Author Interviews

Baron R. Birtcher - Rain Dogs - Killer Nashville Interview

KN: Baron, welcome, and thank you for joining us today. Let’s start with the basics, okay? When did you know you wanted to be a novelist?
Baron R. BirtcherBB: I read my first Hardy Boys mystery when I was nine.  I think I was completely hooked by the time I finished the book. I read voraciously from that time on – mostly mysteries and procedurals – and I knew I wanted to try my hand at writing when the first opportunity presented itself. That finally happened when I moved to Hawaii in 1996. My first hardboiled mystery, Roadhouse Blues, was published in 2000. One of the greatest thrills of my life. I’ve been writing ever since.
KN: How did you go about pursuing that goal?
BB: I had a story in my head that wouldn’t go away. It had been rattling around in there for several years. I finally wrote an outline for it and launched in to writing it once I knew I had a block of uninterrupted time available to give it a shot. It took me about six months to finish the first draft. Ignorance was bliss, I must admit, though. I had not read any “How to Write a Novel” or “How to Get Published” books beforehand, and simply sat myself down and wrote my story.
I was unbelievably fortunate to garner an agent after having sent out about 30 or 40 queries (and receiving the obligatory 29 – 39 rejections). My agent got me signed to a two book deal with a small press and off I went. In heaven, right? It was only after finishing my second manuscript, Ruby Tuesday, that I read any of those “How To” books. Man, am I glad I didn’t read them before I started my first book! They scared the hell out of me, and probably would have put a bunch of negative information into my head the whole time I was writing…But that’s probably just me.
KN:  Your newest book is called Rain Dogs. Can you tell us a little bit about it?  What inspired it?
BB: Rain Dogs began as a character study. I like to write vignettes for the significant characters in my books in order to understand who they are, how they speak, and what goes on inside their heads.
I don’t do them like a biography, but rather, like a short story that reveals who they are. In the case of Rain Dogs, I had a character that first appeared in my third novel, Angels Fall. He was a relatively minor character, but he really fascinated me. So I began writing a story about him. As it happened, it turned into a short story which I (for reasons unknown) put up on my website. Within a couple of days, I had received an amazing amount of feedback about the story and the character. People wanted to know what happened next. Just for fun, I wrote another, and finally a third installment of the story that featured a character known only as “Snyder.” Again, a bunch of positive feedback. But by that time, I was completely enamored with the guy, so I wrote an entire book about him. It’s a “prequel” of sorts that is Snyder’s origin story. The book I’m just finishing now will have Snyder in it, as well.
"Rain Dogs" by Baron R. Birtcher
“Rain Dogs” by Baron R. Birtcher
KN: With several books under your belt now, you must have a pretty good idea of what works for you. What’s your writing process?
BB: Once I settle in on a story, I like to treat it like a full-time job. In that sense, I allocate anywhere from 5 – 7 hours a day to write, five or six days per week until it’s finished. I never begin the writing process unless I know I can get to the finish line without any major time interruptions. For me, that really botches up the narrative flow, and makes it twice as hard as it should be. That’s probably just a personal quirk. I’ve tried doing full outlines, and I’ve tried it doing almost zero outline. Both processes work, but it turns out that the way that works best for me is to know the beginning and the end. If I start that way, I can allow the middle part of the story to tell itself and develop organically. It allows the characters a little freedom to run amok.
KN: How would you say your background in the music industry influences or informs your books (or does it)?
BB: I spent a number of years as a professional guitarist/singer/songwriter before realizing that I was probably better off in the “business” end of music. I am now a partner in a firm that manages performers, which is an absolute blast. It keeps me active in the studio, as well as on the road, and keeps my ears tuned to new artists. The similarities (or at least, the useful tools) between writing and music are numerous in my opinion. For instance, a good album (I’m dating myself here with that word) and a good book share similar qualities: The rhythm, melody, and lyrics must act together to create a workable whole. You can have a wonderful melody with clunky lyrics and the song is spoiled. The reverse is also true. And the largest component is that elusive “tone” element, that the body of a book’s narrative must use language (vocabulary) that is suitable and consistent with the story and setting. Words matter. They always have. It’s what I love about the truly great writers – of both music and books.
KN: What do you hope readers will gain from reading your books?
BB: An entertaining time spent with characters that you genuinely care about. And with any luck, a book that reads like a favorite album: where the words, music and instrumentation all pull together to create that whole that is better than the sum of its parts.
KN: What’s next?
BB: The next book is the fourth installment of the hardboiled Mike Travis series (set in Hawaii, as usual). As I mentioned before, this one will feature Snyder rather prominently, as well. The one after that will be another stand-alone.
KN: How has Killer Nashville helped you? (You knew that one was coming!)
BB: Participating in Killer Nashville, and – more specifically - having the honor of being a Killer Nashville Claymore Award finalist led me to my current publisher, Permanent Press. Without KN and without the Claymore Award, I sincerely don’t know if that would have happened. In my opinion, Killer Nashville is one of the best – if not The Best – Writers’ Conference in the country for aspiring writers. Readers, too, obviously. Great programs, terrific people, and a wonderful city!
KN: Any advice for aspiring authors?
BB: A couple of things:
  1. Finish the thing. Sit your a** down and write it. No excuses. Start it, then finish it.
  2. Write like there’s nobody looking. Write the way that comes from your heart. Write the way you sing when you’re in the shower; or the way that you dance when you’re all by yourself.
  3. Don’t worry about “genre” or “the reader” or “marketability.” That stuff will sort itself out if the writing is sincere and the story is solid.
  4. Oh, yeah, one more thing: Read your dialogue out loud. What looks good on the page sometimes sounds pretty lame when it’s spoken aloud.
KN: Is there anything you’d like to discuss that I haven’t covered? If so, now’s your chance!
BB: I can be reached at www.BaronRBirtcher.comCan’t think of anything else. Thank you for allowing me the privilege of rambling on…

Jaden Terrell - A Cup Full of Midnight

Amy Steele: What appeals to you most about writing mysteries?

Jaden Terrell: I think we often write about things that frighten us or things we don’t understand. In real life, justice isn’t always served. Criminals are released on technicalities. Crimes can go unsolved, and even when they are solved, we’re left wondering why they happened. Mysteries explore both the motivations behind criminal acts and the effects of crimes on the victims and their loved ones. In the conflict between good and evil, good ultimately wins, though often at great cost. It’s reassuring to think there are strong, brave people standing between evil and the rest of us. Writing about Jared, the hero of my private detective series, reminds me that those people exist.

Amy Steele: How difficult is it to come up with a new storyline?

Jaden Terrell: It’s very easy to come up with new ideas. They’re everywhere. But developing those ideas into full-blown story-lines is harder. Plotting doesn’t come naturally to me, so going from the seed of the idea to the fully realized story takes a lot of work.

Amy Steele: Do you base your stories on anything you’ve seen or heard in the news?

Jaden Terrell: It would be more accurate to say they’re “inspired by” rather than “based on” actual events. My books incorporate elements of news stories, but the real-life incident is more of a jumping-off point or something that provides texture. In A Cup Full of Midnight, the second book in the series, I drew from several incidents in which young adults using vampire personae committed murder, but beyond the initial idea, there’s little correlation between the events in the book and the details of the original cases. The third book, which is in progress, explores human trafficking, and the fourth involves the practice of soring in the Tennessee Walking Horse Industry (soring is the use of pain to give a horse an exaggerated gait). Both issues have been in the news, but the plot is independent of any one case.

Amy Steele: Have you developed a working relationship with the Nashville police or with any private investigators so that you can bounce ideas off them?

Jaden Terrell: I attended Citizen Academies for the FBI, TBI, and Metro Nashville Police, which gave me some great contacts in all those agencies. I’m also friends with a former private detective, and I took a firearms course from a firearms instructor for Metro’s police department. Both have been extremely generous with their time and knowledge. When I was researching A Cup Full of Midnight, I took a medical examiner to lunch and interviewed him about what an autopsy would reveal about a murder described early in the book, and later, I met with a homicide detective to see what the on-site investigation would have been like.

Amy Steele: How do you describe the death scenes so vividly? Have you been to some crime scenes?

Jaden Terrell: Thank you for saying they’re vivid. I haven’t been to a crime scene, but I’ve seen a number of mock crime scenes staged by the TBI (Tennessee Bureau of Investigation), and I’ve read a lot about crime scenes and crime scene investigation. When possible, I’ve looked up photographs or interviewed professionals. I think one thing that makes a scene like this seem authentic is the reactions of other characters. For those, I relied on interviews with investigators and observations of how we behave when people we care about are sick, injured, or have passed away.

Amy Steele: How important is a title to a mystery?

Jaden Terrell: I think the title is very important. If a reader already knows and loves your work, they may pick it up regardless, but for a lesser-known writer, it’s often the title that first catches a reader’s attention. Since most print books are shelved with the spine out, the title is often the only thing a reader sees. If it’s catchy or thought-provoking, there’s a better chance a browser will pause to take a look. With e-books, it’s a little different, in that you see the whole cover and not just the spine, but since they’re usually just thumbnails, the effect is similar. Of course, you can’t always control your title. Publishers often change writers’ titles, sometimes for better and sometimes for worse.

Amy Steele: Have you always been a fan of mysteries?

Jaden Terrell: I’ve always been an eclectic reader. Mystery, fantasy, thriller, western, horror, literary…I’ve never been much for romance, but everything else has always been fair game.

Amy Steele: Who are some mystery authors past and/or current who you admire?

Jaden Terrell: Timothy Hallinan, Dennis Lehane, Robert Crais, Michael Connelly, John Connolly, John Sandford, Lawrence Block, S.J. Rozan, Jonathan Kellerman.

Amy Steele: You belong to several mystery and writing organizations, how do these help you in your writing?

Jaden Terrell: I’ve met so many exceptional writers through these organizations (and through my work with the Killer Nashville conference). We give each other support and encouragement, and I learn more about the writing craft by reading their books. I try to open doors for those whose work I admire, and those who have read and like my work do the same for me, so we end up reaching more readers than any one of us alone could do. So I would say both my writing and my writing career benefit from being a part of writing and mystery organizations like Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime.

Amy Steele: Where did the idea for A Cup Full of Midnight come from?

Jaden Terrell: In the first book, Jared’s nephew, Josh, runs away from home and becomes involved with a dangerous fringe of the Goth subculture. Much of what happens to him occurs offstage, but there’s an indication that he’s become involved with an older man, Razor, who calls himself the Vampire Prince of Nashville. He was a Machiavellian character, and I wanted to explore both his ability to manipulate others and the consequences of his behavior. I also wanted to look at the difference between role players (since I’ve been one for years) and people who are not playing but rather living their personas. One day, I read a quote by Wayne Dyer describing God as a vast ocean of love and goodness; no matter how much you scooped out, the ocean itself was never diminished. I had the thought that evil was no different, and got an image of Razor standing beside a sea of darkness and dipping in a chalice to scoop out a cup full of that blackness. I knew then that Razor’s dance with the devil would end in his death and that Jared’s attempts to solve Razor’s murder would unveil layer after layer of machinations and lead him and Josh into danger.

Amy: What type of research went into this book?

Jaden Terrell: I did quite a bit of reading, both online and in books, about the “real” vampire culture, including blogs by people who believe themselves to be vampires. I knew a lot already about roleplaying and role players, so I didn’t have to do much in that area. In terms of Jared’s investigation, much of what I learned from my general research came into play (though I made a rookie mistake with one of the firearms—I changed Jared’s handgun from a Glock to a Taurus and back again, and when I changed back to the Glock, I forgot to remove the safety). One of the challenges in writing a PI novel is keeping the police on the sidelines without making them seem incompetent. I spoke to several police officers about ways to achieve that.

Amy: Why did you want to write about vampires and the occult?
Jaden Terrell: I didn’t think of it that way. I started with the idea that Josh was into the Goth subculture but involved with someone much darker. The vampire subculture is the darker end of that spectrum, so it seemed like a natural fit. Because I had played the vampire role-playing game, I was both interested and appalled by the real-life murder cases in which vampire wannabes committed murder. How do you cross that line from pretending to be a supernatural monster to becoming a real one? In the book, the Storyteller in the game, Chuck, describes players whose characters are “sharks in people suits.” My friends and I always played “superheroes with fangs,” the whole point of which was creating characters who resisted the monster inside. Why would someone deliberately embrace it? And what would make a group of seemingly normal teenagers allow themselves to be drawn into such a dark and elaborate web?

Amy Steele: Let’s talk about your main character, the P.I. Jared McKean. Why did you decide to write a man and from a man’s perspective instead of a woman? How did you come up with this character? He’s strong but very sensitive as he has a special needs child and his best friend has AIDS. What made you add those additional characteristics?

Jaden Terrell: I was trying to write about a woman, and it wasn’t working. She was a stereotypical feisty female PI, and no matter what I did, I kept coming up with bad Kinsey Milhone knock-offs. I always ended up making her so different from me that I couldn’t identify with her or so similar to me that she refused to take any risks (“No, seriously, I’ll stay here and lock the doors and call 911. YOU sneak into the basement and take on the bad guys.”). I kept getting the image of this tall, handsome man in jeans and a leather bomber jacket leaning on a whitewashed wooden fence in front of a horse pasture. “I’m your guy,” he’d say, and I’d say, “No you’re not. I’m writing about this feisty female detective.” Eventually, I sat back and said, “Okay, let’s see what you’ve got.” I wanted him to be very strong, but also to have a depth of compassion. Because I had taught special education for twelve years, I gave him a son, Paul, with Down syndrome, and because I had lost a close friend to AIDS, I thought it would be interesting to explore a lifelong friendship between a straight, tough-guy, former cop and a gay man with AIDS. Both these relationships soften Jared and—I hope—give him depth and dimension.

Amy Steele: What do you like best about Jared?

Jaden Terrell: That’s a hard question! I love his loyalty, the way he never gives up on anyone he loves. His horse is almost as old as he is. His dog is ancient and arthritic. He’s still in love with his ex-wife. His best friend is gay and may be dying. He finds a way to make relationships work, even when it’s hard, even when making them work means redefining them. He’s flawed, but he tries to do the right thing.
Amy Steele: What is your favorite aspect of A Cup Full of Midnight?

Jaden Terrell: Some of the characters have very complex motivations. They have conflicting emotions, conflicting desires. Depicting that complexity was both challenging and rewarding.

Amy Steele: Why do you write?

Jaden Terrell: The usual answer to that question is, “Because I can’t NOT write,” but that’s not the whole story. If I stopped writing, I would still enjoy watching the movies in my mind. I would still be writing in my head. Sometimes it’s hard to make yourself move past that stage and actually write the story. But the movie in your mind is never really complete and therefore, enjoyable as it is, is never totally satisfying. It’s not until it’s written down that you see its real potential. Then, as you edit and revise, the layers and subtexts reveal themselves and the story becomes so much more than it was when you were only imagining it. There’s nothing like reading a scene and realizing that, while it seems familiar, there’s also something alien about it. It’s almost like it was written by someone else, and by Jove, it works.

Amy Steele: I’m fascinated that you’re a writer and a certified horse massage therapist. When and why did you become one?

Jaden Terrell: I’ve always loved horses and, at the same time, been a little afraid of them. I’m uncomfortable with riding, partly because of the danger and partly because I’m overweight and it seems unfair to the horse. But I love to brush and pet them. I love their company. I love the way they smell. When I first read about equine sports massage and realized I could take a course in it, it seemed like the perfect way to enjoy the company of horses without having to get off the ground. I’ve never done it professionally, but my palomino quarter horse, like Jared’s, is in his 30s, and massage is a gift I can give him in return for all the years he gave me and his previous owners.

Amy Steele: What’s the best advice someone’s giving you about writing?

Jaden Terrell: This came from my friend and fellow writer, Philip Cioffari, who wrote Catholic Boys and Jesusville. He said, “Be ruthless with your writing time. Protect it with your life.” I have trouble saying no to other obligations, so I have this posted in my calendar, on the notepad on my phone, and everywhere I write.

K.C. Frederick - After Lyletown

1. Since the story line of After Lyletown takes place amidst the political turmoil of the 1960s, were  there any specific events that you based the story on?

When I start a novel I usually dont know where its going. In this case, I began the story with the image of a middle-aged guy leading a fairly contented suburban life and savoring it, yet vaguely aware that it might be vulnerable.  This immediately led me to confront the question of what could threaten that life.  Soon I was convinced that it had to be something he'd gotten involved with in the past and, given the time-frame of the novel, it became clear that the 60s wouldve been the locus of his problem; something would have happened then that threatened him. I remembered a spectacular event in the 1960s when a couple of students and ex-cons got together and robbed a bank. They killed a police officer.  Susan Saxe and 5 or 6 other people were involved. I think that a few of them got away, but Susan Saxe was eventually caught and served five years in prison. I wanted a model or template for an event that mightve happened and I grafted that onto my story, but I used that historical source in only a general way. For instance, theres no character in the heist who approximates Lily. When I was teaching at Cornell, there was a woman in the art department who was stylish and radical in the same way that Lily is and she acted as the inspiration. But I'm pretty certain she didn't get involved in anything like that.  As far as the reality behind that goes, thats the best I can come up with.

2. The characters in this novel are so rich and distinct in their personalities. For example, the reader can really feel the exhilaration and invincibility of the planning of the heist as well as the sorrow that Alan feels when a close friend dies. How do you come to write characters with such vivid characteristics and personalities?

Well I had to create the participants in this heist. I had to flesh them out. Actually, the physical characteristics of one of the convicts was based on an ex-con who was at UMASS Boston briefly while I was teaching there. He was a good writer, and as far as I know he didnt participate in any criminal activity when he was at UMASS. With his beard and rumbling voice, he was the physical model for Ben Fraley. Bobby Pelham seemed to come out of thin air as a sidekick and accomplice. Ben was charismatic, and was able to draw in Bobby with his charm. As far as Alan is concerned, hes a character like many of my protagonists in that hes a halfway decent guy who's trying to keep things in balance and who deeply appreciates the sweetness of ordinary life. Like some of my other characters, he's thrown into the kinds of disturbance that he finds himself in by Rory's intrusion into his life. Rory brings uncertainty into Alans world. Rory is generated out of me but then they all are. If I wanted a physical model for Rory, I would say that it came from my graduate school days. There was a very charismatic guy who was unspeakably handsome and, for the times, disturbingly outspoken, so that a conversation with him could quickly become a fight, and not just a verbal one. He came from California and was very conservative, a libertarian, but his absolute problem with authority led him to ally himself with the Free Speech Movement when he was at Berkeley. The fact is, he was nothing at all like the Rory of the novel except for the force of his personality. I wanted Rory to have the quality of a shapeshifter, a mercurial personality who flickers into being. Throughout the novel, we sometimes see the bright and charismatic Rory of old and sometimes a beaten down loser. Occasionally, it helps to have a certain character in mind but the figure who finally emerges has to be generated out the novel itself.

3. I love the interplay that occurs between Rory and Alan. What do you want the reader to absorb from their complex relationship?

A situation that occurs again and again in my writing is that I have a character who tries to believe that the world makes sense. He then encounters a character who has a sort of demonic side to him.  The normal guy is challenged by the eruption in his life of the other character who is seemingly so different from him, and yet there's always some kind of affinity at work. The intruder turns out to be the other character's anti-self, in fact a shadow of himself. Theres kind of an attraction, pull, and fascination between these two guys. Rory has a chunk of his history that's been snuffed out,  and in some ways Alan, who's lived out the years Rory has lost, is all he has left, and thats a discovery Alan makes at the end. For Alan, Rory is theoretically someone he couldve been.

4. Throughout the novel, theres a lot of internal and external dialogue. For example, Alan seems to come alive through the use of internal dialogue. Is this a device you use in all of your novels?

Sometimes I think my readers want less of it, but I seem destined to write about characters who think and what goes on in the psyche is certainly as real as what happens out in the street. So yeah, my central character is usually someone who has this reflective quality, and he senses that the one who emerges out from the shadows, in this case Rory, has actually dared to do what Alan has thought and even intended to do. So yeah there is a reflective sensibility at the center who encounters his opposite, and he has to deal with this one way or another.

5. What advice would you give for budding authors?

(laughs) Oh, Lord. Somebody once told me that the three necessary elements for success in literature (whatever that may mean in todays America) are talent, endurance and luck, and you need every single one of them. There are lots of talented people who ultimately run out of gas. I had one story that was rejected by 35 different literary magazines and ultimately published. Maybe I revised it a bit, but at its core it was the same story and, finally published, it got included into the best short stories of the year that year.  You cant take rejection that seriously, and persistence is an extremely important part of that. Ive had lots of good and bad luck throughout my years as a writer. Early in my career, a prestigious anthology that one of my stories was to be published in went out of business before the story could appear, and much later in my career I was lucky enough to get with The Permanent Press, which greatly helped people hear my voice. You have to keep pushing and believe in yourself if you're going to grow as a writer. You should take the advice of others seriously but dont take it too seriously because as Hemingway once said, If you believe the critics when they praise you, youre going to believe them when they pan you. If youre a real writer the real reward is in your writing, you dont work for the applause, though applause doesn't hurt.

6. I very much enjoyed the characterization of the fairy-tale like Innisfree. How did the inspiration for this setting come about?

That is something that does have its roots in real life. My father-in-law actually built a place near the town of Cornwall Bridge. He started this in the 1930s after having been in the First World War. He had a similar kind of situation as Julias father does. His doctor advised him to get out of city and work with his hands. He was French and he fought in the French army. He loved the elegance and style of the 18th Century. When he built the house in the middle of remote woods he built it as though it were in the center of Williamsburg, Viriginia. In a place without streets and it was his thrust at nature. He built the house on a very small scale, and when I first came there I bumped my head into the door like Alan does. I actually wrote a short story called Adding On that dealt with this place. It was a pretty good story, and it even won an NEA [National Endowments for the Arts] fellowship. When I got to the point in the novel when I had to move the story forward, "Adding On," just kind of suggested itself to me.  I dont know if I planted this house in the novel early on or once I went back and added it but once it was there I had another sphere of intimacy for Rory to transgress. His incursion brings him increasingly into Alan's life and Rory's phoning him at Innisfree is a particularly troubling violation for Alan. We still have that house, though in real life its not called Innisfreethats my own creation.

7. What is the writing process like for you?

For a long time I only wrote short stories. Then I started writing novels. Ive written seven  novels that no one has ever seen. I guess I learned from them.  The way they happen for me is that I start mulling over a scene or situation until it has to be pushed forward, at which point I ask myself what there is in the situation that can go forward and make this story grow. E.L. Doctorow said that writing a novel is like driving across the country at night. With your headlights, you can only see a couple of hundred feet ahead of you, but eventually you get to the other coast.  Most of my novels are thrusts into the dark until my headlights map out that part of the terrain. Initially, I dont know where Im going, but the further you go the more limited the ending possibilities are.

8. What authors would you count as your literary influences?

I admire Faulkner, and consider him one of Americas greatest fiction writers of the twentieth century. Whereas so many others have one or two great works, Faulkner has boatloads of them. To the extent that I write fiction in which characters deal with the present and things in the past, thats part of the legacy of Faulkner. He was one of the great writers who kept writing, and he never wrote the same book twice.  I also love Chekhovs short stories. I hope the nuances in my work are like Chekhovs.  I should say that my earlier works were often described as Kafka-esque, and I suppose I share some of his vision of the ordinary person confronting a baffling universe that may or may not make sense.

9. If you had to give an overall characterization of the 1960s, would you say that the benefits of idealism outweighed the violence of the more radical groups? 

Oh yeah, I think there are many people I know who think that the 60s ruined America. In fact, it did ruin America for white aristocracy. There were so many things that wouldnt have been true for African Americans and women had the 60s not occurred. The era did ignite powerful passions and people did sometimes act with violence that had nothing to do with liberation. Of course, the frustrations they engendered did turn a lot of people angry and sour. It's impossible to imagine the 60s not occurring. The 1950s were a time bomb ticking towards the 60s. You can rewrite history to make it seem that in the 60s America turned sour and bad but you have to recognize that human actions dont go on a straight and steady line. Sometimes enlargement of your vision can carry a heavy price.  But even if you could, would you want to go back?


Julie Mars - Rust

1. There are many technical aspects in the book about the art of welding. Do you have a background in this, or did you have to do outside research?

I had to do outside research because I had no knowledge about it. I read a lot about welding and finally I met with an art welder named Ryan Henel, whom I acknowledge in the book. He was very helpful and went over the welding section for accuracy and made sure each one was legitimate. I guess you can learn about welding through reading even if you don’t know how to do it, but experience matters more.  

2. Margaret seems obsessed with forging a new identity in New Mexico and in her adult life. Are there any parallels between this character’s search for her new identity and your own life?

Well, I think that any thoughtful person has to constantly search for their own identity because it never remains static if you’re lucky, so even if Margaret is different from me, I guess we are soul sisters in that regard. She is trying to make sense of life and figuring out how to make it rewarding, and that’s something you have to do no matter how old you are. This awareness forces you to redirect your energies into who you are now. Even though I moved from New York to New Mexico fourteen years ago under different circumstances, I certainly feel an affinity for Margaret and her quest.

3. On a similar note, did anyone in your own life serve as inspiration for any of the characters? Donny, in particular, seems like quite an interesting and dynamic character.

Actually this book was relatively free of personal references, which is unusual for me. Usually, my books are filled with people I know and things I’ve heard them say, but this time it all really came from my imagination. No characters in there are based on anybody that I know--though for Donny, a long time ago, when I was young and waiting tables in New York, I worked in an Irish restaurant and the owner did tell me the story about leprechauns that Donny tells in the book. For the most part, though, no. These characters came on their own.

 4. Margaret’s work ethic seems quite quirky. For example, at one point she remarks that she “had always entered her paintings from a place of not knowing.” Is this similar to the way in which you approach writing a book?

Yes, it is. It’s exactly the way I approach writing a book. I never know what’s going to happen. I never have a sense of direction about my writing. It’s funny because that’s the only place in my life where I’m like that. In writing, all I do is show up for it and I am always astonished each time it works out. This has kind of inspired me to think that books are sometimes already completed in the unconscious mind before they arrive on the page, so even though I don’t know why I’m writing what I’m writing, I’ve come to trust that the events will somehow work out. That’s been a great adventure for me.

5. As a musician, I personally loved the way that you characterized the relationship between Harold and Margaret through the song, “Greensleeves.” In fact, Margaret says that “Memories of Harold lurked in the shadows of the words of the song.” What gave you the idea to use this song to signify their relationship?

I think it was the line ‘Alas my love you do me wrong to treat me so discourteously.’ It’s just a very sad song--and the fact that the neighborhood ice cream truck plays that song constantly (in the warm weather, I hear it every day at least a hundred times) keeps it somewhat permanent in my mind. There’s a sadness in it, and there’s an incredible sadness in Margaret. She doesn’t deserve the isolation she’s suffered or the sadness, but all that kind of was encapsulated in that song for some reason. I don’t really question why the connections are made; I just go with them when I can.

6. I love the creative language that is incorporated into the book. For example, the phrase “If he were a tire, he would’ve been inflated far past the optimum amount, he thought, though there was no release valve that he knew of for the human heart” is just brilliant. Do you have a  background in creative writing?

I do. I’ve been a writer my whole life. I have a Master’s degree in creative writing and I’ve taught creative writing in settings from universities to prisons. I have been in love with words forever. This book was different in that it’s a bit more poetic and a little less plot-driven.  It was very exciting to move into that way of using language and not to feel constrained by a plot. I knew that a plot would be there, but I was really interested in exploring how the words sounded in this particular book.

7. Who are your literary influences?

I have a lot, but that’s not to say that I’ve ever been able to get anywhere near their level. Virginia Wolfe is fabulous and I love Henry Miller, who happens to be on the opposite end of the spectrum. I also love William Faulkner. As for a specific influence for this book, though, I would say that a person whose work I really admire and who is more contemporary is Kate Braverman. She wrote a gorgeous book called Palm Latitudes. It’s kind of similar to mine because it takes place over a short period of time. That book, which is poetic and delicate, stayed in my mind for many years. I thought of her style as a literary direction I would like to go in, and that’s where I went.

8. What is the writing process like for you?

I’m a believer in ritual for writing. I show up in the same place, at the same time, for the same amount of time; I never vary it. Once a project gets started, I work five mornings a week from 5 to 9:30 a.m. I try to do four handwritten pages a day, and my handwriting is small so it ends up being more when typed up. I work in the morning on the actual story, on the writing, and in the evening I type up the pages; I always stick with that rhythm. When I’m trying to figure out what’s next, I indulge in my lifelong habit of writing little tiny flash fiction pieces, a short story every day until one catches, and that’s what happened with Rust.  One day I was looking on my computer and was looking through my old files and I found a file called ‘Nobody Cares’ and said ‘Well, what’s this?’ I opened it up and it was the opening paragraph of Rust. I didn’t know that when I had put it in there that I would ever use it, but when I discovered it on my computer, I just ran with it. The first draft of the book came right out, and seven months later, which is very fast for me, it was done. It was interesting to me because I must’ve known that I should save that particular paragraph, and when I found it I was so happy.

9. Do you have any advice for young authors?

I think my advice is that first you have to do the work, though I know that everyone says that. You can’t say that you want to be a writer; you have to be a writer. I’ve never experienced saying I wanted to be a writer because I’ve always been one. It’s important to separate out the process, the pleasure, the pain and the frustration of writing with what comes after that, which is attempting to be published. You have to stay close to your work. You have to do that because it’s absolutely necessary to work your way through each project in order to discover why you’re doing it. I guess if I were going to say one thing, it would be to pay attention to the writing first and worry about the other stuff later.


Michael Adelberg - A Thinking Man's Bully

1. What made you decide to write about bullying from a parent’s perspective? Did you have a particular goal in mind in doing this?

The book was inspired after I had a conversation with the parent of a bully. I realized that he wasn’t going to do a darn thing about it, but he was also not a bad guy. He was just in this sort of post- modern male conundrum of not wanting a wimp for a son and was proud that his son was a badass, but he knew that he couldn’t admit that. I always wanted to write a book and thought ‘Oh gosh no one talks about this’ and I wanted to talk about it.

2. In the book, the main character has reservations about publishing his high school memoir, which discusses the death of his best friend. Did you face similar hesitations in having your own book published?

Yes. The book is not autobiographical, but I don’t necessarily consider myself a brilliant, creative enough person to have invented the universe out of its own cloth. The book has many autobiographical trappings based on people I grew up with, the setup and the setting. Then of course as I know in the materials I sent you, after the book was basically done, my nephew­­­­­­­­­­­ who was used to a degree to build the son character, Jack, in the book, took his life and it was just terrible on so many levels. It made finishing the book and doing the suggested changes ball up into a whole series of emotions and the difficulty around that was determining how the book would be perceived in light of what had just occurred.

3. In another interview, you said that bullying has always been a problem and is inherent in human nature. Why do you think it has recently received more attention?

The conflict has received increasing attention because we have, as a society, lessened our tolerance of it. Just like child abuse or a variety of other social pathologies that used to be tolerated, our tolerance is down and the ability to detect it is better. Bullying doesn’t just get pushed under the rug the way it used to. 

4. From your perspective, do you have any suggestions of ways for our society and schools in particular to address the bullying situations both in and outside of the classrooms?

That’s an excellent question, probably one that should be addressed to someone who’s an expert on the topic. I’ve been both the hammer and the nail at different parts of my life. I don’t know if I’m the best person to answer it. What I do think is that the parent passes it down. It’s a behavior and I’m sure there is probably some kind of genetic predisposition to bullying traits such as violence, but it really is a learned behavior. In that way, maybe we can take some solace that it’s a learned behavior and to the degree that we can change the individual choices that we make about what behaviors we model for our kids; we can modify the behavior. I’m ultimately pessimistic about stamping out bullying by a certain year, but just as we’ve made great progress as a society in regard to many things, we can make gradual progress here. Gradual is the key word.

5. There was recently a New Jersey anti-bullying law, known as the Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights, that mandates that schools adopt a comprehensive set of anti-bullying rules, increase staff awareness about bullying, create more emergent deadlines for reporting bullying incidents, and designate an anti-bullying specialist to deal solely with bullying issues. What do you think of this law? Do you think that these types of laws could be effective?

In general, programs that put new requirements on public institutions and the public schools in particular and provide the necessary funding and technical assistance can be implemented gradually. There would need to be money and technical assistance attached to it and I don’t know about this particular bill, but if it doesn’t attach these particular things, I would be suspicious about how it would be implemented. Our society, after all, is one of unfunded mandates.

6. Were there any real-life influences for the therapist, Lisa Moscovitz?

A number of the characters are little pieces of people I’ve known. None of them are any individuals but little pieces of others sort of slapped together. With Lisa in particular, one of the people I thought about was a college professor of mine. She was extremely subtle in how she guided me and when I made strong statements, and only ten minutes after a conversation was over did I realize that she was in control and was guiding me to say things that she could’ve said in the beginning, but was more tactful in letting me say them. There was a lot of restraint. I think a sign of greatness in a person often comes from restraint and letting others reach what you already know or what you already believe but letting them get there on their own. It doesn’t have the same impact when you throw it in their face and say ‘I’m right.’ But when others believe as much as you do, then you really change something. I wanted Lisa to have restraint, especially in dealing with Matt, and be able to maintain that restraint. Brilliance is wonderful, but real greatness comes from restraint.

7. Who are your literary influences? Any favorite authors?

I love the book Travesty by John Hawkes. Another author I love is Tristan Egolf, who wrote Lord of the Barnyard. That’s a fantastic book and it does deal with sort of hard scrabble males who are onto something but are violent and tough to deal with. I love that book. Certainly One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey is an absolutely wonderful book. One of the books that did influence me in writing this was a young adult author, Robert Cormier. He wrote two novels, The Chocolate War and the other is I Am the Cheese. I Am the Cheese is written about a lowly male on a quest that he hasn’t figured out. There are scenes after each chapter in which he’s talking to someone, you don’t know who, and he recaps what happened in each chapter. You don’t find out until the end that he is in a psychiatric hospital. What I liked about that book was that here’s the action and here’s the analysis mentality. That would never be available in a traditional book and I always like that added layer of analysis. It’s been twenty-five years since reading those books and they are both influential on my book, I Am the Cheese in particular.

8. Do you have any particular routine or schedule that you try to follow when writing?

I’m a lunatic and I never recommend my schedule to anyone who is sane. I’m a workaholic, I try to cram in activities with my kids and in two hours do what normal parents would do in four hours. At night I work as a historian, and then I write fiction. I write maybe twice a week, usually from ten to two in the morning or I fall asleep because I didn’t get sleep the night before. Sometimes I’ll wake up at two and then work on my writing until I go to work. I write in the middle of the night because that’s when I have time to do it. I try to proofread my work on weekends, but I do almost all of my original drafting in the middle of the night. 

9. What advice would you give to budding authors?

The single thing you have to do is proofread again and again and again because maybe there are a handful of truly brilliant writers who can get it right on the first draft. Most are writers like me, who need twenty drafts to get it right, and I’m talking about making major revisions and taking out enormous pieces of what you wrote just because they aren’t right. Through this process I’ve had some great peer reviewers. I tend to do what they suggest in the belief that even if I don’t like the changes, they are more likely to represent my reader than I am. I show tremendous deference to reviewers who I believe represent my target audience. I think I’ve been blessed to be emotionally attached to my writing, but if someone tells me something stinks I take their word for it and try it again. There are four chapters of Bully that aren’t in the final version because someone said they just weren’t good.

10. As a footnote, what gave you the idea to add footnotes to the book?

This is a delightful topic you’ve just raised. When Bully was at its biggest, it was two hundred and fifty pages with one hundred and fifty footnotes. They were the type of long historian notes written for academic journals. I just love the pomposity of the academic footnotes. I included all of these long footnotes ranging from Bruce Springsteen to rock em’ sock em’ robots and serious topics such as Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Matthew wants people to know he’s smart and wants to go overboard on footnotes so people know he’s academic. What you see now in the footnotes are just a handful of the earlier ones. In some of them I was able to maintain a little attitude but they are only a shadow of what they were.

David Freed - Flat Spin (Interviewed by Bruce De Silva)

BD: Pitch Flat Spin to us in 25 words or less.

DF: A wise-cracking government assassin-turned-flight instructor is asked by his ex-wife to help investigate the murder of the man she dumped him for.

BD: One of the reasons I like crime novels is that they are usually written by people who led other lives before becoming writers–unlike those who go straight from MFA programs to writing careers. That gives crime novelists something real to say about the world we live in. You’ve had more experiences than most. Tell us about that, and about how it enriches your work.

DF: There is no better training ground when it comes to writing fiction, in my opinion, than writing nonfiction. I spent nearly 20 years doing just that, largely covering the military and law enforcement as a newspaper reporter. I hung out with homicide detectives and convicted killers, rubbed elbows with spies and commandos, covered a war, watched a few autopsies, once witnessed an execution, and interviewed literally thousands of people, from the truly heroic to rabid sociopaths. And the cool part was, I got paid to do it—although not very well, as I’m sure you can appreciate, Bruce, being a former newspaper guy yourself.

BD: Since you’re being modest, I’ll add that during your stint at The Los Angeles Times, you were a solo finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and shared in the Pulitzer for coverage of the Rodney King riots.

DF: After leaving the world of daily print journalism, I labored briefly as an investigator for CBS News, helping cover the OJ Simpson murder case, before landing work in Hollywood as a screenwriter, writing for national magazines, and as an asset within the U.S. intelligence community. As a recreational outlet, I also earned a pilot’s license along the way. I suppose I always figured that all of that real world experience would eventually lend itself in some fashion to the less-than-real world of crime fiction. That I‘ve been able to incorporate some of my experiences in my first novel has been very satisfying.

BD: Flat Spin, the title of your debut thriller, is the name of a complex, treacherous flight maneuver that only the most accomplished pilots should risk. Have you tried it? And if so, did you live through it?

DF: Chuck Yeager inadvertently entered a flat spin in The Right Stuff and crashed big time. Ditto Maverick and Goose in Top Gun—and Goose died! If pilot gods like that couldn’t recover from a flat spin, there’s no way a mere mortal pilot like me ever would. I’ve never attempted one and I hope I never will. However, the hero of my book, Cordell Logan, flew Air Force A-10 Warthogs in Desert Storm. He probably wouldn’t hesitate to give it a shot under the right circumstances because that’s the kind of balls-out dude he is.

BD: Logan is tough, all right, but he’s vulnerable, too. When he longs for his beautiful ex-wife Savannah, his pain is so real that the reader’s heart will ache. Something you know from experience, or are you just good at making the love stuff up?

DF: I’ve never been divorced, fortunately, but I certainly have had my heart broken a time or two. Like all of us, I also can count no shortage of friends and relatives who’ve gone through traumatic break-ups of their own. Some, like Logan, never get over them. The searing emotional pain that comes with watching a special person walk out of your life is endemic to us as a species; it’s an experience to which virtually every reader can relate. Which makes our work as a writers that much more relatable when making the “love stuff” up.

BD: I have been divorced, but when it comes to writing love scenes, I freeze. Fortunately, I am now married to one of our greatest living poets, Patricia Smith. So when I need some of that “love stuff,” I call her over and say, “Honey, what do you think these two love birds would say or do here?” I do feel comfortable touching on my characters’ religion, however, so I was fascinated by Logan’s. His recent conversion to Buddhism doesn’t seem to be going very well, his struggles to find inner peace providing the funniest parts of the book. Anything autobiographical about that?

DF: I’m not a Buddhist, though I am intrigued with the religion and admire those who strive to achieve its Zen-like tranquility. Buddhism boiled down espouses little more than the Golden Rule. It encourages a peaceful, nonjudgmental, live-and-let-live lifestyle. Nothing wrong with that. Logan’s problem is that he is a man quick to action and does not suffer fools gladly. Plus, he has a weakness for carne asada burritos, which true Buddhists, who are generally vegetarian, tend to frown on. In that regard, there may well be some autobiographical linkage between Logan and me. I doubt I could ever fully embrace any religion that rejects meat burritos.

BD: Or, in my case, Irish whiskey and cigars. In describing your life experiences, you downplayed your technical expertise, which includes scripting computerized training simulations for the Defense Intelligence Agency and the U.S. Army’s Battle Command Lab. Most novelists who have a lot of technical expertise are clumsy writers. Your prose is both muscular and musical—and sometimes verges on poetry. Where did you learn to write like that?

DF: Thanks for the compliment. Truthfully, though, I’m not sure how to answer the question. Writing is a craft. The longer you hone any craft, the more competent you should become. I believe that writing is rewriting. The only way to write well, for me anyway, is to never be content with what you’ve written. Rewrite your prose until it sings to your ear. Always strive to improve it, even if it means rewriting it a dozen times or more.

BD: Amen. People think they read with their eyes, but they really read with their ears. Years ago, the late great Robert B. Parker told me that people love his Spenser private detective novels for the same reason they like certain songs. They like the way they sound. Flat Spin, of course, is not really a P.I. novel. How would you place it in the various crime sub-genres? Which writers in that tradition most influenced you, and how?

DF: For better or worse, I’m not sure Flat Spin falls squarely in any defined sub-genre of crime fiction. It’s not a police procedural. It’s not a cozy.

BD: Well, it sure isn’t a cozy. I’d categorize it as a literary thriller.

DF: If anything, I’d say it’s a funny whodunit. Logan is a hardboiled bad ass in the mold of Parker’s Spenser. He’s also a sardonic smart ass ala Gregory McDonald’s Fletch. Toss in a reluctant amateur sleuth who flies his own airplane like “Sky King,” and what you have, I hope, is a book that humors readers more than it horrifies them.

BD: Whatever it is, it’s damned good. Tell us about your writing process. Do you outline or make it up as you go along? Do you polish as you go, or do you bang out a rough first draft and then revise?

DF: I start out with a fairly basic outline to the extent that I know where the story begins and where it will end. I’ll add a few major plot beats to the skeleton. Then I’ll go back to the beginning of the outline and, in narrative fashion, with as much detail as I can reasonably muster, script the first several dozen pages of the book. It’s not unlike a football coach who lays out the first 10 or 15 offensive plays he wants his team to run. Doing so creates foundation and rhythm, both of which help dictate the rest of the game. I’ve found that some of my most satisfying creative turns come on the fly, when I allow my characters to speak to me. Holding fast to a set outline, for me anyway, does not allow much maneuver room.

BD: I do pretty much the same thing, minus the initial outline. I start off with a vague idea of what the book will be about and then just set my characters in motion to see what they will do and say. I find that if I don’t know what’s going to happen next, my readers probably won’t either. So tell me, what do you read for pleasure, and what recent books–other than mine, of course–do you most admire?

DF: By virtue of my journalistic background, I tend to read a lot of nonfiction, especially biographies, political exposes, American history, and modern adventure. I like a lot of Jon Krakhauer’s stuff. Likewise the work of Sebastian Junger. If I become particularly interested in a subject–the JFK assassination and the decisions that led George W. Bush to invade Iraq are two recent examples that come to mind–I’ll typically read many books in that area, one after the other. As far as fiction goes, I’m all over the map. Nobody did it better than Faulkner and Steinbeck, in my opinion. Relatively little-known James Salter is certainly among the most brilliant American wordsmiths alive today. I read “City of Thieves” not long ago by David Benioff and thought it exceptional. I’m currently reading “Matterhorn,” a very impressive novel about Marines fighting in Vietnam written by Karl Marlantes, himself a former grunt. Truth be told, I tend not to read many mystery-thrillers these days, if only because I don’t want to be envious of authors who are vastly more skilled than me, and also because I don’t want to subconsciously imprint their work on mine. That said, however, I am truly looking forward to reading “Cliff Walk,” the much-anticipated second Mulligan crime novel written by a certain Edgar Award-winning author whom we both know but who shall remain nameless here ‘lest I be accused of flagrant pandering.

BD: Pander all you want, pal. So what’s next for David Freed and Cordell Logan?

DF: If all goes according to plan, the next Logan mystery will hit the shelves in 2013. I won’t give too much away other than to say something dramatic happens to Logan that will change his life forever. How’d that for a tease?

BD: Perfect. I can hardly wait. Any advice for aspiring crime novelists?

DF: Live as large a life as you can–and take good notes. That way, you’ll have material that resonates with at least a patina of authenticity when you ultimately do decide to try your hand at that first novel. Then write. Don’t go to Starbucks and say you’re going there to write when we all know you’re really there to eye the local talent. Don’t go to endless workshops and talk about being a writer. Write. Even if it means missing a couple hours’ sleep a night, getting up early before your day job begins, or staying home when your friends are out partying, you cannot be a writer without walling yourself off from the world, planting your butt in a chair, and writing. Maintain a schedule. Tell yourself you’re going to crank out a certain number of words each day, then do it. It’s like going to the gym. You’ll never build any muscles by working out once a week or every couple of weeks. Build up a head of steam and maintain it. The late great John Gregory Dunn once described writing as nothing more than laying one length of pipe in front of another until the pipeline is complete. Dunn definitely had it down.

BD: Great advice. The main difference between a novelist and someone who aspires to be one is discipline. I urge the wannabes not to be overwhelmed by the seemingly huge task of writing a whole book. Just write 800 words a day every day and you can finish an 80,000-word crime novel in 100 days. That’s how Parker managed to write 70 novels between the age of 42, when he started, and 82, when he died at his writing desk.

DF: And one more thing: don’t share your crime novel with anybody until it’s 100 percent finished and as good as you can possibly make it. Little will undermine a writer in mid-project faster than the often half-baked creative suggestions of otherwise well-intentioned acquaintances who wouldn’t know good writing if it kissed them on the lips. It’s your book. Don’t let anybody else tell you how to write it until a reputable publisher offers you a seven-figure deal. Then rewrite it exactly as they say!

BD: When you win the Edgar Award for best first novel, where are you going to display it?

DF: LOL, as my kids would say. Hey, don’t get me wrong. I’d love to win an Edgar. From your lips to the Buddha’s ears. But I learned long ago that a writer’s true reward comes not in plaques or shiny pieces of hardware to put up on the mantle (or in a box up in the attic, as the case may be in my house). It comes in connecting with the public. If Flat Spin brings readers pleasure, helps them escape for a few hours the pressures and frustrations of daily life that we all endure, I will be more than happy.

BD: That’s how I always felt about awards during my long journalism career, but as a novelist I love awards. Why? Because they help sell books! One last thing, David. Where can we find you online?

DF: Thanks, Bruce!

Leonard Rosen - All Cry Chaos

1. I noticed this is a first installment. Where do you envision the future of the series going?

I'm working on a prequel. The first book in the series takes place at the end of Henri's career. He's 57 years old and has been at Interpol for 30 years; the case pushes him to retirement. The next book takes place when Henri is a 28-year-old mechanical engineer. He's not yet an Interpol agent, and he's engaged to marry a woman who is an heiress of a steel fortune. There are some strange goings on in the family, and the more Henri uncovers the more he investigates. This next book presents Poincaré in his first case, after which he is invited to be an Interpol agent.

2. How does a book go from being reviewed well to sold?

No one knows. What Marty [the co-publisher of The Permanent Press publishing company] says is that people read and talk about a book. It's word of mouth. So when I hear that you and your mom liked my book it's encouraging to me because those are two different generations speaking.

3. There are a lot of technical, mathematical, economic, chemical, and political undercurrents in your novel. How did you do the research for this book? Do you have a background in these subjects or have you done a lot of research?

I have always been fascinated by math. I went to a math and engineering high school but was never a good enough student to appreciate that one can use mathematics as a way of understanding the world. In high school, I saw math as a series of cookbook exercises where you worked with symbols and arrived at an answer. I didn't yet have the imagination to see that it was much more than that. I became a student of mathematics again when I started writing All Cry Chaos. For six months, I worked with a tutor until I understood enough about fractal geometry to stay half a step above the reader. As other elements of the book suggested themselves to me, I conducted research as well: into the economy, indigenous affairs, rocket fuels, and religious zealots.

4. I find it interesting that you used Jules Poincaré as the great-grandfather of Henri Poincaré. How did you come to choose this real-life character as the great-grandfather of your main character?

The main character of All Cry Chaos, lives in a world in which chaos plays an important organizing (or, rather, disorganizing) role. When I began my research, I quickly discovered that Jules  Henri Poincaré was regarded as the father of chaos theory.  I thought, who better to name my character after than this great mathematician? Both men (real and fictional) deal with chaos, one in the mathematical world and one in our fractured social world.

5.What is the writing process like for you?

In a word, chaotic!  I am one of these writers who needs to write fifteen or more drafts to understand what I have. I’ll write a chapter that many times before I let anyone see it. Then, I welcome criticism. I look for readers who are tough critics and loyal enough to tell me when things are not working. 

6.Who are your favorite authors and do you have any favorite books? Did any of these authors influence your writing style?

Ian McEwan and Mark Helperin are great literary novelists whose characters and descriptions are rich—they remind me of all the reasons that I’ve always enjoyed reading.  Because I chose to write a thriller I read a lot in that genre as well, writers like John le Carre and P.D. James.  I especially admire these two because they tell rich stories and seldom skimp in creating real characters and full descriptions.  They’re not afraid to write books with ideas.  I also read straight genre fiction because I want to study how good practitioners get readers to turn pages—writers like John Grisham, Martin Cruz Smith, Scott Turow, Henning Mankell, Robert Harris, Dan Brown, and Stieg Larsson. These writers create in you a real need to find out what happens, and that’s a real skill.   

7.I noticed that you introduced each part of the book with a quote from Job. How did you get the idea to do this, and is there any significance to using the story of Job to introduce the parts of your text?

I wouldn’t want to spoil the pleasure that readers might have in discovering this for themselves.  But I’m glad you noticed!  Let’s say that the quotations do not appear at random.  All come from last book of Job in which God is speaking to Job out of a whirlwind.

8.A lot of this novel takes place in Europe, and there is some reference to Harvard, where I know you taught. How did you come to know so much about the European settings?

I’ve traveled, so that helps.  I’m returning to Europe this August to do research in Austria, Germany, and Holland.  I visited Honk Kong and China this past December.   I enjoy the traveling, and I enjoy working what I discover into my writing.

9.The characters in your novel are very complex and yet highly believable. For example, it’s hard for the reader to tell where Dana’s loyalties lie. Is it hard to write so believably about such complex characters?

I work hard to make the characters real. For instance, the character of Sripo Banovic, the Serbian war criminal—he was a librarian before the Bosnian war and something terrible happened to his family and because of that he turns into a monster.  He was a good man once.  He was violated.  Part of him, I don’t doubt, is still good.  And so it goes with my other characters.  Unless a character is purposefully flat—we may see him once—I try for a rich range of motivation.

10. Do you have any suggestions for budding authors like me?

Write—a lot—and get a day job.  The odds are almost certain that you’re not going to support yourself with your writing. That’s the world we live in, unfortunately.  The best most of us can hope for is to find a job that gives one space to write.  And this is also important: find a partner who believes in your work.  At the end of a productive day you might have written three paragraphs.  To be seated across the dinner table with someone who thinks that’s a waste and says: “You did what!!”  has to be demoralizing.  So you want to find someone who believes in you—and someone, as well, who has a good day job. But write—and believe that what you write matters.   On the other hand, it’s useful not to take yourself too seriously!  So laugh at yourself, too.

Michael Schiavone - Call Me When You Land

1. What is the writing process like for you?

For me, the writing process is a grind.  My relationship to writing has always been of the love / hate variety.  Moderation is not my strong suit so I’m either writing furiously or I’m not writing at all. I’ve always been a morning writer.  Ideally, I wake up and go right to the computer, coffee in hand.  Usually I force myself to write for four hours.  Now, since I’ve had a child, my writing routine has been tremendously upset.  Only time will tell if I will learn to adapt.

2. What inspired you to write about a tenuous mother-son relationship?

I did not set out to write about a mother / son relationship when I began this novel.  Call Me When You Land started with the image of the pod—I liked the idea of this mystery box arriving on-scene uninvited, upsetting the world of my characters.  I suppose I must have conceived of Katie well before I began this novel because once I placed her on the page, her personality and predicaments came to me quite naturally. Relationships form the framework of all my work and it’s the characters who drive my stories.  Inserting an increasingly volatile teenaged son into the mix seemed a logical choice for the story, a way to challenge Katie and push her out of her comfort zone.  While the book does focus on the mother / son relationship, I feel that it’s ultimately Katie’s story. This book belongs to her.

3. What was the significance of the motorcycle? Why did you choose this gift in place of another?

I began Call Me When You Land in 2007, a few months after completing a rigorous one year course on motorcycle mechanics in Arizona. Motorcycles were on my mind and so it was no surprise that one would show up on the page.  I never purposely insert symbols into my work. Anything that might become a symbol occurs organically.  So, the motorcycle’s significance should be determined by the reader.

4. Do you see yourself in any of your characters?

Of course. I see myself in all my characters. I also see people I know in all my characters.  They are a blend of real personalities mixed together to form one being. There are certainly parallels between my life experience and that of every single character in this book, but it remains a work of pure fiction. Unlike Craig, my father is alive and well and has no interest in motorcycles, drugs, or daredevil skiing. Like Katie, my mother is also a painter.  You can actually see some of her work on my website. Unlike Katie, my mother has never been a drinker.  Like C.J., I played hockey and was an edgy teenager. Unlike C.J., I’ve never physically harmed anyone.  The character of Walter is loosely based on my grandfather, Walter. The character of Caroline is loosely based on the invented personality of my Chihuahua, Isabel.

5. I love the unique relationship between Katie and her great-uncle, Walter. What did you want the reader to take away from this pairing?

I didn’t set out to write these characters with any specific objective in mind. When I write these characters, I’m simply trying to make them real—to make their situations matter, to make their predicament urgent.  That is my only goal. I’m really not thinking about readers and their reactions. Of course, I want people to read and appreciate the book, but I certainly don’t try to set their expectations.

6. As we find out in the story, the title phrase, Call Me When You Land, derives from the strained relationship between Katie and her sister, Caroline. How did you come up with this phrase? Does it stem from any personal stories?

Originally, this line—“call me when you land” —appeared only once in the novel, when Katie spoke these words to Caroline as she hopped into the cab at the story’s end.  I really liked the sound of that phrase and decided to make it my title.  A la Raymond Carver, I often choose titles from a line of dialogue within the story. When the publisher accepted the manuscript for publication, they wanted me to change the title. They felt it wasn’t resonant, and they were right, because I hadn’t done the work to earn the title at that point.  But I was committed to the title, so I had to go back in and make it more thematic, more distinct.  I had to attach those words to Katie and her predicament, as well as her past, which I hadn’t done initially.

7. The story is layered throughout with important glimpses into the character’s past. Why did you decide to give such detailed background information of the characters, and did you find this a difficult writing technique?

Flashbacks are brutal. It is so difficult to make them work, to make the transition smooth and appropriate. I don’t want to disrupt the narrative simply because I feel pressed to offer characterization via their past. Figuring out how to offer insight into the characters’  
past via scene was an enormous challenge, one that I took very seriously. I admire authors who can leap through time periods and make it seem so natural

8. Do you think that CJ’s literal journey of self-discovery was imperative to the resolution of the strained mother-son relationship?

C.J.’s journey was one part of the resolution. And I’m hesitant to use the word “resolution” because Katie and C.J. have miles to go before they sleep. Basically, his journey marks the beginning of their repair, their potential for repair. I, for one, am optimistic about their future.

9. Who are your literary influences?

Looking behind me on my bookshelf, I see Raymond Carver, Andre Dubus, Richard Yates, J.D. Salinger, John Steinbeck, Tim O’Brien, Russell Banks, Denis Johnson, Thom Jones, Tim Gautreaux. That’s a pretty good list.

10. Any suggestions for budding authors?

Have a back up plan.

11. Any plans for future novels?

I avoid discussing works-in-progress because it always drains the energy and promise from the work-in-progress.  I don’t know why that is, but it’s the truth. I have a story collection---You’d Be Crazy Not to Love It Here---that I’ve been amassing for over ten years that I’d love to see published. Most of the stories in the collection have won awards and/or have been published in reputable literary magazines. As you can see, I’m basically using your question to lobby for it’s arrival into the marketplace.