Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Tijuana Donkey Boy: An Interview with Adam Howe

For the second time in a few months, Adam Howe is at Do Some Damage, this time to talk about his new book, Tijuana Donkey Showdown.  I talked to Adam when his last book came out – that was Die Dog or Eat the Hatchet – and if you want to take a look at that chat, you can do it right here.  
Adam’s a writer of hilariously ferocious stories that mix elegant writing with questionable (in the best sense) taste, and Tijuana Donkey Showdown, his first novel, lives up to the expectations of his earlier works. So….let’s get to it:

Scott Adlerberg: I loved Die Dog or Eat the Hatchet and have been wondering since what kind of book you would write for an encore.  You go to some extremes in the three novellas in that book, and I was wondering whether you’d go deeper into this vein, and if so, how, or whether you’d take a different direction.  Tijuana Donkey Showdown answers that question.  Reggie Levine is back from the "Damn Dirty Apes" story in the preceding book, and he’s up to his neck again in all sorts of unsavory activity.  Anything you can tell us about the impulse that drove you to continue exploring the life of this engaging but slightly pathetic man?

Adam Howe: After Die Dog or Eat the Hatchet, the plan was to take another crack at my long-gestating novel, 80s action throwback, One Tough Bastard.  But I tend to be at the mercy of my muse and just couldn’t get cooking on it.  Pretty frustrating because I know I’ve got a great story to tell, and until I start writing novel-length fiction it’s hard to grow my readership.  On the plus side, I did manage to iron out some of Bastard’s structural kinks, and hope to take another look at it next year.
Meantime, I had to write something or I’d go crazy – crazier – I can’t leave this stuff to just stew in my mind. 
I had a helluva time writing Damn Dirty Apes, thought the Reggie Levine had legs, and decided to revisit his world.  When I started writing Tijuana Donkey Showdown, early readers of Die Dog were telling me that Damn Dirty Apes was their favourite of the stories; midway through, all I was hearing was that Apes was the – shall we say – least awesome of the three… Which was a massive confidence boost.  But I stuck with it, for better or worse.
Again, I had a blast writing about Reggie.  “Engaging but slightly pathetic,” huh?  Hey!  You know Reggie’s semi-autobiographical, right?  Nah, that description sounds about right.  I call the style of the Levine stories, schadenfreude noir.  

In an odd preface before the book, you mention that while writing Tijuana you discovered you were going to be a father for the first time.  If I understand the preface correctly, you became worried about how your future child would regard having a father who writes what you write.  Can you elaborate on that?

Oh, man.  It’s bad enough my mum reads my stuff, let alone my daughter.  When I proudly presented to my mum my first novella, Of Badgers & Porn Dwarfs, from the Black Cat Mojo collection, her feedback was, “Who’s going to want to read THIS?”  Not the genteel ladies at her book club, it would seem.  And judging by my sales, she might’ve been right.  So I’m hoping the kid will be less critical.  And right now she’s a captive audience.  In fact, if you removed the hardcore violence and deviant sex from my work, there’s a lot for a child to enjoy.    
But as I say in my preface to Tijuana Donkey Showdown – or disclaimer – on learning I was to be a father for the first time, my first impulse was to destroy the manuscript, much as Mrs. Robert Louis Stevenson threw her husband’s first draft of Jekyll & Hyde into the fire.  Sadly, I was already under contract to deliver the book to my publisher.  On the advice of my lawyer, who has yet to forgive me for the controversy caused by Damn Dirty Apes, and the ensuing legal battle with the Society for the Preservation of the North American Skunk Ape, I grudgingly honored the contract.  When it expires in four years, I intend to withdraw Tijuana Donkey Showdown from publication, along with my other books, and reinvent myself as a reputable ‘author’ of ‘literature’; I only pray my daughter will not have learned to read by then, and will make every effort to stunt her development to ensure that this doesn’t happen.

Tijuana Donkey Showdown has to do, among other things, with a drug mule, but you take that idea and do something with it that definitely elicited a chuckle from me.  Did you have to do any research to see whether such a drug smuggling operation is physically possible?

Given the animal theme of my work, it was a no-brainer to use an actual mule as my drug mule.  Of course, me being me, and the Reggie Levine stories requiring more than a dollop of sleaze, a mere mule wasn’t gonna cut it.  So I made my mule a porn star donkey called Enrique.  Once the beloved star of Mr. Ed porn parody, Mr. Head, in which the talking jackass cuckolds and cock-blocks Wilbur at every turn, Enrique has since fallen on hard times, and is seeing out his days as a live performer in a Mexican ‘donkey show.’  As Reggie says, “It beats the glue factory.”
Did I do my research?  Oh, sure.  Always.  As the author of titles such as Jesus In A Dog’s Ass, and Of Badgers & Porn Dwarfs, readers have come to expect a certain gritty realism from me, and I wouldn’t wanna disappoint. 
So I solicited the advice of my veterinarian, who thought at first that I was proposing an actual drug deal.  To my surprise, he agreed it would be possible for a donkey to ‘mule’ narcotics, and for the drugs to later be removed as described in the book – on a strip club pool table, with whiskey used as anesthetic – and for the animal to actually survive the operation.  Admittedly I took rather more license than the fine details he described, and I would advise drug traffickers (a large part of my readership, I’m told) to consider other means than a jackass for smuggling your product.
My biggest regret is that, due to family commitments, I was unable to attend an actual donkey show to prep for the book; although Gabino Iglesias, who moonlights as a jackass wrangler for such events, assures me the offer remains open the next time I visit the States.  In the name of research, I did investigate this particular paraphilia at notorious bestiality website, Rustler.  The site has since been shut down pending the outcome of a lawsuit issued by Larry Flynt’s Hustler; curious parties should contact me personally for the video(s).  Rest assured, though, I was thorough in my research.  And that it was not my proudest wank.

You also had something about an allergic reaction in the story?  Did you make that up or it that particular reaction to the substance that caused it based on real world science?

The inspiration for Randy-Ray Gooch’s allergic reaction came from a documentary I saw about counterfeit laundry detergent dealers, also known as ‘bucket sellers.’  It was a fly-on-the-wall documentary in which we followed an overzealous Anti-Counterfeit Agent (think David Brent with a badge and gun) as he busted a dirt-poor bucket seller brewing bootleg Tide in his garage to sell at swap meets.  This was a full-blown arrest involving SWAT team, K-9 unit, choppers, you name it – Seal Team 6 didn’t have resources like this when they took down Bin Laden – all to collar this one poor schmuck.
Playing up to the camera, the Agent in Charge started giving the bucket seller a hard time.  Like the guy was a heroin pusher selling dope to school kids.  “You ever see the rashes this stuff gives people!”  He reminded me of Frank Oz in the movie Trading Places: “Angel dust!  You ever see what this stuff does to kids!”
The entire operation was so overblown, and peculiarly American, that I found it hilarious, and somehow it crept into the story.
In the book, Randy-Ray suffers an especially violent reaction to the counterfeit detergent, something akin to elephantiasis of the scrotum, after his wife uses it to wash his jockey shorts.  Is such a reaction possible?  As the bucket seller says himself, the ingredients for his detergent are “trade secrets.”  But I should point out that the bucket seller character is named Pruitt.  Now that’s a name that’ll set alarm bells ringing among members of the crime fiction community.  If anyone could concoct the kinda counterfeit laundry detergent capable of causing elephantiasis of the scrotum, it’d be Eryk Pruitt.

I don’t think it’s possible to read your stories, and Tijuana in particular, without confronting the Nicolas Cage obsession.  Is it fair to call your affection for this actor that?  Or am I overstating?  Can you tell me a little about your movie watching history as it relates to Nicolas Cage?  He’s a man of course who’s given a number of great performances in stellar films and then, well, there are the slew of less than great films he’s made.

The Nicolas Cage ‘thing’ – and I can neither confirm nor deny that Mr. Cage makes an explosive, gotta-read-it-to-believe-it cameo in Tijuana – happened quite by accident, albeit fortuitously. 
In the closing pages of the previous Reggie Levine misadventure, Damn Dirty Apes, I made a throwaway reference to Cage, which I was obliged to take further in the sequel.  Within the world of the story it seemed perfectly plausible that Nicolas Cage would play Reggie Levine in the movie adaptation of Apes.  Needless to say this would not be one of Cage’s prestige pictures, but rather a shoddy Video on Demand affair, with an unconvincing CGI skunk ape, and most likely directed by Uwe Boll.  This is not how I myself would wish to see a potential Damn Dirty Apes movie produced.  (For what it’s worth, producers, I always liked Danny McBride for the role of Reggie…with Nicolas Cage playing the great white skunk ape hunter, Jameson T. Salisbury.)  But within the world of the story, I reckon this is how things would’ve panned out for poor Reggie; that the film of his life would be trashed by the critics, and sweep the board at the Razzies.
I should state for the record that I am a great admirer of Mr. Cage.  It’s a travesty that for today’s younger viewers, Cage is perhaps better known as an internet meme – “Not the bees!” – than for his sterling acting work.  Today his truly great films are few and far between, but Cage himself is never less than extraordinary.  I struggle to think of a single film in which Cage phones in his performance, even when the film is clearly beneath his talents.  Also, and this is relevant to Tijuana, I am always fascinated to see which hairpiece Cage brings to a role; a conservative hairpiece often indicates Cage’s greater commitment to a character, especially when paired with a mustache.
Back in my screenwriting days, I once worked on a screenplay which, last I heard, the producer had earmarked for Cage.  As of this writing, nothing has come of the project, although I understand Cage remains interested.  Should it ever see the light of day, I suspect it will be the kinda movie of which Nicolas Cage memes are made.  And the hairpiece promises to be spectacular.

Getting back to your daughter for a second: I’m sure that you, as a devotee of B movies, action cinema, and just trash cinema in general, will want to share your enthusiasms with your child.  Any plans on where to start when she’s old enough?  Do you have a kind of movie watching syllabus planned for her?

It remains to be seen if she’ll even like this kinda stuff; her mother only barely tolerates it.  But just sitting on my knee in front of the idiot box, the kid’s already seen some pretty hardcore stuff, even if she is just reacting to the moving lights and not Steven Seagal snapping some motherfucker’s arm.
Early Spielberg’s ‘Truck and Shark’ period, including Raiders, seems like a good place to start.  (Stevie once worried about being typed as a director of ‘truck and shark’ pictures.  I’d happily be known as a ‘truck and shark’ writer.)
Then, around the time she starts teething, I’ll begin introducing John Carpenter and Joel Silver into the mix.  I’ll be disappointed, and know I’ve failed in my fatherly duties, if she isn’t quoting Goodfellas by the time she’s toddling.
“I spy, with my little eye, something beginning with—”
“H!  Is that a fucking helicopter following us?”

You are, I must say, a writer who really makes me laugh as I read.  I’m sure many of your readers feel the same way.  A question I’ve been meaning to ask you, in all seriousness: Who are the writers who’ve made you laugh the most?

The funniest book I’ve read recently remains Johnny Shaw’s Big Maria.  Clearly I share Shaw’s lowbrow humor, but the opening chapter, in which hapless Harry Schmittburger ruminates on how different his life might have been if his name wasn’t so easily bastardized into Harry ‘Shitburger,’ had me crying with laughter.
In the horror field, there’s Jeff Strand.  Another very funny man.  And judging by his social media presence – never met him personally – Strand seems to be as funny in real life as he is on the page.
Who else?  In comics, there’s Garth Ennis; in screenwriting, there’s Shane Black (whose ‘buddy’ repartee remains the gold standard for smartass banter) and early Tarantino.  I watched From Dusk Till Dawn again recently for first time in years, and the opening liquor store dialogue between Michael Parks and John Hawkes still cracks me up.  “That kid belongs under a circus tent, not flipping burgers.”
My sense of humour is pretty dark – no shit, right – so often the blackest of material elicits a good chuckle from me.  The kind of so-wrong stuff that Dave Keaton writes, like What’s Worst?  And the sting in the tale at the end of your own Graveyard Love.  Sometimes it’s hard to separate a writer’s work from their online presence, so I’ll read something bleak as hell like Ed Kurtz’s brilliant The Rib From Which I Remake the World, and, imagining Ed’s little sadsack mug, I’ll be cackling away.

I can’t help but ask this to wrap up, because I am curious: What’s next on the horizon writing wise for you?

I’m hoping it’s gonna be One Tough Bastard.  That one’s my white whale.  The length of time I’ve spent on that project, should it ever see the light of day, I’m sure people will say, “THIS is what took you so long?”  But I’m determined to write the fucking thing.  The lead character – washed-up 80s action star Shane Moxie – is just too much fun not to share with people.
I’m about to begin a collaboration with James Newman, an occult thriller (for want of a better categorization) called Scapegoat.  The idea began as a riff on the Warren Oates / Peter Fonda versus Satanists flick, Race With The Devil; Newman and I have since added a bunch of other influences including John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness, Kevin Smith’s Red State, Robin Hardy’s The Wicker Man (not the Cage version!), Stephen King’s Children of the Corn, Wrestlemania III.  It’s a hell of an idea, and Newman’s enthusiasm for the project has really lit a fire under me.
Beyond that, on my writing slate is a Depression-era bare-knuckle boxing pulp piece that’s a mix of Walter Hill’s Hard Times (my favourite Chuck Bronson performance) and a gritty Joe Lansdale story called The Pit… A mobsters versus pirates yarn called Badabing! and a Bottle of Rum… A crime/horror hybrid I’m collaborating on with Adam Cesare… And as I’ve threatened, maybe even a third (and final?) Reggie Levine misadventure; depends on how Tijuana Donkey Showdown is received.  The fuck am I gonna find time for it all? 
But as I’ve said, I’m at the mercy of my muse, so there’s no telling which one of these stories wants to be written first.  I’m interested to find out myself.

Reggie Levine, ex-boxer turned bouncer, and hapless hero, has barely recovered from his ordeal in Damn Dirty Apes, when he is called back to action. Recruited to a retrieve a Chinese crested terrier from a fleapit roadside zoo, where the ugly effing showdog has been mistaken for the chupacabra, Reggie finds himself embroiled in a deadly criminal conspiracy involving neo-Nazi drug smugglers, a seedy used-car salesman, a wannabe serial killer, an ornery Vietnam veteran, a badass veterinarian, a freakishly endowed adult entertainment donkey named Enrique, and in an explosive cameo, an Academy Award winning Hollywood icon.

Tijuana Donkey Showdown is scheduled for release December 9th.  You can preorder the digital or paperback version here.

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