Saturday, January 11, 2014

Interview: Robert J. Randisi (author of UPON MY SOUL)

Inasmuch as this blog deals primarily with books and movies in the Western and Mystery genres, the name Robert J. Randisi should be quite familiar to most people reading this. Bob is the author of over 600 books, countless short stories, and more than 30 anthologies, mostly in these same genres.
In addition to this amazingly prolific writing output, Bob also founded the Private Eye Writers of America, co-founded (with Ed Gorman) Mystery Scene Magazine, and more recently was one of the founders of the Western Fictioneers.
Bob's current novel (which means right now – because if you wait very long he'll have something new out) is a crime thriller introducing hit man Sangster, titled UPON MY SOUL. (My 5-star review is up on Amazon now.) We chose this occasion to do a Q&A interview that I think you will find interesting. It is as follows:

WD:  Many moons ago --- Summer/1985 to be exact --- we did a phone interview from which I wrote an article titled "Randisi, Private Eye Writer of America" that appeared in the debut issue of my small press magazine, Hardboiled. Needless to say, much water has passed under the bridge since then. Heck, at that time you were practically a fledgling who only had about eighty novels and a couple dozen short stories published. You were in your early thirties and, in addition to your writing, the PWA (the Private Eye Writers of America), which you founded and were working your butt off to establish as a widely recognized organization, was barely four years old. Thinking back on those times now, what are your recollections? Fondness? Chaos? Exhaustion, from all the effort you were pouring into such a workload?

RJR:  What I remember is being extremely gung ho about what I was doing—having, of course, no idea what I was getting myself into. I do recall it fondly, both the writing I was doing, and the organizing. I probably should have concentrated on one or other, but I’d be hard pressed to go back now and give one up. Certainly, I’d rather write, but given what PWA and the Shamus have become, I couldn’t give them up.

WD:  Fast forward to present day. Your published output is now at 600-plus books, countless short stories, and editor of over 30 anthologies --- including the latest, LIVIN' ON JACKS AND QUEENS, a collection of stories about gambling in the Old West. Back in the '80s you told me your writing creativity seemed to suffer in the daytime and that you preferred to write from about 8 PM to 4 or 5 in the morning. Does that still hold true? Please tell us some other details about your approach to writing --- schedule, research, revisions, etc.

RJR:  I still do most of my work late at night. I don’t have a set schedule except to say that I write every day, both during the day and at night.  Usually, I’m working on two books at once,  a Western and a Mystery. I work on one during the day, then eat dinner, take a nap, and start on the other one. The break allows me to distance myself. That pretty much means that I’m writing most of the time between 2 p.m. and 5 a.m. I try to do at least 20 pages a day on each project, but if I’m approaching a deadline I put myself on an hourly limit of 5-7 pages. Back in those “old days” we talked about I was doing 10 pages an hour. I do research on the spot, while I’m writing, using both a research library I’ve amassed over the years, as well as some websites.   On days when we have errands to run—bank, post office, grocery store, etc.—I get less done during the day.

WD:  Something I still can’t quite wrap my head around is your relocation from Brooklyn to small town, Missouri. Can you tell us some details on how that came about and what the transition was like for you? Hard? Easy? Are you fully acclimated now? Any likelihood of you ever returning to live again in a big city --- Brooklyn, New York, St. Louis? 

RJR:  The simple explanation is that I moved from Brooklyn to St. Louis to be with a woman. We are still together. She’s also a writer. About 8 years ago we moved from St. Louis to a small town (440 people) on the Mississippi. We live on a hill with a panoramic view of the river. We plan to move soon to Las Vegas, but I don’t see going back to St. Louis, or New York, anytime soon. That would be going back, and we prefer to look ahead.

     The transition from NY to St. Louis was not hard. Although smaller, St. Louis is still a major city, and offered most of what NY offered on a smaller scale.  The transition from St. Louis to Clarksville, Mo was more of an adjustment. Living in a town of 440 people, with the closest supermarket 11 miles away, and the closest mall 50 miles, takes getting used to.  We love the house we live in, and the view, but still wish we had better access to some things.

WD:  Although you've established yourself very solidly in the Western genre --- especially with your long-running GUNSMITH series, as by J.R. Roberts, as well as numerous other titles under other bylines and also your own name --- is it safe to say that your first love remains the private eye genre? Your series PI characters, Miles Jacoby, Henry Po, and Nick Delvecchio have recently seen resurgence via eBooks, with the last Delvecchio (THE END OF BROOKLYN) published in 2011. And your hugely popular "Rat Pack" series ( the newest – THE WAY YOU DIE TONIGHT – due out in February), despite the star appearances in each by Sinatra and his crew, at their core are really crime mysteries featuring the character of casino "fixer" Eddie Gianelli functioning as a PI. And then there's the recently published HONKY TONK BIG HOSS BOOGIE, featuring "session man" Auggie Velez, who is available to play guitar for any group in need of a fill-in and who also doubles as a PI … Please offer some personal reflection on each of these characters and what the future might hold for each of them (recognizing that Eddie and Auggie are sure to be seen again).

RJR: Yes, the plans are for Eddie and Auggie to keep appearing. I’m pleased that Jacoby, Delvecchio and—to a much lesser extent—Po have reappeared, and was very happy to have the third and final Delvecchio book published to a starred review from Booklist.

       Yes, the P.I. genre is still my first love.  I do consider the Rat Pack books to be P.I. books, but I really appreciate the reviews I’ve received that say the books are a love letter to the Rat Pack, because that’s what they are. I love those guys and that time, and often find myself watching Ocean’s 11 again. It’s a much better movie than it’s been given credit for.

      If I stuck my toe back into the “real” P.I. genre with THE END OF BROOKLYN, then I plunged back into it with BIG HOSS BOOGIE.  I was a musician in my youth, gave it up to write. So I’m combining my love of music with my love of the P.I. Genre with the Auggie Velez “Session Man” books. BTW, Auggie’s full name is Augusto Velez Colon, which was my grandfather’s name. I have two more Auggie books planned, and so far a 10th Rat Pack planned. I’d like to keep going beyond that with both characters. 

WD:  Now we come to UPON MY SOUL, your current novel from Down & Out Publishing, featuring retired hit man Sangster. First of all, the name: It immediately made me think of a screenwriter (mostly for Hammer Films back in the 60s) and sometimes novelist named Jimmy Sangster. Was he, by any chance, the inspiration for the protagonist's name?

RJR:  He was. I’ve read about half a dozen Sangster novels, and when it came time to name my hit man I wanted a single name and, for some reason, “Sangster” came to mind.

WD:  UPON MY SOUL sets up a wonderful premise whereby said protagonist, Sangster, a professional hit man, wakes up one day to realize he has a soul and a conscience. Concerning his profession, this presents him with quite a dilemma. … One of the lamest questions writers face is: Where do you get your ideas from? Nevertheless, I've got to resort to it in this case --- How did you hit upon this particular premise?

RJR:  When I edited a collection of hit man stories called GREATES HITS several years ago, I wanted to come up with something different, something I hadn’t done before, and maybe something nobody had done.  Of course, there have been other characters who have been seeking some kind of redemption, but Sangster is not even sure that’s what he wants. I wanted to present him with a dilemma. He can’t change the things he did, but he can stop doing them as he moves forward—if, indeed, he can ever move forward. As the book starts I think he’s stuck, trying not to look back, but not really moving forward.  He feels he has a soul, but he doesn’t know what to do with it, or about it. Is it even a religious thing? The three books are meant to show the process of getting himself to the point where he can move forward with his life.

WD:  UPON MY SOUL is announced as a trilogy. What made you plan it that way? I assume you have a pretty specific sequence of events already planned out for the three books. What if the whole thing is wildly popular? Will you close the final book in such a way as to leave open the possibly for more if that turns out to be the case?

RJR:  You and I are series people, Wayne. We think that way. We know the story of how Dan Marlowe killed his “Earl Drake” character in his first novel, and the publisher got him to change the ending so they could continue the character. I don’t want to say I’m going to leave it open, because that takes away from the suspense about what might happen to Sangster.

WD:  Not too far back, I recall reading that one of your "Rat Pack" books was under serious consideration to be made into a movie. I believe you even wrote the screenplay, is that correct? What was the script-writing experience like as opposed to the many books you've penned? And --- knowing that for every book-to-film proposal that actually gets made --- where do things stand for a "Rat Pack" movie? Is it still under consideration?

RJR: I had an option for the first book, EVERYBODY KILLS SOMEBODY SOME TIME,  and was hired to write the screenplay. I wrote it in three weeks. It was a pleasure. My books are dialogue driven, and screenplays are mostly dialogue. It was a match made in heaven. The man who optioned the book and hired me to write the screenplays—Sandy Hackett, son of Buddy Hackett—loved it. However, just as all of us have been hit by the economy, the money withy which he was going to fund the movie disappeared.  He let the option lapse, but he still owns the screenplay.  He still wants to produce it and star as Eddie. If he comes up with the backing, he’ll have to come back to me and option it again.

        I had a second call from Hollywood, a young actor who started his own production company was interested in making the Rat Pack books into films or t.v.  I signed a  “shopping agreement” with him. No money changed hands, but he had the right to shop it in Hollywood and, if and when he found somebody interested, they would make a deal with him. My deal with him was that he would be attached as a producer.  This is when I learned how things have changed in Hollywood. He said there was some interest from some studios, but that they first wanted a writer/showrunner attached to the project before they’d commit.  He was not able to come up with anyone during the time limit of our agreement.

   So, we wait . . .

WD:  Finally, your thoughts on the whole eBook "revolution"? I believe you've stated that you like the opportunities eBooks give writers, but for your own reading you still a traditional book, true? It's  hard to believe with your prolific output, but are you still the voracious reader you used to be?

RJR: Yes, I read as much as I ever did, and I want to have a book in my hands. Yes, ebook publishing has created opportunities for writers—maybe too many for too many writers—but I still do not own a Kindle or Nook or any kind of ereader. I WON’T read electronic books. Sorry.  Most of my backlist is out as ebooks, and I haven’t seen them.

WD:  I really appreciate your time and attention to these questions, Bob. Let's plan on doing it again in another thirty or so years. In the meantime, is there anything you'd care to comment on that I may have missed asking about? If so, feel free to include it here. 

RJR: I think this has been one of the better interviews I’ve done, Wayne, probably because we go back such a long way. I hope we’re both still here and active in another 30 years. I*know I certainly have no intention of EVER retiring. Thanks a lot.

No comments: