An Interview With Jason Duke

By Jason Michel

Jason Duke writes hard, truthful stories. He should do. He’s seen more carnage than the average pen/pun-pusher. Than you or me. I was lucky enough to interview him.

Q1: Hey Jason! Who are you? Where are you? How are you?
Tell us a little about Jason Duke.

I’m from Phoenix, but I grew up in San Diego. Got into all kinds of trouble as a kid, drugs, gangs, shit like that. I dropped out of high school, earned a GED. It wasn’t until I was 24 that I cleaned up my act and got my shit together. I earned a BA in Public Relations from Arizona State University, graduated August 2005, and joined the Army the same month. I was lucky to end up in Hawaii as my first duty station, yet I guess unlucky to end up deployed in Iraq for 15 months. But I got through it, made it out in one piece, and with a ton of experiences to draw from. Now I’m back in California. My service is up end of next year and I plan to go back to Phoenix to write full time.

Q2: What was the original catalyst that got you to pick up the metaphorical pen & put your words down?
Was it a book? Was it for the glory? What?

Of course for fortune and glory. Actually, I suppose the moment I realized I wanted to write was around 10 years old. I had a buddy I used to write with, this mulatto kid named Rennie. He’d spend the night at my house and we would write one or two paragraph stories that we read to each other. I’m a product of public education, but really the only good thing I got out of it was meeting Rennie. Not saying I wouldn’t have wanted to write had I not met him, that’s just the way it turned out, that was the defining moment that helped me realize I wanted to write.

Q3: How much of what you “get down on paper” comes from experience? How much importance do your life experiences have on the ideas for your stories?

I would say mostly everything I write comes from my experiences. I become more connected to a story that way, the writing becomes more important to me, maybe not to others, but that’s okay. I don’t write for others, I write for myself. When I write a story based on personal experience, I tend to take those stories more seriously. However, not all of my stories are based on personal experience. I think anyone reading them can probably tell the difference because the ones based on personal experience come from the heart and I’ve invested a lot into them on an emotional level, whereas my stories not written from personal experience read less serious, like I’m just fucking around, having fun with them.

Q4: Talking of experiences, how has life in the military affected your writing?
& the obvious question following that would be, how does the tour in Iraq that you underwent manifest itself in the way you write now, if at all? Has the way you approach a story changed after such an intense (I imagine) experience?

I always try to be open and honest about myself and my writing, so I don’t mind answering these kinds of questions. My military life has affected my writing a great deal, it would be hard for it not to. I could choose not to write about these experiences, but I think I would just be denying myself an opportunity to share and write about things most writers haven’t experienced for themselves. They can write about it, but they haven’t lived it. I don’t think my military service makes me special as a writer, just makes my persona a little more interesting perhaps.

My time in Iraq turned me into a mean prick, I’m talking fuck the world and everybody in it meanness, though since getting back I think I’m getting better and getting some of my niceness back. As a result, my writing tends to reflect that. My characters are usually unlikeable or even downright despicable, always doing dirt, always knee deep into bad shit, and bad things happen to them and it all ends badly for them in return. This all comes from my time in the Army and Iraq. I think people are capable of great and good things, I’ve just gotten so jaded that I have a hard time seeing it anymore, but deep down I know it’s there because we have the ability to choose to do so. This all comes out in the wash through my writing, kind of my way of working things out. Maybe now that I’m out of Iraq and soon out of the Army, my outlook will change and I’ll lose that mean streak. Or maybe I was never really a nice guy to begin with, I don’t know.

Q5: Okay, so why do you write? To entertain or to exorcise?

I guess both, though probably more to exorcise at the moment. Of course I like it when colleagues and readers praise and encourage my writing, and I’m happy and grateful my stories entertain them, entertain somebody, anybody. I think even if they didn’t entertain and nobody liked anything I wrote and said ‘Duke you fucking cock sucker, you’re shit and your writing is shit, you prick,’ after I choked the mother fucker out, I would move on to writing my next story. Writing is just something I love to do, and something I think I’m good at doing, kind of like a calling in life I can’t ignore, and would be a fool if I did. I have hobbies and the things I like to do in my spare time, I have jobs and careers and the things I do to make money, and above all that, transcending it all, I have my writing.

Q6: Which writers would you say have influenced your writing? What & who do you read & why?

I actually hate getting this question. This marks the third interview I’ve done so far, not a lot I realize, but I’ve been asked this question in all three. There are no writers I dislike; it’s all gravy. That doesn’t mean I think every story I read is necessarily good, but I will never discourage anyone from writing and sharing their stories. I mostly read online short stories because I’m lazy and it takes me a long time to read novels. I end up setting the novel aside and getting back to it days or weeks later, not so with a short story. I’ll read just about any type of fiction, but I favor crime-noir. Like I said, I have a penchant for unlikeable characters, dark, seedy and depraved shit, so noir is right up my alley. There are a lot of great crime writers online and it looks like the MWA is starting to take notice of that now that they’re adding ezines such as Spinetingler to their approved markets list.

The one guy who influenced me the most is Plots With Guns editor Anthony Neil Smith. Neil was the first editor to take me under his wing so to speak, nourish and encourage my writing, and I’ll never forget that. This was back in the day around when Plots With Guns first came out in 1999-2000. I remember when I went into the Army, I told Neil if anything ever happened to me I wanted him to inherit my writing. Not saying I wouldn’t have kept at it, but Neil was a big help and big inspiration, and continues to be so today.

Q7: Where do you see Crime Noir heading? Is there anything new out there or is it just rehashing the same old same old Taratino plagarism?
I see crime-noir gaining more and more popularity, that’s my prediction. I think the internet is ushering in another golden age the way pulp magazines did back in the day, only without the pay. There are a lot of ways to get published online, with very few ways to get paid. Maybe that will change, we’ll see. I like most of Tarantino’s films, but noir didn’t start with him and it won’t end with him, if his shit can even be labeled ‘noir’, or even ‘neo-noir’. Sure, there’s a lot of rehashing that goes on, not just with Tarantino’s stuff, on all levels. I think that’s normal. When someone watches a movie or reads a story and they like what they see — i.e. it resonates with them — I think it’s natural they feel inspired to write something similar along those lines. The idea that all stories fall into a fixed number of plots, or something to that effect, would make it seem there’s nothing new at all, just rehashing, but I think really it’s the characters in a story that keep things fresh and make a story feel new and exciting.

Q8: Why are people so fascinated by crime? I read something by the notorious Jim Goad who said that ( & I’m paraphrasing here) criminal get so much hype & shit because they actually what everyone really wants to do but are too scared to do it.

Jim Goad hit the proverbial nail on the head. When something is illegal, taboo, forbidden, people seem more attracted to it than they normally would. They wonder what it would feel like to blow somebody’s brains out, to be in a high-speed chase, get into a shootout with the cops, etc. I know I do, and anybody who says otherwise is full of shit. At the same time I realize there are serious, real life consequences involved if I cross over that line, not so with watching a crime movie or reading a crime story. It’s a safe alternative, the next best thing, as watered down an experience as that may be. Do people cross over the line, sure, but then they usually face the consequences.

Q9: What does the future hold for Jason Duke & his writing?

Writing, writing, followed by more writing. Like I said, my service is up end of next year and I plan to go back to Phoenix and write full time. I’ve been working on a novel titled “One-way Haiku”, have it outlined, about a third of it written, but I think I’ll hold off on trying to make something happen with it until I’m closer to getting out of the Army. In the meantime, I’ll continue writing short stories, continue writing crime-noir. I want to write short stories good enough to place in the various ‘years best of anthologies’; get nominated and win awards like Derringer, Spinetingler, or god willing, an Edgar.  I want to land a book deal or deals. These are my goals for the future, granted they’re goals most writers aim for but why break the mold. Even if I make it as a novelist, I’ll never give up writing short stories.

See JD’s story “Last Days to Nowhere” also featured in PMM.

8 thoughts on “An Interview With Jason Duke”

  1. pleased that you use your military experience in your writing. for those of us who haven’t been there, even with a huge stretch of the imagination it’s hard to get close to the real thing.
    all power to One Way Haiku.

  2. Thanks Nigel, sometimes I wish I’d never joined, but I think in the end it was worth it and given the chance I would probably do it again. BTW, congrats to you getting into Mammoth!

  3. Once again, thank you for sharing your life story with us and telling us how you got your start. I have friends that served in Iraq that will not talk about it, so I do appreciate you sharing your experiences through your writing. Though you think you might have not joined if given the chance again, I thank you for serving your country. You are very brave.

  4. Don’t sell yourself short, buddy. You write about much more than blowing shit up and knee-deep immorality. At the bottom of all your stuff you make one thing crystal clear every time: The real cost to everyone involved. No “moral mottos” but what a guy sees when he looks in the mirror or tosses sweat soaked sheets aside in the middle of the night stares out at the dark.

  5. Love reading the interviews here. I read some of Jason’s work after his interview at the slaughterhouse. His interviews reflect his writing. Honest and straight forward. Thanks for serving in the military, Jason. I admire/appreciate what you do.

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