Family Ties is a first person mystery told by college student, John Seraph. John’s asked by a former classmate to see if anyone in John’s family might have knowledge of the disappearance of the classmate’s sister, Dana Tillis. The problem is John hasn’t been in touch with his family for over three years due to his moral differences with his father and brothers. John’s father is Stefano Angelo, Boss of the Angelo Crime Family. As John begins to investigate he learns among those who had possible motives is New York State Senator Kingsley Addar and John’s brother Michael.
What inspired you to write this particular story?
I got the idea for the original concept from the Chandra Levy disappearance & murder. I closely followed the case for almost the whole year, until the terrorist attacks on September 11th, 2001 because the media focused its attention on the attacks. What gnawed at me is how a woman could enter Rock Creek Park, and then vanish without a trace. Levy’s case became a mild obsession for me and I tried playing ‘Armchair Detective’ and figure the case out what happened. Without knowing all the facts it’s nearly impossible to discover the truth. After I got the idea I actually I had the idea to try and convince Sue Grafton to co-write the story using one of her supporting characters, who I always liked. Not my best move, admittedly. She thanked me, through her assistant. But I felt the idea was too good to drop, so I hung on to it for a long while, and finally took a serious look at again in 2009 and began working on Family Ties, and had a first draft done in less than six months. Now it’ll be published in February, 2013 through Melange Publishing.
Did you do any research for the book? If so, how did you do it? (searching Internet, magazines, other books, etc.)
The amount of research I did was staggering, but research is something I’m good at and enjoy. I figured out all the subjects that come across in my story & learn all I can. In this case I researched enough topics to cover three years worth of college papers. Like anyone I started with going online, but the internet being what it is I either went to multiple sources for information. Some of these included official state & federal sites re: NYS gun laws, and Senatorial Committees, information about various sex drugs, organized crime in Buffalo, NY, and two & half months in researching the perfect handgun for my protagonist. I also bought books on various topics, which I know I’d need long term. Some of these books include; The Complete Idiot’s Guide to The Mafia, The Encyclopedia of Handheld Weapons, and Causes of Death, Malicious Intent, and books from The Howdunit Series.
Any information I got online that I knew I’d need to retain, I printed out & saved in a binder because I knew I’d need the information for the Seraph Series. I’m always keeping an open for books, magazine articles, internet articles, etc… re: topics that I know I’ll eventually be writing about. For example; I’ll be soon researching the Japanese Yakuza for my forth Seraph Mystery; Family Friend.
Do you have specific techniques you use to develop the plot and stay on track?
One technique that’s I adopted, was taken from Janet Evanovich. I start a story by charting what happens each day. Evanovich wrote about this in How I Write. When plotting the story I write down the day and a sentence about everything that happens. (Ex; Monday: John wakes up and get a call from Aldrich; John goes to school/work and speaks to Professor Smith about murder, confronts Smith with her own motives; That night Bobbi comes to see John and some shoots at one of them through his living room window.) It’s kind of like building a house, and this Daily Chart, as I call it, is the equivalent of putting up a foundation & a house frame. Up goes the wooden frame, then you worry about the walls, décor, and furniture.
Another technique I use is keeping a list of primary & supporting characters for the story I’m writing. Friends, suspects, victim(s), etc… with a brief sentence about them & keep it with the daily chart. Having such a large supporting cast, it helps keep the players straight.
How has your background influenced your writing?
I once heard “Write what you know”, and I believe that the best writers do just that. I live in South Buffalo, NY neighborhood I write about, so in its own way the area has become a character of its own.
Also being adopted, this has become a major influence in my writing, and not just my Seraph Mystery Series. My protagonists are adopted in someway. Ex: although John Seraph’s parents are alive, he’s cut them out of his life and had been ‘adopted’ by his store owners/ neighbors Charles & Dixie Baxter.
Other factors are my love of mysteries, comic-books, & movies, but the two biggest factors are poetry & music. In a world like ours, these are two pillars that help keep my sanity in check. Some turn to the Bible or the Torah for hope & inspiration, for me I turn to Frost, Tennyson, and Shakespeare, and these emerge in my stories.
How does your environment/upbringing color your writing?
I come from a the blue collar, working class Irish neighborhood of South Buffalo and this has given me a strong, work ethic, which makes me determined to finish what I start and always do the best job I can, no matter what. I may fail from time-to-time, but I’ll keep trying.
The way my parents raised me taught me of what makes a man, and I think I can sum it up in the following: A man keeps his word no matter what, A man will stand up for his family & friends always, A man won’t say yes, then do no, A man stands up for those who cannot stand up for themselves.
These factors all come into my stories, as character traits for John Seraph.
What are you working on right now?
Currently I’m polishing my following mystery, Family Plots, begun writing the third Seraph Mystery, Family Education, and am plotting the fourth Family Friend. On top of which I’m toying around with a few other story ideas, outside the mystery genre & one that combines the genres of mysteries & superhero comic books.
Have you always wanted to be a writer?
No not in the traditional sense. When I was a kid/teenager I was a decent artist and wanted to become an illustrator for DC or Marvel Comics, then in 1987 I got the idea to become pro-wrestler, not my best idea. A year later I finally got the first taste for writing in late ’87 & I bopped around with a few ideas, but never got really serious about writing until 1994, when I began writing my first book, The Rainbow Warrior Saga: Genesis.
At what age did you discover writing?
In reality I discovered writing when I was about 5-6 years old, and I wrote & drew my own little comic books based off my favorite comic book back then, Worlds’ Finest. I drew them with ballpoint pens & sheet paper in my basement, & developed five or six titles back then.
When where you first published? How were you discovered?
My first book The Rainbow Warrior Saga: Genesis was published in 2004 through Publish America. I contacted them after I read an article in The Buffalo News. One of the authors had contacted P.A. and got herself published, so I figured “Why Not?” I queried them, was accepted & signed in late 2003. Then in 2006 I was published a second time with P.A., with The Era of Heroes. It was a good learning experience, but there were plenty of pros & cons in working with P.A. and I’m looking for more with my next publisher, Melange.
What’s been the most surprising part of being a writer?
What surprises me most is the way people react when they learn I’ve been published. It’s almost as if they see me in a different light. It strikes me funny because I’m the same person I’ve always been. I’m no smarter, wittier, richer, or anything else. I’m still me. They treat me as if I’m a returning Jeopardy champion, or a leader of the community or a company.
The other thing is how many people say to me “Oh, I’d love to write.” Or “How’d you get published?” and my favorite, “I wish I had time to write.” I understand folks get busy and have priorities; home, family, work, school, children and I’m not faulting any of that, but if something’s important to you, you find the time.
Do you have mental list or a computer file or a spiral notebook with the ideas for or outlines of stories that you have not written but intend to one day?
I keep my story ideas (past-present-future) saved on my laptop, but also keep a printed copy in my binder w/ the story I’m polishing/critiquing, because if/when I get fresh ideas for a new story or how to re-work some story ideas I can save it right away.
Currently I’ve also a vampire/monster story, a super hero/ murder mystery, and a book on philosophy based on the ideas/teachings I got from a movie series. And that’s all on top of the nearly thirty-plus John Seraph Mysteries ideas I’ve in my head.
What do you like to read? What is your favorite genre?
Without a doubt my favorite genre is mystery. I read Robert B. Parker, Janet Evanovich, and Sue Grafton as my primary influences and who I consider to be my biggest inspirations I draw upon. On top of the aforementioned authors, I read Thomas Harris, and Dan Brown. I just recently finished Angels & Demons, am in the middle of The Da Vinci Code, and plan on reading The Lost Symbol next.
Where do you get the names for your characters?
I use a Dictionary of First Names, to select name my characters. I’m able to choose first and last names, and seeing the meanings, helps me when I have specific traits, tendencies, characteristics in mind. It can take me hours or days to find the right combination for a good name for characters. Seeing the meanings and comparing them to the traits takes time but is worth it.
If you could have lunch with one person, real or fictitious, who would it be?
This is a tough question to answer because there are a number of real & fictional personalities I’d love to meet; Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, Sherlock Holmes, Hannibal Letcher, John Wayne, Robert B. Parker, Spenser & Hawk, but there is one couple I have to pick above all others; Wyatt & Josie Earp.
Besides loving mysteries, I’m an Old West historian, amateur of course, and I’ve read a number of books, watched documentaries, and of course the movies. Now all this, plus the legends of the Old West have left me a bit ‘star struck’. I’ve adopted some of Earp’s beliefs re; family, justice, life, and love, and I’d hope to learn what was true and what was legend from the Earps.
Who designed your cover?
Family Ties is currently slated for a February 2013 release date, but readers who curious can go to my new website The Amateur Detective where I post all the latest news that occurs, on top of which a blog, run contests, share samples of the books. Currently a teaser of Family Ties is up there right now. I also share photos of Buffalo, NY, (my hometown and where John Seraph lives). And folks can sign my guest book, leave comments, and sign up for my mailing lists, to be notified of latest news, release dates, & book signings when they start.
Also Melange Books will have information re: Family Ties as time draws closer to the release date.