The Sirens of Suspense

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Mike Monson started writing fiction in the summer of 2012. He is the author of a collection of short stories, CRIMINAL LOVE AND OTHER STORIES, as well as two novellas, WHAT HAPPENS IN RENO and THE SCENT OF NEW DEATH (May, 2014). He is also the editor of the crime magazine All Due Respect. He lives in Kona, Hawaii, where he moved from Modesto, California in 2013.


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What are your top 5 favorite works of noir (film, short story, novel)? Why?

I have a semi-strict definition of noir. The plot needs to be driven by the main character's compulsions, addictions, and self-destructive impulses, and, things have to turn out badly. I don't consider most hard-boiled private eye and detective stories noir.

In no particular order:

1. The Bitch, Les Edgerton.  Man, I love this book. Guy with two strikes against him as a habitual offender who will get life in prison with one more felony (the 'bitch' -- habitual) goes from have a great life to doing one dumb thing after another, each one worse than the thing before. He thinks he has the best of intentions, but of course he doesn't. Just great. 

2. The Kind of Friends Who Murder Each Other, by Chris Rhatigan. This is a perfect little book. Short, with no excess words or scenes, it paints a perfect picture of a bleak almost dystopian world where people inexplicably do horrible things to each other. Beautifully written too. 

3. Hell on Church Street, by Jake Hinkson.  So great. This is the first of three neo-noirs so far by Hinkson. This might be my favorite but the other three are just as good. The main character is a youth minister of a Christian church in Arkansas who falls for the teenage daughter of the main minister. This leads to one shocking event after another and one bad decision after another. In many scenes I was definitely shocked at what was going on, and I love that. 

4. Twisted City by Jason Starr. I should really make this a tie with the other neo-noirs by Starr: Cold Caller, Nothing Personal, Fake ID, Hard Feelings, Touch Luck, Twisted City, Lights Out, and Panic Attack. It is such a great and perfect noir in which, once again, the main character just keeps doing things based upon compulsion and fear (and a twisted perversion) that causes him to end up in a huge mess of his own making. Very creepy too. 

5. Small Crimes, by Dave Zeltserman. This is quite a book. The main character/narrator is just the worst person, but the way he so calmly tells his story makes the reader like him and pull for him before realizing .... 'hey, this guy is a monster.'


Although you always wanted to be a writer, you only started writing fiction in 2012. What took you so long?

That's a long story. I tried off and on from high school (I graduated in 1974!) and could never quite write anything that mattered. I had no good ideas for years. I'd sit at a typewriter desperate to write something good and nothing came to me. Then, in my 30s  I became obsessed with drama and read and attended plays by Mamet, Shepard, Pinter and others and really wanted to try to write a play. I wrote about five and managed to finagle those into a scholarship to Chapman University in order to finally finish my Bachelor's degree. Then, I got into the graduate creative writing program at San Francisco State but only lasted one semester. I just lost my desire to be a playwright and I didn't feel I could write fiction so I gave up. But, while there I met and married my second wife and we found good jobs and had two wonderful children (now 19 and 21) and I worked hard to help support us all. During much of this time I commuted a total of five hours each day from Modesto to my paralegal jobs in San Francisco. To pass the time I started reading a lot of books. A read a lot of literary books and books about pop culture (music and film mostly) and a lot of crime/noir. I loved crime fiction and kept getting the urge to try my hand at writing some of my own. Finally, in the Spring of 2012 I had a weird epiphany  about myself and about life which led to me sitting down and writing with great abandon. Good stuff came out and I was hooked. 


You moved to Hawaii last year from Modesto. How has the (dramatic) change in venue affected your writing? Does Kona have a seedy underbelly?

It's effected my writing in that my life became much simpler: no more long commute, part time work, pleasant and easy surroundings. I have more time and energy to write. I've been here a year and put out a book of short stories (Criminal Love and Other Stories), wrote and published a noir novella (What Happens in Reno), finished and published a crime novella (The Scent of New Death), and completed my first full-length novel (Tussinland). 

The Big Island, which is where Kona is located, definitely has a seedy side. It's like the Modesto of Hawaii. While yes, it is certainly lovely, it is also very funky all over and meth and crack are huge problems. Harleys are very popular and bikers wearing club colors are all over the highways -- along with skinny spandex-glad bicyclists practicing for the next Ironman. 


Tell me about the e-zine All Due Respect. It’s a variety of established authors and newer names. How have you seen noir evolve since editing the e-zine?

First note that it is no longer an e-zine. We've revamped All Due Respect into a four-times-a-year crime fiction magazine. It is available for purchase in both print and as an ebook. Each issue has a featured writer who gives us an exclusive story and an  interview. The rest of each issue is comprised of stories and reviews. I just started working there a year ago when we became a quarterly, so I don't know if noir has evolved much since then. But, it is clear from receiving and reading submissions that there is a lot of talent out there right now and crime and noir short fiction is going through a very good period. 


Spinetingler has called THE SCENT OF NEW DEATH "Fast, nasty, kinky, violent pulp.” Tell us about it, and what’s coming next for you.

It's a very simple dark crime/revenge story. Phil Gaines is a career criminal who lives in Modesto and robs banks. He mostly lives a quiet, boring life. When he isn't committing crimes he practices the zen meditation he learned in prison.  But, he meets Paige, a young very sexy and kinky beauty who has always wanted to be Bonnie Parker -- or at least the Faye Dunaway version. They meet and marry quickly and she immediately grows bored with Phil. She meets Phil's driver/partner Jeff Sweet, who is as wild, evil and kinky as Paige.  Jeff and Paige get together, rob Phil's bank account and his hidden stash of cash. While Phil plots his revenge, Jeff and Paige embark on a violent and evil crime spree. I won't give a way the ending, but I think it is very satisfying for readers. 

Tussinland, the full-length novel I just finished, is about Paul Dunn, a three-time-married man who has injured his back on the job and is living with his mother while receiving workers' comp. He and his third wife are separated and haven't started divorce proceedings yet. Paul's mother is still a beauty who spends her days drinking vodka, smoking weed out of her bong, and having sex with as many men as possible. Paul spends a lot of his time consuming large quantities of Robitussin, which puts him into a euphoric hallucinogenic state. When his wife and her new boyfriend are found dead, he is the main suspect. As it becomes more and more clear that he is being framed for the crime, Paul tries his best to figure things out and clear his own name. The book is about sex and addictions and social media and smart phones and YouTube and fundamentalist Christians and right-wing militias. I hope it's good.  





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Book he wishes he could read again for the first time: THE EXECUTIONERS SONG by Norman Mailer.

What he's reading now: THE KILLER INSIDE ME by Jim Thompson..

Cats or Dogs? Cats.

Favorite big or small screen detective: Harry Bosch.

If he could meet one of his characters: Mavis Love from my new book TUSSINLAND.

If he could have a drink with any author: James Ellroy.

Favorite independent bookstore: Kona Stories here is pretty nice and they have cats that live there.

If he could have one superpower: Time travel

If he could invite four people to a dinner party: Rachel Maddow, Barack Obama, Timothy Olyphant and Jeremy Renner.