Today David Cole continues his Cool Canadian Crime interviews. A special thanks to David Cole for these wonderful interviews with Canadian Crime Writers. Today: Rick Mofina
Previously, David interviewed Louise Penny, Barbara Fradkin, Mary Jane Maffini, Thomas Rendell Curran, Gail Bowen, Garry Ryan, RJ Harlick, and Anthony Bidulka. This group of authors were chosen by David to represent a variety of mystery genres, styles, and historical periods. More to come.
Rick Mofina is a former journalist and an award-winning author of several acclaimed thrillers. His reporting has put him face-to-face with murderers on death row in Montana and Texas. He has covered a horrific serial killing case in California, an armored car heist in Las Vegas, flown over Los Angeles with the LAPD Air Support Division and gone on patrol with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police near the Arctic. He has reported across Canada, the USA and from the Caribbean, Africa and Kuwait’s border with Iraq. His true crime articles have appeared in the New York Times, Marie Claire, Reader’s Digest and Penthouse.
His book, Blood of Others, won the Arthur Ellis Award, and the International Thriller Writers named his book, The Dying Hour, (due for UK, Australia and New Zealand release Sept-Oct 2009) as a finalist for an inaugural Thriller Award. His short story, “Lightning Rider,” won the Arthur Ellis Award and is included in the anthology, Murder in Vegas, Edited by Michael Connelly. Six Seconds, his standalone global thriller, was released in January 2009, and by 2010 will be published in 12 countries and 7 languages. His next book, Vengeance Road, (Released Sept. 2009) has been praised as, "a thriller with no speed limit," by Michael Connelly.
DC: Canadian authors such as you, Louise Penny and Linwood Barclay are becoming a more well known internationally. Why do you think that this is the case?
RM: I think it has everything to do with being good story tellers. On a philosophical level it might be that Canadians tend to be somewhat insular in the winter and spend much of our time in deep thought during the deep freeze. I can hear Canadians laughing at that observation, but maybe there’s some truth to it. Also, a Canadian has yet to win a Nobel Prize for Literature. I’m hoping Alice Munro will be our first, although I’d say Margaret Atwood is the odds on favourite.
DC: I understand that you are due to start a third series, tell us a bit about it and why have you decided to start a new series.
RM:VENGEANCE ROAD concerns the murder of a broken-hearted woman and the chilling disappearance of her friend. Hero cop, Karl Styebeck, is beloved by his community but privately police are uneasy with the answers he gives to protect the life – and the lie – he’s lived.
The case haunts Jack Gannon a gritty, blue-collar reporter whose sister ran away from their family years ago. Gannon risks more than his job to pursue the story behind Styebeck’s dark secret, his link to the women.
DC: Tell us a bit more about yourself?
RM: I grew up in a working-class family east of Toronto, in Belleville, Ontario, Canada. I started writing fiction in grade school and never stopped. I was 15 when I sold my first short story. I was 18 when I hitchhiked to California and wrote a (dreadful still unpublished) novel about the experience. In university I studied Journalism and English Literature, including a course in American Detective Fiction.
I was a cub reporter at The Toronto Star, the same paper where Hemingway worked, before I embarked on a career in journalism that spanned three decades and several newsrooms. My reporting has put me face-to-face with murderers on death row in Montana and Texas. I covered a horrific serial killing case in California, an armoured car heist in Las Vegas, and the murders of police officers in Alberta.
DC: Your novel Six Seconds is your first standalone novel. What made you decide to write a standalone novel?
RM: I was ready for it. After producing at total of 8 books for 2 series, I was ready to take a shot at a standalone with a story that had a global canvass. It seemed the perfect way to get things rolling with MIRA Books my new publisher.
The book took shape; by refining a number of unrelated scenes, dramas and events I had observed during my time as a reporter; such as the heart-wrenching anguish of interviewing a mother whose child had vanished. Then there was the time I was on assignment in Nigeria, not long after the September 11 attacks. I was in the Abuja where I saw a boy in a slum wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with Osama bin Laden’s picture and message calling him #1 Hero. On that African trip I also visited Ethiopia where I watched old women, who lived in some of the harshest conditions on earth, weaving fabric on a loom in the slums of Addis Ababa. Prior to that, I was in the Gulf where I talked to British aid workers, and at Kuwait’s boarder with Iraq. I also talked to peacekeepers from Canada concerned about the toll land mines were taking on children who plucked them from the dunes.
What if I took these elements and twisted them into fictional threads that were all connected? What if ordinary people from different parts of the world became ensnared by extraordinary events that could alter history as a clock ticked down on them? Suppose it all came down to six seconds?
DC: You have written five books in your first series featuring Tom Reed and Walt Sydowski based in San Francisco, California. Where did you get the characteristics for the two main characters?
RM: Tom Reed is a compilation. I think he embodies the sins and virtues of every hard-driving new reporter I’ve ever known. He works well with Walt Sydowski. He represents every grizzled detective I’ve ever met, including one or two with the SFPD Homicide Detail and some Royal Canadian Mounted Police investigators. And he stands as a foil and father-figure to Reed. I’ve used some of my father’s actual biography in shaping Sydowski, in that my dad is Polish. He was a child when the Nazis invaded Poland.
DC: You only wrote 3 books in your second series featuring Jason Wade, a rookie crime reporter, which is set in Seattle, Washington. Was he by any chance based on you?
RM: I did draw upon my time as a rookie reporter at The Toronto Star. At the Star, I learned the news business by reporting craft working in the suburban bureaus and the metro news desk at One Yonge Street. I covered a range of stories, including a murder trial, and a takedown by the SWAT team looking for an escaped killer. I also did time in the "torture chamber," the cell-like room housing banks of chattering police scanners where you kept your ears pricked for the first hint of a story that could stop the heart of the city. Or break it. But it was in writing The Dying Hour, with rookie Jason Wade, pursuing the first big story of his news career, that I looked back on mine. Through Jason, it was easy to re-live the thrill of landing a scoop and the adrenaline-fuelled days of my summer at The Toronto Star.
DC: Will you go back to either series?
RM: In September 2009, the Jason Wade Series will be launched with release of THE DYING HOUR (Selected finalist by The International Thriller Writers, for a Thriller Award) in the UK by MIRA who will give it a big push. Approximately six months later, the second book EVERY FEAR will be released in the UK and six months after that, the third, A PERFECT GRAVE.
DC: In 2003 Blood of Others, which was is the third book in the Reed and Sydowski series won the Arthur Ellis Award as Best Novel. You have also won another award for your short story Lighting Rider in 2006. Has wining these awards had an effect on your writing?
RM: No. They are terrific validations, but they don’t erase self doubt.
DC: Are you going to continue to write standalone novels are you going to go back to writing a series?
RM: Yes to both.
DC: Was it a long journey in between your work as a journalist and you starting to write crime fiction? If so why the long journey?
RM: I was always writing since I was maybe seven years old. It is an affliction. My first novel was written when I was 18. Others followed. It wasn’t until some 20 years later that I became a published novelist. For me, as a reporter by day, novelist by night, a light had been switched on. Covering human tragedies and dramas up close was overwhelming. But on another level, having a university degree in English Literature, Journalism, and having studied religious responses to death and American Detective Fiction, I felt I was equipped to try to make sense of what I was experiencing.
DC: What has been your most rewarding experience as a journalist and what was your most scary?
RM: There was a little girl who had a terminal brain condition and her dream was to meet a certain music star. When her family’s situation was made known to my news organization, we wrote about it and her dream came true. The family invited me back stage for the meeting, there was not a dry eye there.
The most scary, there were many, let’s see . . One quiet night I was working alone in the newsroom on the cop beat when a call came in for me. It was a convicted murderer who was calling from prison. From the psych ward. I didn’t know him, but I had written about him. That night he confessed to me how he tricked his way to get access to a telephone because he needed to talk to somebody outside of the institution. So, I said, talk. He then went into to every detail, every vile, disgusting detail, of how he abducted two young women then held them hostage in a suburban home. Then he told me exactly how he murdered one but decided to let the other live. He was not remorseful, or even emotional. He just wanted me to have a clear accounting. Then he hung up. My spine rattled for hours after. I had trouble sleeping that night. That’s only one strange experience from the beat.
DC: What was the biggest challenge you faced when you first moved from the world of Journalism to writing Fiction? And did you always intend to write Crime as opposed to literary fiction?
RM: I was writing fiction long before I became a journalist, so the shift was not really a challenge. I saw journalism as a passport to experiences that would strengthen my lifelong pursuit of writing the best fiction I could. When I found myself on the crime desk of the Calgary Herald, I thought, this is it, this is the palate from which I can draw.
DC: Are you passionate about the genre and what do you think of the current trends today?
RM: I think crime fiction is in its golden period. I don’t reflect much on trends. A good story is a good story.
DC: Some do not consider the genre to be "literary" enough and at times it does not get the accolade it deserves. Do you believe that this is the case, and if so have you any views on how people’s views might be changed?
RM: Of course it is true, and I don’t give it much thought. It’s wasted energy to debate it. As mentioned, a good story is a good story. The job of any author is to keep the reader engaged. If the reader is struggling to find the point of the book, or the story between the covers, then the author has failed. And authors have succeeded and failed in all genres. Just take a look at best seller lists around the world, crime fiction stands well.
DC: Which part of the fiction-writing process do you find most gratifying?
RM: Well there’ve been a lot of nice comments, like ‘you kept me up all night,’ and ‘you need to write more books faster’. But one that stands out came from a lovely handwritten letter from a woman in Indiana. Seems she was on vacation in the west and bought my first book, If Angels Fall, in a used book bin for 25 cents. After reading it, she liked it so much, she cut me a personal check for the full cover price, $7.00, which she’d attached to her letter. She told me I’d earned it. I was blown away. I thanked her. And yes, I cashed the check, but I’ve kept a photocopy that I intend to frame some day.
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