MLC: Do you remember the first mystery you ever read? If so, what was it, and what pulled you into it?
AUTHOR: I am sure I do not recall the first. However, I have vivid recollections of the first Ludlum books. I loved secrets and action. I eagerly entered Ludlum’s world of spies and for me that’s what reading is all about. You find a world that sits well with your imagination and escape the bonds of daily life for a few hours. I escape with suspense.
MLC: When did you first decide you wanted to write a mystery, and what led you to that decision?
AUTHOR: I wanted to write a Thriller because a literature professor said that my writing largely lacked commercial quality except in the suspense department. She read a scene I wrote about a man who thought he was going to be put to death. She explained that books that engender those kinds of reader feelings on a sustained basis, might be the sorts of things I should try writing.
MLC: Do you write in any other genres? If so, which ones?
AUTHOR: No, aside from the fact that I’m working with a non-fiction author on a non-fiction book.
MLC: Which comes first for you, the plot or the characters?
AUTHOR: Usually the characters and some wisp of a plot idea come at about the same time, but the more I do this, the more interested I am in working hard on the characters up front, at the very beginning of the effort. That’s a recent development or perhaps the re-birth of an idea implemented in my first book, Necessary Evil.
MLC: When you are all wrapped up in the story, do you feel like you could solve the crime, or maybe even solve all the world’s mysteries?
AUTHOR: No. I aspire to write imaginative and entertaining tales. Solving a real crime doesn’t occur to me. I’m more into inventing crimes that are suitable for fiction. Of course getting major non-fiction elements into the story is invaluable in making quality entertainment.
MLC: Do you write every day, or what kind of a schedule do you have? Do you write fulltime, or do you have a “day job”?
AUTHOR: I am an attorney, very busy, and I write in the evenings and on weekends and try to do little else.
MLC: Other than your writing, what do you enjoy doing? What is the most important thing to you in your day-to-day life?
AUTHOR: Talking to my wife. Spending time with my extended family. After that I like adventure things that can be incorporated into novels. I want to go parasailing soon. I’ve taken a trip to the Amazon; Fiji; and I like to go to other settings. I cruise in the Pacific Northwest and on occasion Scuba dive at various places around the globe.
MLC: Who are your favorite mystery authors? Do you try to emulate them in your own writing?
AUTHOR: I don’t try to emulate except as to pacing, referring to the structure of the novel. Compelling reading tends to follow certain familiar rhythms according to the way I see it. I pay little or no attention to other authors characters or plot lines in terms of writing my own stuff. I was fascinated with Harlen Coben’s tell no-one because it was written both in the first person and the third person. Also the way he intermixed the points of view in the developing story interested me. I have no inclination to try that but I did enjoy watching it. I was intrigued by the pacing of Vertical Run. My favorite authors tend to be everyone’s favorite authors. If something sells by word of mouth I want to see what the reading public is talking about. I belong to an organization called International Thriller Writers. It’s a great list of my favorite authors. See the website. Add to that list Nelson DeMille and the other names we all know. I understand that’s a bit of a boring response but I tend to be like Mr. Everyman without particularly eclectic tastes.
MLC: In your present book, is this part of a series, or is it a standalone book?
AUTHOR: I am currently writing a standalone.
MLC: If you are doing a series, do you see an end to it sometime, or do you plan to go on for several years with it?
AUTHOR: I wrote three books with the same continuing character. My thought is that I would write a serial character if it worked like gangbusters. For example if I had invented Lee Child’s Jack Reacher character, I’d probably write him forever. For some reason it’s ok that Jack gets the girl and leaves town every time. If anybody else did that they’d be a schmuck. But not Jack.
MLC: Do your characters ever drive you a bit crazy by going off in their own direction? If so, how do you rein them in, or do you just let them run off on their own?
AUTHOR: When my characters run off it’s always a mistake and they do by nature want to wander off away from the plot. It’s about as smart as letting a two year old go on a walk-about through a train station. Keep in mind we are talking here about my writing discipline. Other authors probably have Crocadile Dundee characters that can go off on year long walk-abouts with no harm done. That’s not me.
MLC: Do you pattern your sleuths after yourself or someone you know? If so, do you let that person know they were your “pattern”?
AUTHOR: Probably the worst thing I can do is pattern a character after myself. People don’t much like me, so you can’t have that can you? I pattern nobody after me. Even the villains would be boring. I’m an observer, not the doer. Other than my wife, I don’t know any sleuths.
MLC: How long did it take you to get published? How many rejections did you have to suffer through first? Were you ever tempted to give up? What do you think made the difference when it was accepted?
AUTHOR: Long ago I lost count of the rejections. For years my hobby was writing unpublished manuscripts. One author told me that if a slightly above average communicator re-writes a manuscript enough times, somebody, somewhere will publish it. I pretty much followed that logic. More recently I’ve sort of adopted the notion that it might help to follow certain fairly well established principles in the writing and re-writing. I’m not sure why these principles eluded my brain for so long with all the valiant attempts made by others to inject them.
MLC: Do you ever attend any conferences? If so, which ones?
AUTHOR: Yes. I attend Bouchercon, Left Coast Crime and various other Regional things.
MLC: Do you have to promote your own work, or does your publisher do that for you?
AUTHOR: Both. Most authors promote their own work, some just get a better structure provided by the publisher. Top tier authors can largely stay home because mass media campaigns announce the latest and the loyal readers run to the bookstore or the internet. For most though promotion helps and authors tend to get off their butts now and then and do something.
MLC: If you have to do marketing, what methods have worked the best for you?
AUTHOR: Well I’ve participated in all sorts of things and I haven’t figured a way to determine what works. If you go to a bookstore for an event and the next month you are that store's best seller that’s probably a clue it was worth the trip.
MLC: Do you have any idea how your book is selling?
AUTHOR: Last book out? The Black Silent? Last I heard the publisher said that it was doing well. Thinking about how your last book is selling, though, can be a real distraction. Someone posts a good review and your happy. And you want to waste time reading it over and over and trying to think of a way to put it on a billboard in downtown New York. Next day somebody calls the book a bomb and your sad or mad or both. Better to write and not focus on sales of books you can’t do anything about unless you are learning something about writing. When a book comes out you work hard, do what you can to promote, and then forget about it. When The Black Silent came out I probably did fifty radio interviews, went to bookstores for events, then heaved a sigh and started writing again. You always have to get your self engaged with the next book fast.
MLC: What has been the best review you have gotten, and why?
AUTHOR: I don’t know. I have gotten some great reviews and I’d hate to try to single one out. No major National media has reviewed any of my books. It would be very hard to parse through the local media and internet and figure a “best” review. I’m sure I haven’t read them all. Newt Gingrich wrote a review of Necessary Evil that warmed the cockles. See the answer two questions down for more on this topic.
MLC: Have you won any awards, either as an author or for your books? Please tell us about them.
AUTHOR: Not that I can think of. Just a USA Today bestseller list, which is an observation not an award.
MLC: Is there any one certain thing that a reader has written to you that made you just want to jump up and shout “Yes!!!!”?
AUTHOR: I have had many great letters from Readers. Singling one out, would be tough. An interviewer of authors recently told me, in preparation for an interview, that he thought Sam in The Black Silent was particularly well developed. I think I appreciated that comment very much partially because this individual was well read and because that’s an aspect of writing that I struggle with. Sam in The Black Silent is only a stepping stone, and far from great, but still someone saw the effort and I appreciated it. Sam in the two prior books had been troublesome for me in the character development department. So I used a tried and true technique and absolutely mashed him physically and mentally, so that when he reappears in Silent he is retired and trying to recover. For me he was more interesting and the love angle was also more interesting.
MLC: What is your next project, and when will it be out?
AUTHOR: The Bones of Khan. I am very intent on getting it just right and have avoided a deadline like the plague. I expect it will be out in 2007. In 2006 I have a short story coming out in the International Thriller Writers Anthology of short stories published by Mira.
MLC: If you could write anything at all, ignoring what editors and publishers say they want, what would it be?
AUTHOR: Exactly what I’m writing in The Bones of Khan. I feel no constraints, but then I haven’t signed a contract either. I would like to hold off on that until the publisher can see the manuscript. They need to believe in it.
MLC: Do you have any words of wisdom for aspiring mystery authors?
AUTHOR: I have some author friends who have been an immense help. One in particular. I’d name names but they’d be swamped with requests for mentoring. If you can’t find a mentor join a writing group and try like the blazes to get some knowledgeable members. For example you might try to find that rare creature, a college level lit teacher who secretly loves mysteries and has read a ton of them (make absolutely sure they understand commercial fiction). One needs to understand the basics. I can’t emphasize this enough. If you are going to break with convention fine, but at least know exactly what you are doing, and why it works. Better yet stick to the conventions, They exist for a reason. Once you have a manuscript that you and your writing group think is in the ball park try a professional editor like Ed Stackler. He is terrific. If you can afford it, have him read it and give you feed back. When people who should know, think you have a commercial grade manuscript try to find an agent. Also go to a few conventions like Bouchercon.
MLC: Do you have any teasers for your readers and fans about the next book?
AUTHOR: There are millions of males walking around today that have a certain genetic code that probably came through Ghengis Kahn. Find out why it matters.
MLC: If a genie suddenly appeared and said they would grant you just one wish for your books, what would you wish for?
AUTHOR: That they are utterly compelling, because that’s what takes me away from the cares of this world and I’d like to do that for others.
MLC: Please give us your website url and your email address where people can contact you.
MLC: Thank you so much for giving us a little glimpse into your books and your life. We look forward to a lot more books from you.
AUTHOR: Thank you for providing this service to all of us.