Thursday 1 September 2011

How would you handle being wrongly accused of sexual abuse? J. Michael Dew talks to us today about All The Bad Things ...

"Robbie Toe never touched Missy inappropriately, never raped Blue Jean by the fire, never did anything to the other five girls who accused him of sexual abuse. But no one cared to hear his side of the story ..."

Please welcome J. Michael Dew to my blog today to talk to us a little about his novel All The Bad Things. But before we get into the questions and answers, why not take a quick look at my review of this magnificent piece of literature:

All the Bad ThingsAll the Bad Things by J. Michael Dew
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Written in first person, from the points of view of four people living in northwestern Pennsylvania, All The Bad Things pushes boundaries, not only because of its controversial content, but because the four distinct voices are written exactly how they would speak.

Some might think this would be difficult to read, but it's not. Not at all. It took me only one page to get into the rhythm of the language and to realize that I was embarking on an unconventionally-crafted masterpiece. I am in awe. And I think you would be too. Writing like this doesn't come easy.

For fear of giving too much away, I'm just going to say that you won't be disappointed. Even if stories like this do not appeal to you, I think if you gave it a chance, the distinct characters would draw you in whether you wanted them to or not. Forget about your opinion of coarse language in literature, forget about your opinion of shocking content, and realize that without such content, this book would not be authentic. Without it, this story would not even be worth writing.

And the ending left me shock. It also left me feeling and thinking things that I should probably be ashamed of. Yes, this is definitely a masterpiece. I wouldn't be surprised if it was made into a movie within a year of its release.

Buy it. Buy it now.

View all my reviews

Jessica: Welcome to my blog, J. Michael. Thank you so much for speaking with me today!

J. Michael: The pleasure is mine.  Thank you for having me.

Jessica: Firstly, I have to say that I absolutely love how All The Bad Things is written in “bad English” and without speech marks to heighten the authenticity of your characters’ backgrounds. A lot of “experts” say that writing like this makes a story difficult to read, that it’s better for people’s accents to be hinted at rather than completely spelled out. Did you encounter any difficulties, while trying to publish this book, with editors accepting the fact that the story should be told this way?

J. Michael: As you well know, there is a bit of serendipity behind connecting one’s manuscript with the proper editor.  I was fortunate in that All the Bad Things found a home quickly and did not have to suffer too much rejection, unlike my other two completed manuscripts.

I suppose my book was rejected by some editors because they perceived its style to be unorthodox – that most readers would hurriedly abandon the book for this reason.  Naturally, these editors had in mind a particular audience when they made their call.  They read a sample of my book, thought of their target audience, and made their decision.  Had I been in their shoes and understood that the audience I wanted to please was one used to conventionally-told stories with conventional styles, etc., I would have made the same decision to reject the manuscript. To capture the authenticity of the language of northern Appalachia (as I see northwestern Pennsylvania to be) so that I could accurately depict the overall culture, I was perfectly willing to discard certain rules of writing that, perhaps, would have made the story more palatable to a larger readership.  In doing so, I aspired to the heights of Cormac McCarthy, Daniel Keyes, Sapphire, and Anthony Burgess who all deliver to the reader language as it is and not as it might be suggested.  I would like to think that my choice to write the book in this way elevates All the Bad Things to a more “literary” category.  My book was never meant to be sold in the checkout lane at the grocery store.  I hope never to write a book that could be. 

Jessica: I know from personal experience that many readers of my work assume that because one tiny element of my writing is based on a real experience, that it probably means the work in its entirety is also true. This frustrates me. And I imagine it might frustrate you too. So I have to ask, seeing as on the dedication page you’ve written “For Troy, who lived it,” if this means All The Bad Things, is actually based on a true story? If so, could you tell us what aspects of the book are drawn from true events? And to what extent?

J. Michael: John Steinbeck famously said that he, as a writer, was a “shameless magpie,” meaning that he freely informed his works with real life persons and events.  In fact, George and Lennie from Of Mice and Men were based on real individuals; indeed, Doc in Cannery Row was practically an exact replica of his best friend, Ed Ricketts.  To answer your question: Yes, All the Bad Things is based on a true story but only in part.  In the first part of the book, I borrow heavily from actual events, but I completely abandon doing so in the second part.  In the wider context, however, I must say that All the Bad Things is a story many men unfortunately “lived” and, as the case may be, are still living.  I wanted to shed light on a very nasty “sin,” if you will, that seems to be more and more cropping up as our society becomes likewise more and more sexualized.

Jessica: Being an Associate Professor of English at Georgia Perimeter College, I imagine you are influenced by a lot of different types of literature. Could you tell us what authors inspire you? Is there any particular author who inspired you to write All The Bad Things?

J. Michael: My students ask me this question every now and then, and it remains an impossible one to answer.  The Russian short story writers inspire me by their ability to capture so much by saying so little, and the American novelists of the 20th century inspire me by their sheer, oftentimes reckless passion.  I also read a lot of poetry to get a sense for how nuance should work and how I might use similar strategies in my own works.  I guess a writer should always have a different favorite author – Hemingway one week, Tolstoy the next – because if we as writers dwell too long on one author, we run the risk of being copycats and, hence, writers with voices not our own.  What a tragedy that would be!

Jessica: All The Bad Things is about a very controversial issue and includes a lot of coarse language. Do you ever find yourself having to explain to people you know how “someone like you” could write such a divisive novel? If so, how do you respond, and does it (or has it) caused any discomfort between you and your family/peers? I know that I still can’t overcome the horrible weight in my stomach for days when someone confronts me about the content in my books. It’s just so hard to explain to someone who doesn’t write. How do you deal with this?

J. Michael: Sure, some of my readers are astonished that I would write about the unsavory sexual exploits of morally-loose individuals with such graphic detail.  My reason for going down some nauseating literary paths, however, is really quite simple.  As a lover of the truth, I felt that sanitizing the language and those scenes would be a step away from authenticity.  While there is no gratuitous sex or violence in the story, per se, there is a good bit of it in general.  Readers should be aware, though, that my intent was never to shock for shock’s sake but to portray a reality out of which a situation like that faced by Robbie Toe can come.  Blue Jean, Robbie Toe’s fourteen year old accuser, has never had a father or father figure in her life.  I hope that savvy readers will make the connection between this fact and her sketchy behavior, seeing, perhaps, that the former is the cause of the latter.

Jessica: Thank you so much for your time, J. Michael! It’s been a pleasure to have you here.

J. Michael: Thank you!

If you would like to purchase All The Bad Things, it is now available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble. If you’d like to learn more about J. Michael Dew, please visit his website.


  1. Well, your review sold me. I just bought it new at Amazon. Can't wait to read it. It sounds awesome and I'm now following Michael's blog. You're proof that word of mouth is the best marketing. I probably never would have found his book otherwise.

  2. I never realized so many faced that situation.

  3. Sigh..... So, one more goes on the list.


  4. Thanks for sharing this, Jessica. I think sometimes the hard topics need to be covered, and in a way that artfully speaks to others.

  5. Excellent interview and I think I will buy the book. It must be awful to be accused of something one didn't do.

    On the otherhand there are men who DO abuse children and are given one months prison sentance but because he had been in custody was set free there and then , My daughter then aged nine and a few of her friends were abused by a friend of the family , she spent 7 years of him laughing at her if they passed in the street.not nice.

    Of course there are men like your guest today who do get wrongly accused and what pressure on him and his family.
    Excellent blog.

  6. Thanks for the interview! I love that the book is written in such an unorthodox way to heighten authenticity.

  7. Terrific interview. I really needed to get to work, but I couldnt stop reading. Excellent questions, Jessica, and great answers, Michael. I probably wouldnt have heard of this book elsewhere and now it's definitely going on my TBR list.

  8. This is a subject that needed to be written about, difficult as it it. I know, from personal experience how damaging it can be.

  9. Its great to meet J. Michael today. Mark twain would be proud of your writing style.

  10. Great interview. The books sounds fascinating. It is a heavy subject matter, but one that should be told.

  11. wow. What a great interview and a super-interesting sounding book! Thanks, Jessica. I'm very intrigued. And best to J. Michael. This sounds like one of those books I'm scared to read--always a good thing! LOL~ :D

  12. Great interview. I just might add this book to my Christmas wish list. Thanks for introducing it to me.

  13. It does sound like a masterpiece. I'm adding it to my list.

  14. thx jessica... this one goes on my tbr list :)

  15. That situation sounds just horrific, but it does sound like a story that needs to be told.

  16. Thanks for both the review and the interview! This is something I might not have looked at otherwise, and now it's something I'm considering reading. It looks like one of those books that changes your life.

  17. First, my heartfelt thanks goes to Jessica for choosing to interview me on her blog. I am very grateful to her and to you all for your encouraging comments. Thank you all!
    There are, indeed, predators out there who would, if given the chance, do unspeakable things to our children. I am a father of three little girls, and I bristle at the thought of anything bad happening to them. There are, however, many men, innocent men who are thrown into jail and who also suffer unspeakable abuse because of some girl's flippant accusation. I knew of a man who punished his daughter by grounding her for a couple of weeks. She, in turn, went to the police to inform them that she was a victim of abuse. This was, of course, a lie. The man was immediately arrested, and to this day, is unwelcome in the town.
    God knows I would support and defend any child who suffered abuse, but I would also do the same for a man falsely accused by a hyper-sexualize girl, old enough to know the power of sex and her body but too young to understand the ramifications of telling such lies.
    My brother, Troy, spent nine months in jail. He was tormented daily, kept in isolation, deprived of clothes and food. He lived with the prospect of "going down state" to spend a long time at a prison where, it was sure, he would suffer things I would not care to imagine. He suffered this because a girl didn't like the fact that he was dating her mother. Nothing happened. She made up a whopper of a lie.
    New friends, you have my thanks for picking up a copy of All the Bad Things. I can only hope to offer a different angle on a situation in our society that is unfortunately becoming all too common.
    I eagerly look forward to your comments.

  18. Thank you, Jessica, for interviewing J. Michael and helping to get the world out about "All the Bad Things." You are a generous writer who cares not only about her own books but those of others as well.

    There are several reasons why Lucky Press chose to publish this book. But it all started with the voice of Robbie Toe. I wanted to do what I could to bring his voice to readers. There are men and boys with mental disabilities who are right now in jail or prison. Some need supervision, medication, and treatment, but not prison. Others, falsely accused, need to be believed. Need legal representation. Need families who will fight for them. We have a huge underclass of people in the US and they live in prisons. They do not all deserve to be there.

    "The National Commission on Correctional Health Care recognizes that the number of inmates with mental illness, alcohol or other drug addiction, and mental retardation is large and is growing annually."

  19. It sounds as if he really got into the heads of his characters and has a "relationship" with the good and the bad.

  20. The book sounds a good read. I will have to investigate! Good review. :)

  21. Great interview, Jessica. The book is definitely on my list. Madeline

  22. It’s certainly a move in the right direction to see that this subject is being addressed and examined. I wish to make it known, however, that this very issue was raised on this blog in the past but it went pretty much dismissed. Or, at least, certainly no one bothered to take it seriously enough to acquire the books about it that someone (namely, ME, and also my friend DiscConnected) strongly recommended.

    It will be seen by anyone clicking HERE and scrolling down through the comments to my old entry, that I was attempting to shine a light on this problem on this blog back in early June of 2010.

    I realize, of course, that there wasn’t anything wrong with the position I was taking – that I was not making any claims that can’t be verified by sound scholarship. I believe the reason no one felt concerned enough about this sort of crime to bother investigating it further at that time is because the books I was hoping people would read were not fiction, nor even semi-fictionalized truth. The biggest problem was most likely that I was urging people to read NONFICTION. And reading “reality” just doesn’t happen much anymore.

    So, while I’m pleased that this sort of crime is getting some attention, I only wish it wasn’t necessary that the really important issues in modern life require novels to get noticed when, really, it’s well documented nonfiction that ought to be informing the adult, “grown-up” people of the world. It’s unfortunate that for a vast majority segment of literate people, information must be cloaked in the form of a novel. Any spotlight is better than none, but it’s such a shame that we people always seem to gravitate toward bread and circuses rather than meat and potatoes!

    My sincere thanks to J. Michael Dew for writing the book “All The Bad Things”. He has rendered a service to an unseen, unknown, entirely ignored and unjustly accused portion of the population that is far larger than most people realize!

    ~ D-FensDogg
    ‘Loyal American Underground’

    Link to Stephen Baskerville’s Weblog, author of the important book “TAKEN INTO CUSTODY: The War Against Fathers, Marriage, And The Family”.


“I'm using my art to comment on what I see. You don't have to agree with it.” ~John Mellencamp

“Allowing an unimportant mistake to pass without comment is a wonderful social grace” ~Judith S. Marin

“I don't ever try to make a serious social comment.” ~Paul McCartney

“I'd make a comment at a meeting and nobody would even acknowledge me. Then some man would say the same thing and they'd all nod.” ~Charlotte Bunch

“Probably what my comment meant was that I don't care about the circumstances if I can tell the truth.” ~Sally Kirkland

“We're not going to pay attention to the silliness and the petty comments. And quite frankly, women have joined me in this effort, and so it's not about appearances. It's about effectiveness.” ~Katherine Harris