Wednesday 10 August 2011

Les Edgerton interview: Just Like That

Just Like That by Les Edgerton

Les Edgerton is an ex-con who was a writer even when he was robbing folks. He has eleven books in print, the most recent JUST LIKE THAT and THE PERFECT CRIME, coming out this week as ebooks from StoneGate Publishing. He’s got a barbering certificate from Pendleton Reformatory and an MFA in Writing from Vermont College, each of which he credits equally for helping him pay the rent and have a Jack and water from time to time. He has a blog at

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

Ex-cons Jake and Bud take a road trip from Indiana to Louisiana and back. Along the way a lot of shit happens—if you read it, you’ll have a good idea what the two guys alongside you the interstate with the out-of-state plates might be up to and you might want to get off at the next exit.

What was your motivation for writing it?

It’s about 85% autobiographical so it was a part of my life I wanted to express. What being a criminal was kind of all about—our thought processes, an outlaw’s unique view of life, etc. The vast majority of writers aren’t criminals and although no category of society can be generalized, I think criminals often are and not in accurate ways many times.

How much difference does a good cover make?

If you’re just shopping for a book or “buying blind,” it probably means a lot. If you’re like me—mostly buying people whose work I want to read, not much at all. Publishers like the Big 6 claim they’re very important, so, considering their success, I guess they’re right...

How important is a book's central character?

To me, he or she is the most important element in the story. No exceptions. The protagonist is what makes the story and the antagonist is what makes the protagonist. The strength of the story depends on the antagonist, however. Strong opposition, great story. Weak opposition, snooze.

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

A speaker came up to me and asked: What are you doing at this (writer’s) conference? You don’t learn to write by going to conferences. You learn to write by reading and then writing. Get out of the house and into a bar or someplace where things are happening. Go mug somebody or seduce somebody’s girlfriend. Get some material. There are no “secrets” to be gained from writer’s conferences—no magic dust they’ll sprinkle on you to make you a writer. The only secret is—plop your ass into a chair and write every day.

What are your strengths and weaknesses as a writer?

I write great frickin’ dialog (confirmed by the NY Times who said I did), and I understand what a story is. It ain’t me regurgitating my thoughts via a character’s persona or contemplating my navel and considering those thoughts something anyone would remotely be interested in. I understand what Vonnegut said when he said, “Literature is in danger of disappearing up its own asshole.” Don’t want to be poster guy for that. Stories are about one thing only—entertainment. If you want to “learn something” take a class on basketweaving or pipefitting or literature or something and try to stay awake. My weakness is writing description. I just don’t do it. I’m kind of like Helen FitzGerald who confessed to the same weakness and said it perfectly: “Fog’s fog.”

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

The darker, the better. Like Brian Lindenmuth I detest novels that begin deliciously dark and then at the end turn cowardly and have the protagonist like kittens or some such crap. I like realism and realism isn’t often pretty.

What was the last good eBook you read?

I usually am reading three or four at a time. The last ones I read that were super were, Psychosomatic (Anthony Neil Smith), The Good Thief’s Guide to Amsterdam (Chris Ewan), Bye Bye Baby (by somebody named Guthrie...), and Threat Warning (John Gilstrap). Read those this week.

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

The same one I reread probably five or six times a year. Killshot by Elmore Leonard. Another one I reread often is Harry Crews’ A Feast of Snakes. Both are perfect books. The other book I re-read at least every three months or so is Camus’ The Stranger.

What makes you keep reading a book?

I read until I come across one of those sections Harry Crews said he tried to avoid in his own writing... those “places people skip.” When I begin to skip sections very often, I put it down. Life’s too short. It’s probably why I haven’t read any of those Stieg Larrson novels—can’t get past the first 20-80 pages.

Ever tried your hand at poetry?

Very seldom. Reasons are: 1. I’m not very good at it. 2. I don’t want to have to dress all in black. 3. I don’t want to have to wear long-sleeved shirts in the summer to hide my suicide scars.

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

I think it’s mostly bad. I know there are all these folks running around saying it’s wonderful and joining writer’s clubs and joining arms, learning secret handshakes and singing Kum-bay-yuh, but the truth is, a vast number of these folks shouldn’t be published... ever. They’re not writers for the most part; they’re typists. They’re just not very good. We’re losing the gatekeepers and this craft is supposed to be hard. This is an art form in which practitioners should either be geniuses (far fewer of those than many think), or invest the time, blood and sweat and disappointment to learn the craft. You’re supposed to be... what’s the word? Oh, yeah... good. If anyone can get published (and it seems they are), then there’s little quality out there and it means little to say you’re an author. We live in an instant gratification society, one in which too many people feel they’re “entitled” to all kinds of things, and we’ve also become a victim society. There are folks out there who think all they need to do is take some classes, read some craft books, maybe get an MFA (now, that’s a huge crock, and I have one and would have spent the money and time more wisely on a hooker), and they’re all set to be a writer. For many of those folks, the most creative writing they’re capable of is signing a check to a vanity press. Sorry, but it’s the truth. Nobody has... or nobody should have a right... to be published. To have their work printed, sure, I guess, but not published. Legitimately, that is.

That said, I understand why many writers who actually are good turn to self-publishing lately. It’s because of the mindset of legacy publishers. There are editors at these places who are under severe mandates to only publish writers who can guarantee a sizeable market for their work, so more than one editor isn’t able to take a chance on any writers but brand names, as much as they’d like to take chances. They simply can’t and survive. There are many editors who are forced to go against what they long to do because of the beancounters in accounting. That’s fucked and it’s why legacy publishers are going under and self-publishing is growing. No guts, no glory.

The good news is that this leaves a vacuum for good writers who can’t get a deal with legacy publishers—new kids on the block like Bare Knuckles Press, Snubnose Press, StoneGate Publishing and a raft of others who are beginning to fill the void and publish talented writers who don’t yet have the audiences required by the legacies. These guys and others are the ones with the guts and are the ones who are going to reap the glory.

Why do you write?

That’s easy. I write because I hate. A lot. And hard. I hate bullies of all stripes and consider it the duty of the writer to expose these folks and hold them up to public ridicule.

Just Like That by Les Edgerton


  1. Excellent interview Les.

    Really looking forward to reading 'Just Like That'!

  2. Thanks, Luca! (And, thanks to Allan who was so gracious in allowing me on here!) Hope you like it. I had fun living it--even more than writing about it...

  3. Classic, Les. I can't wait to read the books.

  4. Thanks, Dawn! Be sure and let me know if you like it, okay?

  5. Ok that was a mind-blast.
    I’ve already done the get out and do so I “plop” my “ass into a chair and write” about all kinds of things.
    You do “write great frickin’ dialog” and tell what you mean and mean what you say.
    I also like dark but not a fan of crime novels, “like kittens or some such crap” protagonists. I will read Killshot by Elmore Leonard and Harry Crews’ A Feast of Snakes and Camus’ The Stranger because you consider them “perfect books” if I can’t get past the first 10 pages I stop reading a book.
    I write poetry and some say that my writing is to “poesy” I think it all depends on what I’m wiring.
    I LOL, because I belong to a “writer’s clubs” that you think “a vast number of these folks shouldn’t be published... ever. They’re not writers for the most part; they’re typists.”
    I love your “This is an art form in which practitioners should either be geniuses” That folks who “take some classes, read some craft books, maybe get an MFA (now, that’s a huge crock, and I have one and would have spent the money and time more wisely on a hooker)”
    That “many writers who actually are good turn to self-publishing lately.” I think is because publishing houses and agents want only done deals. Your mentioned “new kids on the block like Bare Knuckles Press, Snubnose Press, StoneGate Publishing” gives me hope.
    Thanks Less, loved it!
    Also posted on F and my blog: ttp://

  6. Marta, you rock! It's just plain terrific when someone "gets" what you're saying. There's one misconception--I actually love kittens! In fact, I have a great recipe for kittens that uses three medium-sized kitties and it'll feed a family of four for a week...

  7. hard-hitting and very well worth reading. thanks.