Interview with Thomas Pluck

I am a big fan of Thomas Pluck. He has a style that manages to be right up in your face and nasty without being Offensive. Well not offensive to me. Pluck is a an active advocate for the rights of abuse survivors and the prosecution of the abusers. His work with Protect included an anthology that sent all the profits directly in to campaigning for the betterment of all. One phrase from the introduction of that book has stuck with me. There are only two numbers you need to know about abuse. One victim is too many, and zero is the only acceptable number of victims.

I’ll stop waffling now and pass you over to the talented Mr Pluck.

Q. I have to start by asking you about Protect. what do they do, how did you get involved and more importantly how can other people help?

PROTECT is the only lobby in Washington entirely dedicated to the protection of children. To use their own words, “PROTECT is a bipartisan pro-child, anti-crime lobby whose sole focus is making the protection of children a top political and policy priority at the national, state and local levels.” And they get results, they fight to have their laws funded, which is the hard part. Politicians love to pass a showy law named after a victim and then never implement it due to “austerity.” The PROTECT crew doesn’t let them get away with it. The best way to help is to join then with a donation at — but you can also fund them by purchasing Protectors: Stories to Benefit PROTECT, with stories from 41 authors including George Pelecanos, Andrew Vachss, Ken Bruen, Roxane Gay, Ray Banks, Joe Lansdale, Charles de Lint and many more.

Q. How would you describe your writing style and what shaped this style?

I call my style “unflinching fiction with heart.” I won’t compare myself with the great Daniel Woodrell, but I like that he calls his work “dramatic fiction,” despite the reviewers tag of country noir. Because it’s just about “people doing people things,” which often leads to violence, either physical or emotional. I have no problem with being called a crime writer or a pulp writer. Both those genres are about big emotions and turbulent storms in the sea of life. So that’s fine with me. What shaped it? My favorite writers early on were Harlan Ellison, Stephen King, Andrew Vachss, Lawrence Block, James Lee Burke. But I also read all the Judy Blume books at the library. What they have in common is emotional punch. As for voice, I grew up at a kitchen table full of storytellers. Truck drivers, sailors, mechanics, bartenders, hairdressers, bikers, rock musicians and waitresses. Working people have their own patter, a rhythm to our speech. Our own kind of after dinner showmanship, and those stories from my family have influenced me more than anything else.

Q. It was through Beat To A Pulp that I really started to enjoy your work. How would you say modern pulp compares to the older stuff, and why should we read it?

First we have to define pulp. Which I won’t do. It’s like defining noir. Noir’s actually a small subset, but we use it to mean all kinds of dark and violent fiction. When I hear pulp, I don’t think badly written, I think wildly imaginative. My first novel is pulp. There is just as much emotion and drama as there is action and intrigue. I call it pulp because it puts real people into outrageous situations, like your wheelchair-bound grandfather fighting it out with ninjas. I think e-books are the paperback originals of today. Pulp is now bytes. And I think the quality if anything has gone up. And why should you read it? Because it’s a blast, and just like the old pulps, writers can get away with subversive stuff. We mock Mandingo today but if you wrote it like Gone with the Wind no one would publish it. I wouldn’t call Vachss pulp, but if he exposed the brutal reality of child abuse outside of the crime genre he would never have been published. Pulp is like Robocop: it’s fun and exciting, and there’s often a razor sharp streak of social commentary in there if you care to look for it.

Q. Although there are guns and shooting in your stories there tends to be a lot more up close and personal violence. Is this a deliberate choice or just what feels natural to you?

Guns kind of bore me. If I put a gun in a story it will be terrifying and there will be consequences beyond the shooter’s intent. We like to think of them as magic wands that end arguments and only hurt what we want, but they are controlled explosions that fire a blunt projectile at such speed that it tears through living flesh. Look at JFK, 50 years later no one wants to believe a single bullet could zig zag through him like a finger through pink gelatin. But that’s what bullets do, they are unpredictable. To me, guns are too mechanical and distant for proper revenge. If you want to assassinate or fight, guns are great. Best thing for it. But I find infighting much more emotionally satisfying. If someone killed your mother, would you rather shoot the bastard or stomp his face to jelly? I’d probably go for a strangle. Then I’d have to remember it every time I looked at my hands.

Q. I keep asking when your novel will be out and you’ve said in the autumn this year. What is it about and why should we buy it?

In Blade of Dishonor, ‘Rage Cage’ Reeves is an MMA fighter who comes home from Afghanistan to find his grandfather, a veteran of the second world war, embroiled in a centuries-old battle for a lost Japanese sword. It takes you from the American heartland to the battlefields of Europe to underground fighting in Japan. You’ll mix it up with the Devil’s Brigade, cage fighters, a hot rodding redhead ambulance driver, modern samurai and yakuza. It’s the ’80s movie I never got to see, Big Trouble in Little China meets Commando and Vanishing Point.

Q. The Zombie Apocalypse is here. You can have one vehicle and one weapon. What would you choose?

I think these things out too much. Fuel capacity and mileage, all that. I figure when the Zeds come we’re all gonna get eaten, so I’ll go out enjoying myself. a ’71 Hemi Challenger with a full auto street sweeper shotgun. That or a belt-fed grenade launcher on the roof. I’m kind of a Mad Max kinda guy.

Q. You’re stuck on a desert island with only five books to read. Which ones would you want them to be?

The Hunter, by Richard Stark. The Stand, by Stephen King. I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream, by Harlan Ellison. A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole. And To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee.

Thomas Pluck writes unflinching fiction with heart. His work has appeared in The Utne Reader, Needle: A Magazine of Noir, Burnt Bridge, PANK Magazine, McSweeney’s, The Morning News, Beat to a Pulp, and numerous anthologies. He is the editor of Protectors: Stories to Benefit PROTECT.

STEEL HEART: Ten Tales of Crime and Suspense, is available from all e-book retailers, and his debut novel BLADE OF DISHONOR, an action thriller spanning Shogun-era Japan to World War 2 and the present, will be released in 2013. You can find him on the web at and Twitter as @tommysalami


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