Slivers of Truth: Lori Roy on Writing, Setting, and Success

Image result for lori roy authorMatthew Turbeville: Lori, it is such an immense pleasure to interview you.  Each of your books holds a special place in my heart and deservedly so.  Each of your books is so uniquely and individually different.  How do you develop the concepts behind your novels? How do they come to you? And how do you ensure that not one single book is remotely the same?

Lori Roy: Thank you so much, Matthew. It’s a pleasure to work with you on this interview. I have, thus far, always started my novels with setting. By that, I mean I am first inspired by an interest in a time and place. I’m not entirely sure what makes certain settings capture my attention, however they tend to be somewhat gritty and oppressive, and as such, they actively work against my characters.  I think of setting in terms of the part of the country I choose and the period of time. Both decisions are key to the obstacles my characters will face.   A rural and impoverished setting will pose certain challenges, as in Bent Road and Let Me Die in His Footsteps, and the cultural norms of a certain period of time will also give rise to obstacles, as in Until She Comes Home.

The settings, both place and time, largely dictate the voice or texture of whatever novel I’m working on. I fumble around until I find the voice I feel fits the work. There is also always a sliver of some universal truth that starts to simmer once I’ve begun a novel. However, I try to avoid focusing on that sliver as I’m writing.  Instead I focus on character and plot and let the sliver of truth work its way to the surface through the story. I spend a couple of years writing a novel and this sliver of truth is what keeps my interest.

As to how I keep my books from being the same…in a way, like many writers, I think I’m always grappling with the same questions. But I do like switching up my setting because I am regularly inspired by my research of a new place. In my most recent novel, The Disappearing (Dutton 7/18), I am writing about the present day for the first time. While this would probably seem easier than writing something set in the past, I’ve found it to be a great challenge.

MT: You’ve won multiple Edgar Awards and you’re a woman.  How does it feel to be one of the leaders in establishing crime fiction as a genre dominated by women writers, which is incredibly important in today’s world?

LR: Having published a few books now, I think paying-it-forward is the most important thing I can do. I was fortunate enough to learn from great teachers in the early days of my career. Each of them took time out of his or her own busy schedule to work with aspiring writers, so I try to do the same. As to the amazing work being published by women today and in years past, I think of myself as a student of their impressive work.

MT:  Who are some of your other influences, especially fellow female writers? What other influences do you have—what inspires you to write on a day-to-day basis?

LR:   I would say the love of writing inspires me on a day-to-day basis, but that wouldn’t be entirely true, because I don’t always love it. I find the first draft of a novel very difficult to write and I impose a schedule on myself to get through this early stage.  Once I have the framework, I find the process much more enjoyable and sitting down to the computer becomes easier. As to influences, my list could go on and on. Flannery O’Connor is certainly at the top of that list, as are Toni Morrison, Zora Neale Hurston and John Steinbeck. Mary Lawson is among my contemporary influences, as are Lisa Unger, Megan Abbott, Alafair Burke and Laura Lippman.

MT: I would almost describe your latest book, Let Me Die in His Footsteps, as transgeneric, crossing genres in new and unexpected ways, like the novel does with its hints of magic realism.  What made you decide to incorporate this element of writing—i.e., the girls looking down the wells—into your novel?

LR: This is a great example of the setting influencing my characters. As I researched Kentucky, I came across a good many traditions and superstitions that originated in various parts of the state.  Many of the more magical elements of the book—the know-how, the looking into a well to see the face of an intended, the empty rocking chair that rocks and means someone is going to die—were all rooted in Kentucky superstitions passed down through the years, though I tweaked some to fit my characters and plot. Not only did these elements inform on the way people were thinking at the time, but they also gave rise to obstacles for my characters.  They became the heart of the novel in many ways.

MT: What is your writing schedule like? How do you remain so productive and churn out such breathtaking literature?

LR: I usually try to write first thing in the morning.  If I’m writing a first draft, I can work for about two to three hours per day and I try to generate 1500 during that time. Once I have a first draft and am rewriting, I work the better part of the day. Because I’ve not been successful with outlining, I find I do a great deal of restructuring and editing. This phase will go on a long time.  I take breaks to walk my dogs or go to the gym, but that’s about it. I quit for the day around 5:00.

MT: One thing that strikes me about your writing is your voice.  Whether written in first or third person (which can often feel so personal one forgets it’s not first person), the voice is unique and personal to the character the narrative is following.  How do you establish voice for each book?

LR: Finding the voice for a particular novel is a bit like tuning an instrument or trying to tune a station on an old-fashioned radio. I adjust a little here and little there until I hear the voice come into tune.  I like to read various things from whatever era I’m writing about, or if I’m writing in the present as I did with my upcoming novel and the one I’m working on now, I read about the history of a place.  It all informs on the present and on the characters and slowly that voice comes into tune. I’m also a believer that nouns are of great importance in establishing voice.

MT: You tend to write “period pieces” or “historical narratives,” books set in a different time and place than what we’re used to with crime fiction.  What inspires you to do this and what do you hope to accomplish in doing so?

LR: While doing research for Until She Comes Home, I stumbled across an essay written as an introduction to a cookbook published in 1954. It spoke of mothers struggling to raise children as extended families moved farther and farther away, and of mothers being bombarded by news from the radio and television and newspaper, and of no longer having the friendly butcher to rely on but instead a large, generic grocer, and of having more technology in the home that was meant to make life easier but instead meant more and more was expected of them. I read this passage to a group of friends who were sitting nearby as I was doing my reading, all of them mothers too, and they nodded their heads. Yes, isn’t that true, they all said, and were shocked to hear I was reading about the obstacles facing mothers from 1954. I understood in that moment why I’m compelled to often write about the past.  While much has changed over the years, much has not. Writing about the past can illustrate that the struggles of long ago aren’t so different than the struggles today and that we’re not above repeating the same mistakes.

MT: Was it always your dream to become a writer? If not, how did you get into writing?

LR: When I was very young, I dreamed of being a writer but got no further than designing the cover art for a novel I never wrote. In college, I studied accounting and I worked as a tax accountant for many years.  When I decided to stay home with my children, I began to study writing. I worked for ten years before I sold Bent Road, my first novel.

MT: In today’s challenging political climate, what do you expect your stories and characters—especially your incredible women characters—to say? What do you want people to take away from them?

LR: I would reflect back on my answer regarding why I write about the past. On one hand, I find myself writing about people with a powerful and innate need to belong. On the other hand, I write about those willing to cast aside the weaker among us for the sake of money, power or reputation. I’ve seen these themes rise up in all my work and though they’ve tended to rise up in plots that take place many years ago, we continue to see people desperate for a sense of belonging and those who would cast them aside in our headlines every day.

As to my expectations for what my stories and characters will say to the world…I had to think about the answer to this question for quite a while. In the end, I decided I have no expectations.  I work very hard to write authentic, warm-to-the-touch characters who are struggling to reach a goal. I give them something to want and something to need and then place obstacles in their path.  As they struggle to find their way, they are forced to make choices and those choices inform on what types of people they are.  What are they willing to do in order to succeed? What will they not do? By taking this approach, I find my stories end up with much to say, but I don’t set out with any expectations.

MT: What has been your most challenging book to write to date? What book has been your favorite to write? How difficult was it to break into the writing industry?

LR: I’ll start with my favorite book to write. That was certainly Bent Road. I say that because I wrote my first novel with no thought of publishing it. I wrote for the love of it. I didn’t think about how it might be received or if it would be reviewed or if people would like it.  My most difficult book to write has been The Disappearing. I found it difficult for a few reasons.  It is my first book set in present day, and as such, I had a harder time tuning in the voice. It’s also a novel inspired by actual events surrounding the closing of a boys’ reform school that operated in north Florida for over 100 years. Though the novel doesn’t take place at the school and instead takes place in the years immediately after its closing, it was important to me that I remained respectful to the people who suffered there as children.

As to breaking into the writing industry, I wasn’t nearly as savvy as many aspiring writers are today. I thought very little about the publishing industry when I was writing what would become my debut novel.  Instead I was fortunate enough to study with great teachers and in doing so, I met other writers who have become great friends.  We worked together in writing groups over the internet, encouraged each other and challenged each other’s work. All these things were important in helping me break into the industry because they helped me write a novel that captured the attention of an agent and then an editor.

MT: What are you working on now? What can we expect in your next novel?

LR: The Disappearing is my next novel and it will hit shelves in July, 2018. Here is a brief synopsis of what to expect.

When Lane Fielding fled north Florida after high school for the anonymity of New York City, she never thought she’d return. But twenty years later, this time leaving behind her cheating husband, that’s exactly what she and her two daughters have done. Now Lane is tending bar, living under her parents’ roof on the historic Fielding Plantation, and planning how to escape the crimes of her father–crimes that date back to his role as the director of a local boys’ reform school. A role that some claim turned sinister.

Things take a turn when just six months after moving back to Florida, Lane’s older daughter disappears. Lane initially fears a serial killer–like the one who traumatized north Florida in the 1970s–has again set his sights on her small town. Ten days earlier, a Florida State student disappeared, and ever since, everyone has been keeping a close eye on the town’s girls. But when Lane’s younger daughter admits to having made an odd new friend, Lane must consider that her older daughter’s disappearance is payback for her father’s crimes. Or perhaps for her own.

With reporters descending on the town, chaos reaching a fever pitch, and events taking increasingly surreal and sinister turns, Lane is faced with too many enemies and too little time to bring her daughter safely home.

MT: What advice can you give to new and aspiring writers? What about young women who are looking to make their way to the top just as you have done?

LR: I would refer back to what was most important in helping me break into the writing industry.  My best advice to aspiring writers, men or women, is to work on your craft and write the best book you can.  Nothing else will matter until you’ve done that.  Work in a writers’ group and challenge yourself to help your fellow writers become better, stronger writers.  In working to become a better editor of others’ work, you’ll also become a better editor of your own work.  You’ll learn the rules of the craft and why the rules are rules.  All these things will help you advance your work, and I believe this has to be the first step.

MT: Lori, thank you so much for allowing me to interview you.  It was such a delight being able to pick your brain.  I wish you nothing but luck in the rest of your career, and I can’t wait to read your next book!

LR: Thanks to you, Matthew. I greatly appreciate the time you’ve spent with my work and with the thought you put into your questions.

 

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Interview with James Dennis from Miles Arceneaux

Interview with James Dennis from Miles Arceneaux

The team that that makes us the pseudonym of Miles Arceneaux, James Dennis, John T. Davis, and Brent Douglas, are back with another novel following the Sweeterwater family on the Texas Gulf Coast, Hidden Sea. Here they go back to the character that started it all with Charlie Sweetwater after his nephew who has been shanghaied on a fishing boat, encountering Mexican narcos and sea faring pirates. All three will be joining David Hansard on the 17th. We pulled James aside to talk about the novel.

MysteryPeople Scott: This is the first book in the series to take place in the present. Did that affect the writing in any way?

James Dennis: I don’t think it necessarily had an impact on the writing. This book was pretty research intensive, because it takes place in so many different locations along the Mexican coast and Cuba. And even though it takes place only a couple of years ago, the echoes of the past (both the historical past and the Sweetwater family history) can be heard pretty loudly. I suppose we subscribe to the wonderful line from Faulkner’s Requiem for a Nun: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

MPS: Lot of the book is seen through the eyes of Augie, Charlie Sweetwater’s nephew. What did that character bring to the series?

JD: I think we were very conscious of the sense of telling a family’s saga, the way different generations approach a given situation. The question of what we inherit from our family and what we chose to discard is really quite fascinating. Augie is young, a bit naïve, and a bit reckless. In many ways, he reminds me of Charlie and Johnny Sweetwater as young men. That’s in contrast to his father, Raul, who has adopted a much more cautious and careful approach to life. So, in some sense, Augie offers us an assurance that the legacy of the Sweetwater family (a family whose motto is “hold my beer and watch this'”) will live on.

MPS: The setting is primarily at sea on boats. Did the constricted space create any narrative challenges?

JD: I don’t think so. Large sections of the earlier books also took place at sea. But it did lend itself to the sense of Augie’s confinement, and in a larger sense, the confinement associated with the scourge of human trafficking. There’s a sense in which Augie’s feeling of being trapped speaks to the repressive conditions of all those who are caught up in the web of the human slave trade.

MPS: What was it like writing a Charlie who was much older than when you introduced him in Thin Slice of Life?

JD: In one sense, character development is what we look for in every novel, but when you write a series, you have an opportunity to have that character mature (or not) over time. In Charlie, we get a chance to see what remains of his reckless youth, and what he’s decided to let go of. It was actually a lot of fun watching him struggle with some of the issues we will all have to face. And the answers Charlie comes up with don’t necessarily have much in common with the choices that we, individually, have made. But that’s fiction: Charlie has taken on a life of his own, and it’s been a great ride watching it.

MPS: There is a major reveal near the end of the book. Was that planned books ahead or when you started this one?

JD: I suspect the people who know us well would chuckle at that idea. I’m not sure we’re capable of that sort of forethought or methodical planning. It’s true, however, that “that particular story line” was intentionally left unresolved, and I think each of us at various times in the novels that followed Thin Slice of Life has wondered what might happen and played out various alternatives. It wasn’t until this book, however, that we could realistically revisit that story line, and we had to play with several alternatives until we found a way to resolve it.

MPS: What makes the Sweetwater family worth coming back to as writers?

JD: There are probably a lot of different answers to this question. The Sweetwater family has offered us a vehicle to address some of the historical events along the coast that we have found interesting through the years. They’ve also given us a chance to write about some of the characters we’ve known (and wish we had known) in that area. They have given us a chance to laugh, and make each other laugh, and to explore the complex dynamics of a larger-than-life family. Mostly, though, they’ve offered us a place and a way to tell some stories about the people and events we care about. For that, we’ll always be grateful.

 

Q&A With David Hansard about How the Dark Gets In

Dark History And Rodent Relations: A Discussion With David Hansard About How The Dark Gets In

How The Dark Gets In is the second novel featuring Porter Hall. This time the New Yorker with a western background goes back to his roots and the dark secrets of the past when a friend goes missing in Austin. David Hansard will be joining the three authors who make up Miles Arceneaux on November 18th at 6PM to sign and discuss their work, but we put David in a dimly lit room to interrogate him early.

MysteryPeople Scott: I thought this book had one of the best starts. How did you come to using a mouse to reintroduce Porter?

David Hansard: As the story opens Porter believes he’s going to die alone in the windowless, basement room of a New York police station and end up buried in an unmarked grave in Potter’s Field. When a mouse touches his fingers, he feels a kinship and some small comfort knowing there’s another creature in the same predicament. The initial scene, which is set in September, is a flash-forward from the bulk of the story that takes place in June in Texas. I start with it because it’s the point at which the stakes are highest for Porter. His peril creates tension and raises questions that—I hope—hover over the entire story.

Since the setup involves “kidnap by cop” and illegal incarceration, I spent a lot of effort trying to make those seem feasible. After all, how realistic is it that actual law enforcement officers would take someone off the street and illegally lock them up in a police station? A couple of months after I wrote the scene stranger-than-fiction reality conveniently intervened. It turned out our local El Paso County, Colorado sheriff had been doing that exact thing to his political enemies and others he wanted to shake down.

MPS: What made you want to dive into Porter Hall’s past with the second book?

DH: With any reasonably complex character there is a personal history that has made them who they are. We all know Chandler’s dictum that “the knight” should have no past and no future, at least not ones the reader knows, and should not exist outside his mission. That works for Phillip Marlow. It wouldn’t work for Porter Hall, who, unlike Marlow, is reluctant amateur PI. The events of his own life draw him into his adventures and misadventures. One of Porter’s defining attributes is infection with the “white knight” syndrome, his compulsion to rescue “damsels in distress.” The irony, which is not lost on him, is that the surest way for a damsel to end up in distress is by spending time with him. It’s the inciting event in One Minute Gone and repeats more than once in How the Dark Gets In. Being a “rescuer” is his nature, but it’s a trait that has also been exacerbated by the loss of his older sister when he was ten.

MPS: Family plays an important part in various ways through the story. What did you want to explore with it?

DH: Porter feels responsible for the death of his sister at the hands of a drunk driver more than thirty years ago because he created the situation that caused it. Only by returning to that period of his life can her death, and the way it has shaped and still controls him, be understood. That event underlies the dysfunction that destroyed his family and was responsible for, in his mind, the premature deaths of both of his parents. It has left him with guilt and loneliness he will never escape.

MPS: The story takes place across the the U.S. from New York to Austin and Porter’s Wyoming family home. Did that present more of a challenge or something less confining?

DH: How the Dark Gets In is a personal odyssey for Porter, spatially and temporally, from his present life in New York City to his life as a younger man in Texas and finally to his Wyoming childhood. Not only are these times and places not distinct to him, they are a continuum, an echo chamber in which events long past and those of the present overlap, concur, and talk over each other. The places, disparate as they are, mirror and mingle among themselves. What’s the Faulkner quote? “The past isn’t dead. It isn’t even past.” And where did I see it? Oh, right. On the back cover of the book.

MPS: Porter Hall is such a distinctive, yet fitting name for your character. How did you come up with it?

DH: After my mother read the first chapter of One Minute Gone, she said, “I can’t believe your main character is named Porter Hall. Did you realize my mother’s maiden name was Porter and your other grandmother’s maiden name was Hall?” Really, Mom? That truly is an amazing coincidence.

MPS: What has made him the ideal character for you to run with?

DH: I am in awe of writers like Martin Cruz Smith who have the imagination and intelligence to visit a place for a few days—Moscow, in Cruz’s case—and then create a rich, compelling, and viable narrative peopled with engaging and believable characters. Unfortunately, I’m neither smart enough nor creative enough to do that so I lean on a character who shares major portions of my own backstory and has similar tastes and interests. Porter and I even wear the same size boots. That’s s very convenient when we travel together because we can trade off footwear. And, by a really weird coincidence, his name happens to be the same as two of the surnames in my family tree.

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?

Image result for nelson demille

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.

Interview With Meredith Lee

Shrouded Authors Dodge Terrorists & Rack Up Frequent Flyer Miles


The authors of Shrouded, the Austin writing team of Dixie Lee Evatt and Sue Meredith Cleveland, dodged terrorists, persisted even when itineraries almost fell apart, and racked up frequent flyer miles to research their debut mystery. Evatt and Cleveland write under the pen name Meredith Lee.

Mystery People Scott: Shrouded introduces Crispin Leads, a scrappy graduate student with a penchant for finding trouble in some of our favorite European cities. How did you manage the multiple locations necessary for the plot?

Sue: When we began mapping out the plot that became Shrouded, we knew it wouldn’t ring true unless we walked where the characters walked. We were ready to travel. What we didn’t count on was how the havoc of world events and family tragedy would influence our story. Our protagonist studies burial rituals. It became personal for me when I lost a fifth family member during the early days of writing this book. Numb, I planned a trip to France and Italy with friends. Ten days before my departure, terrorists flew into the World Trade Center. I thought long and hard about whether or not to cancel. I decided to step into the unknown and met my traveling companions at Boston’s Logan Airport. The terminal and our flight were nearly empty. Ghostly. Yet, as we toured France and then Italy, people embraced us and raised their glasses to America, as if we were a proxy for an injured nation. I’m sure that sense of tenderness and loss made its way into what I wrote about Italy and France. How could it not?

Dixie: Picasso’s masterpiece, Guernica, makes a cameo appearance in our plot, so I made it a point to include a visit to the Reina Sofia Museum in Madrid while in Spain. The plan seemed innocuous enough. However, a few days before I’d been in Pamplona as a visiting lecturer at the Universidad de Navarra, roaming Old Town one evening, looking for inspiration from the ghost of Papa Hemingway, I wandered into the middle of an ETA demonstration. The militant Basque separatist group set off explosives and police were chasing members through the narrow stone streets. A local woman, who could tell I was a clueless tourist, grabbed me by the arm and pulled me to safety. I’ll confess I was both frightened and exhilarated by the episode. I didn’t realize its full impact until I stood before Guernica a few days later. I’d first seen the painting at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in the 1970s where it lived on temporary loan because Picasso wouldn’t allow his masterpiece to hang in Spain as long as Franco ruled. Now, instead of making logistical notes (Crispin comes in that door, exits there, etc.) it was as if I was seeing the massacre of Basque innocents for the first time. Influenced by what had happened on the streets of Pamplona, I wrote pages of emotional prose. Most of this stream of consciousness found its way to the “cutting room floor.” As Carol Dawson reminds us, meaning often lingers like a shadow, cast by the words that are no longer on the page.

MPS: In what other ways did your travels influence your writing?

Sue: Two come to mind. Time. Perspective. Travel, spread out over years, took more time than writing, as did the perspective I gained by ruminating on what I’d observed about myself as I navigated other cultures. Whether I travel abroad, or to a neighboring town, it is the history of the place and people that I find riveting. The stories embody the best and worst of what the human race is capable of achieving. Often those stories are found on tombstones and in crypts.

MPS: At the end of Shrouded you give us a sneak preview of the next Crispin Leads adventure, Digging up the Dead. Am I right to assume it takes place in Egypt? If so, did Meredith Lee run into Middle East trouble while scouting location?

Dixie: Of course. I was making plans to go with a tour group to see Giza, Luxor, Valley of the Kings and Abu Simbel at the same time the Bush Administration was beating the drums of war with its WMD case against Iraq. The day before I was set to fly out, every person in the tour group cancelled. I checked with a Syracuse University colleague who had worked at the State Department with Colin Powell. He assured me that as long as I didn’t linger, I would be safe. So I went, a Globus “tour group” of one. My last night in Cairo, the streets were already attracting anti-war demonstrations. Time to go home. A few days later the U.S. launched Shock and Awe.

BookPeople will host a book signing for the authors of Shrouded at 7 p.m. on November 10, 2017.  More information about Meredith Lee and Shrouded can be found at http://www.meredithlee.net.

Q&A with Eryk Pruitt

Eryk Pruitt’s What We Reckon is a greasy southern mess of violence, drugs, and religion centered around the relationship of con man Jack Jordan and Summer, a couple with a Honda, dreams, and a kilo of cocaine in a hollowed out King James Bible. It continues in the tradition of Pruitt’s wild southern noir. We caught up with the man to talk about the book, his characters, and the region he writes about.

MysteryPeople Scott: The core of What We Reckon is a lovers-on-the-run tale before it explodes into something bigger. What do you like about that sub genre of crime fiction?

Eryk Pruitt: I grew up in a small town with no ironclad guarantee that one day I would leave it. I’d sit out on the highway and dream up every possibility there was to dream about how to get out, and many of those possibilities involved something illegal. I think it was natural that I’d gravitate towards stories where someone chucks everything to throw caution to the wind and take off with somebody else. Stories like Agatite by Clay Reynolds or With by Donald Harington helped scratch that itch.

I think that everybody living on the grid believes they’d be better living off it. And most folks appreciate someone who could co-pilot, that might share their dark sensibilities, or at least enable them for a while. This is why the Bonnie and Clyde story still gets told. Life is full of moments where folks zigged, but wonder what may have happened if they zagged.

Image result for eryk pruittLately, these stories have best been told by Wiley Cash, in This Dark Road to Mercy; Jordan Harper with She Rides Shotgun; and Donald Ray Pollock’s masterpiece, The Heavenly Table. I can only hope my crack at a story within the sub-genre offers enough deviation to stray from what folks might ordinarily expect. Or at least, give them a laugh…

MPS: At times I felt there was touch of Flannery O’Connor to the book, the way religion plays a part. What did you want to explore in the South’s spiritual side?

EP: A long-standing trick I’ve learned since living in the South: when dealing with repairmen of any sort, always be sure to namedrop Jesus. Every time you toss out a “…if the good Lord permits it…” or “blessed be,” a hundred dollars drops off the estimate. It’s a brotherhood, with its own decoder rings and secret handshakes. You have to learn that language and speak it, then be ready for any and all opportunity.

In What We Reckon, every character shares a dark hole inside themselves, and search constantly for a way to fill it. I think this best describes the plight of the religious person. Some people have scratched prosperous livings off nursing that need. Televangelists, cult leaders, and con artists carrying a King James Bible with a kilo of cocaine have very few degrees of separation between them.

We’re no longer surprised by the hypocrisy of Robert Tilton, David Koresh, or the Catholic pederasty. Now it’s more fun to talk about how we call pull one over on the hypocrites, instead of the other way around.

MPS: I also thought of Jim Thompson in the sense that as over the top as the plot got, I always felt grounded with the characters. How do you think you pulled that off?

EP: I feel I ask a lot from the reader when I ask them to sympathize with my characters. I treat their empathy as a very precious commodity, because once I lose it, they will put down the book. There has to be something for them to identify with, to keep them going. Hopefully, they find something inside Jack Jordan or Summer Ashton that speaks to them, and once they’ve locked in on that…we gradually increase the temperature. We slowly close the door behind them.

Both Jack and Summer have started to slip. It’s probably been happening for a while, but the frays are starting to show at the edges. While we may not believe in the things that Summer is seeing with her own two eyes, we can fully empathize that she believes them, and that is what is important. Jack may not really be coming down with every disease in the world, but he’d be the last person to know that.

MPS: Your books are soaked in southern culture. What do you want to convey about the area you grew up and live in?

EP: I love the South. I think it’s a wild, spooky, haunted, terrible, beautiful place and I’d have a hard time enjoying myself anywhere else. It’s my understanding that most folks think of the South and Southerners as a pejorative, but not me. I’m not down with the old ways, but rather what the kids call #NewSouth. A pot that melts. An all-inclusive gumbo of cultural collisions that enjoy a six-month tomato season.

That being said, the South is also a product of that disturbing past and that conflict should continue to churn out good fiction for quite a while. Themes of race and religion have only deepened and it’s been interesting to see how they’ve been dealt with in the past in Southern crime canon by William Gay, Daniel Woodrell, and Ernest J. Gaines. Since those pages have yet to be turned, it will be interesting to see how the newer guys like Greg Barth, S.A. Cosby, and Marietta Miles deal with them.

MPS: Much of the book takes place in Texas. Do find that a different kind of south?

EP: It’s my opinion that East Texas is the strangest place on earth. It’s shares the same collision of cultures enjoyed by much of the South, but in East Texas, it’s done behind the shroud of a heavy, pine curtain. All it’s “crazy” has been kept in the shadows. It’s the reason Joe Lansdale will never run out of material.

I grew up in East Texas, and went to college there. I’d fall short in any attempt to properly describe it, so my best suggestion would be to watch Eric Hueber and Andy Cope’s film Rainbow’s End, or the Carl Crum thesis “East of West.” 

MPS: What makes unsavory characters so fun to write about?

EP: It’s a pressure release to let all those inner, unchecked desires off the leash. Maybe a million dirtbag options fly through our heads at any given fork in the road (maybe they don’t for some people…who knows?), but it’s nice to live through someone else’s mistakes.

Plus, it allows us the ability to vicariously exact revenge. Even if you don’t like the kinds of people that Jack Jordan or Summer Ashton have become, you might stick around to see them get their comeuppance. Chances are, you know someone just like them and, while you were never able to give them the what-for they so truly deserved, you won’t mind turning another page to watch someone else give it to them.

But of course, I don’t find them unsavory. I’ve fallen in love with them both and only root for them.

Eryk Pruitt will be on our panel discussion, Hard Boiled Fiction Past & Present, with Mike McCrary and Rick Ollerman, November 6th, 7PM