Interview: Joe Clifford


What’s your idea of a perfect day?

Clifford_GiveUptheDead__2-2 copyI suppose you don’t mean in the Lou Reed/Trainspotting sense? As a former addict, I, like most of my ilk, recall way too fondly perfect days that were, in fact, a long way from it. Just the way the brain works, mollifying out the unpleasant parts. These days, I am a long ways from that man. So either Disneyland with my family or working alone on the final passes of a new novel with my 8-lb. poodle, Lucky.

Do you have a signature accessory, color, fragrance, phrase/expression, or meal?

In the words of Adam Durtiz (and it’s taken me a long time to utter that particular phrase) grey is my favorite color. Accessory? After the motorcycle accident I’ve learned to embrace my cane. Got a really cool new one with a skull. At least my six-year-old son Holden thinks it’s cool, and his opinion matters most. Fragrance? This is probably going to sound like the oddest humblebrag ever but I don’t smell when I sweat; I smell like Good Seasons salad dressing. Meal? Al pastor burrito from Taqueria Cancun, with no rice (rice is cattle filler). And expression? This is going to ruin any remaining street cred I may have left, but I picked up the phrase “goodness gracious” from an ex-girlfriend and I must say it 50 times a day. I also curse like a f***ing sailor.

Which books/authors inspired or influenced you the most?

I named one son Holden and the other Jackson Kerouac, so that should cover the first part of that question. But honestly if I have to pick one writer? Bruce Springsteen. As a wide-eyed dreamer in a small town, the Boss got me through many a lonely high school night.

Do you listen to music when you write?

I do. Every book gets a soundtrack. The Jay Porter Thriller series, which is a 5-book deal with Oceanview, sees some overlap. For instance “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” makes it onto every soundtrack. There are a few other repeat customers. “Carry Me Ohio” by Sun Kil Moon is another. And Lana Del Rey, Brian Fallon, Frank Turner, too. All these artists and their songs help establish a mood that, for me, evokes the landscape of Lamentation (the mountain range where the Jay Porter Thriller Series takes place).

If your latest book were chocolate, what kind would it be and why?

Probably milk. Although I like white, even if it isn’t technically a chocolate. I can tell you this much, it most certainly wouldn’t be dark chocolate. I f***ing hate dark chocolate; it tastes like a broken promise.

What made you interested in writing this particular story?

The new book, Give Up the Dead, is the third in the Jay Porter Thriller Series. So the cheap laugh answer is that my publisher paid me. But really the appeal of writing a series, which has an overall arc and message, is getting to spend in-depth time with your characters. The more I write Jay, the more I meet a maddeningly frustrating antihero. Jay Porter is steadfast and stubborn, willing to cut his nose off to spite his face, but he does care, he does give a shit. I share some of these tendencies (especially the bleeding heart part), but Jay takes them further, at least the more negative ones. In that sense writing Jay is almost like a personal cautionary tale, as in if I didn’t start paying more attention to my surrounding, allowed myself to get more bitter than I am, let alcohol take hold, I could’ve had his life. And Jay’s skin is not a fun place to occupy. I think he’s a fascinating character, and I think Jay is ultimately redeemed because he does have a good heart, he does want to do the right thing. But at some point this life breaks us, or we break it, and I think that is Jay’s journey, his challenge: does he opt for happiness or vengeance?

What themes do you regularly (re)visit in your writing?

I remember hearing that every male author writes a variation of the “fall and redemption” tale, from “Casablanca” to “Rocky.” That is a theme that is present in all the Jay Porter novels. But I am also fascinated by the story of brothers. Jay and his brother Chris have a complicated relationship that extends beyond blood and life. In many ways these books are the conversations I can’t have with my own brother. Too much pain and distance and hurt. But I get to open my heart. I hope he reads them. I’m not sure he does.

Describe your protagonist as a mash-up of three famous people or characters.

Holden Caulfield, Phillip Marlowe, and Batman. Although in Jay’s case the elements he possess from each are not necessarily the heroic ones. For instance, he has the moral code and righteous of Marlowe without the actual morality or being (always) right.

If you could host a mystery-author dinner party, who are the six writers (living or otherwise) you’d include?

Salinger, Kerouac, Gillian Flynn, Paula Hawkins, Emily Bronte, and Douglas Adams.

What’s next for you?

We have two more Jay Porters coming down the pike, out in 2018 and 2019 respectively. I am contributing a section/story to a novel called Culprits, edited by Gary Phillips and Richard Brewer. I am also editing two collections: Just to Watch Him Die: Crime Stories Inspired by the Songs of Johnny Cash (Gutter Books), and Hard Sentences (Broken River), an anthology of Alcatraz-themed tales.

*****

cliffordJoe Clifford is acquisitions editor for Gutter Books and producer of Lip Service West, a “gritty, real, raw” reading series in Oakland, CA. He is the author of several books, including Junkie Love and the Jay Porter Thriller Series, as well as editor of Trouble in the Heartland: Crime Stories Based on the Songs of Bruce Springsteen. Joe’s writing can be found at www.joeclifford.com.

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11 thoughts on “Interview: Joe Clifford”

  1. Welcome, Joe. The soundtracks got me hooked; and I think Springsteen (like Bob Dylan) is a poet in music.

    But you don’t like dark chocolate? Tsk, tsk. You and I have to have a talk, my friend.

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  2. Goodness gracious! A cursing sailor who uses that expression?! Jay sounds like a fascinating character. Looking forward to checking him out.

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  3. Welcome, Joe! Glad you could join us. I read Joe’s December Boys and loved it. It just wasn’t the grittiness that I loved but also the delicate noirish sensiblity lurking in the background, like the ground of a painting. It was a book that felt like it had layers upon layers, not all of which was on the page. That is art. It’s a great read, in and of itself, and an example of sophisticated writing that looks easy but must be really hard. Looking forward to Give Up the Dead. It’s going on the TBR.

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  4. Dark chocolate and kale? Okay, I’ll go with the dark chocolate. You can keep the kale.

    And if Keenan has such warm words, I guess DECEMBER BOYS has to go on the TBR pile for my 2017 reading challenge. 🙂

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