You have to be very methodical when you write a mystery novel, because it’s usually a very analytical process. I start and build up the characters in anticipation of the problem. The problem is usually a murder that the reader must try to figure out who did it or an event that leaves the reader trying to figure out why it happened or why other things in the story are happening. You’ve got to be very careful in what you give the reader in the way of clues because that obviously has an impact on how the story ends. And of course, as the writer you get to choose who did it and why. So I think it’s pretty exciting to be able to present a problem, lead the reader along with some series of events and clues that lead up to the dénouement, and then come up with whatever ending you as the writer want. A lot of times it may not be the ending that the readers want, but as the author you get to decide how you want it to end.
It’s exciting for me to be able to start with a blank piece of paper and make the story and the characters and the places come to life for the reader. It’s sort of like an artist with a blank canvas. You start with nothing and you can do whatever you want with the art you create. You get to fill the pages with a world of your own creation. You can bend the rules or you can suspend reality, because in the end it’s about creating something enjoyable for the readers, and to do that sometimes you have to let your imagination run wild and see where it goes. You can be bold if you want in your characters or your storyline. The writer has great freedom of expression in writing the story, and it’s exciting for me to pull a lot of different elements together into a story that makes the reader want to keep turning the page for more.
Crafting the characters was somewhat difficult for Murder at the Ocean Forest since it is a period piece. I had to take into consideration people’s mannerisms and beliefs and emotions that may have been a part of the World War II era. I had to ask myself what motivated people during the war and how did the war impact them psychologically and emotionally. I talked to some people I know who were around during the 1940s and who could remember the times.
As you know, each character in Murder at the Ocean Forest is extremely unique, and since the book is very character driven I went into some great detail about them all and their mannerisms and you even get a glimpse into their thoughts and point of view. Up until the first murder, you get a chapter or part of a chapter from each character’s point of view, so it gives the reader a chance to get to know the characters and what they think and how they perceive some things. That makes for a very interesting dynamic between all the characters when the reader puts everything together.
What was more difficult was trying to craft the setting at the old Ocean Forest Hotel in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. The Ocean Forest Hotel was demolished in the 1970s, long before I was introduced to Myrtle Beach. So, I’m trying to write a story set in a place that doesn’t exist anymore and for which there is really very limited information. I had some photographs to go by to get an idea of what the hotel looked like on the outside and to some extent on the inside, but I didn’t have much to work with. I interviewed some people who had local knowledge and who shared with me their memories of the place. After that, I set to work to recreate the Ocean Forest Hotel in the 1940s, and from the feedback I’ve received from a number of readers who had actually been to the Ocean Forest Hotel, I’m told I did a pretty good job at capturing the place in my book. I’m glad I could do it justice.
A psychological thriller like The House of Dark Shadows is basically writing about a mind game. Not only does it involve a mind game among the characters, but as the writer you’re also playing a mind game with the readers. As the writer, you’ve got to be very careful and very creative in how you present the story. In The House of Dark Shadows you’ll notice that the story is told complete from one character’s point of view. You’re privy to some of his thoughts and emotions, and the reader can get in his head a little bit. However, the readers don’t get any insight into what the other characters are thinking. Instead, you get one character’s perception of what he thinks they may be thinking or what their emotions are; you get his perspective and his perspective alone. Obviously, if you were able to get inside other characters’ heads in the book, you would be able to figure out what was going on pretty quickly. Because of the set up of all of this, you leave the reader wondering whether their take on the book is right or not. Did this really happen or was it part of the character’s imagination or what? Can you take the explanation at the end at face value or was there more to it? Who was the good guy and who was the bad guy? Was everything really as it seemed or not? I’ve had readers tell me that they weren’t sure how to take the ending of the book, that it could go a couple of ways, and I’ve had readers argue both perspectives and not come to a firm conclusion about it. Thus, that’s the nature of the psychological thriller, in my opinion. Some people don’t like that there isn’t a fully explained and clear conclusion, but I liken it to the twist in Alfred Hitchcock’s works—it leaves you wondering for days after you’ve finished the movie or in my case the book.
I have written a number of articles and opinion pieces on business, the economy, politics, and other current matters or events. A good deal of what I’ve done in the past few years outside of writing mystery novels has been for Thinking Outside the Boxe, which is a private think tank that writes commentaries on a wide range of issues. They have a symposium every year with panelists to discuss currents events. I’ve participated in that forum several times over the last six years. It’s a good way to step away from the fictitious world that I immerse myself in when I’m writing a mystery novel and talk about real life events and every day issues that affect people throughout the world. I’m a problem solver. I have to solve problems in my businesses all the time, and there are plenty of problems in the United States and elsewhere, both political and economic problems, that need to be solved. I stay current with what’s going on in the world, so I like to contribute my thoughts and opinions on how we can fix some of these problems. Sadly, I haven’t gotten any calls from anyone who has read any of my commentaries to say they liked the idea or that it was a good or a bad idea or that they’d like to try out my idea to see if it would fix some of our problems here in America. But I like expressing my opinions and giving my solutions, and Thinking Outside the Boxe has been kind enough to let me contribute to their website and their efforts, so I’ll just keep talking about what’s important in the world we live in and try to make the world a better place.
So, there’s the economic and political articles that I write as well as the mystery novels, but my newest book that is coming out at the end of April is a motivational book called Conversations on the Bench. It’s about a very inspirational person that I had the pleasure to meet a few years back. He was a great thinker who also liked to solve problems and who had an abundance of personality and charm and wisdom. He had a lot of life lessons to share with people, and he did just that. Even I got the benefit of some of his words of wisdom and anecdotes. This was really stepping out of the box for me to write a story that wasn’t a mystery but that was inspired by actual people and events. I certainly enjoyed the experience, and I hope readers like Conversations on the Bench, but after that I’m going to stick with fiction with a mystery theme.
Business is very important to me. I’ve got good people working for me and that helps free up some of my time to write, but nonetheless, I’m still the boss and I’ve got work to do when it comes to the businesses.
Outside of business and writing, I like to get in some golf every now and then. I’m afraid I don’t get to play as much as I would like, but I do enjoy trying out new courses and seeing if I can beat the course or if the course will beat me. I end up losing to the course most of the time. I play in a lot of charity golf tournaments to help raise money for various causes, so I’m killing two birds with one stone—I get to help out worthwhile organizations and enjoy a round of golf. It’s a win-win.
I like animals, so I’m always looking for ways to help homeless and neglected or abused cats and dogs and other creatures. I want to do what I can to help alleviate the suffering of innocent little creatures who are just looking for a forever home. I’m very interested in finding ways to help stop animal abuse and neglect and stop the senseless killing of animals in shelters simply because they don’t have a home. I’m always researching no kill organizations and trying to help educate people about the importance of having their pets spayed or neutered.
And I am really big into the WWE. I’m a life member of the WWE Universe. I love watching it on TV and going to live WWE events throughout the year as time permits. I’m the WWE Universe Best Dressed Fan. I got that nickname from a guy who was sitting near me at Wrestlemania 27 in Atlanta. WWE provides good, clean entertainment, and I really enjoy being part of the energy and excitement at their live events.
I think my first writing experience was writing a different ending to a book that I had finished reading. I didn’t like the ending, so I sat down and re-wrote the last couple of chapters. I quickly realized that I really enjoyed writing, particularly creative writing. Up to that point, most of my writing had been research, commentaries, or articles. So, I stepped out of the box and started writing short stories and a couple of screenplays. My writing progressed from there to novel. I wrote The Versailles Conspiracy first, but I didn’t really like the first version so I put it away for a couple of years. I wrote Murder at the Ocean Forest next. Once I started writing I never really stopped. I went from Murder at the Ocean Forest back to The Versailles Conspiracy then The House of Dark Shadows, The Maynwarings and Conversations on the Bench. I’m still writing articles and commentaries about various subjects—the economy, politics, business—but I’m doing less of that and focusing more on creative writing. I think it’s somewhat therapeutic for me, and it gives me a chance to escape from the stress of the real world and get lost in a world that I’m creating.
Conversations on the Bench is an inspirational book about two very good friends and some of the conversations they had that were pretty insightful and filled with simple life lessons that you have to pick up along the way in life. I wrote Conversations on the Bench as a tribute to Sebastian Peréy at the request of his friend and colleague from the think tank they had formed back in 2003. I only met Sebastian on one occasion, at a symposium hosted by their think tank, but over the course of a couple days, I had the privilege of getting to know him and hearing a little of his story. He was a larger than life type of guy in more ways than one. He was big in stature, weighing in at over 400 pounds, but he had this positive energy about him that was captivating. You met the guy and you felt like you had known him for a long time. You just wanted to get to know him and hear his story. It was as if you could tell he had something interesting to say. Sebastian was a truly inspirational figure to a lot of people, including Robbie, his friend and colleague at the think tank who actually encouraged me to write the book. I was intrigued by Robbie and Sebastian, and I ultimately decided that I needed to tell their story. So I learned as much as I could about Sebastian from Robbie through telephone conversations over the course of about five years. Now, we have Conversations on the Bench as a great tribute to Sebastian, a brilliant individual and just an all around good guy.
Sebastian and Robbie spent countless hours toiling over life and worldly problems. Wherever they went, whether it was a local pub, a restaurant, or the golf course, they would find a bench and they would sit and talk for hours on end. They would talk about problems, the economy, women, business challenges, you name it. And Sebastian was sure to share his own wit and wisdom, a wisdom that can only be gained through a collection of unique life experiences. Conversations on the Bench is a compilation of some of Sebastian’s greatest life lessons as presented through various conversations he and Robbie had over the years. I’m confident that Conversations on the Bench offers something for everyone and that everyone can find something they can relate to in the book.