Thank you for this interview. I enjoyed both Misjudged and Capital Justice, and I am sure my readers will too.
I found it interesting that you began your novel, Misjudged, with some “night court-type” cases emphasizing that people who come to court can have comical cases. Maybe because the truth of our actions and behaviors can be funny. Can you explain your decision to start this novel in this fashion?
Courtrooms can be among the saddest places you will see, but one can also see outrageously funny stuff. The adversarial nature of our criminal and civil systems of justice lend themselves well to conflict, and conflict is always a part of a good story. Good versus bad; right versus wrong, lawful versus unlawful; and even fair versus unfair are all daily struggles in a courtroom. Accordingly, judges and lawyers see people at their best and at their worst. Emotions can run from high to low in a matter of seconds. I think depicting those highs and lows gives the courtroom setting its unique color.
Courtrooms are the setting for things that will have immediate, sometimes permanent effects on people’s life, liberty and pursuit of happiness. But people are people, and subject to the same range of emotions, performance and foibles as anywhere else. It’s not always a grim, totalitarian environment.
Some would say that Misjudged is a character-driven novel. While I was pulled into the story by your broken vet/lawyer Sam Johnstone, I found that the “law” was also a type of character. I was drawn by Sam’s efforts to save truth and law. What were your motivations for showing how truth can be corrupted and how Sam fights to save truth by using the law?
Misjudged is indeed character-driven. As mentioned in #4 below, it was originally conceived as a stand-alone novel featuring Sam. And he figures prominently in all the books, but as you saw there is a healing process on-going.
Lawyers and to some degree judges have gotten bad reputations over the years. In some cases it is well-deserved. But in my dealings with most lawyers and almost all judges, I have found them to be honorable people trying to do the right thing in a line of work that isn’t always black and white, and where there are unquestioned winners and losers. It is tough stuff. In spite of that, the folks I have been fortunate enough to deal with have been almost universally of high character.
I try very hard to avoid injecting any politics or messaging into my books. I’m simply telling a story using characters who have views and opinions—views and opinions which not infrequently differ from my own. No reader cares what I think about any issue; they just want to read a good book. I try and tell a good story with interesting characters.
Your bio is stellar: A veteran—20 years retiring as a Lieutenant Colonel of Air Defense Artillery. Juris Doctor in law. You practiced for 12 years in Wyoming before sitting on the bench. How much of you is Sam Johnstone?
You are too kind.
I think there is a little of me in most of the characters, but I am not Sam, and Gillette (where I live) is not Custer. As a threshold matter, Sam is a hero; I am not. Most of my characters, including Sam, are really composites of people I have known combined with experiences I have lived—most exaggerated for dramatic effect.
What took you to writing thrillers?
I wrote Misjudged because I had previously read a lousy legal thriller. I told my wife, “I could write a better book than that.” I don’t know whether I did or not, but following hundreds of rejections I was fortunate enough to be picked up by Severn River Publishing, contingent on my using Misjudged as the first in a series of four books. I have since signed an extension to the original contract; I’m now locked in for six books in the series.
When reading Capital Justice, I felt a change in tone. While your Sam Johnstone character is still solid and steadfast, I couldn’t help wonder if your antagonist family didn’t represent a more recent political family. Am I off here? And if I am on, or was this book just a statement on the rich and famous?
There has been a change in tone over time in this series. I had a decision to make with Sam: Would I continue to have him struggle in the face of adversity, or would he begin to seek help to make change? I deal with folks with mental health and addiction issues every day, and it’s fair to say I don’t need to do any research into the operation of the Veterans Administration and its treatment of PTSD and substance abuse. So I decided that, rather than have Sam continue to suffer as a “victim,” I would depict him taking steps to evolve away from booze, drugs and active mental illness. He is in recovery in the latter books, with all the challenges that brings with it.
I didn’t have any particular family in mind when I wrote Capital Justice. I really just wanted to depict an ultra-wealthy clan beset with the same jealousies and petty differences that trouble all families.
Cryptocurrency is your subject in the Capital Justice thriller. What motivated you to kill off a crypto exchange magnate and fight over the control of digital assets?
My books are usually driven by the style of novel I’m seeking to write. I wrote Misjudged as a stand-alone novel, but had to revise it to facilitate “follow-on” novels to complete the contract. So I looked to introductory-type novels from other authors’ series. How did they start their series?
In the later books, I’m usually writing in a style that I like to read or watch. For example, One and Done was one where I wanted to see an ending that was fair to the reader but surprising. False Evidence is my ode to film noire and femmes fatale. Capital Justice is more of a who-in-the-family-dun-it like you would see in something by Agatha Christie or those of her ilk. My next novel, The Truthful Witness is my shot at something “Hitchcock-esque”. I hope I pulled it off.
I chose a cryptocurrency magnate in Capital Justice because Wyoming laws have in fact recently changed to facilitate that sort of business locating here and it could well result in a culture clash.
Give me an idea of your writing day. Do you write every day? By number of words or scene?
I am still employed full-time, so my writing is done in short spurts, for the most part. Generally, I write from 6 to 7:30 a.m., then turn to my day job. I write again at lunch if I am not overly busy at work. I usually pick one day a weekend and spend most of that writing. Where I really make money is on federal holidays, because my wife usually works those, and since I work for the government I do not. I can write all day long on Presidents’ Day, for example.
The biggest issue I have is finding a plot twist or character situation to develop a book around. Once I have that, I’ll get to outlining or plotting.
Do you plot before writing, during the process, or as a second draft?
I am a careful plotter and an extensive outliner. It serves three purposes for me. One, I never get “writer’s block”, because I’ve always got something to write. Two, it allows me to write as I feel, so for example, if I am feeling melancholy, I can write a scene needing that; alternatively, if I have a bounce in my step, I can write a scene needing a more uplifted voice. Three, I do sometimes vary or make changes to my story. By having an outline to refer to, I can shift from a known point and get back to my original storyline.
A great many authors find marketing very time consuming. Even those traditionally published. How do you market your books? And is the latest Crypto news event helping sales?
I am extremely fortunate in that my publisher handles most of the marketing. I am not social media fluent, so they handle Facebook. I prepare a monthly newsletter that I’m proud to say goes out to thousands. I personally respond to every email I get from readers. I appear live or remotely at dozens of book club meetings a year, and I do every podcast and television appearance I’m asked to do. In addition, I appear for free and donate 100% of proceeds for any library benefit, give away books for charity fund-raisers, and I have appeared at number of writer’s groups. I just kind of show up like a bad cold, I guess.
What advice would you give a new author trying to break into the thriller market?
I think the best advice I could give would be this: 1) Write what you know. It is easy for someone to tell whether the author knows what she is talking about. 2) Write your book. When I was reading articles and books about how to write a book, there were a lot of opinions out there. And there are all kinds of web sites saying, “we’re looking for X.” In my opinion, I think you need to understand your genre, and write a book that is consistent in style and format with that genre, using your characters and your story. This does two things: One, it enhances the realism of your work, and two, you’ll be better able to deal with the rejection and criticism we all deal with. 3) Write your book to tell a story, not to push an agenda or to push a particular viewpoint. At least weekly I receive an email from a reader that commends me for viewpoint neutrality. Remember: For every reader that approves of your book because of your view on an issue, there is a reader who will stop reading. Why cut your audience in half?
Super enjoyed your work and look forward to more. In fact, what is coming out new and when?
Thank you. You are very kind. My next book, The Truthful Witness, will launch July 4th.