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Debbi Mack interviews crime fiction author Ray Flynt.
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Debbi: Hi everyone. This is the Crime Cafe. Your podcasting source of great crime, suspense and thriller writing. I’m your host, Debbi Mack. Before I introduce my guest, a quick reminder that the Crime Cafe Nine Book Set and Crime Cafe Short Story Anthology, are available for sale at all major online retailers and some minor ones too. In any event, just go to my website, debbimack.com and click on Crime Cafe, where you’ll find the buy links as well as ways to subscribe to the podcast. And with that said, I’m thrilled to have on my program today, one of my old writers’ group buddies, and a great mystery author as well as a master thespian, Ray Flynt. Hi Ray, I’m very glad to have you on today. It’s awesome and thanks for being here.
Ray: Well it’s great to be with you and we do have a history, even though you’re barely out of college and I’m 39 again. We do go back a few years.
Debbi: Oh, please!
Ray: I have fond memories of that writers group in Maryland for many, many years.
Debbi: We miss you.
Ray: It really kind of crystalized my writing, that group.
Debbi: It’s a great group and I’m glad to be a part of it and we miss you and think of you often (at least I do). Your first mystery, I remember reading parts of that I believe.
Debbi: Unforgiving Shadows
Ray: Unforgiving Shadows
Debbi: Yes. It kind of seems to set up Brad Frame’s backstory for kind of like the whole series that carries him through the whole series in a sense. Was that intentional?
Ray: Yes, although it was not the first Brad Frame story that I wrote.
Debbi: Ah, Okay.
Ray: The first one that I wrote was entitled, Grateful Husband Loving Wife and it was not good, plain and simple. However, I thought when I finished it, it was a masterpiece you know. First of all, it was only about 40,000 words. It was not…I mean some might debate whether I’m a good writer now, but I was not a good writer back then and I rediscovered my manuscript for that book about 10 years after I’d written it and I started to read it and I thought, oh my god, this is just absolutely awful!
Ray: So I know I’ve improved from then. So that was the first book and it really was I think unconnected character that I wanted to make Brad. One of the issues that (in my life) I wanted to infuse Brad Frame with was to create an investigator whose life had been informed by tragedy and that kind of shot him off into a different trajectory then he had been. In my own life, when I was in my mid 30’s, I had a younger brother (age 22) that died. And it was certainly a tragic event for our family. It was something that we were all dealing with; trying to come to grips with, did a lot of reading, etc. The second book that I wrote with Brad Frame as the lead character, was a book that later got published called, Lady on the Edge, and in that book it features a South Carolina ceramic artist whose son’s death had been ruled a suicide four years earlier. Brad Frame was in town and she reached out to him saying she didn’t believe that her son would commit suicide. As a mystery writer, it has to be a murder mystery and, in fact, that’s the case. But that book gave me the opportunity to explore suicide on families.
Ray: So that was basically the second manuscript that I wrote…a book which was originally titled Death Scenes, and that is what became Unforgiving Shadows. …for me a little of the story…I think this is informative for writers. Some of my favorite authors growing up were like Reck Stout. So he had the Watson character that basically told his stories, you know.
Ray: So originally I started off with the idea that Brad Frame, this wealthy member of the mainline in Philadelphia had hired a publicist to tell his stories and that characters’ name was Steve McBride. Steve was young, a whole lot younger than Brad. He was an unemployed actor, which of course was something I could identify with. He also had a very flip sense of humor and he was poor. Whereas Brad was rich and it gave time for commentary about…wealthy and you know how easy their life was and so on. So I wrote this whole story called, Death Scenes with Steve McBride as the first person narrator of the story. I ended up getting an agent who told me, “I love the book”. Ok, great I’m glad you love the book. Well, she spent a little over a year trying to interest publishers in New York in buying the book and after I think it was 15 months or whatever, she came back to me and she said, Ray, I’ve exhausted most of the publishers. She said maybe you need to go back and do what a couple of the editors had suggested and that is that they felt Brad Frame was too distant because I was using this other narrator. So maybe you need to go back and revise your book or person’s (Brad Frame’s) viewpoint. And I did and that took seven months. I mean you don’t just change first person to third person overnight, you know. Plus at that point, I didn’t need Steve anymore, so I eliminated his character. But, the story of Unforgiving Shadows was essentially the same one as Death Scenes, except now told in Brad Frame’s third person viewpoint. And that’s the book that eventually was published by Five Star in 2005.
Ray: Thus, my first published book in the Brad Frame series. So then I had…then I had Lady on the Edge fully completed and guess who the narrator was for that? Steve McBride…
Ray: And I had two-thirds of another book called, Transplanted Death, the narrator of which was Steve McBride. So I had one and two-thirds books that I then had to go back and completely re-write to put it in Brad Frame’s third person.
Ray: So that’s, you know that was my start as a writer.
Debbi: As a writer and a re-writer.
Ray: Writer and re-writer and as you know, writing is all about re-writing and editing.
Debbi: Exactly. It is, very much so.
Ray: That’s how I got my start. But back to your earlier question, I envisioned Brad a dozen years after the death of his parents, or his mother and sister, excuse me. They were kidnapped and murdered and he’s invited (in the first chapter) he’s invited to the execution by lethal injection of one of two men responsible for the murder. The other had died in prison, so there’s just this one who’s awaiting execution. Brad goes reluctantly. He doesn’t necessarily feel that that’s going to give him any closure (watching the execution) and after everything is over, the chaplain runs after him and shoves a Bible into his hand and said the condemned man wanted you to have this. Not to give away the whole story, but within the Bible is a message from the man that sends Brad back to the original case. So, not only does the story give that opportunity to go back and examine what propelled Brad into becoming a private investigator because prior to that, he had led a rather aimless life. Like I say, he came from a wealthy family. He had family trust funds. He traveled a lot and didn’t do very much of anything and the tragedy in his family gave him a focus and he decided to become a private investigator to help bring justice to other people.
Ray: That’s kind of the premise that I’ve been working off of.
Debbi: That’s interesting. As the series has progressed, I’ve noticed that the stories seem to get darker.
Ray: A little bit.
Debbi: Where he’s butting more heads, more with the police.
Ray: Yes. Well, that happens. That does happen. One of the challenges of writing a private investigator is there are limitations to what they can do, and I think your average private investigator is mostly helping to track down missing persons or infidelity in a marriage situation. They’ve been hired for that purpose, etc. They don’t get very much involved in solving murders. Usually the police are the ones that get involved in solving murders. And so, when I have a murder take place, and all of my books involve murders, I feel as if I have to have a legitimate reason for why Brad is interested in the case; poking his nose around in the case. And inevitably in some of the books, it has led to him, as you say, butting heads with the police.
Ray: And I try to keep that respectful, but you know, at the end of the day, I’ve got to write a book that has some conflict about it and also keeps Brad involved in helping to solve the case. Even though at the end, he may go to the police and say here’s the guy who did it. I don’t really involve Brad that much in a lot of daring-do, you know where he’s, you know shooting it out with the suspects at the end. It’s more of a cerebral kind of detective trying to figure out who committed the crime and why, and then passing that information along.
Debbi: More of a puzzle and less violence.
Ray: Absolutely! Absolutely! More of “who done it”, you know that kind of thing. Yeah, puzzle mystery.
Debbi: And I noticed, okay … the partner, Sharon Porter that Brad has…
Debbi: What inspired you to give Brad a female partner?
Ray: Well, another one of my favorite authors growing up was Earl Stanley Gardner. Of course he created the Perry Mason series. It always appealed to me about Perry Mason was Della Street and their relationship.
Ray: They kind of worked well together I thought and of course you also had Paul Drake. So, there was kind of 3 people that helped in the solution of a crime. And so when I originally had my Steve McBride character, there was the trio; Brad, Sharon (which I kind of was trying to emulate what Earl Stanley Gardner had done). But Sharon…I guess I would say I’ve grown up in a family with strong female influences; strong mother, Becky my late wife was quite strong, my mother-in-law a strong woman. I had the model of strong women…oh and a writers group in Maryland that was all women except for me and Ron Benroy way back, you know. So for me it was kind of a natural to incorporate a strong woman as a partner in crime for Brad.
Debbi: And I take it, it would appeal to readers who are looking for strong women as well as puzzle mysteries?
Ray: Oh, I think so. The other thing we know is that women are the primary readers, I think. Maybe they’re the primary readers anyway, but they are certainly the prime reader of mysteries. And so, having a strong female character, I hope would appeal to the women readers as well.
Debbi: I find it appealing.
Ray: Yeah, I hope. I hope so. It’s interesting in my very first book when Unforgiving Shadows came out, and even though I had incorporated near the end a potential love interest for Brad, who does periodically continue within the series; Beth, his girlfriend in book one and eventually they get engaged. But, I have people that would read the book and they wanted more romance between Brad and Sharon and that was never my intention. I always perceived her as a work colleague.
Debbi: I like that about her. I do like that they’re colleagues rather than lovers because that does complicate things.
Ray: It does.
Debbi: You’ve written two suspense novels. Are they standalones?
Ray: Yes, they’re standalones. The first was called, Kisses of an Enemy, and it is basically set in the Washington, D.C. area. The inspiration involves an aid to a congressman that was kidnapped and then demands are made on the Chief of Staff in the congressional office that he do something in exchange for her safety. So that’s the premise of the book. One of the formats that I used in creating that book was basically to create alternating viewpoint characters. The story shifts back and forth between the congressional Chief of Staff, a female police detective in the D.C. area who’s investigating the kidnapping ultimately, and a reporter who has been dispatched to Washington to help keep an eye on that congressman and Chief of Staff. So the book goes back and forth between those three characters. And then when I wrote my second suspense novel, I decided to use that same basic format of three different viewpoint characters. So, let me just talk a little bit about the second book. It’s more recent. It was inspired by my niece who is a Lutheran chaplain at a Lutheran college in Sioux Fall, South Dakota. I was bugging her about have you read any of my books and her response to me was, I don’t read fiction and I thought, OK, I’ll write a book that features female Lutheran chaplain and I’ll reach out to her and ask if she won’t be my technical advisor on all things Lutheran. And she agreed to do that and then in the end, she did read the novel and I have to say that she enjoyed it.
Debbi: That’s fantastic!
Ray: The main protagonist in that story is a 26-year-old man who has just gotten out of the military and he’s ended up at this Lutheran college. He is however, an agnostic. For going to the Lutheran college was his girlfriend at the time and she said, well let’s go, we’ll both go together to this school. So he enrolls and she splits from him. So, he’s now at the college without girlfriend and there ends up being a relationship that develops between him, an agnostic ex-military guy, and the chaplain. Kind of enabled me to do some fun stuff there.
Debbi: That’s cool.
Ray: Along with having mystery elements throughout.
Debbi: Of course, of course. Tell us about your latest book then in the Brad Frame series.
Ray: My latest book is called Yard Goat and one of the aspects of the Brad Frame character is he has a fascination with trains. Both big size regular trains, but also model trains. And again, being the wealthy guy that he is, he covered the entire attic with a set and it was given to him initially (he’s expanded upon it over the years) but it was initially given to him by his parents. And so, yard goat is a train term and it’s basically slang for a switching engine in a train yard. So, the setting for this particular book, a lot of it is in Baltimore at the train museum there. There is a yard goat that features in the overall story. But one of the interesting aspects of the story for me was that I decided to go back and write a story about Brad Frame’s career so that timewise, it’s actually before the events in Unforgiving Shadows and it’s before he pairs up with Sharon Porter. So, Sharon is not a featured character in that book and also the book takes place in the weeks right after 9/11 at a time when I think perhaps the last time that our country was together, perhaps only for three and a half weeks we were together. But, I wanted to go back and explore that in part because I believe anybody certainly that was around back then remembers what they were doing, how they felt about the country. Took the opportunity to kind of explore that along with the mystery elements that are incorporated in the book.
Ray: That’s the latest.
Debbi: Okay. Who would you imagine playing Brad Frame if your books were made into a movie or TV show?
Ray: Well, it’s interesting. I was kind of prepared for that question because we had a little bit of a conversation about it and I was telling you that way back when I first started writing this character back in the 1980’s, late 80’s, I was thinking about the actor Tim Daly, who is the brother of Tyne Daly. But he’s a little too old now actually to play Brad Frame. So, I’ve been thinking about it and I think perhaps the actor Ewan McGregor might be a good person to play Brad Frame.
Debbi: Ah, interesting. Very interesting!
Ray: And I only came up with that anticipating your question.
Ray: [laughs] and I go to bed every night praying for that Brad Frame TV series or the movie or whatever, you know [laughs].
Debbi: [laughs] you never know.
Ray: Will lightning strike? Yeah, and I know you’re a great screenwriting fan. You know that’s something you enjoy.
Debbi: I have been, yes, I’ve been into that for a few years now, yeah.
Ray: And wouldn’t it be amazing to see, you know…I enjoy writing the books. I don’t necessarily think that I would be good as a screenwriter. But, wouldn’t it be amazing to see somebody take a book and turn it into a screenplay.
Debbi: I have done that.
Ray: Now, when I write…
Debbi: I’ve done it with my own book. I did it with my own book.
Ray: You did?
Debbi: I did, yes.
Ray: Okay. Any prospects for that or are you still peddling?
Debbi: I was actually asked…a producer asked me to do it.
Debbi: Yes, a local producer here in Maryland who…
Ray: That’s tremendous!
Debbi: Yeah, it’s all part of what might be the process of bringing a movie out, but you know how that goes. I mean, these things can fall through and so on and so forth.
Ray: So who do you envision playing your protagonist, if I can be the questioner for a second?
Debbi: Well, when I first wrote the series, I kind of pictured somebody like Jodie Foster.
Ray: Yeah, yeah.
Debbi: Somebody along those lines. Today I might think, you know, Emily Blunt.
Debbi: Actually, there’s another actress who’s been picked by the producer. I won’t reveal any names just yet.
Debbi: Because I’m not really supposed to say too much about it just yet.
Ray: I’ll stay tuned.
Debbi: Yeah, yeah! I’ll be telling people as soon as I hear more about what’s going on because it’s all very exciting and right now it’s still a process of finding funding, etc., etc.
Debbi: Yeah, it’s all very…
Ray: Well, that’s wonderful. Congratulations! And I’ll keep my fingers crossed for you.
Debbi: Yeah, hopefully it will come out sooner rather than Janet Evonovich’s, One for the Money came out. She kept saying she wanted Sandra Bullock, but by the time the movie got made she was going to be in a walker, which is probably not true, but be that as it may.
Ray: Yeah. Completely I understand
Debbi: [laughs] so, you yourself are an actor and you have written and performed in a one-man play about Benjamin Franklin.
Ray: I have.
Debbi: I find that remarkable!
Ray: That was a great thing for me. Again, there’s been a long history to that. Twenty years ago, I had seen a couple of one-man shows, one-woman shows, too.
Ray: There’s a one-woman show about Emily Dickenson that I got to see. I thought it was great. I got a chance twice to see Hal Holbrook do his Mark Twain Tonight and I also saw a one-man show about Harry Truman.
Ray: And I had seen Ben Franklin in the musical 1776 a couple of times and I thought to myself, you know Franklin would be as interesting a character for a one-person show as anybody, and so I just went out and I bought a bunch of books and I sat down and I tried to figure out how could I tell his story, how could I create the arc of his life; what’s important, what from his childhood. You know he was apprentice to his older brother as a printer in Boston and that wasn’t going very well. He and his brother clashed all the time and eventually he ended up leaving Boston and going to Philadelphia. And he was a successful business person at the age of 23.
Ray: You know the Poor Richard’s Almanack and all of that. By the age of 42, able to retire from the active printing business and devoted his life at that point to philosophical studies. Some of his scientific studies, the electrical experiments that he did and also to civic causes. So, he created, helped to create the library, got the first hospital going in Philadelphia, fire companies and all of that before his fame with American Independence and representing America in London for 20 some years and later, after our independence, becoming ambassador to France. So the man had a remarkable life. I’ve now, of course, reached the age where I can credibly portray Ben Franklin and it’s been wonderful to do it. For your listeners in Maryland, I have been talking with the folks at Colonial Players of Annapolis to bringing my play back there around the Fourth of July. Dates are not set yet, but there’s discussion about it.
Debbi: Fantastic! Well, congratulations! That’s wonderful, my goodness! Well, I think you’ve accomplished quite a lot. That’s fantastic!
Ray: I’ve tried. It’s all enjoyable. If it’s not fun, it’s not worth doing and I love it.
Debbi: There you go.
Ray: Every day you sit down to write, you know and you sit, your fingers are poised above the keyboard and you’re trying to write and you know, words won’t come to you and then all of a sudden it crystalizes, you know.
Ray: Sometimes you have to go sleep on it and you wake up the next morning and you’ll have solved the plot point issue, you know and it’s just the most amazing thing.
Debbi: It is, isn’t it?
Ray: The more I write and the older I get, the more I am stimulated by the whole creative process. It just is amazing to me.
Debbi: I know the feeling.
Debbi: Well, before we finish up, is there anything else you’d like to add?
Ray: Well, two things. Number one, I’m giving away some books.
Debbi: That’s right!
Ray: To people via your podcast and so all they need to do is to send me an e-mail and I’m going to give away four copies of Unforgiving Shadows, the first book in my series and each of those will be coupled with one other book. So, it won’t necessarily be the same book, but each person who enters the contest, the four winners will get two books of mine; the first in my series and one other.
Debbi: And how do they enter?
Ray: So, that’s the one thing I wanted to mention. Pardon?
Debbi: How do they enter?
Ray: All they need to do is to send me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org and Flynt is spelled with a “y”. Just put “contest” on the subject line. Do you normally provide a deadline to people when they need to do that by?
Debbi: Yes, I would say in this case because… January 9th perhaps?
Ray: That sounds fine.
Debbi: Okay, January 9th.
Ray: So after January 9th, I’ll look at all of the entries and I’ll pick four winners. That will be great! Then the other thing I want to mention, I’m working on book Number Eight in the Brad Frame series and I’m actually about half way through it now. So, I’m looking at maybe April publication. We’ll see, but it’s called, Fatal Gambit. I wanted to write a theatre-related story and I’ve just been trying to figure out something that’s, you know, obviously a death on stage is kind of…when it comes to a theatre-related story, I’ve got to figure out how I can make it slightly different and they’ll still be a death on stage, but part of what fascinates me about writing this story is the play within the story.
Ray: And so, the name of the play is Gambit and it’s about this author who had a successful play a dozen years ago and then he fell into an addiction issue and now he’s trying to make a comeback and the play itself deals with Internet interactions, you know social media. The disparity between how we deal with people in the anonymous world of the Internet vs. how we might deal with people face-to-face and the false aspects of our social interaction. The lies that get told…
Ray: You know that kind of thing.
Debbi: Yes, that’s a very timely subject.
Ray: Some of the issues we’ve seen about online bullying and stuff like that and often times someone doesn’t necessarily know who’s doing it but it still affects them.
Ray: And so on. So, I want the play…the play within the story is exploring those aspects.
Debbi: Sounds like a very timely topic and an interesting story.
Ray: It is. I think it is.
Ray: I appreciated the chance to be with you, Debbi. It’s great and think about buying one of my books and give it a chance. My first book is only $0.99 as an e-reader and the others are only $2.99.
Debbi: Okay, well that’s very reasonable and people should give it a chance because it’s a very good book and a very good series.
Ray: Thank you very much, Debbi.
Debbi: You’re very welcome. On that note, I will only say please enter the giveaway for Ray’s books because you get Unforgiving Shadows plus a delightful surprise in addition to that and you can buy also The Crime Cafe books at my website, debbimack.com. Just go to “Crime Cafe” on my website and click on the link there. In the meantime, we’ll finish up for now, but in the meantime, happy reading and I will talk to you in two weeks.
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An excellent interview. I’m a fan of Ray’s books. His ability to draw his reader into the story is amazing. I feel like I’m right there with Brad Frame…walking behind him and experiencing his moves, his relationships, his personal life, etc. Pick up one of Ray’s books … you won’t stop there. They keep you wanting more. And Ray, keep writing !!