Tuesday, January 4, 2011

INTERVIEW: John R. Lindermuth

John R. Lindermuth is a retired newspaperman, author of several short stories and articles as well as eight novels (to date), including four in the popular Sticks Hetrick series. John's work is well written and highly entertaining, and I have reviewed some of the Hetrick novels here on this blog and elsewhere. In this new year John will be branching out into Westerns with his upcoming novel, Fallen From Grace.
I caught up with him over the holidays and conducted the following interview which I trust you will find interesting and entertaining.

WD:   John, you are a retired newspaper editor/writer. Prior to that you had intentions of entering art school but then served a hitch in the Army and were stationed in Korea. How did you make that transition? Did your time in the Army in any way lead to your newspaper career rather than pursuing art school? 
JRL:   The Army was actually responsible for my newspaper career. Initially, as a result of a battery of tests, the Army determined I had the makings of an investigator and had me as a candidate for CID (Criminal Investigation Command). A pre-qualification was going through military police training. After basic, they sent me to Ft. Gordon, GA, for the training—where I was promptly belt-lined (rejected on grounds I didn’t meet height and weight requirements). I can’t explain why they didn’t know that in advance. I do regret missing out on CID. It would have made a great background for a crime writer. After a short stint of infantry training, it was decided I had the makings of a reporter and they sent me to J-school at Ft. Slocum NY. It was a lucky break for me.
WD:   Can you tell us a little bit about your newspaper career --- i.e. what papers you worked for, and were there any particularly memorable or significant stories you covered?
JRL:   I had some good assignments in the Army and was offered a job on Stars & Stripes if I re-upped. But I’d had enough of the military routine. I managed to get my discharge in South Korea where I was last assigned. My first civilian gig was as copy editor for North Asia Press, one of several businesses of an American entrepreneur. I also did some stringing for a variety of U.S. media. Returning to the states, the best I could do at first was a reporter spot on my hometown weekly—a job which provided more excellent training. After that I had a year on The News-Dispatch (now News-Item), the local daily. This was followed by 20 years with the Daily News in Lebanon PA and some stringing for the Patriot-News of Harrisburg PA. I finished up my career with The News-Item. Over the years, I worked every reporter beat and posts as education editor, farm editor, wire editor, county and city editor. All of these have provided grist for my fictional mill. One of the more unusual murder cases I did work on was that of Susan Reinert, whose body was found in Harrisburg. Dr. Jay Smith got the death sentence in that case, which was the subject of Joe Wambaugh’s book, Echoes In The Darkness.
WD:   Now that you're retired, what occupies your time aside from writing and your work for the local historical society?

JRL:   Family, walking, lots of reading. I’ve made a vow to also get back to drawing, which had been neglected in recent years.
WD:   You have said that your grandfather was a natural storyteller and your father had an extensive library. So you were exposed to storytelling, both verbally and in written form, early on and this led to your interest in writing. During your newspaper time, did you also pursue writing fiction? (I ask this because in the past I spent some time doing stringer work for a newspaper and almost every reporter I got to know had at least one fiction manuscript or work-in-progress stuffed in a drawer somewhere).

JRL: You’re right—every reporter has at least one novel in the drawer. I was no exception. I churned out short stories and a few novels (which didn’t sell) and did interest an agent at one point. I succeedED in publishing a lot of articles in a variety of magazines, though, and also did PR for a little theater, a business and several charitable organizations.

WD:   In your Sticks Hetrick series, you write about the town of Swatara Creek, which is fictional. But there is a Swatara Township. Is this the actual setting you draw upon, as far as the physical terrain, types of people, local characters and/or places?
JRL:   In Something In Common, the first of the Hetrick novels, I included an author’s note stating there is a Swatara Creek, but no town of that name in central Pennsylvania. The Swatara Creek of the novels is solely my invention, though it’s representative of many of the older Susquehanna River towns which have become bedroom communities for the more metropolitan areas. I am familiar with Swatara Township, but it’s a much more affluent and cosmopolitan place than my fictional town.
WD:   You write so vividly of Pennsylvania's coal region, both in the Sticks Hetrick series and in other novels. And you are the librarian of the local historical society. You obviously have a deep affection for the area. Care to comment on that, perhaps give us some insight on your deep feelings for the area?
JRL:   Perhaps it’s partly due to my knowledge of the history and folklore of the area, but I’ve always had a deep affection for this, my homeplace, though its attractions may be less obvious to outsiders. It’s probably not something I can put into words. I’ve just not felt as content elsewhere, though there are other places I like to visit.
WD:   Can you give us some background on the Sticks Hetrick character? Many series authors invest a good deal of themselves into their main character --- is there some of John Lindermuth in Sticks?
JRL: I guess it would be impossible for a writer to create an on-going character without imbuing him with some comparable traits. Hopefully they’re more latent than obvious. Sticks is a good man (which I hope I am, too), loyal, compassionate, dedicated, tough when he has to be. I know he’s much braver than me. I play at chess, but he’s a real gamesman. He’s pretty much a steak and potatoes kind of guy while I’m a bit more adventurous in the culinary area.
WD:   I know you have a Western novel coming out next year. Can you give us a preview of what that's about? Also, what's next for Sticks Hetrick and, in general, what does the future hold for John Lindermuth?
JRL:   Fallen From Grace might be described as an historical mystery, but Oak Tree Press is billing it as a Western. Sylvester Tilghman is the third of his family to serve as sheriff of his small hometown. His biggest problems have been lack of a deputy and the reluctance of his longtime girlfriend to acceptance his many marriage proposals. When two newcomers are murdered in short succession, his life becomes much more complicated.                                                                                             
As to Sticks, I’m well along on the fifth in that series. Sticks and new girlfriend Anita have gone on a cruise prior to assuming his new job as county detective. In Jamaica he runs up against murder, which appears to have a connection back home. Meanwhile, Aaron Brubaker and crew are doing their best with crimes of their own. For the future, I’m hopeful of many more stories and readers for them.

Thanks, John. I encourage readers who haven't already discovered this talented writer to check out some of his work with all haste. I know that I, for one, am looking forward to Fallen From Grace as well as the next Sticks Hetrick adventure.

Persevere --- WD


jrlindermuth said...

Thanks, Wayne.

margaret blake said...

John, The Army missed out because you are SO good at solving mysteries! But you might have missed out on a writing career and that would have been SO bad.

Paula Martin said...

Fascinating interview, John - so interesting to learn about your career and your interest in your local area.