Read an interview in Alligatorpapiere, a German-language crime fiction magazine (in English).
Interview by Jon Jordan
1) Why did you decide to write the Mairead O'Clare books under a pseudonym?
A: Several reasons. One, I'd done a legal thriller in 1998 entitled THE STALKING OF SHEILAH QUINN. It was well received (starred review in Publishers Weekly; three hardcover printings by St. Martin's), but caused consumer confusion: When people saw my name on the spine, they assumed it was a private eye novel. Accordingly, it seemed sensible to use a pseudonym for the new series. Also, since the narrative device is varying POV among 4 different characters, two male and two female, I thought a gender-neutral first name like "Terry" made sense. However, since the "first among equals" is the young female criminal defense attorney, Mairead (pronounced the Irish way, "Muh-RAID") O'Clare, I thought it made sense to use an Irish-American last name like "Devane."
2) Are you going to write any more books with John Cuddy? I know there is a short story collection coming out, any more novels?
A: The second Cuddy short story collection, CUDDY PLUS ONE, is coming from Crippen & Landru in February, 2003. The same publisher did THE CONCISE CUDDY, which is roughly the first half of the Cuddy short stories to date. I believe Crippen & Landru is coming out with a second printing of that first collection to ride with the second.
On the novel front, I don't have a contract to do a next Cuddy book, but the series is "in play" in Hollywood with an experienced executive producer there toward a possible TV series. If that materializes, then I'd probably seek a publisher for the Cuddy backlist (I have the rights to the first 9 of the 13) and a new frontlist title to complement the program.
3) You've written a great amount of short stories. What is it about the short story format that appeals to you?
A: I've so far done about 60 short stories, mostly mystery. What I like about them is they are fun to do, especially when you have a twist idea that just doesn't have the shoulders to carry an entire novel (think of the Alfred Hitchcock TV series). Also, short stories allow you to experiment without too much risk: A collection of my non-Cuddy short stories will appear in March, 2003, from Five Star Books. Finally, a short story featuring a series character, like John Cuddy, can be a great "sampler" for a reader who subscribes to Ellery Queen or Alfred Hitchcock, but might not buy an unfamiliar author's novel without getting a "taste" of character and writing style.
4) You are a graduate of Rutgers and Harvard Law school, and you were a professor of Law. What other things did you do before you started writing?
A: During college summers, I worked in the Sheriff's Office of my county in New Jersey, eventually going out on homicides, armed robberies, riot duty, etc. After law school, I was a Military Police lieutenant and eventually captain. Following that, I was a trial attorney for five years before beginning teaching.
5) What is your favorite part of going to mystery conventions?
A: Without question, the fan contact and the catching up with other writers. When you're being productive as a writer, you are sitting alone in a small room with a computer, creating a fantasy world. Attending conventions "grounds" you again, and also allows you to experience the wisdom of the saying, "I cried because I had no shoes, until I met a man who had no feet."
6) While mystery fiction is generally made up of events that actually wouldn't happen, do you think it is important to have a strong tie to reality?
A: I do think it's important, but that may be simply because I tend to write the more "realistic" private eye and legal thriller books involving professionals in the criminal justice system. On the other hand, I have to take "realistic" here with a grain of salt: While what happens to John Cuddy in a private eye novel or to Mairead O'Clare in a legal thriller COULD happen, it is NOT "realistic" to think such things happen to any GIVEN private eye or defense attorney ALL the time. On the third hand, I try to be realistic when I'm trying to be authentic: No more than a full load being fired from a certain type of gun; the performance of a specific model of car; the sights, smells (and even sounds) of discovering dead bodies.
7) A lot of people have different opinions, how would you describe Hard-boiled?
A: I would describe it as violence onstage, with a hero--or anti-hero--who views violence as often necessary, but never fun. Gritty more than humorous, and humor more in the wise-guy vein.
8) Is there any thing that you would not include in a book? A line you won't cross?
A: Not from personal feelings, no. I believe there are some themes or scenes which could keep a book from being published: onstage torture of children, even pets.
9) What did you do last weekend?
A: I just met a deadline, so I've been catching up on all the things I had to let slide for the last month (like this interview, to be honest).
10) What do you do to keep in shape?
A: Jogging, swimming, tennis, Stairmaster, stationary bike, Nautilus and Cybex weight training. I played Judo in college, and Jukado thanks to the MP's, and a little kick-boxing thereafter.
11) What's the most difficult thing about writing as a living?
A: The delayed gratification. I'm fortunate in that my wife makes enough money that my income as a writer is a bonus for us, so the money is less a problem for me than it would be for many. But it's kind of hard, answering question 13 as well, NOT to receive that immediate gratification--and course correction--provided by students after each class hour when instead you are writing a 500-page manuscript that no one will see during the six months until YOU think it's finished.
12) What's the strangest legal case you ever came across?
A: In my own experience, an adopted child who absolutely looted his adoptive, ailing father's finances.
13) Do you miss teaching?
See 11, above. The one thing I still miss about teaching is that sense of "on-stage" ego satisfaction, but I do enough personal appearances and speeches that much of that is now replaced by speaking in front of "writing" audiences.
14) If you could meet any person, from any time, who would it be and why?
A: Spartacus, because what he did is still to me the greatest story of exceptional courage and justifiable carnage.
15) If you were to compile a "must read" list of mystery authors, who would be on it?
A: Hoping not to offend any omitted: Raymond Chandler, Sue Grafton, Robert B. Parker, Tony Hillerman, Mary Higgins Clark, Elmore Leonard, Loren Estleman, Tami Hoag, Robert Barnard, S.J. Rozan, Dennis Lehane, Robert Crais. I don't think you can feel yourself to be well-read in mystery without sampling all of them.
16) What do you do when someone asks you to read a book to review or blurb, and you don't care for the book?
A: I don't review books, but I do blurb them. I don't think of the "blurb" as a review, but rather a letter of recommendation: Here's what I think is a strong point of the work. People like Bob Parker and Tony Hillerman did it for me twenty years ago when I was breaking in, and I like to continue the tradition. Also, providing blurbs means my name appears on the cover of at least ten books a year that I didn't even have to WRITE.
17) If you were to put together a soundtrack for the Cuddy books, what kinds of music would be on it?
A: Soulful, solo piano and sax pieces, both jazz and New Age.
18) What's the best advice you were ever given?
A: Don't ever give up. It came from the Army time, but it stood me in good stead as I was submitting my first manuscript, BLUNT DARTS, and it was rejected by 28 publishers before the 29th bought it; six months later, it received a Shamus nomination, and the New York TIMES put it on the holiday list as one of the seven best mysteries of the year.
19) What are you working on right now?
A: The deadline I mentioned earlier was for the third Mairead O'Clare legal thriller (after UNCOMMON JUSTICE and JUROR NUMBER ELEVEN). Its tentative title is A STAIN UPON THE ROBE, and deals with a trial judge hearing the case of a defrocked Catholic priest accused of child-rape even as she is being drawn into a Gary-Condit-like scandal with her young research clerk.
20) What's the one thing always in your refrigerator?
A: A bottle of white wine, so my wife can stand to listen to me when she gets home from her REAL job.