Hi Maggie, Thanks for giving me some interview space. Right now I’m sure my mother is groaning as she realizes I get to talk about myself. She’ll read this and ask ‘My God, where do you come up with these things?’
My latest book is called Russian Roulette. It introduces a new character, Devlin Haskell. Dev is a ‘ner do well private investigator, who seems to innocently stumble into situations not of his own choosing. On the first page of Russian Roulette, Dev is getting deliberately over served at the Spot bar when a beautiful woman walks in, sits down on the bar stool next to him and asks if he’s Devlin Haskell? A voice goes off in his head that says; finish your drink and get the hell out of here. Of course he ignores the voice, answers yes and offers to buy her a drink. They more or less stagger into bed and when he wakes in the morning she’s gone, she’s taken $100 from his wallet and he’s suddenly involved with the Russian mob. It goes on from there, Dev is beaten up, arrested, shot, car bombed and used as a human shield. You know, just your average week inSt. Paul. There’s a sense of humor woven throughout the book. Dev is a nice guy but the wise individual would keep him at a distance, there’s always some sort of screwy trouble just around the corner. You wouldn’t want him dating your sister or daughter. The life circumstance he constantly finds himself in is due to his own bad choices, but then, bad choices make for interesting tales.
2 Why do you write?
Well, I’ve always written. I come from a family history of story telling, my father and grand father were great story tellers. My folks read to me quite a bit as a child and I’ve always loved books. I read an awful lot, fiction, history, autobiographies, one of the things that seemed to be missing from the crime genre was normalcy. Every hero seemed to be an ex-special forces guy with gorgeous women, the head of the CIA was his college roommate and the head of the KGB was a face book friend. I kept thinking about just normal people. I read all of Stephen E. Ambrose, his most popular work was Band of Brothers. Average guys thrown into the chaos of the Second World War and they end up participating in major action. But, at heart they are average people, and they want nothing more than to get back to something resembling an average life. The last thing they want is to be a hero. I enjoy writing about average people. My characters are average bumblers, none of them are going to stop international terrorism or uncover a coup to take over the government. My folks are too busy dreaming up a scam to sell fur coats, Chow For Now, or to steal the nights receipts from a strip club, Finders Keepers. They routinely get over draft notices from the bank, their car is not the best, they do stupid things when they drink too much. Do they learn from their mistakes? No, not really.
3 Where do your ideas come from?
Real life. I’ve always just had really goofy experiences. I mean you can’t make it up. My wife and I were inParisonce. Yeah I know, name dropper, not really, we got $60 round trip flights fromDublin. Anyway, we stop in this little bar next to our hotel for a nightcap. Six or eight people in the place, it’s quiet. The room is ‘L’ shaped, about the size of an average kitchen and dining room in theUS, not fancy. We sit in a back booth, I look behind my wife and there are all these thongs hanging from pegs on the wall, I mean a lot of them. My wife wants to have her photo taken in front of them so she sits in this chair. All of a sudden this guy about six foot four comes screaming around the corner, we don’t speak French but I get the no, no, no part. His hair is standing on end so he looks about six-eight. My wife jumps up and he sits down, then slaps his knee for her to sit. He wants to be in the photo. Okay, I take the picture, he sends over two glasses of wine, turns out he owns the place. We’re talking, my wife and I, this guy walks past to the back booth, about four feet from us, sits down with a woman. The next thing I know I’m thinking, hey, didn’t that woman have clothes on a moment ago? He’s photographing her, naked. I said to my wife, the guy is taking photos of that woman naked. Of course as she turns to look she says, ‘Why do you always have to bring sex into…. Oh my god!’ Then drains her wine glass. He shoots about a dozen more photos, gets up, leaves. My wife is beet red, I’m watching the woman casually get dressed. Two more glasses of wine appear and he wants to photograph my wife, wearing a smile. If I made that up no one would believe me, but it happens to us all the time. We drank the wine but she didn’t pose, although we did go back there the next two nights. Turns out the guy was someone who rented to Jim Morrison of the Doors and he’s sort of sought out by Doors’ groupies. Nice guy, he just likes to photograph his female customers naked. Anyway, you get the idea. I’ve always sort of been fascinated with that pool of individuals just below the surface of polite society. Everyone knows them, but you keep your distance. You know the type of guy, always an angle, a deal that they never seem to work out.
I’m more of a pantster, I don’t work from a formal outline, I find that confining, limiting. That said, I always have a notebook within reach, I write something down that seems funny or intrigues me. When I’m working on a story, which is always, I get very involved. We may be out on a walk and my wife will ask me what I’m thinking about and I’ll say I’ve got a guy stuck in a tunnel trying to get into a bank vault, End of the Line, or a psychotic hit man for the mob about to visit a dance studio in Florida, Slow, Slow, Quick, Quick. My wife just shakes her head with this sort of ‘Why did I bother?’ look on her face. I literally do not know what is going to happen at the end of the day. I sit down, start tapping keys on the keyboard in the morning and it’s as much of an adventure for me as it is for the reader.
5 Which of your characters is most like you? How/why?
The sixth books before Russian Roulette are all stand alone books. They can be read in any order, none of the characters transfer from one story to another. Russian Roulette is the first Devlin Haskell tale. The next Dev Haskell tale, Mr. Softee, is due out in days. It is stand alone as well. I’ve read some series where there is a referral back to an earlier book and at times that gets confusing or leaves you feeling like you missed out on something. I made a concerted effort not to do that. So, different characters in all my books. That said there is usually some sort of wise cracking guy like me that…well okay, he has all these beautiful women who just can’t get enough of him and lots of money and he had good grades in school. Not really. There’s a wise cracking guy, he has his credit card declined, gets dumped by a girlfriend, beaten up by someone smaller than him or he steps in dog poop on his way into a fancy restaurant, that’s me. I’m the guy the waiter spills scalding coffee on and in the process somehow starts a relationship with my date while someone is giving me first aid. Of course they’d never think of comping my meal. I once was at a restaurant and they did spill scalding coffee on me, then took pains to tell me they weren’t going to charge me for the coffee. Gee, thanks.
6 Why do you use humor in your novels?
Because life is grime enough, you simply have to laugh. Let’s be honest, there are some really awful people in the world. I just do not want to deal with them or have my readers deal with them during their time off. Jobs, kids, work, banks, bills, health, there’s enough to worry about. I try to provide my readers with a good, entertaining tale that maybe has them shaking their head and muttering, idiot. But they don’t feel they should load a Sig Sauer 380 to take the kids to the park. I read all of Cormac McCarthy’s books, but I had to take a break from time to time because there is a violent dimension there and the good guy always catches it in the end. If I want bad news I can turn on the TV or open the newspaper.Readingand writing is escape time for me. At base level, I view my writing as entertainment for my readers. Whether they want to read about vampires, violent psychopaths or ‘ner do well private investigators who have a $100 lifted from their wallet by last nights date, it’s all a form of entertainment. Theoretically mine has a sense of humor woven through it and is therefore enjoyable.
7 Soldier to cake decorator. How do you explain that leap in career choices?
I must have pulled too much KP. Not really, there were some stops along the way. I was in an aspect of the printing industry that doesn’t exist today. I worked for a lithographic trade shop. If you look at any printed image it’s made up of dots, in one of four colors, yellow, magenta, cyan or black. We took images, converted them to dots, added the copy, laid in color backgrounds all of that, for lots and lots of money and built ads, catalogs, anything that had to be printed. Any ten year old can do the same thing on a computer using Photoshop today. The industry I was in disappeared, almost over night. But, that said, those same technological advances allow me to publish electronically. If Russian Roulette, or Mr. Softee were accepted by a publisher today, it would be the better part of a year before the book would be available to ship. A year, in today’s world? That just doesn’t compute. Plus, it would cost close to four times the cost of an eBook. So, I was in the litho trades, then sold these great designer cakes so you could send a cake across country for someone’s birthday or a meeting, or even a party in your home. Let’s just say it was an idea before it’s time.
8 How did you meet your wife? We love romance.
Even I will say it’s romantic, but screwy. We were both bouncing back from failed relationships. She’d sworn off men and I’d sworn off nice women. A friend and his wife were going toDublinfor a week on business. They had room in their B&B and offered to host me for three days so I went over. My wife had been hit by a car about six weeks earlier and although she wasn’t hospitalized she was on crutches. The night I met her she was out with a girlfriend for the first time in six weeks. I was dancing with a woman in this dance hall inDublin, sometime after midnight, feeling no pain. Unbeknownst to me, my future wife had words with this woman about sitting in a chair too close to the dance floor. I mean she was on crutches for God’s sake. Anyway, I’m dancing, working my magic on this woman and suddenly this voice says ‘What are you dancing with that old prostitute, when there are good looking girls like me here?’ Then I see her fleeing into the crowd on her crutches so after the song I wade into the crowd. This blond head pops out of the door of the ladies room and she’s on crutches. I asked if she had said something to me and she responded she may have. She didn’t know I was an American. We started talking, closed the place, I walked her to her girlfriends car, gave her a kiss goodnight and it was electric. Like out of the movies, and I was toast. I phoned her the next day, we met for coffee about noon, I spent the afternoon and evening with her, until midnight, fell more and more under her spell. I put her in a taxi and was on a flight back to theUSthe following morning. About a week later, the bank had lost my deposit. My book keeper’s name was Teresa, same as my wife, and my receptionist called out ‘Teresa on line one’. I picked up the phone and growled ‘Now what?’ and this gorgeous Irish voice said, ‘Hi I wondered if you would ever consider coming back to Dublin sometime?’ I thought, why not, booked a flight for the following weekend and we dated for seven years like that. I don’t want to sound prejudice but every guy needs a good woman, we just do. My wife is good to me and good for me. I have to say all our wedding pictures look like father daughter dance, she’s gorgeous and I’m well, me. But I got her. Before I asked her to marry me I flew toNew York City, her daughter, my stepdaughter worked there. I met her in Grand Central station, I had the ring in my pocket. We were at an outdoor restaurant and she was nice and patient with me but you could tell there was this thought like, Oh great, I’m giving up a half day of vacation to be with my Mom’s boyfriend! Anyway, we order wine, this woman across the way is looking at us as if to say what is that poor girl doing with that dreadful man? I ask my step daughter for her mother’s hand and she starts to cry, happy tears I might add. I take the ring out to show her, and she tries it on, all teary eyed, this old bat across the way screeches as if to say, someone do something. Irish women have this deal, you slip on someone’s engagement ring, turn it three times and you can wish for anything but man or money. My stepdaughter took me to about 30 different pubs where Irish girls were working and they all did it. By the time I put the ring on my wife’s finger between the women in my family, my step daughter, all these Irish bartenders girls, something upwards of fifty women had tried the ring on.
9 Tell us about your part time home in Dublin, Ireland.
We live on the north side ofDublinin an area called Glasnevin, actually. It’s close to DCU,DublinCityUniversity, in case any of your readers may have taken a semester there. We have a typicalDublinhome. Two stories, attached, one of four, rough stucco exterior that they call pebble and dash. I think I’ve painted the place inside and out at least twice. That’s okay. Nice neighbors, low garden walls around every property, if you’ve ever been there you know they’re big on walls. We walk a lot, use public transport, Double Decker buses. You can always grab a taxi. I really like it, but after a few months I begin to miss my immediate family, it sounds romantic and it is, but it can be difficult. We live in our separate locales and travel to one another’s homes. But things happen during our apart time, my wife has a good friend who has been ill, I’m not going be there when that comes to its conclusion, that’s really tough. My writing days there are perfect. My wife leaves for work at 8:30, I write, without so much as a phone call interrupting until about 4:30, then I get dinner ready. After a few weeks of my cooking, my says she’ll do dinner and then I can write until 5:15.
10 What’s your favorite Southern food?
A favorite Southern food, I have too many to mention. I love hush puppies but I’ve never had any that were decent north of the Mason Dixon line. I had crawdad’s inLouisiana, way west out in Welsh, La, absolutely fantastic. Of course Shrimp Etouffee, with cousins inNew Orleans, I could eat that til I burst. I’ve had the best fried chicken ever, inGeorgia, at a family dinner inMacon. Probably the best BBQ I had was inNew Bern,North Carolina. They roasted the pork over a large fire pit. I think they started the hard wood fires at about three in the morning, absolutely fantastic. Big bowls of sauce that they periodically slathered over the pork, when it was finished it simply fell off the bones. I’ve been know to be a bit of a piggy when it comes to pecan or key lime pie. Of course I’d be remiss if I didn’t give a nod to Dixie Beer and Markers Mark bourbon. I know theDixiebrewery fell on some hard times after Katrina, but there’s always hope.
11 How did you become involved in bag piping?
Hard to believe but I always liked the music and it was one of those times in my life where you just say to yourself either put up or shut up. I took lessons and learned how to play. It really opened up another world for me, music. I’d never played in a band or anything before. I play with the Brian Boru Irish Pipe Band, a really good bunch of people. We’re probably about as tight as anyone in a military unit or work team that’s together for a long time. Along with playing, and we do a lot of that, it’s also a social network. It’s multi generational so it has allowed me to have good social friends who are older or younger than me. It’s not uncommon to get a call from some young pals saying they are down at a pub playing, come on down, bring my pipes and join them. We have a great time, plus, once you get past Amazing Grace, who knows if you made a mistake? And besides, I get to wear a skirt, oops, I mean a kilt around town. One St. Patrick’s Day we were the poster forCoronabeer, all over theUS, another odd little claim to fame, there.
12 What’s next in your writing career?
I’m currently working on another Dev Haskell story. He’s got a psychotic girlfriend and is involved with a far right radio station. I don’t have a title for it, yet. I expect that to be back from my editor by the end of July. I’m toying with doing a collection of short stories featuring a guy from Mr. Softee, Tony ‘Dog’ Colli, a rather rough pal of Dev’s. Although I seem to be able to work on just one project at a time, I’ve always got them sort of stacked up, circling in a holding pattern. When I write I work it to finish, then let it sit for a month. Work on something else, then come back to the project that’s been sitting, tear it apart, redo, get it perfect, then send it off to my editor so she can show me all my screw ups. No matter how hard I try it seems once the book is available, there, right in the middle of page one I’ve done something clever like misspell my name.
Hey Maggie, special thanks to all your readers for making it this far as I drone on, and on, and on. I’d like to offer a free copy of Russian Roulette to everyone. If they’ll contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org we can get a coupon out to them for a free download. If anyone is ever up in St Paul or heading over toDublin please look me up. Many thanks for your time, happy reading and hopefully we can do this again, all the best.