29 August 2007

Author Answers with J.D. Rhoades

This week's author is J.D. Rhoades, author of three books featuring bail bondsman Jack Keller.

For more on Rhoades, check out his website.

WN: Your third Jack Keller novel just came out this summer. What kind of character is Jack Keller?
RHOADES: Jack's a bail bondsman and bounty hunter working in southeastern North Carolina. He's a veteran of the first Gulf War with severe Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and a bad case of survivor guilt, stemming from a "friendly fire" incident that wiped out the squad he was leading. The only thing that shakes him out of the emotional numbness that's a symptom of the PTSD is the adrenaline rush he gets from hunting down bail jumpers and hauling them back. He's very good at his job because he's so focused, relentless and pretty much fearless. Needless to say, however, being an adrenaline junkie is not a healthy way to live, and the underlying story in the series is Jack's struggle to get past it, re-learn to connect with people, and become a fully functioning human being again. It's a rocky road; as Jack's friend and psychiatrist observes, "it's hard to treat someone who keeps getting shot at for a living."

WN: When you first created Jack Keller, were you planning to write a series or how the series come about?
RHOADES: I didn't start out with the plan to write a series. Jack was really just a sketch at first. It was about halfway through writing my first novel, THE DEVIL'S RIGHT HAND, that I started thinking "hey, this guy could be a series character, if I don't kill him off first."

WN: How has your background in journalism, law and Dee-jay-ing (is that a ord?) helped you as a writer?
RHOADES: Well small-town law practice gives me a wealth of anecdotes and atmosphere for what I've dubbed "redneck noir." There's a lot of desperate people leading precarious lives out there and when they go over the edge, step back and watch the fireworks. People ask me if I know any real people like DeWayne Puryear from THE DEVIL'S RIGHT HAND or Laurel Marks from GOOD DAY IN HELL. I tell them "dozens, but most of them haven't gone that far. Most of them. Yet."
I (fortunately) haven't met anyone quite as nasty as DeGroot from SAFE AND SOUND, but I know a couple of people who have.
Journalism--well, I'm really only a freelance columnist for the local paper. I've won a couple of awards for it, but I can't really consider myself a journalist when I know so many people who labor long and hard to get the facts right, and all I do is open a beer, sit down at thecomputer, and make fun of politicians and celebrities. I guess beingable to crank out a certain word count on deadline's good discipline.
Deejaying--don't know if it's a word, but I can't say drinking rum and Coke, flirting with cocktail waitresses, and playing Janet Jackson records for 10 bucks an hour really affected my writing at all. Best damn job I ever had, though.

WN: What's your writing process like?
RHOADES: Sit down. Turn laptop on. Write book. Turn in book. Wrangle with editor over changes. Collect advance. Repeat.
But seriously folks...I do outline, but only because my publisher wants to see an outline to consider the book. Once it's sold, I pretty much throw the outline away because I hate knowing how something ends before I write it. Don't tell my editor I said that.
I try to write at least 800-1,000 words a day, which I don't always make. I tend to write very slowly; I revise as I go and agonize over every word. I may revise the same paragraph fifteen times before moving on. I'm trying to break that habit. The upside is that when it's done, I usually don't need to do major revisions.

WN: Were you a reader as a kid... what turned you on to reading/writing books?
RHOADES: Oh yeah, I was definitely a reader. My mom taught me to read early, got me my first library card and took me down every week till I could get there on my own. I always had my nose in a book. We'd have holiday gatherings with the extended family, and by mid afternoon, I'd be out in the car stretched out in the back seat with my feet up in the open window, reading.

WN: What's the best part of being a writer to you? What's the most challenging part of writing for you?
RHOADES: There are so many joys about being a writer. Getting to hang out and swap stories with other writers I admire. Meeting readers. Meeting and talking about books with booksellers. But probably the best part is getting my big box of promo copies, ripping it open, and seeing a big ol' pile of novels with MY NAME on the cover. It's a rush, baby.
Most challenging part? Same as for every writer, I think: sitting down with a big empty white screen in front of you, knowing you have to fill it with words, and getting that old familiar panicky feeling in the gut: I can't do this, why did I think I could do this, etc.

WN: What is the best/most influential book you have ever read and why did it inspire you?
RHOADES: Wow, it's hard to pick just one. And I don't like to do stuff that's hard, so I won't.
I devoured John D. McDonald's Travis McGee books when I was younger, and I definitely think his straight ahead style of storytelling influenced me. I loved Hammett's RED HARVEST and pay tribute to it in SAFE AND SOUND. I mean, how can you not love a book that has a chapter called "The Seventeenth Murder"? Plus, I love that that tough, lean prose.
Great stuff. Lawrence Block's Matt Scudder series got me back into reading mysteries a few years ago, and his TELLING LIES FOR FUN AND PROFIT is the gold standard for books on writing as far as I'm concerned. It's one of only two "how to write" books, as a matter of fact, that I've ever been able to finish, the other being Stephen King's ON WRITING. Robert Crais' L.A. REQUIEM's a big influence; someday I hope to write a book that comes close to being that good. Hey, a guy can dream.


JD Rhoades said...

Thanks for having me, Bethany!

Kelly (Lynn) Parra said...

Why have I missed this series?? Must check it out. :) ;)

Kristy Kiernan said...

You'll love 'em, Kelly! Keller is a great protagonist. Damn fine writing and complex characters. I've been hooked from the first one and have gotten others hooked too.

Nice blog, JD!