From the Blog
Alec Cizak’s book of elegant yet totally kick-ass crime stories, Crooked Roads, is freaking out!
This collection features tales by Mr. Cizak previously published in such journals and magazines as Beat to a Pulp, All Due Respect, Thuglit, Shotgun Honey, Dark Corners, A Twist of Noir, Powder Burn Flash, A Twist of Noir, Grift. Alec Cizak is a writer and filmmaker from Indianapolis. He recently completed post-production on his third feature film, Kato Therapy. He is also the editor of the fiction journal Pulp Modern.
Lucky for us, and you readers, Alec is a pretty interesting guy and not afraid to speak his mind. He recently stopped by the All Due Respect Books headquarters in Modesto, California for a chat with co-publisher Mike Monson.
“What is this shit?” Cizak said as he stood in the doorway of Monson’s office.
“Oh, hi!” Monson said. “Alec Cizak! Wonderful. Wonderful.”
Monson got up from his desk chair to shake Cizak’s hand. Cizak didn’t move. In fact, he backed away a step, into the hallway.
“I said,” Alec said, “what is this shit?” He waved his right arm, in a way to show he was not only talking about Monson’s office, but the entire building as well.
Monson sat back down. “What do you mean?”
“You told me we’d be meeting at the All Due Respect Books headfuckingquarters,” Cizak said. “This is just some shitty apartment.”
“In a shitty fucking town. Modesto? Jesus Christ.”
“But you see, Alex, we—“
“And who is that hot MILF out in the living room? The one sitting on the couch wearing lingerie, furiously rolling joints? Surrounded by cats?”
“Rebecca. You know, she’s one of our cover designers.”
“Yeah. She does all the covers for my books.”
“The ones with all the crazy colors and mixed-up composition?”
“Well … yes.”
“Not surprised. Looks like a freaking stoner did those designs. Jesus. Well, that’s cool, I guess.”
“Look, I know this isn’t very impressive.”
“No, it’s not. It’s a hole. And it smells like cat shit. And weed.”
“Dude, keep your voice down.”
“Huh?” Cizak said this loudly, while finally walking into the room.
“We swore to the manager of this place we weren’t smoking in here. Told her it was sage. That we needed it for religious ceremonies.”
“Fine. I’m cool.” Cizak looked around for a place to sit. “Can we just get this over with? I want to get out of this town as soon as possible. I drove in here I couldn’t believe I was still in California. It’s like the worst parts of Texas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas all rolled together.”
“I know. It’s great, isn’t it?”
Cizak just stared at Monson. He looked around the room for a place to sit. Besides Monson’s desk and chair the only furniture was a disheveled bed. Almost every other available space was taken up by acoustic and electric guitars, guitar cases, ukuleles, and amps.
“Go ahead, sit,” Monson said. He pointed to the bed.
Cizak gave Monson another disgusted glance, shoved aside a blonde Telecaster and an old black Epiphone Les Paul and sat on the bed. At the very edge. He kept his hands in front of him.
“Look, Alec,” Monson said. “I know this doesn’t look like much—“
“You got that right.”
“But, you know, we just started out. All our money from book sales is going right back into the company, not being wasted on fancy offices and facilities. You can understand that, right?”
“Whatever, let’s just get this over with, okay.”
“Sure, Mr. Cizak, sure. “
Monson opened a document on his computer. Turned back to Cizak.
“How old are you?
“Age is just a number, right?”
“Right. So what’s yours?
“I see. Okay. Great. Where were you born?”
I was born in the geographical center of the universe, Indianapolis, Indiana.
Where did you grow up?
Same – Specifically, the Butler-Tarkington area. That’s my turf, including the university – the fucking Butler rent-a-cops better recognize that shit when I’m in town visiting!
What is your educational background?
Took me eight years to get my B.A. in English cause I was busy having fun. I have an M.A. in English from the University of Indianapolis that I am VERY proud of, and an MFA from the shithole of the universe, Minnesota State University at Mankato—I fucking hate that school more than anything else, including rodents and the New England Patriots.
What kinds of jobs have you had?
I’ve been a teacher for most of this century. Before that I worked a couple dozen different jobs including taxi driver, delivery truck driver, and driver for air pollution control. In other words, I did a lot of driving when I was younger.
Where do you live now?
I live in Florida, but probably not for much longer.
Why is that?
None of you business, Monson.
Okay, fine. Where else have you lived?
I’ve lived in Los Angeles and Minnesota.
I lived there eight years while I was trying to convince Hollywood to give a cornfed motherfucker from Indiana half a chance. Didn’t work. As mentioned, I lived in Minnesota while I was a member of an MFA cult at MNSU.
Why do you call the MFA program a cult?
I don’t know if other MFA programs operate like a cult, but the one I attended certainly did. Early in my time with the cult, I suggested Jennifer Egan might not be Jesus. A woman who’d been with the cult a year longer than me took me aside to “correct” me. She said, “Egan’s book just won the Pulitzer. You can’t criticize something that’s been so officially published as that.” She went on to describe the world of literary fiction as a “thing” that the other members of the cult were all “trying to get in to,” as though it were some sort of mafia. This made no sense to me, having been published for many years before I joined the cult. The idea that something could not be critiqued simply because a “real” publisher had published it seemed ludicrous. What I eventually discovered was that the cult was designed to make everyone write exactly alike. This explains why most of the writing in “literary” journals is pluck-your-own-eyes-out boring and why nobody who writes “literary” fiction pays their bills writing, they HAVE to teach. The good news is that a lot of the twenty-something millenials enrolling in MFA programs these days grew up reading Harry Potter and they are not so bigoted against the more interesting genres of fiction.
When did you first want to be a writer and why?
I was told I was a writer when I was a kid so as to avoid hearing people call me a liar. I wrote my first ‘official’ story when I was in the 4th grade. It was about a mad scientist who trains a tree how to rob banks. I suppose crime fiction was inevitable…
Why do you like to write crime?
I like to write about people and things that make polite society nervous. Too many people are comfortable, they don’t realize the majority of the world has to scrap every day to survive. Plus, without giving too much away, I spent a lot of time with criminals when I was younger.
So is that what you call what you write, crime?
Yeah, duh. What would you call it?
Right, crime. Crime works.
I don’t mind calling it crime. I do get tired of having to explain that crime fiction is not the same thing as mystery.
Right, I know what you mean. I don’t even like mysteries that much you know? In a lot of my books, uh—
Hey! Dude? Who’s interview is this? Yours or mine?
Uh, yours of course.
Then shut the fuck up and ask me another question. Jesus.
Okay, sure, sorry. What books/stories have you published?
Well, everything in CROOKED ROADS has been published in various journals and anthologies. My novella MANIFESTO DESTINATION was published several times. I’m a little embarrassed by that book now, so I doubt it will be published again. I’ve had some poems published here and there, though I don’t think I’m a very good poet. I’ve also had some “literary” pieces published, though I doubt that’s a genre I’ll pursue in the future.
What are your ambitions as a writer?
I’d actually like to write horror. That’s what interested me as a kid. The only books I read when I was young were by Stephen King and anything similar. It wasn’t until I took writing classes in college that I was told such writing is considered “trash,” that no “serious” writer would ever pursue such a genre. It’s taken me a long time to get over that, to recognize my own limitations. I put down “literary” fiction quite a bit and it’s probably because I don’t have the sort of intelligence required to write it. I like stories, I like stories where things happen. The reason I haven’t written more horror is that I believe it is the most difficult genre to work in. If a story does not scare me while I’m writing it, it surely won’t scare any readers. Because the real world has gotten so royally fucked up since the century turned, it’s difficult to think up anything scarier than what’s happening in reality. You want horror? Just watch the news. To paraphrase Ray Bradbury, those folks will travel the globe to find a dead body for you to look at on your television…
You are also a film maker, right? what is that all about? Do you have a new movie coming out soon?
I’ve been making movies since I was about eighteen. I started writing screenplays when I was in my early 20s because, honestly, they’re easier to write than fiction and I have lazy tendencies. A couple of my scripts have been produced by other people and ruined because I didn’t have complete control. I recently completed postproduction on my third feature film, KATO THERAPY. I used a cheap camera and an absolutely shitty microphone and the result is the film is not as good as it could be. However, I can take responsibility for the failure of this particular film, so I don’t feel as bad about it. I recently purchased a new, better camera and will buy a new microphone and hopefully shoot another zero-budget feature before the summer is over.
Favorite writers? Books?
Well, there’s Stephen King, as I mentioned. When I was in junior high, I really cut my teeth by imitating him. In high school I started to read PKD. At some point I decided I wanted to impress some rich kids I knew from South Bend, so I started reading stuff like Camus and Kafka, which is highfalutin, but entertaining regardless. I didn’t really learn to LOVE reading until I finished my undergrad work. Once I got to choose what I read, it was much more enjoyable. The book that started me on that journey was Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer. That’s a book I still read once every few years. Around that same time I started reading Bukowski. This was great stuff because I had just sobered up and Bukowski showed me that I wasn’t the only person who’d ever gone through a self-destructive period like that and that it’s perfectly okay to write whatever the fuck you want to write. When I moved to L.A., I started reading Chandler and Hammett. The big ah-ha moment came, however, when I picked up Jim Thompson’s POP. 1280 at the Mystery Bookstore in Westwood (R.I.P.). Thompson showed me that crime fiction is much more than cats solving mysteries. I realized then I could write about stuff I saw when I was younger, hanging out with “undesirables.”
Please tell us more about your highly regarded journal Pulp Modern.
Pulp Modern is an ever-evolving phenomenon. This is probably because I rushed into publishing an ambitious journal when I may not have been ready for such a responsibility. So the idea was to have a print journal with all the major pulp genres (except romance, only because there’s no way I could determine what’s a good romance story and what isn’t). That worked for a little while, but folks got bored with it. I just about gave up and then decided maybe if each issue had a theme, that might focus me and the writers a little better. Gradually, things have gotten much better for Pulp Modern. Each issue is better than the previous and, since I caved in to the kindle crowd, I now sell about two books a day.
How did the collection Crooked Roads come about?
Chris Rhatigan suggested I put together a collection. He said not to make it themed or have the stories connected, which was good. I tend to write about three different locations (L.A., Indianapolis, and the fictional town of Haggard, Indiana), so I didn’t have enough of any one location to make a connected collection. I worked on the order of stories and which ones would be included, etc., on a mini-vacation to Seattle in the fall. In an odd way, because the stories are so different, they do connect. I think the collection begins with the idea of bad decisions made by individuals and ends with the idea of bad decisions made by groups of people (i.e., the decision to prolong the Vietnam war, the decision to find the officers in L.A. innocent in the Rodney King case, and the decision by some rich kids to hassle a homeless person, all of which are discussed in the last story in the collection).
What is next? More stories? Novel? Movies? All three?
I am currently working on a Drifter Detective novella for Beat to a Pulp. I will go immediately from that into writing the script for my next movie. After that, I don’t know. Like I said, someday I want to write horror.
What is your day job, if you have one.
Right now I am a substitute teacher as I look for a university job with my amazing MFA degree!
Where do you fit into the world of publishers and writers? Do you want to keep with being an indie type and publishing at places like All Due Respect or do you have ambitions to get an agent and go mainstream and all that shit?
I would LOVE to be a mainstream writer! Unfortunately, the mainstream is quite ‘soft,’ as far as I’m concerned. I think I write from the point of view of an individual and individuals have basically become an endangered species. You want proof of this? Listen to the masses giggle at any suggestion of the individual being endangered, that’s their defense mechanism against realizing they are incapable of producing independent thought. So, long story short, I’m going to die independent. And probably homeless as well!
What do you want your readers to get from your stories? Anything? Do you think about that?
Stanley Kubrick once said that form and function don’t have to be separate. I never set out to have a “message” when I write a story, but such things emerge as the story evolves. I hope that my stories are first entertaining and then, upon closer examination, maybe a little thought-provoking. It’s dangerous, though. I read tons of customer reviews on Amazon where people say, “I just want to be entertained!” You have to fly any messages in under the radar. That’s one of the things, I believe, that makes genre fiction superior to “literary” fiction. Rod Serling demonstrated it quite clearly with The Twilight Zone. I like to be more subtle, but the basic idea is to give the audience the old bread and circus, and then later, hopefully, their minds nag them a little bit and they come back to a story for more readings and, even more hopefully, the story yields more and more with each reading.
What is the dumbest thing you’ve ever heard about writer and or writers?
The dude who used to run the Bottle Shop on 49th and Illinois in Indianapolis, he once refused to hire me to work in his liquor store because he said, “Writers don’t like to work.” All I’ve ever fucking done in my life is work. I was throwing papers when I was nine years old and I haven’t stopped working since then. Writers who don’t have shit to write about, they may not work, but the writers I know and respect, they all fucking work. That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard about writers. A lot of old folks have some very outdated ideas about publishing. One of the professors at the MFA cult I attended said that anyone who self-publishes will never have a chance at a writing career. While I don’t personally self-publish, I think with big time publishers making themselves more and more irrelevant to writers, self-publishing might very well be the future of the industry. Technology and the Internet have fucked up just about every creative industry. There’s absolutely no reason to believe the publishing models of just twenty years ago having anything to do with publishing today.