Tuesday, September 09, 2014

A Conversation with Mystery Author Ed Teja

Omnimystery News: Author Interview with Ed Teja
with Ed Teja

We are delighted to welcome author Ed Teja to Omnimystery News today.

Ed's second mystery to feature freighter captain and amateur detective Martin Billings is Death Benefits (Float Street Press; July 2014 trade paperback and ebook formats) and we recently had the chance to catch up with him to talk about his series.

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Omnimystery News: Introduce us to Martin Billings.

Ed Teja
Photo provided courtesy of
Ed Teja

Ed Teja: Martin Billings is an ex-SEAL who is captain of an inter-island cargo ship along with his partner Ugly Bill. I lived in the Lesser Antilles and Venezuela on an old wooden boat for over ten years and met people doing that very thing. The life is a bit precarious, and these are people who don't fit into boxes well. They are characters, in the true sense of the word and tend to live from crisis to crisis. They are survivors, but lousy business people. Fusing together a number of real people into fictional ones that retain some of their fascinating qualities is a lot of fun and hard work too.

OMN: You've written both stand-alones and series books. When starting a new book, how do you decide which it will be?

ET: It can work a variety of ways. In the series, the locale is almost as much a character as the main characters, so if an idea strikes me that is generic and wouldn't have to take place there, I prefer to use it in a standalone story. Sometimes, even when a story that belongs in the Caribbean, it might not be one that would naturally overlap into Martin's world. I recently wrote a short story about a murder at a resort in that area, but the focus there was on island dynamics — showing how a local investigator dealt with the social mores of the island. So, it depends.

OMN: Into which genre (or subgenre) would you place your Martin Billings stories?

ET: My Martin Billings books are mysteries, and suspenseful, and also standalone stories about a specific place and time. There are always both advantages and disadvantages to any kind of labeling and I hate doing it. One difficulty for me is my focus is on the people and place as much as on solving a mystery — the crime is, in a real sense, the excuse for the characters to be out and about. But, overall, "mystery" is a broad enough category to suit me. The problem is that I like to write with humor, and there is no such category as Caribbean humor and mystery.

OMN: You mentioned that you lived on an old wooden boat in the Lesser Antilles and Venezuela. What other personal experiences have you included in your stories?

ET: I use a lot of fictionalized events … either they happened or things like them did. Our boat was boarded one night by pirates in Venezuela (that time, we won), and several other people we knew were attacked. Another time, our boat was temporarily taken into custody (with my wife and I on it) by armed troops of the Guardia Nacionale. We also lived for a over a year among the artisanal fishermen. In Under Low Skies, the story is about the murder of a fisherman like those we knew (and still know). And when I write about pirates in that area or dealing with the authorities, the descriptions are true. Many, not all, of the characters in my stories are based on real people. The places are very real.

OMN: Given that the places are real, how true are you to the settings?

ET: I adore maps. For this series, I try to make everything accurate, including travel times between points. Things change, of course, but I try to make it right.

OMN: If we could send you anywhere in the world to research the setting for a book, where would it be?

ET: Today I'll say the Greek Islands. I've been to Greece, but I've fantasized about spending a month of two overlooking the sea there, writing. Or maybe on a charter sailboat.

OMN: How do you go about researching certain plot points of your stories?

ET: I start writing, as I've said, with what I know. One of my more recent stories takes place in rural Cambodia, and I wrote it just after moving back from three years there. When I've been away from a place for a time, I ask friends to read early drafts. My dear friend Derek Miraboli, in Venezuela, always proofs my Spanish terminology and place names.

OMN: What are some of your outside interests? And do these find their way into your books?

ET: Music and sailing always factor into my writing one way or another.

OMN: Have any specific authors influenced how and what you write today?

ET: I read broadly. For years, Hemingway was a huge influence (sort of an antidote for having read Hardy and Hawthorne). I am a fan of Elmore Leonard, Carl Hiaasen, Isabelle Allende, Julio Cortazar and so many I've lost count. Can't leave out Milan Kundera, though. Each of these taught me something of the potentialities of fiction.

OMN: What do you read for pleasure?

ET: I do read series fiction. I just finished Colin Coterill's Dr. Siri stories. The characters sparkle and his ability to evoke SE Asia (Laos, in this case) is amazing. It is quite like Cambodia. I also love the Mary Russell stories by Laurie King.

OMN: Create a Top 5 list for us on any topic.

ET: Places to visit. Of the places I haven't been, I'd love to see:

• Chile;
• Ecuador;
• Myanmar;
• India; and
• Czech Republic.

But I'd like to get back to China again, as well as roam Europe. Okay, I'm greedy.

OMN: What's next for you?

ET: Old friends just finished building a house in Grenada, WI and I'd love to visit them and refresh the images of that beautiful island in my head. Call it research, as I am writing more books in the series (the third is in the works) and more short stories that take place there.

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Ed Teja is a boat bum, magazine editor, freelance writer, poet, musician and traveler. He writes about the places he knows, places that lie in the margins of the world. After three years editing magazines in Hong Kong, where they lived on a Chinese junk, he and his wife (and dog) lived moved to a WWII Harbour Defence Motor Launch (HDML 1001) in Grenada, WI. The spelling is intentionally British, as she was retired from active duty in the Royal Navy. The four of them (Teja, wife, dog and boat) spent the next ten years in the Caribbean, dedicating a great deal of time learning how to keep the boat afloat, where to buy the best rum, and generally having a riotous time hanging out with smugglers, rastas and various ne'er do wells (some remain good friends). He did manage to write a monthly humor column for Caribbean Compass magazine for five years, win the King of Redonda Literary Award (for a manuscript still unpublished) and write both "The Rum Shop" (a short story about life in the Windward Islands) and The Legend of Ron Añejo, the definitive story of world's best Caribbean boat bum. To this day, boats, islands, and remote (preferably warm and tropical) places are his natural habitat. Oddly enough, they also spend time in the arid mountains of New Mexico, perhaps for some sort of necessary balance.

After a few years gathering material in Southeast Asia, where the living is gentle, the food good and the weather kind, he returned to New Mexico, and is hard at work writing new books.

For more information about the author, please visit his blog or Amazon Author page and find him on Twitter.

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Death Benefits by Ed Teja

Death Benefits
Ed Teja
A Martin Billings Mystery

It's hard to close a business deal when you can't find the person who is supposed to sign the papers. In fact, all Martin Billings can find is the man's sailboat, and it's burning on a Venezuelan beach. A mysterious woman and an ex British spy seem interested in finding the man too, but why?

Martin needs some answers, and preferably before Ugly Bill gets too tired of him playing detective.

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Lance Wright owns and manages Omnimystery, a Family of Mystery Websites, which had its origin as Hidden Staircase Mystery Books in 1986. As the scope of the business expanded, first into book reviews — Mysterious Reviews — and later into information for and reviews of mystery and suspense television and film, all sites were consolidated under the Omnimystery brand in 2006.

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