Latest Flash

Thomas Pluck: He refuses to tickle fight me

“WHY DID YOU order that?” Thomas Pluck asks me through his fingers.
                  He’s buried his face in his hands, elbows up on the dinner table like he doesn’t realize this is a five-star restaurant.
                  “I didn’t think anything of it,” I say, totally relaxed. The chill, intimate atmosphere here is a nice change to the usual grind of hard-hitting noir journalism. Hell, maybe later he and I will get into a tickle fight. “I told you, I eat my dessert first. Then I eat my meal. Call me a primadonna if you want to-”
                  “I’m going to call you a lot worse than that. Now we’re going to be late.”
                  “We’ll be fine.”
                  “Do you know how long it takes to prepare French candied apple rings with spiced puff pastry twist-cookies, ice cream and a caramelized apple juice-reduction sauce?”
                  “Do you?”
                  “Yes.”
                  “How long then, Pluckster?”
                  “An hour and twelve minutes. And stop calling me Pluckster.”
                  “One, it’s an affectionate name and two, you just made up that time.”
                  “It was written right there on the menu and the maître D told us it would take extra-long to prepare when you asked for your effing dessert first. What are you, a child?”
                  “I take offense to that. I am not a child. A child would be forced by the adult to eat his meal first. I am a grown man and I want my dessert before my meal.”
                  “Then get the cheesecake you moron.”
                  “I don’t want cheesecake. I want that French apple thing.”
                  “I want my burger served to me this year. They won't bring it out until your first course is ready. That's an hour from now.”
                  “And that’s another thing Pluckster, why did you order a burger in this place? For God’s sakes, we had to go home so I could get a suit coat before we could even step inside-”
                  “A suit coat and pants. Don’t leave that little tidbit out.”
                  “Whatever. A burger, really? There are so many options-”
                  “I’m done.” Thomas stands to leave.
                  “But Pluckster-”
                  I guess he hates that pet name. Because Thomas picks me up like I’m a whiskey barrel getting ready to be hurled overhanded and then he swings me down onto his knee. I think my sternum breaks in half but I vomit up most of my organs so fast I can’t be sure.
                  The restaurant freezes. There’s a little string quartet in the corner that screeches their strings to a halt. Somewhere a woman shrieks. Dudes stand up, but no one comes to help me.
                  Thomas turns as green as the Hulk and gives me an atomic wedgie. My .44 magnum falls out of my pants and I scramble for it. Thomas bellows a fierce war cry. I sob just a bit and claw at the carpet going for the gun.
                  He grabs me by the ankles and helicopters me inside the place. My face hits all three crystal chandeliers, chunks shattering and shredding my cheeks as I spin at four-thousand RPMs. He lets go. I fly, hit the drywall face-first. My nose lands square on a stud and I taste my teeth. They cut up my throat as I swallow them.
                  “You want some more? HUH?” Thomas flexes and his strained, torn shirt splits under every muscle. Buttons pop off at Mach 3 and hit wine glasses. They burst, bouquet-ing splashes of reds and whites all over crisp table clothes and evening gowns. “Call me Pluckster one more time! Do it!”
                  I dig my entire body out of the drywall-dust and debris. I try to inhale deeply but the sharp spears my broken ribs have become tickle my lungs with their points. This is ridiculous. All over some French cuisine. It’s just like those snail-eating queefs to create something that would make two red-blooded Americans fight like this.Okay, so I haven't done too much fighting yet, but I'm a Round Two kind-of guy.
                  I look Thomas square in the eye. Call on all of my spec ops training I got during my tenure as a Coast Guardsman, and say it. “Pluckster.”
                  He charges. 
                  I fill up with Zen Coastie energy, push out all the pain and find inner peace. That was half of Boot Camp. Meditation and relaxation. Every muscle in my body loosens, my mind clears. I prepare to plunge my hand into his chest and rip out his still-beating heart. Then I open my eyes, see him run right through a pillar supporting the building like it were a blade of grass and my Zen state evaporates.
                  I suppress my scream and tac roll right between his legs. He bum-rushes right through the wall, explodes out into the parking lot. Turns around like a bull who saw red and comes right back in. He rams a felled table out of his way like semi-trucks hit cars on the highway.
                  I keep tac rolling right to my .44 magnum. Come up on target. Line the sights. Good grip, solid stance, front sight aligned between the two rear sights, breathe in, let half of it out, squeeze until the pop surprises me.
                  But the .44 kicks like nothing I‘ve ever fired before. And yes, I carry a loaded gun that I’ve never fired before. That's just another one of my problems.
                  The round goes wild, hits some old woman trying to get out the front door. Sprays her across the foyer. I try again. The bullet goes in the ceiling making a gaping hole and into the bar upstairs. Somebody up there screams, and blood gushes down the hole and into the restaurant.
                  I squeeze off two more shots, bucking with each one. I hit the maître D with one. He vanishes in a red mist. The other round zings past Thomas and strikes a car outside. Its gas tank explodes and washes the whole place in fire.
                  I line up another shot but Thomas gets to me first, uppercuts me so hard I fly through the ceiling, pass through the upstairs bar, through that roof, up into the sky and finally, puncture the clouds.
                  I crash land in Heaven, where God looks down at me and says, “You’re an idiot, son.”
                  I acknowledge this as Saint Michael picks me up, dusts me off, and then shoves me back down to earth.
                  When I hit there, my dessert should be ready.
                 

***

Define noir, please.

French for black. So I guess it's stories about black people in France. I knew a black man who fought in World War II, he said this French prostitute there wanted to sleep with him because she was told that black men had tails. He said she was disappointed, at first. 


The French. Geez. Where does your grit come from? I've read elsewhere that you've always been enticed by revenge stories. What about that tickles your inner bean bag? Is it the satisfaction of righting a wrong?
Mostly from the abuse of power. You can't right a wrong any more than you can remove a scar. It's always there, under the plastic surgery. We like to think we can right wrongs, though. In crime fiction, and that greater fiction, the criminal justice system. But really, I was an innocent little kid. Loved telling stories. Then the bullies found me. By high school, I was carrying a Nepalese kukri, this curved lopper of a machete over a foot long, in my book bag. And I never got to use it, so I write about wanting to inflict that kind of brutal comeuppance instead. 


If people could only read one Thomas Pluck story, what would it be? Why?
"Black Shuck," in Protectors: Stories to Benefit PROTECT. It's noir and horror from the perspective of an 8 year old boy whose father died in the mines, and the haunted, blind hoodoo guitar man who unleashes the forces of darkness on a little holler town that tricked him into losing everything. The anthology collects 41 stories some of the toughest hard-boiled and noir authors out there, including the first three chapters of Ken Bruen's upcoming novel, Spectre in the Galway Wind. Vachss, Lansdale, Ray Banks, Tony Black, Les Edgerton. I put everything I had into that story.


Your stuff is everywhere. How do you do that? Do you just hammer a story until it is bulletproof, do you really examine your markets before you submit, do you submit multiples at a time so one will (hopefully) stick? Do you blackmail folks?
I threaten to break into their homes and fart on their pillows. But you hit it on the head- hammer a story until it works. I have a little worm in my stomach that twists when I know something doesn't work. You're trying to weasel out of the hard work when you feel that. The reader is smarter than you. Remember that and you'll never quit before it's done. And yes, you need to read the mags you submit to. Once you know how to write without getting in your voice's way, most rejections are a matter of taste. (At least it feels better to think so). So you have to send stories that are a good match. For example I wouldn't send Out of the Gutter a story that ran in [PANK], though there may be some overlap. It would be a harder sell. Aim high and choose wisely. You wouldn't send a resume to a job without knowing what the company makes. Or maybe you would, but you'd just be wasting your time.


Kids. You fight for them. Why? They don't give a shit about you. Just kidding. But what began that?

I don't like kids much. In fact, I started the latest Denny story in Beat to a Pulp: Superhero with that line. Denny is probably my most personal character. I don't like kids because they can be nasty little shits when they're raised by big shits. I don't fight for them as much as I fight against people who are pieces of walking excrement, and there are a lot of them out there. Give someone a little bit of power and they want to abuse it. With men, that 20 or thirty pounds of muscle mass we average over the women, sometimes that's too much to handle.

We think it makes us king of the jungle, until a bigger guy comes along and makes our nuts look small. I guess I really just hate arrogance and condescension and abuse of power. I grew up on the shitty side of the town Martha Stewart sprang from like a decorating demon in a cloud of brimstone and potpourri. I still have a chip on my shoulder for anyone who thinks they're better than me, or anybody else. We're all monkeys. Some of us need to be reminded of that.


Oh. I see. A little light reading there with that answer. So...strong man competitions, MMA, power lifting. Tell my vast audience why you are to be feared.
My farts scare children and small animals.


Is that the whole answer?

Yes.


Just humor me and go a little further please.

Listen, I deadlift 550 pounds, I've sparred with UFC fighters, I get three inch groupings with a .45 at 25 yards. You can still sneak up and stick an ice pick in my spine, or run me over with a truck. If I'm packing, a bolt action 30-30 will blast a hole right through the strongest man, and you can shoot it from a wheelchair. Every fight can end up in the hospital or the morgue. 

The most violent tough guy is the baddest ass, am I right? Except in reality, the real bad-asses-I recommend Marc "Animal" MacYoung- will tell you it's horrible being that guy. It's a constant state of fear-because someone might shoot you in the back, like Jesse James-or anger from that fear. So you treat everyone around you like shit and die of ass-cancer from all the adrenaline dumped into your system over the years. 


Now there’s a subject that the noir community needs to be more bold in discussing. Ass-cancer. No? No takers?
(cough, cough) Moving on, then. Chris F. Holm screwed up this question but I'll give you a shot to redeem it (now Holm, Ryan love you long time but I asked for your perfect day WITH ME, not just your perfect day). Describe your perfect day with me. And if it ends up with me getting killed or raped or something I'll be really mad.
Well, first we'd drink a pot of coffee and eat a pound of bacon and a dozen eggs covered in Tabasco. Then we'd go test drive a Challenger SRT-8 and I'd choke out the salesman, and we'd steal it, and go buy Viking helmets. We'd hit Hot 22, a BYOB full nude gentlemen's club, and drop a thousand dollars on tips. We'd hit my favorite pub for that death row meal cheeseburger, then we'd race cops on the highway and hole up in this abandoned castle in the Ramapo mountains and shoot it out with the FBI. I would die in a blaze of glory, and you would survive to tell my tale after twenty years in prison, where you were not raped, because it doesn't happen that often, and you'd be in protective custody because of the tattoo of Bugs Bunny in drag that I got you while you were too drunk to stand.

All right. That sounds like something I would do. You left out where we’d go trolling for poon at the zoo, but oh well. How did you get involved with the Flash Fiction Friday stuff? That led to the Children anthologies, correct?
Ron Earl Phillips asked me to moderate, because I was contributing. Flash fiction is a great way to learn to write. If you write actual stories, and not "vignettes" or "slices of life" that just end when you hit the word limit. Stories have a beginning, a middle and an end. Fitting all that into a thousand words is not always easy, so it trains you to edit and cut out all the crap that doesn't need to be there. I recommend every writer do it exclusively for a few months. Then write a long story, and see how much time you save when it comes to editing it. You automatically leave out the chaff.

And yes, that's where it all started, with Fiona Johnson, aka "McDroll." She kicked me in the ass to submit my first story to Shotgun Honey, and I returned the favor by asking her to guest post, and she began the Lost Children flash challenge. We collected that into a book, and I started the Protectors book a month later.

I read you've ventured into horror. Are you branching out?
I think horror and crime are related, they both depend on fear, and they can be cautionary tales. The line gets blurred. Is Flannery O'Connor's "A Good Man is Hard to Find" a crime story or a horror story? I loved Stephen King as a teenager. Lately a bit less, he needs an editor with cojones, but he still has it. Hell, we claim the serial killer novels as crime now, but they were strictly horror in the beginning, with Thomas Harris and of course Shane Stevens, who wrote the first, By Reason of Insanity. Jack the Ripper, is he horror or crime?

I also write speculative fiction and humor, but my crime story ideas are the most concrete, so I am writing them first. I have a story in the DOA II horror anthology with Jack Ketchum. He's also on the line between crime and horror. Genre is a marketing construct, anyway.


Marketing. What a bunch of bitches. I refuse to be part of “The System” in any form. Notice how I have no designer names on my clothes. And that’s not just because I am currently nude; if you check the pile over there next to the dead hooker (wink wink Chris Leek) you’ll see all my shit is handmade. Let me just check my excellent Seiko watch and take a refreshing sip of my Coca Cola before we move on…(slurp slurp) Okay. What's next? A Denny the Dent novel, correct? What else?
Denny is actually a few years out. I have his story idea in my head, but he has to wait. The first book you'll see is called Blade of Dishonor, a novella for Beat to a Pulp about a mixed martial arts fighter who comes home from war to find his grandfather embroiled in a battle with yakuza that's been going on since World War 2. It's a brutal adventure tale in the style of the '70s and '80s action stories.

After that, the Jay Desmarteaux novel. He's my Cajun bad-ass out of prison. You can read him in the latest Needle, in Hills of Fire: Bare-Knuckle Yarns of Appalachia, and in the Feeding Kate anthology. That was a charity campaign some friends of Sabrina Ogden put together to pay for surgery for her. The Indiegogo thing is done, but I am told the book may see wide release. My story in that one is "Kamikaze Death Burgers at the Ghost Town Cafe," and can best be described as Mad Max in the Utah desert. And I have a noir tale in Hoods, Hot Rods, and Hellcats, which Chad Eagleton is putting together. Fast cars, hot dames, greaser gangs. I love that stuff.

The only book I'm pushing now is Protectors: Stories to Benefit PROTECT, but I have a story in the new Needle, Hills of Fire: Bare-Knuckle Yarns of Appalachia, Burnt Bridge, the Feeding Kate anthology, and soon in Nightfalls, an end of the world anthology. That story is called "Acapulcolypse." Death on a cruise ship. I had fun with that one, a mass murderer, a psycho with a vial of ebola, and the Mayan calendar all colliding at once. You know, a feel good story. That's me.


Hamburgers. You enjoy them. Beer. You enjoy it. What do you look for in those items? On a side note, I need to talk about food more. I love food.

My death row meal is a rare cheeseburger with jalapenos, crisp breaded onion rings, and a chocolate malt. If they allowed beer, I'd take a wicked IPA like Founder's Double Trouble, or a fresh Guinness from the tap at the Crane Bar in Galway. Fly it in, a man's about to die. I'll admit, some eat to live... I live to eat. I became a powerlifter just to burn the damn calories. Charlie Stella was a powerlifter too, my paisan. We talk max lifts and sfogliatelle sometimes. I think good food can be simple; I am tired of these super decadent comfort food meals. Foie gras meat loaf or whatever.

The snobs are trying to lord it over us slobs, who grew up at the greasy spoon and the roach coach, because they were nursed on vichyssoise and know those tiny damn plates of fancy-ass haute cuisine will never be cool. I had a "single steer cheeseburger" at some fancy joint the other day. Like it's a scotch. And it was not even that good. The burger at my local pub kicked its ass. That chef is laughing all the way to the bank, and I guess anyone who rips off rich people can't be that bad. I mean, you can steal more with a pen than a gun, they say. If the guy can rob 'em with a spatula, more power to him.

Is there anything that does not belong on a burger? And more importantly, have you ever had a McGangBang?

You can put whatever you want on a burger. Even another burger. I ate a ten patty burger once. I'd try a Luther, that donut bun burger, or the one with grilled cheese sandwiches for the bun. Why the hell not? That's the beauty of it. Put pumpkin pie on it. Deep fry it. I haven't had any of the crazy McDonald's concoctions. If I made one, I'd get a big Mac with Filet-O-Fish for the top and bottom bun and put McNuggets for the slice of middle bread. In fact, I'm gonna go do that now. For science.

For those of you not as cool as me, Edmond Carrillo and Sterling Olson, a McGangBang is where you take a McDouble cheeseburger and a McChicken sandwich, open the McDouble right down the center with a bun and patty on each side, sit the entire McChicken—bun and all—right in there, and re-lid the thing. Eat. Sure you’ll be able to hear yourself getting fatter and you might not survive the experience, but that’s the joy of it. I’ve done it several times.

I hear you can even straight-up order a McGangBang at some drive-thrus. Serious. This I have not done. Eternal props to anyone who does it. Just list it in the comments below. But, you have to order a McGangBang and the order-taker has to know what you’re talking about.Then you get the eternal props.

Now, Thomas, what theme song would play as you enter a room?

"Live Wire" by AC/DC. It's a slow burn, but then hits you in the face. "If you're looking for trouble, I'm the man to see." I don't think they are the best band in the world, just my favorite. They had a real outlaw edge, when Bon Scott was around. Flick of the Switch was their last great album, after that they became sort of a party band, still good, but not the same. I have a pretty broad musical taste- '30s oriental foxtrot jazz to doom metal- but good old rock 'n roll, the sleazy stuff from the '50's to punk in the '70s, is my favorite. It was about being apart from society, rebellion. Not so much anymore. 

***

And Thomas checks out. He was a nice guy, and he smelled like coconut. That’s my favorite. Check out his author blog here. There’s links galore to all the things he’s been involved in, his stories on the web and some rather intimidating photos of him.

Next week—Keith Rawson. Every so often a man comes along with smoke-tinted glasses and a goatee and instead of wanting to punch his lights out and pummel him with his beat poet’s microphone base, I want to interview him. Rawson is that guy. Actually, he’s the only guy like that ever. I don’t know why I wrote “every so often.” It’s been never. I’ve never not wanted to thrash a fool for that. But not Rawson. Rawson gets interviewed. Keith Rawson.

Thomas Pluck writes hardboiled thrillers and unflinching fiction with heart. His stories have appeared in Burnt Bridge, PANK magazine, Noir Nation, Crime Factory, Spinetingler, Plots with Guns, Beat to a Pulp, McSweeney's, The Utne Reader and elsewhere. He edits the Lost Children charity anthologies to benefit PROTECT and The National Association to Protect Children. Thomas lives in New Jersey with his wife Sarah. You can find him as @tommysalami on Twitter, and on the web at He is working on his first novel.