In the following email interview, writer Jason Ridler discusses his new occult noir supernatural thriller Black Lotus Kiss (paperback, Kindle), the second novel in his series The Brimstone Files after last year’s Hex-Rated.
To begin, what is Black Lotus Kiss about?
James Brimstone — Korean War vet, former carny, and low-rent P.I. who used to be a real magician — attends a ceremony at the VA which is attacked by radical hippies…or so it appears. What he finds at the crime scene is Black Lotus, an ancient battle flower that was supposed to be extinct since the end of the ancient world. Hunting for its source on the Boardwalk, he finds clues that drag him into the world of pro wrestling and skateboard communes until the hideous truth is revealed.
And how does Black Lotus Kiss connect, both chronologically and narratively, with the previous book in this series, Hex-Rated?
Black Lotus Kiss starts a handful of months after Hex-Rated, so our hero is smarting from all the wounds he suffered while keeping the world safe from abomination-creation that was set to destroy L.A. in a sex and violence filled Armageddon. And, as usual, he’s broke and needs to keep taking cases the cops won’t touch.
Where did you get the idea for Black Lotus Kiss and how different is the finished novel from that original idea?
I wrote the treatment for the novel at the same time as Hex-Rated. My only goal was to have it be different in terms of plot and intensity. Hex-Rated is dripping with sex. Black Lotus Kiss is more firmly about the horror of violence, though there are some sexy bits. Plus, we unpack more of the supernatural threat that’s plaguing L.A. The major difference was the villain. I wanted a different kind of evil, and I’d already used a lot of biker stuff in Hex-Rated, so I delved into two different worlds: wrestling and skateboard crews.
Black Lotus Kiss has been described as an occult noir crime novel. Is that how you see it, or do you think there’s another genre, or combination of them, that describes it better?
In marketing terms, it’s hard to peg. It’s urban fantasy, just a historical one. Dark Fantasy, too. I see it as supernatural thriller more than anything since the joy is to read it as fast as I wrote, get swept up in the adventure, and then be surprised when you learned a thing or two about the human heart at war with itself…after all the sex, violence, monsters, wrestlers, and hilarious figurative language. Though there’s a clear crime and noir edge, of course. But it also hits the tradition of the Occult Detective with a sledgehammer.
In terms of its noir aspects, what writers or specific stories do think had a particularly big influence on Black Lotus Kiss?
Jim Thompson is a god of my imagination. But there’s a hopelessness in his work that acts against the fun of a good noir story. Thus, the other biggie for me is Charles Wilford. He was a master. Even his half-baked novels, such as Shark Infested Custard, can teach you more about great story telling than most other crime novels…until it becomes clear that he no longer gives a shit and the novel farts into mediocrity.
And what about the occult aspects; what do you see as being the biggest occult influences on Black Lotus Kiss?
Honestly? It’s a grab bag of second hand and primary source stuff, from all the Dungeons & Dragons guides — Monster Manual, Fiend Folio, Deities And Demi Gods, etc. — to collections of Latvian and Filipino mythology and chronicles of folklore like Montague Summers’ crazy books on werewolves, witches, vampires, and more. As Glenn Danzig said, these works are “all documented, all true.”
Aside from the people you just mentioned, are there any writers you feel had a big impact on Black Lotus Kiss, but not on Hex-Rated or any of your other novels?
Donald Westlake. He had the guts to be funny as well as dark and nihilistic. Rod Serling for monologuing your way through a story. And I agree with the late Harlan Ellison that writing should be a form of guerrilla warfare. I practice it that mandate in Black Lotus Kiss far more than Hex-Rated.
And this is my last influence question, I promise: Are there any movies, TV shows, comic books, or video games that had a big influence on Black Lotus Kiss ?
Route 66. Screenwriter Stirling Silliphant did an epic job of combining hard-edged action-adventure with a message, clear characters, and a sense of momentum and stakes despite being a serialized drama. Black Lotus Kiss owes him a debt for teaching me by example.
Like Hex-Rated, Black Lotus Kiss is set in Los Angeles. Is there a reason you chose L.A. to tell this story? Aside from our street tacos and Korean BBQ, of course.
Well, that’s what the publisher wanted. I suspect Brimstone may leave L.A. if the series continues — he’s from Oakland, after all — but L.A. in this era is basically American in a pressure cookers. I quote Ice-T in the preamble to the narrative. “If L.A. falls, America Falls.”
Along the same lines, why is Black Lotus Kiss set during in 1970 as opposed to 1985 or 2018 or 2112?
Again, the publisher wanted it. But the ’70s are just rife with noir, horror, supernatural, and groovy elements. It’s the death of the Love Generation. The Boomers fail to make America into a Peace Country, but stop a war. Civil Rights is won in court, but the streets are still filled with the blood of racism. Rock stars are becoming dead gods. Punk rock is brewing. Hollywood is caught between the age of the director and the birth of the Blockbuster. And there sits James Brimstone, at the nexus point of change. What’s not to love?
Black Lotus Kiss and Hex-Rated are both are part of a series you call The Brimstone Files. What can you tell us about this series and its future?
It was conceived of as a series, with ongoing adventures, but all series depend on sales. I love writing these books. They are designed, building out the world of Brimstone, the nature of the evil that lurks in L.A., and grow his cast of characters. I have sketched an epic story for Brimstone that riffs on TV movies of the era and my love of Babylon-5: where J. Michael Straczynski used a novel’s structure to make TV, I plan to use TV structure to recast a novel series. Relentless momentum and deepening characters will be the heart of it. Plus, more monsters, sexy times, and fun.
Earlier I asked if Black Lotus Kiss and Hex-Rated had been influenced by movies, TV shows, or video games. But it also seems like it could be a good movie, show, or game. Has anyone approached you about that?
I’ve had some inquiries, nothing firm or decided. And yes, in this age, The Brimstone Files would make killer TV. Period drama, emphasis on fun, parallels of today and the ’70s, littered with handsome and beautiful people, and Nazis getting punched on a regular basis. We need that more and more these days.
If these books were being made into a TV show, who would you like them to cast as James Brimstone and the other major characters?
Oh, Ryan Reynolds [Deadpool 2] would do a fine job as Brimstone. He has the hair. And that does most of the work.
What if it was being made into a game?
I think Telltale could do an amazing version of the series as a game, since they are masters of narrative gaming structure in a variety of genres, including comedy and fantasy, which are two hallmarks of the series.
Finally, if someone enjoys Black Lotus Kiss and Hex-Rated, which of your other books would you suggest they check out next and why that one?
Brimstone would not exist without my original thriller books, The Spar Battersea Thrillers: Death Match, Con Job, and Dice Roll. These are rough and funny punk-rock novels about a loser journalist and former punk rocker who solves crimes in the pop culture worlds of wrestling, sci-fi conventions, and Role Playing Games. I think of Spar as Brimstone’s long-lost nephew, though he’s also the exact opposite: ugly, rude, almost useless in a fight, but he has guts and anger for days. And, to paraphrase WWII veteran and creator of the Marvel Universe Jack Kirby, sometimes anger can keep you alive.