An interview with Thomas Pluck.
Dan (and Kate) Interview… Thomas Pluck!
Dan (and Kate): With the debut of BLADE OF DISHONOR this past September, you’ve unleashed your hero “Rage Cage” Reeves on an unsuspecting public. Please tell us a bit about Mr. Reeves and the conflict he is about to face.
Thomas Pluck: Reeves is an MMA fighter who threw one bad punch, and the judge made him decide between the Marines and a prison sentence. Taught to fight by his WW2 vet grandfather, Reeves comes home to find Grandpa Butch embroiled in a centuries-old battle over a treasured Japanese sword. Together they team up with Tara the hot-rodding ambulance driver and a secretive member of a samurai warrior brotherhood to take on a powerful clan of ninja and yakuza bent on sparking a third world war.
D (&K): You yourself are a practitioner of mixed martial arts (MMA) and there are heavy MMA elements in the book. For those that aren’t familiar with the sport, what is it about MMA that seems to draw such a wide range of folks to it? And how do these traits translate into our hero Reeves?
TP: MMA began with the Ultimate Fighting Championships that came about to answer the age-old debate of “in a real fight, what martial art would win?” And what won was a combination of striking and grappling. Now there are plenty of rules and it’s not at all like a street fight, it’s a sport. But it’s a faster fight than boxing, and while no less artful, it is perhaps easier for the layman to understand and appreciate. And it has the feel of a street fight, to the casual observer. Reeves struggles with his training as a sport fighter and an infantryman in the Marine Corps. He has temper problems, and his grandfather and coach had to rein him in. In a real battle, those reins get a friend of his killed, and Reeves constantly battles with “the switch” between a fight and a life or death situation.
D (&K): BLADE OF DISHONOR is a whirlwind mix of WWII history, action adventure, martial arts battles and touching humanity. Tell us about your inspirations for the story because it’s clear that you’re a pop-culture junkie like us. *Side note: Kate and I are betting that there was a lot of A-TEAM in your childhood and probably AIRWOLF, too.
TP: I loved the A-Team, even if all they ever did was fire those Ruger Mini-14’s into the dirt! My inspiration for the World War II sections was my great-uncles, all of whom served overseas. I grew up listening to their stories at the kitchen table, and the book is dedicated to them. As for the action, I loved action and war movies as a kid. Patton, The Big Red One, First Blood, Commando. And the Shaw Brothers Kung Fu movies, Kurosawa’s samurai films. Mikio is based on fighters I knew when I visited Japan to train, at Philoktetes dojo in Kameda. I loved visiting Japan, but I saw the dark side as well, and I don’t overlook it. The black vans of the Nationalists and the sleazy bars run by yakuza are always there behind the neon.
D (&K): Your bio tells us that you are heavily involved in PROTECT: The National Association to Protect Children. Tell us about the work you’ve done for this wonderful organization.
TP: PROTECT is the only lobby in Washington that devotes its efforts 100% to fighting the abuse and exploitation of children. Their victories include Alicia’s Law, which funds Internet Crimes Against Children taskforces across the nation, and the Child Protection Act of 2012 which gives Federal marshals tools to hunt fugitive sex offenders and mandates a national law enforcement nerve center to track and combat child pornography.
I edited the anthology Protectors: Stories to Benefit PROTECT to support them, and all proceeds from the sales of the book go to PROTECT. 41 authors, from George Pelecanos and Patti Abbott to Joe Lansdale and Ken Bruen, Ray Banks, Johnny Shaw, Roxane Gay and Les Edgerton all joined the fight. Todd Robinson’s story “Baby Boy” was a finalist for the Derringer award, and Dave White’s story “Runaway” is a Distinguished story of 2012, listed in The Best American Mystery Stories 2013, edited by Lisa Scottoline and Otto Penzler. The book has raised $2200 so far, and we sell more every day.
D (&K): Let’s get to the important part of the interview. Your love of beer is well known to those that follow you on social media. With your updates on UNTAPPD, we all know when you’re wetting your whistle. What’s the best/ worst brew that instantly comes to mind? And have you tasted Minnesota’s Summit Brewing? They make a tasty beverage right here in St. Paul.
TP: Ah yes, beer. I have a bit of OCD; I like to try everything once. So the craft beer explosion has led me to drinking a lot of ale. Summit is good; I’ve had their classic Extra Pale and the Great Northern Porter. And the Black Ale from their Unchained series. I haven’t been back to Minneapolis for some time, but I want to try Surly Brewing, I’ve heard great things. I lived in Minneapolis for about six years, first in South Minneapolis and then by the Cherry. I sure miss the Jucy Lucy burgers at Matt’s bar, and the potatoes at Mickey’s Diner Car. The Twin Cities have a character all their own. I visited a friend’s farm in the Iron Range and drove up to Ely, and it stuck with me, since I put it into the book.
D (&K): Why did you leave the Twin Cities and when are you coming back?
I graduated with a degree in English Lit and left New Jersey for the Twin Cities because a friend was doing a master’s in ecology there, working with Jane Goodall, and told me that West Publishing was hiring. When I arrived there was a hiring freeze and a transit strike, so I started working in Information Technology. I drive a 5.0 Mustang convertible all winter; I really liked living there. Couldn’t get enough cheese curds, walleye on a stick, and pickle dogs at the State Fair. But a job in New York lured me back to my family. I’ve visited friends in St. Paul since; I consider it my Midwest home away from home. My wife’s from Baton Rouge, at the other end of the Mississippi, and doesn’t like the cold, but we’ll be visiting one summer before the mosquitoes get too bad!
D (&K): ::readies guest room::
In the spirit of “Inside the Actor’s Studio” and the Bernard Pivot questions asked of every guest, we have our own set of questions we ask of every interviewee.
D (&K): When did you finally say, “Yeah… I’m gonna write stuff for a living. And it will be AWESOME.”
TP: I’m still working on that “for a living” part, but it all began when the folks at Shotgun Honey loved my story “The Last Sacrament,” and the crime fiction community responded. I think crime fiction, whether cozy or hardboiled or the grittiest noir, no matter what section of the bookstore it’s in, is the strongest and most important writing being done today. From Dan Woodrell to Megan Abbott, Barry Graham and Benjamin Whitmer, Josh Stallings and Hilary Davidson… you know I can’t name them all, that’s how many great writers we have working today, and I’m proud to be part of it. “Crime” is just a word for the human condition.
D (&K): What has been your favorite moment in writing so far? The moment that when you read it on the page, you smiled and said, “That was so cool!”
TP: When I realized that with Blade of Dishonor, I could write an intense action story and populate it with flesh and blood characters that people care about. That came when I introduced Butch as a cranky old vet who is still a badass, and it turned what began as a novella into a full-length novel, because Butch’s story had to be told.
D (&K): What was the moment that made you say, “Writing books is amazing”?
TP: The first time a stranger approached me to say they loved a character I created.
D (&K): Our standard Beatles or Rolling Stones question: Hammett or Chandler?
TP: Hammett. A friend lent me The Continental Op and I was hooked. The Glass Key is the underrated masterpiece, as far as I’m concerned. And I like Chandler well enough; he’s certainly more poetic, and a hell of a writer. But I prefer the straightforwardness of Hammett, the directness. And the Stones, man. The Beatles are pop. I enjoy their music, and they changed the world. The Stones didn’t change it, they just hosed off the whitewash so we could see it painted black.
D (&K): Parting thoughts?
TP: Keep Fighting.
Thanks so much for talking the time to talk with us!
Dan (and Kate)