Editor’s Note: This exchange is part of a series of brief interviews with emerging writers of recent or forthcoming books. If you enjoyed it, please visit other interviews in the I’ve Got Questions feature.
- What’s the title of your book? Fiction? Nonfiction? Poetry? Who is the publisher and what’s the publication date?
Roughhouse (novel) published by Down & Out Books, forthcoming, May 10, 2021
- In a couple of sentences, what’s the book about?
If Scotland Ross doesn’t get $100,000 fast, his wife will die. His mission forces him into a storm of violence and pain with strong women and treacherous men gusting in all directions—without him, the women would be doomed; without them, he would be.
- What’s the book’s genre (for fiction and nonfiction) or primary style (for poetry)?
Roughhouse, like its predecessors Beachhead and Tushhog, is broadly categorized as mystery/suspense, but the more focused category is crime fiction, noir if you want to get particular. Florida noir, at that. (I use the term “noir” in homage to the literary greats that have come before me and by way of conveying that some dark stuff happens, and the main character is always a willing participant in his own doom.)
- What’s the nicest thing anyone has said about the book so far?
It’s a five-way tie:
“Edgy, rich and excessively smart… constantly entertaining and, even better, always artful.” – Fred G. Leebron, author of Six Figures, Out West, and Welcome to Christiania
“Firmly sets Hess up with the masters of Florida rough-and-tumble crime fiction.” – Steph Post, author of Miraculum, Lightwood, Walk in the Fire, Holding Smoke
“Tense, gritty, emotional… like the 80s itself.” – James R. Duncan, author of Blood Republic
“What a wild ride! This book is noir through and through yet has this emotional beating heart.” – Chris Rhatigan, author of Squeeze and Race to the Bottom
“This book reminded me of early Elmore Leonard books.” – Jonathan Brown, author of the Lou Crasher Mysteries
- What book or books is yours comparable to or a cross between? [Is your book like Moby Dick or maybe it’s more like Frankenstein meets Peter Pan?]
I’ve received comparisons to John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee books, as well as to Robert Stone, Daniel Woodrell, Elmore Leonard, and even Carl Hiassen.
- Why this book? Why now?
Roughhouse is the third in my Scotland Ross trilogy, which came about purely by accident—the trilogy, I mean. The whole thing began as a short story. Next thing you know, I’m writing it as a novel. However, there was so much more than I could get to, so I knew there’d be a sequel. A publisher encouraged me to consider a trilogy. I had ideas for a third book, but in the early days, I couldn’t imagine getting there. Ten years later, I got there. Though I never set out to write three books involving the same protagonist, I am grateful that I was able to tell his full story.
- Other than writing this book, what’s the best job you’ve ever had?
For the past fourteen years, I’ve been fortunate enough to lead a writing workshop for military veterans, but I don’t consider that a job. So in answer to the question: a close second is a side-job I had in my first two years of college. While I waited tables and bartended at night, in the early morning hours one of my best friends and I would deliver cabinets to construction sites of new houses and condos. We’d start at the cabinet shop, load up our box truck and drive all over town to deliver somebody’s kitchen and bathroom cabinets. We had to be early, before the installers showed up at one site or another. Often we did two or three truckloads. I was constantly tired from a severe lack of sleep and often wrung out from the Southwest Florida heat, but the work was like a workout to us. We drove with hair metal music blaring on K-Rock. That and the laughs me and my buddy had made the exertion (even during tremendous hangovers) enjoyable enough to look back with a smile.
- What do you want readers to take away from the book?
As with all my books, I hope readers come away with a realization that character and plot can coexist—that marketing categories don’t have to limit one’s reading choices or pleasure.
- What food and/or music do you associate with the book?
Since the trilogy spans 1980-1987 there is a variety from old Country & Western to Southern Rock to early hair metal. But mostly it is the old Country music I remember hearing in those early days at the bowling alley where the image of Scotland Ross comes from. Willie, Waylon, Hank Jr., Merle Haggard, Johnny Cash, for instance.
- What book(s) are you reading currently?
I read an article somewhere that stated it’s better for the brain to read nonfiction in the daytime and fiction at night. Therefore, I usually have two books going at the same time. I’m currently reading Out there Bad by Josh Stallings and Paying it Backward by Tony March.
Learn more about Jeff at his website.
Buy the book on Amazon.com