1. How did you choose the genre(s) in which you write?
I wrote two draft novel when I was in my Twenties, a mystery and a narrative novel about a coming of age. Overtime, and as I worked in the newspaper business for the next three decades, the mystery rose to the top of the pile. Made sense at the time. It was partly a response to working in small towns, understanding small town politics and life. While that provided a lasting framework for the Frank Nagler mystery series – three published works, a fourth on the way, and a fifth in the planning stages -- the stories and characters were well planted. As I wrote each one, it reflected my expanding understanding of setting, character development and plot. I don’t see myself as a mystery writer. I see myself as a writer. I’ve written journalism and non-fiction, short stories, poetry and novels. Each fiction genre has it own set of requirements that can be explored (or ignored).
2. Who influenced you to be a writer?
I started writing as a kid, none of it any good, but it was start. I’ve always considered myself a writer. Early stories were about word manipulation; the later stories are focused on plot, setting and characters, and the points where the elements meet. That I believe is a natural progression. My writing has been influenced by two key elements: Reading great writers, Updike, Shakespeare, John Gardner, Kenneth Roberts, any number of great historians and others, and being a newspaper writer. Good newspaper reporters have the ability to do one very special thing: To bring to life a scene, issue or event that the reader did not attend. My rule was that I had to write a news story for the people who were not at that town meeting, the fire, the accident, the protest, or in court. Later, I had the opportunity to write a column for which I interviewed one person. The goal was to let them tell their story in whatever manner they chose, which meant that my job as the writer, was to step out of the way and let them tell the tale in their own voice. That experience, and the on-the-street part of newspapering, is evident in my fiction. Descriptions and character development are strong elements in the Frank Nagler mysteries and all my fiction.
3. Do you maintain a schedule for writing, or do you have another method?
I am at my computer every day. It is a newspaper habit. For three decades I went into work expecting to write something without knowing exactly what it was. Sometimes it was just run-of-the-mill news, and somedays it was the lead story of the paper. Newspaper writing provided focus and encouraged habits that sharpened the focus. There is nothing like having to write eight hundred words on a twenty-minute deadline. Writing fiction is less deadline driven. I usually have several projects going at once, but once I get to a certain point in a story, I’ll focus on that one. The publisher announcing a deadline also helps that focus.
4. What is the most difficult challenge that faces you as a writer?
Getting it right. Words are like musical notes. I want to reader to feel the tension, not just experience it on a page. When a reviewer of one of the Nagler books says that they felt they were in the scene with Detective Frank Nagler and parsing out the clues, anticipating what might happen next, feeling his anxiety and pain, then I’m on the right track. In the Nagler books I tried to create a mythology of Ironton, New Jersey, the setting. The economic failure, the political corruption, the loss of sense of place and burgeoning hope are all part of the ebb and flow of the books. In the opening to “The Swamps of Jersey,” the first Nagler mystery, I describe a setting of the city after a hurricane raked the streets, destroyed buildings and led to murders. Spot lights banging against buildings ring like cathedral bells at the end of times. In this scenario, Frank Nagler is the last honest man, and in the books, his honesty and character are challenged numerous times. In each of the Nagler books, I tried to write a “better” story – more complex plots, better characters, closer mesh of setting and character, and just better writing, all technical parts of storytelling. The most difficult challenge for me is to not become satisfied with my work, but to push on and seek the places I haven’t thought of yet.
5. Whom or what kinds of things do you like to read?
I’ll read almost anything. Been reading a lot of history lately – currently in Book Two of the Shelby Foote’s grand three-volume narration of the Civil War. Also trying to catch up on the classics I never read or read and forgot. So, Updike, Twain, James Baldwin, Ursula Leguin, and new writers (to me) like Markus Zusak and Anna Burns, an Irish writer whose “Milkman” won the Man Booker Prize for Fiction. Also reading at lot of mysteries, some by people I know, and some just to see that is going on in the genre. It was while reading Zusak’s “The Book Thief” that the title of the latest Frank Nagler mystery emerged, “The Weight of Living.” The phrase popped into my head while I was reading one of Death’s monologues. My next thought was that now I had to write a book that was deserving of the title.
6. What are you working on next?
The fourth Frank Nagler book “The Red Hand,” is being prepped for publication, possibly this spring. It is a prequel to the series taking the story back twenty years when Frank Nagler was newly married and a rookie cop who end up investigating a horrific series of crimes. The interest in that story was to set up Nagler’s mindset throughout the series, determined, mildly depressed, weight-of-the-world on his shoulders, and to show how important his wife, Martha, is to him and his life.
I have also started planning the fifth Nagler book, the one to continue the story after “The Weight of Living.”
I think that it will be about a copycat who commits crimes by mimicking Nagler’s investigative techniques, and could be called “The Rhythm Method.”
The Nagler books are available at: .
I am also working through two non-Nagler books, an episodic, generation and I hope funny, story called, “The Year When the World Came to Mount Jensen, Maine,” which explores the impact of changes on a small Maine town, and something that might be called, “Another Day of Here,” which opens, “Harry Demain did not go to work on Tuesday. And he did not come for home for dinner.” We’ll see where it goes.
My website is: .