John Wisniewski interviews Joe Clifford

Crime Fiction, Down and Out Books., Interviews, Joe Clifford, John Wisniewski, Noir, Punk Noir Magazine

skunk train

When did you begin writing, Joe?

I’ve been writing since I couldn’t make any art really. The mediums change but the emotion and expression behind it stay the same. I’ve dabbled in painting. Play in a rock band. I write. They’re all artistic forms. Some more satisfying than others. I mean given my choice I would have been a rockstar. Unfortunately as singer I turned out to be a pretty good novelist.

Any favorite crime fiction authors?

Favor crime writers? Too many to mention. I love the classics, Cain and Chandler, Thompson. Now? All women. Mary Kubica is always the top of my list. Wendy Walker. Gillian Flynn. Paula Hawkins. I read almost exclusively domestic psychological thrillers written by women. My favorite books of the past 10 years are almost all written by women. My contemporaries I admire most—Jennifer Hillier, Cate Holahan, Emily Carpenter, Shannon Kirk, Heather Harper Ellett—all women. I keep hammering this point home but for me? Women are writing a particular brand of thriller and mystery that is of the highest order, and my goal to someday write something as evocative as these authors have.

What makes a good crime fiction novel?

The same things that make any novel good: bad shit happens. Every book is one of discovery. It’s just with crime, the requisite conflict your protagonist must overcome is easier to identify. Literary fiction novels have conflict too. Romance, sci-fi, cozies, all of them do. Every book is conflict, and then the journey to fight, rise above, or get destroyed by it. The reason I chose crime fiction is it forces the author to keep things moving. No one is reading a crime novel where nothing happens. Narrative moves, readers maintain interest, and I still get to explore the themes and ideas that interest me—the outlier, the marginalized, the downtrodden, the fuck-ups and put-upon. These are the folks who interest me; and if I can’t tell their story, I’m not sure I want to tell any story.

You have struggled with addiction, Joe. How do you work this theme into your stories? 

Probably by weaving a drug and/or alcohol subplot into every book! It’s funny, I’m working on a book now (The Shadow People), and I was, like, “This time, no drugs!” And so I wrote out the synopsis and sent it to my agent, and he was, like, “Yeah, this is great. But you know what it’s missing? Drugs!” It’s Christopher Walken and more cowbell, I guess. My aim is to move more toward domestic psychologicalthrillers. That’s my life now (not that my wife is faking her death to avenge my infidelity. I’m too old to screw around. Frankly, the mere thought sounds exhausting). It’s been a LONG time since I was a junkie living on the streets. Still, it’s pretty ingrained. Those were deeply formative years. A form of trauma, really. Not to equate my stupid decisions with people suffering cruel hands of fate. But I think anytime you outlast your demons, whether they were sought out or foisted upon, you carry the scars. If we write what we know, I am probably more intimately acquainted with pain and sorrow, loss and heartache than any other emotions or sensations. Which, yeah, makes me a blast at parties. But most people I know, the ones I am friends with at least, tend to share some fucked-up simpatico sensibility. And I try to add levity and humor to my work, albeit dark, twisted, and fucked up.

rag and bone

Could you tell us about writing your most recent novel Rag and Bone?

Technically, my latest novel is Skunk Train, which came about 2 weeks ago (December 2019). It’s a rock-and-roll love story about two teenagers on the run with stolen drug money. It’s the 2nd book in a 3-book deal with Down & Out. Rag and Bone is the last in the Porter series, which is put out by a bigger publisher so it gets a little more airplay. Rag and Bone dropped over the summer and wraps up the 5-book arc for Jay Porter, my handyman protagonist in the series. Each book can be read alone, but I think this series, perhaps more than most, benefits from reading all five. It’s really one long story. In RnB we have Jay at the end of the line, tying together threads from the first four books. This involves a prominent family in town, prisons for profit, contaminated soil, corrupt construction company owners, and ruthless politicians. But really? The story is about Jay, a broken man trying to do the right thing with the limited resources he has. He lives on a cold mountain, with few friends, he drinks too much, and he’s poor. But he’s got heart.

How did you create the Jay Porter character?

Jay Porter is an amalgamation of my two real-life brothers, Jason and Josh. Jason is a hardworking guy who can’t seem to catch a break. My brother Josh died a couple years ago from alcoholism. (Jason is still thankfully plugging away.) Certainly the logistics come from my brothers. The line of work, the hard drinking, hardscrabble existence, etc. But the center of the character owes as much to Rocky Balboa. Like Rocky, he’s gonna take a beating. Unlike Rocky, won’t be watched on the big screen, most will never know his name, and it’ll cost him far more than he wins.

Any favorite crime noir film’s, Joe?

Too many to choose from! But if I have to pick? Detour.

Nab Joe Clifford’s book here.