“I know, I know.” I say, not wanting to hear her get pissy about me having these folks over here. It's just part of the job. Easier to interview people on my turf. Last time Joe Clifford was over and left, I was short eighty bucks out of my wallet and my wife was missing all her feminine napkins. I know it was that dude. I know it.
“You seen him?” I ask, no Mike anywhere to be found.
“You haven’t been keeping track of your guest?”
“Last time I saw him he was playing with the kids in the toy room-”
“Unsupervised? With our children?”
I’m too hungry and on ice too-thin to be having this argument. She just moved back in from our trial separation. It was a hard road--and she probably dated someone else--but we're back together. I also don’t want my dinner guest hearing that my wife is made so uncomfortable by him that she demands he be “supervised” around children. For heaven’s sakes, this is Mike Monson we’re talking about. It’s not like he’s Chris Leek or anything.
“I’ll go find him,” I say. Huff and turn around.
“Count how many children we have left, would you?”
And as the wife says that, all our rugrats come racing down the hallway and past us. Not screaming or anything so I take that as a good sign. They form a herd near the table and she goes to set their plates. I go looking for Mike.
I hear little giggles and toy soldier-sized conversations coming from the toy room. I advance down the hall and peer in the door. There, sprawled out along the floor, surrounded in stuffed animals and GI Joes, Barbies and children’s building materials, is Mike.
Playing with a blonde female doll and a tiger from the zoo play set.
“You’re naughty,” he says in a high-pitched squeal, making the doll dance from side to side as it coyly regards the tiger. “No, you’re naughty and I’m going to do something about it,” he says in a gruff, gravely baritone.
The tiger approaches, all stealth-like. A little too flirtatious if you ask me.
Mike has the blonde doll do a feigned oh no! as the massive cat inches forward. Mike is engaged. His face electric. For such a big man he looks possessed by the play-things. His every muscle seems taut in excitement. Wound up like a spring.
The tiger pounces. The doll drops down on her back, knees as far apart as her plastic anatomy permits. And away they go; Mike making the tiger work that thing for cash and prizes. Plastic slapping and Mike eeking out alternately high-pitched and gravely moans.
I hear my wife creeping up behind me. I turn; see her looking more concerned than the day she found out I had earned quite a reputation as a male stripper in a former life.
“What in God’s name is going on in there?”
“Nothing going on in there has God involved in it.”
She pushes her head past me, sees Mike using the tiger to rail out the doll. Her face says oh my God! But I’m thankful she doesn’t scream it. “Best to just let him finish,” I say, pulling her back by the shoulders.
“Who? Mike or the tiger?”
The honest answer? “Both.”
“This is worse than when you had Brian Panowich over.” She says, gritting her teeth and blowing past me.
“I never thought I’d hear you say those words.” But she rounded the corner, went off to feed the kids and hate my friends.
And that’s when I hear a third voice coming from the toy room.
I look back inside and there is Mike, still possessed as ever—and with a sheen of sweat across his brow—as he manipulates another toy into the mix. A two-foot tall T-Rex that storms in on the sex like it were an angry husband catching the mailman drilling his wife for oil.
“Maybelline, ya fuckin’ whore!” The T-Rex says in a lisp. Wow. Mike really creates his characters in three dimensions. “I go to work every day so I can make us some nest egg money and all you do is sniff glue and rock schlong! Bitch, I be tired ‘o this!”
Mike, his face a contorted mask of concern now that the doll has been caught, makes her jump up to her feet and rummage through a pile of Barbie clothes nearby. The tiger slinks away. Mike actually pulls on a nightie over the doll as he has her say, “Felipe, you were supposed to be in Denver!”
Felipe the T-Rex doesn’t seem to notice--but I do--as the tiger mimes putting on some pants and backs up. It says, “Well, I see you two have some things to work out so I’ll just- you know…” and gestures over its shoulder to what I can only assume is safety. Gets out of there.
Meanwhile, Mike charges the T-Rex forward until it’s barely an inch off the whorish doll. “I told you last time, Maybelline. I told you.” The blonde doll cowers. Mike bares his teeth and sucks in a deep breath. He raises the T-Rex over his head and screams, “I FUCKING TOLD YOU!” And he hammers that dinosaur down onto the blonde.
“Oh shit,” I say, and make a move into the room. Mike is using the T-Rex as a sledge to maul that poor—albeit promiscuous—doll into nothing but little shards. A thigh her, a chunk of her hair there.
“I DON’T WORK SO YOU CAN PORK THE NEIGHBOR!” Mike has spittle coming from his mouth. His knuckles are red and bleeding from hitting the toys together against the hardwood floor. “WHEN I GET DONE HERE I’M KILLING YOUR MOM!”
I grab at Mike, but he furiously shoves back. I lose my footing, hit the deck square on my ass. Mike stands, towers over me. What’s left of the T-Rex dangling from his beaten fist. “Try and stop me, Sayles. I’ll kill your mom also.”
“Dude, you’re talking about a doll and a dinosaur.”
“You got no idea! I might just use that knock-off He-Man sword over there to put a hurtin’ any of these Little People who get in my way!”
My wife is back again, stunned and standing outside the room. I look at her, say, “Call the cops,” and watch her disappear down the hall.
“No cops or the Furby gets it,” Mike says, swinging a long arm down and snatching up the little critter from a pile of stuffed animals.
“I mean it. I’ll rip this thing’s head clean off and fuck its throat hole.”
Mike drops the T-Rex and with his free hand grips the Furby’s head. Rips it clean off. I jump to my feet as his pants hit the floor. I’m out the door as he goes at it. I go across the hall, looking for my gun. I turn around and get hit in the face by a ruined, sticky Furby. I shriek and see a flash leave the toy room, head towards the front of the house. My wife. My kids.
I grab the gun—I keep it loaded because, sure my kids might find it and shoot themselves, but when an intruder shows up they might shoot him also. And, we all know little kids can pull a trigger, but can they load? Of course not. So I do it beforehand. It saves lives—and run towards Mike Monson.
The dude’s bare ass is streaking through my living room while Thomas the Tank Engine plays on the TV. “No cops! That whore deserved what she got!” Mike says.
My kids, all seated around the table with gobs of yogurt and spaghetti noodles in front of them, they scream. They scream as a man in his mid-fifties with a feral look in his eyes and nude from the waist down rushes in, hollering and being all batshit crazy. “That whore deserved what she got!”
A fork with twirled noodles on it in hand, my middle child says, “Whore.” They pick up on the damnedest words, don’t they?
Mike dives for my wife and I see her drop the phone. Doesn’t even look like she dialed the number yet. I fire six times. Two in Mike, two astray in the cabinets, and two in my wife. Just like I had planned.
Everybody knows not to put Mike Monson around anything where he can act out his mounting frustrations. He pops like an over-worked valve. Gets ludicrous. Provides a legit cover story. And my wife, my sweet wife. Our trial separation caused by her infidelity. Yes, I won her back, mostly because the guy she was seeing stopped coming around.
It'd be hard for him to do that anymore; his corpse is feeding the crawdads down in the creek not too far from here. Yes, I won her back and for one purpose.
When we first married I told her, "I refuse to be divorced, but I will be widowed."
I check the phone. 9 and 1 punched in. Unfinished. No cops, then. I skip over Mike, looking down long enough to see his brains sprayed out through his nostrils, a gooey hole in the back of his head. His lips twitching involuntarily. One eye swollen out like an egg.
I kneel down to my wife, bleeding out on the kitchen tile, clutching at her waist as all the red blossoms keep oozing up no matter how hard she presses. I run a strand of her hair back behind her ear and say, mostly to myself, “Looks like Maybelline wasn’t the only whore that deserved what she got.”
I eat dinner before I call the cops.
Define noir for the masses, please.
This is just my definition, of course, not something very well worked-out academically or practically. The kinds of books I like to read would mostly fall into the category of crime or crime/thriller, you know, books about criminals and crime and police and murder and action.
Noir, to me, fits within that broad category and is a kind of subset. In noir, things just go horribly wrong. It's about people's worst instincts and worst behavior getting them into deeper and deeper trouble and causing them to do the most awful things to themselves and each other. It's also about a recognizable world of recognizable average people or criminals with problems to which any reader could relate.
I think Twisted City by Jason Starr is a perfect example. The main character, who just seems perfectly normal and real, just keeps getting into deeper and deeper trouble that there is no way out of-it's amazing. Or, The Bitch, by Les Edgerton—man, the protagonist of that book is a criminal who just fucks EVERYTHING up page after page destroying love and life everywhere he turns. It's so great.
Where does your grit come from?
I don't have any for real. But for some reason I have a knack for taking almost any regular situation and thinking up all the ways it could go wrong—very very wrong.
And, I'm fascinated by the underbelly of society, you know? The impolite, the crude, the criminal, the freaky—all the things that are a small or large part of all of us that we aren't supposed to look at or admit. So, anytime I hear about regular or criminal people misbehaving—general rudeness, betrayal, theft, fraud, dishonesty, various compulsive behaviors over sex or gambling or drugs or alcohol (I could go on and on) I'm fascinated and want to hear more.
And, luckily for me, there is a lot of that shit going around and it has always been on the periphery of my life. It's all over Modesto, that is for sure, and what isn't there I can just make up from looking at people.
What parts of Mike wind up in your stuff?
My wild dirty imagination of course; all the bad things I either do or am tempted to do; and all the stories told to me by wives, ex-wives, all the family members and friends met through wives and ex-wives, as well as friends, co-workers and acquaintances. Life is full of fucked up stuff, it really is.
You have a wild, dirty imagination and you’re tempted to do bad things? Sounds like a straight-to-DVD Tara Reid movie. Do you have sweet boobies and an alcohol problem? What actually got you into writing?
I've wanted to be a writer for as long as I can remember. In fact, until I was about 33 or 34 I'd just always assumed that I was going to be one of those guys who was a 'writer' and who lived somewhere like a loft in Manhattan or a cool old house outside of Portland Oregon, or in Marin County, California or somewhere in a canyon in Los Angeles. I never had it down for sure if that meant I was a novelist, or a playwright or a screenwriter/director, but, for sure, I was supposed to be a writer and that was how I was going to make my living. The problem was, I never seemed able to really write anything beyond a sentence or paragraph or two while spending my life going from college to college and job to job and city to city and apartment to apartment -- always broke and never ever creatively productive.
There was, however, a brief period in my early 30s when I got a big head of steam and actually wrote five or six plays that were not too bad (greatly influenced by Pinter and Mamet and Shepard) and that got me a scholarship to finally finish my English degree at Chapman University (my eleventh college) and then into the graduate creative writing program at San Francisco State.
I moved from Southern California (the OC) to San Francisco in the summer of 1989 all hopeful about my 'career' as a playwright. Then, four big things happened: there was that huge fucking earthquake that shut down the Giants/A's World Series and then the Bay Area for months; I met the woman who became my second wife and the mother of my two kids (she had acting ambitions and was in the theater arts grad school); people were mean to me in writing workshops; and, in a moment of clarity, I just realized that there would never be a career for me as a playwright. Never. So after one semester my girlfriend and I both decided to quit grad school and to quit trying to be artists and to just get jobs and get married and have kids.
But, over the next several decades as I worked and raised two kids my passion for reading books (mostly crime/noir but a lot of everything) and watching TV and movies and going to plays just never left. Which leads to the answer to the next question.
Did you have a plan going into writing? It seems like one day you just popped up with stories everywhere. I mean, everywhere. Or did you just hit the ground running?
Okay, here it is: from about 2006 (just after a divorce) to the spring of 2012 I really got into Buddhist-related meditation. I won't go into great detail here but believe me when I say that I was very immersed in that shit. When I sort of popped my head up around April or so I had lost all interest in religion or in pursuing any formal spiritual path (I still meditate when it feels right but I'm not at all serious about it) and became convinced that, for me, the only point to life was to be as completely yourself as you could be at all times. And, for me of course, that meant fucking writing my ass off no matter what. So that is what I started doing.
For a couple of months I was flailing along writing literary type stuff and I happened to meet Joe Clifford online at just the point when I realized that I should be writing crime/noir. Joe really helped me figure out how to write crime stories and that is when I started writing all the stories that are now appearing in the e-zines and anthologies. It also helps tremendously that my wife Rebecca is completely supportive of my writing ambitions.
You mention your long commute to and from work, which allows you the time to read a bunch. When you’re not killing tranny hookers, of course (wink wink Chris Leek). How has that affected your writing—taking in that much—if at all?
Yes yes yes. Man, I have read so many crime books and I am convinced that all that reading actually left a residue of crime stories and books just waiting to be brought out in my own way.
Did you start blogging right off the bat, or did that come up later? You strike me as a guy who tries to give as much attention as he receives, and your blog is a big vehicle for that?
I started my website when my first story appeared last September (Central Valley Swingers in FFO) basically because Mr. Clifford told me I should as a way to 'pimp' my work. Then, since I can't stop thinking and writing I just started blogging too. Really, I can't seem to ever shut the fuck up with the words and sentences and paragraphs and shit. And, I am a great fan of writing, of other people's writing. If I love something, I want to share about it -- simple as that. Plus, it has been so much fun to connect with other writers in the last year. Just as I always knew that I was supposed to be a writer I always knew that I was supposed to have a lot of writer friends and that is finally happening, at 56 years old.
You're like 6'5", right? I'm 5'11". My penis is 3'9". If you were to wear a trench coat and we were to hug, could you swallow me up in the thing? Would you? Would you whisk me away somewhere crazy?
No, I"m 6'1". Really? No way. No. No. No.
So it's my understanding you wish to break the greatest story you've ever had to the world right here at The Noir Affliction, am I correct?
I've recently learned that Gutter Books has accepted my novella for publication. I think it will be called The Scent of New Death. Their editor Tom Pitts is working with me now on proofing and edits.
Hey! Fantastic! You heard it first here, folks. Tell us all about it.
It is about a middle-aged meditating ex-con cat-loving bank robber in Modesto named Phil Gaines. His partner/driver and wife steal his money and run away together and Phil plots his revenge while the two of them go on a kinky psycho-sexual killing spree.
Maybe you could call it, Scent of New Queef. Sorry. I love the word “queef” and, like the word “douche,” and doing my part to keep it in the American lexicon. So I’m obligated to put in in here somewhere, no matter how juvenile. After your book gets published, what's next?
I want to keep writing crime/noir books. My next one is about a Robitussin-tripping unemployed man who is living off the last of the money from a workers' comp settlement. He has four children from three ex-wives and he lives with his alcoholic sex-addicted mother. He and his mother spend a lot of time together watching reality TV; the mom especially likes The Bachelorette (all of the action is taking place during the Emily Maynard season). There might be an annoying sister who is very involved in one of those mega-churches. I think the main character is going to get falsely accused of a horrible crime and then have to kind of come out of his stupor and deal with some dangerous people. It is also set in Modesto.
Any advice for aspiring writers out there?
You know, there seems to be as much writing advice out there as there are writers and so much of it is contradictory and even nonsensical. I think it is important to strive to be original and for me the best way to do that is to kind of do what I call "writing blind." By that I mean to start with some kind of image of people and events that has some kind of tension and/or unresolved personal conflict attached to it and then just write without thinking—just put the words on the paper while somehow attempting to resolve the tension or conflict you are feeling.
Then, for me, at least, people and stories will just come out that can then be made cohesive and polished in a more rational editing phase. Doing this, there is no way to avoid finding your own voice and to create something new and different. I do this "writing blind' technique to start stories and then I'll use it again whenever I am stuck. There is a Zen saying (at least I think there is I'm probably just making this up): 'look with your ears and hear with your eyes." See what I mean?
Example: my story that appeared recently in Shotgun Honey called Gassed Up. One day I pulled up to the pumps of a gas station and this huge crazy-looking man in the truck at the pump in front of me was just staring at me like he wanted to fight me or even kill me. It was frightening. So, of course, I made sure to avoid eye or any other kind of contact. But, I kept thinking, what if I was just in a mood in which I was as ready as the crazy guy to get into a fight? What would happen if I had walked up to him and challenged him somehow? So I went home and wrote that blindly and over about a week it evolved into a 700 word story.
My story from the All Due Respect anthology Criminal Love had a similar origin. I know of a woman who has a great job in San Francisco. Her husband is never employed and is in and out of jail. I don't know these people very well but there are rumors that he is both a criminal and abusive to his wife and spends all her hard-earned wages on drugs and partying with his jail-bird friends. I thought one day, what if I met this guy and just innocently asked him, "what do you do for a living? How do you support your family?" I wondered what he would say—it just seemed like a tense moment to me and so that is how I began the story. Something brand new just grew from that question and his answer.
Finish this sentence: "So I was doin' what I do every night—crawlin’ outta Joe Clifford's window—when this guy sees me and says... 'what is Ryan Sayles really like?'"
Your answer to that question would of course be, godly. What song would play every time you enter a room?
4' 33" by John Cage.
Mike Monson, everybody. The king of terrible things happening to questionable people. Next time around, I do intend on having Jedidiah Ayres on board. You know, Noir at the Bar? THE Noir at the Bar? Fierce Bitches? A Fuckload of Scotch Tape? Yeah. That Jedidiah Ayres. You’re welcome.