I’m delighted that my guest this week on The Scariest Part is an old friend of mine from way back, author Jason Ridler, whose latest novel is Hex-Rated. Here is the publisher’s description:
Fall, 1970. Los Angeles has always been a den of danger and bliss, but even darker tidings brew in the City of Angels. Cults, magic, and the supernatural are leaking into the worlds of glamour and dives of the gutter. To the spectators walking down Hollywood Blvd, it’s just more proof that La La Land is over the cuckoo’s nest. But to former child magician and Korean veteran turned newly-licensed private investigator James Brimstone, it means business is picking up.
After attending his mentor’s funeral, Brimstone signs his first client: Nico, a beautiful actress with a face full of scars and an unbelievable story of sex, demons, and violence on the set of a pornographic film in the San Fernando Valley. The cops chalk it up to a bad trip from a lost soul, but Brimstone knows better.
He takes the case, but the investigation goes haywire as he encounters Hell’s Angels, a lost book of Japanese erotica, and a new enemy whose powers may fill the streets of L.A. with blood. He’ll have to use his Carney wits, magic tricks, and a whole lotta charm to make it out of a world that is becoming . . . Hex-Rated.
And now, let’s hear what the scariest part was for Jason S. Ridler:
Hex-Rated, the debut novel in my new series The Brimstone Files, is a supernatural mystery set in porn industry of 1970s LA. And the scariest part was writing the sexy bits.
I’ve written about love, lust, violence, horror and the grotesque for almost twenty years but this was a legit novel! And unlike Harlan Ellison and other heroes who wrote dirty books under pennames, I’d be using my own. What would the neighbors think? What might my family think???
Then I recalled a chat I had with my friend Weird-Ass Neil, back when I started writing fiction. Over hyper-priced coffee I complained that I was stalled. All my characters were lone wolves who had no family because I was worried that if I wrote a father, a mother, or sister…my real life family would scream, “That’s how you think of me? HOW DARE YOU!”
Ol’ Weird-Ass Neil’s about as blunt as a cement brick in the face. His response? “Sounds like you’re giving other people a lot of authority over what you can write, and they’re not even in the room. Dude, I think this is a recipe for mediocrity.” He was right. Fear of external judgment is the killer of creativity. If you please everyone, you’ll hate the work yourself. So I started writing about families and their influences (good, bad, and fugly) and my characters became vastly more interesting and “rounded” and I leveled up as a writer.
So, when I found myself at that crossroad of “Fear of External Judgment” again, I ran in the other direction. Hex-Rated is a pulp novel so there damn well better be some pulp sex. At the same time, the last thing I wanted was some kind of tribute to misogynist power-fantasies of that era. So I made Brimstone a sheet warrior, but a progressive and left-wing child of the Beats with an open mind and forward attitude about sex and sexuality. Yes, the sex in the novel is over the top and primarily built for hetero-normative modes, but it also fit his character and his attitudes. And, I hope, they’re fun to read!
Then, I waited for responses from the big bad world and the results have been HILARIOUS!
Some fans love those scenes for being salacious and ridiculous. Others say they’re “too much,” and Brimstone is “too good” at the beast-with-two-backs to be taken seriously. And my family, in true “children of the 1980s fashion,” skipped those parts like Fast Forwarding the “adult situations” in a teen comedy! I’ve walked the line, as Johnny Cash would say, with some folks loving the lusty bits, others hating them, and most folks loving the story and editing them to suit their interests.
That’s the kind of happy ending you only get when you don’t give in…to the Scariest Part!
Jason S. Ridler is a writer, improv actor, and left-wing military historian. His novels include Hex-Rated, the first installment of the Brimstone Files series for Nightshade Press, Rise of the Luchador, and Death Match. He’s also published over sixty stories and numerous academic publications. FXXK WRITING! A Guide for Frustrated Artists collects the best of his column of the same name, and his next historical work, Mavericks of War, is forthcoming from Stackpole Books. A former punk rock musician and cemetery groundskeeper, Mr. Ridler holds a Ph.D. in War Studies from the Royal Military College of Canada. He lives in Berkeley, CA and is a Teaching Fellow for Johns Hopkins University.