Welcome to the five hundred and seventy-fifth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with crime thriller author Rick Reed. 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, Rick. Please tell us something about yourself, where you’re based, and how you came to be a writer.
Rick: I didn’t start out to be a writer like most authors that I know, but I have always been a voracious reader. In 1999, while living in a cramped apartment, working third shift as a police detective, newly divorced and trying to find ways to burn off the stress, I discovered that I enjoyed making up police stories.
Since I never expected to find an agent, much less a publisher, I started an underground police department newspaper. It was short and crude and was written as a celebrity roast. The celebrities were whatever unlucky police officer, or politician, I had in my sights for some mischievous—not malicious—fun. The paper was called The Monkey Boy Gazette, and there was an issue every month for ten years before my identity was discovered. My first amendment right to free speech was honoured, but there are subtle ways to punish transgressors and I was finally unable to continue the paper.
Before that happened though, I had a circulation of about one thousand readers, including the entire police department, city government, and local FBI. After I was put out of the underground press business, I was told that my stories were being mailed all over the country to other law enforcement agencies, including the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia. My paper had become a collector’s item, and the victims of the stories were framing them and hanging them in their offices and homes.
Morgen: It’s great having the experience so you really can write what you know because it’s writers like myself who love writing crime but are never sure if the ‘facts’ are right. You could become a crime writers’ consultant. 🙂 What genre do you generally write and have you considered other genres?
Rick: I wanted to write comedy / mystery. One of my all time favourite writers is M.C. Beaton who writes the Hamish Macbeth series. But while I was a police detective I caught a serial killer named Joseph Weldon Brown, and wrote the acclaimed true crime book, Blood Trail, for Kensington Books in New York. That was the beginning of a writing career, which almost ended there because I hated writing true crime. My editor asked me to try my hand at serial killer thrillers, and the rest is history. I now write the Detective Jack Murphy series for Kensington Books.
Morgen: The only non-fiction I write is about the craft of writing and because I’ve learned so much over the last seven years. Of course we have the internet to check our facts but you only need to find two different accounts to throw the proverbial spanner in the works. What have you had published to-date?
Rick: To date, I have written a true crime, Blood Trail, published by Kensington in 2005, and the first two books in the Detective Jack Murphy series, The Cruelest Cut, and The Coldest Fear. They were released in 2010 and 2011. I’m currently at work on the next book in that series, and have three more outlines for books to follow. My website is www.rickreedbooks.com and you can find my appearance schedule and books there.
Morgen: I love your titles, very fitting. Are your books available as eBooks? How involved were you in that process?
Rick: Both, The Cruelest Cut, and The Coldest Fear are available as eBooks. My publisher handles all of that, and in fact, The Cruelest Cut has been licensed and translated into German and Polish and will be eBooks that way as well.
Morgen: Wow, congratulations. Do you read eBooks or is it paper all the way?
Rick: I have never read an eBook, but I can see the advantages of that medium. I’m old, and it took me a while to accept computers, but WOW what a difference they make. Right? I’m sure I’ll eventually get some type of electronic reader.
Morgen: Don’t they, especially when they behave. I have the Kindle app on my iPad and it’s great knowing that wherever I go I have 400+ books with me. I have a bad enough back (sciatica) as it is. 🙂 Did you have any say in the titles / covers of your books? How important do you think they are?
Rick: Funny you should ask. It is a running joke between my editor and myself. When the company is doing the cover art and working on titles, they always send me a letter asking if I have a preference. Alas, my ideas have always sucked. I can write a 100K-word book, but not a title. So I quit trying and leave it in their capable hands. My editor, Michaela Hamilton, has about 40-plus years in this business and she is the guru when it comes to titles. If I could give a new writer any advice, I would tell them this: “Never argue with your editor. They are always right.”
Morgen: That’s really interesting. I wrote 150 short stories (mostly flash fiction) for my 5pm fiction slot between 1st June and 31st October (it’s taken a break for NaNoWriMo 2012, back in January) and so had to come up with 150 titles. I soon found that as I wrote the piece the title would be a phrase within it, which I think ties up nicely, but then it’s easier when something’s only a few hundred words. What are you working on at the moment / next?
Rick: I’m finishing the third book in the Detective Jack Murphy series. This book is one of my favourites as far as being pleasurable to write. Writing is an evolving skill. The more you write the easier it gets, and the ideas get on the page with less mistakes. I always say that I don’t write the book, my characters do. They get in my head and take over, living their lives, talking, crying, fighting, laughing, making the mistakes we all make, showing great inner strength, creating a world of their own. I feel honoured to be a part of that world.
Morgen: Oh, so do I. I always say that writing is like any craft, it takes practice – life is like that too, which I guess is how the term ‘older and wiser’ came about. Do you manage to write every day? Do you ever suffer from writer’s block?
Rick: I write six to seven hours every day of the week, including holidays. I take a few days off when I finish a story (or if my wife threatens me). Writing is a solitary sport, and just as addictive as any other drug. And no, I have never had writer’s block. I let my characters take over and see what they want to do that day.
Morgen: I love that about writing fiction. Six to seven hours… wow, that’s dedication. I’d love to write more but the blog’s a full-time job but then it’s a full-time job I love… Do you have a method for creating your characters, their names and what do you think makes them believable?
Rick: Over the span of my thirty years in law enforcement, I have pretty well seen and done it all. That’s important because I have an unlimited amount of material to bring to the table. I still have some of the tapes of my interviews of suspects, victims and witnesses. When I need a new character, I don’t have far to go.
Morgen: You’re so lucky, but then the rest of us have YouTube. 🙂 Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Rick: In 2010 I had just sent of the final proof of The Cruelest Cut to my editor. I had nine months to complete the next book and started right away. Three months into the new story my editor asked if I had any pages for her to read. I sent her 200 pages of the new book. I had completed almost 300 at that stage. Long story short, she hated the story, the antagonist, and had so many complaints that I scrapped 300 pages and started over. But after I killed her several times in the new book, I went back and deleted those murders and wrote The Coldest Fear. She was right. The antagonist was terrible, and the plot was weak. I learned a valuable lesson.
Morgen: Oh dear. If it was a far better book then it was worth it but… oh dear. 🙂 Do you enter competitions? Are there any you could recommend?
Rick: I generally avoid contests because it invites the perception of rejection by your peers. Writing is a cutthroat business. I pick my battles.
Morgen: <laughs> You mentioned your editor, do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Rick: My agent is Peter Miller of Global Lion Management. He is also a film and TV agent and so he brings not only a lot of experience, but many other outlets to the table. I’ve known Peter for years and consider him one of the best in the business. There are many things a writer can do, but I want to concentrate on writing as much as possible and let the experts handle most of the promotion and marketing. That doesn’t mean you don’t market yourself.
Morgen: That’s the great thing about having professional support; it lets you actually write. I’m self-published (eBooks only at this stage) so I have to do my own marketing and whilst I enjoy it, it is so time-consuming. How much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Rick: My editor told me something that I’ll pass on. A writer should write for six months and market for six months. I’ve found that to be true over the course of writing three books and watching how they have placed in the market.
Morgen: I consider this blog as marketing the ‘Morgen Bailey’ brand (and feel it’s working :)) and post at least twice a day so I couldn’t take six month off but I should spend half the day on it (and related emails) and half the day writing but… no, I should. It’s possible. (note to self: write more!)
Rick: I write for myself and don’t think about the money. When you write for money I think you lose the edge that makes you a writer in the first place. Writers are entertainers.
Morgen: We are and I don’t write for the money (which is just as well) and even if I continued to rely on lodgers (I love having the company when we’re not working) as long as I could write and be in the writing world, I’d be happy. And I am, very. Is there a word, phrase or quote you like?
Rick: “Standing on the Shoulders of Giants.” Sir Isaac Newton. Where writing is a solitary sport, publishing is not. It takes a lot of clever people to put a book in the bookstores.
Morgen: It does and I hope people keep supporting those bookstores – I live in a town of c.200,000 people and we have one chain bookstore (Waterstone’s) and I think the neighbouring towns are the same. It’s a shame, but then I volunteer once a week in a charity shop dealing with their donated books and unless you want a new release, it’s understandable why people pay a pound (cheaper than Amazon because of the postage) rather than the cover price. What do you do when you’re not writing?
Rick: I’m Scottish / Irish. In my rare free time I like to play my bagpipes. It’s therapy. Two fingers of a good single malt Scotch, some ice, a dash of water, and the haunting sound of the pipes.
Morgen: Oh wow. Maybe you could record a soundtrack to go with your books. 🙂 What do you think the future holds for a writer?
Rick: The business is very competitive and not everyone is lucky enough to find a publisher or agent, and even then to get read by anyone. Self-publishing has become the magic pill. But I would caution rushing to publish. I’m sure someone is reading my interview right now, and picking it to pieces. Look at all the misinformation on Wikipedia as a result of poor editing. I think the future for writers will include stricter editing and publishing requirements, both traditional and self-published. Everything will be electronic, possibly interactive books that incorporate game playing with the story to the degree that the reader lives the story as one of the characters. I’d buy that.
Morgen: I saw a lady on LinkedIn only this week saying she was going to self-publish as soon as she’d edited the book she’d written. I urged her to get feedback and pointed her to my blog’s feedback page where I have authors wanting and willing to offer free feedback, we all need it. Where can we find out about you and your writing?
Morgen: Thank you, Rick. I’m so grateful you could join me.
I then invited Rick to include an extract of his writing…
Jack and Liddell sat on the street in front of the victim’s house—which was also her office—and Jack surmised that she was either a shoddy attorney, or she didn’t work very much. The home-office was located on North Main Street, a block before that street dead-ended into Garvin Park. This area was what most Evansvillians would consider the white ghetto.
The house was wood sided, painted long ago with bright green that had now faded to a chalky olive color in places. It shared a gravel parking lot with a condemned building that had once been a BBQ joint. Across the street was an auto body shop where the yard and street were filled with cars and trucks with mix and match paint.
It was past two o’clock and the streets were full of life with kids riding bikes or skateboards, and wanna-be gang-bangers strolling aimlessly while clutching their sagging pants. Old folks sat on porches trying to catch a breeze, while the overpowering smell of sewer gas permeated the air.
Jack remembered playing basketball just down the street in Garvin Park when he was a kid. He and his brother, Kevin, had gone to St. Anthony’s Grade school, and this was the closest place to find a game of pick-up, or maybe a fistfight, or maybe both. The neighbourhood hadn’t seemed so poor back then, but the kids were still as tough.
And a synopsis…
When a killer plays mind games with a cop, there are no rules. The first victim is attacked in her home. Tied to her bed. Forced to watch every unspeakable act of cruelty—but unable to scream. The second murder is even more twisted. Signed, sealed, and delivered with a message for the police, stuffed in the victim’s throat. A fractured nursery rhyme that ends with a warning: “There will be more.” For detective Jack Murphy, it’s more than a threat. It’s a personal invitation to play. And no one plays rougher than Jack. Especially when the killer’s pawns are the people he loves.
Rick Reed was a member of the Evansville Police Department and Vanderburgh County Sheriff Department for 30 years. He worked as an investigator in the Criminal Investigations Unit from 1987 until 2003 when he was promoted from Detective to the rank of Detective Sergeant. He also served as a lead negotiator with the Hostage Negotiation Team. He is also a handwriting expert and received his training from the U.S. Secret Service Academy in Georgia. His last position was commander of the Internal Affairs Office. That was what finally drove him out of police work and into an assistant professor position at Ivy Tech Community College in Evansville.
During his time in law enforcement he was lead investigator on several homicides, rapes and battery cases. His acclaimed book, Blood Trail, is the true account of one of the homicides he investigated in 2000 that unearthed a serial killer with fourteen victims.
He retired from teaching in 2011 and moved to San Francisco, California, where he writes a serial killer-fiction series for Kensington Books.
The most recent release, The Coldest Fear, is the second in a series of detective Jack Murphy novels and was released in September 2011. All books are available as e-books.
Richard is busy with the third book in the series, and is working on three more.
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