So excited to feature the first of several authors I met at Bouchercon 2017 in Toronto.
Robert Lopresti’s sixty-plus short stories have appeared in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, The Strand, and Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine, among others. He has won the Derringer and Black Orchid Novella Awards. His most recent novel is Greenfellas, a comic caper about Mafiosi trying to save the environment. His most recent book is When Women Didn’t Count, which shows how government statistics have hidden and distorted women’s lives.
Robert, why do you write mysteries?
I blame librarians. I used to be a regular at the Plainfield, New Jersey, library. By the time I was in fifth grade I had read everything in the children’s room that interested me, but kids were not allowed in the adult room, with its beautiful cathedral ceiling. I would sneak in and hide in the one area librarians never looked, which was the area right behind the reference desk. That happened to be the mystery section. There I discovered Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe novels. (I think the first I read was either The Mother Hunt or Gambit.)
If those librarians hadn’t been so rigid, who knows? I might have discovered mainstream fiction and now I would be writing books without plots. I don’t hold a grudge against the profession, though. I have been a librarian myself for more than forty years.
But that doesn’t explain why I write at all. I suppose it’s largely because even as a kid I knew what I wanted to read, and if I couldn’t find it, by gosh, Do It Yourself.
What is the most challenging aspect of your writing life?
That one is easy: Time. I have a full-time job. They say if you write a page a day you have a book at the end of the year, but that is a load of hooey. What you really have is 365 pages, and that’s not the same thing.
Worse, I’m a slow writer. Even worse, I rewrite. A lot. As Gore Vidal said “I have nothing to say, but a lot to add.”
So I try to spend part of each lunch hour writing and I pound out first drafts fast as I can, as if they were full-length outlines, because I know that hardly a single sentence will arrive at the editor’s desk unchanged.
What piece of writing advice has had the most influence on you?
I believe Lawrence Block said: “Every story should have a beginning, a middle, and an end, but not necessarily in that order.” In other words, you should start your story as deep into the plot as you can. If you need to, you can always fill in past details later. (You may be surprised at how few of those details you actually need.)
I’ll give you another tip on the same subject which may seem to contradict the first. Dick Francis seemed to be a great believer in what the mythologist Joseph Campbell named the Call to Adventure. Open almost any Francis novel and you will see that it starts at the exact moment the hero’s life changes forever. For example, High Stakes begins “I looked at my friend and saw a man who had robbed me.” Clearly, there’s no going back to status quo ante. Everything in the book springs from that moment of discovery. Figure out how to combine Block with Francis and you have a great opening.
Just for Fun:
Name a favorite food you use to reward yourself.
So Delicious Cashew Milk Double Chocolate Delight bars. I’m not vegan but these things taste like Dove Bars and have zero cholesterol. Damn.
If you could be any fictional character, who would you be? Why?
The Devil in Mark Twain’s “Sold to Satan.” Why? Because he got to meet Mark Twain.
Contact Rob at roblopresti.com