To coincide with the publication of his collection of crime stories, Walkin’ After Midnight, Joe Ricker has written a guest post on the very nature of being a writer, and how like Fight Club, it’s sometimes best not to talk about it…
The Truth in Talking
“Larry Brown taught me about writing by not talking about writing. When I moved to Mississippi and started working at City Grocery, I had no idea it was the “writer” bar. After a determined endeavor to move beyond a busboy and bar-back, I finally became a bartender who was trying to become a writer. At least at City Grocery there was a higher level of prestige as a bartender in a bar that catered to writers. That I was trying to be a writer made it all the more tempting to want to talk about it.
But I never talked to Larry Brown about writing because Larry Brown never talked to me about writing. I wanted him to, wanted him to mention it, maybe say: “I heard you’re trying to be a writer.” He didn’t, and I’m glad he didn’t. I think about that now, the embarrassment I feel even reflecting on the times that I wanted to talk about trying to write. Back then, I was only putting words on paper. Too many people believe that makes them a writer; that printing off the pages filled with letters and words and paragraphs is writing. Nothing is further from the truth. Anybody can do that. Not everybody who tries to be a writer can be a writer or will be a writer.
Being a writer is making the words yours, not the pages that they’re slapped against. So it doesn’t bother me that Larry Brown and I never talked about writing. I talked about my fly rod and fishing for brook trout in New Hampshire mountain streams. He talked about bass fishing in the murky waters of Mississippi. We drank Budweiser at the copper bar that was more of a home to me than any other place I’ve lived. I took shots of chilled peppermint schnapps while he sipped his at room temperature. I told him about getting my ass kicked by the cops behind the bar one night. He found that amusing.
In an interview, Larry said about his writing that at the very least it was honest. The truth isn’t always pretty, but sometimes around an ugly truth there’s a beautiful lie. And that’s the power of fiction, in being a writer. I rarely find the type of honesty in talking that I do in writing. And all I’ve ever wanted of my writing was some kind of truth, an honesty that will take a firm hold, like something that can’t be pulled easily from the ground and cast away like other garden weeds. I want my words rooted in the reader’s mind, and I don’t think that can be done unless it’s honest. When I knew Larry Brown I was just a bartender, so I kept my mouth shut about writing and got that man his beer.”
Joe Ricker is a former bartender for Southern literary legends Larry Brown and Barry Hannah. He’s driven a cab and worked in the Maine timber industry. His short fiction has appeared in Thuglit, Rose & Thorn Journal, and The Hangover. Walkin’ After Midnight is his debut short story collection. He blogs at www.iceshack.wordpress.com and www.theopiate.wordpress.com
I’ve just had the pleasure of reading this collection of dark and compelling stories, seeped in retribution and revenge. Ricker delves deep into the underbelly of New England, with the same adept focus on characterisation and sense of place as writers such as Frank Bill and Daniel Woodrell, that you will find yourself completely immersed in the lowdown dirty lives that Ricker presents. I particularly enjoyed Ecdysis (the Greek for shedding of skin) where a silent man seeks retribution on his mother’s killer, and Closer, which unnerves and disturbs in equal measure, with a central protagonist of a seemingly mild-mannered librarian, drawn into a dark world.
All of Ricker’s stories in this collection are spare and uncompromising, but bring to bear the contrasting moods and characteristics of the humanity contained within them. The stories are littered with despair, brutality, and essentially flawed characters (largely due to environment and circumstance), but there are also glimmers of poignancy and even love, which make them all the more hard-hitting, but also emotionally real. If you like your crime with a good slice of gritty and violent noir, and are ready to embrace the dark side of Ricker’s imagination, then this is the book for you, but don’t expect any happy ever after…
PRAISE FOR WALKIN’ AFTER MIDNIGHT:
“Joe Ricker is a hard-boiled poet in the tradition of Charles Bukowski. He writes of lonely, scarred men, damaged women, and of haunted places we all know. These shorts are served straight up with no chaser. Like the best of noir, it’s about people with few options and often no way out. Highly recommended.”
—Ace Atkins, New York Times Bestselling Author of The Forsaken and The Redeemers
“Tough yet lyrical, bristling with hard-won wisdom, these stories knock you out of any comfort zone you may have found and into the red. Ricker knows people, violence and landscape. He knows truth, too. And these stories beat their fists like drums.”
—Tom Franklin, New York Times Bestselling Author of Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter
(With thanks to Eva at 280Steps for the ARC)