JoeyPinkney.com Exclusive Interview
5 Minutes, 5 Questions With…
Pearce Hansen, author of Stagger Bay
Markus, Stagger Bay’s protagonist, is a man who overcame a horrendous childhood and criminal youth to go straight and raise a family. His violent past makes him an easy fall guy to frame for a gruesome mass murder. He’s sentenced to life without parole, losing his family in the process.
Exonerated and freed on DNA evidence after seven years, Markus is shortly thrust into a bloody do-or-die fracas during an elementary school hostage situation, becoming an overnight hero. Everyone wants in on the media feeding frenzy; paparazzi and news crews hound him wherever he goes. Unfortunately, they’re not the only ones stalking him.
Can Markus find the path back into his son’s heart? What’s Markus supposed to do when he discovers fifteen-minutes-of-fame is the worst thing that could ever happen to him? What can he do, now that his town is hunting ground to serial killers and rogue cops working together – and the shadowy force behind them is turning its cold, deadly eye straight at him?
Stagger Bay is a battle of wills, where every moral choice seems only to increase the body count. It should appeal to readers looking for a fast paced, hyper-violent thriller.
Joey Pinkney: Where did you get the inspiration to write Stagger Bay?
Pearce Hansen: Actual events and conditions in rural Northern California; historically, very similar to the fictional town of Stagger Bay featured in the novel.
Pelican Bay State Prison was founded on the promise of jobs, but the prison industry ate the town whole – the town is inundated with the families of inmates, many on aid; the Aryans are a real presence up here, and there are rabidly racist enclaves even beyond what you’d expect in backwater areas
The Humboldt pot growing culture is multi-generational, these people are local royalty — but there’s open warfare now between the grower families and the invading Mexican gangsters. The logging and fishing jobs dried up long ago – and, as in the novel, back in the 80s, LA & the SF Bay Area shed a lot of their welfare/GR load onto Humboldt’s back – again as in the book, it was a historic mass movement of humans that (strangely) was never spoken of in the media.
The police here have been involved in a lot of questionable shootings and other misuses of force, with allegations of corruption, and pretty crazy ‘rogue cop’ behavior at times. Many speak of a hillbilly mafia runs things behind the scenes: price-fixing, boondoggles, ‘pay to play’ cracker barrel stuff.
Outside money swooped in during the real estate boom, and there was a burgeoning slumlord industry during the welfare influx – but now all the newer construction is crumbling, and you have meth whores plying their trade next to touristy boardwalk installations. We still have one of the highest per capita rates for: people on aid, suicides, and people using hard drugs, especially meth.
Murders are endemic here, with bodies and body parts being found dumped fairly regularly – and there’s a billion places for shallow graves out in the piney woods and the mountains, the ocean is deep and near at hand. Serial killers have historically loved this place, with a lot of the more famous ones having travelled through on their sprees. Famously (with an homage given in the novel) we had one serial killer try to turn himself in to the police, who refused to believe him until he went back to his truck and fetched a woman’s severed breast which he plopped on the police station counter – they believed him then.
Ironically, the backdrop for all this depravity is the Lost Coast behind the Redwood Curtain, some of the most beautiful landscape in the country: the biggest trees in the world, panoramic coastlines, hunting and fishing to die for, and a lot of cool people – with a culture of music, arts and literature worthy of a much larger community.
JP: What sets Stagger Bay apart from other books in the same genre?
PH: Unquestionably, Markus’ voice; it’s told in the first person, and no, Markus is NOT me. It was strange: I was finishing another novel, and I sort of had the sense that this guy sidled up next to me and started telling me his tale. It fascinated me. No, I didn’t ‘hear voices,’ I’m not quite ready for the rubber room – but this is definitely Markus’s story, and he’s pretty compelling IMHO.
JP: As an author, what are the keys to your success that led to Stagger Bay getting out to the public?
PH: I don’t quit. I just don’t have it in me. More than once in my life, I’ve been on the canvas staring up at the floods – but I’ve always been too stupid to stay down. I’ve always gotten up again to continue getting beat on.
Rule number one: Butt in chair and write – you can fix a bad page, you can’t fix a blank one. Rule number two: Write well, and edit your ass off. Rule three: Realize that all the rules in the publishing game have changed now, If you want to keep up, you’d better have your eyes open and be ready to scramble. And even after all that, I’m not quitting my day job anytime soon – we’ll see how this go round ends up.
JP: As an author, what is your writing process? How long did it take you to start and finish Stagger Bay?
PH: I write in spurts – sporadic binges of break neck writing where I get a lot of raw stuff that I then edit as painstakingly as possible till I get it to the bone – I’d say editing is harder to learn than writing per se, I’m still learning and hopefully improving, and probably will have room to grow till the day I die.
For Stagger Bay, I wrote the first draft in a white heat back in ‘06, five 20 hour days (yes, that’s 100 hours of writing in less than a week). The last five years have been getting professional feedback, editing the heck out of it and (largely) getting Markus’s admittedly overwhelming presence to back off long enough the other characters could speak their piece.
JP: What’s next for Pearce Hansen?
PH: I’m doing another edit on my anthology Gun Sex, adding new material and biographical/story notes; then I’ll be doing a five-day promotional give away when it’s done.
I’m 70K words into my third novel The Storm Giants, and I figure another 15-20K words should finish it – then test readership, hella editing, and release, independently and for the Kindle.
Stagger Bay is in submission for the Amazon Breakout Novel Award contest, so we’ll see how that goes, and I’ll play it by ear. I’ve been out of the loop for a couple of years, just editing and being a recluse – but I’ll be writing and submitting shorts to a lot of publications that have caught my eye lately. In fact, I’ll have a short in an upcoming horror anthology I was commissioned to write for, which is always flattering.
Ken Bruen (author of Blitz starring Jason Statham; and of London Boulevard, soon to be a major motion picture): “Stagger Bay proves what noir purists have known for a long time: Pearce Hansen is the new Prince of Noir. For years he’s been turning out stunning nuggets of sheer black gold, and now he finally comes into his ascendancy with this mesmerizing novel.
“Imagine James Ellroy coupled with George R. R. Martin and overseen by Charles Willeford. But PH really needs no comparison to any other writer; he’s created his own compelling dark universe that ratchets up noir to an astonishing level.”
Jason Starr (bestselling author of The Pack and The Follower): “Pearce Hansen is the real deal, the Edward Bunker of our generation. Stagger Bay is a searing, powerful, heartbreaking novel, and an important contribution to contemporary crime fiction literature.”
Anthony Neil Smith (Editor of Plots with Guns!, Associate Editor of the Mississippi Review, and author of All the Young Warriors): “Pearce is a wild man, and demands your attention. Hansen is definitely one of the gonzo crowd and deserves a stage with a loud amplifier and some bright lights.”