What’s the order of the Kirbi Mack series?

The RayBright Caper, An Honest Mistake, and then Circling the Drain.

How did you, an older white male, come to write a young black female protagonist?

I don’t know if it’s this way for other authors. But for me, sometimes who and what I write about ends up being a surprise. Maybe half-consciously I chose her because I see a lot of myself in her. Someone with an unusual background, who’s an outsider. I remember when I was writing the first one. I had amassed a bunch of exploratory material—snippets of dialogue, situation, setting, character, and plot—and was sorting through it, looking for a main character to put at the center of the story. And Kirbi Mack just seemed to stand out among the other possibilities. To sparkle.

So can it be assumed you’re a pantser, as opposed to a plotter?

Yes, but a pantser only during the first half of the process. Later, when I go about fitting the pieces of the story puzzle together, improvisation has to give way to the organization. The plotter has to take over. And it’s time to start making charts and timelines, and getting down to researching the things I need to know to tell the story.

What kind of research?

All sorts. Sometimes it’s a matter of reading books on a particular subject. Or watching YouTube videos. And almost always, it requires I visit or revisit certain locations, so as I can fix them in my memory and write about them. Also, there are often people I need to interview who do specific jobs, or who have knowledge in a particular field. 

Do you listen to music when you write?

Sometimes. But it can also be distracting. 

How would you classify the novels you’ve written so far? What genre are they?

I always try to write the sort of story I would want to read. Something intelligent and fast-moving. Something that plausibly takes me into unusual people’s lives. And, of course, something with surprises and twists.

Genre-wise, I guess this would be crime/thriller/mystery.

Your Goodreads author page lists dozens of books read on writing, storytelling, and language. Has this reading you’ve done helped you in your craft?

Sad to say, I’m not sure. I would like to think so. But probably I learned more by simply jumping in and trying to write. And maybe by reverse engineering the work of other authors.

Who were your influences?

As a young man, James Joyce used to fascinate me. Probably because I’m part Irish, was brought up a Roman Catholic, and at the time was in love with words and “literature.” But then, I’d also always had a strong thing for plot driven fiction. So it was only a matter of time before I gravitated to another writerly model, Ross Thomas, whose genre was the thriller. I liked his prose and his wonderfully cynical take on the world.   

Around this same period, too, I discovered three other authors who seemed worthy of emulation. Tony Hillerman, John LeCarre, and Thomas Harris. Hillerman wrote these cool spiritual stories about Navajo cops. LeCarre introduced me to the cutthroat world of British spies. And Harris (enough said) wrote Silence of the Lambs. 

These days, my favorite authors—and the ones who probably exert an influence on me—are Lee Child, Harlan Coben, Robert Crais, Michael Connelly, and Stephen Hunter. Also, Daniel Silva, Linwood Barclay, T. Jefferson Parker, and John Sandford.

How do you read? Physical books or ebooks?

Both. It likely runs fifty-fifty. I do buy and own a lot of physical books, and love that format. But I also enjoy the way you can jack up the font size on a Kindle, especially when you’re bopping along on a treadmill. 

Are you religious?

As I mentioned, I was brought up a Roman Catholic. A faith I guess I eventually rejected. But now I don’t fight the religious impulse. Strange as it may sound, I both believe and don’t believe. I pray to God every day and talk to dead friends and relatives “in heaven.” But at the same time, I am the most ruthlessly atheistic person I’ve ever met, rejecting out of hand anything that hints at the supernatural. I know—it doesn’t make sense.

What are your politics?

Let me put it this way. Ideas separate people, and emotions unite them. As a writer I consider myself an artist, and art deals in emotion.

You were in the military. Was that in the Vietnam era?

No. In my late teens, I was eligible for the draft but drew a low number in the lottery. However, ironically, in my early thirties and in need of a job, I impulsively enlisted and served two years in the army. As a Cold Warrior, stationed in what was then called West Germany.

What do you do when you’re not writing crime fiction?

Most days I play some blues guitar, either acoustic or electric. Using the same old tired licks I always have. Then there’s walking, which I do somewhat compulsively—either around the neighborhood or on my treadmill at home. And let’s not leave out reading, watching YouTube videos, and keeping up with the latest streaming movies and TV series. 

What actor should play Kirbi Mack, if a movie or television series were to be made?

One friend of mine suggested Jada Pinkett. She, like Kirbi, is small, African American, and looks good with short hair. But she is somewhat older than the Kirbi portrayed in the books.

But seriously, a revolution has taken place in publishing and bookselling. A million books are now published every year. How can you hope to ever gain any kind of notice in this content-rich marketplace?

It’s tough. Readers these days have a lot of choices. All I can do is write the best stuff I can, and ask readers who happen to stumble across my fiction (and like it!) to do the following: Write reviews on Goodreads and Amazon, and recommend me to friends who might also like my stuff.