Josh Stallings is a hell of a writer and he's lead a hell of a life. The result is not surprising: a fantastic noir memoir. I read All the Wild Children, published by Snubnose Press, and reviewed it for Out of the Gutter. However, I wasn't done. I wanted more. There were a few questions I had to ask and then man himself agreed to answer them. Here they are.
GI: Writing fiction isn't easy (you know, the good kind), but putting stuff out there that you invented is a piece of cake compared to sharing your life. What made you decide to share your memories with readers?
JS: I started writing it in that mental hospital day room. At the time I was looking at my son and trying to find the road that led to that impossible moment. The more I wrote the more it started to take shape as a book. I wasn't sure yet if I would publish it. I sent it to fellow crime writer Charlie Huston, he said it was the most compelling thing he'd read in years. Said I should rewrite it, yes, but get it out there. I still wasn't sure, asked my wife, she is my first reader and editor of all early drafts. She said it was too personal about our family, she also said she felt it was important and should be put in the world. Decision made.
Then the hard part, finding a publisher for this odd beast of a book. As literature I think it functions more like a map of a man's mind than a memoir. It is a series of interlinking essays, David Sedaris' work is closest to it's style, but darker. A big time agent told me it was brilliant and he had no idea what to do with it. Another called it literary gymnastics, but what publisher would buy it in today's market?
Enter Keith Rawson, he suggested I give Snubnose Press a try. Their first response was "we don't do memoirs." I told Brian Lindenmuth it had guns, sex and drugs, so he agreed to read it. And then publish it. To make it fit better into the Snubnose ethos I called it a Noir Memoir, that stuck.
Pub date set, it hit me. Fuck! Scary? Hell yes. But the emails I get from readers confirm that my wife was right, it needed to be in the world.
GI: You use emails and phone conversations in the text as ways of helping you stay true to the facts. Was there any time when telling things a certain way clashed with your compromise to accuracy? How did you go about clarifying things when your memory was fuzzy about something?
JS: In the opening of the book I wrote - "What you are about to read is at best the recollections of a man with a weak memory but a strong sense of what it felt like. Truth is personal. We are all the heroes of our own narrative, this is mine." In the introduction, novelist Tad Williams wrote - "Every word that Josh writes in this book is true. I tell you that not just because I witnessed and participated in many of the events, but because that's who Josh is -- he's compulsively honest." My mother said - "I don't need to read any more of this crap, I guess it makes a good story, but if you want to know what happened, ask me."
Readers will have to decide what is true, but I suspect truth is a moving target.
I included emails from my brother that contradict my version to continually remind the reader, this is one man's view. Truth is elusive.
I made two rules 1) never ever lie and 2) use my mind as the source material.
I think the purpose of memoir as a form is about personal truth, whereas autobiographies are about verifiable facts. It is not possible to verify how the summer of love felt to a ten year old. Or what you think of yourself the first time you wear platforms to your mostly Black school and someone calls you "Fly."
GI: How did your family react to the finished book?
JS: ROUGH. Some at least. Others thanked me for getting it right. A few members believed they held the sacred family truth and I had pissed in their chapel. My son told me he was proud, this was my art and he could see it wasn't about him. My old man said he didn't argue with his poet son. All and all, I got attacked from the hills I expected cannon fire to come from.
GI: Were you writing fiction while working on All the Wild Children? Did you have a hard time transitioning back to fiction once you were done with it?
JS: For my process writing fiction takes a lot of real life walking around in character's shoes, and reading a lot of primary source interviews. So it's not too far apart. The bitch with fiction is I don't outline so I never know how it will end. Same can't be said for the memoir. Spoiler Alert -- I live.
I tattooed the word TRUTH on my arm when All The Wild Children was published, to remind myself that even fiction needs to be true. Not the details, but the heart, the feelings have to be told as true as I know it.
GI: The parts that deal with your kids contain some of the most hearth-wrenching and brutally honest writing I've come across in a while. Was the writing process painful? Cleansing? Both?
JS: Yes, both, but here is the fact; living through seeing your son in jail is undoable. Seeing your son in a locked mental ward is undoable. But you do it nonetheless. You love in the face of all that. Writing is a way of making beauty out of pain.
GI: All the Wild Children is not a finished narrative. What's going on with you now? What will we read from you next?
JS: In the back of the book I put in a roll call to let readers know where all the players are. My narrative is learning what and who I am beyond all that has happened.
Early this upcoming winter ONE MORE BODY (Moses #3) will be out. It is a beast of a book, I'm damn proud of it. After that I have a standalone cooking. Maybe I will find an agent and see about some movie ideas.
GI: Got any books you'd care to recommend?
JS: "Abide With Me" by Ian Ayris is fucking brilliant. He is a writer to watch. "The Storm Giants" by Pierce Hansen is also stunning. Hansen is amazing. There are so many great books out there now, time is the bitch.
GI: Anything else you'd like to add about the All the Wild Children experience?
JS: Yes, it is also blazingly funny in parts, as hardcore glitter boys in the 70's we had us a time. My time in the movie business is a wicked and comic romp. I hope it reads like a good novel, fast and full of the spectrum of emotions.
All the Wild Children does read like a novel. A fantastic novel full of action, truth, heartbreak, blood, and love. To read my full review for Out of the Gutter, click here. Now go grab a copy.