Lou Holly is the author of SOUTHSIDE HUSTLE, a crime thriller set in 1980s Chicago. The protagonist is an ex-con who wants to go straight but has his underworld past quickly catch up with him. Faced with having to raise cash quickly, he takes a risk which lands him a seriously impossible predicament. The plot is well thought through and credible, the delivery witty and sharp, and the tension palpable.
We asked Lou about his approach to writing.
TBF: Why did you decide to write a novel?
LH: I have stories in me that are burning to get out. When story ideas won’t leave me alone I have to get them down. Sometimes, I’ll be in the middle of writing a novel and I get an idea for another story. I’ll start taking notes and before you know it, I’m writing a new novel and the other one that I was working on is on the back burner.
TBF: What was the most difficult challenge you faced writing your first novel?
LH: When I was more than halfway finished, the story became too big for my own head. I solved that problem three ways. First, I made notes of all major scenes on index cards and kept shuffling them around to get the right sequence of events that made the most sense. But that wasn’t enough. I needed to see all the sequences laid out in order, so I abbreviated each scene on sticky notes that I cut into strips, took two large pieces of poster board, taped them together and put all the scenes on a story arc. Again I moved them around until I got the best storyline. Still, I needed more help. I created a calendar of events so I could see what happened on each day in the story.
TBF: What came easiest?
LH: The characters. Most were loosely based on people I knew. Some were composite characters.
TBF: What, if any, formal writing training have you had?
LH: None. Basically, I’m a self-taught writer. About five years ago, when I was a few months into writing my first novel, which is not finished yet, I joined a writer’s group. Judging from their critiques, it was obvious that I was making all the mistakes a beginning writer makes. So I went to the library and took out all the books I could find on the subject of writing novels. I scanned the Internet for further information. I devoured all the information I could find. Even if you have great story ideas, there is a lot one should know before attempting to write a novel.
TBF: SOUTHSIDE HUSTLE is set in your home city of Chicago. Did you follow advice to write about places you know?
LH: Not usually. I mostly went from my memories of 1985, which was a crazy year for me. But, I provided as much accuracy as I could. In one scene a local pizza place was mentioned. I called them to see if they served Pepsi or Coke. The girl on the phone told me – Royal Crown Cola.
TBF: Should we be led to believe that you’re also intimately connected with the illegal drug trade?
LH: That was a long time ago. For a number of years, I had it all, money, beautiful women, cars, jewelry, travel, an expensive wardrobe. It was a dangerous and exciting life, but it all came crashing down. I’ve paid my debt to society, as they say. But, I’ve never used drugs of any kind, unless you consider bourbon and cigars drugs.
TBF: What drove you to take as your subject that particular world of gangs and drugs?
LH: I knew it was a story that could be told with a large amount of accuracy. So often, I read books and see movies and TV where writers don’t know what the hell they’re talking about and it pisses me off. Many times, writers get their knowledge from film and other writers, which is not the way to go. Whenever I read or see a fight scene where a guy punches another guy, pulls him to his feet, then punches him again, it makes me laugh. I’ve been in a lot of fights and seen a lot of fights. When you get a guy down, you do everything you can to keep him from getting up again. You don’t help him to his feet.
TBF: Besides the dangerous and at times violent scrapes the hero Trick gets into, SOUTHSIDE HUSTLE has a softer side, about father and son relationships. Why is that important to you?
LH: I was separated from my young son for nearly three years in the late 1980s. I know that pain. I lived it. Thankfully, my son has grown into a tall, handsome, intelligent, talented and successful man with sons of his own.
TBF: What experience from other areas of life, if any, did you find helpful to writing your novel?
LH: I grew up in a middle-class, blue-collar neighborhood but knew I didn’t want to stay there. I’ve been fortunate, and at times unfortunate, to have lived an unusually interesting life full of tremendous experiences and larger than life characters. Through different businesses I’ve owned, and from other areas of my life, I’ve gotten to know a lot of major celebrities, actors, singers, musicians, sports figures, politicians. I’ve hobnobbed with the rich, high society, and gotten to know underworld figures closely. All these experiences help shape my writing world.
TBF: Which readers will your book appeal to?
LH: I wrote SOUTHSIDE HUSTLE with men and women in mind. I like to think that it’s a crime novel with a heart. It’s more than just suspense and violence. There is a very real, human story taking place about a man’s search for family that I think will appeal to a broad range of readers. I threw in a little humor here and there because that’s the way real life is. Even in grave situations, many of us can find something to laugh about to help us through those difficult times.
TBF: What do you have next in store for readers?
LH: Thanks for asking. I’m very excited about my upcoming novel. It’s about a guy named Vint Mercurio, who hops off a freight train in Arkansas, 1953. Vint immediately gets into a jam when he kills a man defending himself in a fight. I wanted to write a novel that pays homage to late 1940s and early 50s film noir. It is written in the paperback pulp style of the early 1950s, lots of sex and violence. Unlike my character Trick from SOUTHSIDE HUSTLE, Vint doesn’t have a softer side.
SOUTHSIDE HUSTLE is available to read now on Kindle, and will be out in paperback in May.