I am feeling lucky and a bit stun-boggled by the wonderful reactions to my glitter rock disco heist yarn. Having been told to stay away from resent period novels and that a coming of age story and crime story just wouldn’t mix in a reader demographic sense. Thing is it was the next book I needed to write. The Moses McGuire novels took me to a dark angry place, I needed some mirror ball infused joy. It seems like a few other of you did too.
Here is what happened so far…
Earlier this year Young Americans was nominated for a Left Coast Crime Lefty Award (along side, Michael Connelly, The Crossing (Little, Brown and Company) Matt Coyle, Night Tremors (Oceanview Publishing) Robert Crais, The Promise (G.P. Putnam’s Sons) and Gigi Pandian, The Accidental Alchemist (Midnight Ink). Gigi, deservedly won. Me, I was proud to be named beside so many talented writers.
Young Americans is also up for multiple Anthony Awards. (2016 Anthony Awards are presented at the Bouchercon XVLII World Mystery Convention in New Orleans on Friday, September 16, 2016.)
BEST PAPERBACK ORIGINAL
The Long and Faraway Gone – Lou Berney [William Morrow]
Gun Street Girl – Adrian McKinty [Seventh Street/Serpent’s Tail]
Little Pretty Things – Lori Rader-Day [Seventh Street]
Young Americans – Josh Stallings [Heist]
Stone Cold Dead – James W. Ziskin [Seventh Street]
Ok this is insane, I am listed next to many of my favorite book of the last year.
BEST CRIME FICTION AUDIOBOOK
Dark Waters – Chris Goff – Assaf Cohen, narrator [Blackstone Audio]
The Girl on the Train – Paula Hawkins – Clare Corbett, Louise Brealey & India Fisher, narrators [Penguin Audio/Random House Audiobooks]
Causing Chaos – Deborah J. Ledford – Christina Cox, narrator [IOF Productions]
The Nature of the Beast – Louise Penny – Robert Bathurst, narrator [Macmillan Audio]
Young Americans – Josh Stallings – Em Eldridge, narrator [Josh Stallings]
Em Eldridge did a wonderful job on the audio book. She crushed it.
Maura Lynch has nice words here… http://www.thewiseacre.net/search?updated-max=2016-07-01T17:11:00-04:00&max-results=1
What I most am is grateful to all the writers and readers who voted to nominate Young Americans. I means the world to me. Thank you.
JUN 9, 2016
I remember way back in 2002, reading a review of the film Narc, there was a line that described Jason Patric’s character I’ve always remembered. It said he looked like he crawled out from under a pile of Allman Brothers records. That always stuck with me. I remembered it while reading YOUNG AMERICANS by Josh Stallings because this book crawled out from under a pile of albums, but not necessarily the Allman Brothers. And when I say albums, I mean fucking Vinyl records, that mono sound with the hisses and cracks. The sound of this book is not re-mastered for iTunes. You need big speakers.
YOUNG AMERICANS is set in Northern California 1976 and you can smell the weed and hear the music from the opening page. That’s something very important with this book: the music. 1976 was a musical crossroad specifically when punk, disco, and glam emerged or collided depending on your perspective. You hear the music in the proper context. It fits. Yes I am emphasizing this point because this book couldn’t exist without the sound. As I read, I need to stop to listen to songs I knew and look up ones I didn’t and it made the entire experience all the better.
When I read about this book and reached out for a copy, I didn’t have any idea what it was about. I didn’t care either. There was a new Josh Stallings book, enough said. I knew the title. That was is. So I get the book and it has a pink cover with a disco ball. No synopsis on the back either. Only pull quotes from writers I dig and words jumped out at me….. freaks/heist/drugs/sex/guns/glam/tough/original/sweet…… One thing I was certain of is in all of Stalling’s work there is a level of heart that is palpable. You care about the characters.
Sam is a stripper dancing for the farmers and freaks of Humboldt, County California. She comes from a family of old school thieves and knows the art of cracking a safe. She is young but with an old soul. Side note….. Sam is the most well written female character I’ve read in forever. She falls for the man she knows she shouldn’t fall for. And this sets the tale in motion.
So I just decided I’m not telling you anymore. My reason for this is I went into this book like I went into some of my all time favorite music albums before I knew they were going to be just that. I saw the cover and thought to myself I want to know what this is. So you just push play and fall in. Go where it takes you.
Take this trip. It’s lonely but heartfelt. It’s late night music on a fast highway.
Stallings has a powerful but subtle voice. He reminds me of the late great Eddie Little minus the nihilism. Yes there is a looming presence of menace. I couldn’t have got behind this book if that wasn’t clearly stated.
Welcome to the first episode of VODKA O’CLOCK for the new year! It’s my honor to welcome back a sweet friend, brilliant writer, and one of my personal life gurus, JOSH STALLINGS.
Download on iTunes, Stitcher, or listen here.
WRITING THE BOOKS
Josh’s writing career began with ALL THE WILD CHILDREN (a memoir) and the MOSES MAGUIRE trilogy. All four books buried the readers in deep dark crime stories, both real life and fictional. The lives all touched by sex, drugs, guns, and lots of dysfunctional families/relationships.
Trivia: the character Sam’s appearance and her feelings on body image came from a conversation Josh and I had a long time ago.
His latest book YOUNG AMERICANS, while still including sex, drugs, and glittery rock ‘n roll like David Bowie, is a masterpiece of medium-boiled crime fiction that’s suitable for a late teen and older audience. Sam, never call her Samantha, comes from a family of thieves. She formed her crew at a young age. When she’s burned by a lover and needs to pay off his debt, Sam reunites the crew and takes on a few new members. Josh was told he couldn’t write (re: sell) a coming of age story with a heist plot. He challenged that and succeeded.
“To Kill a Mockingbird is a coming of age crime story.” ~Josh Stallings
The three female characters at the heart of Sam’s crew: Sam, Candy, and Valentina are some of the most vibrant and refreshing female characters I’ve read and fell in love with them the same way I did with the women of Sarai Walker’s DIETLAND. The character of Sam feels so much lighter and more in charge (even when in danger) than the sex workers in his Moses Maguire series. PS – Valentina is a phenomenal transwoman of color.
We had a great part of our discussion addressing book cover and poster design. https://www.pinterest.com/theamberlove/cozy-mystery-covers/
Will we ever see Josh’s zombie cozy mysteries or Viking cozies? Maybe someday we’ll get that lucky!
“I really believe that fiction is at heart, the lie we tell so we can get to the truth. And I think that’s what we’re all trying to do no matter what genre it is.” ~Josh Stallings
Josh read his memoir to his father before he died a year ago.
“It’s very hard as a parent to divorce yourself from the fact that you feel responsible, as that is one of your works of art is that child. And so, you take personally what they do, not just personally because you love, but personally because it reflects on you at some level.” ~Josh Stallings
To extent, we even got into the commercialism and making art for a living – covering doing it for love, making only tips, charging people reasonable prices, libraries vs torrents.
When it came to writing YOUNG AMERICANS, it was truly something created because Josh felt the love for the story. It began as a short story in the FEEDING KATE anthology. He thought about the world and asked himself if he could live with it for a whole year to flesh it out to a full novel.
“If tomorrow I was out in a bar and met this story would I say, ‘yeah that’s a one-night story,’ or would I say, ‘now that’s a story I want to get hitched to’?” ~Josh Stallings
He further explained, and is very quotable you’ll hear for this entire episode, about writing what you love not what you think will sell. He continued to see writing like dating:
“I say be yourself because, otherwise you might meet the right person and they won’t recognize you. And I think that’s true about writing. Write what you love because then other readers and writers who like what you like will recognize you.” ~Josh Stallings
Josh discussed the difference in aging out of his Hollywood job as a movie trailer editor where youngins try to yinzplain to him about his job. Whereas, in literature, at his age, he’s shown great respect.
“I don’t know whether I am or am not an asshole, but I know I’m trying to get better every year and I hope that shows up in the writing.” ~Josh Stallings
“They think it’s so punk to steal a book and yet, they’ll give six hundred dollars to Apple for a phone. They aren’t sticking it to the man, they are sticking it to the artist.” ~Josh Stallings credits a commenter on his site for this.
“Young Americans,” (named after the David Bowie album) kicks off in mid December of 1976 in Northern California. In the opening chapters we meet Sam, a stripper who has run afoul of a powerful rural crime boss and the only way to save herself is by returning to the family business, thievery. So Sam returns home to San Francisco and assembles a heist crew to help her get out from under the crime lord’s thumb and perhaps start a better life. We follow her and her friends and family as they form a plan, gather the materials they need, and case their target. We then go along on the daring New Year’s Eve heist of a packed disco and then the story picks up even more power and momentum as the aftermath of the heist puts Sam and company in the crosshairs of a number of powerful and dangerous enemies.
So “Young Americans” is a fun and exciting tale full of twists, turns, and great action, but it’s real strength is it’s great cast of complex, fun, and well developed characters. Our chief protagonists are Sam, a tough and cunning thief with a devotion to both her biological and chosen families; and her brother Jacob whose smarts got him shut out of the family business. So when we meet him Jake is a bright kid obsessed with the great films of his era and the great rock ‘n roll, and when his sister comes home he insists on being part of her plans to get out of trouble.
Jake’s friend Terry, a smart jock turned glitter rock kid also becomes part of the crew. Rounding out the team are Sam’s old partners in crime Candy and my favorite character in the book Valentina, an African American transgender woman. I don’t want to spoil anything by talking too much about why I like Val, but let’s just say she’s incredibly charismatic and a bad-ass.
We also meet a number of colorful, eclectic, and cool characters over the course of “Young Americans.” One of my favorites ended up being Jo jo a gay, kindly, mob enforcer with a love for ’70s TV.
“Young Americans” shines a light on how cool, capable, and tough Stallings core cast is, but the author also really shows off their humanity as well. We get to see them in their element and we get to see them dealing with the physically and emotionally taxing consequences of their actions. Those are my favorite types of crime novels; the ones where you get both thrills and excitement and the brutal and painful costs of violence. It’s a type of novel that Stallings is a master at telling too. He proved it with his Moses McGuire trilogy of novels and proves it once again here.
So “Young Americans” has a different kind of feel than Stallings previous work, but it contains all of the elements I’ve come to love about his writing: fun action, gritty street level crime, fascinating characters, and powerful and poignant drama. For me it reads like a mash up of the lurid, lightning charged rock of the post-glam punk band the Cramps and Richard Stark’s awesome Parker novels.
Young Americans by Josh Stallings (Heist, November 20, 2015) – There’s something to say of rock and roll eras. You had the British Invasion of the 60’s or the hair metal havoc of the 80’s—easily identifiable and potent symbols of youth in rebellion. Though, there are few eras as absolutely, certifiably, mind-bending as the glam rock era. I can copy/paste all I want from Wikipedia to explain, but come on, like The Beatles or Motley Crue represent their era, David Bowie is the single name I can toss out there to give a perfect picture of the glam rock scene.
Which explains Josh Stallings’ latest, Young Americans—titles after a Bowie track—and soaked head to toe in eyeliner, glitter, and gutter trash. Already well-known for his fantastic Moses McGuire series and stunning (I cannot stress that enough, stunning) noir memoir, All the Wild Children, Josh Stallings comes out of the gate roaring with a filthy love letter to 70’s glam and the heist novel.
Sam, a down on her luck, legacy safe-cracker finds herself in the awkward position of owing the wrong guy a high amount of money. Seeing no other way out, she needs to jump headfirst back into her old life; bringing in old friends and her younger brother, who idolizes her despite his excess of smarts, and get in one last, desperate heist.
Stallings’ writing is a Willie Weeks bass-line—deceptively to the point, but with flourishes that stand out like flares. The strength of the story—the interpersonal relationships between this glam rock family—only help to ratchet up the tension in Sam’s situation. Stallings has us rooting immediately for Sam to make things work. We want her and her gang to not only get out of their situation in one piece, but with their heads up and their pockets fuller. And that’s not an easy task. Heist novels need to take great care to provide charismatic and damaged leads that readers happily root for even though thievery is morally repugnant. We want our Robin Hoods, but Sam doesn’t fit that mold at all. She’s a bit worn out and at times impulsive, but damn can she crack a safe.
And don’t get me wrong; with outstanding dialogue, a clever means of bringing on the heavy subject matter, and a jet-powered pace, there’s a lot for me to love about Young Americans, but I really, really loved Stallings great care in describing Sam’s skills. There’s a rhythm to those scenes that drew me in and left me hypnotized. I can imagine that must be the draw of an activity like safe-cracking, a near catharsis, and Stallings captured that well for me.
Young Americans has rushed into my top ten list for 2015. Young Americans feels like teenage rebellion; raw, sexy, sweet, and ugly in all the prettiest ways. In the hands of most writers, I don’t think this story could have popped, but Stallings makes it look easy.
- Review by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery
I am a sucker for a heist novel. Whether it’s amateurs pushed to economic extremes, “Born To Lose” punks with thirty-eights, or precise pros, the story of someone taking something from someone else always draws me in, no matter how well I’ve gotten to know the scores. I was excited to find out that one of my favorite hard boiled authors, Josh Stallings, was comitting his own style of literary larceny with Young Americans.
Set in the mid-seventies, Young Americans stars ringleader Sam, a former small time thief, scraping by as a stripper in Northern California. When her questionable boyfriend disappears with forty grand of her boss’ money, she must pay him back with either her money or her life. To get the money, she returns to her Bay Area home and enlists her old crew, enthusiastic participants in the glitter rock scene of the time. The crew includes her kid brother, Jacob; Candy, a glam rock princess and Jacob’s love interest, and Valentina, an African American Vietnam vet and transexual. The mark is a disco on New Year’s Eve. As you can guess, things don’t go as planned.
It is how Stallings spins these tropes that makes them work. His glam rock San Fransico gives the story a unique back drop, showing a group of young people pushing the views of culture and sexuality in a time of transition. Stallings explores how the heist plays with and against his characters’ emotions. Sam struggles to keep Jacob as safe as possible, but needs him around for the score to work. As part of their plan, Candy sleeps with the frontman of the disco’s opening act, wreaking havoc with Jacob’s emotions.
The author’s ability to play out the comaraderie aspect of the heist novel is what truly makes the story involving. Stallings’ seventies setting allows us to think back to the tribes we belonged to in our past, no matter what era, before marriage, family, and obligations made friendship a less concentrated form. He captures those connections of young people who would do whatever they could to back the other, no matter how stupid. When Sam and her crew learn how deep they are in, the implications of these connections become much more harrowing and serious.
Young Americans is a oddly sucessful hybrid of Richard Stark and Cameron Crowe. You root for these crazy kids to get the money, avoid murder by the mob, escape the law, and keep the bond they share together for as long as they can. You may end the novel yearning to listen to something on 8-track.
You can find Young Americans on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.
Stripper Sam is on the run. She leaves behind Hicksville USA and heads back to her family in San Francisco but trouble is soon barking and biting at her heels.
Josh Stallings‘ 1970s set heist novel Young Americans is bloody brilliant. A marvelous blend of crime fiction, coming of age story and offbeat family saga. Complete with a great soundtrack.
Stallings’ books are always great but this could well be his best yet.
BOLO Books– Posted on
Young Americans is a classic heist novel in that the motivations and desired results are what one would expect; yet the originality of the participants and the unique setting situate the book apart from the others of the type. Readers looking for a quick read, some hilarious dialogue, and a brief glimpse into a forgotten time will find much to enjoy in Josh Stallings’ tale.
As the novel opens, Samantha – but please call her Sam – is working at a strip club in Humboldt County, California. She is a big girl but makes no apologies for it. Raised in a criminal family, Sam sees stripping as her effort toward a legitimate lifestyle. But as it often does, the past rears its ugly head when Sam gets herself involved in some internal power struggles among her corrupt acquaintances and must flee for her safety.
Needing to hide out, Sam returns to her hometown of San Francisco and hooks up with her old gang of friends. Her brother Jacob is also hanging around, constantly trying to impress Sam’s childhood best friend, Candy, so that Candy might take a romantic interest in him. The reunion is short-lived as Sam’s attempt at subterfuge collapses around her.
Their only option to keep the tight-knit gang safe and intact is by agreeing to perpetrate a heist at the local disco hotspot, Taxi Dancer. The casing of the joint and planning for the raid provide many entertaining vignettes. Of course, on the night of the heist, shenanigans ensue and when two of their own are put in danger, Sam and her friends must ratchet up their seriousness.
And what a gang it is: Sam and Jacob are the main focus, but it is Valentina Creamrosa, a transgendered African-American amazon, who stole my heart. She gets the funniest quips and her unrequited love for Jacob’s friend Terry is very sweet. The group is a family – not of blood, but of choice – and they will do what they have to in order to protect their own. Josh Stallings’ Young Americans is a crime novel with a heart of gold.
1976 New Year’s Eve, San Francisco. A Firebird transports a crew of glitter kids away from the city. Forget the trunk full of cash and illegal firearms. Forget the disco heist and sea of felonies left in their wake. They are five friends happily rolling down thunder road with no horizon in sight. They are YOUNG AMERICANS.
1976 WINTER BREAK
Jacob lay down on his waterbed, staring at the poster on the ceiling – Iggy and the Stooges. He was wondrously stoned. High enough to feel nostalgia and whimsy, straight enough not to be consumed by the need to power eat a sack of Jack in the Box tacos.
It is no secret that Josh Stallings is one of the very few authors whose books I have to seek out and devour the moment they are published. His Moses McGuire novels are some of the best, some of the most raw, crime fiction you will read, and his autobiographical All the WIld Children is amongst my top three favourite books I have ever read. So when I got an early opportunity to read Stallings’ latest novel, it had a lot to live up to. And of course, live up to, it did.
You see, Stallings can write. Blimey, can he write.
I’d like to illustrate that now. For a great part of this year, I have been lecturing in Creative Writing, helping two classes of adults to write a novel. I don’t wish to put myself out of a job here – times being what they are, and all that – but if you want to know how to write a novel, read Josh Stallings. That’s all you have to do. What I have spent nine months talking about, Stalings shows. Time and time again.
Lets start with Time and Place – two fundamentals of writing a novel. In YOUNG AMERICANS the time is 1976, the place, California, specifically San Francisco. Stallings brings both place and the era to life as only one who has lived through it can. It is easy to throw in a few references to the music of the time, the clothes, politics, etc. But these alone do not convince. What a writer needs is to capture the mood. To capture the mood, you need to capture the rhythm – the beat. Stallings manages these effortlessly.
Then there are the characters. Take the following, for instance. A description of the main protagonist – Sam – the grandaughter of a safe cracker, the daughter of a thief:
Sam sat in a camp chair wrapped in her sleeping bag. She was a big girl, with the kind of curves that started wars. Zaftig. Out of fashion. The Thin White Duke, David Bowie, made looking underfed fashionable. You could count every one of supermodel Margaux Hemingway’s ribs. Sam’s body was luxurious. It said screw you, have a burger and relax awhile. Her glitter platforms jutted out of black satin jeans. Her hair was cut in a spiky shag, just like Suzi Quatro. It was a blonde-red. Shiny. Her body, her stature, demanded a wider view of what a glitter rocker could look like. Not that anyone wanted an ass-kicking enough to screw with her about her size.
In these lines, Stallings conveys everything you need to know about Sam. That is how to describe a character.
All the characters in YOUNG AMERICANS – every one – is a solid, living being, each with their own journey, their own purpose. Even the minor characters are drawn with such a fine pen, they leap from the page and promise to smack you in the face if you for one second doubt their right to live and breathe as you and I.
And the dialogue . . . the dialogue . . . Elmore Leonard eat your fucking heart out . . .The dialogue crackles and spits like pig fat on an open fire. It’s just brilliant.
As for the plot, it twists and it turns, and twists again. This time, this place, these characters, Stallings wraps the plot around them, and they just go at it.
In the hands of a writer like Stallings, YOUNG AMERICANS becomes more than a simple heist novel. it becomes a novel of need, of love, of love friendship – all set to a glitterball beat.
It is a truly brilliant novel.
– Ian Ayris