SUCKERPUNCH: GRAPPLING WITH AUTHOR JEREMY BROWN!
I’ve mentioned Jeremy Brown’s novel Suckerpunch quite a bit recently – mostly because it’s the best crime novel I’ve read this year. I got it touch with Jeremy and asked him to do an interview on Bish’s Beat, and he’s provided an insightful take on his approach as a writer and on Suckerpunch and it’s coming sequel.
Suckerpunch is a taunt and terrific tale featuring the first appearance of MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) fighter Woodshed Wallace ... cue Rockyesque theme music ... So, it’s into the MMA cage – writer vs. interrogator – and it’s grappling to a tap-out …
Q1: What is the novel’s version of a fighter’s stats when applied to Suckerpunch?
Suckerpunch is a lean and mean crime thriller set in the world of Las Vegas mixed martial arts. The narrator, Aaron “Woodshed” Wallace, is in a constant battle of “head or gut.” Is he going to use his head and distance himself from his shady past and the criminals who want to drag him back in, or is he going to go with his gut – the one that put him next to those criminals in the first place?
Q2: While becoming more popular, fiction using an MMA background must have been almost unheard of when you started writing Suckerpunch. What brought your writing into the cage?
It’s true — MMA was pretty scarce in the fiction world when I started this project in 2006. It had infiltrated the non-fiction market with fighter biographies, but I still had to explain to my agent at the time what MMA meant, and why it was (and still is) a great world for thriller novels.
I’d tried writing the Aaron Wallace character before, going back to scenes I wrote for fiction workshops in college in the late 90s. Wallace started out as a self-defense instructor/vigilante, but there wasn’t any steam behind that approach. When I revisited him in 2006, MMA was getting a huge surge from Japan’s Pride Fighting Championships and the UFC, especially its new reality show The Ultimate Fighter. I was watching and loving all this MMA, and decided to throw Wallace in the cage to see how he did. That was the one big piece I needed to get the story going. I still needed two more, and we’ll get to them soon.
Q3: Suckerpunch is subtitled Round One, indicating the first in a series. Did you always perceive Woodshed Wallace as a series character?
Yes, I liked the idea of following this character while he tries to fight his way out of his past and to the top of the MMA food chain. The series is designed for five books, the same number of rounds in a championship MMA fight.
Q4: Do you have a background in MMA as a fighter or a fan?
I’ve been a fan of MMA since UFC 1 in 1993, when Royce Gracie showed the world what Brazilian Jiu Jitsu could do. I never planned to compete in MMA, but the training and skills fascinated me. I trained in judo, jeet kune do, BJJ, and various close-quarter combat stick and knife arts. Most of the stuff I trained was for self-defense – filthy, nasty stuff – which informed Woody’s street fighting background. I enjoy the scenes where he has to battle his street muscle memory in order to stay within the rules of MMA.
Q5: As a writer how do you help readers understand MMA fighting?
Bottom line, I want the story to be entertaining. These fights and fighters can be so technical, breaking down a play-by-play could read like a flowchart on combat chess. Possibly interesting to MMA die-hards, but it would turn off most readers.
So, I try to throw enough MMA detail in – technique, cause and effect, terminology, culture – to show the reader what’s happening and why without drowning them in minutia. I think it works best to have the characters convey that information through action and dialogue, but there’s no way these guys would stand around explaining everything to each other. They’re so close to it and each other they speak in shorthand and code, so the action and dialogue have to work together.
For example, Woody dives in to take his sparring partner down. Gil says, “Watch the guillotine.” Woody pulls his opponent’s forearm away from his throat so he can keep breathing. Good – now we know a guillotine is a forearm choke.
Q6: What would you say to those of us who are traditional boxing fans to give MMA a chance to grow on us?
I started as a boxing fan (actually, I started as a ninja fan, but they aren’t on pay-per-view), and as soon as I saw MMA I thought, “It’s like boxing, but with kicks and chokes and broken arms? Even better!” Here are just a few reasons to cross to the dark side:
1. Fighters who finish fights are promoted. Those who fight for points are not – usually because they get finished by the other guys.
2. MMA delivers the fights fans want to see. There are some match-ups that don’t happen or happen too late in careers, but for the most part the guys who should fight, do.
3. MMA is safer. The smaller gloves allow one-punch knockouts rather than 12-round bludgeonings, and there are no standing eight counts that let boxers keep fighting when they should not.
4. Don King is not in MMA.
Q7: Did you see the recent MMA film Warrior and, if so, what did you think?
I haven’t seen it yet, but I’m looking forward to it. The first batch of MMA films were mostly Rocky or The Karate Kid set in MMA, so I was excited to see this one come along. At the same time, it scares me. I think I’m going to watch it and go, “Damn, why didn’t I think of that?”
Q8: You began your professional writing career with a series for young adults, Crime Files: Four Minute Forensic Mysteries. How did writing the Crime Files series lead to Suckerpunch?
I never thought I’d write for kids or young adults, but the Crime Files opportunity was perfect for me. They wrapped up and that’s when I decided to revisit the Aaron Wallace character. Like I said before, this was a guy who needed his story told, but I hadn’t figured out how to tell it. Putting him inside the cage was the first step. Then I read Chandler’s The Big Sleep, and it knocked me like a sap in the temple. As soon as I started writing it as a noir crime thriller, the story poured onto the page. That was the second big piece.
The third came with the title. The martial arts instructor I was training with had a private seminar called The Art of the Suckerpunch. I thought, How cool is that? Something so nasty can have an art to it. And bam, there was the title and the final piece I needed to get rolling.
Q9: What was the path you followed to get Suckerpunch published?
Twisty, with lots of switchbacks and dead ends. I changed agents, then rewrote everything except the first chapter with an entirely new plot and characters. We submitted it to editors who loved it – with just a few major changes here and there – and they presented it to publishers who passed. It was very frustrating to get so close again and again, but it made the story stronger.
When Medallion Press picked it up in the summer of 2010, I was thrilled. The people there love the story and characters, and there are quite a few MMA fans on the staff. They’ve all been fantastic.
Q10: As MMA continues to grow in popularity has the sport provided you with an outlet to promote Suckerpunch?
I believe so – I don’t have to explain what MMA is nearly as much as I used to, and usually just mentioning the UFC is sufficient. We ran ads on the popular MMA site Sherdog.com and I dream of seeing my book cover on the canvas of a UFC event, but that will have to wait for a bigger advertising budget.
I hope it’s been a mutually beneficial relationship, where MMA fans come across my book and share it with non-fans (ahem, Bish), who check out the sport and get hooked. But I also want readers who couldn’t care less about MMA to enjoy the story. I’ve had readers who haven’t seen one 4oz punch get thrown tell me they couldn’t put the book down, which is great.
Q11: As a writer, how do you sustain a series of novels focused around a fighter without always having to lead up to the ‘big fight,’ or is leading up to the ‘big fight’ part of the attraction?
Great question. Any ideas? Because the novels are crime thrillers first and MMA thrillers second, I get to make the climax something other than the big fight. The fight is certainly vital to the story, and Woody has to win (so far), but the stories are about more than what happens in the cage. It’s fun to find ways to tie the big fight in with the other conflicts going on in the story to make it bigger than a number on Woody’s win/loss sheet.
I also try to treat the fights like a compact mystery, with foreshadowing, twists, and misdirection. Woody is trying to solve the mystery before his opponent, and they both know what it means to figure it out a second too late.
Q12: What’s up next for Woodshed Wallace in Round Two?
Round Two is titled Hook and Shoot, and it picks up seven weeks after the final scene in Suckerpunch:
Woodshed Wallace has fought to survive his entire life. He thinks the big break from MMA promotion Warrior is going to change all that, and he’s right – now he has to make sure Banzai Eddie and Warrior don’t get snuffed out by the yakuza.
If the yakuza can’t collect on the debt Eddie owes, they’ll take payment in blood –and it doesn’t matter whose. Woody has no choice but to help Eddie and his ex-SAS bodyguard, Mr. Burch, stay alive and keep Warrior intact.
Serves Woody right for trusting Eddie and thinking he was off the hook for his past. He should know by now what happens with hooks: when you drop back onto them, they go twice as deep.
Thanks to Jeremy Brown for getting in the cage with Bish’s Beat.
As I said at the start of the interview, Suckerpunch is one of the most entertaining novels with one of the most engaging lead characters to come to the attention of Bish’s Beat this year. Pin down a copy for yourself, now!
TO VISIT JEREMY BROWNS WEBSITE CLICK HERE
No head butts, groin strikes, eye gouges, or fishhooks. He'd go along with it, but heavyweight mixed martial artist Aaron "Woodshed" Wallace thinks they're taking all the fun out of fighting. Stuck on no-name cards for tiny organizations, Woody is trying to put his shady past behind him with help from his trainer and mentor, Brazilian jiu jitsu black belt Gil Hobbes.
When Banzai Eddie Takanori--president of MMA's largest organization, Warrior Inc.--offers Woody a short-notice fight against a highly favored poster boy, Woody sees his shot at salvation. By the time he realizes he's just a pawn in a high-stakes game between psychopaths, he's in way too deep.
Good thing he knows how to take a punch.
And give a few back...