It’s Supposed To Be Funny, I Swear by David James Keaton

Pleased today to welcome David James Keaton to the blog. Those in the crime fiction community will no doubt recognize David from his work which has appeared in places like Noir At The Bar, Beat To A Pulp, Needle, Pulp Modern, Shotgun Honey and Thuglit, among others. He’s also the author of the ridiculously entertaining “zombie love-story fiasco” novella Zee Bee & Bee (a.k.a. Propeller Hats for the Dead). Today, David is here to talk about his newest release, the short story collection Fish Bites Cop!.

David James KeatonNow that my collection Fish Bites Cop! is out, I’ve started thinking about “reasons” lately, probably due to interviewers asking good questions. One that pops up is, “Why would anybody write a book with several stories seemingly attacking First Responders?”

Well, to be honest, that’s not really what it’s about. That’s not really what happens in here (although there is an experiment to see how many time you can fold a police officer in half, but, hey, science!)

Now, it would be funnier if it was, in an irreverent, anything-goes kind of way, an all out assault on those who “don’t ask to be heroes,” and, yeah, it probably tries to be, and I’ve even been promoting it as such with playful jabs, mostly at law enforcement and firefighters, so why should you believe me now? But it’s supposed to be funny, I swear.

Okay, the law enforcement grudge is probably genuine, the firefighter thing being more inexplicably personal and harder to defend. And, sure, the mocking of religion, middle management, and the military are also legitimate targets. So in other words, forget what I just said. Whoops! No, really, it’s supposed to be funny.

Seriously though, they are fair game. Anyone who holds authority over another is ripe for corruption, at the least incompetence. So much like the firefighter who sets a fire just to put it out later, sometimes I also hypocritically set them up and knock them down a bit. Sometimes. But what about paramedics? Who in their right mind includes paramedics in this equation? Exactly.

But this mean-spirited stuff is not really what it’s about! But back to the paramedic thing for a second. Their stories are kind of the glue that holds the book together, a Greek chorus of sorts. And it’s in these moments when the book makes the most sense to me, if I’m going to be thinking about “reasons” again. The ambulance interludes in this collection are about a lot of guys named “Jack” (or the same guy, or all the guys, that name being the closest thing to no-name I could come up with), and it’s no accident that there are no Jacks playing cops, firefighters, bounty hunters, or prison guards in this book, even though those authority figures, higher on the food chain and treated much more brutally by Jacks of their own, are also without names. But Jack does turn up as this paramedic from time to time. And when it comes to these very important first-responding duties, Jack takes them seriously. Too seriously. And sometimes he focuses on the wrong aspects of lifesaving – like setting a new record for getting to the scene of the crime the fastest, no matter what the cost. Also, the reoccurring paramedic stories are not necessarily there to clean up the horrors of the other stories (but they are), but maybe also to remind the author of what his or her role is supposed to be? If I’m applying reasons again, why not! But I don’t know. That’s the closest I can come to making sense out of the collection, and to do that I had to look at it from a distance. Like pinned to the floor under my foot.

All I know for sure – and this is no joke, no misdirection, no stream-of-consciousness smokescreen here – is this. It’s supposed to be funny! And I swear. A lot. Because no matter what the topic. No matter who the sacred cow, I tried to make it funny. That really was the main objective, I think. No wise man once said, “The game’s not fair but we’re all fair game.”

Fish Bites Cop!Speaking of fair game, when I wrapped up the final edits, I found myself craving bad cop stories in the media. And oh, boy, there were plenty in 2012. But the bad cop story that dominated most of my time was a fictional one. Vic Mackey. I watched all 88 episodes of The Shield in a little over a month. I don’t know how many that is every day, but this could not have been healthy. But when I was finished, I felt I was a little closer to understanding the kind of guy who would pull a gun on a kid at the drive-through because he was taking too long ordering his burger. This is the kind of guy who assumes, even if maybe everyone can’t watch footage of him doing a job nobody wants to do, then at the very least, they’re out there watching The Shield. And who are the viewers rooting for? Yeah, Vic Mackey, a character who kills a fellow officer in cold blood in the first episode and then spends 88 episodes trying to bury him. So the cop on that video probably asked himself later, why don’t they root for me at the drive-through? Mabye some people did actually. Like Vic Mackey. Or Shane (until the last season anyway).

Speaking of Shane, this book is full of Shanes, now that I think about it. Only I called them Jacks. Shane, a.k.a. “Cletus Van Damme,” was the closest thing to comic relief on The Shield (or maybe Dutch before he started strangling cats), and it wasn’t just his Dixie ringtone or those teeth. But more important than the funny, Shane did something impossible in those last few episodes by actually making the walking calamity played by Walter Goggins sympathetic. I’m not sure I can claim to do the same with my Jacks in this book, but I did try to conjure up something resembling respect as these characters cling to the rim well into the flush.

I kind of regret not having a Vic Mackey in this collection, or at least putting one of my Jacks into that blue uniform. The closest thing might be Officer Andy in the final story “Nine Cops Killed For A Goldfish Cracker,” but, truthfully, I don’t feel too many urges to squander sympathy on authority figures in these stories, not when there’s so much to get mad about every time I turn on the news. But paramedics? I know, I know. I have no excuse, except that I didn’t think I’d ever have to defend it. “What did they ever do to you?” Nothing. But now I think I’m a bit closer to understanding their role. Maybe including them in the assault makes me the only thing worse than these Boys in Blue. Or red. So maybe I cast a wider net here. To give the reader an out. If it’s gonna be funny, I’m fair game, too, right?

I will tell you this though. When I was about ten years old, there was this one paramedic who was leaning up against his ambulance, and when no one else was watching, he was mean to a little kid who pedaled up and just wanted to know what was going on inside the house. Or maybe it was a cop. Either way, it was pretty minor, but that’s something that still makes me angry. Why don’t we get to ask them where they’re going? Why don’t we get to know what’s going on inside that house? So in this book, I followed them to see where they were going, every chance I got. And, hopefully, I forced them to show us everything, even if they resisted. So we can finally see if they’re the same color on the inside.

Fish Bites Cop! is available at Amazon.

David James Keaton’s fiction has appeared in over fifty publications. His first collection, FISH BITES COP! Stories To Bash Authorities, is now available from Comet Press. It’s supposed to be funny. He swears. To learn more about David James Keaton, visit his website.

1 Comment

  • Alec Cizak

    July 3, 2013 - 4:30 pm

    Fascinating, as always. I really enjoyed David’s book. I look forward to reading Elizabeth’s review of it.

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