Rapists are the most abhorred criminals in our society, next to pedophiles. What motivated you to write a first person narrative about one of them in your latest novel? Why did you decide to give a rapist a voice?
When I found myself in the MFA program at Vermont College, my last-semester advisor was Dr. Francois Camoin, a bona fide Frenchman. And, a bona fide literary genius. He was the first person I’d ever showed it to. He read it and then we had a drink together. He told me it was one of the most brilliant things he’d ever read, but that he felt I’d have trouble finding a publisher. He delivered the same exact thought that I had always had. He said he didn’t think it fit the sensibility of the American reader. He felt they were more attuned to Stephen King and John Grisham and the like and just wouldn’t “get it.” Too dark. Too intellectual. He went on to say that he thought though that someday if I got lucky I would find a publisher—like me, he thought it would be a European publisher—and that, even though it would be hard to get it published, once it was he predicted it would win all kinds of awards.
Well, over the years since then, I showed it to a few people. Mostly whoever was my agent at the time. The thing is, most agents—even though they’re nice folks, usually—are pretty much attuned to the top of their quality scale being commercial stuff like James Patterson, and none of them understood the book. So, I stuck it back into that drawer. And then, I became friends with a guy who I think has the best literary mind of anyone I’ve been privileged to meet. A guy named Cort McMeel. It took a lot by that time for me to trust anyone. Certainly not an agent! Most of them—while being nice people—could just as easily be selling Florsheim shoes—they’re salesmen and like the Ford salesman mostly want to move the latest car that’s hot. There really are no more Maxwell Perkins out there… That’s not a bad thing and agents aren’t bad people. They’re just not the sort of people you want in charge of something that’s intellectual, as a rule. That’s a type of product that’s outside their familiarity and comfort zone. They don’t want to represent Camus—they want to represent James Patterson.
Anyway, for the first time since Dr. Camoin, I met someone who I felt had a genuine literary mind. So I asked him if he wanted to read it. You’ll have to read the foreword which Cort graciously provided for the book to see how that went.
But… well. It went well. He loved it. In fact, he wanted to publish it under the imprint he’d just begun, Bare Knuckles Press. And, we had a deal until he ended his association with the press. Without Cort, I ended my own association with it. And, I happened on a new publisher. New Pulp Press. I chanced on a book of theirs that just blew me away. Jake Hinkson’s HELL ON CHURCH STREET. Blew me fucking away. I went to their list and went down the row and read every single book publisher Jon Bassoff had published. Not a single clunker in the bunch. Not one! I know of no other publisher who has the record Jon does. Probably Allan Guthrie—don’t think he has a single book that isn’t brilliant. And Brian Lindenmuth. But, nobody had it like Jon did. That’s the guy I wanted to publish this book and it’s because of who he had already published. It was clear he was a guy who could read silently without moving his lips. He wasn’t much interested in moving Florsheim or Stacy-Adams shoes to make a buck… He actually understands and loves literature. Kind of a contemporary John Martin. I’m so glad I found him. And, like Martin, he even designed my cover himself. Damn—he really is John Martin!
I sent it to Jon, he liked it and he’s publishing it. I’m as happy as a clam before the clam learns there’s a thing called clam sauce… Pretty fucking happy… I’m hoping he likes two other works of mine he has on his desk and will want to publish them as well.
*The interview will continue next Thursday, where Les and I will talk about shock value in literature and why he was driven to write dark stories.