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.”

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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.

 

MysteryPeople Q&A with Hilary Davidson

Today is the release day of our April Pick Of The Month, Blood Always Tells  by Hilary Davidson.  It is an interesting take on family, shared history, and story telling itself. Hilary was kind enough to talk about the book with a for a few questions.

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MYSTERYPEOPLE: Which came first, the story or the way you decided to tell it?

HILARY DAVIDSON: The story came first, and it came about in a way that was very unusual for me. I was actually working on another book that featured Desmond Edgars in a relatively small but essential role. But he was such an intriguing, compelling character that he and his backstory started taking over that book. I realized I was more interested in Desmond and his world than the book I was writing, and I made the gut-wrenching decision to set aside the 40,000 words of it and work on Blood Always Tells instead.

The structure of Blood Always Tells evolved organically. Even though it was the character of Desmond that brought me to the book, I realized that it would never work if his sister, Dominique Monaghan, didn’t have as strong a voice as he did.

MP: What was the biggest difference between writing Blood Always Tells and the Lily Moore books?

HD: One major difference was that I went into this knowing so much more of the story than I ever did with any of the Lily Moore books. That was simply because substantial parts of it originated as Desmond’s backstory in that unfinished book I set aside. I can’t say that nothing changed — there were some major shifts from what I originally envisioned. But being more certain of the story I was telling meant that I felt freer to play with the narrative. I love writing from Lily’s point of view, but it means that there’s no way for scenes she’s not witnessing to make it into those books. Blood Always Tells is told in the close third person, so readers still get inside the characters’ heads, but because the perspective changes, it means the essential action is always onstage.

MP: Point of view is not only part of the structure, it also differentiates the characters by how they see the same thing or person differently. What did you want to explore with point of view?

HD: There were a couple of things. One is that I wanted each section of the book to be revealed through the eyes of the character who has the most to gain or lose. The stakes are incredibly high for each of the three characters who control the narrative. In some ways, they couldn’t be more different, and yet each character makes a major sacrifice at some point in the story.

I was also fascinated with questions of memory, and how what you hold in your mind shapes your identity. The characters in the book remember essential events and people in completely different ways. I dedicated the book to my grandmother for several reasons, one of them being that it was her death that made me think about how differently two people in the same family could interpret the same action so differently. My brothers and I all loved her, but we have such distinctly different memories of her. That led to conversations about other things from our childhood and how we remembered or interpreted things in completely opposite ways.

MP: The first part of this book has more of the noirish vibe of many of your short stories. What was it like sustaining a darker tone for a longer period of time?

I thought it would be hard to do that, so I was surprised by how much I liked it. In my short stories, the reader is often inside the head of a criminal, and when you first meet Dominique, you know she’s planning something bad for her boyfriend. But her motivations are complex, and the more time I spent with her, the more I understood her and sympathized. Plus, her plans are interrupted by people who’ve got far worse intentions. The scenes after she and her boyfriend are kidnapped were sometimes harrowing to write, and what got me through them was Dominique’s sense of humor. It’s ironic that Dominique’s section of the story is the most noirish and yet the funniest.

MP: Many of your characters in this book, the Lily Moore series, and your short work come from broken homes. What draws you to family dysfunction?

HD: I was lucky to grow up with supportive parents and a close family, but that’s not the case for many of my friends, and for other members of my own family. I’m not so much drawn to dysfunction as I am to resilience. What really drives me is, what keeps people going when they’ve gone through tragic circumstances? My grandmother lost one of her children when he was thirteen years old, and that was something that marked her for life. It didn’t make her any less of a fighter or a powerhouse character, but a loss like that casts a long shadow. I want to explore how people live under a shadow like that.

MP:  What’s in store for your readers next?

HD: I’m working on another standalone novel right now. If you like my dark side, you’ll be glad to know that goes into some very dark places. I’ve got several short stories coming out soon. There’s one in Ellery Queen called “My Sweet Angel of Death” about a serial killer at work in the Andes mountains. I’m also in a collection that David Cranmer is putting together in memory of his nephew, and in Trouble in the Heartland, an anthology edited by Joe Clifford featuring stories inspired by Bruce Springsteen songs. I never stray far from my dark roots.

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Blood Always Tells is available now on our shelves & online via bookpeople.com. Hilary Davidson will be in our store on Thursday, April 14 at 6:30pm in our third floor event space to speak about & sign copies of Blood Always Tells

Hard Word Book Club Goes to Norway with Jo Nesbo & THE REDBREAST

On April 30th, The Hard Word Book Club leaves our normal American environs for one of the foremost practitioners of Scandinavian Noir. Jo Nesbo has rocked crime fiction readers around the world with his Harry Hole series. We will be reading his first book ever published in the States, The Redbreast.

The Redbreast was the first book to have the hard drinking, depressive yet tenacious cop, Harry Hole, out in his own Oslo stomping ground. Due to his past indiscretions, he’s put on a “light” routine assignment of surveillance of a group of “skin-heads.” The assignment becomes tied to the murders of several WWII vets, leading Harry into a plot that involves his country’s dark past.

Our discussion will start at 7PM on Wednesday, April 3Oth on BookPeople’s third floor. The book is 10% off for those who participate. Our co-host, Chris Mattix, is a die hard Nesbo fan, so there will be much to discuss.

MysteryPeople Q&A with Steven Saylor

 

 

~Q&A conducted by Scott Butki

I am new to Steven Saylor’s books, but I am quickly becoming a fan. Saylor is most known for his Roma Sub Rosa series, historical mysteries based in ancient Rome. Steven Saylor will be at Book People tonight. He’ll be speaking about & signing copies of his new book in the series, Raiders of the Nile.

I quite enjoyed this one. He does a wonderful job bringing ancient history alive in the book. I investigated more into Saylor and the other stories he’s written in preparation for the interview.

Saylor divides his time between Austin and Berkeley, CA. An earlier historical fiction novel A Twist at the End, focuses on a particularly crazy time in Austin’s history. Set in the 19th century, the story focuses on William Porter (who would later become O. Henry), an Austin resident at that time, and tells the stories of a series of murders. The serial murder was referred to as the “Servant Girl Annihilator,” by the press. The novel is both engaging and chilling. I recommended to learn a bit of the darker side of Austin.

MYSTERYPEOPLE: How did this story develop?

STEVEN SAYLOR: My last novel, The Seven Wonders, was a prequel to the Roma Sub Rosa series, going back to the younger days of Gordianus the Finder, sleuth of ancient Rome. Raiders of the Nile picks up where The Seven Wonders left off, with Gordianus now twenty-two years old and far from Rome, living in Alexandria, the capital of Egypt–at that time the most sophisticated and exciting city on earth. When his beloved concubine, Bethesda, is kidnapped, Gordianus ventures into the wilds of the Nile Delta to rescue her, encountering treacherous innkeepers, ill-tempered camels, a particularly vicious crocodile, and the mysterious leader of a bandit gang, who lures Gordianus into a plot to steal the golden sarcophagus of Alexander the Great.

There’s no murder mystery per se in this novel, but there are plenty of murders, and mysteries, and we see the young Gordianus just beginning to come into his own as a master sleuth. I’d say this novel is equal parts mystery, adventure, and romance, set in a very exotic time and place.

MP: Why did you decide to write a series of books based so long ago?

SS: From childhood, I always loved movies and books about the ancient world, especially Rome. When I got to the University of Texas at Austin, I majored in history, which was like a dream–I could hardly believe I was being allowed to spend all my time reading and writing about Greek mythology or the French Revolution, to name just a couple of my favorite courses.

When I finally took my first trip to Rome, the experience of walking though the ancient ruins was electrifying. I got back home and immediately began reading a book about murder trials in ancient Rome, and one of those cases inspired me to write my first novel, Roman Blood, for which I invented my series sleuth, Gordianus the Finder. Almost 25 years later, Roman Blood is still in print and Gordianus is still solving crimes, with the series translated into over twenty languages.

MP:  How far have you planned out this series?

SS: I’m actually only one book ahead right now–the sequel to Raiders of the Nile, which will take young Gordianus to the city of Ephesus in Asia Minor at the exact moment when Rome’s mortal enemy, King Mithridates, is secretly plotting a surprise massacre of every Roman in Asia Minor–all 80,000 of them–in a single day. How will Gordianus escape? I have to keep writing to find out.

MP: How do you do research on your Nile series?

SS: There’s been very little in the way of archaeological excavation in the city of Alexandria (except underwater in the harbor), so we mostly have to rely on virtual reconstructions of such wonders as the great Pharos Lighthouse. And the whole nature of the Nile Delta has changed since the building of the Aswan Dam, which stopped the annual flooding of the Nile. So most of the research for this particular story and setting was literary, which gave me an excuse to spend lots of time at the university libraries in Austin and Berkeley, my two home towns.

MP: Are Bethesda and Gordianus based on anyone specific?

SS: Every fictional character–male or female, hero or villain–is a projection of his or her creator. We all have a lot of people inside us, yet we get to live only one life. Fiction lets us slip into someone else’s skin, so to speak. That’s why we read novels, and also why we write them–to experience more life, through imagination.

MP: I was impressed you managed to have an ancient version of a car chase, albeit with camels instead. Was that fun to write?

SS: Poor Gordianus, framed for murder, ends up in a headlong chase, making one hair-breadth escape after another–it’s a bit like those chase scenes in Return of the Jedi or Raiders of the Lost Ark. I find that kind of action writing to be a great technical challenge–describing the movement of people and objects through space is the hardest kind of writing, I think. It’s probably very hard to film, as well.

MP: I first heard of you soon after I moved to Austin and I heard about your O. Henry book with its Austin connections. How did you learn about the murders and go about researching those crimes?

SS: That book was A Twist at the End, a novel based on the killings of the so-called Servant Girl Annihilator which terrified the city of Austin in the 1880s. These were America’s first reported serial murders. O. Henry was living here at the time, and I decided to make him a major character in the story.

I first learned about the murders when I came across a brief mention of them in an old picture book about Austin; but when I tried to learn more, I couldn’t find any book or even an article about the killings. That set me on the trail, and the more I researched, digging through old newspapers and court records, the more I found myself immersed not just in the story of the murders, but in Austin of the 1880s, a time and place never depicted in fiction. I wrote A Twist at the End as a sort of valentine to the city of Austin as it used to be, warts and all.

Since Twist was published in 2000, there’s been an explosion of interest in those crimes. I was recently interviewed by the PBS series History Detectives, which is producing an hour-long show about the Austin servant girl killings to air sometime this summer.

MP: Was that fun to write? Any plans for other books based in Austin?

SS: Researching and writing A Twist at the End was one of the great joys of my life. In some ways, it was a like a long vacation from my day-job–writing about ancient Rome! I would like to write another historical epic set in Austin some day, about the early days of the Texas Republic.

MP: What are the advantages and disadvantages of writing a series versus stand-alone books?

SS: The stand-alone author must always be wondering: what will I write next? But with a series, especially a historical series, you can see the road far ahead, and the question is: how many books will it take to get there?

When I wrote Roman Blood in 1991, I could never have imagined there would eventually be a dozen novels and two volumes of short stories about Gordianus the Finder. Such a long series allows a writer to build complex relationships between the characters, and to cover a huge arc of history, in this case from the bloody collapse of the Roman Republic to the rise of Julius Caesar. Gordianus gets to see a lot of history, as do the readers.

Gordianus also get older as the series progresses, aging from his thirties to his sixties–but now, with the prequels, he’s young again, which as close I’ll come to regaining my own youth. I rather enjoy being twenty-two again, if only through my alter ego.

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Raiders of the Nile is available on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. Steven Saylor will be at the store tonight, Mar 31 at 7PM speaking & signing copies of the book. Visit our website for more info & to order your signed copy.

Scott Butki’s Top 5 Mysteries Of 2013

1. The Last Word by Lisa Lutz
I have been bragging about and promoting Lisa Lutz’s Spellman Family series for each of her books  and have interviewed her for each one, as well. The last interview, done when she came to BookPeople in 2013, is available over on blogcritics.org. Her books are as funny as Carl Hiaasen’s Bad Monkey, which almost made this list, and the late Donald Westlake’s. If you need a laugh – and who doesn’t – this will help get you one.

2. A Serpent’s Tooth by Craig Johnson
Craig Johnson’s Longmire series continues to impress and amaze; so it should be no surprise that the television series, Longmire, is also quite good. Johnson is also a hit with BookPeople readers (although the beer that accompanies his annual visits to BookPeople may help). I was at BookPeople the last time he came to town, and I wrote about it over on blogcritics.org.

3. The Broken Places by Ace Atkins
Ace Atkins continues his Quinn Colson series with The Broken Places. He’s also been charged with continuing the Spenser series inherited from the Robert Parker estate following his passing. He manages to impress by continuing to write two deep characters in very interesting stories. The Broken Places finds Quinn Colson, who served as an Army Ranger for 10 years before returning to his home in Mississippi, now in the position of county sheriff. I had the chance to interview Ace Atkins about both.

4. Shadow of the Alchemist by Jeri Westerson
Jeri Westerson’s Crispin Guest series may seem completely different than most mystery series these days. It is, after all, set during the Middle Ages. But, on many levels, they are not so unusual to the average mystery reader. While existing during 14th-century London, Guest still functions as a private eye for hire back before the industry existed. Instead of computers and phone calls Guest has to visit people and use others to help him see what is going on. But he has the same challenges – people lying, law enforcement not being cooperative – that Spenser and Spellman have. Westerson and I recently compared notes.

5. The Yard by Alex Grecian
This book is fascinating due both to an intriguing plot – someone is killing cops – and because of the setting – London in the late 1880s. Scotland Yard had recently been set up to stop Jack The Ripper, but they failed to stop and capture him, resulting in many residents scornful and skeptical of law enforcement. While there are many reasons to enjoy this book, the most notable one I tell to others is its portrayal of the evolution of crime solving and the Yard’s first forensic pathologist, Dr. Bernard Kingsley.

One of my favorite parts of the book – I promise there are no spoilers here – is when Kingsley describes to skeptical police officers his belief that everyone has unique fingerprints. While mocked for the concept, it does pay off. It’s fun to compare where they were at that point compared to where we are now. It can be compared to the, so-called, “CSI effect” when juries are skeptical of someone’s guilt if there is not DNA or other intrinsic evidence of a person’s guilt.