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Will "Snuggling With Joe Clifford Is Too Violent For Me" Viharo

THE NOIR AFFLICTION By Ryan Sayles

We’re on a roll, folks! Gutter Books is re-releasing Will “The Thrill” Viharo’s hardboiled cult classic “Love Stories Are Too Violent For Me” and I get to be the dude who interviews him … well, a bunch of people have interviewed him but I’m the only guy who’s doing it for Out of the Gutter so suck it, everybody else! SUCK IT! Now on to Will. Will doesn’t suck it. He doesn’t have to. Other people do it.

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Define noir for the masses, please. And while you’re at it, thrill me.

Despite your best efforts, you're fucked. But with classic style. You look damn good all the way to hell, typically dragged there by a loved one.

So far we’re off to a bad start. Was it defined? Yes. Was I thrilled? Not so much. If you had said I was dragged to The Castro District by the exposed loop on my anal beads by a muscle-bound stranger while being shot at by my angry wife as I was solving a Rubik's Cube in a race against time to disarm a bomb, then I'd be thrilled. Where does your grit come from?

I've been on my own since I was 16 after a really miserable childhood, raised by a cruel stepmother after I was taken away from my real mother, a schizophrenic actress and beauty queen who threw me against the wall in frustration when I was only a few months old, in my birthplace of New York City. Naturally I don't recall this incident myself, but so goes the story. I had some good very, very early years with her folks in Houston, kind people, but then I was abruptly taken away from them, and raised by a strange right wing guru cult in South Jersey till I was again forcibly ejected from that household too, on short notice. Yada yada yada, I was left to fend for myself in Los Angeles and later the Bay Area.

So basically, my "hard-boiled" attitude comes from circumstantial cynicism induced and enhanced by a series of depressing, low-paying odd jobs reluctantly acquired just to survive, desperate loneliness, self-imposed isolation due to intense insecurity, and a repeatedly broken heart brought on by habitual, unrequited adoration for women who wanted security from a guy, the one thing I couldn't offer. Finally, in my mid-30s I found a beautiful woman, Monica Cortes, my wife and best friend for over a dozen years now, who was independent spirited and didn't care about that superficial stuff. Now things ain't so shitty so I ain't so gritty. Worthy tradeoff. But I well remember the hard times. They still give me nightmares. Traumatic experiences in your youth stick with you for life, but it's your reaction to them that molds your character. You can either choose to let them haunt and cripple you, or you can use them to your creative advantage from a healthy distance. For me, it was all just fuel for my fiction.

Good. School of hard knocks into a well-rounded man with a wonderful wife and attainable dreams through hard work and dedication. I would have just become a drug dealer, shot up the wrong house, done some time in the pen and then become a platinum-selling rapper. But to each his own. Recommend the one Will Viharo story people should read. Why?

Chumpy Walnut, my first novel, completed when I was only 19. It's a Runyonesque fable about a guy only a foot tall. Everyone will be entertained, no one will be offended. Well, someone will always take offense at anything, but of all my books, this is the purest, simplest and most innocuous, written long before I went completely off the deep end. I think it's my Catcher in the Rye, in terms of being the one work I'll eventually be best known for. Hopefully it won't be my Confederacy of Dunces. That said, my personal favorite is A Mermaid Drowns in the Midnight Lounge. But it's for hardcore, advanced Viharo fans, accustomed to my sick sense of humor and penchant for horrific erotica. Chumpy is a much more polite introduction. Unless zombie biker gangbangs are your thing, then by all means, dive directly into Mermaid.

 Diving in. That sounds like my average Tuesday night. Can you sell your book "Love Stories Are Too Violent For Me" to the crowd real quick?

I wrote this novel when I thought my ship had finally come in, while big shot New York editor Judith Regan was actively courting me, circa 1992-94, and I was determined to offer her something uniquely personal, but commercial. Influenced by two of my favorite authors, J. D. Salinger and Raymond Chandler, but mostly by my own experiences as a serial loser in love, I devised a character and an edgy yet old fashioned story that I thought most people who'd ever had their heart broken could relate to, without wallowing too indulgently in morose self-pity. It's purposely entertaining, but it also looks very honestly at the human condition, and the various foibles that challenge, confound and ultimately bind us together as a pathetic species. Regan unceremoniously dumped me after our long distance relationship finally fizzled, but my ensuing bitterness was just more grist for the Thrill-mill. And I have this book to show for it.

You describe Vic Valentine, your hardboiled PI in the book, as a "soft" guy who gets by with the image of being hardboiled, correct? I like the take on it. What was it about that niche genre that drew you to it only to have your character be its opposite?

Soft-hearted and hard-headed, that's Vic, who really puts the "dick" in detective fiction. What appeals to me the most about the crime genre are the first person narratives of down-and-out dudes created by their true life doppelgängers like Hammett, Chandler, Cain, Willeford, and Thompson, and in similar unconventional circles, outsiders like Bukowski and Fante, all nakedly revealing their own deepest desires and fears while shedding a harsh light on the dark souls around them. It's the candid simplicity of the voice, as well as the literary musicality of the conversational, colloquial stories being colorfully conveyed. It was this instinctively innate vulnerability that always attracted me to these stories, and I decided to present a protagonist who was a bit more honest than most about just what a pussy-whipped sap he really was, behind the transparent macho facade.

I see you've actually made a hefty go of writing, and this publication of "Love Stories Are Too Violent For Me" is a reprint of sorts. You worked with editor Joe Clifford to put a new luster on the thing before it's released. What was that like?  

This book was originally published by Wild Card Press of San Francisco in 1995. The founders turned out to be dilettantes when it came to the publishing game, quickly moving on to the more immediately lucrative movie theater business, wherein they prospered and offered me employment as a film programmer. I was also asked to create, host and produce my own show, which became Thrillville, combining B movies and burlesque, and my public persona as "Will the Thrill" was meant to sell the novel. Didn't work out that way. The theater thrived for a while then the company crashed and burned rather spectacularly a few years ago, and my so-called dozen-year career came to a sad, sudden end. My reaction was to return to my first love, writing.

I published a lot of my languishing manuscripts myself, and was about to reissue the long OOP Love Stories, when Joe Clifford -- himself a rising pulp star and god damn literary titan -- approached me with an offer from Gutter Books. Working with him was a beautifully harmonious and aesthetically fulfilling experience. Sounds like sex, but none was involved, at least not with each other. I love Joe like a brother. We both have gorgeous actress wives and we both cite Holden Caulfield, Philip Marlowe, and Batman as our fictional idols. We're also both survivors of some pretty mean streets. Now here we are.

I also love the fact that Gutter Books is based in Portland, since I've become obsessed with the Northwest and plan on relocating there next year. And yes, the book has been substantially tweaked from the first (and frankly flawed) edition. I fixed a few things that always bugged me while sprinkling in some ironic new references and fleshing out a few of the scenes. Now it's a damn near perfect little dish, served with extra spice and "secret" ingredients enhancing the overall flavor. Definitely an improvement in all departments. I call it my "director's cut."

The only reason Matt set up Gutter Books in Portland is because that’s where the best bestiality farms are. Coincidentally  that’s also where I met him. Anyways … Christian Slater has opted to both star and direct a movie version, correct? How awesome is that? Please, blab on at length about this. 

The only reasons we're still talking about this novel at all is because Christian "Clarence Worley" Slater himself happened to come across a copy in a L.A. bookstore back in 2001, improbably but irrefutably relating to it, then tracking me down and optioning it just before my epic Rat Pack-style wedding at Sinatra's old joint, the Cal-Neva Resort in North Lake Tahoe. Since then I've been collecting nice little annual checks. Finally Christian flew me out to meet him in his new home base of Miami last year, where we did some location scouting, since he wanted to move the novel's location from San Francisco to South Florida, for practical and economic reasons. So we hung out, I flew back, signed a contract, and re-wrote his script. Since then we've gone back and forth on it, and he's still raising money. It's officially "in development" and he hopes to finally begin filming during hiatus of his new TV series, Mind Games. So anyway, total fluke, the kind of break you only wish for against all odds, but can never count on.

I just turned 50, my dues are paid in full and frankly I deserve destiny's delayed dividends. Hopefully this wildly unlikely union will finally bear some tangible fruit after a very long gestation period (okay so I'm swapping similes and/or mixing metaphors, creative license), but my famous friend is completely devoted to the material and determined to make it happen, so I have faith in Christian, so to speak. He's been absolutely aces with me. Great guy. And he loves being depicted as Vic Valentine on the fantastic new cover designed by our awesomely talented storyboard artist, Matt Brown. As Christian would say, "It's all good, brother."

How did the book land in Gutter Book's hands, anyway?

Facebook, man. Joe just PM'd one day after he read a status update wherein I announced plans to republish Love Stories myself, since investors and prospective actors kept asking where they could get their hands on a copy, but it was long out of print, and used copies of the Wild Card edition were going for close to a grand on Amazon and eBay, I shit you not. Now that Gutter has stepped up, those "collector's items" have dropped down drastically in value, but are still priced in the low hundreds, last time I checked. I don't get a penny of any of those "used" copies. This new, revised edition renders them obsolete, anyway.

Gutter Books just threw a party in San Francisco to celebrate the release of your book, as well as T. Fox Dunham’s The Street Martyr. How was the party? Can you walk me through it? 

It was a gas, big turnout, and the band, the Aqua-Velvets, which I booked myself (I'm still a part time music booker and film programmer), was fantastic, totally blew away the crowd, as I knew they would. I actually was listening to their first album 20 years ago while writing Love Stories, and even reference them in several of the books in the series, so it was like coming full circle. My wife Monica brought a special surprise celebratory cake made with a perfect facsimile of the book cover embedded in the top frosting, which was amazing, except it sustained some damage while hidden in the back seat on the way over the Bay Bridge, so when we opened the box, it looked extra "pulpy," like a torn paperback. But still, way cool - and delicious!

The best part was hob-nobbing with my new publisher Matthew Louis - who is nothing like the gruff, hard-boiled, Albert Finney type I had imagined; more like a super smart, sweet natured, clean cut college freshman who needed his ID checked by the bouncer - and fellow Gutter author T. Fox Dunham, who is just an incredible cat, also very sweet, but with an intriguing dark side due to his phenomenally challenging health issues. He doesn't seem at all bitter, though. Just impressively realistic and measuredly jaded. It all goes straight into his art. And of course any excuse to hang out with Joe Clifford and Tom Pitts is time well spent. All great guys. My one regret of the evening is my own suck-ass performance. I can't read my own work out loud worth a damn. No books on tape coming any time soon from this author. I completely miss the cadence and rhythm of my own voice when expressing it aloud, even though I hear it fine in my own head, whether I'm in front of an audience or practicing at home (which to be honest, I hardly ever do, I feel too silly).

For me, one of the most appealing aspects of writing is its inherently internalized nature. I love and even thrive on the intentional lack of direct human contact during the creative process. I can't really claim I'm an introvert, though I do much prefer solitude to socializing almost any time, if given the choice. I can mix 'n' mingle with the best of 'em when I have to, and I have a gift for gab, even on stage. But my innate gift is for improvisation, whether writing in private or performing in public. I can't memorize scripts or emote on cue to save my life. It's just not in me. I'm simply not an actor by nature.

Decades ago I was close friends with Mickey Rourke, via a friend of the family's, and so I accidentally had a golden connection most young actors would've killed for. This was back in the 80s when his career was just taking off. He actually bought me my first car, a 1964 Thunderbird (now Vic's car in the movie version of the book), and even took me to audition for Coppola when he was filming Rumble Fish. Even then I blew it. I got dry mouth and my tongue keep sticking to the roof of my mouth as I read a scene with Mick for exec producer Fred Roos. So that opportunity was completely wasted on my limited skill set. If Mickey had been, say, Bret Ellis or Jay McInerney, my actual career ambitions might've been realized much sooner due to that field-specific networking. I wouldn't trade my days with Mick for anything in the world, but I can't say it helped me as an aspiring fiction writer (and I has no desire to write screenplays either - yes, I'm a fool). Well, except from the creative perspective. I poured most of my experiences from that era (late teens, early 20s) into my novel Lavender Blonde. Anyway, what was the question? Oh yea. The party. How was it. Awesome, except for my sweaty, stammering stage reading. I cried myself to sleep that night. Seriously.

What was it like to finally get this fanfare for a book you wrote almost twenty years ago? 

Surreal. I feel so emotionally detached from the material after all these years, yet at the same time, I feel like it's finally getting its due, which is very rewarding. This is in deeded the definitive edition. And it's basically a "pre-movie tie-in," which is also cool. To be honest, I had more fun re-writing Christian's screenplay adaptation and re-setting all the action in Miami. That really gave it a totally different feel that reinvigorated my enthusiasm for the story. I also have new appreciation for it due to Joe's unflagging support and unbridled enthusiasm, which almost matches Christian's sincere passion for the book.

What's next, then? 

Ideally, Gutter's reissue of Love Stories does well and earns attention for all my other books, the movie finally gets a green light, we move to Seattle, my wife gets her PhD in Theater and we live happily ever after. At least that's the general plan. I'm sure I'll write a few more books, too. I just can't help myself.

Did Joe ever tell you about the time where he and I were frolicking in the woods and during a tickle fight we looked up and saw a bear? 

I guess since we've been formally introduced it's now okay to reveal the fact that was actually me in a bear suit. I'm still laughing about it, you pussies!

So I had sex with you and not a bear? Damn it. That’s the kind of thing that always happens to me. What song would play every time you enter into a room? 

I actually have my very own professional theme song, "Thrillville," written by a great surf-lounge band out of the Chicago area, The Moon-Rays, who actually recorded two versions - one a brief Esquivel-esque stage jingle regularly employed for my live cult movie cabaret show, called "Thrillville," and a longer, jazzier, "Beatnik" version for their album, The Ghouls Go West. Before that, it would've been "Peter Gunn" by Henry Mancini.

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And there he is, folks. Will is a spectacular guy. He’s also one to watch now that his noir ship has come in. Check him out at his blog, his Twitter and various other things he wanted me to link here.