Anthony-Award nominated author Joe Clifford is acquisitions editor for Gutter Books, managing editor of The Flash Fiction Offensive, and producer of Lip Service West, a “gritty, real, raw” reading series in Oakland, CA. He is the author of four books (Choice Cuts, Junkie Love, Wake the Undertaker, and Lamentation), as well as editor of Trouble in the Heartland: Crime Stories Based on the Songs of Bruce Springsteen. His latest novel, December Boys, the second in the Lamentation series, is slated for release (Oceanview Publishing) in 2016. Joe’s writing can be found at www.joeclifford.com.
Joe, besides from being the author of top-rated Junkie Love and bestseller Lamentation, you’re also very tattooed. Is it true that you’re in the Guinness World Records for being the most tattooed man ever? If not, don’t you think you could put a little more effort into it?
As I’ve explained to my two boys (ages, four and six months), there are three things the men in my family do: we ride motorcycles, we go to jail, and we get tattoos. Not necessarily in that order.
How much does Holden, your oldest, understand about you being an author?
He doesn’t call it being an author. He calls it being a “book player.” Which is a fucklot cooler.
When will you allow your kids to read your books: A) When their faces are overran by pimples. B) When they’ve put you in a retirement home. C) They already have; both sons read at college level when emerging from the womb. D) Insert age of choice.
Here’s the thing about what I do. I can’t hide it from my kids. I mean, I have no intention of “letting” my kids read Junkie Love. But it’s not like I’ll be able to stop them. Holden was two when he pointed at my book on the shelf with the big syringe on the cover and said, “Dada’s book!” And how I write is how I live my life, which is, quite literally, an open book. Okay maybe not literally, but you get my point. I strive to make my work accessible, and my number one goal is to not be a phony. I mean I named my kid Holden.
You’ve been pretty open about your past addiction struggles and your story is kind of amazing, like an R-rated Cinderella tale. Do you often, secretly or out loud, compare yourself to Cinderella?
When I decided to do this, be a writer, especially writing Junkie Love, I realized I couldn’t do this half-assed. You can’t tell 95% of the story. You go all in. And, yeah, you alienate some people. Like Anne Lamott says: if people wanted to be written about more warmly, they should’ve behaved better. Only in this case, I’m the one who behaved the worst. Go big or go home. I will tell you this about Disney. Disney World/Land is my only happy childhood memory. I have taken my son there five times already. Like I said, he’s only four.
How did you come up with the idea for Lamentation?
Part of it is boring, the biblical Adam Raised a Cain part (for all my Springsteen fans). I’ve always been fascinated by brother stories. As a dad now, I see that you can actually have another you. My kids, more than merely being an extension of me, are, in many ways, a rebirth. But that’s probably more Circle of Life shit than the question intended. But brothers are another version of you. And I love my brother(s), and with one of them I am closer, and our relationship is more fucked up. Lamentation let me explore this shit, but in the context of fiction, which is not life; it’s life like. The other non-boring part, or maybe it’s just as fucking boring, I don’t know, is that you are trying to entertain. That’s my main job as the writer. It’s not to preach. And it’s not to work through my fucking therapy (that’s what I have Dr. Goldberg for). I set out to write a page-turning thriller. We’ve sold more books in the series, so I think I accomplished that. I mean, I hope I have.
Due to my needle phobia, I could not read Junkie Love. Is it safe to read Lamentation and its upcoming sequel, December Boys?
There are a lot of needles in Junkie Love, and it’s not a book for the squeamish. It’s a true story about being a heroin addict in San Francisco in the ’90s. I was arrested. I had friends OD. I accidentally injected mouse shit. But there’s funny stuff too. It was a crazy time. I made some good friends along the way (it’s where I met Tom Pitts). But with Lamentation, and December Boys, and the third book we just sold, I can move a little bit away from that part. I probably will always write about drugs, or have them play a role in my work, because that’s the world I come from. But not entirely. I grew up a nice Catholic boy, and I live in suburbia now. It’s fun to look at that other side from that POV.
We share the same agent. Despite serious effort on your part, our agent, Liz, loves me more than she loves you (for obvious reasons.) How have you been able to cope with this knowledge, if at all?
I know Liz loves you more. And it hurts. Dr. Goldberg and I will have plenty to talk about Monday. Thanks for reopening the wound. Want to remind me my dad didn’t love me while we’re at it.
I am a steak man. Pasta is nothing but empty carbs. And I fucking hate kale with every fiber of my being. It’s such a shit food. Really. And I’m pretty sure I read somewhere on the Internet it’s poisonous. I never bothered to follow up on that since it supported my personal beliefs. Which is really what the Internet is for: supporting what you already think and justifying your rage.
A warm thanks to Joe Clifford for allowing me to interview/emotionally abuse him for a bit.
Itching to learn more about Joe's latest novel, Lamentation? Here it is.