BITE HARDER gives us an unlikely antihero, Dean Drayhart, a paraplegic serial killer. Drayhart’s mission in life is to find and render justice to hit-and-run drivers who have left behind their dead victims. His cohorts include Cinda, a fearless, fast-driving girlfriend, and Sid, the helper monkey—Drayhart’s secret weapon. But Drayhart’s quest for cosmic retribution goes one dead body too far when he deservedly slays the son of a Mexican drug king, make that queen—the beautiful and evil Orella—and this bereaved mother has her claws out for our hero in the wheelchair. Anonymous-9 delivers a story that slaps you silly with humor, action, and poignancy as it careens in a hyper-kinetic narrative fueled by rich, high-octane prose.
You have taken on quite a challenge with this story. The protagonist is a paraplegic, which itself can be a difficult subject to read. And you’ve added plenty of details of what life with that disability can be like. Then you’ve made him a renegade who takes the law into his own hands. On top of that, you’ve heaped tons of humor on the dark moments. Given that, what made you write this book?
Aw, thanks. I wrote the kind of book I want to read. I can lose patience with a slow-moving plot or lack of character engagement very quickly. A story needs to grab me in the first sentence—it better be fresh and it’s gotta have a hook. I need a plot loaded with situations and dialogue I haven’t seen before. I want to care deeply about unique characters. I want to laugh, cry, and feel. When it came time to write my own book, it had to have all this and more.
Your prose was so vivid. Even in the middle of wild action, I could follow the moves no matter how out-of-control the choreography seemed. What’s your secret?
My secret? Never let the POV go fuzzy. Every sentence drives the POV road, even if it’s breaking the speed limit.
Sid the helper monkey was a great character. I liked how you presented him without letting him get too cute or lose his monkeyness. How much did you research about these monkeys? And how easy would it be to train one to be such a badass mini-goon as Sid?
I watched hours of video on capuchin monkeys and studied training videos from Monkey College. I’m also close to animals in real life. The more you love them and listen to them the more they care about what you’re trying to say to them. My animals all talk to me and treat me with respect. I give the same back. An intelligent creature like Sid would pick up training in a heartbeat. If the owner is homicidal, that’s what he’ll become, too.
The plot had a lot of texture and was layered with a lot of complications. How did you keep track of so many moving parts? This leads to a question about your writing process? Plotter or pantser?
Plotter/pantser hybrid. The better I know my characters the more I can outline. The first book, HARD BITE, was a total flying blind, organic pantser effort. Outlining is faster and more efficient but it can lead to pushing characters around on the page rather than characters taking authentic action, seemingly of their own accord. I’ve had to develop an ability to distinguish between the fully fleshed story in my head and what’s there or not there on the page. Ever give someone pages to read and surprise! they’re underwhelmed? Me too. It may be that it’s not their genre or not their taste but more often it’s because the story is still in my head, not fully or clearly on the page.
You kept the plot turning with some outlandish twists, as when Cinda disguises her car as a promotional float for a desperate and aspiring model. That detail was ridiculous yet also very L.A. as you described it so it worked. You managed to keep the narrative switching from the tragic to humor and back to tragic. Done clumsily, such shifts in mood can deflate the tension, yet you managed to stoke the suspense with each dramatic beat. Where and how did you learn this?
To paraphrase Mary Poppins, a spoonful of laughter makes the tragedy go down. Not a lot of people will sit still for an unending veil of tears. In terms of pace, I bore easily and nothing is more boring than unending action with nothing about the interior landscape of characters. So I set a very fast pace and as action flies by, load it with plenty of characterization.
Probably because it’s who I am inside.
What’s your writing schedule? What are your daily writing goals?
Hello? Schedule? Goals? I can sit for hours waiting for energy and concentration to come to a boil. When the flashpoint strikes I seize the day, refuse phone calls and emails, don’t allow myself to go out, refuse work, and when hungry, troll for condiments on crackers. When my neck and back start to ache I’ll switch to longhand, perhaps lying down. I keep going and don’t revise while I’m on a creation streak, getting as many scenes and plot ideas down as I can before concentration breaks. I can do three 15-hour days in a row and then usually have to stop because the real world is calling and it won’t go away.
Does your experience as a competitive debater help with writing novels?
It helps with the thinking. In debate competitions you don’t get to choose which side you defend or prosecute. You may be given an outré philosophical subject like, “Should we execute people for stealing?” and find that you have to argue for the executions. It is your duty to argue and reason for whatever side to the best of your ability no matter how you feel personally. This is a terrific test of logic versus emotions and I wish it were a more common exercise these days. Not only do you get more in touch with what you think, but you can develop more empathy for the other side of an issue. We’re in waay too short supply on that today in my opinion.
Why the pseudonym Anonymous-9?
I was afraid some might not appreciate my dark experimental stuff. So I took the name. It stuck.
What’s your next writing project?
I’m crawling to the finish line on a novelette called Dreaming Deep for Uncanny Books. The contract stipulated that I sell Uncanny the property including the plot and characters. It was a total buy-out with half the money paid in advance. Uncanny will hire other writers to pen additional stories for a series. Andrew Byers is the editor. Dreaming Deep is a Lovecraftian sea-monster tale that celebrates the working men and women of the Port of Long Beach. I am very grateful for the kindness and generosity of Captain Gary Smith and others who help me with research every step of the way.
Anonymous-9 is the pen name of Elaine Ash. Although her work is synonymous with Los Angeles, Elaine was born and grew up in Canada. At seven years old her first published work in the church paper won a Temperance Award. It inspired her to take up drinking responsibly at an early age. The pen name Anonymous-9 was invented as a blind for her hard-hitting, experimental short stories. When people liked them, the name stuck. Now a citizen of the United States, she writes in Los Angeles, parties in Texas, and traces her DNA back to Vikings in Scotland.
To learn more, please visit her website.