I was friends with Joe Clifford before I even knew it - via Facebook. I don’t even remember friending him or vice versa. But one day about five years ago I posted a status update publicly declaring my three fictional heroes to the world: Phillip Marlowe, Holden Caulfield, and Batman.
As I recall, this guy named Joe almost immediately commented: “Mine too!”
Shortly thereafter, he sent me a private message: he offered to re-issue my out-of-print novel Love Stories Are Too Violent For Me, which had been optioned years ago by Christian Slater, and at the time, it was a hot property. Christian and I were collaborating on rewrites of his screenplay adaptation while he sought production funds. The book had originally been published in 1995 by Wild Card Press, which had long since gone under.
In 2013, it was republished in a “definitive edition” - including some pieces ported over from the screenplay - and edited by Joe. In 2015, he edited Gutter’s first edition of the latest Vic Valentine novel, Hard-Boiled Heart.
By then I’d read his stellar short story collection Choice Cuts and is first two published novels, Wake the Undertaker - which is in the pulpy mode Sin City and right up my alley, meaningly hardly anyone else read or liked it - and Junkie Love, his breakthrough success, a fictionalized memoir of his youthful years as a drug addict on the mean streets of San Francisco. I was now a big fan. His writing is economically precise but emotionally rich - a more accessible, hardboiled, and contemporary version of Jack Kerouac. His voice is smoothly confident if rough-edged, and his prose is compulsively readable.
We immediately connected on several levels, both personal and professional, since we’re both West Coasters transplanted from the East, and we share similar sensibilities (though when it comes to music, we diverge drastically; he’s heavily into Taylor Swift while I'm a Julie London type cat).
I’ve watched as Joe - who boasts a MFA in Creative Writing from Florida University - rose from the ranks of small presses (he never self-published) to a traditional hardcover contract with Oceanview Publishing for his successful Jay Porter series of detective novels, the latest of which, Give Up the Dead, comes out June 6.
I’ll let Joe take it from here…
How would you categorize yourself as a writer?
That’s really not for me to decide. I mean, I consider myself a “literary thriller” writer, but some libraries and sellers call me mystery. I’ve heard suspense. There’s the all-inclusive (and utterly meaningless) “noir.” I look at it like Keith Richards did when we was asked if he played lead or rhythm guitar. “Nah, man, it ain’t like that. I play guitar.” I write books. My area of interest is Springsteen-ian—the downtrodden, everyday, working-class hero, who, like Rocky, takes a beating but doesn’t go down.
Do you think creative writing is really something that can be taught?
Depends on the writer. For me? Personally? I wouldn’t have been a professional writer without Florida International University and my MFA. Aside from the time to write and the contacts acquired, I learned about causality and how paramount linking scenes is. Actions must be taken and the consequences unintended. Sounds obvious, I know. But my brain isn’t wired like that. I could do scenes. Vignettes. Clever (what I thought I was clever anyway) dialogue, witty comebacks, subtle foreshadowing. But I didn’t grasp how plot worked. One action must beget another, escalating conflict and drama (even in a comedy). And the way I learn, I doubt I would have learned that without hands-on instruction.
How important is self-generated social media publicity even for traditionally published authors like you?
Unless you are Stephen King or JK Rowling, no one is getting the flashy 30-city junket of old. Publishers, small, indie, medium, even the Big Five (or is it Four now?), they don’t have the resources (or aren’t willing) to send you on lengthy, fully funded tours. So the onus falls on you, the writer. I think social media is paramount. You write (what you consider to be) a great book. Now what? You are in a sea of literally hundreds of thousands (millions) of releases? Social media, like Facebook, is a direct link. It’s annoying at times, and watching success when you are failing can evoke the words of Gore Vidal (“A part of me dies every time a friend succeeds”—I may be paraphrasing). But I haven’t found a better pipeline to fans, established and prospective, ye
What are your influences, literary and otherwise?
Same three as always: Phillip Marlowe, Holden Caulfield, and Batman
What’s next for you?
We are under contract for 5 (total) Jay Porter books. Give Up the Dead is just out (or will be when this runs). That is # 3. I’ve finished 4 (currently titled WHERE SCREAMS END). I start 5 in January. In between that, there’s tours for the current, edits on the next, and trying to keep this body of mine (motorcycle accident) in one piece!
There’s the Bat-signal now, Joe. Get to work!
Joe 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 http://joeclifford.com/
PHOTO: JOE CLIFFORD