How often is a memoir genuinely astounding? Adrenaline Junkie takes us through Les Edgerton’s harsh rural childhood, working harder before he was twelve than most of us ever will. There follows armed robbery, pimping, drug dealing, rape in prison, narrowly avoiding a hellcat’s castration attempt, suicide foiled by the rope breaking, a walk on part for Charles Manson and his creepy serial killer mate – who got short shrift from our host. And so much more…
So many startling sentences: ‘She was going to be his last fuck before the operation and I was going to be his first after he became a woman.’ ‘It was then Charles Manson started to contact me…’ There’s a satisfying twist late on after he becomes a family man so this fascinating book has just the right ending.
I was also reading, of all things, Two Sisters, Gore Vidal’s rambling fictional memoir, wherein he boasts about being related to Jackie Kennedy, and how it annoys his social climber friends, whom he doesn’t like. It’s mostly glib preening, with too much emphasis on sex with one’s sister – which is any emphasis at all.
Les Edgerton’s story sounds different. ‘I grew up in Gulf coast Texas and spent a lot of time in my grandmother’s bar/restaurant where I’d done every job—bartending, bussing tables, dishwashing—before I turned 12 when I added cab dispatcher to my resume. It was a honky tonk so I saw my share of knifings and shootings.’
Adrenaline Junkie makes Bukowski seem like Donny Osmond and it’s all the better for being true. A must read.
Down&Out Books, November, 2018.
MR Have you written about your prison experience? Will it be covered in your memoir?
LE I’ve written about those experiences in a number of works, including short stories and novels, most notably Hard Times. I do write a lot about it in Adrenaline Junkie.
MR 42 per cent of prisoners in a new study said they had seen someone killed in childhood. Is there any way of preventing troubled adolescents becoming hardened criminals?
LE I’ve seen several people killed when I was a kid. One such incident happened when I was 12. My grandmother thought I was old enough to learn her taxicab business so she started me out as the night dispatcher. The night dispatcher as that was the quiet period.
An hour on the job, one of the cabbies started hassling another cabbie with a dead rattlesnake. The guy he was tormenting thought it was alive and when the guy threw it on him, he pulled out his pistol and shot him in the throat. About 4-5 feet from me.
As the dispatcher, it was my job to call the police, which I did. This was in the days before 911 so I had to look it up and dial it. The guy went to trial (I had to testify) and he was acquitted on a defense of self-defense. This was in the days before people had gone nuts and still had common sense. The guy left town immediately as the guy he’d exed had a bunch of friends and relatives.
I saw my share of knifings and shootings. However, I wouldn’t consider myself “troubled.” It was just what it was. We just lived in a different era and place than some others. My early experiences didn’t make me a criminal—it just made me a person who didn’t take shit from others or who needed a safe place or a skirt that fit…
As to how to prevent adolescents from becoming hardened criminals, the answer is easy but most won’t do it. The entire secret in a teen emerging into adulthood and not becoming
a criminal is simply to make sure they feel they have control of their lives. This is why people perform criminal acts—they perceive a lack of control in some area of their lives. A rapist was probably raped himself as a child and sees the act of rape as a way to gain control over that part of their lives, albeit briefly. A person who holds up a clerk has just gained control over his life, again, albeit briefly. You can trace virtually every crime back to an intense feeling of being powerless in some area. It’s basically why they keep repeating crimes—the feeling of power is intense, but it goes away quickly. To recapture that feeling they have to repeat the crime, usually with less and less time between each instance and also they have a need to ratchet up the intensity of the crime. Most of those folks with sociology degrees and the like don’t have a clue—they’re too busy trying to figure out if the causes are genetic or environmental and never stop to figure out why some members of the same family or members of the same class or neighborhood environment turn out lawabiding and some don’t. It’s their individual experience and how they interpreted that experience.
All kids who get abused sexually don’t turn out to be pedophiles or rapists. A large percentage do, simply because they belong to the group that was violated. But, it’s not just the act of being violated; it’s their perception of that experience.
This was a theme in my novel, Just Like That, and the then-assistant warden of the state prison in Louisiana—the Farm—Cathy Johns read it and said it was the most accurate
and truest take on the criminal mind she’d ever read. That meant more to me than any praise from some social academic. Cathy knows criminals…
MR You’re like ‘a focussed Bukowski’, according to the great Ken Bruen. Bukowski is still connecting with young people. (Maybe the last of the writer superstars. I can’t see Jonathan Franzen becoming iconic.) Your biography from the Will Vahero interview has the ingredients of a good movie.
LE That’s funny you mentioned that. A few years ago, I’d sold my memoir to the University of North Texas Press and shortly after that, was out in Hollywood, staying with my then-manager, Paul Bennett, who was getting me pitch meetings for the screenplays I was writing then. I’d just signed the contract with UNT and told Paul I’d just sold it and he asked if he could read it and I just happened to have a copy with me as I was starting rewrite edits on it. The next morning, he told me he’d stayed up all night—couldn’t put it down—and wondered if he could show it to his best friend—who happened to be the president of HBO Films. Before Paul had become a manager, he’d been the V.P. of HBO—Paul was the guy who started and ran the Comedy Specials. I said sure and the next day that guy called Paul and said he’d had the same reaction—stayed up all night reading it (and those guys never read anything!). He asked Paul if I’d sold it to the film industry and when Paul told him I hadn’t, he told him not to show it to anyone—that HBO wanted
it and would film it, and that they’d just wait until it came out, got some sales, some reviews and maybe some awards and then they’d film it. I went home on Cloud Nine, and then, my editor at UNT quit corresponding with me and I finally got ahold of the editor and he said they weren’t going to publish it as I didn’t have a contract with them. What had happened was that a week or so after I’d signed the contract, my editor and the publisher both left—the publisher, Fran Vick had retired and the editor, Charlotte Wright had quit at UNT and had taken a similar position at the University of Iowa Press. In a panic, I got hold of Charlotte and she told me she’d been expecting my call, that the new editor had been doing the same with all the authors she’d signed—he wanted to create his own stable. Plus, he was an asshole. She said I certainly did have a contract and she’d send me a copy if I wanted her to and if I took him to court they’d have to publish it, but she asked me if I really wanted someone to publish it who didn’t want to. Reluctantly, I told her I agreed and then I called my agent, Jimmy Vines, and he said don’t worry about it, he’d find a new publisher and that was it. Shortly after that, Jimmy was drummed out of the agent biz for some nefarious behavior on his part and the memoir languished in a drawer for years. Not getting it published then cost me any deal with HBO, not the first time I’ve been fucked in publishing…
MR Mickey Rourke played Bukowski in Barfly. Anyone handsome enough to play yourself?
LE The actor I wanted then is the same I’d love today—Woody Harrelson. He played the lead in the only movie I’ve seen that I thought was accurate for criminals—Natural-Born Killers. Plus, he’s a Hoosier and his dad died in the joint so he has the right background…
You do know Bukowski hated the movie Barfly and in particular the acting of Rourke. He much preferred the later edition where Matt Dillon played him in Factotem.
MR ‘I began by reading Balzac and de Maupassant and the Russians when I was six and seven and eight years old’ Wow. Was it hard being so different to your contemporaries?
LE I really didn’t have many contemporaries. Growing up in Freeport, Texas I had two friends and when we moved to Indiana we never lived in one place long enough to make any but acquaintances. And, I didn’t know anyone who read what I read. Most were mouthbreathers who read crap like The Hardy Boys Do Dumbass Stuff. Mark, I have an I.Q. of 163. Couldn’t really relate to many kids my age so I mostly hung out with myself.
It’s really hard to remain civil when you can see the dumbness up close and personal. Am I an elitist? I certainly hope so! Have you ever talked to those people who think everyone is
equal? The ones who think that… often are…
MR The narrator in The Rapist is bleakly psychopathic, rather than a charming Ted Bundy type. Utterly horrible. This goes against current wisdom: audiences need to identify with a character. Plus just about everyone has to get over being revolted by the subject matter. Yet it’s compulsive reading. It seemed to me, and others, that it’s up there with Camus’s The Outsider. Is it best to forget about markets and be as truthful as possible?
LE It’s absolutely best for me. Money has never ever been a goal of mine. My goal is to be as honest as I can be and tell the best story I’m capable of. Money just never interested me in the least. Time after time, I’ve walked away from lucrative situations just because I was bored. After all, how many cars can you drive at one time, how many houses can you live in at one time, how many clothes does one need?
Just never considered wealth to be a measure of anything important. I really feel sorry for those folks who base their personal value or the worth of others on money or things.
The readers who find they need to identify with characters and those characters are predominantly good guys with the same politics and belief system as they have are not the
folks I want reading my work. They’re just not going to get it. I’d recommend a Hardy Boys book perhaps with some curse words so they feel it’s an adult book…
MR Hooked is a great guide to grabbing the reader immediately. Does teaching and writing books on the craft keep you sharper than creative writing alone?
LE Sure. To be honest, I don’t think much about craft—when I write it’s just good the second it’s on paper. I’ve never rewritten anything in my life. The craft books I’ve written were just based on common sense in writing and designed for those who need the obvious pointed out to them.
MR Which includes me these days. You ‘admire Lee Child who doesn’t pretend to be a writer but is an author. Big difference’. How do you see the difference?
LE A writer is someone who doesn’t allow anything to influence what he writes and is a person of intelligence. An author is someone who has either lucked on something
marketable or figured it out and mostly just keeps doing the same thing over and over. A totally boring existence unless your world is centered around money and what it can buy. Usually a smart or clever person, but not necessarily an intelligent one. Big difference between being smart and being intelligent. The trick is if you’re intelligent not to let on that you see the difference in public… like I’m doing here…
MR Adrenaline Junkie briefly describes a tryst with Britt Ekland, while you were in the navy. Incredibly, Britt Ekland came on to me when I was 22 and she was 35. Maunkberry’s Club Jermyn Street. I didn’t get as far as primal bliss in a cupboard. I was a bit intimidated by this exceptionally beautiful and, on this occasion, well refreshed woman…(yes, she’d have to be…)
LE Ha-ha! I was 18 and she was around 22 then, I think. I also ended up in a hot tub on the roof of the Omni Hotel in Austin with another of Rod Stewart’s babes, Rachel Hunter–me, her, her costar on Winding Roads and Ted Melfi, the director (while my wife and son slept in our room downstairs), so it looks like Rod and me share the same tastes… She was, indeed, beautiful, but my memory is mostly of her wonderful breasts… I don’t have the Rachel Hunter bit in my memoir as my wife believes I’ve never strayed… and I haven’t…
MR I heard someone’s asking crime writers for stories which don’t involve guns. Maybe we could stack that anthology alongside non-alcoholic beer and tofu burgers. Surely we have to look at uncomfortable truths?
LE Yeah! When I saw that, my jaw hit the floor. Looks like the loons have gone full-scale nuts. Let’s see, what could be wrong with that? “Crime writers wanted to submit stories in which there are no guns.” I’ll leave this to an amateur—this is too easy for a pro.
I saw this coming a couple of years ago. I was in Idaho as a presenter for their annual Extravaganza, guest of publisher Aaron Patterson, and while there attended a talk by the keynote speaker, C.J. Box. First, some background. I really liked Idaho and talked to Aaron about moving there and he advised against it. He said it used to be a great place but that in the last few years they’d been inundated by people moving there from California. He said most were people fleeing the high taxes and repressive laws, but that unfortunately they brought their attitudes with them and were voting like they had back in California and the state was rapidly becoming a welfare state. He said they’d already ruined Oregon and Washington and now Idaho and Wyoming and Montana were on their radar and he was thinking about getting out himself.
Okay, that’s the backstory. After C.J. wrapped up his talk, he gave a Q&A and this little tweedy guy stepped up. I say “tweedy” as this guy personified the term. He was a little balding guy, with fruitcake designer glasses, and a cashmere sweater wrapped around his shoulders and tied in front by the sleeves. Mr. Rogers stand-in… When he opened his mouth, it became obvious Aaron knew what he was talking about. “Mr. Box,” he said. “Do your characters have guns and if so, do they use them?” It was kind of obvious he’d never read a Box novel and had probably accidentally wandered in when he saw a sign proclaiming a literary event, probably expecting Robert Waller or Nicholas Sparks.
C.J. looked at him, took off his Stetson, scratched his head, and said, “Well, sir, my protagonist is a game warden and so he’s armed and he’s always after a murderer who usually used a gun, so… yeah, there are guns and they use them. You don’t suppose they’d engage in pillow fights, do you?” The whole place exploded and this little twinkie slunk away, probably to a safe place where there were other snowflakes who wouldn’t laugh at his punk ass.
That’s a true story and I’d be surprised if C.J. was sent a request to submit a story sans guns.
If this is the coming thing, I just want to get a law passed quickly allowing open carry for pillows…
MR 🙂 Thanks for a great interview Les!
LE Thanks for this opportunity, Mark. Sincerely hope I’ve pissed a few folks off. If I haven’t, it’s not worth it…