John Curley, author of the acclaimed new crime mystery BONDS, has the distinction of being a licensed private investigator with over three decades of experience. This gives the powerful writing skills so evident in this debut novel an added ring of authenticity often lacking in the genre. A lifelong resident of New York City (“Staten Island born and raised”, as he puts it), he also paints a vivid picture of the city and its workings at various levels.
Choosing to pursue investigative work rather than college, even though he was a child prodigy who read at a highly advanced level barely into grade school, John now is president of two agencies – J Curley Investigative and Protective Services LLC and J Curley and Associates LLC, a consulting company. John is also proficient in martial arts, having begun studying them in 1981 and then teaching in 1985. Married, having helped raise his niece and nephew, he is passionately devoted to protecting the young and vulnerable. He is a strong advocate for the Legislative Drafting Institute for Child Protection and a friend and follower of Andrew Vachss. Like Vachss, whose writing he openly admits to having an influence on his own work, John seeks to use his fiction to shine a light on the horrible abuses of children and the resulting impact on our society, and therefore the critical need to curb that trend.
John was kind enough to take time out of his busy schedule for a long phone conversation and then the following interview. I thank him for his time and hope that readers come away knowing a bit more about the man behind the byline and from there seek out said byline and the terrific writing it will lead them to.
WD: I know you grew up under some rather tough conditions when your father disappeared via mysterious circumstances and it fell to your mother to not only raise you and your brothers on her own but to also take over and run the family business. Will you please provide some further details on that period in your life?
JC: Sure. First off, my mother did an amazing job. Like most kids I didn’t realize the sacrifices she made and still does for her kids. Long story short there was a silver heist at Luftansa Air that was portrayed inthr movie “Goodfellas”. It was never known for sure whether my father was involved or just his partner, but he left work to come home 3 days before Christmas in 1980 and was never seen again. His car was found 3 days later in the basement parking lot of the Sheraton Hotel on 1&9 North going into Newark airport. There are different theories about what happened but I believe when you drive on the highway into the airport you’re driving over him. My mom took over his business and threw his partners out, the people that are likely to have killed him. It often hits me that I am now 20 years older than he was when he disappeared—it was yesterday and forever ago at the same time. My mom and my grandmother raised us and, considering the hardships, we were very fortunate.
WD: You took up martial arts in your early teens and continue to stay quite involved in it yet today. Was there a particular teacher, or sensei, who influenced or instilled this long-standing devotion in you?
JC: More than one but the main teachers I have that have the most impact are George Smith and Anthony Dasaro. That is a spectacular combination, Smitty is maybe the toughest guy on the planet, even at 80 he is a force to be reckoned with and he instilled things in us like honor, the strong protect the weak etc. I actually worked with him and often think of writing about the work we did, but I’m waiting for the statutes to run. (Kidding, maybe). While Smitty taught me how to survive and the way I move is similar (not as good) to him, Anthony taught me appreciation for the art and is proof incarnate of the importance of technique. Being there at that time and place was a happy and very beneficial accident.
WD: I know that, in the performance of your investigations, you've run into some physical confrontations. I expect the martial arts training came in handy on such occasions. Are there any particular instances, without naming names, you'd care to share with readers?
JC: I have lost count of the number of violent encounters there have been because of work. I will share this, the first physical confrontation in “Bonds” happened just about that way, although it happened for a different reason.
WD: You told me an amusing tale about your very first day as an investigative trainee, when you were sent out on your own to serve some papers on an individual. Please share with readers how that went.
JC: Well I stumbled into P.I. work. At the time I was boxing and kickboxing and one of my sparring partners worked for a P.I. named Charlie Kahaly and my first day was spent getting lost in Long Island, a guy taking a swing at me when I served him with papers, and then having a car accident on the way back. I walked into Charlie’s office the end of the day and quit. He called me a few days later and asked me to stick it out, I’d had a bad day and wisely suggested that I at least keep it for the income. I’ve been doing it ever since.
WD: As mentioned above, you read voraciously at a very early age, including the complete works of Tolkein when still quite young. From there, I know that you continue to have an interest in dark fantasy as well as the type of contemporary crime fiction you have ventured into as a writer yourself. Can you track that progression for us ... from Tolkein on through to the current works of Robert B. Parker and Andrew Vachss, two writers you openly admit to having an influence ton your own work. What else came in between? What other writers – past or present – made a particular impact on you?
JC: Our gym teacher Walter Hertman read the Hobbit to us in the first grade and I got every book by Tolkien available. Then there was the Shannara books by Terry Brooks. I found Stephen King and Robert B. Parker in a used books store when I was a kid. Robert McCammon and Dean Koontz (“Boy’s Life” is perhaps the best book I have ever read and “Watchers” by Koontz is superb) in Walden’s Books. In the 80’s when I taught martial arts regularly a student introduced me to Andrew Vachss. Today readers are fortunate there are many great authors and mentors with you Wayne, at the top of the list. Seth Bailey, Rich Prosch, Will Graham, D Dion, so many others I could go on for pages but the biggest influence on me has been Andrew. Were it not for him I wouldn’t be writing or promoting child protection as I do.
WD: At what point did you begin to feel the urge to one day do some writing yourself? As stated in the intro, you've said that you want to use your writing ot help bring attention to the abuse of the young and vulnerable – was that always a part of wanting to write, or did it figure in more gradually as your investigative work opened your eyes to the problem?
JC: I wrote in the 90’s, and I did a horror novel “Emissary”. A cousin that worked in a publishing house loved it and was going to have it published but long story short she had a stroke (and recovered, thank God) but she lost the only copy. I stopped writing then. I started a couple of years ago after interacting with Andrew. Work and personal experience combined with the manner in which Andrew articulates the problems all converged at once.
WD: As a former “working” author myself – that is, someone who had a full-time job in the real world and had to fit in my writing on a catch-as-catch-can basis – I know how hard it is to find time for writing yet meet other job/family obligations. I was pretty erratic about it, but I have a hunch you may be more disciplined. How about it? How do you manage your writing time against those other obligations?
JC: It’s easy for me only because I have the whole story in my head and just need time to write it. Writing is unlike any other activity for me though. I need to be mentally awake to do it. You can work, work out, hang out, do whatever if you’re half-awake. But not writing. I manage to find the time, fortunately, and I am usually working on multiple things at once.
WD: To add realism to your work, I know that you often use true incidents – always with permission from those involved and with names changed – in your writing. Also, in BONDS, you take readers on a sort of tour of several bars and restaurants. I suspect these were also based on real places – but with the actual names altered, or kept intact in these instances? (As a non-New Yorker, I couldn't tell – I just know that some of the dishes you described made me damn hungry!)
JC: Well, the main goals are giving people what I hope is a good read and a look into a world they may not (and they should be thankful if they don’t) know, but is all around us. I also do not like the idea most people have that Staten Island is comprised only of reality TV and Jersey shore personas. It’s still a beautiful place and the parks, stores and restaurants I write about with a few exceptions are real. That part I hope people get a chance to see for themselves.
WD: Your current work-in-progress, VENOM, does not feature private eye Jonathan Creed as introduced in BONDS. I know, however, that you are a fan of series characters (Burke, Spenser, etc.) so is it reasonable to expect (hope!) that Creed will be making another appearance in the future? (Consider this a blatant plea for the answer to that to be positive.)
JC: If Creed survives he will likely be back. I know he has more to say and I could probably make that promise/barter (prequels can happen also) if I knew Joe Hannibal would be around again soon
WD: I suppose a natural extension to the foregoing question, since you and he are both private investigators, etc., is: How much of you is in the character of Creed? (Coffee preferably in a ceramic cup, for one thing, am I right?)
JC: A lot of people have asked if I’m him. I’m not, but we share a lot of things, love of food, good cigars, interest in astronomy, respect for the military and public servants but I would likely react a little different than he in many of the situations, there’s some of me in there. We have a similar sense of humor.
WD: Your upcoming work, VENOM – care to comment on that to any extent? Perhaps give readers a bit of a preview for what to expect?
JC: I consider “Bonds” to be a faithful entry into crime fiction. “Venom” strays a bit and blends horror into the story. Almost all the characters are broken in some way so, to me, it’s more true to life. My temperament is much closer to Eddie’s in “Venom” than Creed in “Bonds.”
WD: As mentioned in the intro, in addition to your investigative work and your writing, you are a strong advocate for the Legislative Drafting Institute for Child Protection and also the Staten Island Council for Animal Welfare. Would you care to take this opportunity to enlighten readers a bit about these organizations as far as their purpose and why you are so supportive?
JC: Sure. SICAW is a long running group of great people, that help find dogs and cats homes on Staten Island. The LDICP is a weapon. The idea of it comes from the natural evolution of Andrew’s work. A team of experts that draft specific legislation to target child predators and keep them away from children for good. It is a weapon that will help promote widespread change, if people are smart enough to use it.
WD: John, I want to thank you for granting this interview. You know how impressed I am with your work – BONDS, certainly, as well as some of the additional stories and story segments you have shared with me. I hope you get the strong readership following that you deserve. Before closing, if there's anything I forgot to ask that you'd like to comment on and/or think might be of interest to readers, please do so now. Again, thanks for your time.
JC: Thank you Wayne, it is my privilege. I do have “Reprisals” a short story series with a different set of characters being published in ACES Magazine, by Amy Augustine, a local New York magazine; and I am speaking with a few of the detective fiction magazines about that as well, including Garry at Conflict Manager Magazine. We have a group of people interested in turning the short story series “Reprisals” into a television show and perhaps “Venom” into a movie. I am very optimistic about that. Thank you for the interview, they were some very in-depth questions.