Pope's Last Case

Pope's Last Case

Pope’s Last Case is probably the best collection of short stories you’ll ever read? Well, maybe I should say, one of the best, just to pay homage to James Joyce’s Dubliners. My short stories in Pope’s Last Case all feature the same cast of characters. The primary characters are tough ex-PI Vince Pope, and his beautiful, rich, socially prominent wife, Laura. Vince is a WW II vet who was a private eye before the War. When he came home he and Laura met during a victory celebration and fell in love. Vince retired from the PI business but people and events from his past keep drawing them into the seedy world he thought he left behind. But Laura loves a mystery as much as she loves him.

How much has your BA in English helped you in your writing?


My BA helped me develop as a writer. I was fortunate to have some really great teachers and to study a lot of excellent writers in my undergrad days, and I specialized in the Elizabethan playwrights (Shakespeare, Marlowe, Jonson) and writers of the Victorian Age. It gave me a basis in literature and also taught me how to write. Luckily, I was able to pursue my interests in creative writing a bit as well during this time.


How did your MFA in fiction writing help you to shape your work?


Well, there was a space of about twenty-five years in between. (Probably more, but I don’t want to count.) My MFA studies were almost totally devoted to writing fiction and developing my writing skills. Once again, I had some great teachers, which was ironic because I was often the oldest person in the entire class, instructors included. I look back on the experience as one of those defining moments in my evolution as a writer. Although I was a published author when I entered grad school, I credit the program with helping me find my voice as a writer.


You were a police officer for many years so why did you turn to writing?


I was a cop for just about my entire adult life thus far. (I retired in 2011.) I originally wanted to become a teacher, but life (and the military draft) intervened. I enlisted in the army and became a military policeman. I never regret having served my country. Upon my discharge, I entered civilian law enforcement. Once police work gets in your blood, you never want to do anything else. But you can say the same thing about writing. I was a writer long before I became a cop. I wrote my first short story in the sixth grade. The teacher hated it and told me never to do anything like it again. After that, I knew it was my destiny to become a writer.


Tell us about your research process into the 1940s.


Ah, the 1940s. It was an era that has always fascinated me. Sure, there were a lot of things wrong, but it was the decade of emergence for America. The Greatest Generation won World War II after we were thrust into it by the attack on Pearl Harbour, and then they returned to build the United States. I’ve always loved watching old movies from the forties. That helps give me a sense of the clothing styles and the speech patterns. I listen to old radio shows as well. I’m also quite familiar with the writers of the time. There were some great ones, too. And the pulp magazines were still going strong. You had Hammett’s stuff on the movie screens and on radio, Chandler was hitting his stride, and the next generation of great writers (John D. and Ross MacDonald, Ed McBain, and Mickey Spillane) was emerging. Doing that kind of research isn’t work at all. It’s fun.


Please tell us about your inspiration behind the characters of Vince and Laura.


I sort of go into detail about how they came to be in the introduction of the book, but I’ll try for the shortened version. I had been re-reading Hammet’s, The Thin Man, and enjoying the witty repartee between Nick and Nora. It was his last book and despite the popular movie series, with William Powell and Myrna Loy, and I wished he would have written more. An editor I knew called me and asked for a short story that he needed in ten days for an anthology. I jumped in and wrote, “Whodunit?” It was the first Vince and Laura story. The characters were similar enough to Hammett’s pair, yet different enough to give them their own uniqueness. A few years later I did another story featuring them, and then another. Eventually, I realized I had unconsciously given a sense of continuity to their adventures. All I had to do was to put the stories together and they sort of read like a novel.


Why did you want to capture the optimism of the country after war?


Despite a lot of problems during that time, it was also a great time in our development as a nation. We’d been shocked out of our isolationism and listlessness after WW I and the Great Depression, as we rose to the occasion to take on some dastardly villains on the world stage in the greatest conflict  mankind has ever seen. We put it all on the line and emerged victorious, realizing we were better than we thought we were. It was a time of great pride in our nation’s history and as we faced the future there was a feeling that things were on the upswing. There was no foe we couldn’t beat, no task we could accomplish, no problem we couldn’t solve. We’d beaten Hitler and the Japanese Imperialists who’d attacked us, we’d split the atom, and we’d saved the world. How could we not be optimistic?


What is your writing process?


My writing process is placing my butt in the chair and writing. Usually, I get an idea for a story and begin mulling it over. Scenes and snatches of dialogue suddenly appear to me and I scribble them down. When I have a good sense of the story, I usually do an outline and begin writing. The outline usually changes at least three times through the course of writing the book, but it generally keeps me on track. Once I’ve finished that first draft, I go back and revise and pah-lish, as my former writing partner used to say. When I reach the point where I’m satisfied, I send it off. If I have a pending deadline, I reach this point a lot quicker.


What is next for you?


I’d certainly like to do more with Vince and Laura. The last story in the collection, “Pope’s Last Case,” is a novella-length story. I felt I could have easily expanded it into a novel. I’ve got several other projects in the pipeline, though. I have a thriller (Chimes at Midnight) due out next year, and I’m also writing the Executioner novels under the house name of Don Pendleton. My first one, Sleeping Dragons, just came out in October 2013 and I’m finishing up the fourth one now. I’ve got another thriller I’m shopping around and have a couple other projects in various states of completion. I think I’ll follow some old advice I got in grad school and follow the project that’s taking my attention once I get this current novel completed.



by for www.femalefirst.co.uk
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