My most recent opus was “The Sand Bluff Murders”. Earlier books featured professional detectives and amateur detectives,but I needed something else. Another little thing that gnawed at me was setting. I had always chosen cities because it’s easy. Lots of people and different neighborhoods, etc. But after re-reading a Miss Marple or two and her merry adventures in tiny St. Mary Meade, I started thinking along the lines of writing a mystery set in a small town.
Of course the US doesn’t have quaint villages like St. Mary Meade, at least not here in the Wild West where I live. Some of the villages in the east may come closer, but I’m not acquainted with them.
Then too, I needed a detective. After a lot of soul searching I wound up with Jonas McCleary. He began to grow on me. I liked him because he was honest. He didn’t try to pretend he was more than he was. He only got a job as a detective because he’s good at taking written tests (a jibe at all these firms that judge you on a written test, and there are plenty of them).
Once I got that far, things began to fall into place. That doesn’t always happen. Over the years I’ve started work on many a book that just didn’t go anyplace. I figured if I can’t get interested I sure can’t expect to interest anyone else.
As it turned out, I’m happy with the book, and I grew really fond of Jonas. When I wrote the book, and until recently, I had no intention of writing a sequel, but not too long ago another little idea began to take shape, and I visualized Jonas back on the case. I’m just about at the halfway mark, and things are going along as of right now. With any luck and a little inspiration, I’ll have it finished before the end of this year.
My publisher, Arline Chase, suggested readers might be interested in some other information about me, although I’m not quite sure why. Once I was lucky enough to attend a gathering which featured a number of celebrities as well as other people. One young girl came up to me and asked me if I “was anybody”. I had to smile and tell her no. I’m still not anybody. I’ve never dreamed of being famous and wouldn’t particularly care for the baggage that comes with fame. A little money would be nice, but I didn’t start writing because I saw it as the road to riches.
Okay, here are a few things I might mention. My favorite character. Hmmmmm….
I’ve had a lot of favorite characters over the years. Being a mystery fan, I loved Charlie Chan and Sherlock Holmes…later Marlowe, Spade and Archer. As I grew intellectually I moved on to enjoy Lord Peter, M. Poirot and of course Jane Marple. There have been many others, too many to mention, but one of my favorites strikes me as strange because, while he was a character all right, he was not a detective and certainly no hero.
I’m talking about Arthur Simpson from Eric Ambler’s novel, “The Light of Day”. This was later made into a movie called, “Topkapi”, but any similarity between that sorry film and the novel is purely coincidental.
Arthur Simpson is mean, petty, vindictive, a thief, a liar, and a poseur, a peddler of pornography, a cuckold, and a pretender to United Kingdom citizenship. He’s also an overweight coward with a serious case of BO. He constantly feels sorry for himself and blames everyone but himself for his problems.
Who could like a guy like that? Well, thanks to the artistry of Mr. Ambler, while you start out feeling disgusted that you should be expected to read about such a person, especially with first person narration, you are subtly drawn in and before long, despite Mr. Simpson’s lack of character, you begin to sympathize with him, at least a little bit, when you see how everyone takes advantage of his weaknesses of character and use him to their own advantage. By the time we get toward the end, you’re quietly rooting for this guy and hoping against hope that he’ll somehow survive his ordeal. I don’t think he emerges a better man in the end, but he does manage to hold his own. I’m still not sure I really like him, or ever could like him in real life, but I sure can’t forget him. I haven’t read the book in many a year, but Arthur Simpson is a guy you’ll never forget.
It was suggested I mention the effect my writing has had on friends and family. That’s interesting because, for me at least, this has been a very iffy situation. Being diffident, doubtless more diffident than I should be if I hope ever to sell any books, I’m very reluctant to discuss my writing with others. My wife became discouraged long before I did with my efforts and wasted paper and postage. Up until my first novel, “The Little Mornings” was accepted, all my efforts had to be printed on paper and mailed to publishers who might or might not return them. Some didn’t even reply. Once “The Little Mornings” was accepted, she felt that now I managed to have a book published I should be satisfied and move on to greener pastures. I admit that in the past I sometimes may have said, “If I could just get one book published, I’d be happy.” But I have a feeling publishing is something like getting started on cocaine. Each publication is great for a bit and then you need more.
In her favor however, she’s the one who lets everyone know her husband is a published author, and she’s also the person who has given away all my personal copies.
One reviewer said something to the effect that in my books I sounded like a hardboiled detective. I’m sure I was influenced by Chandler, Hammett and McDonald, but there have been many other writers who influenced me. Zola, Christie, Sayers, Márquez, Maugham, Dürrenmatt, Hugo, Gaboriau, Ambler, Greene, and…ah there are so many, and not always in the mystery line. I’ve stayed up many a night sailing the high seas, or spurring my roan across the windswept plains of Nevada, wasting away in freezing dungeons, tilting at windmills, riding out depth charges in a submarine. I can’t pinpoint any one thing, but I’m sure all these writers influenced me to some extent. Every one offers an adventure, a ride into territory a person might otherwise never experience.
For years, while occupied with other things, trying to raise a family and just trying to cope, I’ve felt this secret urge nagging at me to write. Like with most writers, I’m sure, I did a lot of bad and pointless writing that went nowhere. Once I felt I had made enough improvement to hope to find a publisher, I began peddling my first novel, “The Little Mornings”. Reception was mixed, but not promising. Agents didn’t appear to be interested unless I was willing to pay them to peddle my book. The Big Guys wouldn’t even look at my book unless it was submitted by a registered and licensed card-carrying agent. Many wanted me to pay them to publish or at least share publishing costs.
Finally I found a publisher and at last, I was a published author. That, theoretically, was supposed to be the end of the story. But somehow, before too long another book came along and then a third and so on. “The Morgenstern Murders” will be my eleventh.
Jonas McCleary is back in a new role as private detective. The book explains what happened in Sand Bluff and why he lost his job and moved to the City.
There’s more back story too, as we meet his irascible and self-reliant mother who would give anybody an inferiority complex and follow up on his marriage, Yodaspeak and little Annie.
Things don’t look too good until Jonas gets a client and a check for a five thousand dollar retainer. Maybe he can accomplish something after all.
Watch for “The Morgenstern Murders” coming soon from Write Words, Inc. and Amazon, etc.