Navigating around a divide on contentious topical subjects can be an impossible task in person, much less on Facebook. It really depends on how open-minded, patient, and tolerant the people engaged in the debate happen to be. It also depends on how many, if any, common bridges already exist to cross that otherwise bottomless gap.
Author S.A. Bailey is someone whose extremely thoughtful, carefully chosen words I’ve only read on Facebook until I contacted him about an interview. I was greatly entertained by the samples of his work he sent me, and enlightened by his nuanced answers to potentially challenging questions.
For a guy that knows how to handle himself in active combat, in an actual war zone, not vicariously via a video game, Seth comes across as one peaceful, gentle, reflective, talented dude with whom I share many influences and personal traits, particularly rebellious independence vis a vis the literary establishment. Additionally, we share a penchant for spicing up conventional genres with doses of darkness that often prove deal-breakers for commercially cautious, mainstream publishers. This lead us to switch from small presses to self-publishing, which really aren't that different from each other in certain key respects.
Seth also strongly comes across as someone that doesn’t waste anyone’s time with anal smoke-blowing, either. His brazen honesty is evident both in life and in his fiction, and there are very good reasons for that, since they both hail from the same, soulful source…
Along with being a former Army paratrooper in Iraq, your Amazon bio describes you as a "semi-professional gun nut and accidental satirist.” This is backed up by your many intellectually eloquent, impassioned social media posts, but how do these two seemingly disparate traits inform your fiction?
If you know who you are, and if you're comfortable with that, then you ought to be able to laugh at yourself, whatever absurdity you house within you. It's a very human thing, and none of us escape. We're all absurd about something. If nothing else, just life itself. I never intended to become a stereotype, but sometimes I look up and it feels like I'm collecting them – veteran, functional alcoholic, sometime firearm trainer, occasional private investigator, crippled up fat guy. I have to be able to laugh at that.
Your protagonist, Jeb Shaw, is also a war vet. His background is an integral aspect of his thorough character development, but how much of his creator went into the mix? Are you intentionally or subconsciously confronting similar internal demons as well as external challenges in today’s complex economic and social environment?
I like to say Jeb is sort of my ode to the guy I thought I wanted to be when I grew up. I like to tell people I joined the Army wanting to be Joe Pike, and left wanting to be Travis McGee. Unfortunately, I probably have a little more Clete Purcell in there than either of them. When I started what became the first book, And The Rain Came Down, I was still in Army, at Walter Reed, and even before that, still in Germany. Writing scenes and lines and characters and ideas down. And when I wrote Rain, I wasn't sure what I was doing with it, with anything. I was just drunk, and angry, and heartbroken, and it was very much therapy. Originally it was even darker than it is, with supernatural/psycho-spiritual undertones and influences. I ended up taking a lot of that out, because it was just too dark.
Growing up, I read all the war books and PI fiction I could find. And there was always that one psychotic best friend/partner the protagonist called on for help when he just couldn't be bothered getting his hands dirty. And I always thought that was shit. So once I realized Jeb was going to live thru the end of the book, and knew I wanted to try to write a series, and began thinking about what kind of series I wanted to write. And Jeb, he might have a PI and a bodyguard license, but what he really does, who he is, is a gunfighter. He has a very strict moral code, but most people won't understand it. He also hates the word mercenary, though he's been that. Anybody you could pay him to kill, he'd kill for free. And he wouldn't kill anyone just for money. As far as today's complex economic and social environment, Jeb’s kind of an anachronism, but he's also a man of his time. I try not to let my personal politics do more than inform the character, and his world view.
Like me, I'm sure Jeb considers himself at least philosophically a rational, individual anarchist. Politically, he may be even more tuned out than I am. I think Jeb pretty much hates more politicians just on general principles, but he realizes we're living in the future, and the future, whatever it is, is coming at an exponentially faster pace every day. We're going to have flying taxis in Dallas in 3 years, for Godssake. And we live in a such a weird, hyper-politicized world now. But what do these labels, the boxes we try to cram ourselves into, even mean?
In small town East Texas, I might as well be a pro-gun Democrat. In Austin, and certain hipster parts of Dallas, people think I'm somewhere to the right of Genghis Khan. A part of that comes from when I still considered myself a Republican. I held on forever because of 2nd Amendment issues and because of foreign policy. Foreign policy, I'm somewhere between a Libertarian and and a Republican. I don't like easy answers, which Libertarians are fucking horrid about. But I held on for those two issues, and gradually just felt more and more shame for being grouped in with homophobic racist assholes. And I'll be the first to tell you they're not all that way. But goddamn. Just goddamn.
Can you talk a little a bit about your history as a self-publisher, and do you believe the stigma is finally disappearing, given the format's rising popularity and success?
Absolutely. The first edition of my first book was actually with a small, local press. Still indie, but it wasn't self-published. Not a Vanity Press either, I didn't pay. This is small press out of Dallas. This was right before the shift. And while I'm grateful for that start, and the things I learned as I got my feet wet in this industry, as well as the business side of things, between the editorial process (which is necessary, but I started life as a poet so I don't much care for rules), and just not feeling like I was in complete control, not to mention watching the rise of self- publishing. While I was there, feeling like I was stuck on this little weird in-between place, I decided to self publish.
Barry Eisler and JA Kontrath have written a lot about self publishing, and I love both their work, and that helped inform my decision. This is probably a shitty analogy, so bear with me, but what I would liken the current state of self-publishing to is what I imagine being in a good local or regional band must have been like 20-25 years ago. You probably shouldn't quit your day job, but the potential is there. If you're good enough, if you're smart, and make smart decisions, and hustle, and learn the business, especially the promotional side of it, you can carve yourself a niche. And from there, maybe you can break out. I feel like I'm just now starting to really carve a niche, so breaking out is aways away, but I've got my fingers crossed.
I had one of the top agents in the country – who, blessedly, will still look over movie contracts when they're sent, thank God. But as much as he loved my first book, he couldn't sell it, at least partially because I wasn't willing to change things in the first edition. There were somethings I was willing to change, to cut, to take out. The darker stuff and the supernatural elements, but that wasn't what the big houses needed cut. It was too vulgar, and reading it now, as opposed to 10-12, 15 years ago when I was first writing it, holy shit, there is a lot of vulgarity in it. But that was the place I was at then, just out of the Army. And I was supposed to tone down some of the drug use, I think, and the scene in Rain where he tortures a guy with a blackjack. That's one of my favorite scenes, but the big houses wanted it cut.
But in the end, though I'm worried I blew my one shot at the big time, I'm glad I didn't. Because even still, with some regularity, I have fellow vets come up and thank me for that book, for saying things they didn't know how to say.
What are your influences, literary or otherwise?
The big three are James Lee Burke, James Crumley, and Robert Crais. Those are the most influential, the ones I can promise you I'm at least a little derivative of, especially in the early books. I'd like to think I become more and more of my own writer with each book, but I can't say for sure. We're all poor judges of ourselves. There are others, too many to name: Dennis Lehane, Joe R. Landsdale, Robert B. Parker, the big three – Chandler, Hammett, and Macdonald, not to much the other MacDonald, John D. (I mentioned Travis McGee earlier). And of course, the original, Cervantes, with Don Quixote.
What's next for you?
Well, I've been working hard the past year or to just to be able to get to a place where I could focus on school and my health. So right now, school, trying to lose some weight and get some health back, and writing are my focus. I do a little PI work from time to time, and am planning on hanging my own shingle later this year if all continues to go as planned. But right now, it's just school, trying to drop my fatass in the pool and eat right and not drink so much, and writing. A nice, simple, orderly little life for the most part.
Sounds good to me, man. Cheers.
S.A. Bailey is a writer, blogger, semi-professional gun nut, and accidental satirist. A former paratrooper and veteran of the U.S. Army, he served in Iraq with E Co 51st Infantry, Long Range Surveillance. He likes good food, strong drink, dogs, and not much else. He grew up in East Texas and currently lives in Dallas, where he is plotting his escape.
Seth’s Amazon Author Page