NUTLEY, NJ - How does a kid who grew up in the E. Centre St. industrial area of Nutley, NJ grow up to be a crime fiction writer? TAPinto interviewed Nutley native and author Thomas Pluck to learn his story.
Pluck’s childhood home is the setting of his latest work of ‘Private Investigator’ noir fiction. At the beginning of his book, we learn Pluck’s main character, Jay Desmarteaux, is out of prison, 25 years after killing a brutal rapist in high school, and he is trying to live a normal life.
Pluck, who graduated from Nutley High School is 1989, pays homage to rock band AC/DC, in the book’s title, Bad Boy Boogie. AC/DC’s song Bad Boy Boogie lyrics include: “On the day I was born the rain fell down / there was trouble brewing in my home town.”
TAPinto Nutley: Some of the ‘trouble brewing’ in your novel revolves around bullying (‘games of torment’) and rape. Netflix’s “13 Reasons Why” contains graphic rape scenes. What are your thoughts on the controversy surrounding the program? (Nutley Public Schools Issues Statement on Netflix Series Series 13 Reasons Why)
Thomas Pluck: “I think it’s helping some and raising concerns for many. We don’t give teenagers enough credit for thinking. Sometimes it is better to talk about dark subjects than to ignore them.”
TAPinto Nutley: What are your thoughts on bullying?
Thomas Puck: “The book deals with bullying and juvenile criminal justice reform. I support initiatives that focus on getting funding for child protective services in NJ. If you want to fight crime, we need to fully fund CPS in every state.”
TAPinto Nutley: When you conduct research for your crime novels, what are you finding about our current heroin crisis and its impact on crime statistics?
Thomas Puck: “The epidemic has always been in the state of NJ and it’s now hit the white suburban areas. Stop treating it as a crime and start treating as health issue. Get to the root it. Millions of people who need to feed an addiction are leading to higher crime. Save prison cells for violent people.”
TAPinto Nutley: Both New Jersey and Louisiana are easy targets in conversations about state corruption. Your protagonist, Jay, was born in the bayous of Louisiana. The book description on your publishers website reads: ‘With an iron-fisted police chief on his tail and a ruthless mob captain at his throat, he’ll need his wits, his fists, and his father’s trusty Vietnam war hatchet to hack his way through a toxic jungle of New Jersey corruption that makes the gator-filled swamps of home feel like the shallow end of the kiddie pool.’
Thomas Pluck: “You can’t talk about New Jersey or Louisiana without corruption surfacing – Louisiana had Governor Huey Long and New Jersey had Frank Hague. Hague built a hospital named after his mom, paid for by the bribery of everyone who had to pay to work in Jersey City at the time. The current Essex County sheriff is the only one I can remember not being arrested by the FBI in my lifetime. “
TAPinto Nutley: What was the # 1 Song the year you graduated from Nutley High School?
Thomas Pluck: I graduated in 1989. I’m unsure about #1 but I’m remembering ‘Sweet Child Of Mine’ by Guns N ‘Roses! Music was a big part of growing up for me. My uncle had a box of 45s with songs by Jerry Lee Lewis and Fats Domino etc. Carole King’s 1971 pop hit ‘I Feel The Earth Move Under My Feet’ is one of my favorites.”
TAPinto Nutley: ‘If someone were to unearth a time capsule you buried in your back yard in Nutley when you were thirteen, what would it contain?
Thomas Pluck: “Atari cartridges (Pluck and his childhood friends ‘did some programming’), Agatha Christie books (‘Ms Marple’ was his into to detective writing), some Star Wars and KISS action figures (‘I wish I still had them.’)
TAPinto Nutley: You have a degree in English from Rutgers and work in the technology sector in addition to writing novels. What advice do you have for Nutley High Students? Should they focus on English or Engineering?
Thomas Pluck: “Stick with what your heart is in. After obtaining my English degree, the media/journalism job market plummeted. That’s how I got into tech. What is happening in journalism now is that Investigative reporters are the PIs of today. They are the people who dig into the dirt and get the truth out. If English is what you love, learn it. It’s never failed me in writing engineering reports in my other job. We are going to need more reporters in upcoming years. Engineers are coming from all over the world and can’t write about your hometown the way someone from there can. While I considered writing my book about a fictional town, I chose to have it take place in Nutley, where the stories that take place in ‘Bad Boy Boogie’ were part of my childhood. All the happenings are in real places in Nutley like Ralph’s Pizzeria and Kingsland Park.”
TAPinto Nutley: Your company is named Goombah Gumbo Press, a tribute to your love for the cultures of both New Jersey and Louisiana. Orechio Publications was ‘The Media’ in Nutley until it was purchased in 1998 by North Jersey Media Group. As part of your high school and college interest in publishing, did you ever work with the local media?
Thomas Pluck: I’ll share an antidote told to me by my grandmother who was raised in Nutley on E Centre Street in the industrial area. I grew up in the same house with my Mom and grandmother. I played on that street at night with my friends and my grandmother was concerned for our safety. She went to see Mr. Orechio and told him, ‘my grandchildren are in danger because you won’t fix the lights.’ According to my grandmother his reply was: ‘If you don’t like it, move.’ If there are any parts of the book where I seem like I’m hitting the town when it’s down, it’s because of people like him. There are many parts of the book where I also talk about the great parts of growing up in Nutley. You’ll have to read the book for those stories.”
Pluck’s “Bad Boy Boogie” is recommended by several top crime writers including Wallace Stroby, Megan Abbott and Adrian McKinty and is available at Watchung Booksellers in Montclair, NJ. It was published by Down and Out Books:
EXCERPT: “Bad Boy Boogie” by Thomas Pluck
The streets were torn up with construction. Andre used to joke that New Jersey only had two seasons: winter and road work. Nutley’s main drag was sliced stem to stern in the heart of town as utility trucks performed surgery on the main intersection. Memories teased the back of Jay’s mind as he cruised through town. The street where Matt got his dreaded nickname. The junk lot where Joey Bello’s picador games of torment began. The park where it had all ended in