Broken people in a broken system.
Could describe us all. Each of us are damaged goods in some way. Definitely sums up the cast of characters in the historical, noir-injected book, “I’ll Pray When I’m Dying,” the latest from author Stephen J. Golds. “Broken” is a word that deftly describes our lead protagonists, Ben Hughes and his father, William–two compelling and dark people.
Ben’s a detective with the Boston Police Department circa 1940s and not the kind of cop you’d want to stick a medal on. He suffers from a profound case of obsessive-compulsive-disorder (OCD) and won’t shy off from putting a bullet in a sucker’s head. He works vice and, on the sly, moonlights for the local Boston mob. Through Ben’s father, readers learn how Ben became so broken. Kidnapped kids, however, provide a chance for Ben to prove he can, perhaps, fix himself.
I’ll Pray When I’m Dying can be read as an engaging, and violent, standalone novel or as part of a trilogy of books that include “Always the Dead” and “Say Goodbye When I’m Gone.” While the characters may be a bit busted up, there’s a beauty in their lives and an elegance to the prose. Nothing needs fixed there. It’s damn well worth the time.
WHITEHURST: How would you describe I’ll Pray When I’m Dying to the guy standing behind you in the checkout line at the grocery store?
GOLDS: More than a crime story, it’s the story of two men, father, and son, battling their own demons and mental disorders. Both taking different paths. The crime setting is just that, the background.
WHITEHURST: The book features both Boston and London. What inspired those locations for the stories? And what inspired the stories to begin with?
GOLDS: I’ll Pray When I’m Dying is actually a standalone novel but part of a trilogy. In chronological order – I’ll Pray When I’m Dying, Always the Dead (rereleased by Red Dog Press in September 2021) and Say Goodbye When I’m Gone. The trilogy spans 1926-1966 and takes place in a variety of locations including Hawaii and Los Angeles. I wanted to write three standalone novels that read as one long riff on the Criminal American Dream. I’m fascinated by Boston, New York and Los Angeles crime non-fiction, so not a lot of people know that the novels are in fact all semi-fictional and based on real people. I put a lot of myself into the trilogy and that’s really what inspired them. Say Goodbye When I’m Gone is about a father’s love for his daughter. Always the Dead is basically about a toxic relationship and PTSD and I’ll Pray When I’m Dying is really about my own battles with OCD.
WHITEHURST: The book has some bloody ends, many at the end of a gun. How are you with a gun?
GOLDS: I’m not great. Maggie’s draws. My father was a trained sniper in the military, but the apple fell pretty far from the tree. The last recent time, I shot anything was a .45 and an AK47 at a shooting range in Saigon, Viet Nam which was fun.
WHITEHURST: You’ve got a few books under your belt. What’s on the horizon?
GOLDS: Now that I’ve finished the trilogy and a crime novella, I’m looking to jump genres and put my writing chops to the test writing other things in other styles. Watch this space.
WHITEHURST: What drew you into the violent world of crime fiction?
GOLDS: It’s a perfect storm of personal things from my past and my interest in non-fiction crime stories.
WHITEHURST: What authors have been an influence in your life? Is there one you recommend to everyone who’ll listen?
GOLDS: I would have to say Charles Bukowski. He taught me that you can write about ugly things in a beautiful way. I’d recommend Ham on Rye to everyone. He had soul. Something a lot of writers and authors are lacking these days in my opinion.
WHITEHURST: What’s your typical writing day look like?
GOLDS: I don’t really have a writing schedule. I just write when I feel like it. But when I feel like it, I really feel like it and will blast through a first draft of a novel in a few months.
WHITEHURST: Do you listen to music while you write? If so, what are your top five hits?
GOLDS: I like to write in complete silence. Maybe I’m not smart enough to focus on two things at once. But one of my hobbies in collecting old Soul records. No Music, No Life kind of guy. I’m a big fan of Sam Cooke, Sam, and Dave, also enjoy The Animals, The Clash, Rolling Stones, The Smiths, and Elvis.
WHITEHURST: What’s one thing your readers may not know about you?
GOLDS: I have a lot of hobbies besides writing and reading. Big into tattoos, surfing, skateboarding, billiards, collecting old stuff. I’m also bilingual.
WHITEHURST: And finally, any advice for those interested in criminal writing?
GOLDS: All ideas have already been done to death in the crime genre so try and write something a little different. Think out of the box or make your writing about something you care about deeply like mental health or homelessness or something along those lines. Also be honest in your writing. Most of all, be honest with yourself.
Stephen J. Golds was born in North London, U.K, but has lived in Japan for most of his adult life.
He writes primarily in the noir and dirty realism genres and is the co-editor of Punk Noir Magazine.
He enjoys spending time with his daughters, reading books, traveling the world, boxing, and listening to old Soul LPs. His books are Say Goodbye When I’m Gone, I’ll Pray When I’m Dying, Always the Dead, Poems for Ghosts in Empty Tenement Windows I Thought I Saw Once, Cut-throat & Tongue-tied, Bullet Riddled & Gun Shy and the story and poetry collection Love Like Bleeding Out With an Empty Gun in Your Hand.