1) Tell us a little bit about yourself. How did you get into writing?
Born and raised in New York City, I left to see the world at age 24 as a water engineer in the Peace Corps. For most of my life, I had never entertained the idea of becoming an author. My career as a groundwater specialist kept me busy enough, filled with both adventure and satisfaction with my job. However, while in Kenya I fell in love with a woman, and this relationship was doomed from the start. As a kind of catharsis, I began to write a semi-autobiographical story which became Journey Towards a Falling Sun. As I said, it was the need to purge my emotions that drove me, without immediate plans for publishing, as I was in the prime of life as regards to my vocation. But in 1985, I did manage to get an agent who was very enthusiastic over the manuscript. After fifteen rejections by big publishing houses, however, I gave up and shelved it, abandoning any thoughts about being a writer. It wasn’t published until 30 years later.
In 1996, while working in Laos, I learned of the secret war that the US conducted for 9 years, and resulted in the aerial bombardment that has given that country the dubious distinction of being the most heavily bombed country of all time. As an American, I was ashamed of my ignorance of this matter, for I had never known of this secret war. I was so moved, I decided I would write an epic novel that would illustrate the consequences of that war which became The Plain of Jars, released in 2013. And from there my path as a writer began.
2) What inspired you to write your book?
The idea for Justice Gone came from a true incident – the fatal beating of a homeless man in California. It was such an outrageous act, recorded on video and uploaded to YouTube, that I wondered what would happen if someone who saw the gruesome video would mete out their own version of justice to the police officers involved.
The novel then, is a tale of what happens in a small town following the fatal beating of a homeless Iraqi war vet at the hands of police. A cascading series of events, from street protests to a vigilante shooting of three police officers leads to a multi-state manhunt for the vet’s war time buddy. A controversial trial attracting nationwide attention dominates the second half of the novel. The story ends with a twist revealing the identity of the cop-killer
3) What theme or message do you hope readers will take away from your book?
Although deaths at the hands of law enforcement officers disturb me, I tried to avoid taking too strong a stand against the police, and just presented a possible (albeit extreme) scenario if this issue is not addressed. I also wanted readers to have a detailed look at the legal system in the US, i.e. the importance of lawyer tactics on both sides of the bench and of jury sentiment in deciding a case.
4) What drew you into this particular genre?
First of all, I don’t consider myself a genre writer, I just write about things that move me. Having said that, as a reader I do enjoy mystery/thriller/suspense/crime, so I may be writing more of this kind of fiction from now on. It is much easier to write this sort of stuff than cross-cultural adventure novels such as my first two books, The Plain of Jars, set in Laos, and Journey Towards a Falling Sun, set in Kenya.
5) If you could sit down with any character in your book, what would you ask them and why?
I would have to say, the policemen that beat Jay Felson to death – Why, when he was unarmed, did it take 6 cops to bring him down and beat him till he died?
6) What social media site has been the most helpful in developing your readership?
I’m really not active in the social media scene, so I would have to say Goodreads, despite the fact I find Goodreads a bit exploitive and disdainful of independent authors. As a reader, it is pretty good. I tried Facebook, but it isn’t focused enough and being an old fart, I’m mistrustful of Twitter. I love book bloggers, thank god for them!
7) What advice would you give to aspiring or just starting authors out there?
Although it sounds cliché, the first thing is to write well. Many independent authors, particularly those who self-publish, write with a quality barely above a high school student. You don’t have to be a wordsmith, but the book should not sound stilted. Read passages from a book by an acclaimed author than read your stuff. How does it compare?
Secondly, unless you’re with a big publishing house, be prepared to market your work. You should have a budget of $2,000 for this, even if you are very active on social media, because it’s always better for someone else to tout your book than you as the author. That means reviews, which can only result from exposure.
8) What does the future hold in store for you? Any new books/projects on the horizon?
I’m in the process of fine-tuning another Tessa Thorpe novel, Woman in the Shadow. It takes place several years prior to the setting of Justice Gone, and is considerably darker, more of a psychological/suspense thriller. I actually wrote this before Justice Gone, but I was disappointed with the publisher’s reaction to it so I shelved it. Directly related to this, I’m looking for another publisher, so I hope it doesn’t take too long for the book to come out.