An Interview with J.M. Richardson

An Interview with J.M. Richardson

Today it is my pleasure to bring you an interview with a talented author, and all round nice-guy, only too happy to work with me in reviewing his books and being accommodating enough to take part in this interview. Please be upstanding and welcoming to J.M. Richardson! Richardson is the author of The Twenty-Nine, A Line in the Sand, The Apocalypse Mechanism and his upcoming release, The Barataria Key – out on December 21st 2016.

Richardson and I crossed paths when he stopped by Books and Beyond Reviews, and asked if I would review The Barataria Key. Having read the blurb, I jumped at the chance, and when I discovered it was book two of a series, I had to buy the first part. You’ll find my review of The Barataria Key on the blog soon, but in the meantime you can check out my review of The Apocalypse Mechanism. Now, lets meet the man behind the books!

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Books and Beyond Reviews: Welcome to Books and Beyond Reviews, and thank you for joining us for this interview. We would love to start out by getting to know you a bit better, so first up – who is your favourite author?

J.M. Richardson: I always have a hard time picking a favourite anything—colours, songs, movies, books. I have a handful of favourites. I’ve always liked John Steinbeck and Stephen King. I enjoy the imagination of Michael Crichton. I’m currently reading George R. R. Martin and loving it. But I think one of my all-time favourite writers is Anne Rice. It doesn’t hurt that she also uses New Orleans as the backdrop for much of her storytelling. She’s so imaginative and writes beautifully. She seduces you into her world like the vampires she creates.

BaBR: E-readers seem to be on the rise, allowing hundreds of books to be carried in a small, portable device. They seem to be loved and hated in equal measure. Do you see them as a positive step in the evolution of books?

JMR: I think they’re convenient. I’ve never really gotten into it. I’m one of those people who likes the page and binding. I like lugging around a bulky book to read in the waiting room of the doctor’s office, and I know I’m not alone. But I can see the benefit of having a hundred books in one lightweight device. I think paper and print will always exist, so I don’t know that I’d call this evolution. I think the invention of the e-reader has done more to evolve the industry. Big publishing houses with literary agents as the gatekeepers…that was the standard. As soon as Amazon and Barnes and Noble launched their ebook self-publishing projects, it was off to the races. Every aspiring writer in the world uploaded and were finally able to call themselves authors. Is this a good step? I don’t know. I think there are pros and cons. We have gotten to see some great work from some undiscovered authors, and frankly, they might never have been discovered. It’s damn near impossible to woo a literary agent. Sometimes it’s not even about the quality of your writing. It’s about your pitch. Then again, without any vetting from agents and publishers, unfortunately, there have been a lot of bad ebooks to come out. Bad writing with no editing. I’m not sure if there has been any detriment to the publishing/writing world from this. Perhaps the bad ebooks detract from the good ones. I could see a great ebook author getting less respect because of the rubbish that gets uploaded alongside it. I could see people making false assumptions that being self-published means that you’re not good enough for Random House to pick you up. Fortunately for me and many of my contemporaries, the ebook wave has sparked a publishing revolution where small publishing houses like mine have popped up all over to challenge the industry giants. There’s no need for an agent anymore. And these are traditional publishers operating with less capital, but with professional editors and smart business plans, they’re really challenging the big houses and offering an opportunity to people like me who have found it impossible to find an agent.

BaBR: When the spark of an idea for a new book pops up in your mind how do you approach it?

JMR: When I suddenly have a cool new idea for a book, it’s exciting. So I can’t wait to get it onto the page. But of course it’s more complicated than that. Honestly, I’ve found that the best thing to do is to just jump right into it. I write a first chapter or prologue to set the stage. I want it to be intriguing and to spark the imagination, not just for some future reader. It’s for me, as well. I’m trying to inspire myself. I’ll usually get two or three chapters into the book before I sit down and plan anything. And even then, it’s very bare-bones planning. I know where the story starts, where it ends, and usually a few milestones in between to give it backbone. But as I plan chapters, I’m just jotting down goals in the development of the story. The action is the product of spontaneity. All dialogue is spur-of-the-moment. Emotions are too. The actions of the characters are impulsive so the plot is driven by in-the-moment decision making. I choose their paths as if I were there making those decisions. To me, I feel that all of this gives the characters a realistic quality. This is how we all operate—organisms navigating life as we respond to our environment. So I approach my story and my characters this way with some structure to the plot along the way.

BaBR: And just before we talk about your books, tell us an interesting fact about yourself.

JMR: Normally, my answer to that question anywhere else is that I’m an author. I have a lot of interests. I’ve played guitar most of my life—my other passion. But probably the thing that people might find most interesting is that I like to brew beer. I have a small craft brewing operation set up in my garage. I’ve made everything from oatmeal blonde ales to my most recent pumpkin porter. I have a couple of beer enthusiast friends that come over and help me. We sit around, brew, and sample whatever obscure craft beers we all contribute to the table, and enjoy one another’s company. A few weeks later, I keg it, tap it, and enjoy with friends and family. (As a lover of a good craft beer, and American beers in particular, this answer is a winner! – BaBR)

BaBR: Now, on to your books – The Apocalypse Mechanism, and The Barataria Key which I am half-way through. In both The Apocalypse Mechanism and The Barataria Key, you deal with historic events. Although I felt both books were in some ways reminiscent of Dan Brown’s Robert Langdon series of books, the historic events are more obscure. Was that intentional?

JMR: To a degree. I’ll write about anything that intrigues me. It could be that later on, I’ll take on some bigger, more known events. My goal is to tell a unique story. In one way, I do like to tell some obscure, little known story. That was the case with The Apocalypse Mechanism. But The Barataria Key deals with Jean Lafitte, who isn’t very well known outside of Louisiana, but having grown up near New Orleans, Lafitte was always something of a folk hero. He was our very own local pirate, and even more, he helped General Jackson win the Battle of New Orleans in 1815. Since I was a kid, I had always been fascinated with him. When I was about thirteen I wrote a short story that involved him. So I had a lot of fun writing The Barataria Key. For me, and for Louisiana natives, it’s not so obscure. I guess I just wanted to share Lafitte with the world. Whether I write about little known history or something well known, the fun of it is playing with those events. I like to toy with the narrative; change things up a bit. I like to reimagine how people or places really were. I want to fabricate connections and ask, “what if?” I try to create an alternative history. That’s easy. Who knows if what we know about history is accurate? It’s fun to create your own version. Don’t politicians do this all the time?

BaBR: There is a clear and deep historic seam running through both The Apocalypse Mechanism and The Barataria Key. Would you consider yourself a history buff, or was there a lot of research needed for the history elements in both books?

JMR: Both. I’m an educator by trade, and my original focus was history. I have always been fascinated with history and archaeology; to imagine how people of old might have lived. So you might imagine that I’ve compiled a lot of knowledge. This often becomes the inspiration for a story, but I always have to dig deeper if I want the story to be any good. I hate being inaccurate. You can’t speculate and toy with the historical narrative until you’ve gotten the facts right. For example, in The Barataria Key, I had to do an immense amount of research on Mayan history and culture, from their gods to their architecture and language patterns. I already knew a lot of this, but I don’t want to get things wrong. And I want it to be detailed. It would drive me nuts to get something wrong. And I have a vested interest in not appearing to be a fool. I try my best to get it right, and then I can have my fun. (I can confirm just how factual Richardson’s work is here. History is a love of mine, so I googled the pirate Jean Laffite early on in my read of The Barataria Key, and was ecstatic to find so much of the fact presented in the book is spot on! – BaBR)

BaBR: The Barataria Key is largely set in and around the Gulf of Mexico. As a Louisiana-native yourself was this intended, or a coincidence brought about by making Jean Laffite the historic focus of this book?

JMR: As you know, I introduced James Beauregard as a New Orleans native and descendent of a well-known American Civil War general. New Orleans history is something of a speciality of mine, and the city itself is probably my favourite place on earth. Nowhere on earth is quite like it. There is a blend of French and Spanish charm with Caribbean flavor that manifests itself in the food, the aromas, and even the way people talk in New Orleans. You always hear people say that you should write what you know. I know New Orleans, Louisiana, and the Gulf South. I would say that my urge to write about my home gave rise to my decision to write about Lafitte.

BaBR: Would you consider these two books to be at all influenced by the work of Dan Brown, and like his books, will this be a Dr James Beauregard trilogy?

JMR: I don’t think so. I’ve read Dan Brown’s earlier Robert Langdon books, and really liked them, but I didn’t set out to emulate him or his stories. Rather, I had been drawn to his books because I already held interest in that kind of fiction. Really, Brown is one in a long line of artists to have used similar plots and archetypes. I always loved Indiana Jones, which was based on adventure serials of the 1930s. I loved those movies because they dealt with history and archaeology. When I write, I’m cognisant of the similarities between my books and Dan Brown or Indiana Jones. Even James Rollins or Brad Meltzer. I don’t want to be just like them, but I enjoy that kind of storytelling, so I would say that I fall into the genre, rather than being directly inspired.

I actually plan to write many more Beauregard books.

BaBR: Is Dr James Beauregard based on yourself or anyone you have come across?

JMR: James is part me, but he takes from several different people I know. He’s such a mess! Emotionally, he definitely has issues, and I wanted him to. My publisher was worried he was so messed up that no one would like him. He actually had to be tamed down. I fought like hell to retain as many of those imperfections as I could. I included in him some of my darker demons, and some lent to me by others I know. Writing is therapy for me.

BaBR: Are you currently working on a book, and if so, can you tell us anything about it?

JMR: I am currently working on the third James Beauregard book. I have an idea for a change in the story line that would completely alter what we know about James. It would also open the door for as many books I want to write about him. For now, I’m calling the new book The Keepers. Look for murder, mystery, and terrorism, all set in merry old London.

Thanks for taking the time to share some of your thoughts with us here at Books and Beyond. As an Englishman living just a 40-minute train ride from London, I will look forward to The Keepers and hope to snag myself a review copy!

You can connect and keep up to date with what J.M. Richardson is up to on his website, Goodreads, Facebook and Twitter.

 

An Interview with Douglas Cavanaugh

An Interview with Douglas Cavanaugh

I am very pleased to bring you all my second author interview. I have the pleasure of introducing first-time author Douglas Cavanaugh, author of the Yugoslavian war era thriller, Into Hell’s Fire.

Into Hell’s Fire is a gritty thriller set in Sarajevo and the Former Yugoslavia during the time of intense civil war. It’s dark and pacey, and if you want to find out more, you can find my review here at Books and Beyond reviews. So without further ado, let’s get to know the man behind the book, Douglas Cavanaugh.

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Books and Beyond Reviews: Thanks for taking the time to answer some questions. First off, we’d like to learn a little more about you. Who is your favourite author?

Douglas Cavanaugh: I’ve always appreciated the writing of Walter Tevis. He had an ability to say a lot in his writing without wasting words which I admire very much. He also had an uncanny ability to captivate a reader’s attention even though the subject matter of his book’s plot may not have been in reader’s area of interest (i.e. pool, chess).

I also hold John Grisham in high regard for his story-telling versatility. After writing a hugely successful string of legal thrillers in the 90s, he switched gears and wrote an excellent novel of another genre called ‘A Painted House’ which left me very impressed.

And finally, I am an avid reader of fellow native Iowan Bill Bryson’s books. They never fail to entertain me.

BaBR: When you were writing Into Hell’s Fire, did you steer the story from start to finish, or did the character’s personalities take the wheel and drag you along for the ride?

DC: I must admit, when I committed to writing Into Hell’s Fire, I had no idea what the hell I was doing – and I certainly hope it doesn’t show. Before I started, I read a book about how to write a novel but after having finished it, I felt I’d gained little knowledge from it. In the end, I decided to do it the way that made the most sense to me. I made a chapter by chapter outline, and then began writing from the first page until the very last. Then I altered the final rough draft and added some miscellaneous chapters where needed after discussing the manuscript with some trusted beta readers.

BaBR: Are eBooks dangerous to physical books, or do you perceive them as a gateway to getting more people into reading?

DC: eBooks are becoming more popular, and they are a cheaper way for readers to acquire and read more books. In fact, members who belong to the Amazon Kindle Lending Library, can access books for free, and I am happy to offer Into Hell’s Fire on this platform. I absolutely view eBooks as a gateway for getting more people into reading because of this. However, physical books have a very loyal reader base, and I don’t see them disappearing anytime soon. I am familiar with many book reviewers to this day who accept only hard copy books for review. Sales of Into Hell’s Fire seem to be about 50/50 in terms of eBook vs. physical copies sold.

BaBR: Can you tell us one interesting fact about yourself that not a lot of people know.

DC: I quit watching television almost ten years ago, though I do watch occasional cartoons and old, classic programs with my young daughter. I haven’t stopped watching movies altogether, either. But when I’m alone, the television is always turned off. Time is a commodity and I discovered I was able to get much more accomplished after I quit wasting my time watching television.

BaBR: Thanks for that, Douglas. Now let’s discus your book, Into Hell’s Fire. How did you come about with the idea for Into Hell’s Fire? Was it the result of being immersed in the culture and people who lived through the war when you moved to Croatia?

DC: Certainly, the impression made by the culture and people who had endured the war in Bosnia and Croatia played a role in my book’s plot, particularly in the aspect of characterisation. But because the story is purely a fictional account, there are no actual anecdotes or events described in the story. However, tidbits of personal conversations with friends and acquaintances that participated in or survived the fighting did encourage me to take the plot in certain directions.

The initial idea for Into Hell’s Fire’s plot of developed spontaneously and less dramatically. As a matter of fact, my novel was conceived on an overnight ferry trip I took with my parents from Rijeka to Dubrovnik, Croatia in 1997. Sometime on a warm, early summer afternoon, my father and I were sharing a beer on the ferry’s open deck and absorbing the sun. Since the war had ended less than eighteen months earlier, there were still quite a few NATO and U.N. personnel active in the area. On that particular journey, a man dressed in all black and wearing dark sunglasses was seated nearby. He was alone and spent a lot of time speaking in several different languages to several contacts using a cumbersome, early model mobile phone, probably via a satellite connection, I speculated. Though I couldn’t understand any of what was being discussed, out of curiosity, I eavesdropped sporadically on his conversations. I had no idea who this man was – he could have simply been a tour guide or a ferry company official for all I knew, but it did get my imagination working. Who was this guy? Who was he talking to? Why was he speaking in so many languages? Who was he working for? Readers will definitely pick up on this detail at some point when reading the book. After splitting another beer, the genesis of Into Hell’s Fire’s plot emerged. That detail stayed in my mind for another six years until I finally started writing the book.

BaBR: Did the idea for this book come from a desire to bring attention to what went on, given so many people aren’t fully aware of the atrocities that lead to the disintegration of the Former Republic of Yugoslavia?

DC: No. Details concerning war atrocities were provided in the story solely in support of the main plot, which was set during the Siege of Sarajevo’s early stages. I tried to take care not to hinder the progress of the action by dwelling too much on the war yet the plot was set within the backdrop of the fighting so war atrocities were mentioned and incorporated into the story.

As much as I hope some good came from bringing some modest attention to the tragedies that took place in ex-Yugoslavia during the early 1990s, I cannot say the idea for writing Into Hell’s Fire was intended to fulfil that desire. Quite the contrary really, as the main idea for the book was far simpler and competitive in nature. As it happened, I was spending a lot of time on international flights in the late 1990s and passed much of the transit time reading novels. As a result of finishing too many highly praised books which I personally felt were undeserving; I set out to write an action/thriller novel that could equal or surpass those that I felt didn’t measure up. I won’t name names, but more than a few were written by well-established, big name authors in the same genre. Whether I achieved my goal or not isn’t for me to say. That will be left to readers of Into Hell’s Fire to decide.

BaBR: You moved to Croatia not too long after the end of hostilities, in 1996. How did arriving so soon after, and your interactions with veterans and survivors, help to shape the book and your characters?

DC: I did get firsthand experience of dealing with former soldiers and civilian survivors of the war, many of whom were suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome. The city in which I live was never directly touched by the war, yet many people were affected indirectly. Some had lost friends and relatives who lived in the war-torn areas. Others had lost their homes and personal property, and many others had been forced to relocate, often with little or no money to live on. I tried to sufficiently present the unseen side effects war brings to the civilian population to readers, many of whom may not fully understand the ramifications and consequences that war produces. Even so, I suppose one really can’t appreciate the suffering caused by war on other people in some distant land until they have been personally affected by it.

BaBR: Do you feel the world learned from the events in the Former Yugoslavia, or are events in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan history repeating itself?

DC: Well, I’m sure that some people, somewhere in the world, learned some valuable lessons. But I’m less positive that people around the world in general learned much at all. The headlines in today’s news seem to feature different names and locations but the story is pretty much the same. I’m no geopolitical specialist, but if one were to study human behaviour throughout history, it does appear that there are patterns which seem to repeat.

BaBR: Do you have plans for future books, and if so, will they follow a similar idea or genre, or are you looking to try your hand with something different?

DC: I have recently passed the half-way point of my second novel. I decided to switch genres and try something new to keep things fresh and challenging. I also switched from writing in the third to first person point of view, which is a whole new test. There will even be an element of romance in this new story, albeit a minor one, which will test my abilities in another realm of writing. This new effort is primarily set in my home state of Iowa. As it turns out, I first contemplated writing a novel when I lived in Iowa many years ago. At the time, nothing seemed interesting enough to write about on my home turf, and it took a move to another part of the world to stimulate my imagination enough to attempt such a daunting project. Now, ironically, after having completed my first book, interesting ideas to write about in my home state are flowing freely, and I’m still on the other side of the world.


Thanks very much to Douglas for taking time out to answer these questions for me.

You can also connect with Douglas via his website and Goodreads pages.

An Interview with Thomas Mullen

An Interview with Thomas Mullen

I am very pleased to introduce yet another new feature for Books and Beyond Reviews – the all-new An Interview With… segment. Here, I hope to bring you short Q and A-style interviews with authors of books featured and reviewed here on the blog.

And I am very lucky to have the author of The Last Town on Earth, The Many Deaths of the Firefly Brothers, The Revisionists and the upcoming Darktown. Darktown comes out on 13th September 2016, when you’ll also be able to read my review for this dark, brooding and thought-provoking story.

Until then, let’s get to know a little more about the man behind the words, Thomas Mullen.

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Thomas Mullen. Image © Jeff Roffman

Books and Beyond Reviews: Thanks for taking the time to answer some questions. First off, we’d like to learn a little more about you. Do you write in silence or prefer to have background music/sound?

Thomas Mullen: Silence is best. That said, I do have two little boys, so it’s not always so quiet at Casa Mullen. I venture at least weekly to work in a coffeeshop as a change of pace, which is a risk, as I’m subjected to whatever they’re playing. I’ve learned to be able to write in pretty much any environment, although there was this one time when a coffeeshop played hair metal bands from the ‘80s, and outside the window a construction crew was jackhammering the sidewalk—I didn’t get much done that time.

BaBR: When writing which do you prefer to use: pen, typewriter or computer?

TM: Computer. C’mon, it’s 2016.

BaBR: What is your personal preference when reading: a print book or eBook?

TM: Print

BaBR: Many “purists” feel eReaders are detrimental to the world of books and writing. Where do you sit on this debate?

TM: I’ve decided to stop worrying about this. I myself read a lot on my phone, but only newspapers and online stories, never a book. But if it’s what some people prefer, and it helps them read, then go for it.

BaBR: Tell us one unusual fact or talent about yourself that not many people know.

TM: I can travel through time.

BaBR: Now, onto the matter in hand – Darktown, your new book comes out on September 13th. It seems a very apt book to have written given recent issues around the world involving race and police. Was this ever a factor in your mind when you came up with the idea for this story, or is it a subject you have wanted to explore for some time?

TM: I actually started writing this book about four years ago, and I was finishing the first draft when Michael Brown was killed by police in Ferguson, Missouri, leading to days of mass protests and cops massing in armored gear and military weapons. That summer is when the issue of race and policing truly grabbed the national spotlight in the US, a hold it maintained for most of that year and again this summer with more tragedies. So I can’t say that this is in any way an allegory about or a response to what happened in the summer of ’14, in Ferguson and Baltimore and the Black Lives Matter movement, since that all occurred after I’d finished a draft.

At the same time, police brutality and racially motivated attacks and racial disparities with our legal system have been a part of this country’s history since its founding. The book is about a much earlier and very different time, but hopefully it gives readers a new lens through which they can view events that are still occurring today. Our fraught past informs our present.

BaBR: Was there an independant black police force in Atlanta around 1948 that you drew upon for inspiration and if so how much of how the were restricted is true? Or was this a total work of the imagination that came to your mind?

TM: Yes. Though my characters are fictional and the central mystery is invented, all the circumstances describing their world and its rules are historically accurate. Atlanta hired its first 8 black officers in April 1948. They could only patrol black neighborhoods, they could only arrest blacks, they couldn’t drive squad cars. And they couldn’t even set foot in the white headquarters—they had to operate out of the basement of Atlanta’s black YMCA, because city leaders were afraid if black men in uniform dared show their faces at headquarters, the white officers—many of them members of the racist Ku Klux Klan—would riot and attack them.

BaBR: Where the scenarios and crimes based on real crimes that took place around the time, or are they made up from the kind of crimes that may have occurred?

TM: Again, it’s a mix of historical research and imagination. For example, the 8 black cops did have a white sergeant, and there had indeed been a crackdown on police-abetted illegal gambling a few years earlier, so I used those ingredients to come up with the character of Sgt. McInnis.

BaBR: With Jamie Foxx set to bring Darktown to the small screen with Sony Pictures, are you able to tell us if we will see him on screen, or any big names that will be in the show?

TM: It’s still an ongoing process so I can’t comment too much about it yet. But I’m thrilled that such talented people are involved in bringing this story to the screen. I had a long talk with the screenwriter the other day and we had a blast kicking ideas around.

BaBR: Your key characters like Boggs, Smith, Dunlow and Rakestraw come across really well throughout the book. Their roles are well-defined, and are written in a way I found myself rooting for, empathising with or hating as the book went along. Were any of them based on real people you found in researching ideas for Darktown?

TM: I mentioned McInnis above. And yes, though I’ve never modeled a particular character on a particular real-life person, any time you write historical fiction you need to do a lot of research to figure out: what were people like then? What were the issues and debates of the day? What did they argue about? What were their various life stories? Where had they come from, what were they worried about, where were they going? I couldn’t have written that without doing years of research into the time period.

BaBR: When researching for this book, did you discover anything genuinely interesting, or conversely, anything that was particularly dark?

TM: I think the most striking thing to me was the first thing I heard about the first black cops, which launched me on this project: the fact that they were both second-class citizens and authority figures, cops who operated under so many Jim Crow restrictions. I already had a fairly good grasp of this era of US history, so nothing else truly shocked me as much as that, the initial shock that sent me on this four-year project (and counting, as book two is well underway!).


Thanks very much to Thomas for taking time out this close to book launch to answer these questions for me. I hope you all enjoy this new feature at Books and Beyond Reviews, and lookout for my Darktown review which will be up on the blog on Tuesday 13th September!

In the meantime, you can also connect with Thomas via his website, Twitter, Facebook and Goodreads pages.