1.Tell us about your latest book. “Being Someone Else” is the fourth in the Sticks Hetrick series. An out-of-state reporter is murdered at a disreputable bar in the rural Pennsylvania community of Swatara Creek. Then a barkeep and part-time prostitute is killed and a private detective is found dead in a neighboring county and there seems to be a link between the cases. The investigative trail keeps bringing Hetrick and his team back to the family of a wealthy doctor who has retired in his hometown.
2. How did your main character, Sticks Hedrick, come to you? I was driving to work early one morning and spied a man walking along the road. Something about this man stuck in my mind and gradually Sticks evolved from that impression into a character in a short story. That story never found a home. When I began work on “Something In Common,” first in the series, Sticks seemed right as the detective. As sometimes happens with characters, he grew in my imagination and demanded a role in more books.
3. Where did the name “Sticks” come from? In the first novel, I mentioned he had a habit of whittling with his penknife while pondering a case. This habit, along with his tall and angular build, was the source of his nickname.
4. You also write short stories. Describe your process in writing short. There isn’t much money to be made writing short stories these days. But many of us get ideas more suited to the short story than a novel. I enjoy writing them and it’s more of a challenge than many readers might think. Sometimes you can write them in one sitting. Other times it takes longer. You need believable character or characters, a setting and a conflict. A short story is more than just a good punch line. It has to stir an emotion and have an ending that satisfies the reader. Explaining what I mean by that is more difficult than knowing it when you read it. I’m not talking about shock value or even the surprise at the end of an O. Henry story. It’s more subtle. It has to have you nodding and saying, yes, it may not be what I expected but I believe it had to go that way.
5. Where do you write? I have a desk with computer, printer and some reference volumes in my front room. I also have a laptop which enables me to be more mobile. I’ll probably “finish” writing at the desktop or on the laptop. But the process doesn’t start or end with the computer. I may be “writing” in my mind/imagination at any time or place during the day. At some point these musings may be transferred to a notebook or any available scrap of paper until I can get them to the computer. There have been times when I’ve done a chapter or more in longhand on a legal pad, though no one else could read that scrawl.
6. Where do your ideas come from? Ideas are everywhere. I find them in the daily newspaper, in books I read, snatches of conversation overheard, or just the sight of a person walking down the street (as in the case of Sticks Hetrick). Any one of these things may spark a “what if…” moment. For instance, “Corruption’s Child,” third in the Hetrick series, had its inspiration when I read an article in the newspaper about thefts from Amish homesteads. That combined with my personal experience with antiques. My dad was a collector and part-time ‘picker. As a boy I spent a lot of time with him at public sales, in shops and mingling with dealers and collectors. Later I wrote for some of the trade papers and mags. You never know where your own experience is going to lead.
7. What do you do better as a writer now than you did in the beginning? I don’t like to be bound too tightly by rules; I have a tendency to procrastinate, and I’m probably more often moved by inspiration than a schedule. But I believe I do write tighter. I still like description in a book, though I’m now more focused on honing it so as not to distract from the flow of a story. These are all things you learn over time. Experience is the real teacher.
8. What has been your most successful marketing tool? Like most writers, I’m more of an introvert than an extrovert. But with all the competition today I’ve learned you’ve got to get out and work to make your name and writing known. That means actively soliciting reviews, taking advantage of every opportunity for book signings/readings and speaking engagements, utilizing the media, seeking interviews like this and all the various on line avenues—Facebook, Myspace, Twitter, Linked-In., etc. I don’t think you can emphasize one and ignore the others. It’s vital to connect with people. And it can’t be a one-way street either. You can’t just make a sales-pitch. You have to seek a relationship with people.
9. As an avid hiker, what do you think about when you hike? I walk often with my son and/or my daughter. That’s different from when I go off alone, pondering a character, a plot or an idea and lose myself in them. It can be like meditation; you enter a state where you ‘know’ your characters and they speak to you.
10. Tell us about your hometown – we love to travel. Shamokin is a small city at the western edge of Pennsylvania’s anthracite coal region. At first glance it would appear to have little attraction for the tourist, unless you count what is believed to be the world’s biggest man-made mountain, a culm (coal waste) bank leftover from mining days. But we do have a lot of history. Thomas Edison established his first laboratory here in 1882 and a local church was the first to have electric lighting. A number of major league baseball players, including the Coveleski brothers, were born here, as was Fred Rhoades, Sad Sack cartoonist; Mary LeSawyer, an operatic soprano of some fame, among a few other notables. There are beautiful mountains and farmlands and the Susquehanna River within a few miles and Knoebels, America’s largest free-admission amusement park, is just six miles away.
11. Tell us about your pets – we love animals. I’ve had a number of dogs over the years. The most recent was Shannon, a Border Collie-mix, my daughter ‘retired’ to me to fill the void left by her predecessor, Crystal, a Vizsla I had for 14 years. Both had their quirks and admirable qualities and I haven’t felt moved to look for a replacement yet. But I do have four grand-dogs (a dachshund and three German shepherds) between my children.
12. What are you working on next? I’m dividing my time between the fifth Sticks novel and another historical mystery.