Thomas Pluck is one of those authors who I hope sees much success, mainly because reading will be a hell of a lot more fun if he is. He’s written several stories that can be found online. One of my favorite features 1970S African American Kung-Fu Fighter Brown Sugar Brookdale in his story for Blood & Tacos, a homage to men’s action paperbacks from that era. His novel, Blade Of Dishonor, is an update of the genre, featuring an Iraqi war veteran and former MMA fighter, Rage Cage Reeves, caught in a centuries old war between ninja and samari over an ancient sword. We caught up with Pluck to ask him a few questions.
MYSTERYPEOPLE: How did the idea for Rage Cage Reeves come about?
THOMAS PLUCK: David Cranmer of Beat to a Pulp approached me with the idea after I sent him a story about an MMA fighter called “A Glutton for Punishment,” that connected with readers. The comment section got wiped out in an upgrade, but even Lawrence Block liked it–I’m kicking myself for not taking a screenshot–and David approached me with an idea about a mixed-martial arts fighter battling ninjas over a magic sword. It didn’t grab me at first, but after some research, I learned that the most treasured of Japanese swords, handed down to the Tokugawa Shoguns, went missing at the end of World War II. That’s when it came together. I train in Kachin Bando, which is Burmese boxing and grappling, and I trained at a Shooto Dojo in Japan that all helped make Reeves the fighter he is.
MP: The book is a throwback to the action paperbacks of the ’70s and ’80s. Do you have a favorite title in that genre?
TP: I like The Rat Bastards, and, of course, The Destroyer, which I came to in a roundabout way- I saw the Remo Williams movie on HBO. It’s not the best ’80s actioner, but Chiun is unforgettable. He’s so much better in the books. He’s a huge inspiration for old Butch. I liked Lawrence Block’s Tanner books, and Marc Olden’s Black Samurai, too.
MP: The fight scenes are great. As someone who is a practicing martial artist, what advice can you give about writing these kinds of scenes?
TP: I actually choreographed a few of them at the gym I train at, Asylum Fight Gym in Mahwah. My trainer Phil Dunlap loves action films, and I wanted to make the fights as realistic as possible, so class would begin with me asking, “What’s the best way to break someone’s clavicle?” My advice would be to keep the fights short. Overlong slugfests are rare, and they can be criminally boring. I took advice from Frank Bill: keep them short, brutal, and jarring. From my experience, I don’t remember much from fights, just details -like “I had my fist around his throat and then I was flat on my face with his knee in my back,”- and I tend to write that way, not from a play-by-play football game perspective.
MP: Butch’s World War II flashbacks are full of adventure, but you get a sense of the emotional toll it took on him. What did you want to convey about that war?
TP: The book is dedicated to my great-uncles, all veterans of that war. I saw the emotional toll it took on them every Sunday when we met at my grandmother’s for coffee. I feel like WWII and the Greatest Generation are slowly becoming the cowboys of the American West for our culture. They were all morally upstanding, brave, and believed in the cause. Which is a load of horseshit, as Butch would say. They were people in a war they didn’t want to fight; they wanted to be back home with their families. And, as in any war, you do some crazy things to protect the man fighting beside you. All sides did some terrible things. We don’t talk about Japan’s Unit 731 because we’re allies now. [A biological & chemical warfare research facility that conducted human experiments. ] We dehumanized each other. And it’s all too easy to do that in fiction, but I made every villain have good reason to do what he did, at least in his mind. Doesn’t justify it, and it surely doesn’t stop Reeves from killing them.
MP: You also edited a short story collection, Protectors. Can you tell us about that?
TP: Protectors is a charity anthology I edited to support PROTECT: The National Association to Protect Children. They are a non-partisan, pro-child and anti-crime nonprofit organization which lobbies for legislation that protects children from physical, sexual, and emotional abuse. 100% of the proceeds from the book go to PROTECT, and I’ve donated thousands of dollars since it was published. Authors including Joe Lansdale, George Pelecanos, Andrew Vachss, Ken Bruen, Chet Williamson, Roxane Gay, Josh Stallings, Todd Robinson, Johnny Shaw, and many more contributed stories, many of which appear nowhere else- including “Spectre in the Galway Wind” by Ken Bruen, and “Runaway” by Dave White, which was included as a distinguished mystery story in The Best American Mystery Stories 2013. The book was a labor of love and continues to find readers, and I know you have some on the shelf at BookPeople. It is also available on Kobo through your store, if folks want it on their e-reader.
MP: You’re working on a book titled Bury The Hatchet. What can you divulge? It stars Jay Desmarteaux, the Cajun bruiser who stars in “Gumbo Weather,” which you so kindly chose for Crime Fiction Friday in January.
TP: Here’s the pitch: When Jay Desmarteaux walks out of prison after serving 25 years for the murder of a vicious bully, he seeks his family and follows the advice of his convict mentor: the best revenge is living well. But old friends want him to disappear, and new enemies want him dead. With his wits and fists, Jay unravels a twisted tale of small town secrets and good old New Jersey corruption. He only wanted to bury the hatchet… and now someone wants to bury him instead.
Today they’d say Jay has attention deficit disorder. I’ll just say he’s quick with his fists and deals with the consequences later. And there are always consequences. If you liked the taste of “Gumbo Weather,” he gets in a lot more jams in this one. Guess you can say he jumps out of the gumbo and into the pot of crawfish boil.
Copies of Blade of Dishonor are available on our shelves at BookPeople and via bookpeople.com.