Short story writer T.S Junior, who is soon to publish his first full length novel, provides me with an overview of his inspirations and how his love of politics and experience working in prison has helped him to create the tension filled tales he has become known for.
Tell me about how you came to define your writing style. What drew you towards crime fiction and mystery writing?
This is a great question. The truth is that only after twelve years of writing fiction do I think that my writing style has started to set like concrete. It started with Crime and Punishment for me. Fyodor Dostoevsky is of course mythically good. The close psychic distance in his third person narration, with a lot of indirect discourse, formed my approach to fiction. His philosophical bent and use of gritty imagery also influenced me. What I like about crime fiction so much is that it deals with the most extreme situations that people find themselves in, and like in Crime and Punishment, trying to get at the dark psychology that makes criminals and good people driven to desperation tick is awesome.
What is your background and how did you get in to writing professionally? How do you draw on your past when writing fiction?
I started off writing by winning an essay contest when I was nine years old. I won and I got to go to a baseball clinic run by Boston Red Sox legend Carl Yastrzemski. Then I wrote for college and local papers and did some freelance copywriting. But my background as a state prison guard has influenced my fiction the most. I’d written crime and horror stories before, but the darkness of the prison environment gave my work an added layer of depth and grit when it comes to street life and the criminal mind that perhaps some of my dark fiction writer colleagues aren’t privileged to.
Please tell me about your recently published collection of short stories and how well it’s doing.
I’ve just published my first book, a collection of short stories called Some Poor Taste Wartime Humor. There are ten stories that center around the darkness within the human heart, and the things that lead us astray. In one story, Christina 2/15/89, a disgraced former detective whose daughter went missing years prior, gets a break in the case which leads him to uncover a nightmare. In Son of a Ruined Patriot, a War on Terror vet suffering from severe PTSD and consumed by conspiracy theories, thinks the world is ending and kidnaps his estranged son. I think what draws people to my writing is the complexity of the characters and situations, and the dark truths. And then the fact that I write in a traditional style that is accessible to anyone. I’ll be honest, I get bored easily while reading, so I pack my stories with action. My first novel is coming soon, a crime/ conspiracy novel concerning The Bilderberg Group.
How do you adapt your writing style when composing short stories? Do you find the word limit restrictive or freeing?
The most important approach to short fiction as opposed to working on longer pieces, is keeping the writing bare bones. I’ll admit that at times I can get wrapped up in my head about word counts and genres and subgenres, but mainly that comes with publishing short stories. Drafting is the fun part. When I draft short stories I do a lot more exploratory writing than I’d normally do. To be specific, I usually don’t know what the story should look like until the third draft. In Some Poor Taste Wartime Humor, all ten stories in the collection went through at least four drafts. So overall writing short stories is freeing in that if the thing ends up being useless, it’s not like you wasted years of your life pouring your lifeblood into a failed novel. Believe me, it sucks; I’ve done that seven times!
Where do you find your inspiration? Are there any particular places or incidents you draw on when you find yourself with writer’s block?
Maybe it’s because I work in a paramilitary environment, a prison, I’m disciplined, or maybe I should take credit for instilling a good work ethic in myself. Either way, I don’t think in terms of inspiration or writer’s block. What I do is “embrace the suck.” I take that expression from an event I took part in during the Massachusetts Correction Officer Academy. They made us run laps around an old gymnasium for two hours, then put us through an obstacle course, and then made us engage in hand-to-hand-combat. It was called The Suck. The funny thing is that during it I got my first runner’s high, so I had the time of my life. I take the same approach to writing. I sit down for a writing session everyday, aiming for about a thousand words. Sometimes it’s garbage; sometimes it’s gold. I have zero expectations about quality. What’s so cool about “embracing the suck,” is that I’ve had at least four experiences where one day’s garbage becomes gold six months later. In those cases, I had raw material to rewrite as opposed to starting from scratch with an idea.
If you could collaborate with anyone, living or dead, on a writing project, who would it be and why?
Cormac McCarthy. I just love everything about the man. He’s influenced by Fyodor Dostoevsky like Hemingway, Faulkner and myself also. His mystical, almost-religious approach to writing is something that, while I can’t pull off, I admire. Plus, he writes gritty novels involving violence and rugged men, westerns and crime novels, an aesthetic I appreciate. I spent my early twenties imitating his writing.
Do you have any projects coming up that you are particularly excited about?
I am absolutely thrilled about my upcoming novel, Dusk in the Shining City. I’ve created an excellent series character named Claude Sharkey, a detective in a small Massachusetts city, who gets tied up in foiling a massive conspiracy perpetrated by the Bilderberg Group. I’m a bit of a conspiracy theorist. The Bilderberg Group is a real life organization that holds an annual conference with leaders of industry, politics, and media all in attendance in an off-the-record setting. There they informally agree on future world events as a supranational governing body. If anyone reading this is interested in learning more, I recommend the magnum opus on the topic written by a man named Daniel Estulin. It’s called The True Story of the Bilderberg Group.
Are there any new books or writers that you are looking forward to in the future?
To bring up Cormac McCarthy again, he’s been working on a novel called The Passenger for a couple years. He’s apparently trying his hand at a novel involving technology and even sci-fi elements, which is way out of his element, so I’m thrilled to see where he takes that. I’m also into Nick Cutter, the horror writer, Brad Thor who writes thrillers, and then Denis Lehane and James Ellroy.
Is there anything you’d like to add?
I’d like to thank you, Hannah, for graciously allowing me space on your cool blog from across the pond to talk about myself and my book, Some Poor Taste Wartime Humor: Short Stories. Folks can go to my website www.tsjunior.com to learn a little more about me, and they can find the book on Amazon for only $1.
Many thanks for T.S Junior for speaking to me, it’s great to hear your thoughts and learn more about your new novel.