Wednesday, July 31, 2013

A Conversation with Mystery Author Les Roberts

Omnimystery News: Author Interview with Les Roberts
with Les Roberts

We are delighted to welcome mystery author Les Roberts to Omnimystery News today.

Les's latest Milan Jacovich mystery is Win, Lose, or Die (Gray and Company, June 2013 hardcover and ebook formats) … and we're pleased to note that his investigative partner K.O. O'Bannion — who we found so effective as a sidekick in the previous book of the series, Whiskey Island — has been promoted, as it were, to share co-billing on the subtitle.

We recently had the opportunity to talk to Les about his series and what's coming up next. And he's also giving three of our readers a chance to win a copy of his new book; more details, below.

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Omnimystery News: Win, Lose, or Die is the 17th book in the Milan Jacovich series. Is he the same now as he was when you first introduced him?

Les Roberts
Photo provided courtesy of
Les Roberts; Photo credit Ann Sanfedele Photography

Les Roberts: When I wrote the first Milan Jacovich mystery, Pepper Pike, I had no idea that I'd still be writing about him 25 years later. Pepper Pike appeared in 1988. In 2013, Win, Place, or Die hit the bookshelves. You'll probably not be shocked to think that the author has somewhat changed in a quarter of a century — so naturally Milan changed along with him.

OMN: How much, if any, of your own personal experience is included in the books?

LR: All my characters are based on people I've met, people I've seen, people I know, etc. Otherwise, I'd be writing about Martians! Often the book is suggested by something that's current, or more precisely, based on something that ticks me off, makes me want to change something. Sometimes, naturally, a great story idea just hits me and makes it into print too.

OMN: Describe your writing process for us.

LR: I do not outline the plots. I write three or four paragraphs about the story. Then, I list the characters — very briefly (i.e. John Smith-Banker-50 years old). Then I put both pieces of paper in a drawer, never look at them again, and write the book.

I always know who the killer is from the very beginning. I never know, though, how we're going to catch him or her.

Overall, I prefer to let the story and the characters develop and change as I write, just as our lives develop and change every day we live them.

OMN: What is your writing environment like?

LR: My office is 25 feet from my bed. I generally (but not always) write from about 9 am to 3 pm. Even when other things in my life distract me, I try desperately to get at least two hours of writing done. I am a writing addict. If I go more than three days without writing anything, chances are that if you say "hello" to me, I might just chew your face off.

OMN: What were the most challenging and/or exciting topics you researched while writing?

LR: Most challenging: the Irish Mafia in Cleveland (for The Irish Sports Pages). Most exciting: Porn and teenage prostitution in Cleveland for The Cleveland Creep. And no, dear friends, I did not patronize a teenaged prostitute.

OMN: Both of your mystery series have been set in Cleveland, where you live yourself. How true are you to the setting in your books?

LR: Cleveland has been called by many people, including critics, "an important character" in the Jacovich novels. I try to be as accurate as I can about the local references. However, I do make up places where bad things happen. I doubt if the Cleveland Clinic or the Cleveland Public Library would be very thrilled to learn that someone got murdered in their environment.

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

Best advice: Shut up and write! These words are hardest to hear: "You're very good, even when you're careless. Imagine how good you could be if you worked harder on each word, each scene, each page?"

OMN: What advice would you give writers?

LR: Authors have heard these words in a million different classes and symposia: "Write what you know." Horse puckey! If writers only wrote about what they knew, every book ever written would be about writers. Instead, I suggest writing about what EXCITES you.

OMN: What specific authors influenced how you write today?

LR: The author who made me want to write was John Steinbeck. As for mystery writers, my inspirations and role models are probably similar to those of other hard-boiled mystery writers: Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, Ross McDonald, John D. Macdonald, Mickey Spillane.

OMN: After 17 books, you probably have a good mental image of Milan Jacovich. Tell us who you would cast to play the role in an adaptation of the series.

LR: Milan Jacovich should be played by Robert Mitchum. However, he is dead — and were he still alive, he'd be 97 years old. My second choice would be Burt Lancaster who's also no longer with us. These guys filled the screen whenever the camera was rolling. I need an actor to do that because Milan is a character who's six feet, three inches tall and weighs about 230 lbs. Probably among living actors, Christopher Meloni would be my pick for playing Milan.

OMN: What are some of your favorite films?

LR: Casablanca, Singin' in the Rain, The Searchers, Some Like it Hot, Chinatown. There are perhaps 100 others.

OMN: What kinds of questions do you most enjoy (or least enjoy) getting from readers?

LR: I most enjoy questions I've never heard before that challenge me to answer them. I least enjoy being asked "Where do you get your ideas?" I invariably say "There's a little old guy in New Jersey, I send him 25 bucks and he sends me 10 ideas. And if you believe that, I want to tell you about a bridge in New York City I want to sell you!"

OMN: What's next for you?

LR: I have just finished a sequel to what I thought was a stand-alone in 2011, The Strange Death of Father Candy. Too many people asked me to bring back my protagonist in that one, Dominick Candiotti, so I've brought him back again in the next book (as yet untitled). I haven't even submitted it to my publisher yet. I am now also working on my 18th Milan Jacovich novel, about 15,000 words into it so far.

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Les Roberts is the author of 17 mystery novels featuring Cleveland detective Milan Jacovich, as well as 11 other books of fiction. The past president of both the Private Eye Writers of America and the American Crime Writer's League, he came to mystery writing after a 24-year career in Hollywood. He has been a professional actor, a singer, a jazz musician, and a teacher. In 2003 he received the Sherwood Anderson Literary Award. A native of Chicago, he now lives in Northeast Ohio and is a film and literary critic.

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

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Win, Lose, or Die by Les Roberts

Win, Lose, or Die
Les Roberts
A Milan Jacovich/K.O. O'Bannion Mystery

Enter to Win! To enter to win a copy of Win, Lose, or Die, use this link to open an entry form. One entry per person or e-mail address; US residents only. Entry period ends Wednesday, August 7th, 2013.

The sudden death of a client leads private investigator Milan Jacovich (MY-lan YOCK-ovitich) and new associate Kevin “K.O.” O'Bannion behind the scenes at a harness racing track, where they find no shortage of odd characters, suspicious activities … and danger.

Did wealthy horse owner/driver Glenn Gallagher make one too many enemies in the competitive racing world at Northcoast Downs? (Certainly the track's owner, chilly Chloe Markham, isn't mourning his loss.) Or did someone involved with Gallagher's investment firm want him dead?

Things get more complicated when Milan spots local mob boss Victor Gaimari at the funeral. Victor does have a legitimate investment business … but his henchman was seen lingering trackside at Northcoast Downs. Is there a connection?

Though eager to learn the P.I. business, K.O. still has trouble staying out of trouble. Assigned to dig up some dirt in the horse barns, he tangles with hot-tempered trainer Del Fiddler, who's jealous of his flirtatious and curvaceous wife — and handy with a horse whip.

Another body turns up at the track, but the local sheriff's office won't share leads with a private investigator. Milan's new flame, Cleveland police detective Tobe Blaine, can't help; she's out of her jurisdiction in Summit County.

Milan finally confronts the killer alone — and once again finds himself in deep trouble!

Click here to read an excerpt from the book. Print/Kindle Format(s) Print/Nook Format(s)


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