Four years after retiring from management consulting and public relations careers, E. J. Rand became the published, award-winning author of the Reluctant Sleuth Mysteries: SAY GOODBYE, PERFECT COVER, and HIGHER CALLING (6/09). He lives with his wife in northern New Jersey.
Welcome to Novel Journey, how long did it take you to get published?
I began writing in 2004 at age 66, and SAY GOODBYE, the first book in my Reluctant SIeuth Mystery series, was published by Deadly Ink Press in February, 2008. The second, PERFECT COVER, came out in December 2008, and the third, HIGHER CALLING, is expected to launch in June 2009.
Do you think an author is born or made?
I began writing when I realized I couldn’t talk to my parents. Go figure. They said I should go to business school, so I graduated from Wharton and had careers in management consulting and public relations before retiring so I might, finally, write. The gap between wanting to and doing it well became clear–I had to translate my desire into skill. Whether an author is born or made, I believe writing must be his/her compulsion, a core focus. Or he/she will be one of the twenty million Americans with percolating novels.
What is the first book you remember reading?
A Hardy Boys mystery–they had adventures I could only dream of. My senior citizen amateur sleuths–Gary and Becca, a married couple–treat me to their adventures, now. I’ve learned it can be painful. I hurt along with them, and my publisher threatens me when their plight grows serious.
What common qualities do you find in the personalities of published authors?
Those I’ve met run the gamut–but there may be a flicker of imagination, an interest in observing, asking the odd question, perhaps chuckling at what seem the wrong times. Aside from that, you’ll find wry humor about agents and publishers.
How do you know if you have a seemingly “stupid” book premise that is doomed to fail versus one that will fly high?
Rather than comment on the effort it takes to reach a level where we can create a 70,000-word novel that flows, builds suspense, surprises, and offers deep characters, I’ll give you my litmus test. If a scene can bring me to tears, it’s a keeper. When I read it and experience what I want my characters to feel, I trust that others will. I can’t write formula and I will not add to the legion of superheroes: Evolving a married couple, having them see each other differently at the end of each novel because of what’s happened–well, it makes me fly high. My first novel won two awards, so I’ll keep at what turns me on.
What is the theme of your books?
In SAY GOODBYE, it’s second chances. When we meet them, Gary and Becca are each wearing wedding rings–him to preserve memories, her as a defense against men. Evolutions: they fall for each other, and Gary, a logical, buttoned up man, is blown open emotionally. Falling for Becca allows him to say goodbye to his late wife. When the killers come for him but take her, he may have to say goodbye again–and he can’t.
This book has been honored with two awards.In PERFECT COVER, the title says it: How can Gary find the killer when two murderous plots are afoot? He and Becca are married, she wants in on the sleuthing, but he–looking into attacks on women in the hospital where she serves as a nurse–resists. What’s a strong woman to do? She becomes a police decoy to catch a killer. We know, though he doesn’t, that there are two killers–and Becca is in the sights.
At what point did you stop juggling suggestions and critiques and trust yourself (as a writer)?
I wrote SAY GOODBYE, submitted it and got it right back, and set it aside. I wrote PERFECT COVER and set it aside–learning all the while from writing groups, conferences, classes, and practice. Then HIGHER CALLING poured out in six months, and I felt confident. After that, I reworked SAY GOODBYE as I wanted the series to start where Gary and Becca meet. Then I revised the second in series, PERFECT COVER. So you might say my third-and-a-half novel got published first.
Since then I’ve completed a fourth, DARK SEA, and I’m well into a fifth. It gets deeper, more emotional, so I won’t be bored. But still, if a respected colleague offers comment, I consider how I might revise/clarify to improve it while retaining my vision.
Are takeaway messages (in your book) important to you?
Love counts most, and it’s how you deal with the ride that makes the difference.
When do you know you’ve got the finished product and it’s your best effort?
If I can let it sit, go on to something else, and when I return to it, read it aloud, slip into it and find that it flows without changes, I’m there. What happens when I bury myself in an unfinished scene and read it aloud is that my spoken words will be different from what’s on the screen (or, page). Then I’m not done.
Any anecdotes about the research or writing of your books?
For HIGHER CALLING, I researched, on the Internet, plastic explosives and bomb making–and expected a knock on the door. For DARK SEA, the final question I got to ask a cruise ship officer was, “So, the food waste disposal intake is large enough for body parts….” For PERFECT COVER, a regional hospital security director, his left eye suddenly twitching, told me that my premise was one of his nightmares.
Do you still experience self-doubts regarding your work?
I will not submit anything to my publisher that I don’t believe in, and I won’t submit until it is professionally edited. I treat my editor’s marks as grist for learning. Generally, I want to be “in” a scene four or five times, until I feel the surround, hear the talk, see the movement, get rocked by the action. Improvement is my mantra, this writing-author process is an adventure, and as long as I’m doing what I want and having fun with it, no doubts.
How do you craft a plot?
I read scores of mystery novels before starting to write, because I wanted to find what I liked best. For me, it’s deep characters and what you might term a complex plot: more than one thing happening, often simultaneously, so readers (and Gary and Becca) are taken on a journey. I develop plot threads that can play out and come together at the end. At first, I plotted only as far ahead as the headlights could see.
For the novel I’m presently writing, I laid out each plotline and integrated them. I began SAY GOODBYE as a murder mystery, and found a love story also pouring out. It seems I cannot write a mystery novel without a love story–it’s in the plot’s DNA, and, I guess, in mine.
How do you think reading the work of others helps you as a writer?
What happens to me: Within a few pages of reading the work of a talented author, I find a bit of craft I might make my own, not words to steal but perhaps a way of handling a transition, or creating a gap in dialog. My fingers twitch and I’m at the keyboard. Some books make me take notes. Wonderful craft abounds out there. What an author values, he/she retains.
Was there ever a time in your writing career you thought of quitting?
After the first years of grinding at it, being yelled at in group and rejected by agents, my family tenderly suggested they’d read it if I self-published. That’s a growing industry–but my goal was to make it for “real.” This is what I do. It’s compulsive.
How much marketing/publicity do you do? Any advice in this area?
Minutes after my delighted Snoopy dance at being offered publication, reality set in. Authors today must market. So I got professionally trained as a speaker and found a niche for my series. I speak before senior groups, library groups, women’s groups, book groups, at schools, hospitals, and more–and I enjoy connecting with audiences. I “set” the events by myself, and I’ve been able to get write-ups about me in print media, a benefit of the public relations career.
Author picture by Ray Turkin