Friday, May 13, 2011

Pearce Hansen's Street Raised Re-released

Friday the 13th has always been a damn good and lucky day in my book. And just to prove it, Pearce Hansen's bad-ass novel STREET RAISED, has just been released as an ebook today. I read this book when it first came out in 2006, and it's way up on may favourite list of great reads. And today being the luckiest day of the year, I've had the good fortune to be able to interview the man himself.

So the word is your novel Street Raised is being re-released. How did this come about?

When STREET RAISED first came out, there was a lot of buzz. It was blurbed by Joe Lansdale, Ken Bruen, Jason Starr and a bunch of other people I really respect. It was reviewed in magazines, newspapers including a nice review by Eddie Muller in the SF Chronicle, TV & radio interviews, online crime fiction sites – the list of reviews & blurbs prints out to six pages long. Jess Mowry, Andrew Vachss, James Frey – all of them said they liked it. It had the brilliant Mark McKenna cover that riveted everyone who saw it (and is being reprised for this re-release). It had a Borders book signing. It was even in submission for the 2006 Edgar for Best First Novel, with a strong chance to at least be nominated, maybe even win.

But then, due to a perfect storm of glitches, STREET RAISED fell through the cracks. This re-release is me getting back in the ring to take another swing, and see if things don’t turn out better this time.

How would you best describe Street Raised?

I think the jacket pitch I wrote for STREET RAISED’s initial release still sums it up best:
"When Speedy raises from prison, he hitchhikes home to Oakland only to find his brother Little Willy a homeless crack head and his best friend Fat Bob bouncing in San Francisco's underground hardcore clubs. When two of their childhood homeboys get wrapped in chains by Mexican slangers and thrown in the American River alive, our heroes somehow get it together enough to plot revenge."

"Sure, it maybe takes the edge off Speedy's game a little when he starts playing house with beautiful phone psychic Carmel, and it complicates things a bit more when Louis, the same cop who put him in prison, starts dogging their steps like an unwelcome relative. But when a racist coven of skinz comes howling for Speedy & Carmel's blood, and a serial killer with a monster in his head decides Speedy is the answer to all his unholy prayers, things get really interesting . . ."

Where did you get your idea for this book? And would you say it's autobiographical to a degree?

While based on an actual milieu (Oakland in the 80s, then Murder Capital of the USA) and inspired by events from my youth, it is fiction. It initially arose as a series of cathartic writings that gelled into a crime novel when I opted to shoe horn reality into the template structure and story arc of a novel.

Again, this is not a memoir – but it’s as close to a guided tour of the underbelly of 80s East Bay as an outsider is ever likely to get. With all these disclaimers, I must confess that it’s very autobiographical.

Can you tell us about your early years growing up in San Francisco?

I was born a handful of blocks from Haight-Ashbury. My aunt was in with the Beats, the Old Spaghetti Factory crowd – I remember lots of wild parties as a child, all the big name writers were there. Dad moved us around a lot, pretty much all over the East Bay, often to ethnic neighborhoods where we were the only whites – I remember seeing my first knifing on A Street in Hayward when I was four or five. Dad ultimately achieved whitebread living for us: house, lawn, barbecue and the American Dream in Caucasian neighborhoods – but it was a fa├žade; it sure in hell wasn’t Leave It To Beaver.

Runaway jaunts; dropping out of school after being put in Special Ed as mentally subnormal; drinking at an early age; staying out all night doing drugs, crime and violence; running the streets of Oakland, Alameda and Berkeley with my other feral little hellion friends – most of whom are dead now, or in prison, or in and out of mental institutions, or ‘whereabouts unknown.’ Ultimately for me, addiction, homelessness, arrests, jail. Don’t do drugs, kids – the streets are a dead end, and the Life is a bitch.

What helped you get through those years?

Reading, books, and Moe Moskowitz.

When I was reading, people left me alone and that suited me just fine. I guess I morphed into a closet classicist I hot-boxed books so hard. Dostoevsky and Highsmith and Joyce, Dickens and the Viking Sagas and Virginia Woolf. Poetry, too: Plath and Robinson Jeffers. And yes, of course, the pulps: Jack Vance, H. P. Lovecraft, Mickey Spillane and Richard Stark.
It was an in-joke amongst the kids in my crowd that if we were prowling around up to no good and passed a bookstore, they’d have to physically restrain me from going inside and browsing the shelves.

But Moe Moskowitz, of Moe’s Books on Telegraph in Berkeley? He was one of the few positive adult male influences I ever had growing up. If you Google Moe, you’ll discover just how important a figure he was in the history of Berkeley, and of bookselling in general. Noticing my early love of books, Moe personally taught me as a teen how to spot first editions and works of value, pick them up cheap and sell them to him for a neat little profit. Of course Moe made his own little pile of bank off the deal, but being a ‘book hawk’ for Moe literally fed me more than once in my youth. I miss him, and I wish he could see that I became an author.

Tell us about your main character. What's he up against?

Well, Speedy is a newly released ex-con with no assets or support system, with all the difficulties that automatically entails for American prison inmates upon their release. When he went in it was the 70s, and now it’s the height of the 80s crack epidemic – he feels like a dinosaur just released from a time warp, he’s very out of place. He’s broke, he’s unarmed, and he burned a lot of bridges with his homeboys before going in, at the behest of his psychotic ex-girlfriend Reseda.

On the plus side, he’s very intelligent in a cunning, feral sort of way. Comfortable with organizing violence, Speedy has no trouble adapting to his new reality and plotting more mayhem.

What's different about this new edition of your book?

It’s about a third longer in material at 110K words. I changed it structurally, in the order of the chapters, and I fine tuned a lot of the dialog and interactions.

I also spent two years researching the Bay Area of the 80s, and have added a lot of period stuff for background; Naval Air Station Alameda is still open, the sailors of Reagan’s 600-ship Navy still carouse along Webster Street, and everyone is still waiting for World War III; the Cypress Structure double-decker freeway still cuts West Oakland in half – the ’89 Loma Prieta Earthquake hasn’t pan-caked it down on top of all those poor motorists yet; there’s still the nightly ‘manic minute’ at sunset in Dogtown, when the residents use axes and guns to fight off the packs of feral dogs marauding from the wetlands next to Naval Supply Center; Carol Doda – the Perfect 36 – is still stripping at the Condor, and the black dudes have to sleep with plastic bags on their heads to keep their Jheri curl from soaking their pillows; the Stone, the Mabuhay Gardens and the On Broadway are still open in North Beach and hardcore punk is in its fetid prime; Too Short and Metallica are still newbie up-and-comers scrabbling to get any kind of career traction for themselves, and “Felix the Cat” Mitchell’s Mob, out of the 69th Avenue San Antonio Village Housing Projects, is still in their shooting war with Funktown.

Would you say your writing has changed or developed since you first wrote Street Raised?

I believe I’ve learned a lot about writing and editing in the 15 years since I started, and in the seven years since I first considered STREET RAISED ‘done.’ I’ve only written maybe half a million words of final draft quality in my career, but I’d estimate I’ve spent way more than 10,000 hours doing it. I sure hope I’ve developed, including during the period since I first wrote STREET RAISED.

What are you reading these days?

At present I’m reading a lot of Laird Barron, an incomparable horror writer from the depths of rural Alaska. Laird is an auto-didact like me – to call his work neo-Lovecraftian would be an understatement, he has an amazing voice, and his story structure is impeccable.

I’m also reading Thomas Ligotti. Ligotti’s horror is more existential, almost philosophic – while there’s nothing graphic in his work, I assure you he is not for the faint of heart. Hallucinogenic and nightmarish are appropriate adjectives for him.

Are you working on anything now? What is on the horizon for Pearce Hansen?

My second novel STAGGER BAY is currently being represented by the Donald Maass Literary Agency (Contact: Stacia Decker). Don and Stacia are very good at what they do, and we’ll see how that one goes.
I’m 70K words into my third novel, THE STORM GIANTS. I’m also editing up my first anthology of short stories, no working title just yet.

Here's where you can get your copy: Kindle link



  1. A really good interview. It sounds like you have lived a really interesting life. You've done over 500,000 words? Have you written under other pen names?

    Thomas Ligotti seems like the perfect type of author for me. I'd love to find out more about him as well, so thanks for including the information.

    Congratulations on getting with the Maass Agency. They have a great staff and you couldn't be in better hands.

    Given how much of this is autobiographical, I really wonder what parts are. Did you find it difficult to write something so personal? You sound like it helped you.

    Great interview. I enjoyed it. If you would like to do any other blog spots, please let me know. I would love to help you.

    Draven Ames

  2. I look forward to reading this as a long-time resident of the East Bay. Long live Moe's!!