Today we welcome Les Edgerton.
Book ‘Em: Tell us about you and your life outside of writing.
Les Edgerton: Actually, I have no life outside of writing. I write seven days a week and haven’t taken a day off for many years. When I’m not writing, I’m reading so in truth I’m always writing as reading is a big part of my craft.
Book ‘Em: Which books have you written? What are they about and why did you choose to write them? Do your books have a message? Are they fiction or nonfiction?
Les Edgerton: I have 20 books in print at this date with several more forthcoming this and next year. I write on a variety of subjects, both fiction and nonfiction, about such material as writing craft books, sports books, business books, novels on noir, crime and the outlaw life, coming-of-age novels and a memoir. I’m an ex-con and was an outlaw for many years and much of my material comes from my own experiences. If any of my books have a message I’d try to take them off the market. As Samuel Goldwyn told a screenwriter who brought him a preachy script, “Don’t bring me a message, son. Western Union does messages and much better than anyone else. Just bring me a good story.” (Paraphrased badly) I agree with that philosophy and take pride that I’m a storyteller.
Book ’em: Do you have a work in progress?
Les Edgerton: I have several in progress. I try to keep roughly ten pieces of work going all the time, including novels, short stories, articles, non-fiction work, etc.
Book ‘Em: What was the most difficult section/piece you ever wrote? What made it difficult?
Les Edgerton: Probably my novel, The Rapist. It exhausted me emotionally and physically. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to write another book that drained me so much. The best writers strive to get to that dark place we all have inside that we hide from everyone, including ourselves, and that was this book for me. It has little to do with rape and that’s not what I’m referring to, but it has everything to do with humanity and not on a surface level, but a much deeper, human level.
Book ‘Em: What sort of research do you do for your work?
Les Edgerton: I live life. I’ve had a rich life and use it to inform my work. I’ve been a gambler, a pimp, an outlaw, a burglar, armed robber, drug user and dealer, did time in what then-President Johnson called “the single worst prison in the U.S.”, in Pendleton, been involved in shootouts, knifings, many fights, been homeless, been wealthy, been one of the top hairstylists in the U.S., served in the Navy for four years during the Cuban Crisis and beginning of Viet Nam, been a porn star, gone to bed with over 1,000 women, been married 5 times, earned a B.A. from Indiana University and an MFA in Writing from Vermont College, taught writing for UCLA, the University of Toledo, Writer’s Digest, Phoenix College, Tri-State University, St. Francis University, Vermont College and others and currently teach an online novel-writing class from which over two dozen class members have published their novels, and a bunch of other things. I have enough material for another 30-40 novels but won’t live that long.
Book ‘Em: Which books and authors do you read for pleasure? Is there an author that inspires you?
Les Edgerton: I read many, many writers. I read an average of 3-4 novels a week and have for many years. I won’t list them all as I know I’ll leave someone out, but the three books that have inspired me the most are Albert Camus’ The Stranger, Harry Crews, A Feast of Snakes, and Guillermo O’Joyce’s First Born of an Ass.
Book ‘Em: Was there a person who encouraged you to write?
Les Edgerton: Not initially. In fact, my father used to whip me and berate me whenever he saw me writing or reading. In a way, I guess he was my inspiration—anything that would piss him off was something I wanted to do.
Book ‘Em: What would you say are your strengths as an author?
Les Edgerton: Not going to give any politically correct or falsely humble answers here. For starters, I’m a genius (I.Q. 163) and see things most folks don’t or can’t. Like Hemingway, I have a built-in bullshit detector and that means I know what’s boring and how to avoid it. Like in any other endeavor in life, some are just naturally good at some things and I was very good at writing at an early age. In my first story collection, Monday’s Meal, are two stories I wrote as a 12-year-old and a 13-year-old and I was compared by the NY Times for that book to Raymond Carver. Barry Bonds was once asked by a sports writer how he was able to hit a particular home run the way he did and he refused, telling the guy that he couldn’t explain it to the guy and if he could the guy couldn’t do it and he was right. There are some things certain individuals can do and they are things that can’t be taught or achieved by others. You may not find my work palatable because of your social beliefs or acculturalization but I don’t think many can say it’s boring. My strength as an author is to strive with everything I have to never be boring.
Book ‘Em: How often do you write, and do you write using a strict routine?
Les Edgerton: I write every day. It’s my life and it’s my job. I get up at 6 or 7, and sit at my computer all day until my wife comes home. We eat at six and I go back and work another hour and then go to bed. Next day, same thing. I rarely eat breakfast or lunch as I don’t want to take time from writing, but I drink coffee all day long. Until recent spinal surgery I smoked constantly as well but now have quit.
Book ‘Em: Five years from now, where do you see yourself as a writer?
Les Edgerton: Realistically… room temperature. I’m 75 and as far as I know, no one’s ever gotten out of life alive. I don’t anticipate setting any records there. If I’m still above-ground and not senile I’ll just be writing.
Book ‘Em: If you could offer one piece of advice to a novice writer, what would it be?
Les Edgerton: If you want a comfortable, safe life, don’t become a writer. If those things don’t matter, then the best advice I can think of is what Jim Harrison said to the same question. Read the whole of Western literature for the past 400 years and then, if life permits, read the same amount of Eastern literature. For if you don’t know what passed for good in the past, how will you know what passes for good now? Reading is how we learn to write well.
Book ‘Em: What would you consider the best compliment a reader could give your book?
Les Edgerton: When a truly good writer says, “I wish I’d written that.”
Book ‘Em: Provide an excerpt of your writing that you would like to share with our members.
Les Edgerton: From Just Like That:
“Boles,” I said. I could see the fear in his eyes.
“I didn’t snitch you out, man,” he said, laying the book down on the desk in front of him and stepping back. He moved kind of stiff-like, and I guess I would, too, I had that many holes in me.
“I know. I couldn’t be here if you had, could I.”
I pulled out my knife.
“Why you gonna do this?”
“You know why.”
He took another step back and was up against the wall. I started toward him.
“Oh, man.” His voice broke. He put his hands up, palms facing me and began edging along the wall toward the door. “Man, you’re safe. I’m not going to tell who shanked me. If I was gonna tell I would have already done it. I’m sorry for what I did to you. We’re even. Don’t you see we’re even?”
In a way, he was right. I’d had the same thought myself. The pain I’d put him through almost certainly matched what he’d done to me. In one way the score was settled.
I didn’t even feel the same anger I had when he’d raped me. The day I’d shanked him up on the laundry roof it had disappeared, vanishing a little bit with every hole I put in him until it was all gone. There was no revenge left in my heart, none at all. It was just pure-d empty of everything, all malice.
I walked over to him and he just stood there. I don’t think his knees would let him move. His eyes told me that. I stopped inches from him. His hands went down to his sides.
“You won’t talk? Ever?”
“Oh, man! No! I swear t’God! You’re safe, man. I just want to do my time, get the fuck out of here, that’s all.”
I believed him. I could hear it in his voice.
“You don’t even know my name, do you?” I said.
“No.” He was telling the truth.
“My name’s Jake Mayes,” I said. Then I stabbed him. Who knows why? Just like that. It started in easy enough, then hit something solid so that I had to push harder on the handle before it went all the way in. I looked him in the eyes the whole time. It seemed like it lasted for hours, us standing there, and his eyes changed, just the least little bit, in realization of what was happening, I guess, and his eyelids started to quiver like he was trying to keep from blinking, as if once he blinked it was all over, and then all the bones just seemed to go out of his face. I reached up with my other hand, grabbed his shirt and eased him on down to the floor. His eyes were still open. He hadn’t blinked but he was dead.
Link to my blog where all of my books are listed with links to Amazon. At www.lesedgertononwriting.blogspot.com/
Thank you very much for this opportunity! I appreciate it.