Judas Oracle Interview June 22, 2010
I guess doing something twice creates or establishes a tradition. Honoring this tradition Solana D’Lamant has once again coined interview questions for me to answer, this time for Judas Oracle. The ‘old’ interview (for Jamaica Moon) will remain in place on the ‘Blog’ page. This and subsequent interviews (and the like) will appear on the ‘Blog’ pages in date order.
Here is Sunny’s interview:
On – Judas Oracle
1. Place has a very prominent role in Judas Oracle. Not only is the book set in several locations, but when the action occurs in the home location of Dallas, you are very specific in your use of place names, street names, and locations. Place, especially Dallas, becomes a character in Judas Oracle. What do you as the author think geographical details add to character development and gravitas?
Glad you picked up on that. Several things come to mind, particularly other city’s shamus’, like San Francisco’s Sam Spade, Los Angeles’ Phillip Marlowe, and Boston’s Spencer. I hope Michael Grant can become the iconic private investigator for the city of Dallas. In my mind, to do that one should marry the character to the city. It seemed logical to me that using place names, street names and locations was integral to that marriage. In San Francisco, for instance, you can still go on guided Dashiell Hammett tours of Sam Spade’s city and city haunts. I want native Dallasites and readers who know Dallas to have that same opportunity. Readers have told me, how much they enjoy knowing where the action is taking place and like, if not having actually been there, knowing where ‘it’ is. I try to provide the same level of ‘place’ when the action shifts to other locales so that those familiar with ‘there’ will have their own sense of ‘place’. I also think that geography grounds the actions and impels the interest of the reader–to me, that sounds like gravitas.
2. You have informed your readership by the subtitle of the series, from the Black Book Investigations of Michael Grant & Associates, that the plots for your novels are case studies. Do you write about cases individually or do you conflate several cases to create a new plot? Consequently, do you write one novel or several novels at a time?
As much as I would like to do otherwise, I only write one at a time. That doesn’t mean that differential plots are not hatched and followed. I have on more than one occasion stopped writing on the then current book to start or amplify writing on a different book/story. Since there are now six completed books from the Black Book Investigations of Michael Grant & Associates series, I have had several instances of moving back and forth between books. As for ‘do novel plots come from actual case files or studies? I think I make it clear to readers, at least in my blogs, that ‘story’ comes from Michael’s Black Book entries. But it sounds more like you are asking if my novels’ plots come from my own law enforcement and private investigations case background. If that is your question, then yes many of the plot lines develop out of personal experiences. Over the years there have been certain cases I’ve worked whose stories I have wanted to tell. I can do that now. I do not consciously bring together several cases to create new plots. What I am consciously trying to do is show that during Michael’s average day he is not focused only on one case. In the real ‘PI’ or ‘cop’ world, if you are busy at all, you are working on multiple cases at the same time. Therefore there are multiple plots moving through each book. Obviously, at crucial moments, the action is bent toward the resolution of a single plot. However, in the next moment the scene, that is to say the client/case, may shift. I wanted to create the certainty of action and the uncertainty of when that action would find completion. I want to carry the reader forward by multiple activities. I did not want to write single stand-alone stories where everything was geared toward the resolution of a single plot, the ubiquitous ‘whodunit’. I don’t want my readers to experience the feeling of, ‘damn I’m finished, wish there was more’. Rather, I hope the experience is, ‘damn I’m finished, and wow, there’s more!’
3. Judas Oracle is replete with dialects and tonal accents written into the dialogue. They stand out from most characters’ standard English dialect. How do you think dialect enhances character development?
You mean ‘American’ English dialect? LOL. The English speaking world is full of dialects and America is a bubbling melting pot of dialects and tonal accents. Absolutely, I use these literary devices to distinguish characters in the mind of the reader. If I see a particular character, usually a minor character like farmer Neff, I will sometimes use a dialect to hopefully make that interlude of dialogue more interesting. In other instances dialect or speech patterns (such as never using contractions) are hopefully iconic enough that when used they identify the character as easily as say a ‘limp’ would. I am trying to create something memorable for the reader, but don’t want to get tiresome by using dialect extensively with a major character. As the writer, if I construct a character that I ‘see’ as having a certain dialect, that may indeed inform how I develop the character. But as for ‘does dialect enhance character development,’ I’m not sure it does unless the dialect changes as part of the character’s story arc.
4. In both Jamaica Moon and Judas Oracle, you invite the reader “behind the scenes” of subject topics such as security and technology techniques How important is research of the latest techniques and computer programs for your novels?
In my business I come across a lot of information regarding security, technology, techniques and trends. In general, I use information to make believable the character’s actions. I am not trying to inform the reader on deep details of computer operating systems, for example. I want to try to make something the reader may not be familiar with sound real, doable and accessible. I am telling a story–the “behind the scenes” information is there to give depth to the characters and more deeply engage the reader. I try to stay close to what I ‘know’, but I am constantly ‘researching’ various things from the interior of Tom’s Shelby Mustang to the inscription on the bell in the tower of the Sacré-Coeur Basilica in Paris. You’ll have to wait for book six, Murder Fever, to find out about that… and why.
Additionally, in answer to question #4 and #2, I refer you to one of my reader’s five-star comments about Judas Oracle, left on Amazon.com by H.D. Frymier (PI and former FBI Special Agent):
Many writers attempt to create a complex series of subplots in their work. Such a strategy can lend texture and interest to an otherwise simple narrative. Only a small percentage of such attempts are successful. Robert Sadler has succeeded beyond any measure. He weaves a complicated tale of multifaceted police work into a highly credible and entertaining series of subplots. Each subplot is masterfully handled in its own right and each then blends in with the overall theme of the book, creating a blockbuster ending to this phase of Michael Grant’s latest case work. The author has clearly been in a learning mode as he pursued his various careers in police work, private investigative work, and time spent in Vietnam during that conflict. He shares those lessons with readers in this dramatically entertaining novel.
5. You portray Michael Grant as a poet. Will we ever see a book of his poems published?
I haven’t felt the need to establish Michael’s bona fides as a poet per se. The end of Jamaica Moon was concluded with a poem (not Michael’s), but it was integral as a ‘pay-off’ to one of the plot lines. My belief is that while the readers will think it remarkable and even endearing that Michael is a man of words and poetry, I do not think they want to see poetry interspersed in a detective/spy/thriller. I have considered using ‘lines from Michael’s poems’ or perhaps listing several of his poetry books, or I might have a character pull one off a shelf and peruse it… but that’s about it. If there were a reader ground swell for a book of poetry from Michael Grant, it could happen… a separate book, not putting Michael poems in the novel.
6. Michael Grant, as a former cop and a current detective, sees all manner of human behavior. Are there behaviors that can still surprise him?
Alfred Hitchcock was reported to have said: “There is no fear/terror in the bang, only in the anticipation of it.” Similarly surprise is often a function of environment and moment. Where those juxtapositions overlap, Michael will be surprised. On the other hand, Michael is aware that people do bad things to each other. He is no longer surprised that it happens. Perhaps it is the depths of his disappointment at seeing what ‘we do to each other’ that surprises Michael the most. Michael believes in God. He recognizes ‘evil’ as a descriptor, but knows evil is the absence of God not an entity unto itself. He believes the Devil has no God left in him, ergo is evil. And, for those who believe the Devil can be redeemed, that none of God’s creatures is devoid of God or outside His redemptive grace, then Michael would say: “the Devil has turned his back on God or denied Him more thoroughly than any other sentient entity”. It is for these reasons that Evil is so ‘scary’ as a character and plot foil; it is so easy to anticipate and dread the opposite of good.
7. Ghosts of his deceased wife, Elanna, and her near-twin, Sara and other relationships haunt Michael. Especially the weight of Elanna’s ghost is present for Michael. Does Michael intentionally continue an on-going, ‘living’ relationship with Elanna? How does that relationship continue contemporaneously with the development of new relationships such as with Laurie?
Good question. I have to say that so as to give myself a moment to think about this. Michael’s ghosts represent reminders of things he cannot let go of (lives lost)… and yet they don’t play a part of his new relationship with Laurie. Michael is not shy about his past and his love for his wife Elanna, or Sara. It seems as long as everyone is aware of Michael’s past, they don’t have to be afraid of Michael’s ghosts or being haunted by them. None of the characters in the book think or see ‘his ghosts’ as a handicap or a hindrance to their relationship. These ghosts do provide a literary meme to enter into Michael’s head and heart. And… in future books, Michael’s ghosts may become harder to control.
8. All love roads for female characters lead to Michael. Elanna, Sara, Nancy/Nance (who ends up with Michael’s associate), Helen, Marnie, and Laurie. Can you comment on the apparent situation that Michael just exudes charm and can’t help the response from the women who orbit around him?
To use your paraphrased ‘all roads’ analogy… the story is about ‘Rome’ (Michael Grant), so where else would the ‘roads’ lead? The archetype of the iconic man of action is that of strength through reason with physical force applied where and when needed. I think this character trait is magnetic and creates charisma; an integral ingredient in Michael’s character. The OED shows two senses for charisma: “a. Theol. A free gift or favour specially vouchsafed by God; a grace, talent; b. A gift or power of leadership or authority; aura. Hence, the capacity to inspire devotion or enthusiasm.” Charisma, then, is an attractive or magnetic quality, aside from Michael’s ‘pleasant features’, and perhaps the main reason, coupled with his ‘eligible bachelor’ status, that women feel pulled toward Michael. Surely, Master Kong (Confucius) or one of his students must have written Novel Writing for Dummies, whose first corollary is: feng shui; for every yin there must be a yang. Thus, just as the hero-protagonist Michael must be juxtaposed with the antagonist, Michael, the alpha-male of the stories, must be juxtaposed by females. To me, that makes good story-sense.
9. In Jamaica Moon and in Judas Oracle, there are two types of (male-female) relationships: the Kingsley/Marquis physically degrading, abuse, and toxic type of contact and the Elanna, Sara, Laurie contact which portrays youngish, playful, almost innocent relationships. Do you intend to make a statement about the physical and sexual abuse of women?
In one sense, writing about violence is gratuitous. It doesn’t have to be in or a focal part of any story but often is, because we see violence on a daily basis either as part of our own lives or have seen vicariously through the eyes of others. Given these realities I make use of violence as part of Michael Grant’s existence. A modern day Don Quixote, Michael constantly tilts against the windmills of violence and particularly against violence toward women. Michael sees the ‘Dulcinea’ in all women and does not brook abuse of any stripe. I think the dichotomy is natural that Michael, the protagonist, would have reasonably well-rounded relationships with his female characters and that the antagonists would be just the opposite. To the degree that physical or sexual abuse of characters in my books allows me the platform to encourage anyone in an abusive relationship to get out, get help, and get on with real living, I am happy to do so. Likewise I am happy to highlight abusers and seek for them to pay a price for their abuse.
10. Judas Oracle seems to unfold more slowly than Jamaica Moon due to the detailed explications of the computer issues of the terrorists. Additionally, Judas Oracle has less romance than Jamaica Moon. Michael’s attention in Judas Oracle is more based in the plot action than in establishing romantic connections. Is this difference an intentional process of the series in the long term?
You are asking several questions here. First one of pacing and second the romance angle and how that informs the plotting now and in the future. As I said earlier, these are essentially ‘day-in-the-life’ stories. They have a natural ebb and flow of daily activities and occasionally, (as actions may require), dogmatic attention to resolution. I do generally adhere to the Chekhov’s Gun theory. So I want the reader to be present, to acquire the story’s details, because details generally have a payoff later. I think readers’ of the Black Book Investigations, have learned now after the second book that the details are worth acquiring and do enhance the reader’s enjoyment. Having said that, if you felt, judging one book against another, that Judas Oracle seemed to unfold more slowly than Jamaica Moon, I can only say they are different stories with different engagement levels for the reader. Again, though stand alone, Judas Oracle follows on the heels of the action in Jamaica Moon and much has already been established in the reader’s mind. The computer details (though not truly details) are a generic expedience to setup the unparalleled possibilities of control and abuse should the story’s ‘enhanced’ computer fall into the wrong hands. The MacGuffin here is the computer’s capacities, though not fully utilized by the bad guy, are scary enough to warrant all the actions taken to reclaim it. In terms of pacing, I’m not writing a pure whodunit; page one, a killing, followed by 400 pages of find-the-killer, etc. Although I may put a murder on the first page, that is rarely the motivation for the plot of that book. In terms of pacing, I am sure there are readers who will not want to plod along if they find the ‘details’ too slow. The best selling author Elmore Leonard says those details (that some skip) would be the ones he cuts out. I, on the other hand, ‘see lots of detail’ and like reading ‘the details’ and so I write with detail. I am trying to tell a believable story, which takes the reader on a journey, not just provides an action-highlight-ride racing toward ‘the end’.
Regarding your sense that “Judas Oracle is less romantic than Jamaica Moon” and your questions that “Michael’s attention in Judas Oracle is more based in the plot action than in establishing romantic connections” and “is this difference an intentional process of the series in the long term?” Your sense is probably correct. However, remember that one of the key plot lines in Jamaica Moon was the romance between Michael’s client Chris Chisholm and his lost love, Laurie Holden, who Michael must identify and find. The time-frame for Judas Oracle is more compressed. And, given the action, there is not time for Michael’s romance per se; he’s left the women and children behind. Remember, as yet, the reader does not know the true nature of Michael and Laurie’s relationship; whether it is a flash-in-the-pan or something lasting. But you will find out in And… Never Again. The series is not about romance any more than it is about cops and robbers; it is about Michael Grant’s life and his experiences. Exploring Michael Grant’s life is the long term intentional process of the series from the Black Book Investigations of Michael Grant & Associates.
I am in the middle of writing the seventh book in the Michael Grant series. Many of the answers to the these questions will be found in And… Never Again. Followed by Innocent And Guilty due out in November 2011; Cry… Walk, Run; Murder Fever, and BOXMAN… and on and on, I hope!
Sunny, thanks for the insightful questions. Once again it was fun.
I do have a question for you. I did notice a contrast between these questions and those for Jamaica Moon. In our last interview you focused a lot of attention on Jamaica Moon’s bad guy, David E. Kingsley and this time said nothing about the Judas Oracle antagonist, Terry Dean Ballard. (Ex. He was not mentioned in Question #9). What do you think is the reason for that? Was Kingsley such a bad bad-guy that all antagonists, and Terry Dean Ballard in particular, pale in comparison? I’ll answer my own questions. First, I know it was not an oversight, you just wanted to give the readers a different perspective via different questions. But since I want to discuss bad guys… I thought Ballard was a fairly unique and well constructed character, possessing youth and youth’s disregard for mortality and historical context as well as the intellect and callousness of a criminal mastermind. In the archetype of the story arc, the bad guys allow the good guys to be good and to triumph over godlessness. I thought Terry Dean Ballard was an excellent bad guy.
Thanks again, I look forward to your reading and reviewing: And… Never Again, then Innocent And Guilty.
In response to ‘my’ question to Sunny: Solana DeLamant Says:
June 22nd, 2010 at 7:23 pm
In Jamaica Moon, I was COMPLETELY taken in by the presentation of David E. Kingsley. At his introduction, as a teenage-ish boy, I thought he would be the ‘good guy.’ I was totally shocked to realize that he was a really very very bad guy! Even after all this time since I first read Jamaica Moon, I still remember my profound shock at the character twist in David. You, Sir, are very sneaky in your character development process! So, of course, when I designed the ‘Conversation With Robert’ for the website, I was compelled to ask about Kingsley.
Terry Dean Ballard is a very well and intricately drawn bad guy for Judas Oracle. The detail that you include is highly informative about the formation and motivation of his character and the depth of his moral decrepitude. That he is very young is unnerving. I am glad to know all the detailed history of Terry Dean Ballard and I suspect that I will encounter him in future volumes. If so, I will have the pleasure of despising him, as much as the despicable Kingsley, in the future.
Solana D’Lámant holds MFAs from Texas Christian University (Dance) and Vermont College (Creative Writing-Poetry). She has three books of poems published by WordSculptor Press, Flowers For The Living, You Get It By Breathing and Dancing on One Leg While the Other One Sings. She studied as a PhD student in literature at the University of Texas At Dallas.
Unfortunately, Sunny (my gifted friend for 18 years) passed away December 31, 2016 from inoperable brain tumor.