Ahoy me hearties!
We’ve just sailed back from the doldrums to catch up with prolific and celebrated author Stone Wallace. Seems his newest crime noir novel just hit the marketplace and we are anxious to interview him about this exciting new crime noir release that is sure to shiver our collective timbers!
We’ll all be wettin’ our pipes with some tasty grog as he joins us at the Captain’s table to regale us of his exploits and tells us about his newest novel ,’REQUIEM FOR A GANGSTER’!
WHEN GOING STRAIGHT GOES SIDEWAYS, EX-CON JOHNNY DARROW FINDS HIMSELF IN A HIGH STAKES FIGHT FOR HIS LIFE!
Johnny Darrow is in a race against time as he finds himself at odds with a boyhood friend turned powerful enemy in a gambit in which his feckless gangster wannabe kid brother becomes a pawn.
“Four chances were all that he’d be given. He would have to make good on each one, and even so the odds were that he was a dead man. He snapped the clip back into the grip and hefted the gun, at the same time feeling a wave of sickness not attributable to the alcohol he’d consumed course through his body. He slid the automatic into his hip pocket, eager to be rid of its cold, unyielding feel – if only for a few minutes. He pulled his jacket right around himself but saw no need to button it. They knew he would be armed.”
Ex-con Johnny Darrow is released from prison intending to go straight. But when he returns to the mean streets of his old neighborhood he quickly discovers that circumstances are against him. Unable to find honest employment and saddled with a reckless younger brother determined to pursue a criminal career as a means to escape his environment, Johnny soon finds himself drawn into a scheme with his gangster pal, Frank Lisanti, which, if successful, will provide him with the cash to solve his problems. However, returning to crime proves a dangerous maneuver as Johnny quickly becomes enmeshed in a web of murder and treachery with his brother becoming the pawn in a deadly game between two boyhood friends turned adversaries. Now on the run, Johnny must somehow extricate his brother from the clutches of Lisanti and his murderous mob while keeping himself free from police capture.
1. What attracted you to the 1940s as the setting for ‘REQUIEM FOR A GANGSTER’?
Actually the 1940s was the prime era of noir. Most of the best films of the genre were produced during that decade and those were movies I fell in love with: Out of the Past, The Killers, Born to Kill, Criss Cross. The character of the movie gangster also underwent a sort of metamorphosis during that time. The 1930 sharp-suited criminal characters of Bogart, Raft and Cagney evolved into a new breed of tough guy, personified by Robert Mitchum, Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas. They were of raw material, replete with neuroses and psychoses, often possessed of a violence that was explicit and sadistic. Consider Richard Widmark in Kiss of Death, Lawrence Tierney in Born to Kill, Robert Ryan in Crossfire, Raymond Burr in Raw Deal and Neville Brand in D.O.A. Five nasty specimens. And we must not overlook the classic and often lethal femme fatale, best exemplified by Barbara Stanwyck in Double Indemnity, Joan Bennett in Scarlet Street, Yvonne DeCarlo in The Killers and Lizabeth Scott in Too Late for Tears.
2. ‘REQUIEM FOR A GANGSTER’ starts out atmospheric, nightmarish and engaging-was that intentional?
Absolutely. As with the best of noir, there seems to be a general feeling of desolation, often desperation, and even hopelessness – I think I make that clear in the opening chapter of the book with Johnny in that hotel room. A happy ending is not always in the cards for the hero of noir. The good guy doesn’t always win out, and if he does, at times it comes at a cost. Noir doesn’t just refer to the dark and shadow-laden cinematography so prevalent in these films but also to the theme of the story and overall mood. I hope I captured that in my novel.
3. Johnny Darrow is a complex protagonist. Which of his qualities make him relatable to readers in your view?
Thank you for saying that. I wanted to construct him in that fashion. Johnny is a guy who can best be defined as a victim of circumstances. His slum upbringing, an alcoholic and brutal father who deserted his family. He was possessed of a restless, resentful and rebellious spirit that led him down the wrong path. His time in prison for a relatively small offense was really the best thing that could have happened to him. He knew upon his release that he wouldn’t necessarily have an easy time on the outside, but he also realized that it was either “make or break” it; he could never do another prison stretch. Unfortunately, circumstances (or the “Fates” as he refers to them) lead him, reluctantly, into an unholy alliance with his old partner – who has become a hardcore criminal with no chance at redemption. Like the Henry Hill character in Goodfellas, his one ambition was to be a gangster.
4. You have written in many genres. How does writing a crime thriller differ from writing a western? Which is your favorite go to genre to read?
Only in terms of the setting and the era. When my Western Montana Dawn came out, a reviewer referred to the title character as a “kind of Western Bonnie Parker”, which she is. I could easily have modified several of my Westerns into modern times and they would have worked as well, I think. Ditto Requiem, which I could re-write into a Western just by adjusting the setting. Outlaws instead of gangsters; sheriffs instead of detectives. In fact, three fine film examples of this are Kiss of Death, remade as an oater as The Fiend Who Walked the West, High Sierra remade as a Joel McCrea Western called Colorado Territory and The Asphalt Jungle which was turned into an Alan Ladd picture called The Badlanders. Replace Winchester rifles and getaway horses with tommy guns and fast-moving automobiles, Stetsons with fedoras, and the story would still be there. As to my favorite genre to read, I enjoy a good Western (Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove is my absolute favorite), but my preference has always been for crime stories. My favorite authors are W.R. Burnett and Mario Puzo. The Godfather is a masterpiece and still my number one favorite read.
5. In your illustrious career you have been an author, interviewer, copywriter, broadcaster and even a boxer! What was your takeaway from your experience as a boxer?
Well, I never went into boxing as a sport per se. My dad passed away when I was 14 and I got into a difficult stage where I was unleashing a lot of aggression – and not in a good way. Certainly not proud of those days. Fortunately, my mom started dating a man – a great guy – who had been a boxer in the navy during World War 2. He noticed my behavioral problems and suggested that boxing might be a more constructive way of letting out my hostilities. Again, it wasn’t an outlet I was actively seeking. But I did get into a club at the YMCA where we trained every Saturday and I found that, yes, it was an effective way for me to release my negative energies. I kept at it in an amateur status for several years and later had the chance to go semi-pro. I didn’t, but some years later I coached boxing for inner-city youth and that proved very rewarding. As you know, I feature a boxing sequence in Requiem for a Gangster. Still love the sport though it’s not how it used to be, sadly. As for what I took away from boxing, as it pertains to writing, definitely discipline – which is very important for the writer. You have to condition yourself to write something each day, just as you would train daily in preparation for a match.
6. Do you feel the heroes and villains are clearly defined in ‘REQUIEM FOR A GANGSTER’?
Definitely. I believe readers will relate to Johnny Darrow in a sympathetic way since his problems, I hope, are identifiable. The antagonist, Frank Lisanti, I believe possesses all the right qualities to make him a very unlikable, even hateful character, a guy of twisted ambition who has an evil, treacherous soul, despite his attempts at an outward shallow charm. Needless to say, because he was so nasty he was fun to write. My main female character, Audrey Crawford, was an interesting character to fashion: Her somewhat unorthodox attraction to Johnny and how a jaded Johnny initially regards her interest with suspicion, and how the relationship develops from there. And Johnny’s kid brother Ray just has an angry and resentful attitude similar to what Johnny had, but the defining of his character is a bit more ambiguous, which is how I intended. I guess to summarize: The white (Johnny). The black (Frank Lisanti) - and the gray (Ray). And of course there’s the cop Lieutenant Tierney who also has a shading of gray to his character, and perhaps with good reason.
7. If this novel was optioned for film, who would you like to see cast in the various roles? In particular, what actor could you see playing Johnny Darrow?
Boy, the actors best suited for the principal roles are no longer with us. But . . . for fans of noir, see if you can recognize the in-jokes I have within the story, pertaining to the names of some of the characters, one of which I already revealed. That will give you an idea of my ideal casting had the book been written back in the day. I sorta figure that with a few years shaved off, Mark Wahlberg would make a good Johnny; Sean Penn as Frank Lisanti (he always has that underlying violence in his characters) . . . and maybe George Clooney as the detective, Tierney.
8. You have interviewed many other celebrities in your career. Tell us about a favorite.
I’ve been so fortunate in that regard. And really, everyone I interviewed was a real gem: kind, polite and accommodating. My first interview was with another tough guy actor, Lloyd Nolan. We began a correspondence that resulted in my visiting him at his home in Brentwood when I was on a trip traveling through California. Actually it never really was intended as an interview per se, but some years later I transcribed the tapes and submitted the print copy to Filmfax, who published it. I conducted Robert Stack’s final interview. He was one of my first heroes: the original Eliot Ness. And he really was a funny guy, which most people might not associate with him. Two noir actors became good friends of mine, both now sadly deceased: Mickey Knox and the lovely Coleen Gray. John Agar was another early movie hero who became a good friend, as did veteran movie heavy Marc Lawrence, with whom I was planning to write a book focusing on his long movie career that began in 1932. Again, not bad for a kid from Winnipeg, Canada.
9. Crime novels are an extremely popular genre. What do you think readers look for in a great crime novel?
I hope they are because I’d love to continue writing them. As for what makes a successful crime novel, one that appeals to readers, definitely you must have characters you can identify with, relate to, be he or she tough or vulnerable – or preferably both. A compelling story line is necessary. Keep the reader turning pages. In that regard I prefer a sparse narrative to a weighty, description-laden one. You know, more the Hemingway style than some other writers whom I won’t name. But again, that’s my personal preference. There are so many variations on the genre which have been mined by the greats like Chandler, Hammett, Cain, Burnett and Mickey Spillane. Robert Parker was another, and he’s a personal favorite since he successfully tackled both crime fiction and Westerns. And the late Elmore Leonard did, as well.
10. What is your best advice for aspiring authors based on your experiences?
Read. Learn. Research. Digest. Inevitably whenever I meet someone who knows I’m a published writer I’m told “I have a terrific story” (I hate it when they add: “For you.” I have enough of my own ideas, thank you). Well, maybe they do have an interesting tale to tell. But my reply is always: “So write it.” “But I don’t know how,” he or she responds. Neither did I in the beginning. I’ve been at this racket for over 30 years, published 20 books among a score of other stuff. But I knew that writing was what I wanted to do so I just began to research. Back in those days we didn’t have the luxury of the internet for quick results so I haunted libraries, reading works by my favorite authors, learning the mechanics of good writing, imitating styles I admired until I found my own voice, and discovering the pros and cons of publishing as a business: the submission process; what’s the best market for your specific story. And also, maybe most importantly, what I discovered early on: You must develop a tough skin and learn to accept rejection, which is always difficult. I had my share of “no’s” when I started out, but I was also lucky to receive some encouragement from publishers who did not merely respond with the dreaded form rejection letter but rather included a personal note telling me that they saw promise in my writing and to keep at it. Persistence is the key. If the talent is there, eventually you’ll find success. Originality is important, too. Look at contemporary Hollywood, so devoid of ideas that it keeps regurgitating the same stuff: remakes, sequels, stupid summer comedies, endless superhero movies. Just keep a realistic expectation. Lightning does strike but it can be a tough business at which to earn a living. If you do make a book sale, hold off on pricing that yacht. One more note: Don’t wait for the muse to provide you with inspiration. Create your own inspiration. My longest and one of my most successful novels came about by my writing just one opening sentence. Didn’t know where that sentence would take me, but gradually it expanded until I completed a nearly 400-page book which became a national bestseller. So again – Just write: something, anything. You never know where it might lead you.
11. What current projects are you working on? What can fans look forward to in 2018-2019?
I’ve completed another horror novel that I’m in the process of polishing. And I’m about three-quarters through another gangster book: The Chicago Boys, a fact/fictional story detailing the power struggle that existed within the Outfit after Capone was sent away to prison for income tax evasion and how the mob tried to muscle into early Hollywood in an attempt to expand its rackets following the repeal of Prohibition. I didn’t want to write a straight history but rather have some fun with it, re-introducing Eliot Ness into the narrative and creating some fictional characters based on real people. And there are the true-life mobsters in the story, such as Frank “The Enforcer” Nitti, “Machine Gun” Jack McGurn, “Greasy Thumb” Jake Guzik, and of course “Scarface” himself. From an early age I’ve always been fascinated by this time in history, and especially the workings of the Chicago underworld during the era. My interest remains so pronounced since boyhood that I sometimes think that I must have lived as a hood during that period.
We bid fair winds and following seas to our intrepid guest Stone Wallace as he parts our company. He certainly is a well-traveled fellow with many tales to tell! If you pick up a copy of his newest release, me hearties, you will get a taste of intrigue and high adventure without having to leave your armchair!
We wish fortune to you and yours as THE WHIMSICAL HERALD heaves ahead!
Until next time,
Patricia Mattern, Mistress of Madness on THE Whimsical Herald
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Mistress of Madness
Well, do you have any idea why a raven is like a writing desk?
Lewis Carroll, in 1897, proposed this answer, "Because it can produce a few notes, though they are very flat; and it is 'never' put with the wrong end in front!" (raven, spelled backward, is nevar aka never...or as we like to say here at TT...never more!)