Thursday, July 09, 2015

A Conversation with Mystery Author Rich Zahradnik

Omnimystery News: Author Interview with Rich Zahradnik

We are delighted to welcome author Rich Zahradnik to Omnimystery News today.

Rich's second mystery set in New York City of the mid-70s and featuring newspaper reporter Coleridge Taylor is Drop Dead Punk (Camel Press; August 2015 trade paperback) and we recently had the chance to spend some time with him talking about the series.

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Omnimystery News: Tell us a little more about Coleridge Taylor. What it is about him that appeals to you as a writer?

Rich Zahradnik
Photo provided courtesy of
Rich Zahradnik

Rich Zahradnik: Coleridge Taylor is a police reporter for a New York newspaper in 1975. The first book saw him demoted to the obituaries desk and struggling mightily to find the crime story that would rescue him from working the death desk. He appeals to me because he's a much better reporter than I ever was. This can be a good thing and a bad thing. He's incredibly single minded when pursuing the story of a crime. He has few other interests. He'd never become a novelist. I also like him because he's the last of a breed: high school grads who got jobs as newspaper copyboys and were promoted to reporter. By 1975, the apprenticeship approach is dying out at newspapers. Reporters get hired with degrees from places like Columbia. This makes Taylor insecure and an outsider at his own paper. That is a fun tension for me to play with as a writer.

OMN: How do you see him developing as a character over the course of a series?

RZ: That's a great question. Drop Dead Punk is the second in a series that is planned to run to six books. I think Taylor needs to grow and change over time, while keeping the core aspects that make him a strong character for these books. So he can have a character arc in each book, but I can't bring in as much change as I might in a stand-alone. Taylor has to be recognizable to readers from book to book, even as he grows and changes.

OMN: Into which mystery subgenre would you place this series?

RZ: When I set out to write the first book, I chose the year 1975 because I didn't want my hero to have the advantages of all that CSI-like instant DNA typing, video cameras everywhere and a cellphone always to hand. Since that's 40 years ago, some would call my books historical mysteries, though the 70s don't quite feel like history to me yet. I chose a reporter rather than a cop or private eye, so the books can't really be called procedurals, even though they follow the same plot structure as a procedural, with a thrilling chase at the end. I'm going to have to cop out and go with cross-over mixing hard-boiled, procedural and thriller. But really what I'm going for is a good murder mystery that keeps you guessing. There are advantages to labels because the book industry thinks that way, and to the extent that the book fits comfortably in one, the more likely readers are to find it. I obviously wasn't thinking about that when I started writing.

OMN: Tell us something about Drop Dead Punk that isn't mentioned in the publisher's synopsis.

RZ: I am a huge Bruce Springsteen fan. "Born to Run" came out two months before the novel starts, so I got to make Taylor a fan and mention a couple of songs. Maybe that's too trivial? Taylor is now living in a dry-docked houseboat on City Island in the Bronx. He's become a nomad because dirty cops firebombed his house in Book 1 and the contractors split with the insurance money. City Island, an actual island off the Bronx with dowdy seafood restaurants and clam shacks, is a couple miles from where I live. I love to bike there (and eat there). The nomad theme will continue in future books. The near financial collapse of New York City is going on in the background of the story, and I researched the dates and speeches by major players like President Ford and Governor Carey to make all that accurate.

OMN: How much of your own personal or professional experience have you included in your books?

RZ: I took 30 years of journalism experience and invented a reporter, but, as I said earlier, he's not me. I've lived in and around New York most of my life, so I experienced the city of the Seventies as a teenager. For me, characters are composites. I borrow traits and behaviors and descriptions from different people to create characters for the books. Some I invent out of whole cloth. One situation in the book is borrowed from real life, and without being too much of a spoiler, I'll hint newspapers were going out of business long before the Internet came along. Back then, they were killed by white flight to the suburbs and Eyewitness News.

OMN: Describe your writing process for us.

RZ: I'm a modified pantser (i.e. — write by the seat of my pants). I start with virtual index cards for each of the chapters, though the first couple cards are the only ones with much detail written on them, with maybe a couple additional notes for key points in the story on cards for later chapters. And then I start writing. I like the discoveries I make with this process. Characters, ideas and directions appear as I go along. Some I throw away. Some change the story for the better. I add ideas to the cards as I write, usually running a chapter or two or three ahead of the writing. My expected cast of characters usually changes and expands, and during revisions, is cut down again. This process means that my first draft is really the outline though with the full story written out. Revisions are very important in my process. I have at times written a separate one-page document that describes how the murder actually happened in real time. This is because Taylor is piecing it together clue by clue, and I need to know how the whole thing went down.

OMN: What is the best advice — and harshest criticism — you've received as an author?

RZ: I went to my high school English teacher (the book is dedicated to his memory) and asked what it takes to be a writer. I wanted the secret recipe. The magic incantation.

"You want to be writer?"
"Yes. What do I do?'
"You really want to be a writer?"
"Yes, yes, tell me."
"Write a thousand words a day."
"No, I mean all the special, secret steps —"
"Write a thousand words a day."

I may not make that number every day. Some days I exceed it. But that is my firm belief about writing. Writers write. It's that simple.

I'm having a hard time coming up with the harshest criticism, mainly because 30 years of journalism mean I've been through the editing mill thousands and thousands of times. I learned editing, critiques and revision are critical and that you have to listen to readers. Books don't exist without readers, and if something isn't working for them — or at least a decent percentage of them — you've got a big problem. Eight publishing houses rejected my first manuscript, and afterward, I realized it just wasn't good enough. As my work gets out there more, I'm sure I'll read something harsh. Probably more than one something.

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Rich Zahradnik was born in Poughkeepsie, New York, and received his B.A. in journalism and political science from George Washington University. He was a journalist for 30-plus years, working as a reporter and editor in all major news media, including online, newspaper, broadcast, magazine and wire services. He held editorial positions at CNN, Bloomberg News, Fox Business Network, AOL and The Hollywood Reporter, often writing news stories and analysis about the journalism business, broadcasting, film production, publishing and the online industry. He lives with his wife Sheri and son Patrick in Pelham, New York, where he writes fiction and teaches elementary school kids how to publish an online and print newspaper.

For more information about the author, please visit his website at and his author page on Goodreads, or find him on Facebook and Twitter.

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Drop Dead Punk by Rich Zahradnik

Drop Dead Punk by Rich Zahradnik

A Coleridge Taylor Mystery

Publisher: Camel Press Print/Kindle Format(s) Print/Nook Format(s)

Coleridge Taylor is searching for his next scoop on the police beat. The Messenger-Telegram reporter has a lot to choose from on the crime-ridden streets of New York City in 1975. One story outside his beat is grabbing all the front page glory: New York teeters on the brink of bankruptcy, and President Ford just told the city, as the Daily News so aptly puts it, "Drop Dead." Taylor's situation is nearly as desperate. His home is a borrowed dry-docked houseboat, his newspaper may also be on the way out, and his drunk father keeps getting arrested.

A source sends Taylor down to Alphabet City, hang-out of the punks who gravitate to the rock club CBGB. There he finds the bloody fallout from a mugging. Two dead bodies: a punk named Johnny Mort and a cop named Robert Dodd. Each looks too messed up to have killed the other. Taylor starts asking around. The punk was a good kid, the peace-loving guardian angel of the neighborhood's stray dogs. What led him to mug a woman at gunpoint? And why is Officer Samantha Callahan being accused of leaving her partner to die, even though she insists the police radio misled her?

It's hard enough being a female in the NYPD only five years after women were assigned to patrol. Now the department wants to throw her to the wolves. That's not going to happen, not if Taylor can help it. As he falls for Samantha — a beautiful, dedicated second-generation cop — he realizes he's too close to his story. Officer Callahan is a target, and Taylor's standing between her and some mighty big guns.

Drop Dead Punk by Rich Zahradnik


  1. Thank you for the interview. I really enjoyed doing it. I'll be stopping by to see if your readers have additional questions.

  2. I'm following and enjoying the series. Great job, Rich



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