g. Elmer Munson is a New England writer of the strange and unusual as well as the horrors of everyday life. He lives in the woods in a farmhouse older than America, where the nighttime creaks and growls feed his often bizarre imagination. With more works in process than can be counted on fingers and toes, his (mis)adventures can be followed at gElmerMunson.com and on random social media outlets.
Munson’s novella, “All’s Well That Ends,” appears in Three on a Match (2017, Books & Boos Press). It’s a pulpy, raw-emotion ride that follows one day in the life of police detective Angel Lewis.
Vlad: Reading this novella was like stepping into a war between criminals and law enforcement, with over-the-top action and bloody violence set at a heart-pumping pace. How did you conceive of such an adrenaline-inducing tale?
g.: Well the original inspiration was one of my many “what if?” ideas (I’ve got a folder full of them). Most never go anywhere, but this one I had stuck in the back of my head for a long time. It started with “What if the bank down the street got robbed?” I thought about that while I was working on a submarine horror novel and I felt more and more drawn to the idea of incorporating the military aspect of law enforcement into the story. When I finally started writing this novella, I had two things in my head: I wanted to write a reality-based story (no monsters, ghosts, man-eating vegetables, etc.), and I wanted it to be a bit over-the-top. So, in all its unnecessarily gratuitous violence, I basically started a downtown war. And I had an absolute blast doing it.
Vlad: Your hero/antihero, Angel, is sucked into a catastrophe largely of his own making, resulting in a deadly shoot-out stemming from a bank robbery that’s reminiscent of a war zone . . . but of course there’s a nasty twist in store for Angel. What inspired you to create this scenario?
g.: This was a direct result of an idea I had been working on for a song. The basic idea is that since “good people” do bad things all the time, and “bad people” do good things all the time, I don’t believe there are “good” or “bad” people. Just people who sometimes do good things and sometimes do bad things. Most of the time it’s in the middle.
With that thought in mind, I liked the idea of presenting someone who’s supposed to be good, but instead focusing the story on their flaws. In this case, a major flaw, but again something that I don’t think necessarily labels Angel as good or bad. He’s just Angel, flaws and all.
Vlad: In one scene, parachutists bombard the local police force with grenades and machine-gun fire, raining death down from above. This hyperviolent scene, coupled with out-of-this-world action, reminded me of some Tarantino films; has Tarantino influenced your work? If so, in what way? If not, who has influenced your work?
That’s a great question, one that I’m not 100% sure I can answer honestly. Not because I’m being dishonest, of course, but because I never really thought about it. It should be no surprise to anyone who has read my work that I’m a huge fan of hyperviolent books and films, Tarantino included. The casual violence, and in particular the use of humorous and often seemingly random dialogue during inappropriately violent situations, has definitely left a mark.
I can say that one major influence on my writing is music. While I listen to just about anything, I’m a huge fan of extreme metal. I often feel like my writing reflects the feeling of the music. Although I don’t generally listen to anything other than classical while writing, I tend to crank something fast and angry while editing. First drafts are fine and necessary, but it’s during editing that the real magic happens. There’s just nothing like listening to Behemoth while at the keyboard brutally murdering a character I’ve been working on for months.
Vlad: You’ve drawn upon two different worlds—that of law enforcement and that of the criminal—and effectively mixed to the two, resulting, at some parts, in very little distinction between the two. Are they two sides of the same coin to you?
g.: This, I think, goes back to my thoughts on good and bad. I believe there’s a fine line between law enforcement and criminal behavior, and the most publicized instances are usually where they overlap. This is not to say I have disrespect for law enforcement, as I think most police officers believe they’re doing the right thing (even if others may disagree). I do, however, think that the ones that blur the line the most, the ones we often see in the news, are the cases where law enforcement resorts to criminal behavior as a means to enforce the law. If that sounds as backward to you as it does to me, then . . . well, I’ll answer your question with yes, but I think it’s complicated.
Vlad: Has the current political climate around police shootings and brutality influenced your opinions in terms of how this story ultimately played out? If so, how?
Absolutely, and I think that’s what I was trying to say in my rambling answer above. I believe the widespread mistrust of law enforcement is a case of the many suffering because of the behavior of the few. That works both ways: not only are minorities (black men in particular) singled out by the few officers who should probably have a different occupation, but law enforcement in general has been stigmatized due to this same behavior of said officers. I don’t think that makes things equal, and I don’t claim to be an expert on this, but I can say it helped flesh out my presentation of Angel. I tried to show that most of the officers were there to do their job, but were overshadowed by the actions of the few.
Vlad: What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?
g.: When I was younger, I think maybe fourth grade, I was moved into an advanced reading group. At the time I found it very annoying, as I had to leave my cool friends and go to a separate room to read books with a bunch of nerds. This was the eighties, long before it was cool to be a nerd. Anyway, In this class we read a couple books that I just can’t remember, but then each of us got a paperback that changed the way I looked at reading (and eventually writing): John Steinbeck’s The Pearl. It was short. It was beautifully written. It was powerful. For a kid who had until then read primarily horror comics and Doctor Who novelizations, my mind was blown. I remember diving headfirst into the classics after that, quickly learning that there can be a beauty not just to the story, but to the very words themselves.
Then one day in high school, while browsing the annual book fair, I came across The Damnation Game by Clive Barker. Holy shit. The rest, as they say, is history.
Vlad: Where can I learn to shoot a gun like Angel and Lou? Seriously, these guys are total badasses!
Ha! Everything they learned was taught to me in the U.S. Navy. I shot a lot of guns. So, so many guns . . .
Vlad: What literary pilgrimages have you gone on?
I’ve been lucky enough to travel throughout the world, and I’ve often tried to seek out locations from both books and movies. There have been many, but two that come straight to mind are wandering Holmes’ Baker Street in London (where there’s a really cool little museum), and exploring the “less traveled” areas of Lestat’s Paris. I also have fond memories of visiting the Poe house in Philly, including attending a Halloween reading in costume. Good times.
Vlad: What is the first book that made you think, “I can write something like this?”
While my early influences include the expected King, Barker, and Koontz, I also enjoy picking up books by authors I’ve never heard of. Sometimes this works out pretty well, sometimes not so much. One time I read a book that I won’t name because it seems wrong to call it out when I’m saying not-so-nice things about it. It had a cool cover and such a great premise that I bought it, brought it home, and dove right in. However, as I was reading this really interesting story with these great characters, I found myself thinking, this guy sucks at writing. Many times I had to go back and reread a section because it didn’t make sense or was written so poorly I couldn’t figure out what was going on. How he managed to create such a compelling world with such shitty language I’ll never know.
I eventually finished the book because it was such a cool story, but my first thought upon setting it down was “I should rewrite this; I could do better.” Of course, I never did, because that would be stupid. But I still have the book. No kidding, it sits on a shelf in my office, right by my copy of Strunk and White. It’s still an important memory to me, sort of a “what to do-what not to do” kind of thing, I guess.
What did you edit out of this book? Were there any scenes that you were sad to see go?
This came together much quicker than anything I’d ever written, and since the story is relatively straightforward, there were thankfully few changes of substance. However, there was originally a much bigger part for Bonnie that involved a history with Officer Truong. It added a lot to their backstories and I really liked the relationship it gave them (no, not that kind of relationship), but it also slowed things down at a part that I really wanted to keep moving. Therefore, it had to go.
A smaller change was moving around the roles of Tim, Rick, and Matt. They are based on a trio of friends from when I lived in Tampa, and after it was done I wanted to change them around, just so Rick could ask me, “Why the hell did you make me so crazy?” Of course, I keep forgetting to tell them any of this, so . . . yeah, I should probably tell them.
I also changed the end, after I had sent the final manuscript to the editor. A day after sending it in, I was lying in bed staring at the ceiling (or maybe I was taking a shower—which one is less creepy?) when I realized I got the end all wrong. Big thanks to Stacey for understanding my crazed, “oh, crap I need to change this” email. I think the story is MUCH better off because of it.
Is there anything else you’d like to add (promo opportunities, questions I missed, events/appearances)?
I do have a book coming out sometime later this year (the submarine horror novel I mentioned above), so if military horror (or horribly offensive yet humorous language) is your thing, keep an eye out for it.