Author: David Rich
Publisher: Penguin Dutton Adult
Publication Date: August 2013
Genre: Adult Fiction/Mystery
Series or Stand Alone: Series, Book Two
Thank you to Penguin for providing the Interview and Giveaway!
Question: Tell me something about David Rich other than the standard bio on your website.
David Rich: I think that “Girls in Their Summer Dresses” by Irwin Shaw should be read aloud at every wedding ceremony. In fact, it should be the entire ceremony.
You turned to books after moving from Los Angeles to Connecticut. Do you miss anything about LA? What does Connecticut offer that LA didn’t?
I miss my friends in L.A. Most of them are writers and we share an interest in certain books and movies and types of news stories. But, in Connecticut I don’t spend as much time talking about books, movies and news events; I write more. And, being away from the latest cultural “wisdom” is a big relief.
In your spare time, you are a youth basketball coach and a mentor to MFA candidates at a nearby college. As someone who is probably good at providing guidance off and on the court, what advice would you give to writers looking to pursue a career in books or film?
Sports metaphors are overused and too often stretched beyond their breaking points; nevertheless I’ll offer this one which is asymmetrical. I used to tell the kids, regarding the opponent, “attack them before they attack you.” And, I would say the same thing to people who want to write. Attack the page (even though it is not your opponent), move your fingers, make something happen. You can always change it later. If you spend too much time planning, your thoughts will defeat you – unless you are lucky enough to be a simpleton.
In addition to being an author, you are a successful screenwriter. How does writing novels differ from writing for the silver screen?
In a novel, you don’t need a traditional hero. You can change points of view, jump around in time, linger on the good parts, and much more, all of it fun. You can do all that in a screenplay, too, but when people call to tell you how much they love it, their next sentence is ‘but you’ll never sell it.’ And they’re usually right.
What authors or books inspire your work? From your experience in film, do you find yourself more often drawing inspiration from movies?
I like spy stories and private eyes stories, but cop stories rarely interest me. I like adventurers and outcasts. So it has been a lot of Greene and le Carre, Hammet and Chandler, Kipling and Conrad. And, so many good movies have been made from their books or inspired by them. It helps, of course, to read a lot and to see a lot of movies but movies make for lousy inspiration. You tend to write an actor playing a character instead of a character. When writing a novel, it is worth remembering that readers are smart; when writing a screenplay it is worth remembering that actors are talented.
When you write, do you jump right into a story or do you plan and outline?
I outline a little bit, then get excited about the ideas and start writing, but I keep the outline on my desk and when someone calls with a message for my wife I write that on the sheet because it’s right there, then I make a few notes about other things like bills I must pay or errands to be run, then a few months later I still have half an outline and with things like ‘fried tofu with black beans’ written across it.
Where did you get the idea for the Lt. Rollie Waters series?
A few different threads had to come together. I spent a lot of time thinking about a guy whose father was a con artist, about their relationship and about what kind of adult that kid might grow up to be. I thought it would be interesting to put him in the most disciplined environment on earth: the Marines. Rollie would have to go from no rules or supervision to endless rules and supervision. Once I had Rollie and Dan in hand, and I knew about Saddam’s money and how it was stolen, I had to get to work on the bad guys.
A weird encounter in a bar in southern California got me going. I was locked out of the house where I was staying while doing research. While waiting it out in a bar, I began conversing with a couple nearby. Mid forties, he wore a windbreaker, shorts and boots; she was a short blonde. The guy claimed he had been in Iraq so I was happy to sit and listen, though I soon began to doubt him; his details were vague and they wavered. He was loaded when we started and he was just warming up. When I asked what he did now, he hesitated and his wife kicked him in the ankle and then he said “oil business.” The booze was making him belligerent, too.
The call came telling me I could get into the house so I started to say goodbye. The guy wanted to pay my tab. We went back and forth and then he pulled out a huge roll of hundred dollar bills. At that, the woman got up and walked out. My eyes must have gotten wide because he started bragging about the bankroll and eventually he said, “There’s plenty more where this came from. I could buy you, if I wanted to. I could buy a goddamn country.” I let him pay my tab and got out of there.
I decided his story was all lies and he was just another SoCal drug dealer. But the woman came rushing up behind me and she apologized for his behavior and drunkenness. And then she said “he’s never been to Iraq or in the military at all.” And she repeated a few different versions of that so that by the time she went back inside I changed my mind and decided he really was an Iraqi veteran and the money came from there and that was something she thought he should keep hidden. That got me fired up. He was a small part of a large conspiracy.
The star of the Middle Man is Lieutenant Rollie Waters, a former Marine whose expertise is going undercover to solve crimes involving military officials and unknown enemies. Often compared to Jason Bourne and Jack Reacher, how would you describe him?
Rollie is an auto-didact and as a result, he never accepts anything anyone says at face value, and never accepts anyone else’s way of doing things. The presumptions that institutions and people carry with them are meaningless to Rollie so he often sees them as humorous pretensions or efforts to cow others into cooperation. It’s hard to get Rollie to cooperate unless you have solid reasons. He would never try to live by muscle, the way Reacher does, and he does not have the incredible training Bourne has. Rollie lives by his wits. He is like a boxer: he has to pay perfect attention to everything in front of him, and every move he makes must have a purpose.
In Middle Man, you expertly capture the thrill and intensity of military culture, as well as the Middle Eastern landscape in which the story is set. What kind of research did you do? Did you learn anything in your research that surprised you about either element? What is it about military culture that fascinates you as an author?
I had written a story set in the Middle East a few years ago, so I had a head start on that aspect of the research. And it’s always easy to research a topic that fascinates you. As for the military, it’s always been the guys on the fringe for me. As a kid I read and reread stories about explorers and conquistadors and always wondered about the guys who did not stay with the group, the ones who took off on their own. How do you bring all these young men together, teach them to fight, give them guns, and then control them? The U.S. has been lucky, but even we have misfits and entrepreneurs – whether they are traitors or just Sgt. Bilkos. The military wants to sell the image of Marines or soldiers as uniformly good, wholesome and devoted. But, even the straightest members have their quirks, their own opinions and their own demons.
What would you like your readers to take away from this book?
I hope people have fun hanging out with Rollie, trying to keep up with him, laughing where he does. I hope people find him interesting, find his story interesting and the way he tells it interesting. And, if that happens, then a little bit of his view of people and the world will stick with the readers.
What’s next for Lt. Rollie Waters?
I have to be careful not to give away any of the surprises in Middle Man, but… A pack of the most dangerous and vicious criminals in the military escape from Fort Leavenworth. One of them sets out to commit a horrific crime, and taunts Rollie all along the way, keeping him on a string, just inches from catching the guy and stopping the crime. To catch the guy, Rollie has to find the other escapees and join up with them.
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