Hi Robert, thanks for talking to me. First up, what kind of books do you write?
Historical murder mysteries. I’ve written a three-book Colonial City Mystery Series: Dead to Rights set in Savannah, Cut of the Cross set in St. Augustine and Dead and Gone set in New Orleans. The first two books are published, the third is scheduled to be published this spring by Marcinson Press.
That’s a great genre, and I see from an Amazon review that you’re very good at the history aspect because you’ve taught history for a long time. Tell us a bit about yourself.
I’m a retired professor of Latin American history. I’ve written historical articles and books for most of my adult life, with Spanish Florida being the focus of most of my writing. As far as historical writing chops, in St. Augustine, Florida, I wrote a popular newspaper column, Essays from El Dorado, a historical script for sightseeing train guides, and the story of the town’s 450-year history provided to millions of visiting tourists. I’m also working with Marcinson Press on a book of the history of St. Augustine that will be out in March. I like to keep busy and stay relevant, and writing has really made that possible in retirement. I’m proud to say I published my first novel at 82, and I’ve found writing and speaking incredibly fulfilling and fun. It’s not quite Ponce de Leon’s fabled Fountain of Youth, but it’s certainly keeping me energized!
Writing is what gives meaning to my life, and as a retirement “job” it’s the best!
Well you sure look good, so you must be doing something right. Tell me about your latest book.
Cut of the Cross is a murder mystery set in St. Augustine, Florida, near the end of the eighteenth century. The murder of the governor’s niece begins a five-month search for a killer who mutilates his victims, cutting a cross on their chests. A three-man team of Spanish army officers is assigned to find the murderer, but a handsome young lieutenant from northern Spain is especially interested in the hunt. In the process of his search, the lieutenant learns of four similar killings spread out over a span of 25 previous years – a startling discovery at a time when serial killers were unidentified and the repetitive pattern of their many murders remained unknown. Of course, there’s a bit of romance, a few surprising twists and turns, and some very interesting and colorful characters as well.
That sounds like a great story.
What’s important to you as an author?
What’s important is telling what I hope is a fascinating story and hearing what the people who read my work think about it – especially if they appreciate it. More than anything else, it’s the validation that comes from writing stories that please readers that makes life as a writer meaningful. Not too long ago, a woman I didn’t know called me out of the blue. She teasingly complained that she was angry with me because she started reading Dead to Rights one afternoon and stayed up all night finishing it. While I’m not sure I’m comfortable with EVERY reader ringing me up, her passion about the story – that’s what motivates me to write!
Ha ha. I’ve never heard of a reader doing that before.
There are a lot of people writing books these days, what makes your writing different to all the rest?
I try to make the historical aspect authentic and the story engaging. My murder mysteries include insights into daily American colonial life that aren’t usually included in other books in the genre. I try to reveal characters with real-world issues – they worry about aging, death, loneliness, reputation, love – within the lifestyle of the time. Of course, my own personal attitudes, behaviors and beliefs are often infused into my characters. They’re infuriated by humiliation, cynical, critical of pompous people, and admire those who refuse to surrender their principles regardless of the risks. I try to not to idealize, to make each character as realistic and “human” as possible, which means they all have flaws. They brag, cheat, lie, love, and in this series… kill.
I think those kind of things are what makes the difference between ordinary and great fiction.
Where do your ideas come from?
My ideas come from actual historical events that I’ve read about during my career as a history professor and historian. I also owe a debt to the many characters and crooks whose fascinating lives I’ve to come to know through years of research. They’re the sources of my inspiration. I’m also inspired as a man who truly loves to tell stories, whether as a speaker or a writer.
What kind of person would like your books best?
I’d hope nearly every reader! But I’d expect of the Colonial City Series, readers who enjoy suspense, murder mysteries, realistic characters, who enjoy the feeling of living in other eras, those who like history – especially of colonial America – and, of course, those who love vicariously hunting for a mysterious killer.
Why did you choose the indie route to publication? Did you ever try the traditional route?
I did try the traditional route, but found the agent-centered approach unnecessarily complicated. The traditional approach also can be a little formulaic, and fails to offer authors a financially meaningful return for all their writing time and effort. The indie route as exemplified by Marcinson Press has been a terrific choice for me – they provide traditional publishers’ quality, a hands-on creative collaboration, and a more equitable financial return for the author’s effort. I’ve also met some amazing artists and made some great friends through the indie process.
What’s the hardest part of being an author?
Proofreading, proofreading, proofreading. Going over a book over and over again to make sure it’s as technically perfect as possible is both exhausting and frustrating. I’d rather be writing! Thankfully, I have a wonderful team at Marcinson, as well as my wife, LaDonna – that help tremendously with the process. I’d go crazy trying to proof it all myself.
I don’t think the author can fully proof their own work, we just know it too well so our brains show us what we think is there whether it’s there or not.
What do you like most about being an author?
Everything except proofreading. I love the joy of writing a sentence, paragraph, or an entire piece that I like – and then to have other readers like it, that’s the best. It’s exhilarating to hear or read praise from a reader. Most of all, I love to devise complicated mystery plots and create multifaceted characters that readers love or hate – or sometimes, characters they love to hate. While I’m writing, the characters become almost real people to me, and it’s amazing to hear when a reader has the same experience. It’s the best.
If you could have one wish granted what would it be?
World peace, of course! My writing-related wish would be to see one of my books on the New York Times’ best seller list. That would be a dream come true.
It certainly would.
What is the most unusual object you possess?
A small metal sculpture of a thinking man with one arm around his chest and the other arm reaching up with his hand covering his face and forehead. The sculpture is embedded in a wooden block and includes only the upper torso of the thinking man. It sits on a shelf in my office above my computer. He’s “supervised” the creation of all of the Colonial Series City books.
How much time do you spend writing each day?
I typically write in the morning seven days a week, from about nine to one, unless I’m teaching or speaking. There are times, however, even in the middle of the night, when an idea comes to me and I’ll write it down on a piece of paper or run to the computer to add or subtract something I’ve written. The muse is not always subject to one’s office hours.
Ah yes, I know that one.
What are the problems you typically find in the writing process?
There are three particular problems I personally face again and again. One, the times when I can’t think of how to express my thoughts in an effective way. Two, writing when I’m in a hurry or meeting a deadline. Three, the seemingly endless struggle to avoid repetition, unnecessary explanation, and verbosity. Even so, they’re all still better than proofreading!
What’s next on your plate?
I’m happy to say, my plate’s pretty full. I have two books coming out this spring –- the third in the Colonial City Series, Dead and Gone, and a history book, St. Augustine: A Brief History of America’s Oldest City, which has some truly incredible photographs by Willie LaMons. I’ll continue teaching adult classes at the local university, giving talks and tours to North Florida groups, and, of course, more writing.
Thanks for the chat, Robert. I wish you luck with your future endeavours.
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