The following quote woke my interest in this book. Read what Sigmund Brouwer, bestselling author of Broken Angel wrote about Back on Murder.
"The first paragraph makes you feel like an astronomer discovering a growing brightness in an unmapped area of the sky, and as you continue you get the excitement of realizing you're the first to witness a supernova, and there's no way you're going to take your eyes off it until it's finished. The story and writing is that good. Give me more."
Wow, now let's hear from Mark.
Q. Tell me about the story of your book.
Back On Murder introduces Roland March, a Houston homicide detective on the brink of burnout. He’s being farmed out on various assignments, and is the designated “suicide cop” -- i.e., the detective who lands the thankless task of investigating the occasional suicide of a fellow officer. Then something happens: he spots something at a crime scene that no one else notices, and gets a shot at redemption. The only problem is, to vindicate himself, he has to prove a theory no one else believes in and face down some very dangerous people.
Q. And what kinds of things can readers expect?
Readers tend to mention words like “gritty” and “realistic.” I’ve tried to capture something profoundly real about Roland March’s experience, about what it’s like to carry around the weight of being a homicide cop. If the truth is ever going to come to light, it’s up to him, and sometimes that’s a terrible feeling. A terrible pressure. But March loves his work, too. It’s exhilarating. Readers go deep into the story with March, over his shoulder the whole way.
Q. What has been the hardest part of writing Back On Murder and how did you overcome it?
The most challenging aspect? Writing a four-hundred page book from the perspective of one character. But I had no choice. This was March’s story, and it could only be told in his voice. Because of that decision, I can’t hop around from character to character, filling in all the gaps. The reader only knows what March knows … and once you get to know him, you realize that March isn’t always honest with himself. What I found, though, is that taking on March’s persona makes the story. It was challenging to figure that out, but once I did, it came more naturally than I ever expected.
Q. How did you choose your characters’ names?
I try to avoid what I call soap opera names -- i.e., names that have a fancy, made-up sound, names you’d only ever encounter in a story. At the same time, I love authors who have fun with character names, who aren’t afraid to be a little eccentric. (James Lee Burke comes to mind.) I try to come up with names that encapsulate the character, at least in my mind, without coming across as too on-the-money.
Q. Tell us how much of yourself you write into your characters.
Flaubert was onto something when he said, “Madame Bovary, c’est moi.” My characters aren’t mouthpieces for their creator. March would say things I never would, and I suspect he’d disown me in a heartbeat. But he’s an alter-ego of sorts. Then again, so is his sometime partner Theresa Cavallo, and so is the youth pastor Carter Robb. I put a lot of myself into the book, but not in ways that would be immediately obvious to people who know me. There’s very little autobiography.
Q. Are there any themes in Back on Murder that you hope the reader sees? Are there any themes that weren't overt but developed as the story progressed?
If an author has to lecture us on his themes, then he’s failed in his job. Having said that, there are a lot of things in the story that seem unconnected at first, only later coming together in unexpected ways. If you pay attention early on, you’ll be rewarded. As a novelist, I try to write stories with layers. There’s always something going on under the surface, and that won’t be apparent to every reader. Back on Murder could be read simply for plot, just to find out what happens, and that’s perfectly fine. But there are mysteries besides the main mystery, if you care to look for them.
Q. How did you choose the setting for Back On Murder?
I chose Houston for a couple of reasons. It’s the fourth largest city in the United States, a place I happen to know well. In many ways, it’s a dystopian setting. A lot of the things people are worried about in modern culture -- everything from suburban sprawl and the energy crisis to corporate greed and big box religion -- are quintessential to Houston. As representative as it is, though, there’s a unique culture to the city, and it hasn’t been written about all that much. In crime fiction, it’s definitely under-represented. I’m doing my part to change that.
Q. Some authors report writing 5-10 thousand words a day. Do scenes flow freely from your veins, or do you have to tweeze each word out?
It depends on how well I know my story. I write my way into it, which means I begin with several thin, halting drafts. I get caught up on story questions, wording, everything. If I keep at it, though, a switch flips and suddenly the pace picks up. When I finally get to that point, it’s not unusual for me to write a chapter a day. Of course, then I have to go back and revise. On the one hand, I’m a fast writer. On the other, I believe in lots of work after the fact. By the time I turn a manuscript in, though, it’s in a more or less final state.
Q. What are you working on right now?
What else? Revisions. The second March novel, Pattern Of Wounds, is coming out in July 2011. The manuscript is turned in, but still have some editorial feedback to work through, which will lead to another draft of revisions. Then it’s on to the third, as-yet-untitled March book.
Q. What is the best writing advice you ever got? The worst?
The best advice is, “Finish what you start.” Basic as that sounds, it’s what separates the many who aspire to write from the few who do. Finish your first draft. Finish revising. You get the idea. The worst advice would probably be, “Show, don’t tell,” with “Always use active verbs” running a close second. These maxims aren’t bad. They’re just over-emphasized, often by people who don’t understand their original context. It’s far better to choose a voice and be true to it, whatever infractions of narrative or grammar that necessitates.
Q. Someone has given you access to a time machine and you can go back and visit two events in the history of the world, what two events would you experience? Why?
My answer to this would probably change from day to day. One event I’d love to witness is the Defenestration of Prague, in which a couple of imperial delegates were ejected from a nearby window, kicking off the Thirty Years War. The men survived. According to their Protestant opponents, their fall was cushioned by a dung heap, while their fellow Catholics credits a flight of angels with the miracle. There’s a very noble-looking print of the scene on my office wall. I’d like to see how it really went down. Henry V’s St. Crispin’s Day speech would be tempting, though I would hate to be the blowhard who used his time machine to demythologize that Shakespearean moment. As a crime writer, I suppose my second visit should be more altruistic. Since there’s a precedent in the literature, perhaps I’d zip back to Victorian London and see whether Patricia Cornwell is right about the identity of Jack the Ripper.
Q. Tell us the range of the kinds of books you enjoy reading.
I read a lot of fiction, of course. Crime fiction and literary fiction are the two genres I spend the most time with. I’m especially thrilled as a reader when the two intersect. My other reading goes in phases, usually alternating between theology and popular history.
Q. Has your writing changed your reading habits? If so, how?
Novelists read books the way architects read buildings. We take them apart and put them back together. You’d think this kind of critical reading would spoil the joy, but if anything it magnifies my pleasure. Someone -- I think it was Monica Ali -- in response to a similar question said being a novelist enhances your enjoyment of good books and makes reading bad ones a lot harder. I’d say the same thing.
Q. If you could recommend only one ‘How To Writing Book’ what would it be?
Reading novels is a much better way to learn than reading about them. Having said that, my favorite how-to is Stephen Koch’s The Modern Library Writer’s Workshop. It’s like an MFA in creative writing distilled into three hundred pages, including a helpful annotated guide to other books on the subject.
Q. Where can we find you on the web?
There’s a lot more information about Back On Murder online at www.BackonMurder.com. And I blog about crime and fiction at www.CrimeGenre.com. My main site is www.JMarkBertrand.com.
A missing girl.
A corrupt investigation.
They thought they could get away with it, but they forgot one thing:
Roland March is BACK ON MURDER
Houston homicide detective Roland March was once one of the best. Now he's disillusioned, cynical, and on his way out. His superiors farm him out on a variety of punishment details•until an unexpected break gives March one last chance to save his career. And his humanity.
All he has to do? Find the missing teenage daughter of a Houston evangelist that every cop in town is already looking for. But March has an inside track, a multiple murder nobody else thinks is connected. Battling a new partner, an old nemesis, and the demons of his past, getting to the truth could cost March everything. Even his life.
Mark, thank you so much for stopping by and sharing with us. Bethany House Publishing has graciously offered three copies of the book. To have the possibility to receive a copy of Back on Murder (Roland March Mysteries) leave a comment with your email (name at domain name dot com). Giveaway closes Sunday, September 19, 2010 at midnight (CST). Only US postal codes.
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