Unlike science fiction, pulpy crime novels usually shy away from social or political issues. They don’t often work as allegories for something else. But with Stand Your Ground (paperback, digital), writer Raeder Lomax has written a pulpy crime novel that doesn’t shy away from…okay, maybe not taking a political stance, but it certainly doesn’t shy away from one of our more controversial gun laws. Though in talking to Lomax about the book, and the prequel he’s already got in the works, it’s clear that his kind of pulp was probably always going to get political.
I always like to start at the beginning. So, what is Stand Your Ground about?
Stand Your Ground deals with the unintentional consequences of our political process. We pass laws with the notion that they will benefit and uplift society, not get your brains blown out as this novel shows.
Where did the original idea for it come from, and how different is the final version from your original idea?
The original idea dealt with betrayal. I took the consequences of betrayal one step further after hearing and reading about the many cases of the “Stand Your Ground” law abuses in states like Florida. But I wanted to take it beyond the Travon Martin case.
I assume you’ve read a decent amout of similarly pulpy crime novels. Of those, which authors or books do you feel were the biggest influence on Stand Your Ground, in terms of what you wrote?
Well, stylistically of this genre, the pulp genre, Elmore Leonard was a great influence in that he used style not just for show, but to pinpoint the narrative and hold it to the world that he was writing; so that he engaged the reader in its realistic representation rather than a formulaic convention of rehash.
What about in terms of how you wrote it? What were the big influences there?
Clearly the biggest influence is my years as a playwright. The first piece I ever wrote was a play about the tenth anniversary of the Soweto uprising in South Africa. The whole play took place in a diamond factory, and dialogue became a gauntlet where character was forged. When I received a playwriting fellowship for it from the NY Foundation Of The Arts I was stunned, because I wasn’t yet convinced I could write a legible sentence let alone a play. I use dialogue to drive the story in everything I write, including Stand Your Ground.
How hard is it to write a novel like this without slipping into a parody of the genre?
When you write from the characters needs, neuroses, anger, sense of betrayal, shame, etc., these factors should support the style necessary to tell your story.
The two stars of the story are Lawton Gibbs and Roy LaHood, who are described as being honorable thieves. In deciding how they would act in the book, did you do any kind of research into how real thieves behave, did you base them more on depictions from movies, what?
Somehow, I knew these characters from the opening sentence of the novel. Let’s just say I’ve met a few disreputable folks on the way….
When I saw that the book was called Stand Your Ground, my first thought was that it had something to do with Travon Martin and George Zimmerman. Are you at all worried that people’s feelings about that law and what happened with Zimmerman and Martin might stop them from reading the book?
Yes, that’s a good observation, Paul, and as in the Pavlov experiment, people are primed to think only of the Travon Martin case. But the insidiousness of the law, if abused, extends beyond the actions taken against that young man into broader implications that are just as damning and tragic. The author’s job is to flesh out beyond what everyone else thinks of at the moment.
Pulpy crime stories used to be a staple of Hollywood movies. Has anyone approached you about buying the rights to Stand Your Ground?
This would never happen, but if there was a Stand Your Ground movie in the works, and the people making it asked your advice, who would you like to see direct it, and who would like to star as Lawton and Roy?
I would tell them be faithful to the text. Don’t get cute. Lay off schmaltzy music, and let the telling of the story earn the emotion. Film it like I told it. I write in scenes so it would be very easy to shoot.
As for actors, get those with the range of a Jack Nicholson with his ability to add nuance between words not just into words.
Now, at the end of Stand Your Ground there’s an announcement that you’ve written a prequel called Midnight Sleeper, which will be out later this year. First off, when will it be out, and what is it about?
Midnight Sleeper takes place in the Jazz Age: I’ll sum it up like this: “The Mississippi Delta. Heinous crime. The Manhattan speakeasy. The upstart New Yorker Magazine. A train chase in the dead of winter. And a flapper who daringly uncorks the Jazz Age.” I hope to have it out this spring.
When in the process of writing Stand Your Ground did you come up with the idea for Midnight Sleeper, and specifically that it would be a prequel, as opposed to a sequel?
It happened the moment Roy LaHood returned home and noticed that all the photos of his family had been removed from his living room wall. One of them was of his granddad, Beau LaHood, a Pullman Porter in the Jazz Age. He was, in uniform, standing by an old section-car in a rail yard. It was at the moment that Beau came alive and said to me: “You have to write my story.” And so I did.
Is your thinking that the book after Midnight Sleeper will be a prequel to that, and that you’ll keep going that way until you can finally write a pulpy crime novel about a caveman who conspires to steal another caveman’s Fruity Pebbles? Because I would read that book.
It’s in the works….
Finally, if someone really likes Stand Your Ground, but they want something to read while waiting for Midnight Sleeper to come out, what would recommend and why?
This may be out of the box, but for research I’ve been reading 1920s Popular Science magazines available for free online. Back then they were lost in their own technological revolution as we are now, and some of the stories, such as building skyscrapers without safety harnesses, are truly harrowing as well as thrilling to peruse.