By Don Helin
Les Edgerton’s novel, THE GENUINE, IMITATION, PLASTIC KIDNAPPING, is a mix of Cajun gumbo, a couple tablespoons of kinky sex, and a dash of unusual New Orleans settings. The reader follows the comic mis-adventures of Pete Halliday, busted out of baseball for a small gambling problem, Tommy LeClerc, a Cajun with a tiny bit of Indian blood who considers himself a “red man,” and Cat Duplaisir, a part-time hooker and full-time waitress. With both the Italian and Cajun mobs after them, a chase through Jazz Fest, a Tourette’s outbreak in a black bar, and other zany adventures, all seems lost.
Les Edgerton has an unconventional background in that he’s an ex-con, having spent a bit over two years in prison for burglary, armed robbery, strong-armed robbery, and possession with intent to sell. He’s since taken a vow of poverty (became a writer) with eighteen books in print.
I had the opportunity to catch up with Les the other day and ask him a few questions.
Is that anything special you’d like to tell us about your novel?
This novel began life as a short story titled, I Shoulda Seen a Credit Arranger published in The South Carolina Review, which was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. I liked the story and the characters so much, I decided to expand it into a novel. I’ve also written a screenplay based on it. The screenplay was named a finalist in both the Writer’s Guild and Best of Austin’s screen writing competitions.
Did any particular event inspire the plot?
While much of my life was spent as an outlaw—did time in prison, etc.—I did have stretches of being a “straight” (regular guy on the street). During one of those periods, I sold life insurance and one of the tenets of that business is a concept called “the million dollars on the kitchen table.” It refers to the mindset that most folks have when they’re being sold a policy. The million dollar policy is just an abstract figure, and it’s a goal for salesmen to move as many of these as possible. The trick of the salesman is to get customers to imagine a million dollars sitting on the kitchen table, rather than just an abstract number… and that’s when you make the sale.
I started thinking about that in terms of a kidnapping. When they kidnap the wife and ask for a million dollars, it’s just a number and the husband is fully prepared to pay it. But… and that’s the big BUT, when the guy actually withdraws the million dollars from his bank and it’s sitting on the kitchen table just before it gets stuffed into the suitcase, it suddenly becomes very real to him. It’s no longer an abstract number—it’s a MILLION FUCKING DOLLARS. That’s when he calls the cops. Suddenly, he’s realized just how much a million bucks really is and while he of course dearly loves his wife, he also now realizes how much he loves his million dollars. Ask any FBI agent. I think they’ll attest to this change of heart. Of course, he’ll justify calling in the law because he now thinks that they have the best chance of getting his wife back. In his heart of hearts, though, he knows that if he just paid the dough he’d get the wife back most likely.
Does this say something about “true love?” You bet. It says something most of us don’t want to admit. And, it’s this realization that my character Tommy LeCerc understands about people. Tommy actually has an insight which many people, lots smarter than he is, can never have. And, his insight is that when the million dollars is exposed on the kitchen table, the guy suddenly places its importance up there with retrieving his wife. But if, instead of a wife he’s giving the million up for, it happens to be his own hand… his outlook changes. He ain’t gonna dick around and chance losing that appendage by calling the cops. And, that’s a fairly profound insight. So, while this is a comic novel, at the heart of it is a very serious truth.
What are you doing to promote your book?
Well… this (thank you!) and depending on friends to help me out by blogging about it, reviewing it, etc. I also make a lot of appearances at various places around the country and will be promoting it there as well.
My agent is marketing my memoir, ADRENALINE JUNKIE, which covers my childhood and much of my outlaw years. I’m also about to release a new form of writing called a “snippet” just in time for Christmas. To explain what a snippet is, my agent has videotaped me talking about various principles in the book. Those video bits are then sprinkled into the ebook version of it, and the reader just clicks on the little button. It’s a really cool idea, and I bought into it right away. Lets readers get up close and personal with the author. I honestly think it’s an idea that’s going to gain traction in the next few years.
I’m also working on a new craft book, titled A WRITERS WORKSHOP AT THE BIJOU, where I deconstruct the brilliant movie THELMA & LOUISE, to show how screenwriter Callie Khouri uses brilliant fiction-writing techniques in virtually every single frame of the story. I currently conduct a workshop for fiction writers where I show the movie and stop it often to illustrate those techniques and thus far, the presentation has garnered rave reviews from the attendees. I’m very excited about this. It’s also a book that will lend itself extremely well to the “snippet” model.
Lastly, I’m working on three new novels. I won’t talk about those because I’ve found that when I talk about ongoing work, it’s hard to write it each night as by telling folks about it, I’ve already “written it out.” So…
When you’re not writing, what are you doing (hobbies, family, etc.)?
My only hobby is reading and that’s not a hobby. That’s just a major part of my writing job. I read an average of five novels a week (I’m a fast reader.). I write seven days a week and never miss a day. Which means I watch little TV—three things I don’t miss are Notre Dame football games, I.U. basketball games, and S.F. Giants baseball games. Mostly, I just… write and do writing-related things.
Les Edgerton has a bit of an unconventional background in that he’s an ex-con having spent a bit over two years in prison for burglary, armed robbery, strong-armed robbery and possession with intent to sell. He’s since taken a vow of poverty (became a writer) with 18 books in print. Recent titles include: THE GENUINE, IMITATION, PLASTIC KIDNAPPING, THE RAPIST, THE BITCH, JUST LIKE THAT and THE PERFECT CRIME.
To learn more about Les, please visit his website.