I’m happy to welcome A.J. Devlin back to Do Some Damage today. We’ve known each other since meeting at Bouchercon in Toronto several years ago. Back then, he was a yet-to-be-published writer. Now he’s an acclaimed, Lefty Award-nominated author whose second novel came out Friday. I’ve been waiting impatiently for it ever since I read the first one in his series. Imagine my delight when I found out it’s about bad-ass roller derby queens.
A.J.’s been compared with Carl Hiaasen, and I couldn’t agree more. Here he is with more on Rolling Thunder. - Claire
By A.J. Devlin
“I’m the Queen!”
“You’re gonna die!”
“Cross my path?”
“You’re gonna fly!”
That is an actual chant used during warm-up by some women’s flat-track roller derby teams, one that I borrowed and utilized in my latest mystery-comedy novel Rolling Thunder.
The first book in the series – Cobra Clutch – is set in the world of independent professional wrestling and tells the story of “Hammerhead” Jed Ounstead, an ex-pro wrestler turned sleuth in Vancouver, looking for a kidnapped pet python being held for ransom.
For Jed’s follow up adventure I wanted to maintain the quirkiness inherit to a fringe sport but also showcase something completely different – which is why it made total sense to me that a wrestler character from the first book could very believably trade in the squared circle for the ferocity of flat-track roller derby. Both pro wrestling and roller derby have a taste for the theatrical, from their monikers to their costumes to the sometimes-brutalizing way in which these amazing athletes punish their bodies.
But there’s something special about roller derby that really sets it apart from anything else – and if I had to boil it down to a couple of words, I would have to say female empowerment. As the father of a particularly spirited five-year-old daughter, I can already imagine my little girl kicking butt and taking names on the flat track, competing in a truly unique and competitive sport while simultaneously celebrating her womanhood. Roller derby – or as the ladies call it, just “derby” – is a punk rock, anti-establishment, counter-culture sport. It features blood, sweat, and tears, but it’s also more than that. In the words of Jack Black from School Of Rock, it’s about “sticking it to the man.” Roller derby is fierce and fun and allows its competitors the freedom to embrace their inner badass while also reaping the benefits of a team sport.
Everything about roller derby is awesome. This is why I layered in as part of the plot for Rolling Thunder a narrative in which some wealthy investors are flirting with commercializing the sport and trying to take it mainstream. Similar to independent professional wrestling, roller derby isn’t about broad appeal or watering down something edgy in order to make it more appealing or palatable to the masses. The sport of roller derby answers to no one – and if you don’t like it then as far as the skaters, coaches, and fans are concerned, you can take a damn hike.
The sport of roller derby also offered a kind of a mirror effect for “Hammerhead” Jed Ounstead, who himself is considered a bit edgy and outside the norm (as an atypical detective). Like roller derby, Jed does things his own way, often ruffles feathers or butts heads with authority figures, and answers to no one but himself. I had a blast writing Jed as he navigated his way through this raucous sport, and it was fun to see him both amid familiar surroundings but also completely out of his element at the same time.
I was incredibly fortunate to have my high school classmate, multimedia journalist, and former skater with the Terminal City Rollergirls of Vancouver not only proof-read but also advise me as I wrote the next chapter in the “Hammerhead” Jed mystery-comedy series. I was quite frankly spoiled by my friend Jenna Hauck – aka “Hydro-Jenna Bomb” – and her incredible insight and feedback. Just knowing that a retired roller derby player of her stature and strong woman and mom of her caliber not only approved of but also liked Rolling Thunder meant the world to me.
While I intend to keep taking “Hammerhead” Jed on new adventures and throwing him into different arenas while continuing to push him out of his comfort zone, there’s nothing quite like the feeling you get when a person who has lived a life in the world in which you’ve done your best to research and are trying to do justice gives you the thumbs up.
Just like independent professional wrestling, women’s flat-track roller derby is a spectacle that needs to be seen to be believed. So, if you get a chance, check out a game if you can, because I guarantee you every woman on the track competing is there for one reason and one reason alone – to embrace and celebrate what makes these warrior women the passionate and powerful people they are.
You can find Rolling Thunder through an independent bookstore at Indiebound, at publisher NeWest Press, or on Amazon.
A.J. Devlin grew up in Greater Vancouver before moving to Southern California for six years where he earned a B.F.A. in Screenwriting from Chapman University and a M.F.A. in Screenwriting from The American Film Institute. COBRA CLUTCH, the first entry in the “Hammerhead” Jed ex-pro wrestler turned PI mystery-comedy series, was nominated for a 2019 Lefty Award for Best Debut Mystery and won the 2019 Arthur Ellis Award for Best First Crime Novel.