I recently retired from working with legal aid agencies that took on the heart-breaking issues confronting low-income persons in our country: domestic violence, homelessness, hunger, unemployment and systemic racism. Currently, I live happily in Circle Pines with Debra, Finnegan the super-dog, and an invisible water sprite that keeps plugging new characters into my psyche.
- Tell us about the featured book. What is it about, and why did you choose to write this story?
The Narcissism of Small Differences is a noir detective novel about the controlling influences of history, culture and the subconscious mind. The fallibility of memory and its importance to one’s sense of self and place in the world is a major idea that affects almost every character. As the title implies, this is also a story about how insignificant the differences are between the defenders of law and order and those who live in the world outside of it. And, while it is also a fast-paced police procedural, there are ample sprigs of humor sprinkled throughout.
I suppose the seeds of this thing were planted several years ago when my friend Gianna Pomata gave me a copy of Seamus Heaney’s Door Into The Dark, a book of poems that were, of course, quite dark. From it an idea took hold of the poet as the guardian of that peculiar door.
Years later, when I sat down to write a science fiction short story, that image of a mystical poet-guardian kept asserting itself. It was an easy transition from the poet to “Owl Eyes” Conor Delaney, the protagonist of Narcissism.
I never made a choice to write this story. The final draft of it came as a real surprise to me.
- Tell us a little about your writing process. What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching, outlining, or planning before beginning a book?
I spent zero time in planning or outlining. I wrote from chapter to chapter, not knowing what was coming next. Perhaps because of that, I spent far more time in rewriting than writing.
Research required quite a bit of time. I particularly wanted to get the chapters dealing with the Ojibwe right and worked with a wonderful Ojibwe community leader, Kathryn Beaulieu. She was a tough editor and kept me from taking some truly embarrassing missteps in the portrayal of this historic and powerful culture.
There was a lot of time spent studying the psychopathic mind and researching the history and culture of the Vory v Zakone, an elite Russian gang.
- Are there any writers or authors who have influenced your writing? If not, who are some of your favorite writers?
Being a fan of Irish literature, Yeats, Joyce and Seamus Heaney, of course. I think Joyce Carol Oates is phenomenal. I admire Raymond Chandler for his determination to make literature less pretentious and more universal, Stephen Ambrose for making history come alive and Walter Mosley because he writes the best detective fiction there is. Finally, I like Hampton Sides because he knows how to build a roaring good adventure tale from historical, non-fiction sources. My favorite local writer? That’s a close call, but Louise Erdrich & John Sandford never disappoint.
- When you’re not writing, what do you like to do in your spare time?
We live on a lake, so fishing and taking friends on an evening pontoon cruise are great diversions. I’m a fan of British TV murder mysteries, so tuning in public television or Acorn are a must. Then there is the great Scrabble tournament that Debra and I play regularly. It pains me to report that she maintains a considerable lead.
But as I get older, I have come to value the art of conversation. So, listening and talking with one or several friends is what I most value and like doing at any time, spare or otherwise.
- Do you have a website or social media channels (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc.) where readers can learn more about your work? Please feel free to list or link them below.
I don’t have a digital presence of any kind and don’t want one. The novel I’m working on now will join the growing chorus of works warning about the dangers of the inevitable move toward a Super Artificial Intelligence. Given what we know about what the large digital corporations do with our personal data, I try to avoid them as much as possible.
But I do have an email address: [email protected]. Readers are sincerely invited to write and I promise to respond. Also note the last paragraph of the response to #4, above.