at it

What are the biggest problems facing writers these days?

Developing an audience and making money off your writing. Developing an audience isn’t hard per se, you just have to remain persistent and publish regularly, but the tough part is taking that audience and convincing them to buy what you’re selling, especially if you developed your audience online through the zines where you’ve been giving your writing away for years.

How do you feel about the ease with which anyone can publish?

I love it and hate it. I love it because you run across little gems like Josh Stallings first novel, Beautiful, Naked, & Dead or Witness to Death by Dave White. But then you get….well, quite a bit of stuff that should have never left the writer’s hard drive.

Which author should be much better known?

Shit, all of us…. But if I had to narrow it down, I think it’s about time Ray Banks got more than a little exposure. Same with Victor Gischler, Neil Smith, Scott Phillips, Stephen Graham Jones…Really, there are way too many to name.

What's the book you've recommended most to friends?

The Song is You by Megan Abbott and Sandman Slim by Richard Kadrey

Do you enjoy writing?

When the words are really working me, I love it. But when I have to work the words, I fucking hate it with a blinding passion

Do you enjoy the editorial process?

Does anyone? Next Question!

What's the oddest question you've been asked in an interview?

It wasn’t so much odd as condescending and from an interview I abandoned after the first two questions.

Quick piece of advice to writers who would like to start interviewing other authors from a guy who’s done a lot of them: Remember interviews aren’t about YOU they’re about your subject.

How do you feel about reviews?

I love ‘em, I write tons of them and enjoy reading them.

How do you feel about awards?

I’ll never win one

The Chaos We Know by Keith Rawson


  1. Some great insight and provocative thoughts from Mr. Rawson, as should be expected. I don't know of the 99 cent debate will ever be resolved, but Rawson makes a good point for his side.

  2. Great interview. Rawson and I apparently have the same taste in fiction, coffee, and women.

  3. Good questions, and not just canned answers. Thanks to both Allen and Keith.

  4. Keith collection has shown him to be, what lots of us suspected- The real deal.

  5. I just love this guy. Every answer rings true and real.

  6. Keith's twist on the cup of coffee story is such a fine example of what he's able to do: show you the right, then jab with the left. Funny and clever, Keith never fails to be unique.

  7. "I just love this guy. Every answer rings true and real. "

    Great, now Patti thinks I'm an asshole too :)