Steven Saylor on writing about history, crime, & more

Steven Saylor’s Ancient Roman detective, Gordianus The Finder, finally takes on the biggest murder of his time in The Throne Of Caesar. He will be discussing it at BookPeople on February 22nd, but our Scott Butki got in some early questions in concerning writing about history and work in the future.

MysteryPeople Scott Butki: Let’s start by talking about how you came up with this seed of an idea that became this novel. You got the idea at a cocktail party with scholars?

Steven Saylor: I was invited to speak to a group of Classical scholars meeting at Baylor—a long way from Rome!—and a professor named James O’Hara, having heard me bemoan the “impossible challenge” of writing a mystery novel around the Ides of March, said to me, “Make it about…X.” In the Author’s Note to The Throne of Caesar, I fill in the blank, but it would be a spoiler to do so here. The point is, I am so lucky to be linked in and to get insights and feedback from some world-class experts on the ancient world. Sometimes all it takes is a single word, as in this case, to get me over the stumbling block and out of the starting blocks.

MPSB: As someone writing about Ancient Rome did you feel you had to write, at some point, about what you call “the most famous murder case in history”?

SS: Once I realized that my first novel Roman Blood (set in 80 B.C.) would become a series, getting to the assassination of Caesar in 44 B.C. seemed a natural goal. It’s such a huge watershed event, a real before/after moment in world history.

MPSB: If anyone thinks they already know how this story will end—it being so famous after all—what would you tell them?

SS: As in most of my novels, there are two plot lines running parallel and simultaneously—the plot on the surface, and the invisible plot. You know how one will turn out, but hopefully the other will give you a surprise.

MPSB: How did you decide how much of Shakespeare to quote in the book?

SS: There’s only one direct homage to the Bard, when a certain character speaks a line lifted directly from Julius Caesar. I reveal the details of that in Author’s Note. It’s a line that works one way in Shakespeare’s play, and a different way in my version, so it’s loaded with irony, and one of many in-jokes sprinkled throughout the book that may amuse history buffs and Shakespeare lovers.

MPSB: Let’s back up now. Why did you start writing novels about Ancient Rome in the first place?

SS: I give a great amount of credit to the sword-and-sandal movies of my childhood, chief among them Cleopatra, written and directed by the great Joseph Mankiewicz. The tale of Caesar, Antony, and Cleopatra became one of the central myths of my imagination. The assassination scene in that movie is pure cinematic genius, unforgettable. I went on to study Classics and history at UT Austin, and then years later had the idea to turn Cicero’s first murder trial into a crime novel; that became Roman Blood. The book found a readership, and I suddenly had a whole career ahead of me.

MPSB: Why did you decide to write erotic thrillers under a different name, Aaron Travis?

SS: That was back in my slacker twenties, which are a bit of a blur now. Hormones ruled my life, and the erotic was my muse. I’ve kept those works available in e-editions for the discerning connoisseur, but I must warn readers that they are not for the faint of heart.

MPSB: When I last interviewed you you said, “I would like to write another historical epic set in Austin some day, about the early days of the Texas Republic.” Is that still on the radar?

SS: Hmmm, off the radar for now, I would say. I have a current project that’s consuming all my research and storytelling. (More about that below.) But every now and then I find myself musing about Mirabeau Lamar and Sam Houston and their competing visions for the Republic of Texas. I still collect books about that period. You never know.

MPSB: As both a graduate of University of Texas and a part-time Austin resident, what are some of your favorite spots around Austin?

SS: My Austin is all about swimming, running, Tex-Mex and BBQ—working up an appetite at Barton Springs, Deep Eddy, Hippie Hollow, the trail around Lady Bird Lake, and the Barton Creek Greenbelt (but not all in the same day!) and then eating at Maudie’s, Green Mesquite, Chuy’s, or The Iron Works. For culture, I love the Blanton Museum; I’m eager to see Ellsworth Kelly’s “Austin” structure. And I still drop in on the occasional lecture on the UT campus.

MPSB: What would readers be most surprised to learn about you?

SS: I’ve been with the same guy for well over forty years now, since Rick and I were both at UT back in 1976. Now we’re legally hitched. Such long marriages are not so common these days. I’m very lucky to have had so much emotional continuity in my life. I’ve also had the same editor and agent since forever. I’m very loyal, I suppose.

MPSB: What are you working on next?

SS: My next novel will be the third volume in my family saga series, to follow Roma and Empire. It’s a big chunk of history, taking the family from the philosopher-emperor Marcus Aurelius and his no-good playboy son Commodus (notorious from the movie Gladiator, though my version will be very different) all the way to Constantine the Great, who made Christianity the state religion. Along the way we meet the sun-worshipping, drag-queen emperor, Elagabalus. His reign was quite short, I’m afraid, but he made quite an impression.

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Q&A with Alex Berenson

Alex Berenson’s John Wells espionage series often uses the headlines or predicts them for novels dealing with our county’s involvement in the geo-political game. His latest, The Deceivers, has John and his team dealing with a Russian plot to put their man in the White House. Alex will be joining us at 2PM on Saturday, February 10th with fellow thriller writer Don M. Patterson. MysteryPeople’s Scott Butki intercepted him earlier for a one on one interrogation.

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MysteryPeople Scott Butki: How did this story, the latest about John Wells, come about?

Alex Berenson: Over the last few years I’ve grown increasingly interested in false-flag operations, where an intelligence service tries to carry out an attack and blame it on another country or a third-party. False-flags are obviously tricky, but if they succeed they can wreak havoc. In The Deceivers, the false-flag comes with a twist – the Russian spy agency isn’t trying to carry out the attacks itself. It wants to use Americans against the United States in attacks that will look like Muslim terror. And to do so the Russians need some buy-in from semi-witting Americans. I tried to make the Russian scheming plausible, and I hoped I succeeded.

MPSB: This has a ripped-from-the-headlines feel (that’s a compliment), where you took some current issues, like the question of whether the Russians meddled and influenced the election and took it to a larger but, hopefully, fictitious level. What was it like dealing with current events in your plotting?

AB: From The Faithful Spy, I’ve always dealt with current events. I like to say my books are reality-adjacent. In some cases they’ve turned out to be surprisingly prescient – notably The Secret Soldier, which focused on succession in Saudi Arabia – six years before the current crisis.

MPSB: As a fellow former newspaper reporter for, among other publications, The New York Times, i’m curious how your background affected your work as a novelist? Was that background helpful when dealing with current events in this novel?

AB: I do like to make my novels feel as real and authentic as possible, and I think being a reporter drives that impulse. Sometimes I have to remind myself the books are an escape, and Wells occasionally needs to. In general, I research my books thoroughly; over the years I’ve traveled nearly everywhere I’ve written about, including Afghanistan, Lebanon, Egypt, and Iraq. I’ll talk to folks in the intelligence community (though they are more likely to be retired than active employees, given the risks people face if they discuss classified information).

MPSB: Do you miss being a journalist?

AB: Only when I see a really, really good story that I wish I could tell.

MPSB: What was the timing on this book? You definitely captured the anti-Muslim fervor of politicians including President Trump. Was that happening – those speeches -while you were writing the book or did you accurately guess that it’d be happening more often

AB: I started writing the book in the summer of 2016, so Trump’s comments were in the news by then. There are a lot of reasons Trump won the presidency, but one is the attacks in Paris in November 2015 – which propelled him to the top of the Republican polls. The Orlando attack clearly helped him too.

MPSB: As someone who wrote about government intelligence, what do you think of how Trump has famously refused to hear part or all of his intelligence briefings, treated intelligence officers awfully, etc?

AB: Trump isn’t entirely wrong that a lot of intelligence work is throat-clearing and that sometimes leaders just have to go with their gut instincts. But the disdain with which he treats the intelligence community is unconscionable – and bad for US national security.

MPSB: How did you go about researching this book?

AB: As with all my novels, a combination of traveling to the most important locations in the book, a ton of Internet research and reading, and finally talking to people in the intelligence community (though I don’t want to overstate how much they will say).

MPSB: Do you want readers to take away something from this book? If so, what?

AB: I wouldn’t presume to tell my readers what they should take away from my novels.

MPSB: Should people read your John Wells books in order or can they start with this one, the 14th in the series?

AB: The 12th! He’s not that old yet. I write each new book knowing that some readers will be new to the series, so anyone who happens to pick this one up first will be fine.  That said, I tell readers who have read one of the books and feel committed to the series that they should go back to The Faithful Spy and read the rest in order – the books do build on each other, so reading them that way will give them the best idea of how John became who he is.

MPSB: What is a question you wish people would ask you? Here’s your chance to ask and answer it.

AB: What’s harder, journalism or fiction? Fiction, I think, because as a journalist you can always just return to the facts – as a novelist you have to look within yourself.

Interview with Robert Crais

Robert Crais has been publishing great mystery-thrillers for more 30 years and with his new book, The Wanted, he’s as good as ever. He consistently has mixed well-developed characters in books with good plots with excellent plot twists.

I last interviewed Crais here for MysteryPeople for a book, The Promise, where he mixed his usual protagonist, the always cool private investigator Elvis Cole and his partner Joe Pike with some new characters in a prior book and it gelled nicely.

For The Wanted it’s back to the usual set up of Cole and Pike fighting some bad guys and some good folks who have made, let’s say, bad life choices.

As the book starts a single mother hires Elvis Cole to help with her troubled son who for inexplicable reasons suddenly has lots of cash and she’s worried he’s dealing drugs. A little investigation and Cole realizes that the son and two of his friends are responsible for some high-end burglary. Gradually it becomes clear that a pair of fascinating, disturbing bad guys are on the tail of the burglary threesome. Will Cole be able to find the three and save them before they are harmed by pair? You’ll have to read to find that out.

Crais was nice enough to let me to interview him by email.

Scott Butki: Thanks for the interview. How did you come up with the story for the latest novel featuring my favorite detective duo, Pike and Cole?

Robert Crais: Lots of crime in Los Angeles these days – burglaries and home invasions are on the rise, and many of these crimes are perpetrated by teenagers and young adults.

Elvis Cole is attracted to cases where he believes he can make a real difference, and the idea of helping a single mom find out the truth of what’s going on with her son and save him is right up his alley.

SB:  I always like how you do dialogue and humor in your books. Do you think your early work writing for TV shows including “Hill Street Blues” helped you write dialogue and humor? What are other ways your TV writing help you as a novelist?

RC:  I’m just a funny guy. TV writing helped me block out a scene, visualize the action, write authentic dialogue.  It helped me to shape a story.  It helped me to see how much more I could do as a novelist.

SB:  Having written for TV – including “Miami Vice” and Cagney and Lacey, Quincy, and Baretta – I assume you pay attention to current TV shows.  What are some of your favorites and why?

RC: My taste in TV shows is all over the board. Loved “Breaking Bad,” “Mad Men,” love “Game of Thrones” (duh!), “Stranger Things,” thought “Handmaid’s Tale” was incredible.

SB: The book deals with loyalty, unconditional love and what it means to be a parent. Is there something you hope readers take away from the story?

RC: I hope readers are entertained and connect with the characters.  Most parents have experienced the feeling of unconditional love. In this story a mother is forced to imagine the worst case scenario.  If her son has committed a terrible crime, will she still love him?  How much can a parent forgive?  

SB: Why did you decide to dedicate your book to Otto Penzler? 

RC: Otto has been a friend, fan and supporter of mine since my first book, The Monkey’s Raincoat.  In a way, all my books are dedicated to him.

SB: I enjoyed, if that’s the right word, your terrible pair of dangerous, perverse guys, Harvey and Stemms. How did you come up with those characters?

Villains need to be as fascinating and as formidable as your hero. I wanted to create “bad guys” that had real personalities, who were many-sided, and who were also interesting.  These guys, like Elvis and Joe, have history together, have shared a lot of adventures.

 

Thanks to Robert Crais for answering our questions. His new book, The Wantedis on our shelves now!

Scott Butki’s interview with James Lee Burke

James Lee Burke remains a master of his game, one of the best writers out there. Some of the deserved praise – including getting the Grand Master Award from the Mystery Writers of America – is for his writing style, some for how he digs deep with plots and fleshes out his unique characters.

While I have interviewed Burke here for his book featuring protagonist Texas Sheriff Hackberry Holland I, and many Burke fans, prefer his books about Dave Robicheaux. These books are set in the towns and wetlands of Louisiana.

The new book, Robicheaux, as it name implies, features Dave, and while Dave has often faced major obstacles before in this book they seem to come from everywhere and every direction. Burke often writes about Dave going to AA meetings and struggling to not drink, but in this book the struggle is worse as he not only gets drunk but can’t remember what he’s done while drunk.

Meanwhile, Dave is mourning the loss of his wife, Molly, in a car accident. So when Dave encounters the man who caused the car crash…. And when that man is himself murdered… the big question becomes: Did Dave do it? And since Dave was drunk at the time the answer is not entirely clear.

Burke agreed graciously to let me interview by email. Oh, one other note he talks in the book, and in the interview about the Jefferson Davis 8, which you can read more about here.

The book has this author’s note:

“The literary antecedents of this novel lie in two earlier works of mine. The unsolved murders in Jefferson Davis Parish formed the backdrop for the Dave Robicheaux novel titled The Glass Rainbow… These homicides are often referred to in the media as the Jeff Davis Eight.

The bombing of the Indian village in Latin America happened in 1956. I wrote about this incident in the short story titled “The Wild Wide of Life,” published in the winter issue of The Southern Review in 2017.”

With that let’s get to the interview. Thanks to my minister, Rev. Meg Barnhouse, for helping develop some of these questions.

Scott Butki: I am so glad you brought Dave back but boy did you give him some stuff to work on in this novel. Why did you decide to have Dave encounter, and try to investigate the murder of, the man who killed his wife in a car crash?

James Lee Burke: My wife was in a similar accident in New Iberia and almost died.

SB: I’ve always admired how you write about the struggle so many face with alcoholism and using AA. Why did you decide to have Dave fall off the wagon in this book?

JLB: I don’t plan the books. I think they already exist in the unconscious.

SB: In this book Dave seems a haunted man, partly due to what I asked about in the earlier questions. What did you hope to accomplish by putting him through all of this?

JLB: Mortality is not an elective study.

SB: I am happy you brought back some of Dave’s friends in this book. Why did you decide to do so?

JLB: They’re among the most interesting and brave people I have ever known.

SB: What do you want readers to take away from this book?

JLB: To fear an embryonic dictatorship and the divisiveness and racial hatred and self-doubt a dictator can inculcate in an electorate that loses faith in the Republic.

SB: When Dave imagines a just world what does that look like?

JLB: The egalitarian world that Jesus spoke of.

SB: What do you think might have worked in Dave to form his desire to be a hero, to throw himself into the ugliest mess and try to make it right?

JLB: Dave is the Chaucerian good knight. He’s a man of conscience and honor and is not capable of being otherwise.

SB: A friend, Meg, asked me to pass on this comment: “I love Dave as a wounded hero.  I love his violence and how it lives along with his spirituality. I love the descriptions of the weather and the land. I think most of us identify with him as we struggle to be good people while dragging along concrete blocks of illness injury addiction or other complications and difficulties.” Do you get a lot of feedback like that?  

JLB: Yes, I have. I don’t think a writer could receive a better compliment.

SB: In past interviews you have told me you tend to draw from older sources, like the Bible and Greek mythology rather than contemporary ones. Why is that?

JLB: I subscribe to Jung’s notion of inherited memory. I think the great stories are always within each of us. My father once said that both science and art are simply the incremental discovery of what already exists.

SB: One thing many fans of yours, including me, love is your use of language. Was your writing always like that or was there a time when you wrote closer to the traditional mysteries with lots of short sentences with the focus on plot instead of description and language?

JLB: I read the Hardy Boys when I was kid, and Mickey Spillane in high school, but neither had any influence on me. The great influences were John Dos Passos. James T. Farrell, Gerard Manley Hopkins, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Flannery O’Connor, Ernest Hemingway, and Robert Penn Warren.

Interview with Nelson DeMille

An Interview With Nelson DeMille About His New Book, The Cuban Affair

With his new novel, The Cuban Affair, Nelson Demille has written a new stand-alone novel with a new character, Daniel “Mac” MacCormick, a former Army combat veteran who is now a charter boat captain

As the title suggests this new novel is about a trip to Cuba. MacCormick is hired to help people get to Cuba to find $60 million hidden there.

Nelson, who has also written under the pen names, Jack Cannon, Kurt Ladner, Ellen Kay and Brad Matthews, has written a number of series along with some stand-alone books

Nelson agreed to let me interview him via email. The final two questions in the interview are from Barry Lancet, who I recently interviewed here

Scott: Why did you decide to write a standalone, one with a new main character? Is it related to being with a new publisher?

Nelson: I had two reasons for writing a standalone with a new character.  The first was to give my readers a break from John Corey, and the second was to give me a break from John Corey.  I like John – he pays the bills – but I didn’t want us to get tired of each other.  Also, my new publisher, Simon & Schuster, wanted to start fresh, and I agreed.  Corey may be coming back, but not for my book after The Cuban Affair.

Scott: When you do a standalone versus a series book, do you risk losing those who preferred earlier series and protagonist?

Nelson: Good question.  In most cases, when a bestselling author deviates from his bestselling protagonist there is a drop-off in sales.  Readers start to link the author with the series character, especially if the author hasn’t done much else.  In my case, though, I began my career with successful standalones and I hope that readers who’ve read those standalones will trust me to give them a great read.

Scott: Can you talk about how you did research for this book, including with the Yale Educational Trip?

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Nelson: I do a lot of research for all my books, which is why I don’t write a book a year.  I tend to do most of my research as I’m writing because you don’t know what you need to know until you need to know it.  My preliminary research on The Cuban Affair consisted of reading the Lonely Planet guide to Cuba.  Then I went to Cuba in October 2015 and took notes and pictures and spoke to Cubans.  Research almost always gives me ideas for the plot and storyline and even ideas about the characters.  The truth that you discover is always stranger and more interesting than anything you can imagine.

Scott: Were you planning a book involving Cuba when you made that trip?

Nelson: If the IRS is asking, then yes, this was a tax deductible research trip, not a vacation.  Actually, I was thinking about a book set in Cuba and, coincidentally, I received a travel brochure from Yale in the mail, and I took this as a sign that Cuba should be the topic for my next book.

Scott: What do you think of the changes Trump is making to reverse some of the changes made under Obama?

Nelson: I will stick my neck out and say that Trump was right to reverse some of the easing of travel restrictions that Obama made.  Obama, I believe, did the right thing in easing the restrictions that he could without Congressional approval, but he didn’t get much in return from the Castro regime in regard to human rights for the Cuban people.  This is a complex issue, and somewhere between the hardliners and the people who want to normalize relations is a fine line that has to be walked carefully and slowly.  Ultimately, the Cuban people have to solve their own problems.  They, more than Americans, have the most to gain – and the most to lose.

Scott: What do you hope readers will take away from this book?

Nelson: I hope the reader comes away with an understanding of the long and complex historical connections between Cuba and America.  As it stands now, our relations with Cuba are a Cold War legacy, and a sort of time-warp that needs to come into the 21st Century.  Generals are often accused of fighting the last war, but diplomats have even longer historical memories that impede their future thinking.

Barry/Scott: You have a new lead character for The Cuban Affair, which is great, but speaking of great characters, are you ever going to bring back Sam “Haul Ass” Hollis from The Charm School, and can we expect a fourth outing from Paul Brenner?

Nelson: Interesting question.  My writing career has spanned almost 40 years and some of my past characters are starting to age a bit.  Colonel Sam Hollis would be pushing 70 by now and Paul Brenner may be a bit older.  Both characters were unique to their time periods and might now be irrelevant or too old for a new adventure set in the present.  John Corey too is getting on in years.  Chronology is always a problem for a writer who creates a series character.  Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot, for instance, was about 103 years old when he (and she) died in 1976, according to the New York Times.  But…it’s possible to bring these guys back in a period piece, or maybe a prequel.

Barry/Scott: Your writing school spans 39 years and counting.  You’ve bucked the industry standard of a book a year, kept up the quality of your work, and seem to be going as strong as ever.  What writing or other practices have allowed you to sustain your career?

Nelson: I like this question.  Yes, I refuse to pump out a book a year like crap through a goose.  A good book takes a long time to write.  Up to about the 1980s, most novelists published a book every two or three years, and often longer than that.  What changed was that the publishing industry realized that a book a year could be profitable, and a lot of bestselling authors were willing to accommodate that for their own bottom line. Manuscripts used to be logistically difficult to produce on manual and even electric typewriters with carbon paper or photostatted copies, not to mention white out fluid, cut and paste, and having to retype entire pages and chapters.  Research, too, took a long time.  The computer and word processing changed all that and sped up the process of producing a clean manuscript and doing the research instantly online.  None of that improved the quality of the writing, or the thought and imagination required to tell a good story.  In fact, technology may have had the opposite effect.  Spell check is great, but if the words are wrong, it doesn’t matter if they’re spelled right.

I write the first two or three drafts of my manuscripts in long hand with a #1 pencil on legal pads.  This slows the process and allows me to think as I write.  Then I do two or three drafts on the computer.  Also, I still do most of my research by traveling, doing interviews, and wading through books.  Too many writers are hooked on Wikipedia and it shows.  With books, you have serendipitous discoveries that you won’t get in a Wiki article.

I try to balance my life and writing, and I try to live some of the life experiences that I write about.  If you’re locked in a writing room all day trying to churn out a book a year you can’t observe the human condition and you start to lose touch with the evolving language and the rapidly-changing social and political conditions that should inform contemporary fiction.

Bottom line, it takes me 16-20 months to produce a completed manuscript.  Each book, I hope, is as polished and as good as it can be for me and for the reader.

What I never want to see from an editor (or a reader) is that, perhaps apocryphal, note “Your novel is both good and original; unfortunately, what is good is not original, and what is original is not good.”

Interview with Eric Storey

Erik Storey has done it again:  He’s written a book with so much action and excitement that one doesn’t need coffee or caffeine to stay alert – this book’s got enough adrenaline to make such things unnecessary.

Erik let me interview for his first book, Nothing Short of Dying, which was published on this blog  Along with others I was shocked that his debut novel could be so good, so exciting, so tight.

The same is true for his second book about Clyde Barr, A Promise to Killwho was well developed in the first book and further developed here.  Clyde has a rough back story, which includes time in other countries and three continents helping fight injustice but often getting hurt in the process. All his life Clyde has followed his own code of honor, one that has gotten him hurt often, both physically and emotionally.

That continues to be the case with the new book as Clyde wants to help the residents of a town in the grips of a biker gang.

Erik was kind enough to let me interview him again by email

Scott Butki: How did this story idea develop?

Erik Storey: My editor and I swapped ideas over numerous emails and calls. We eventually came up with the basics for the plot, and with the location I’d already chosen, we thought we had a pretty solid idea for a book. Then, all I had to do was spend months writing the thing.

Scott: For your first book I asked in an interview which came first, characters or plot and you said it was location that came first. Was that also the case for this one?

Image result for erik storeyErik: Location, or place, came first. The Northern Ute Reservation isn’t far from where Clyde was last seen, and I really wanted to set a novel in that area. I grew up near there, and it’s a place rarely talked about, even in towns that border it. Like most reservations, it’s a foreign land to most folks.

I also wanted to twist the old Western plot line of the wandering-hero-comes-to-town-and-saves-it by having Clyde come into town to help, but realizing the people there are more resilient and tougher than himself. He assists, but in the end it is the people that live there that come out on top.

Scott: You write, at one point, that your protagonist , Clyde Barr, is just looking for a place of peace and quiet. Why is that so hard for him to find?

Erik: Two reasons:

First– even in the wilderness, a place of beauty and relative quiet, Clyde can’t suppress the horrid memories and the recurring dreams of his past.

Second– No matter where he goes he encounters people. Despite the Western US’s abundance of wilderness areas, they are all full of hikers, campers, and outdoor travelers. And sometimes he doesn’t even make it to the mountains before there is someone who is in desperate need of help.

Scott: He seems stuck in a role, namely go to a new place and then become a reluctant hero, in this book’s casé helping a town invaded by a biker gang. Why does that say about Barr? Or about the nation?

Erik: Clyde’s role is the same as so many others whose stories are told around campfires. He’s the Western version of the wandering hero, the knight errant, the Ronin, or globe-trotting adventurers from the 20’s and 30’s. We love to tell and listen to these stories, because I think we all wish that in times of trouble someone would come in and help us take care of the problem, then leave without asking for anything in return.

Clyde thinks it’s important to help those that need it because he knows from personal experience how the underdog feels. He also has seen too many good people go down and promised himself that if he could do something, he would.

Clyde is a man we all wish was around during times of crisis. A man who believes it is his duty to help anyone in need, even without taking any kind of oath. He sees people on an individual level, and wants to make a difference. Because of this driving force, if he is around people he will help. And if he’s alone, he will be racked with guilt and depression. It’s a no-win situation that he thinks will be solved if he spends more time in a more remote area.

Scott: Will Clyde ever find a place of peace and quiet or would that just result in the series ending?

Erik: He might, but he would be disappointed. It was his goal for years, but it was also an excuse to travel. His real purpose was something else. When you dedicate your life to helping, you might find the lack of opportunities to do so unnerving. I would guess that Clyde would come up with an excuse to go out and look for another adventure.

Scott: How are you similar and different from Clyde? For example, do you, like him, find It hard to back away from a fight and/or injustice?

Erik: Clyde and I have a lot in common. We both share the same discomfort with the modern, technologized world, and are both more comfortable out in the middle of nowhere. We’re similar in our hatred of injustice, but that’s where we start to differ. I can’t just jump into a fight, at least not anymore. Most of us feel that rage when we see something wrong, but we know the repercussions of punching someone in the face. There is a part of us, though, that wish we could and get away with it, and that is why reading about someone like Clyde is so much fun.

As for backing down from a fight, we know that Clyde doesn’t—often to his detriment. I was similar back when I was young and dumb. I inadvertently researched quite a few fight scenes in roughneck bars, bunkhouses, logging camps, and parking lots. I’ve got kids and responsibilities now, and try to avoid all of that as much as possible.

Scott: Did you intentionally choose to not have Clyde have a military or law enforcement background? Why?

Erik: I did it intentionally for a few reasons. The first is simple. I don’t have any military or law enforcement background. Because of that, I wouldn’t be able to bring enough of the experience and knowledge to the page that I think is important in thrillers to give them a sense of realism. I do have experience in the outdoors, and hunting, so I gave him a background that uses those to enhance the stories.

Secondly, although I love the thriller genre, I think it is over-saturated with heroes who are ex-cops, cops, former Special Forces, and super spies, and I wanted Clyde to be different. He has the prerequisites that you need in these types of books: ability to fight, to shoot, and to survive—but his path to learning them was different and I hope it makes Clyde unique.

Scott: How do you go about researching your books?

Erik: I read every article and non-fiction book about the subjects I want to include in the novel, then try and visit the area I’m writing about as often as possible. Since I set my series close to home, this isn’t very hard to do. I’m also very lucky to have worked so many odd jobs and have had so many strange experiences in so many places across the West. I can simply look back on old journal entries to add fodder to the fiction.

Scott : Whats next for Clyde?

Erik: I’m deep into the writing of the third one, and am one of those writers who believe that if you talk about your work in progress the magic will disappear. So you will have to ask me that question again in a few months.

MysteryPeople Q&A with J. A. Jance

~Q&A Conducted by Scott Butki

Let me start this with a confession: This is my first J.A. Jance book. I have seen her books at the library and at the bookstore and always made a mental note to read her books. I’ve finally gotten around to it. I read her latest, Moving Target, and the stride she’s hit after publishing forty-nine other titles over the last thirty years produced a really fun read.

So, when I was given a chance to interview her for MysteryPeople, I made sure to ask where readers should start when jumping into one of her four current mystery series.

All that aside, Moving Target is a great novel with some interesting twists and fascinating characters, and it didn’t seem to matter much that it was well into an established series. An added bonus: part of the book was set in Austin and the Austin area.

I would like to thank J. A. Jance for the chance to interview her, and School Librarian Mary Zell for help with the questions.

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MYSTERYPEOPLE: How did this story develop?

JA JANCE: The story started with my husband sending me an article about the dark web — how to access it; what’s available on it.  That put me on the trail of Lance Tucker, a kid who develops GHOST (Go Hide On Server Technology) which is a program allowing users to access the dark web without leaving any cyber footprints.

MP: How would you summarize this book?

JAJ: From what I said above, it sounds like a techno-thriller, but it’s really a story about the people involved- some good and some very bad. Lance Tucker, the teenaged hacker who invented GHOST, is targeted by people who want to control his program.  He’s in a juvenile detention facility and facing a bleak future at the beginning of this book. It’s up to Ali Reynolds and her fiancé, B. Simpson, to keep him safe and get him on track to a better future.

MP: One part of the story is about a school district requiring students to wear GPS devices so they can be tracked, watched or helped. What do you think about such policies?

JAJ: Lance Tucker and I are on the same page on this one.  (Since I created Lance Tucker, that’s hardly a surprise!)  I personally feel that the kinds of programs that compel students to wear any kind of tracking device is an unfair invasion of their privacy.

MP: This is the first book of yours I’ve read and it’s several books into one of your series (the Ali Reynolds series). Where should readers new to you start? At the beginning of the series or can they just jump in anywhere?

JAJ: I always recommend readers start at the beginning, in this case with Edge of Evil.  In that one, Ali, a long time news anchor in LA, is booted off her news desk because she’s considered to be over-the-hill. When her marriage ends at the same time her career does, she goes home to Sedona as she looks for what she’s going to do with the rest of her life.  This is a book about losing your dream in middle age and going about finding another one.

MP: As an Austin resident of five years I got excited at the events based in and around Austin. Have you been here?

JAJ: Yes, I was there a year ago in November for the first F1 race on the Track of Americas.  Loved the race; loved Austin.  I was also there this past September on the book tour for Second Watch.

MP: How does your police-trained protagonist differ from many other protagonists in the mystery genre?

JAJ: I think my protagonists are people first and cops second.  They live complicated lives with family, friends, church and community commitments, and pets.  A lot of the other police procedural folks seem to be loners living lonely lives and living only to work.  I strive to have balance in my life, and I want my characters to have the same thing.

MP: What kind of research do you do for books like this?

JAJ: As much as necessary.

MP: This is your 50th book in 30 years. That’s an amazing output. That comes out to almost two books a year. How are you able to write so fast? Or is there another reason you’re able to put out so many books?

JAJ: I’ve always loved writing — it’s been my dream since second grade — and most of the time, since I’m living my dream, it doesn’t seem like work.  But I agree, 50 books in thirty years is pretty remarkable; especially for someone who wasn’t allowed in the Creative Writing program at the University of Arizona in 1964 because I was a “girl!”

MP: Is Wikipedia accurate in saying you use your initials for your pen name because a publisher told you that disclosing your gender would be a liability for a book about a male detective?

JAJ: That is correct.  That’s what I was told by the marketing folks at Avon books in 1983.  Going by J.A. Jance rather than Judith Ann Jance has saved me a ton of time over the years.  J.A. Jance is much easier to autograph than Judith Ann Jance.