By Jon Twitch
During IT’S A FEST! 2019, I had a digital copy of an early draft of “This Rancid Mill” by Kyle Decker with me, and at one point I was sitting in Jeff’s chair next to the stage reading it. Someone came over and remarked on me reading while at a punk festival, and it got me thinking…this should be normal.
Anyway, an important point of this anecdote is that Kyle and his creation were, in a way, present at IAF 2019. So it seems like a good time for you to learn about “This Rancid Mill” and the world of Alex Damage.
Broke: I read a draft of the book way back in 2019 (a portion was read while I was at It’s a Fest!). How much did the story change since then? Are there any major shifts from what I had read?
Kyle: No major changes to the core plot, but I will say that a certain villain gets dealt with differently than in the 2019 draft. My editor, Cara Hoffman, was adamant that Alex get back at them more. Other than that, I added a few more detailed descriptions of some settings, also at Cara’s suggestion. Some conversations got trimmed too.
Broke: What’s your favourite part of the book?
Kyle: There’s a scene fairly early on where Alex tries to talk to the father of the murder victim only to find that the man is a disgraced preacher who spends all his time burning toast hoping for signs from god. It’s abbsurdist, surreal, and heartbreaking. I mean, this old man is seeking answers in the law of averages! The whole thing fills Alex with heavy existential dread and I think it gives us an interesting window into who he is. There has been alot of positive feedback about that scene in particular. I definitely have it bookmarked to do at readings.
Also, just really any of the scenes where Alex and his best friend, Rad, are together. They have this unique sense of male intimacy. Those exchanges of dialogue just flow so easily and are an absolute blast to write.
Broke: It was surprising to me that you included Eddie Nash, a real person, so prominently in the story.
Kyle: Having a few real people that were important to that place and time gives the book more of an alternate history/historical fiction vibe. It makes it more immersive. He owned a few of the clubs that were central in the early days of punk. The Starwood for example. Plus he’s a dead public figure. Legally, I can do whatever I want. Hahaha.
Broke: Do you have a personal connection to that scene/era? Or did it take some other form of research?
Kyle: Not much in the way of personal connection, no. I did research. A lot of research. I read a ton of books: Under the Big Black Sun; Lexicon Devil; Please Kill Me; My Damage; Get in The Van just to name a few. I found collected editions of fanzines like We Got Power and found others archived online. I found archives of show fliers and tour schedules.
I watched documentary films like American Hardcore and The Decline of Western Civilization and fictional movies from then like Suburbia (1983). And just endless Googling. I didn’t want Alex walking into a venue that closed in 1979 to see a band that formed in 1983 in a story set in 1981. I did a co-interview for CrimeReads.com with Daniel Weizmann, who wrote a novel called The Last Songbird. He was an OG LA punk in that time period and had a fanzine called Rags in Chains and wrote for Flipside. He commented to me that This Rancid Mill was more accurate than some of the non- fiction he’s read. Which was immensely validating.
Broke: Since the book is set in the early 1980s, what would Alex Damage be doing today?
Kyle: Alex was 22 in 1981. He’d be, what, 64 now? In 2023 Alex would be an outlaw investigative journalist. A little Bob Woodward and a lot Hunter S. Thompson. He’ll have been talking about retirement for a couple years at this point, but he’s addicted to the grind and there’s still too many bastards that need to be taken down.
Broke: I’m guessing this book was written to kick off a series. Any plans for a follow-up?
Kyle: Most definitely kicking off a series. Some Alex Damage short stories have been published too. One in Mystery Tribune and another in Mystery Magazine. As I respond to this there are two shorts I’m waiting to hear back about. I did write a second novel, but want to give it a few more once overs. Alex is still a bit shaken by the events of This Rancid Mill and is laying low in Slab City, California. Of course, he winds up getting reluctantly dragged into some intrigue back in LA. Won’t say who or why, but it’s a missing person case this time around.
Broke: Can you tell me a bit about the publisher?
Kyle: PM Press is the publishing equivalent of a larger “indie label” like Epitaph. They specialize in left-wing anarchist non-fiction . But they also do fiction, crime fiction, and music history. They typically have a booth at Riot Fest in Chicago and I was there in 2021. I bought a couple books and started talking to the guy and just gave them the elevator pitch. He said it sounds like the exact kind of thing they publish and that they were open for submissions. I sent a query and some sample chapters and within a week I got an email from the founder of PM Press, Ramsey Kanaan, expressing intrigue and requesting a full manuscript. Within another two weeks or so, they accepted it for publication and sent me a contract and a small advance. They’re promoting the hell out of it. I’ve got hooked up for interviews and added to reading lists and email blasts. It’s getting into bookstores and fairs and such too. Got great feedback from my editor, Cara Hoffman, herself an author of renown (So Much Pretty (2011), Be Safe, I Love You (2014), and Running (2017)) and copyeditor, Wade. They’ve got a publicist, Stephanie and events coordinator, Steven who have all been super supportive and helpful.
Broke : I understand you now have a band called Bad Chemicals. Can you introduce them a bit? Any chance you’ll ever bring them here on tour?
Kyle: Bad Chemicals is like a punk rock Gorillaz, in a way, since they’re the band at the center of This Rancid Mill. The band is fluid at present. Originally it was me, my brother, and a couple of his professional musician buddies, Barrett and Anthony. After the recording, my brother moved to Amsterdam when his girlfriend got a job out there. We were gonna do a show when he was in town for Christmas but had to reschedule due to a blizzard, then cancel due to Covid. Barrett, Anthony, and I did a small show as a three-piece with some effect pedal trickery filling out the low end. They had to shift focus back to their main (ie: Lucrative) projects, but we all had fun and are proud of what we put together. I put together a new line-up for the book release party. Hopefully the new line up sticks and we can do something. I’d love to play in Korea with this project. Though really, it’s currently me and anyone I can convince to join me on stage. Hahaha