Welcome to Dames of Dialogue, Richard. Let’s start with the basics. How long have you been writing and where do you get your ideas?
Since 1994. I commuted by train for years. I read newspapers in the morning and mystery/suspense novels on the trip home. When I read a newspaper story about a father who refused to take his child home from the hospital because the newborn was diagnosed with a brain impairment, it struck a nerve. I asked myself, “What if the baby was misdiagnosed?”
With that question as a plot line, I began making notes. The notes turned into paragraphs and the paragraphs into chapters. Thus, my first book, The Nurse Wore Black, was born. (This book has been rewritten and re-titled Secrets Can Be Deadly and is part of my Murder at the Jersey Shore trilogy with my detective David Nance.)
Diamonds are for Stealing, the second book in the Murder at the Jersey Shore trilogy also came from a newspaper article about a robbery at a jewelry store where the owner pulled a gun and accidentally killed his wife while firing at the robber. I asked myself, “Accident or planned murder?”
Murder on the Links, the third book in this trilogy came from stories about stock market fraud and the mobsters that perpetrated the fraud.
What interesting concepts, Richard. I really like the one for Diamonds are for Stealing. Who has been the biggest influence in your writing career and why?
I had read the entire Bret Halliday, Mike Shayne mystery series during my commutes. He wrote fast moving short chapters, brisk snappy dialogue and just enough setting to put you in the scene. I liked that style and emulated it in my books. I even used that style in my historical fiction novel, Silk Legacy, in contrast to many historical fiction novels that can have long chapters and tedious stretches of dialogue.
That’s the type of writing I like to read – fast-moving and not overly narrated or dialogued. What is your strongest area in the creative process?
I find creating characters in conflict to be my strongest asset. Wondering how the characters resolve their conflicts keeps the reader turning the pages.
For example, in a murder mystery solving the crime is obviously the prime impetus of the novel. But does the detective have to be a mind numb robot gathering and dissecting clues? To me he needs to be real which is what I made David Nance in my Murder at the Jersey Shore trilogy.
I think I succeeded because one reviewer wrote, “What really grabbed me, though, was watching the hero deal with his issues, eventually with a measure of success, while his girlfriend dealt with …him …and her issues involving him.”
In Silk Legacy the conflicts are between brother vs brother and husband vs wife.
In Beyond Guilty the conflict is introspective. The character is responsible for her sister’s death and tries to overcome her quilt.
In Keiretsu, my latest novel, the major conflict is between father vs son.
As usual, Keiretsu is “ripped from the headlines.” Over the past few years many articles have been written about China’s growing military might and how China is increasingly antagonizing its Asian neighbors. Lately, one of China’s more vigorous confrontations is with Japan.
Historically, in the 750 years of hostilities between China and Japan, China has never successfully attacked Japan while Japan has defiled China with the Rape of Nanking for which Japan has never apologized.
In reading the articles I again formulated questions, a few of which are:
Will China, when it feels it is militarily strong enough eventually exact its revenge on Japan?
Will Japan continue to put its defense in the hands of the U.S. even though Japan is well aware China is developing “carrier killing cruise missiles” and a huge army that could counter U.S. forces?
Considering Nagasaki, Hiroshima and now the Fukushima nuclear plant melt-down will Japan’s government build nuclear weapons? Will the people protest? Are the people in a state of denial about China’s threat?
What will the U.S. do when they discover Japan is building nuclear weapons?
And the biggest question of all, was there a novel in these newspaper stories?
I formed a plot: While the United States is focused on diffusing Iran’s and North Korea’s nuclear weapons’ programs, the ultra-nationalist CEOs of Japan’s eight largest Keiretsus (conglomerates) form a cabal to use some of the shuttered nuclear power plants to secretly enrich uranium to bomb grade and develop nuclear weapons as a deterrent to China and a clandestine PAC (political action committee) within the U.S. to donate heavily to congressmen and senators to thwart the expected U.S. cease and desist demands.
But what could I do to make this read like a novel rather than a treatise on Japan/China relations?
The Japanese Nagoyas
Toshio Nagoya―ANTAGONIST. Ultra-nationalist CEO of Japan’s largest keiretsu; chairman of the Cabal. He needs his cousin, John, to fulfill his plot but he questions his cousin’s loyalty because, although his cousin is 100% Japanese, John was not born in the land of the “true gods.”
Michiko Nagoya―Toshio’s wife stuck in a loveless marriage.
Ogato Nagoya―Toshio’s and Michiko’s son; his primary goal is to garner praise from his father; works in America as liaison between Toshio and John; obsessed with Gingi from the first day he saw her.
The American Nagoyas
John Nagoya―Second generation Japanese American; Toshio’s cousin; he seeks revenge against his country because at the age of nine he watched a mob beat his parents to death after their release from the internment camps; a lawyer, he aligns with Toshio and forms the PAC. Never accepted his son-in-law.
Yoshi Nagoya―John’s wife. Loves everything American.
Gingi Nagoya Morrison―John and Yoshi’s daughter; married to Danny Morrison; despises Ogato.
Roger Nagoya―John and Yoshi’s son. With John away on business for long periods of time, Yoshi raised Roger and Gingi with every advantage wealthy American parents could give their children. Roger is the PROTAGONIST in conflict with his father.
Senator Ted Morrison―Powerful Senator; avid fighter against foreign companies donating money to America’s politicians and PACs.
Sandy Morrison―Ted’s wealthy, socialite wife; enamored by her husband’s powerful position in the Senate; never accepted Gingi as her daughter-in-law.
Danny Morrison―Ted and Sandy’s son born with a “silver spoon in his mouth”; not fond of working; likes to race sailboats and stock cars; married to Gingi Nagoya.
Douglas Welfield―Sandy Morrison’s brother; state party chairman; does a lot of business with the Japanese auto manufacturers; grudgingly supports Ted; but not enamored with his brother-in-law’s political policies toward foreign countries.
Imagine the conflicts: Conspiracy, lust, infidelity, treachery, betrayal and murder.
Sounds intriguing and very realistic, especially considering today’s unstable world. Promotion is big―and usually the most hated―part of being a writer. Can you share a little bit about how you promote
For an author published by an independent publisher, getting reviews from mass market reviewers is extremely difficult although I keep trying. Since Keiretus is unique in that the plot has yet to be discovered by the best-selling authors, I have sent advance review copies to a few major reviewers with a letter explaining how current the plot is, and that the book is not self published, but I’ll still be surprised if one of them does review it.
Thus I continue to promote my books through interviews on blogs such as yours. Also, there are many interactive sites on the internet where you can join the discussions. Like all advertising, repetition is the key. Keep your name in front of readers by participating in those discussions. Sooner or later people will say, let me try one of his books. This brings me to the next question:
Very good answer. I agree with what you say. What do you consider the single most satisfying aspect of being a writer?
Getting positive reviews from readers. Reviews from readers who recommend my books to other readers is the best form of flattery. For example here are some comments posted on Amazon for my last two books:
Silk Legacy, my historical fiction novel. “Magnificent Characters” “Remarkable Storytelling” “A Tribulation of Yesteryear” “Vivid Enticing Characters” “An Absorbing Page Turner of a Novel” “Realistic Dialogue” “The fictional family is made up of flesh-and-blood characters. They laugh, love, argue, fight, and have adulterous affairs.”
Beyond Guilty, a suspense novel. “Twisting Action” “Thought Provoking” “A Fast paced Thriller” “Sympathetic Engaging Character” “Authentic Dialogue” “Complex Characters” “Spirited Prose” “A Real Winner” “A Damn Good Story” “Don’t go in expecting stereotypes because you won’t find them.”
Well, you can’t ask for better reviews than that, IMO. What’s your attitude toward the standard advice: write what you know?
I don’t believe “write what you know” is all that important. With the proper research you can write about any subject. For example, I was born in Paterson, NJ, the center of America’s silk industry in the early twentieth century. My family moved away when I was eleven.
When I read an article in the paper about an historian giving a lecture on the silk industry and a tour of Paterson’s historic silk district I was curious and went to the event. As I listened, Silk Legacy formed in my mind. I took a lot of notes, but not enough to truly understand the era. So I did research on line and by going back to Paterson and reading old newspaper stories. I picked out the events I wanted to use in my story and created the characters and the book.
In Beyond Guilty I had read about nano-medicine and thought it might be interesting to incorporate in the book. Again I researched it and even e-mailed an expert. The expert was very gracious and ended up writing an essay at the end of the book on the advancements in nano-medicine.
In my mystery novels, I did kind of write what I knew. They are set at the north Jersey Shore where I live. Still I had to research the details behind the motives for the murders. For example in my mystery, Murder Goes Round and Round, I decided to make an antique carousel the motive for the murder, but I knew nothing about antique carousels so I researched them.
Thus writing what you know is not as important a creating the characters to fit your plot, and I repeat, CHARACTERS IN CONFLICT.
Having recently spent over 3 years researching a book with my sister, I am in complete agreement with your answer. I really like that we can now realistically write about subjects we’re not initially familiar with. Are you in a critique group? If so how does it work and specifically how do the members help your writing?
I am in a critique group. We meet once a month and submit part of our current work. We write out our critiques and discuss them at the next meeting. The most important aspects you can find in a critique group is one where you will get honest feedback on character development, dialogue, voice, plot, conflict and setting. But don’t automatically take anyone’s critique as gospel. Remember, it’s your story. Analyze the critiques to see if they have merit.
My group has six writers. If one person criticizes something then of course I consider it, but I may or may not take it as valid. But if three or four in the group say the same thing about a segment then I take it under serious consideration.
I’ve always said critique groups are as strong as their most negative member and it’s important to pick one that fits you. Describe your writing process once you sit down to write―or the preliminaries.
First: I form the plot along with the ending of the story. In the mysteries it’s naturally “who-done-it.” In the historical fiction novel it’s the resolution between the characters. And in the suspense novels it’s how to the protagonist gets out of peril.
Second: I create my characters―their looks, quirks, and their experiences in life that affect their personalities and the way they react to events. (See Keiretsu above)
Third: I create a very rough outline as to how the story will progress from beginning to end. Note I said very rough as this changes as the story evolves.
Fourth: I try to create a captivating opening chapter such as finding the body in the mysteries, putting the protagonist in jeopardy in the suspense novel and creating the conflict in the historical fiction.
Finally: I write from my opening chapter to the conclusion of the story. I strive to take the reader on a journey that is never a straight line, but more like the line of a gyrating stock market. I place red herrings in my mysteries, adventure and jeopardy in my suspense novels and many setbacks in my historical fiction novel. However, one thing remains constant―there is always CONFLICT. The most important aspect of a novel is the conflict between the characters. Without conflict there is no story.
Thanks, Richard, for such an interesting interview. More info about Richard and his books follow:
Richard Brawer writes mystery, suspense and historical fiction novels. When not writing, he spends his time sailing, growing roses and researching New Jersey history. He has two married daughters and lives in New Jersey with his wife.
You can read the book jackets, excerpts, reviews and more about Richard at: www.silklegacy.com.
His back list, Murder at the Jersey Shore trilogy, Silk Legacy, and Murder Goes Round and Round are sold through Kindle or any e-reader that can access Amazon e-books.
Beyond Guilty is available wherever books are sold whether in print or e-book.
Keiretsu, coming out the end of November, 2012 will also be available wherever books are sold whether in print or e-book.
If you are interested in the print versions of Beyond Guilty and Keiretsu, you can order them on line from sites like Amazon.com. However, as with most books published by independent publishers, bookstores will not stock these books, but they can order them for you.
A word from Richard about electronic publishing
Although I do not own an e-reader, I find e-readers to be the most important invention in publishing since the printing press. Before e-books the only books we could read were the ones the big publishers “chose” for us to read. Those books were selected by the publisher based on the publisher’s idea of what the greatest number of readers would like, in other words sales.
I wrote my first books with that same thought in mind. Now with the ability to publish myself as an e-book, not only can I publish my back list, I can write what I like. If I can’t find an interested publisher, so be it. My book will still be available to those who like my subject.
Currently Richard is working on The Bishop Committee set in 2004. With the demise of the Cold War Congress guts the defense budget to fund special interest causes. Obsessed with the idea that a weak military threatens the existence of their country, The Bishop Committee, a Vietnam era military-industrial cabal is resurrected to sell U.S. made weapons to Chechen terrorists.
The cabal’s mission is to make the Russians believe the United States is backing the Chechen uprising and then Russia will start the Cold war again.
Jason Sorren, head council for Rathborn United Industries, uncovers chilling evidence that will expose the conspirators and is relentlessly pursued to retrieve it. When his traditionalist Quaker girlfriend is drawn into the carnage, her insular life is thrown into turmoil.
Jason’s quest to expose the conspirators and rescue his girlfriend from despair make The Bishop Committee an emotionally-charged