MysteryPeople Q&A with TROUBLE IN THE HEARTLAND editor Joe Clifford

One of my favorite books this year is Trouble In The Heartland, forty stories from some of today’s top crime writers, each playing off the title of a  Bruce Springsteen song. These tales capture the emotion and hard luck characters of the singer/song-writer’s work. Joe Clifford was kind enough to talk to us about the project.


MysteryPeople: What was the most difficult part of this project?

Joe Clifford: Honestly, probably the cover. There are two publishers for this thing. It came out with Gutter Books, but Zelmer Pulp’s involved too. There were some (minor) differences of opinions about the cover. Small stuff. But important to the artist. In this case, Chuck Regan, who designed the cover (and obviously did a magnificent job). Still, Gutter has its own aesthetic. I was the bridge between the two camps, so I’d often get caught in the middle. There was a little “don’t kill the messenger” at times, because everyone has their own ideas, and they are, rightfully, passionate about those ideas. But that was it. Overall, it was very smooth sailing.

MP:  Why do you think Springsteen resonates with so many crime writers?

JC: Because he writes about the hopeless, the downtrodden, the beat-down losers who refuse to stay down. The romantics with broken hearts. The dreamers still trying to carve out a better lives for themselves against all odds. Like the Boss sings in “Something in the Night” (which was covered by Mike Creeden in our anthology): those of us “looking for a moment when the world seems right.” Pretty much noir and crime, right?

MP:  What in his music do you hope to capture in your own writing?

JC: Bruce was the first real literary figure in my life. He doesn’t write books, but he’s an author. I didn’t read growing up. Teachers told me to read. So I said no. A little like “Growing Up.” “When they said sit down, I stood up.” Springsteen showed a confused kid in a podunk cow town that a better, bigger world was possible. I wasn’t popular. Wasn’t good at sports. Felt unappreciated. “It’s a town full of losers; I’m pulling out to win” was a driving mantra. Until I pulled out. Still not sure if I’ve won. But I made my move. And it’s that spirit I try to capture. The everyman looking for something more, following that inner voice to be who he or she has to be. Because there is no other way. Win or lose. And there is something inherently romantic about that, I think.

MP: Was there any author who surprised you with how they interpreted their song title?

JC: I’m not just saying this because I edited the thing, but this is as strong an anthology as I’ve ever read. Editing this, I had to read each story half a dozen times, if not more. And the mark of a great story is that it gets better with each read, which is what happened here. I’d love to single out every story, because every author made this a pleasure. A lot of work. But a pleasure. All that said, James R. Tuck’s “I’m on Fire” and Jordan Harper’s “Prove It All Night” were the one that surprised me most (obviously in the best possible way). Chris Holm’s “Mansion on the Hill,” too. But when you have a collection with Dennis Lehane, Hilary Davidson, James Grady, Chuck Wendig, et al., you’re getting the best of the best. Also Rob Pierce’s “Rosalita” still makes me laugh out loud every time I read it. An exercise in economy.

MP: Most authors edit an anthology so they can have a story in it. You don’t have one in here. Any particular reason?

JC: I don’t know. I also feel like putting one of your own stories in an anthology or magazine you edit is tantamount to throwing a surprise party for yourself. I mean, that’s just me. I know a lot of editors do it, and that’s cool. Mostly it’s about hats. When I am a writer, I wear the writer hat, and when I am an editor, I wear the editor’s hat. Those hats don’t go together. When I edit something, I need that perspective. I didn’t want to muddle up that requisite objectivity with having to edit my own story. Writing invites an emotional attachment that the best editing eschews.

MP: How did the Bob Woodruff Foundation become the choice of charity?

JC: We knew we wanted to do something to help veterans, and the BWF were very receptive to the idea. They’ve been great to work with. Not to mention, when you open their webpage, you’ll see a picture of the Boss. So the marriage just made sense.


Copies of Trouble In The Heartland are available on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. 

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