Sunday, March 9, 2014

Author Interview: Robert K. Lewis (Critical Damage)

I recently had the opportunity to sit down (in a virtual sort of way) with Robert K. Lewis, author of UNTOLD DAMAGE and, the soon to be released sequel, CRITICAL DAMAGE.  

Me: Describe your debut novel, Untold Damage, for the readers in 25 words or less.
Robert K. Lewis (RLK): A recovering heroin addict, ex-undercover cop, goes after the murderer of his best friend.

Me: How on earth did you ever get dragged into the seedy world of being a professional writer?

RLK: I’m a born masochist, I guess. I was a painter for a long time, and hit the wall with that. Then, like a child who moves from pictures to words, I turned to writing screenplays, then after a tough bunch of years, started writing fiction. Took me about ten years of writing before I got published. I love a challenge, and writing (and not sucking) is one of the huge challenges out there.

Me: More often than not, today's writers seem drawn to the “good guy with the white hat” protagonist.  Your main character, Mark Mallen, is quite the opposite. What made you go against the grain and choose a very flawed individual?

RLK: I’m flawed. We’re all flawed. It’s what we all know, if not on a conscious level, then on an unconscious one. Beyond that, flawed characters are just more fascinating. Who wants to read a character that doesn’t need to be fixed? Overcoming ourselves is one of our great challenges in this life.

Me: I agree. The reality is that people do have issues. I think flawed characters are not only interesting to write, but interesting for readers. Almost like rooting for the underdog. Which brings me to another question: Mystery writers are an odd bunch. Alcoholic beverages aside, what, or who, would you say has influenced your work the most?

RLK: Well… this could be a long list. There are lot of guys who DIDN’T, or DON’T write mysteries on it. However, sticking to mystery writers, I would say “the old crew”: Chandler, Hammett, Frank Kane, Henry Kane, Ed McBain, Ross Macdonald… to name a few.

Me: In that respect you are like me. My influences span the literary spectrum, from Frank Herbert (Dune) to Frederick Forsyth (Day of the Jackal). I think it helps to have a variety of influences. Most people pick up a book and don’t realize just how much WORK actually goes into writing. What would you say was the hardest part in writing Untold Damage?

RLK: Writing it in a vacuum. I don’t have a writers group. I don’t have readers. By the time I wrote what was to become this book, I’d had been writing screenplays and mystery fiction for over ten years. I go with with my gut when I write, and that is ALWAYS very risky and very hard. (I would NEVER recommend this way of doing it to anyone, at anytime, by the way). 

Me: Did you have any inside help, from professional cops, when you were creating the background story of Mark Mallen?

RLK: No, I didn’t. I did need their help though on understanding procedures, etc, and called the Tenderloin station a bit to confirm procedure, but that was about it. Whenever I called, the officer on the other end of the phone was always helpful, and patient. 

Me: When I was writing my first novel, I had this vision of ‘and they lived happily ever after’ playing out in my mind. That didn’t work out quite so well. Did your original idea for the ending actually survive until the end or did you alter it along the way?

RLK: It survived. It was a very important, organic, aspect of the entire story, and it had to happen the way it happened.

Me: I know your fans are anticipating the release of the sequel, Critical Damage, which comes out in April. Can you tell us what the premise of this novel is going to be?

RLK: Ha! I HOPE people out there are anticipating the sequel. All I can really say about Critical Damage is this: It’s like what “The Empire Strikes Back” was to “Star Wars”.

Me: It’s funny you say that. I remember walking out of the movie theater, after seeing TESB, and thinking what the hell just happened. It was so unexpected that it drew out some emotions I didn’t expect to have. As much as I think readers like to know where a story is going, they appreciate the unexpected. Maybe not at first, but after it sinks in they go ‘wow, never saw that coming….’ So, I would think that you must have a plan for a third book? Hopefully without any Ewoks (That’s a Star Wars joke for those not into the Sci-Fi genre).

RLK: I just turned it over to my editor. It will be out April 2015.

Me: That should keep them chomping at the bit. Is there anything else you’d like to share with the readers?

RLK: Well, I say this all the time, however, I feel strongly that it’s true: you have to prepare for the long haul, and work hard if you want to be published. I’ve never been one to say, “Well, I only write when I’m inspired.” Um… no. You write all the time, inspired or not. This is work. And once you get a publishing contract, it becomes a job. A hard job. There are revisions to deal with, ideas for the next book, promotion, appearances, your family (if you have one), your day job (you probably have one). The list goes on and on. You have to love it, or you won’t make it. It’s really that simple. And if you DO love it, and DON’T make it? That’s ok, too, because you’re spending your time doing something you love, and that is a very rare gift.

Me: Truer words were never spoken. I think that good writing is a double edged sword. The reader never sees the nights of writer’s block, when you are struggling to make that critical transition from one part of the book to another, or the endless revisions and edits to make the finished product feel as polished as possible. The better the writing, the more effortless it appears to the reader. It really is something you have to be passionate about because, for the majority of writers, it is the most underpaying ‘job’ there is.  We all dream about being the next James Patterson, but you have better luck playing the Powerball.

Robert I want to thank you for taking the time to share some insight about you and your novels. I wish you much success and hopefully you WILL be the next James Patterson and I can say I knew you when. Just for the record, if that happens, the drinks are on you!!

Pick-up his book, UNTOLD DAMAGE, available now in both print and e-book.

For those of you fortunate to live in the bay area of California, you can check out Robert’s appearance schedule on his website (under the news category):

If you want more information on the author you can check out these great sites:

Twitter: @robertklewis

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