Welcome to the three hundred and forty-ninth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with mystery / thriller author Bob Doerr. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further.
Morgen: Hello, Bob. Please tell us something about yourself, where you’re based, and how you came to be a writer.
Bob: Hi Morgen. I’m a retired career U.S. Air Force officer, now living in sunny San Antonio, Texas. I have only been seriously writing for the past few years, but I think I’ve always had the writing bug. Over the years I have written a number of short stories for fun and some specifically for my children and grand children when they were learning how to read. After the Air Force, I worked for eight years as a financial advisor before fully retiring from my day jobs. I now write full time.
Morgen: Having been in the Air Force you must have some great inspiration. What genre do you generally write?
Bob: I write mystery / thrillers, but I have considered other genres.
Morgen: Like children’s books. What have you had published to-date? Do you write under a pseudonym?
Bob: I’ve had four books published to date under my own name. The titles are Dead Men Can Kill, Cold Winter’s Kill, Loose Ends Kill, and Another Colorado Kill. The books comprise the Jim West Mystery / Thriller series. A fifth book in the same series will be released late this year.
Morgen: Great titles. Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Bob: When I tried to get my first book published, I suffered through nearly seventy rejections before I finally landed a small, independent publisher (Total Recall Press) who took a chance with me. I understood that it was normal to receive numerous rejections, so I simply ignored them and kept plugging away.
Morgen: Best way to be, it’s just the right thing for the wrong person. I interviewed poet Alice Shapiro back in October and she’s with Total Recall too. Have you won or been shortlisted in any competitions?
Bob: I have been very fortunate in that both Cold Winter’s Kill and Loose Ends Kill were selected as Finalists for the Eric Hoffer Award in 2010 and 2011, respectively. Loose Ends Kill also garnered the 2011 Silver Medal for Fiction / Mystery by the Military Writer’s Society of America.
Morgen: Well done. Do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Bob: I do not have an agent, but I do think an agent can be very helpful to an author’s success.
Morgen: But apparently it’s more difficult these days to get an agent than publisher and you’re an example of that. Are your books available as eBooks? Were you involved in that process at all? Do you read eBooks or is it paper all the way?
Bob: All my books are available as eBooks, however I was not involved in that process as my publisher took care of all of that. I read both eBooks and paper copy.
Morgen: Me too. Most people I speak to say they read both (if they have both) and I think it’s great that I can have 400+ books with me at any one time. How much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Bob: I try to do a lot of marketing for my books. As I work with a small publisher with a limited budget, I find I have to do most of my marketing myself. After getting published, the biggest obstacle to an author is in developing a following. There are thousands of good authors and good books out there, but I believe the majority of readers, even serious readers, are only familiar with a small fraction of them. If they’ve never heard your name, how can they be expected to check out your books?
Morgen: That is the hardest part, which is predominantly part of why I started this blog and although my book sales are still a trickle (but to be fair I do very little marketing other than links at the bottom of each posting, I plan to do more when my novels are out) but I have heard (from a US contributor) that a random fellow party goer had heard of me and loved my blog / loved my podcast (that was a thrill) and I met a highly respected journalist at the Chipping Norton Literature Festival (which was brilliant!) at the weekend and when we swapped business cards she’d already visited my blog! Anyway, enough about me. Do you have a favourite of your books or characters? If any of your books were made into films, who would you have as the leading actor/s?
Bob: Excellent question! My favourite character is my lead character, Jim West, but I do not have a favourite book. I have thought about who I would like to play West in a movie but have never decided on a specific candidate. Every time I see a movie or television show with a decent 40-50 year old male actor, I think about it.
Morgen: I’d watch it if someone like Joseph Fiennes was in it (I’d watch it anyway of course :)). Did you have any say in the title / covers of your books? How important do you think they are?
Bob: I think both book title and cover are important. If done well, both can help snag a potential buyer’s attention. I had very little say on the covers to my books, although my publisher does include me in the process by giving me some of his choices for comment. He is much more flexible with the book titles. My first two book titles came as a result of negotiation, but for the last two he accepted my proposals.
Morgen: You do have to think that the publishers know what they’re doing but even so they’re your babies, aren’t they. What are you working on at the moment / next?
Bob: Right now I’m finishing up my fifth Jim West mystery / thriller. When that’s done, I’ll be finalizing a young adult scifi / fantasy that I’ve been working with my granddaughter.
Morgen: Ah ha, yes children’s… you have the experience so it does make sense, and I bet she’s thrilled to be involved. Do you manage to write every day? Do you ever suffer from writer’s block?
Bob: My goal is to write at least five times a week, and I’m able to make that goal on most weeks. Fortunately, I rarely suffer from writer’s block.
Morgen: Me too. I find I have so little time to write that I don’t want to waste it. Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Bob: I love to get an idea and run with it. The plot comes together while I work my way through the book. I do have a general, overall concept of where I’m going, but it’s malleable and certainly nothing written down or charted.
Morgen: I’ve written four and a bit novels (which I’m currently editing) and I plotted a fair amount (well, about five A4 pages) for the first one and it vaguely stuck to it but then I did less for the others. Do you have a method for creating your characters, their names and what do you think makes them believable?
Bob: I do not have any method for creating my characters but I do have to write their names down as I create them. If I don’t, I lose track of them, and I find myself scrolling back through the pages trying to find a name for a character I created earlier in the book. I hope I make my characters believable. When I create a character, I try to picture him or her in my mind and I try to give them a personality.
Morgen: I’ve written short stories before (and some really short) where I’ve changed names part-way through and realised (or not!) as I’ve read it out to one of my critique groups. Do you write any non-fiction, poetry or short stories?
Bob: I’ve written a variety of short stories, but no poetry or non-fiction.
Morgen: I only tend to write poetry for a specific purpose and all my non-fiction so far (more published than my fiction actually) has been about writing. Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Bob: I still have to do a lot of editing. I feel like I’m improving as a writer the more I write, but I still spend a lot of time editing.
Morgen: It’s practice isn’t it. Play a piano or snooker and you have to practice. Do you have to do much research?
Bob: Fortunately, not too much. I spent nearly thirty years conducting and supervising criminal investigations and counterintelligence operations. I also set my stories in places with which I’m familiar.
Morgen: Good plan (me too). What point of view do you find most to your liking: first person or third person? Have you ever tried second person?
Bob: My books have all been in the first person. I have dabbled with third person, but not with anything that’s been published. I have not attempted second person.
Morgen: Oh you should. It’s not to everyone’s taste (to write or read) but it’s my favourite and pretty much all that’s coming out at the moment. Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Bob: Of course. I imagine we all do. A lot of that, however, I wrote in the past for fun and family.
Morgen: Or ‘therapy’. What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life? Has anything surprised you?
Bob: The editing aspect to my writing is my least favourite. I now use a professional, but I still go over my book three or four times before its ready for her. My biggest surprise is how much I really enjoy the writing!
Morgen: Snap. As well as someone else picking up on errors they come up with some great suggestions (mine does anyway). What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Bob: Stick with it. Join writers’ groups and participate in their critique sessions and contests.
Morgen: Yes, do they’re great. I run / belong to four groups and I get something out of each one. If you could invite three people from any era to dinner, who would you choose and what would you cook (or hide the takeaway containers)?
Bob: Well if my wife was out of town I would seriously consider Marilyn Monroe, Natalie Wood, and Ingrid Bergman, but since that probably wouldn’t work, I’d be fascinated to be able to talk to George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Winston Churchill. Of course, I would have to serve up some good ol’ Texas barbeque.
Morgen: Well if it was a barbeque maybe we could have them all. I was at the cinema recently and saw a poster of ‘Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter’ – I’m not sure it’s one I’ll be going to although it sounds like fun. Is there a word, phrase or quote you like?
Bob: If a man stranded alone on a desert island speaks out loud, since there is no woman around to hear him, is he still wrong?
Morgen: I’d since there’s no-one to say otherwise, no, he isn’t, unless he’s saying that marketing of eBooks is easy. Are you involved in anything else writing-related other than actual writing or marketing of your writing?
Bob: I review books for a writers’ organization and teach a short course to aspiring writers.
Morgen: I often get asked to review books but don’t have the time so let me know if you’d like to volunteer. What do you do when you’re not writing?
Bob: I play golf, read, and spend time with the grand children when I can.
Morgen: Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how valuable do you find them?
Bob: I’m on a number of networking sites and while there is some value in belonging to these groups, I wouldn’t consider any of them that “valuable.”
Morgen: What do you think the future holds for a writer?
Bob: I think the future is bright for writers. The time is drawing to a close where a half dozen or so major publishing houses can control the bulk of what is being published. A future writer will have to do more on her own to prepare her books, but getting a book out and in easy reach to more people than ever before is now a reality.
Morgen: The joy of doing that is that you get to speak to your readers directly, that’s wonderful. Where can we find out about you and your work?
Morgen: Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
Bob: I would like to thank you Morgen, for this opportunity to appear in your blog. You are doing a great service to new authors by allowing more readers to become familiar with us.
Morgen: You’re very welcome, Bob. I enjoy it.
Bob Doerr grew up in a military family, graduated from the Air Force Academy, and had a twenty-eight year career of his own in the Air Force. It was a life style that exposed him to the people and cultures in Asia, Europe and of these United States.
Bob specialized in criminal investigations and counterintelligence gaining significant insight to the worlds of crime, espionage and terrorism. His work brought him into close contact and coordination with the investigative and security agencies of many different countries and with the FBI and CIA. His education credits include a Masters in International Relations from Creighton University.
Bob is now a full time author, with four mystery / thrillers already published and a fifth to be released in the fall. Two of his books, Cold Winter’s Kill and Loose Ends Kill, were selected as finalists for the Eric Hoffer Award. Loose Ends Kill was also awarded the 2011 Silver medal for Fiction / mystery by the Military Writers Society of America.
He lives in Garden Ridge, Texas, with Leigh, his wife of 39 years.
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