Friday, March 11, 2016

Interview With Author Richard Cass by Jacqueline Seewald

Richard Cass is our guest today on Author Expressions. He has a most impressive background. Richard began writing as a poet but slowly became enamored of the possibilities of prose: first short stories, then novels. He graduated from Colby College in Maine and earned an MA in Writing from the University of New Hampshire. His short fiction has won prizes from magazines like Redbook, Writers' Digest, and Playboy. His first collection of stories is called Gleam of Bone. His first novel is published by Five Star/Cengage.

Richard is a native of Boston and a Mainer by choice and holds an MA in Writing from the University of New Hampshire, where he studied with Thomas Williams and Joseph Monninger. He's also studied with Molly Gloss, Ursula LeGuin, and Ernest Hebert.

Question: What is the title and genre of your novel?  Why did you select them?

Answer: The first entry in my Elder Darrow series is called Solo Act. When I started planning the series, I envisioned a series of titles with the word “Solo” in each, as a way to tie the series together.

Solo Act is what I’d call an amateur sleuth. Elder Darrow is a bartender, not a cop or any other kind of law enforcement officer and the initial mystery he solves is very personal. I’ve always been attracted to the amateur protagonist, at least partly because I was very impressed at a young age with Travis McGee, John D. McDonald’s creation, who solved crimes and helped victims without having any sort of legal or official standing.

Question:   What inspired this novel? How did it come about?

Answer: As part of my checkered past, I spent a lot of time tending bar in both classy and seedy places. You can’t be a bartender for long without realizing that behind all those faces are stories you can’t even imagine. And being a bartender allows you to be a sort of voyeur of those stories. I also spent a lot of time bouncing around jazz clubs in my youth and wanted to capture some of the flavor of that music for readers. And as a native of Boston, I wanted to catch some of my love for the city, its institutions, and its inhabitants.

Question:  Could you tell us a little bit about the heroine and/or hero of your novel?

Answer:  Elder Darrow is the son of a Boston Brahmin whose family has been in the banking business in Boston since just after the Revolutionary War. He attended prep school at Exeter and college at Harvard but he became an alcoholic before he worked out any professional path for himself. His father would have liked him to go into the banking business but until Elder can prove he can stay sober, that’s not going to be possible. And Elder himself isn’t sure that’s what he wants.

He’s bought the Esposito, a bucket of blood bar in Boston’s South End, with the idea that he will gentrify it, turn it into a jazz nightclub. His working assumption is that by being around alcohol and drinkers all the time, he’ll inoculate himself against his addiction.

Question:   Can you tell us about some of your other published novels or work?

Answer:  Solo Act is my first published novel. I’ve published a book of short stories called Gleam of Bone and any number of essays and articles. Other than fiction, I write mainly about the outdoors: environmental topics, fishing, oceans and rivers, and so on.

Question:   What are you working on now?

Answer:  My agent is currently shopping a thriller about a man who, in trying to avenge his girlfriend’s death, kills the wrong person. I’m also finishing up the first draft of a political mystery, set in Portland, Maine, where the protagonist is hired to kill a sitting governor’s best friend.

Question:   What made you start writing?

Answer: I wrote my first short story in the sixth grade, a labored-over tale of a valuable stamp hidden in the handle of a magnifying glass. I’ve always read and I always loved mysteries and thrillers, from Rod Serling and Alfred Hitchcock all the way down the decades to Robert Crais and Ian Rankin. Essentially, I started writing because I wanted to do what all those writers I admired do.

Question:   What advice would you offer to those who are currently writing novels?

Answer: Pay no attention to what you think is going well or not going well in the short term. You will finish your book by accretion, not in great leaps. Understand that you are playing a long game, that how your day’s writing went is almost immaterial with respect to whether you’ll finish and/or how well you’ve done. It’s about momentum and finishing, not about making each day’s work be perfect, or even good. Almost all of the goodness is going to be in the revising.

If you are lucky enough to be published, understand that the publishing business operates at the speed of a shucked snail. And everyone will have plenty of advice for you. Develop a thick skin if you don’t already have one.

Question:  Where and when will readers be able to obtain your novel?

Answer: You can order the Solo Act hardcover from any independent bookstore that buys books from major national distributors like Ingram or Baker and Taylor. Solo Act is also available in e-book and hardcover formats from and in hardcover from For five or more copies for readings, book signings, or reading groups, the publisher provides a discount code for direct ordering.

Richard, thanks so much for being our guest today. Your novel sounds like a fine book.

Readers, do you have any questions or comments for Richard? They are welcome here.


Susan said...

Lovely interview, Jacqueline! Mr.Cass certainly knows the business, and his book sounds absolutely fascinating.
Susan, aka Janis

Brenda Buchanan said...

I am most of the way through Solo Act and can confirm it is indeed a fine book. Well-drawn characters, great setting (both the Esposito and the city of Boston) and prose that makes you stop and go back and read it again. Congratulations, Dick! Keep 'em coming.

Dick Cass said...

Thanks, Susan, aka Janis--hope you get to read it.

And thanks for the good words, Brenda! Your Quick Pivot was one of my top reads last month . . .

Maris said...

Nice interview. Solo Act sounds interesting. I hope he finds a home for others in that series.

Dick Cass said...

Yes, Maris . . that's going to be the challenge for all Five Star mystery writers going forward, unfortunately. I'd love to hear any facts or speculation on why the decision. Doesn't seem to make economic sense,though I have to believe Five Star is a very small piece of Cengage's business . . And suggestions for a new home for Elder are welcome!

Susan Oleksiw said...

Excellent interview with good questions and thoughtful answers. The premise for the series is very intriguing, and you open with a great cover. I hope you find a new home for the series. In my weaker moments I hope Gale, Cengage will reconsider and keep those of us who make money for them. But I'm not holding my breath.

Dick Cass said...

Thanks, Susan. I do like the cover very much . . Yes, I'm disappointed by the decision, especially since my agent doesn't think anyone else will want to pick up a series started elsewhere . .

Betty Gordon said...

A revealing interview, Jacquie. Mr. Cass has a background that opens the imagination for many, many gripping stories. I look forward to reading his work. I, too, like the cover for his novel. The cover is so important as it is the first opportunity to reach the reader.

Dick Cass said...

Thanks, Betty. I thought about wearing a Panama Hat when I do events but I thought that would be a little beyond the pale ;-)

Allan J. Emerson said...

I laughed when I saw your mention of the Panama hat. I also try to think of ways to get bookstore customers to come over and chat. So far, I've settled for making a mock-up of my book cover, and calling out to people like an end-of-aisle product demonstrator. Wonder how long it takes to learn to juggle, or ride a unicycle, or maybe do both simultaneously? Best of sales, Dick.

Dick Cass said...

Thanks, Allan. I'm reminded of a story I heard when I lived in Oregon of Sherman Alexie coming into a bookstore to do a reading, only sitting in the back row disguised as, yes, a drunken Indian. Lots of hoo-haw around that, though I don't know how many books it sold ;-)

Pamela S Thibodeaux said...

Great interview...Impressive!
Good luck and God's blessings.

Dick Cass said...

Thanks, Pam!

Susan Coryell said...

I'd say your advice to wanna-be writers is spot-on. It's not a sprint but a marathon, to be cliche. I also love the idea of the amateur sleuth and use it myself for cozy mysteries. Nice interview!

Dick Cass said...

Thanks, Susan. I enjoyed the 'conversation.'

Bonnie Tharp said...

Excellent interview. Another new book series to investigate further. Love Books and Authors.

Dick Cass said...

Thanks, Bonnie!

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