Hello and welcome to my blog, Author Interviews. My name is Fiona Mcvie.
Let’s get you introduced to everyone, shall we? Tell us your name. What is your age?
Roger: I’m Roger Johns, and I’m in my early 60s.
Fiona: Where are you from?
Roger: I was born and grew up in Louisiana, but I currently live near Atlanta, GA.
Fiona: A little about yourself (ie, your education, family life, etc.).
Roger: Several years ago I retired after nearly twenty years as a college professor, during which time I taught business law, employment law, and international transactions law. Before that I was a corporate lawyer working in the banking industry. I have law degrees from Louisiana State University and from Boston University. I took time away from college teaching on two different occasions––once, to try my hand at writing comedy for television (which went nowhere), and again in my mid-40s, to attend medical school at LSU-Shreveport (which lasted for three semesters; it was interesting but not a profession I wanted to spend the rest of my life practicing).
Fiona: Tell us your latest news.
Roger: I just returned from a December 2 book-signing at the Bookstar in Studio City, CA which is housed in a beautiful, restored movie palace. I was one of the original employees at this bookstore, when it opened in the spring of 1992.
Fiona: When and why did you begin writing?
Roger: I’ve been writing, in some form or fashion, my whole life. The catalyst was probably all the reading I’ve done. Since early childhood I’ve been a voracious reader and there was always the impulse to see if I too could do that magic. During my senior year of high school, I edited the literary magazine, and during my senior year in law school at LSU, I was the director and principle writer of the annual faculty roast, and in my mid-30s I made the aforementioned attempt at writing for television. I began writing the book that is now my first published novel about ten years ago, but didn’t truly get serious about it until almost five years ago, which was a few years after I retired from teaching. During those first years of working on the book, I took it in and out of the drawer countless times, but with a firm push from my wife, I got down to business sometime in the summer of 2013.
Fiona: When did you first consider yourself a writer?
Roger: I’m not sure that I can claim that title for myself. However, there is a specific moment whenthe belief that I could write a book took hold of me.I had been working and reworking the first paragraph of Dark River Rising, searching hard for a way to deliver the visceral impact of the murder that opens the book. As I visualized the scene and the effect of the killer’s method on the victim, a sentence just popped into my head: “The corpse looked like it was belly dancing its way into the hereafter.” Instantly, I knew I had found the perfect verbal formulation to convey what my main character was seeing and feeling, and I remember thinking to myself: See, you can do this. Up until then, my descriptions had been serviceable, but not very affecting or imaginative. For some reason, when that sentence revealed itself, the dam broke, so to speak, and it gave me the confidence to push ahead with the belief that it was at least possible that I could write a book someone would be interested in reading.
Fiona: What inspired you to write your first book?
Roger:On my way to teach a class about international transactions, I started wondering why the cocaine cartels conduct a certain aspect of their operations the way they do. I knew there had to be a good reason. I could envision an easier, safer, and far more profitable method, but I assumed that if I could think of it, then surely the cartels would have already figured it out.And, sure enough, a bit of research showed why my idea wouldn’t work. But then I thought: What if . . . That what-if question wouldn’t go away, and at some point I realized it might be a good idea for a crime novel.
Fiona: How did you come up with the title?
Roger:My original title was A Change in the Game, which was utterly uninspiring. When I was asked to come up with a better title I offeredDark River, based on three elements of the book: (1) the dark, brooding Mississippi River which runs past Baton Rouge, LA, the town in which the book is set, (2) the sinister rivers of cocaine flowing north from the South American production areas, and (3) the rivers of data collected and analysed by the drug suppression agencies. April Osborn, the St. Martin’s editor who acquired my book, suggested we add Rising to make it kinetic, to convey a sense of something ominous happening, so it became Dark River Rising. I think the addition of that final word transformed the title from pretty good to exactly right.
Fiona: Do you have a specific writing style? Is there anything about your style or genre that you find particularly challenging?
Roger: My style probably fits into the neo-Noir genre, in terms of the overall mood of the book, but my main character is not a typical Noir character because she doesn’t flounder through life making one bad decision after another and then spend all her time contending with the mess she’s made. She does make mistakes, but in general, she is very good at being a police detective, she’s bright and thoughtful, and she has a playful side and a tender side.
I write mysteries, and mysteries are challenging because every part of the story has to fit together with every other part of the story and all the parts have to work together with the precision of a watchwork. On top of that, mystery readers expect to be misdirected, but they’re a very sharp-eyed crowd so actually accomplishing that is very difficult––just thinking about it keeps me up at night. Writing mysteries is not for the faint of heart.
Fiona: How much of the book is realistic and are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
Roger:Except for the elements I had to create to satisfy the what if question that inspired the book, it’s all realistic. Experiences I had during my ten years of living, working, and going to college and law school in Baton Rouge, LA shaped the way I’ve portrayed the setting and crafted some of the characters, but nothing in the book is based directly on any specific person I’ve known or experience I’ve had.
Fiona: To craft your works, do you have to travel? Before or during the process?
Roger:So far, I haven’t needed to travel. My memory of the place and the culture in Baton Rouge is still very strong, and any geographical details I don’t have in memory can be easily gathered from Google Maps and Google Street View. While setting is incredibly important for my books, and I strive for realism, I’m much more interested in using the environment to create a specific mood than I am in constructin a detailed physical verisimilitude.
Fiona: Who designed the covers?
Roger:Both covers were designed by the unbelievably talented cover artists at St. Martin’s Press, and I’m totally blown away by both. Not only are they arresting images, they beautifully capture the stories, as well.
Fiona: Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
Roger:First and foremost, I want my readers to be entertained. Books cost money and reading them takes time, so I’m immensely grateful that a reader would risk such precious commodities on an unknown/first-time author. I want them to feel like they’ve gotten good value for their investment, and I hope that my main character is compelling enough that they would want to spend more time with her in the future.
Fiona: Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest? Who is your favorite writer, and what is it about their work that really strikes you?
Roger:I read a great deal, and it’s impossible to name a favourite, but here are just a few new and mid-career authors I plan to read and read and read: Thomas Mullen, Tracee de Hahn, Craig Johnson, Hank Phillippi Ryan, Bruce Coffin, Jonathan Putnam, Craig Robertson, and Lynn Cullen. Not only are all of these authors talented story tellers, but they do certain things very, very well, so I read them for pleasure as well as to learn how they do what they do. The writer whose books I’ve read the most is Stephen King. He has a way of creating believable fictional worlds and drawing the reader into them very quickly, and he endlessly tantalizes the reader with very expressive but understated prose.
Fiona: Outside of family members, name one entity that supported your commitment to become a published author.
Roger:The Atlanta Writers Club, with it amazing semi-annual writers’ conferences, andwithin the club, the brilliant guiding hand of George Weinstein who organizes the conferences and masterminds the club-affiliated Roswell critique group where I learned a great many important lessons about writing––not the least of which was how to take criticism.
Fiona: Do you see writing as a career?
Roger:Yes. This is the most difficult thing I’ve ever done, but it is, by far, the most satisfying and the most enjoyable. I like everything about it I’d be thrilled if I could continue this until I get to that clearing at the end of the path.
Fiona: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
Roger:My latest book, River of Secrets, is still in the editing process, so it will definitely undergo change. With respect to Dark River Rising, the book that’s out now, I and the editors at St. Martin’s worked hard to get it right, and I couldn’t be happier with it. I wouldn’t change a thing.
Fiona: Did you learn anything during the writing of your recent book?
Roger: I learned a great many things––from my wife, my critique groups, my individual critique partners, my long ago writing instructor in Atlanta, my agent, and the editors at St. Martin’s. Writing fiction, especially mysteries, as I mentioned above, is very difficult. It took considerable time and effort on the part of all of the aforementioned individuals to get the manuscript up to where it needed to be. Learning to hear and identify valid criticism, how to ignore my ego, how to write for an audience other than myself––these were the most important things I learned. I also learned that the writing community is a very generous, very helpful group of people, and participation in it is a necessary ingredient for a successful writing career.
Fiona: If your book was made into a film, who would you like to play the lead?
Roger: I honestly can’t say. I haven’t watched television in decades and rarely go to the movies. Someone thoughtful, though. There is very little physical description of her in the book, and that was intentional, because I wanted readers to be able to imagine her any way they wanted to. Perhaps I should take a poll of my readers to see what they come up with.
Fiona: Any advice for other writers?
Roger: Write every day, never give up on your dreams, figure out a step-by-step plan for how you want your writing career to go and then carry out that plan, be willing to make changes to your plan if the situation warrants, chase your opportunities but be ready willing and able to take advantage of them when they get them, read a lot (all types of books) and pay attention to what works and why and use those techniques in your own writing, seek out the help of others who are knowledgeable, help others when you can, get involved in your writing community, be patient but be relentless, enjoy it as a pastime but treat is as a business (because it is one, and an increasingly demanding one, at that), always take time to celebrate the high moments, don’t read reviews except the ones your publisher sends you, write every day . . .
Fiona: Anything specific you want to tell your readers?
Roger: Thank you for reading my book. If you enjoyed it, the second instalmentin the Wallace Hartman Mystery series––River of Secrets––will be out on August 28, 2018, and it’s available for pre-order now. I enjoy meeting and talking to readers, so have a look at the Appearances schedule on my website, and if I’m having an event in your area, please come by. I’d love to meet you.
Fiona: What book are you reading now?
Roger: The Many Deaths of the Firefly Brothers, by Thomas Mullen, The Weight of This World, by David Joy, Cujo by Stephen King, and an advance reader copy of Free Falling by G. G. Wynter. Twain’s End, by Lynn Cullen, is next in the queue.
Fiona: Do you remember the first book you read?
Roger: I can’t remember the title, but it would have been one of the Dick and Jane grammar school readers.
Fiona: What makes you laugh/cry?
Roger: Clever comedy makes me laugh––especially if there’s an unexpected twist to it. Sad stories and stories where people overcome the odds, make me cry.
Fiona: Is there one person, past or present, you would love to meet? Why?
Roger:It’s possible I would answer this question differently, if you were to ask me again next week, but at the moment, it would be Isaac Newton. He discovered and documented the principles of calculus and the laws of motion, gravitation, and optics, and he did all this while he was a young man. Who wouldn’t want to meet such a towering genius?
Fiona: Do you have any hobbies?
Roger:I used to have hobbies, like golf and tennis, but now I spend most of my time reading, writing, or promoting my book. Attending book conferences and literary festivals probably doesn’t fall into the category of a hobby, but I’m doing that a lot now and I’m having the time of my life. Getting to know other writers and connecting with readers is turning out to be a huge amount of fun. In response to questions like this, my father used to say that his work was his hobby. I guess I’ve arrived at that same point, although it took me several false starts and about forty years longer than it took him.
Fiona: What TV shows/films do you enjoy watching?
Roger:We don’t own a TV and I haven’t really watched TV for over twenty years. We occasionally watch a few episodes of some show on DVD, but that’s pretty rare. Back when I did watch, I tended to favour science fiction.
Fiona: Favorite foods, colors, music?
Roger: Favourite Foods: Middle Eastern and Italian––the food my immigrant grandparents made and the food I grew up eating. Southern barbeque is running a close second, though. Favourite Colours: Bright greens and blues and purples. Favourite Music: 70’s rock––The Eagles, Fleetwood Mac, The Doobie Brothers, Crosby Stills Nash & Young––the soundtrack of my youth.
Fiona: Imagine a future where you no longer write. What would you do?
Roger:I’d be an inventor. I’ve got lots of ideas in my Tomorrow File.
Fiona: What do you want written on your head stone?
Roger:Well, I’ve left instructions that I want to be cremated, not buried, but if a cenotaph should ever be erected, I suppose “Well . . . he tried. Let’s give him that” would just about sum things up.
Fiona: Do you have a blog or website readers can visit for updates, events and special offers?
Roger:Readers can visit me at www.rogerjohnsbooks.com, and they can see my schedule of events on the Appearances page of the site. Special offers and new developments will show up on the homepage as they occur, and they will also be mentioned in my periodic newsletter.Along with two retired homicide detectives, a private investigator turned international security consultant, and a criminal magistrate/former state prosecutor, I also co-author the Murder Books blog which focuses on crime fiction, and features interviews with up and coming crime fiction writers. The blog can be found at www.murder-books.com.
Amazon Author Page:
Link to Dark River Rising:
Link to River of Secrets (forthcoming August 28, 2018):