Thursday, October 29, 2015

A Conversation with Crime Novelist Robert McClure

Omnimystery News: Author Interview with Robert McClure

We are delighted to welcome author Robert McClure to Omnimystery News today.

Robert's new crime novel, the first in a new series featuring career hitman Babe Crucci and his son Leo, a LAPD officer, is Deadly Lullaby (Alibi; September 2015 ebook format) and we recently had the chance to talk with him more about the book.

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Omnimystery News: Tell us a little more about your new series characters.

Robert McClure
Photo provided courtesy of
Robert McClure

Robert McClure: The two protagonists are Babe Crucci, a mob hit man just released from serving eight years in San Quentin, and his son Leo Crucci, an edgy Los Angeles police detective. Not surprisingly given their respective professions, Babe and Leo are estranged and Babe sorely wants to rekindle the relationship but Leo's not thrilled with the idea; the key question that propels the plot is whether Babe will achieve his goal, and events frustrated him at every turn.

Leo's commanding officer Lt. Jon Abel plays a not insignificant role, and Babe's sidekick is an old friend and associate named Jack Barzi, who goes by "Chief." And there is Babe's girlfriend Maggie, a prostitute he met the day of his release. And, of course, there are the villains, who are difficult to identify completely without spoiling the plot. The unique feature about Deadly Lullaby is that most people would probably have a hard time finding a character in it who's "good" in the traditional sense, including the protagonists. From the very start, though, my goal in writing crime fiction has always been to create characters that thieve, kill and create other forms of mayhem who readers can't help but love, and the guiltier the reader feels about it, the better. I feel like I accomplished that with Deadly Lullaby. With that proviso, the list of "bad" guys who play significant roles in the book are as follows: An LA mafia kingpin named Joe Sacci, who is Babe's ex-boss; Sacci's top henchmen Ricardo Donsky and Michael Fecarotta; a Russian gangster named Viktor Tarasov who spent time in San Quentin with Babe, and his henchmen; and a Cambodian drug lord named Khang Nhou who helped found The Oriental Lazy Boyz gang in LA.

OMN: Now that Deadly Lullaby has been published, have you started on the next book in the series?

RM: I originally saw Deadly Lullaby as a standalone until my French publisher Calmann-Levy asked me to write a sequel and included the sequel in their offer. After kicking it around with my literary agents, I agreed because there's more to Babe and Leo's story than I could fit into the first book and I thought that would be interesting to explore. I'm not sure how many books it will take to tell their story. I currently envision a trilogy, but that could change. I'm currently calling the sequel The Slow Dawn.

OMN: Into which genre would you put this book?

RM: Deadly Lullaby is a hardboiled crime thriller, though if you really wanted to put too fine a point on it, you could throw in mystery and police procedural categories. Some knowledgeable people in the book biz have simply labeled the book as falling within the crime fiction genre and I'm fine with that. As a reader — and I'm a reader before I'm an author — I don't look too closely at how a publisher or bookseller labels a book. If the synopsis grabs me, I read the first few pages and make a very quick buying decision.

OMN: How would you tweet a summary of it?

RM: #DeadlyLullaby is about mob politics, violence, murder, romance and lust, but above all it's a story about a hit man who loves his cop son.

OMN: Writers get asked this a lot, but the answers can be interesting: are any of the characters in Deadly Lullaby based on people you know in real life? If not, can you tell us how you created the characters?

RM: Creating characters is certainly an interesting process, and I don't quite know how to describe it. I do know there's no one living person you can pin to one character I've ever created. Mainly I make up my characters based on what I feel is interesting and entertaining and what type of personalities the story needs to flow to a satisfying ending, but I guess that just begs the question of where the characters come from.

I suppose all my characters are informed to some degree by those I've admired on film, on stage and in novels, and all the people I've ever met, especially the shady people. I have been up close to many, shall we say, morally flexible people over the years. I was a Criminology major in college and met a lot of cops and criminals while working in jails and prisons before I went to law school. My childhood environment plays a large role in the development of my characters, too.

I was born and raised in downtown Louisville, Ky., directly across the street from the backside of Churchill Downs Racetrack, the site of the Kentucky Derby. My father Charles (who died young when I was 22) was a gunsmith who owned Charlie's Gun Shop. Charlie's was a small business on 7th Street Road, not far from our house right in the heart of a notorious block that was then known for its strip clubs and prostitutes. Growing up around Churchill Downs was a study in the characters that surround any large institution that thrives from gambling — professional gamblers, bookies, bail bondsmen (the most notorious being the father of my then best friend), fences, pawnbrokers, loan sharks, prostitutes and pimps, hustlers of all stripes and nationalities, and cops. Lots of cops. All these people were my father's customers, especially the detectives and patrolman who purchased their service weapons from us and often asked Dad to modify shotguns and handguns to their specifications. I hung out at Charlie's often and worked the counter during summers when I hit 20 or so, and like my father grew to respect and like these people. Every single one informs my writing to some extent.

OMN: Describe your writing process for us.

RM: I always start any story by deciding on a theme; in Deadly Lullaby the theme was "father-son relationship." Then I develop a premise, the one in Deadly Lullaby being, "A mob hit man is released from San Quentin and yearns to reunite with his son, who is an LA police detective." Then I take off writing by the seat of my pants and try to write an opening scene that defines the theme and premise, one I've always wanted to read but couldn't find anywhere. Once the opening scene is finished, I work from there, crafting scenes that fit the premise. I start outlining after about 100 pp or so in, keeping the theme and premise firmly in mind so the story reflects them, and the story develops in roughly 100 page chunks through the first draft. Then I revise revise revise until the story fairies arrive on the scene to save the day. So far, they've always rescued me.

OMN: If you could travel anywhere in the world, all expenses paid, to research the setting for a book, where would it be?

RM: Los Angeles, bar none. Los Angeles is the setting for Deadly Lullaby, of course, and there are several reasons for that. LA and Southern California are rich in hardboiled crime fiction history. The region is so heavily populated you find all types there, so you can place just about any type criminal or law enforcement character you need in LA and readers will believe it. Bottom line is I also love Southern California, have family there and look for any reason at all to visit it.

OMN: What are some of your outside interests? And have any of these found their way into your books?

RM: First and foremost I'm an avid reader. I've been a pulp fiction fan since I was a kid, but I also devour historical fiction, historical non-fiction and biographies of political figures. I wouldn't be surprised to write a historical fiction somewhere down the line, something crime related, of course. I also exercise, play golf (badly), watch movies and TV, follow the football and basketball teams of the University of Louisville Fighting Cardinals, spend as much time as possible with my wife, my two grown kids, and my mom, and socialize with my many pals. I live a full life. I suppose some of the wacky conversations I have with my friends and family find their way into the dialogue I create in my fiction works, or the spirit of it, the humor.

OMN: What kinds of feedback have you received from readers?

RM: We all love the gushy, five-star reviews, of course. But I'm always happy to hear that someone threw down their hard-earned cash for a copy of Deadly Lullaby and read it to the very end. Regardless of how a reader rates my book, there's a compliment inherent in the fact that he or she bought it and read it all the way through. I think many readers, and writers, fail to fully appreciate this.

OMN: What kinds of books did you read when you were young? Do you think any of their authors influenced how and what you write today?

RM: There was a little neighborhood public library within easy walking distance from my house, on Louisville's Taylor Boulevard. In the summers, I practically lived there. I read all the Nancy Drew Mysteries they had in stock, and the Hardy Boys, and all the sci-fi classics (Jules Vern immediately comes to mind), and Mark Twain's Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. I discovered James Michener's Hawaii there, which made me a lifelong fan of his specifically, and of historical fiction generally. I first read Ernest Hemingway there, his short stories being the works I remember the most, though I remember reading For Whom the Bell Tolls there, at least the first time I read it. Significantly, my Aunt Judy lent me all her Ellery Queen, Alfred Hitchcock, and Black Mask short story mags, and she introduced me to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Mickey Spillane, Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett (when I hit puberty, Aunt Judy also lent me her copy of Xaviera Hollander's The Happy Hooker, for which I will be eternally grateful). I read all the superhero comic books. All these works influenced me, and there are many more I'm either forgetting or leaving out for the sake of time and space.

Elmore Leonard has probably influenced me stylistically more than those listed above simply by virtue of his 10 Rules of Writing. I religiously adhere to all of Elmore's rules, but obey "Leave out the parts that readers tend to skip," and "If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it," as if they emanated from the burning bush.

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

RM: Top Five Books: With one exception, I'll list the books of those authors who aren't around anymore to care whether I list them or not: Hammett's The Thin Man, Chandler's The Long Goodbye, Hemingway's For Whom the Bell Tolls, Elmore Leonard's Get Shorty.

Now, the exception: My general rule is to not mention living writers who have influenced me because there are so many of them that I know I'd leave someone out. In terms of the influence a book had on me, Mr. James Ellroy's American Tabloid is probably my all-time favorite. The book came along when I was a busy trial attorney with two young kids and a wife, and I was struggling to decide whether I wanted to devote the time and energy it took to even attempt writing fiction. The plot of American Tabloid was so damn dense and compelling, the voice so gnarly and fresh, the characters so gritty and fully realized, that when I finished it I knew beyond doubt I'd never write a book that good. But the book made me realize how much I loved the crime fiction genre, how much I wanted to immerse myself in it. So I remember thinking, What the hell. I'm gonna give it a shot, and started writing my first short story (which was never published) the next day.

OMN: What's next for you?

RM: I'm in the dreaded middle of the sequel to Deadly Lullaby that I mentioned earlier, what I'm now calling The Slow Dawn. The sequel is the next phase of the evolution of Babe and Leo Crucci; the sequel is the next phase of my evolution, too, I suppose.

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Robert McClure read pulp fiction as a kid when he should have been studying, but ultimately cracked down enough to obtain a bachelor's in criminology from Murray State University and a law degree from the University of Louisville. He is now an attorney and crime fiction writer who lives and works in Louisville, Kentucky.

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

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Deadly Lullaby by Robert McClure

Deadly Lullaby by Robert McClure

A Crime Thriller

Publisher: Alibi

Amazon.com Print/Kindle Format(s)BN.com Print/Nook Format(s)iTunes iBook FormatKobo eBook Format

Fresh off a nine-year stint in San Quentin, career hitman Babe Crucci plans to finally go straight and enjoy all life has to offer — after he pulls one or two more jobs to shore up his retirement fund. More than anything, Babe is dead set on making up for lost time with his estranged son, Leo, who just so happens to be a rising star in the LAPD.

The road to reconciliation starts with tickets to a Dodgers game. But first, Leo needs a little help settling a beef over some gambling debts owed to a local mobster. This kind of thing is child's play for Babe — until a sudden twist in the negotiations leads to a string of corpses and a titanic power shift in gangland politics. With the sins of his father piling up and dragging him down, Leo throws himself into the investigation of a young prostitute's murder, a case that makes him some unlikely friends — and some brutally unpredictable enemies.

Caught up in a clash of crime lords, weaving past thugs with flamethrowers who expend lives like pocket change, Babe and Leo have one last chance to face the ghosts of their past — if they want to live long enough to see their future.

Deadly Lullaby by Robert McClure

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