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Interview: Steve Weddle, writer and editor of NEEDLE: A MAGAZINE OF NOIR

Steve Weddle grew up on the Louisiana/Arkansas line, holds an MFA in creative writing from Louisiana State University, and currently works for a newspaper group. He lives with his family in Virginia.

In 2009, Weddle and six crime fiction writers created DoSomeDamage, where he blogs weekly.

In 2010, Weddle and John Hornor Jacobs created Needle: A Magazine of Noir, one of the top journals for contemporary crime fiction.

His short fiction has appeared at Beat To A Pulp, Crime Factory, and A Twist of Noir and in The First Shift, Off the Record, Round Two, and D*cked anthologies.

I’ve known Steve since our LSU days, when he would hang out at my apartment with Chad Rohrbacher and a few others, play primitive versions of Madden Football, and make snide remarks about my (actually superior) music collection. I probably should have kicked him out more.

SHORY: Hey, aren’t you a poet?

WEDDLE: I have an MFA in poetry from LSU, yeah. That doesn’t make me a poet anymore than having a plumber’s license makes you a plumber. Um, maybe that’s not exactly right.

SHORY: So were you always interested in crime fiction?

WEDDLE: I don’t recall genre being that important when I was young. I’d hit the sci-fi corner of Waldenbooks, I suppose, but I don’t really remember all the shelves of crime fiction and romance and fantasy and all back then. There was the corner for sci-fi/fantasy and the wall of Literature and Fiction. The rest of the books were Chilton’s car books and maze-puzzles, I think.

I guess you could call Harry Harrison’s series of Jim DiGriz stories crime fiction, though they might be more properly categorized as sci-fi. That was a type of “crime fiction” I enjoyed.

When I was a teenager, reading stacks of paperbacks, we didn’t have all these crime fiction options, I don’t think. Sure, we had stacks of pulp novels and “true crime” stories, but I didn’t have any exposure to the same high quality crime fiction produced by folks such as Victor Gischler, Owen Laukkanen, Jay Stringer, Sophie Littlefield, Chris F. Holm, Hilary Davidson, Dan O’Shea and others. Could be that I’m just more aware of it now, but there does seem to have been more of a shift towards quality crime fiction, as opposed to “mystery” stories.

SHORY: What’s the story behind NEEDLE, and why can’t I read it online?

WEDDLE: A few years back, I was disappointed at the lack of a short story magazine for crime fiction. Sure, you have the Alfred Hitchcock and the Ellery Queen magazines, which are great at what they do. Crimespree Magazine had some stories in each issue and, as with all they do, they were great. And there were and are fantastic sites online for short crime fiction — Plots With Guns and Beat To A Pulp, just to name a couple. So I talked to a few people, including Jon Jordan at Crimespree, to have them talk me out of it. Instead, they were all encouraging and helpful. John Hornor Jacobs worked on the artistic design and the “feel” of NEEDLE. The magazine has been getting stronger each year, with more and more great talent included.

The whole idea is “ink on paper,” which is why you can’t read it online.

SHORY: You’ve used self publishing tools for Needle. What are your thoughts about self publishing?

WEDDLE: I think it’s a boatload of work, is what I think.

Let’s make a distinction here.

Needle is print-on-demand, which is something people have been using longer than they’ve used e-books. Years ago, you could go to the local copy place and have 20 copies of your dragon-slaying novel or your keys-to-productivity guide and sell them out of the back of your van or at the chamber of commerce meeting.

I decided to go this route with Needle because I couldn’t afford to have 1,000 copies printed and then try to hand-sell them later. If you want a copy, you order from the folks at Lulu and they mail it to you. Like ordering a fancy meal of whatever rich people eat. They make it for you when you order it. That’s what Needle is. We’re not the fried chicken at the gas station that they made all at once and sell one box at a time. At least in that printing aspect of things.

Self-publishing in terms of individuals is kinda awesome, isn’t it? Someone can take a story they’ve had in Needle, a story they’ve had in Crimespree, a story from Plots with Guns, and so on and collect them in one book. Then folks can download the book and read it for a buck or two. I think that’s pretty cool. Chris F. Holm, whose excellent “The Hitter” was in Needle, has two collections like this, both fantastic reads. Jedidiah Ayres has used this method. Jay Stringer. John Hornor Jacobs. Our pal Chad Rohrbacher. Tons of folks.

Self-publishing and print-on-demand and all these methods are great options for people to consider, depending on what they want.

SHORY: Your fiction has been published in a number of print anthologies, including THE FIRST SHIFT, BEAT TO A PULP, OFF THE RECORD, PROTECTORS, as well as online, but the unjust world has to this point denied us a published Steve Weddle novel, though I know you’ve got a couple of rocking ones. Can you describe COUNTRY HARDBALL?

WEDDLE: Well, it’s been referred to as a “devastatingly understated portrait of the American working class.” At least that’s what the pitch letter says.

It’s a novel-in-stories. A few of those stories have appeared in publications, already. “The Ravine” started it all. That story is in an anthology New Pulp Press put out called THE FIRST SHIFT. The stories take place in the Ark-La-Tex area where I grew up, the space between Shreveport and Magnolia. After over a decade spent in and out of juvenile detention, half-way houses, and jail, Roy Alison returns to his rural home town determined to do better, to be better. But what he finds is a working-class community devastated by the economic downturn—a town in which even the grocery store is cutting back on hours. A town in which a junior college baseball scholarship is a teenager’s best shot at a better life. A town without anything to hold on to but the past.

Roy finds himself caught up in a life he’s trying to avoid, and things don’t go well.

I was told the book is Daniel Woodrell meets DEER HUNTING WITH JESUS, which is obviously kinder than I deserve.

SHORY: Who are some of your biggest influences?

WEDDLE: My major influences are the photography of Dora Maar, the early work of Stravinsky, and the films Ingmar Bergman did in the 1950s, especially WILD STRAWBERRIES. Though, I must admit, I have a soft-spot for the acting in FANNY AND ALEXANDER.

SHORY: Er, okay. What’s the last great book you read?

WEDDLE: SENSE OF AN ENDING by Barnes and AMSTERDAM by McEwan were the two best books I read last year. OUT STEALING HORSES was the year before, I think, but I can’t stop blathering on about that.

In addition to those, I’d have to say that DEAD HARVEST from Chris F. Holm and THE PROFESSIONALS from Owen Laukkanen should be read by more people. Really fantastic books.
Joelle Charbonneau has a YA book called THE TESTING which my daughter read and loved. Looking forward to seeing that one come out. And Jay Stringer’s OLD GOLD and RUNAWAY TOWN. That’s shaping up to be a great series, if you like the crime fiction. Which you should.

SHORY: Seems like there are ten million “Top Ten Rules of Fiction Writing” lists on the Internets. Do you think there are any actual rules of writing to live by?

WEDDLE: Clearly, there’s a market for people who want to hear “Show, Don’t Tell” over and over again. Start in the middle. Have characters with depth. Etc. The thing is, most of the advice is worth considering. Not following blindly, of course, but considering. Read if you want. Ignore if you want. There’s a market for this type of writing, just like there’s a market for TWILIGHT fan-fiction and the thirty-ninth book in a detective series.

I’ve taught from Strunk and White and I’ve read and re-read writing books from Donald Maass (full disclosure: my wonderful agent works at DMLA.) If you can take something from a writing book, that’s great. If not, then don’t bother.

If you want to read some generic writing rules, you can Google them and read along for free. Whenever you come up with a rule, you’ll find a dozen great books that break that rule. But you’re not Faulkner. So keep that in mind. As Kurt Vonnegut and Elmore Leonard have said in various ways, don’t write the boring parts. The only rule I’d suggest following is this one: Don’t waste the reader’s time. If you’re writing to be read, then you’re sort of entering into a contract with the reader. You’re saying that the words you’ve spent years putting down are worth the reading. Someone is going to pick your book up instead of watching television, instead of taking the dog for a walk. Forget publishers and agents for a second. The reader is making an investment. For the next thirty minutes of her life, she is devoted to words you wrote. You’re taking a chunk out of her evening. Make sure your book is worth it. That’s the rule that seems to matter.

SHORY: When are you gonna get Madden on the Wii U so we can play each other like in the old days?

WEDDLE: I bought it months ago and have been practicing every day in preparation for handing you your ass. If you’re still taking the Eagles every game, that was probably overkill on my part.

SHORY: It was the Dolphins. The Dolphins. I haven’t played them since Marino retired. And you’re dead meat.

3 Comments

  1. Jim DiGriz! Forgot about the old Rat. Great stories, those.

  2. Thank for bringing out the Weddle in Weddle. He's got lots to share.
    Elaine Ash/Anonymous-9

  3. Looking forward to Country Hardball.

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