One of the main characters in The List is a ruthless assassin known as Cain who has a day job as a literature professor. What inspired this character?
In 1969, not long after I returned from Vietnam, I wrote a poem titled “The Heirs of Cain.” It wasn’t a great poem, more Dylan than T.S. Eliot. After I had finished my first novel in 1989 (titled Match Point but eventually published as The Devil’s Racket), I began thinking about writing a novel that featured an assassin who was a good guy. Why I chose to make him a literature professor, I simply can’t remember. Perhaps it was because I love literature so much, and I felt comfortable in that world. At any rate, I wrote “Heirs of Cain”, which I finished in 1992. It wasn’t published until 2010. I’m convinced that if publishers knew how lethal Cain is, they would not have snubbed him for 18 long years.
Why did you choose to have Cain cross paths with Detective Dantzler, who was featured in three previous murder mysteries?
Great question. It actually came about when Medallion Press, publisher of “Heirs of Cain”, wanted to try something called One More Moment. What they wanted was for me to write a brief piece about what or where the “Cain” story might go next if I took it one step further. I wrote the scene in which Dantzler first meets Cain. It all fell into place because I had written in all three Dantzler books that his father died in Vietnam and his mother was murdered eight years later. Dantzler learns that his father’s death didn’t happen the way he had been told all his life, and that his mother’s murder was connected to his father’s death. He wants the truth, but he knows that to find those truths means entering a world that is beyond his capabilities. Therefore, he needs Cain, his own Virgil to guide the pilgrim on his dangerous journey.
The List is written from multiple points of view. What’s it like getting into the heads of so many characters?
I never think about that stuff in advance. I just write what I suspect a particular character thinks/feels/needs/wants. Creating characters is fun—you get to be God for a while—but strangely enough, most of my secondary characters/villains sort of pop into my head, and then what they become just seems to write itself.
One thing I noticed while reading your books is how you lay out the back-stories of the minor characters, allowing the reader to get to know them even if they play a relatively small role in the overall plot. Why do you choose to do this?
Again, I don’t think about it all that much. Once a character enters the story, either by my choosing or by forcing himself into the narrative, his back story seems to write itself. Oftentimes, you never know how it’s going to turn out. In “The Devil’s Racket”, I created a character called Boggsy. He was a nothing character, just a guy who happened to be Dantzler’s friend. However, I knew moments after creating Boggsy that he would be a central player in the drama. As it turned out, he was in many ways the thread that led me through the remainder of the story.
The List is a conspiracy thriller fused with crime fiction. What genre conventions did you play on—or intentionally flout?
Well, I suppose the answer is in your question—thriller and crime fiction. I didn’t think of genre, nor did I intentionally flout anything specific. I simply wrote a story that I felt would be interesting for me to write, and interesting for readers to read. In the final analysis, interesting the readers is what really counts.
Were there any scenes in The List that you particularly enjoyed writing? Any that you found especially difficult?
I don’t consider myself to be a very good descriptive writer, so any scene where I describe how a person looks/dresses, or how the inside of a house looks, or stuff like that is always tough for me. I much prefer scenes between individuals, or action sequences. I love the scene where Cain meets with the FBI agent in Las Vegas. I love the scene with the alligators in St. Augustine. Also, the flashback to Vietnam, where Cain works with Dantzler’s father, is one of my favorites.
If you could meet any character from The List for a drink, who would it be?
I would say Cain. Why? So I could ask him the question that Dantzler wants to ask: How do you stay sane when you have so much blood on your hands?
What are your favorite books? Has anyone’s writing influenced your own work?
I have dozens of books that vie for my favorite, but if I had to choose one (fiction), I would say “Crime and Punishment.” I suppose every writer you read influences you in some way. Among current fiction writers, my favorites are Michael Connelly, Lee Child, Faye Kellerman, Ridley Pearson, John Sandford and James Ellroy. I’m also a huge fan of William Goldman, although he doesn’t write much anymore.
Do you have a favorite writing spot?
In my fantasy world, I would sit on the beach, hoist a pint or two of Guinness, and do my writing. However, in the real world, I write at the computer in my condo.
The List is available at: Amazon US (Kindle eBook), Amazon UK (Kindle eBook), Barnes & Noble (paperback)