A few weeks ago David C. Taylor author of the Michael Cassidy series and Joan Moran, who made a crime fiction debut with The Accidental Cuban, came to BookPeople and talked with crime fiction coordinator Scott Montgomery about their books and use of settings. Taylor’s latest, Night Watch, takes place in fifties New York like his other two, and Joan’s starts in Obama ere Cuba. For those who missed it, here is the discussion—
When it comes to straight up entertainment, few authors can hold a candle to Joe Lansdale. His working class East Texas voice provides both a perfect and unique bed for action and humor, and few characters are as entertaining as liberal redneck Hap and his gay, black, Republican buddy Leonard. The two have been in more scrapes and exchanged more quips than both the real and fictional Butch and Sundance. Joe’s latest foray with the boys, The Elephant Of Surprise, proves to be one of the most entertaining in the series.
The story is stripped down and simple. Hap and Leonard are trying to get home before a storm hits and comes across an Asian American woman with her tongue sliced halfway through with a short kung-fu expert and a big guy who’s good with guns after her. Since they’re good guys and Texans, they help the lady and soon have more bad men after them. Things escalate from chase, siege, more chases, and a showdown in a bowling alley as the storm builds.
In many ways, this is Joe getting back to basics.With the exception of a couple of calls Hap makes to his wife Brett and their deputy pal Manny helping out, any of the usual supporting characters only appear in the last chapter. Joe keeps the plot simple, although he makes us wonder how the damsel in distress’s story is on the up and up. It allows for a great amount of forward momentum with danger escalating as they get more and more outnumbered. Lansdale taps deeper into the pulp and fifties paperback roots of the earlier books in the series.
The Elephant Of Surprise is like a master blues man’s acoustic set. It’s taking everything to its bad ass bare essentials. Joe Lansdale shows that’s all he needs to rock.
Mark your calendars to join us April 3rd at 7pm when Joe is here to speak and sign copies.
All of us at MysteryPeople are huge fans of Mark Pryor’s Hugo Marston series and we agree that his latest—The Book Artist—is the best one yet.
Hugo Marston is a former FBI profiler who works as head of security at the US Embassy in Paris. The book takes its title from the opening scenes when Hugo’s boss, Ambassador Bradford J. Taylor, strongly encourages Hugo to attend an art exhibition at the Dali Museum. Hugo is initially reluctant–art isn’t really his thing, he’s more of a bibliophile–but he’s drawn to the exhibition when he learns that it involves sculptures created from rare books. (The fact that the artist is an “indescribably beautiful” young woman doesn’t hurt either.) When a museum guest is brutally murdered, Hugo jumps to help the police find the killer. And when they arrest someone Hugo believes is most certainly not the killer, he feels an even deeper urgency to bring the real culprit to justice.
Meanwhile, Hugo’s best friend Tom is getting himself into a spot of trouble in Amsterdam. In their former lives, Hugo and Tom were responsible for sending a man to prison. That man has been released, and Tom believes he may have traveled to Europe to seek revenge. As the pursuit unfolds, the avid Hugo fan finally learns some hidden truths about Hugo and Tom’s shared past.
It’s difficult to delve much further without divulging any spoilers, because there is one twist after another in The Book Artist. Pryor seamlessly weaves the disparate plot lines together, and his voice demonstrates a new level of assuredness.
Pryor’s characters have become old friends to this series devotee, and the long-time friendship between Hugo and Tom is just so much fun to witness. The hard-drinking, womanizing Tom is the perfect foil to the more serious and straight-laced Hugo. Underneath Tom’s relentless teasing one can sense his deep admiration and love for Hugo, and the affection runs both ways. In The Book Artist we finally get a glimpse into their shared past and learn how they ended up leaving their former employers.
And any discussion about the series has to include the setting. Pryor clearly loves Paris, and his detailed descriptions of the neighborhoods, the restaurants, and the people makes the reader feel greatly tempted to hit up Expedia for the next jet to the City of Light. If your budget won’t allow for that, at least pick up a croissant and fix yourself a café au lait to enjoy while you delve into The Book Artist!
We’re happy to be hosting Taylor Stevens at BookPeople on January 17th at 7PM. Taylor became a favorite of our with her Informationist series and her Jack & Jill series that she is kicking off with Liar’s Paradox looks terrific. Here she talks about it with author Allison Brennan on The Big Thrill website. Check it out!
Patricia Smiley was kind enough to write a piece for us about creating characters for her books. She’ll join us in the store January 9th for a panel discussion with Matt Coyle & Puja Guha to discuss their various subgenres.
Writers are curious people. We obsess about human behavior and construct theories about what motivates it. Sometimes our stories are personal. Sometimes we use newspaper articles filtered through our own sensibilities. Sometimes we simply make stuff up. That works, too.
Writer curiosity is never more important to me than when I create characters on the page. Finding depth and poignancy in each one is important because I want readers to care about the people in my books. Like many writers, I create a biography for all my characters, even the minor ones, which usually includes a sociological and psychological profile, a back-story, descriptions of speech patterns, gait, quirky habits, and a history of successes and failures that drive his/her behavior.
The essences of real people I know often inveigle their way onto the pages of my novels. This is especially true for Davie, her grandmother, and her boss Frank Giordano. The gender or appearance may change, but the core attributes remain. Character inspiration isn’t limited to friends and relatives. Strangers often make an impression, as well. Once long ago I was stopped at a red light on my way to work. I glanced over and noticed a homeless man on a bus bench, dressed in grimy clothing, gently brushing lint from the shoulder of his well-worn coat. That gesture was a poignant lesson I never forgot—that we can maintain our dignity regardless of our circumstances. Years later, that man’s ethos made its way into the character of Rags Foster, a homeless junkie in Pacific Homicide. When I began researching the second novel in the series, I used the war in Vietnam as a plot element. I interviewed former veterans, fictionalizing the pathos of their stories to craft Outside the Wire. I used the same process for The Second Goodbye, the third novel in the series, and had particular fun with a minor character named Gerda Pittman, a comic version of a former boss.
I’m always on the lookout for characters to populate my stories. For example, several times a week, I walk to the grocery store past a few remaining post WWII bungalows dwarfed by flashy new construction. Along the route I often see a wiry older man with slicked-back gray hair, working in his front yard. I’ve never noticed anyone else with him. Even on the hottest days, he wears a tidy wool suit jacket that has seen better days. The jacket is dark blue with wide lapels, outdated padded shoulders, and is paired with mismatched trousers. His dress shirt is buttoned to the neck without benefit of a tie. The ensemble seems from another world, possibly Eastern Europe or the Middle East.
In this Westside L.A. neighborhood, the summer-ocean breezes once cooled the houses. But the days have become hotter, even in winter, so his front windows are often open to catch any random puff of air. The exterior of the house needs paint and repairs but the gutters along the street are clean and tidy. Many days I see him bent over, sweeping away the debris with a battered kitchen dustpan and brush. Later, when I walk home with my bag of groceries, the area is spotless and any residue that may have crept onto his walkway has been swept away. He never looks up from his task to nod or say hello. I accept his terms.
What piques my curiosity is his front lawn, which is a patch of hard-packed soil except on the rare occasion when it rains. He apparently doesn’t like the look of the weeds that sprout in the aftermath, because he plucks each one out by hand until the area is once again a tidy field of brown dirt, raising all kinds of dramatic questions: Was there ever a lawn? Did the high price of water force him to let it die? Nonetheless, the compulsive weeding tells me he has a keen sense of order. I want to know the story behind his dignity and pride: where he’s from and what’s happened in his life that allows him to find purpose in a small patch of dead lawn.
Someday I’ll answer those questions in a book. The character may not be this man. It may be a woman. Her part may be small but she’ll be a metaphor for something important in the book. I’ll give her a happy ending. Maybe after all she’s been through she deserves that much, at least.
Thanks to author A.R. Ashworth for writing this guest blog post, a conversation with his character DCI Elaine Hope. Ashworth will be in the store Friday, November 2nd at 7pm.
Detective Chief Inspector Elaine Hope runs a Murder Investigation Team in the London Metropolitan Police Service. A.R. Ashworth has written two thrillers about Elaine’s cases: Souls of Men and Two Faced. He’s currently working on the third novel in the series. In early October he sat down for a conversation with Elaine. True to form, she took control almost from the start.
A.R. Ashworth: Thanks for making time, Elaine. I know you’re busy with a new case.
Elaine Hope: I am, but I owe you. You invented me. This won’t take long, will it?
AA: It shouldn’t, but with you I never know. Tell me why—
EH: I bet your readers wonder why you’re writing about me. Maybe because I’m so patient and charming. Or maybe because I’m six feet tall and I don’t give rat’s a—sorry, I forget about tender American sensibilities—I don’t give a rat’s bum about how glamourous I look.
AA: I’m certain that’s not why I write about you.
EH: Not bloody likely. It’s because I’m good at catching killers.
EH: You live in Texas but your stories are set in London. You’re a man, writing about a woman. From what bourbon-soaked, cob-webbed corner of your brain did you conjure me?
AA: Some days I wonder that, too. You’re asking me to explain myself. I don’t think I need to; my stories stand on their own. But here’s a synopsis. I’ve spent a lot of time in London, been to the locations in the books, drank in the pubs. Besides a few mystery writers and some barmen, my Brit friends include two retired Met detectives. I got hooked on Dorothy Sayers back in the ‘70s because her writing was richer and deeper than Christie or Marsh. I’ve loved the darker British-style mysteries ever since. And female authors write about male protagonists all the time.
EH: Sayers. You once told me I have a bit of Harriet Vane in me—that I don’t need a man in my life, but I’ll listen if he makes a good case. I fight the male establishment but I’m not Jane Tennyson in so many ways.
AA: I wasn’t thinking of them when I created you. Maybe Harriet Vane a little, with Peter. But as I got to know you, I saw a few similarities. You’re gritty, strong, assertive, but never a bitch. You can be vulnerable, but never a victim. You evolve and learn on-the-fly. You never back down.
EH: You can tie a ribbon ‘round that. What were you thinking, making Peter the protagonist in the first draft of Souls of Men? I’m glad we had that talk.
AA: We? You did all the talking. I nodded and rewrote it, didn’t I?
EH: You admitted it. Peter’s a helluva guy, but it was me you turned loose on the Srecko brothers. Reviewers said Souls of Men was a strong, smart debut. Gritty, dark, satisfying. You can thank me for that. I don’t tolerate violence against women, and you dumped me right in the middle of those toerags. Talk about gritty and dark. One reviewer compared me to Stieg Larsson’s Lisbeth Salander. She said we’ve both seen the worst. You were damn hard on me.
AA: That was Karen Keefe from Booklist. You handled it.
EH: Yeah, the world’s full of surprises, innit? It changed my life. In Two Faced I was set on revenge, running a rogue investigation, screwed up with PTSD. Thanks for Fiona. She’s even more messed up than me, but she’s the friend I need. Barefoot Woman. That was a hoot.
AA: I gave you Peter, too. How’s that going?
EH: I miss the hell out of him. Long-distance affairs are hard, even without a six-hour time difference. He plays Sam Cooke songs to me when we Skype, so I think we’re solid. I just hope he won’t go ballistic when he hears—
AA: Stop! We agreed no spoilers. Can you tell me something about your current case?
EH: The one you’re calling If I Can’t Have You. I’m back from compassionate leave, running a murder investigation team, up to my eyeballs in—say, can you give me a hint about who wants to kill Tessa? Didn’t think so. And I’m dealing with that other, erm, possibly ballistic situation. I have a lot on my plate.
AA: You’re a London cop.
EH: I couldn’t be anything else. People need justice. Need the Met. Need me. Time to get back to the nick. You’ll see me tomorrow afternoon. We’ve got scenes to write.
AA: Yes, we do. See you then.
BookPeople made The Line, Martin Limón’s latest mystery with Ernie Bascome and George Sueno, two U.S. Army cops stationed in early seventies Korea, our October Pick Of The Month. It starts with the two called to a murder scene on the demarcation bridge between North and South Korea that leads into a mystery involving the South Koreans that work for the U.S. Army. While trying to find the real killer when an innocent G.I. is locked up, they also have to locate the missing wife an officer. Martin was kind enough to give us some in-depth answers to some questions about the book, the series, and the state of both Koreas. Martin Limón joins us Friday, November 2 at 7pm to talk about the book with author A.R. Ashworth and Scott Montgomery.
MysteryPeople Scott: The Line has one of the best openings of the year. How did it come about?
Martin Limón: I’ve been to the Joint Security Area (JSA) a few times, starting in 1968. It’s always been an intense place and there have been more than a few skirmishes over the years. One of them, the August, 1976 axe murder incident, resulted in two U.S. soldiers being hacked to death by North Korean guards. Ironically, the JSA is also called “the truce village of Panmunjom.”
At some point it occurred to me that this would be a good place to set a murder. Of course, I knew who would be going up there to examine the crime scene, George Sueño and Ernie Bascom. Then all I had to do was decide who would be murdered, what time of day they would be going up there, etc. Once I had all that I decided to place the corpse right on the most contested spot in the world—the Military Demarcation Line—and imagined what would happen. Not difficult. There would be an armed standoff; the North Koreans on one side, the U.S. on the other. Sort of a difficult setting for detectives to exam a crime scene but, undaunted, our boys take up the challenge.
MPS: You have George and Ernie work both a murder and a missing person case. How did you deal with the challenge of two mysteries?
ML: I like plots and subplots, both as a reader and when I’m writing my own stories. The challenge is to get them to blend together in some way that’s (hopefully) believable and, more importantly, for their essences to somehow complement one another. In this case I had the Korean Noh family, who had suffered the grievous loss of their son, in the main plot and the American Cresthill family, experiencing the anguish of marital breakup, in the other. I hope the two stories worked well together. I was actually contemplating a third subplot; that of the Korean-American lawyer, Corrine Fitch, searching for her birth mother. But it was too much for my meager intellect to work out. Instead, it remained implied but not fleshed out.
MPS: I felt this book looks at women in both Korean and Army society. What did you want to explore with the female characters?
ML: Military spouses and other family members often feel isolated. Sometimes physically, as at Fort Irwin in California’s Mojave Desert where the nearest town is forty miles away. Or at 8th Army headquarters in Seoul. Even though the 8th Army Yongsan Compound sat in the heart of a city of over 10 million souls, that city was South Korea’s capital and a teeming Asian metropolis if there ever was one. Some of the Americans on base felt as if they were floating on a small raft atop a churning sea. And the military expects those family members (which they call dependents), and especially the wives, to follow a precise and lengthy list of unwritten rules. Don’t ever dare embarrass your husband, number one. Accompany him to the many and varied command social events where you must smile, smile, smile. Volunteer your time to charities specified by the spouse of the commanding general. Some women rebel, by turning inward. Others act out. I’ve seen it and it is sometimes not pretty, but always very human.
With Corrine Fitch I had the ambition (probably not realized) of depicting the ambivalence of someone returning to the country of their birth but being fundamentally a stranger. What must that be like? What questions must arise? I didn’t take that part of the story as far as it needed to go but it still intrigues me.
MPS: How would you describe George and Ernie’s relationship with the Army?
What George loves about the army is that it gives him a sense of purpose. A job with a very specific aim: to solve crime and rescue the innocent.
What Ernie loves about the army is that it encourages him to replace heroin addiction with the perfectly acceptable alternative of alcoholism. As a bonus, the pomposity of the army brass gives him a world of blowhards to rebel against.
What George hates about the army is their overwhelming bureaucratic desire to cover up any and all bad news. Especially crime.
What Ernie hates about the army is they make him wear a hat, which he believes is a plot to cut him off from the universe.
MPS: Your latest books have been some of your best. What has experience lent to your work?
ML: When I started writing, over 30 years ago, I realized immediately that this was a craft or sullen art (to quote Dylan Thomas) in which I would always keep learning—and never master. I do think my books and short stories are a little better now, mainly because of the help of editors and agents and critics and even the occasional reader. Reader complaints, of which I’ve had some which were extremely bitter, feel like a hot needle shoved into a raw nerve. However, I crave them. First, it proves that the person read and cared about my work. Second, it gives me a chance to evaluate the criticism and decide whether or not it is valid. Usually, it is. And once that needle sinks into tender flesh, I can never forget it. And the next time, when a similar case arises, I’m prepared to do better.
MPS: North and South Korea have been in the news even more. What should people in the U.S. know about the culture?
ML: Someone asked me if I wrote The Line because the North Korean crisis is so much in the news lately. The fact of the matter is that I conceived and wrote the first draft long before Donald Trump ever made his fire and fury or little rocket man comments. In fact, back then when I started no one imagined he’d ever become president.
Since 1953 the Korean DMZ has always been in crisis. In January 1968 a North Korean commando unit unsuccessfully attacked the Blue House, the South Korean version of our White House. In the same month, the North Korean navy committed an act of war by boarding and commandeering the USS Pueblo on the high seas. They held the American crew in a brutal captivity for almost a year. In April 1969, North Korea shot down an EC-121 US Navy reconnaissance plane, immediately killing 31 sailors. And there have been plenty of violations since then. South Korean military deaths, at least back in those days, were common and many of them went unreported in the international press. The US Army averaged about one American death at North Korean hands per year.
Now these friendly fellows have the bomb. I, for one, don’t believe they’ll ever give it up. No matter how many bows and handshakes our president provides.
Culturally, on both sides of the border, the desire for Korean reunification is great, and it’s the official policy of both governments. From what I’ve read, Kim Jong-un’s goal in life is to reunify the peninsula under his regime. To him, mutual nuclear disarmament means that the US would withdraw our troops from South Korea and remove the South Koreans from the protection of our nuclear umbrella. Once that happened, I believe, he’d feel free to start bullying the South Koreans and use political and military pressure to gain his aims. He knows that if he did manage to reunify Korea, even under such a brutal totalitarian state as the one he now runs, his place in Korean history as a great hero would be assured.
Jeff Abbott is a perennial BookPeople favorite, and his new book doesn’t disappoint. Here, Meike reviews it ahead of Jeff’s visit to the store Thursday, October 25th at 7pm to discuss it.
You know that feeling you get when you think there might be someone following you? You walk a little faster, and then they walk faster, too? And the faster you go, the faster they go, until at the end it’s straight up race for survival? That’s how Jeff Abbott’s latest standalone, The Three Beths, feels. You’ve been warned.
It’s been a year since Mariah Dunning’s mother Beth vanished from their home in Lakehaven, TX, a comfortable suburb of Austin. The residents there have known each other for years, so Mariah acutely feels the suspicion that’s fallen on her father Craig. One day she briefly catches sight of a woman who Mariah believes might be her mother, and she becomes more determined than ever to discover the truth to her mother’s disappearance. That’s the only way she can prove not only that Craig didn’t kill his wife, but also that Beth didn’t choose to walk out on her daughter. With the help of a crime blogger, Mariah discovers that two other Lakehaven women disappeared recently—both of them named Beth.
In a story with multiple plot lines like this, the pacing is critical and Abbott hits the mark — each part of the story is revealed subtly and at just the right time. That leaves the reader simultaneously wanting to race to the next clue and trying to slow down so as not to miss any important details. And there are just the right amount of twists and turns to keep things lively without going off the rails.
The Texas Book Festival returns to the capitol in Austin, Texas, October 27th and 28th. MysteryPeople will be representing in three different panel discussions and a section of the Lit Crawl. For those interested, here’s our schedule, and you can visit this page for a complete schedule of events at the Texas Book Festival.
10-10:45AM at Capitol Extension Room E2.010: Crimes of the Centuries with Steven Saylor & Lou Berney
Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery will talk with two authors who have created crime fiction plots linked to two of history’s biggest assassinations. With his latest Gordianus book, The Throne Of Caesar, Steven Saylor has his ancient Roman detective, Gordianus, trying to uncover a conspiracy against the emperor during the Ides Of March. Lou Berney gives us a mobster on the run when he realizes he was an unknowing part of the Kennedy assassination and finds refuge on the road with a runaway housewife and her two daughters in November Road. They will be discussing how their fictional characters interact with real events and how the crime novel allows them to explore history.
8PM Lit Crawl Noir at the Bar (Chilled to the Marrow) at Stay Gold
Noir at the Bar returns with some of =festival guests, Meg Gardiner, Jeff Abbott, and Scott Von Doviak, joining our regular Noir at the Bar miscreants Max Booth, Mike McCrarry, and ringleader and emcee Scott Montgomery reading their darkest, nastiest, and funniest crime fiction. This will be a part of many Noir at the Bars going on for the weekend across the country and in London for author Duane Swiercynski, whose daughter is going through a bone marrow transplant in her fight with leukemia. We will be raffling off two special bundles of books to help with the medical bills and you can also give here.
12-12:45PM at Capitol Extension Room E2.010: Crime and Place with Reavis Wortham & Scott Von Doviak
Scott’s back again talking with two of his author friends who use specific, real locations for their crime novels. Scott Von Doviak’s Charlesgate Confidential uses Boston’s historical building for a crime that leads to several others in three separate decades. Reavis Wortham uses Big Bend National Park for an intricate showdown with his Texas Ranger Sonny Hawk up against a passel of revenge hungry villains in Hawke’s War. Both show all you can do with one space.
2PM – 2:45PM at the Texas Tent: Texas Crime Writers with Meg Gardiner, Jeff Abbott, & Julia Heaberlin
Three of the lone star state’s bestselling crime novelists gather around for a discussion with MysteryPeople contributor Meike Alana. She will lead them through the art of crafting a good thriller, the diversity of Texas settings, and cracking wise. All three are great story tellers in person as they are on the page.
Reavis Worham’s latest in his Red River mystery series, Gold Dust, has the folks who keep the law in nineteen sixties Central Springs, Texas, and their families off in different directions with plots involving a CIA experiment, modern cattle rustles, and a fake gold rush. On October 9th Reavis will be at BookPeople with Melissa Lenhardt (Heresy) to discuss their books, but we grabbed him ahead of time for a few questions.
MysteryPeople Scott: What aspects of the sixties did you want to explore in Gold Dust?
Reavis Wortham: The initial idea came from the true story of a CIA experiment in 1950 called Operation Sea-Spray, in which a supposedly benign bacteria was sprayed over the city of San Francisco in a simulated biological warfare attack. A number of citizens fell ill with pneumonia-like illnesses, and at least one person died as a result.
So as usual, I wondered, “What if?” What if something similar happened to the tiny northeast community of Center Springs at the end of the 1960s, that complicated decade full of war, civil unrest, and space travel? As in all my novels, I thrust normal people in abnormal situations and watch how the characters respond to an unexpected world of challenges. What happens if someone starts a gold rush in Northeast Texas while at the same time cattle rustlers murder a local farmer in a completely separate incident? How does law enforcement separate these crimes that might be connected?
I’ve heard stories of gold buried and lost in Lamar County, and after the novel came out, I learned of a real gold mine near Chicota, Texas.
So after wandering around a bit with this answer, the truth is I wanted to explore the ultimate question of what Constable Ned Parker would do if his family faces this personal danger from a government he trusts, while at the same time an entire world of mystery swirls around the community. I honestly didn’t know he’d load up with an old friend and head for Washington D.C. to find out who was responsible for nearly killing Top, but I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised.
MPS: You’re near the end of the decade. How has it affected Center Springs?
RW: Small towns are like small pools or stock tanks, with little exposed on the surface, but if you could peer underwater you’d find an entire hidden world full of beauty and danger. I think of that tiny community as a vortex, the swirling center of situations that involve the characters that have grown through the seven Red River novels. We’re all impacted by our decisions, and oftentimes, the decisions of others.
As I said earlier, the 1960s were packed with significant events that come in from the outside world and involve people who only want to live their lives with as little trauma and drama as possible. When outside influences impact those farmers who live off the land, they respond with force. Center Springs wants to be left alone, but when the world intrudes, it changes the community a little at a time, drawing them into life beyond Lamar County.
The community is scarred from those intrusions, but holds on to the past in many ways, because these were people who survived the Great Depression, WWII, Korea, and are enduring Vietnam. They still raise their own crops, slaughter cattle and hogs for food, and often wear the same style of clothes year after year. They’re hardened even more by the end of the decade, but still hold dear those same senses of family and community they’ve always possessed.
MPS: You brought retired Texas Ranger Tom Bell back. What does he bring to the ensemble?
RW: I left Tom Bell wounded and dying in Mexico at the end of The Right Side of Wrong. Since then, I haven’t been to a signing or speaking event that someone didn’t ask if he was ever coming back. Tom proved to be a favorite character who has his own following and I realized he needed to return from the dead.
He has many of the same moral values as Ned Parker, but he’s darker, more experienced in the outside world, and will step over that gray line between right and wrong when necessary. He’s tough, smart as a whip, experienced in more ways than we have yet to realize, and full of surprises. Tom is that guy who watches, waits, and when necessary, responds in a way that most true Texans appreciate, dispensing justice without remorse, because it’s the right thing to do.
MPS: Ned and Tom, the oldest characters, handle themselves the best. What does age give them over the younger folks?
RW: They handle situations due to their experience as lawmen. The younger characters are on a learning curve, and sometimes hesitate to make dramatic decisions, whereas Ned and Tom will do what’s necessary to protect family and freedom. They’ve already made the mistakes younger people are yet to experience, and operate with that knowledge in the back of their minds.
MPS: You have at least four plots running that the reader follows without any problem. How did you approach those spinning plates?
RW: There are four? Dang. I hadn’t thought of it that way. Honestly, I write these novels without an outline, and simply follow the characters as they stumble through life. When a plot line diverges, I’ll follow it to see what happens. Each chapter is a surprise for us all. I guess if I had to examine what I do, I’ll simply say that by the time I finish a chapter that follows one character or plot line, I want to see what the rest are doing, so I’ll just “change the channel.” It’s satisfying to know that readers can progress without getting lost. That means I’ve done my job.
MPS: Many of your characters are in law enforcement. What do you want to get across about that profession to the reader?
RW: I have a simple philosophy. If you don’t break the law, you won’t find yourself in opposition with those who wear a badge.
Growing up, my grandfather, Joe Armstrong, was the constable in Lamar County Precinct 3. I heard from my parents and grandparents from day one that law enforcement officers were my best friends. I know friends and family members who have been police officers, sheriff’s deputies, U.S. Marshals, and judges. They are all that stands between us and anarchy.
Just look around and see how quickly things can go bad. I support the blue, and though there are always bad apples, or terrible mistakes, these men and women who wear badges have my utmost respect.