Interview with R.J. Koreto

Interview with R.J. Koreto

What genre do you write and why? 
I write mysteries, mostly historical. I've been obsessed with mysteries since my Hardy Boys days. And I've always been a history buff.
Interview with R.J. Koreto
Tell us about your latest book.
"Alice and the Assassin" imagines Alice Roosevelt, the eldest child of Theodore Roosevelt, as an amateur detective around the turn of the century. In real life, she had an outsized personality, with a biting wit, and she behaved outrageously: smoking in public, visiting bookies, jumping into a swimming pool fully clothed.
In my book, I partner her with a fictional Secret Service agent, a former Rough Rider named Joseph St. Clair, and together they investigate secrets surrounding President McKinley's assassination. These two very different people gradually form a bond as they make their way through Gilded Age New York. St. Clair, who comes from a hard and violent background, has to figure out the next stage of his life, and Alice, only age 17, has to figure out what her life is going to be.

What marketing methods are you using to promote your book? 
I'm spending time on social media and going on a virtual book tour.

What formats is the book available in?
Hardcover, paperback, and electronic.

Who are your favourite authors?
Agatha Christie, Rex Stout, Georges Simenon, Isaac Asimov

What advice do you have for other writers?
Yes, you do have to consider market forces: for example, it's going to be very hard to sell a first novel of 120,000 words. But whatever you do, you have to be excited, even passionate, about your book. It is impossible to write a good book if you're not excited about it.

What's your favourite quote about writing/for writers?
"Nobody reads a mystery to get to the middle. They read it to get to the end. If it's a letdown, they won't buy anymore. The first page sells that book. The last page sells your next book." –Mickey Spillane

What's the best thing about being a writer?
You're the boss. Whatever happens to your characters—you're in complete charge!

Where can people find out more about you and your writing?
Go to my website: .

Who is you favorite character in your book and why? 
The protagonist is Alice Roosevelt, and as I much as I like her, my particular favorite is my fictional creation, Joseph St. Clair, Alice's Secret Service bodyguard. A native of Wyoming, he left school at 15 and has had a hard life as a ranch hand, lawman and soldier with the Rough Riders. But he's shrewd and introspective, and I had a great deal of fun seeing New York through his eyes, from Chinatown to Little Italy to the parlors of wealthy and powerful. The dry humor he uses when managing Alice, and the way he reluctantly approaches her madcap ventures, give the book its humor and flavor.

Why do you think readers are going to enjoy your book? 
One of the most fascinating things I've discovered in publishing books is that people read them for different reasons. With my books, some come to them for the puzzle of the mystery. Others like to be immersed in another time and place. But I think the single biggest reason is the characters and their relationships with each other. I can hardly remember the plots of the many Nero Wolfe mysteries (as excellent as they were!), but the sharply drawn relationship between Archie Goodwin and his boss stays with me forever. Indeed, one mystery writer I know said that readers come for the story but stay for the characters.

How long did it take you to write your book?
I've got it down now! I can write a book—working part-time, in 3-4 months. When I've spent an entire day writing, I can get 4,000 words down on paper. Georges Simenon wrote each Inspector Maigret novel in 3-4 weeks, I've heard.

Who designed the cover?
Craig Polizzotto. It came out of discussion with my publisher. I love the silhouette of Alice in her elegant dress and hat—but there's a touch of menace with the daggers in the margins. And see how the revolver that Mr. St. Clair carries is woven into her name.

Did you learn anything from writing your book that was unexpected?
I learn something from all my books! This was especially true with this one. I learned something about the way people, sometimes very different people, relate to each other. St. Clair comes from a poor and rough background. Alice is a daughter of wealth and privilege, forced to accept St. Clair as her bodyguard. Thinking of how this would play out, how they could find common ground and make sense of each other, gave me a lot of insight into our prejudices—and what it might take to overcome them.

Where can a reader purchase your book?
It can be found in major online outlets and in many bookstores. My website connects readers with leading online vendors.
What are you doing to market the book? 
If I was more extroverted I'd be doing more, but then again, if I was more extroverted I'd be out there doing things instead of writing novels. I market myself online, and I have a newsletter I send out every week or two. You can sign up on my website. It talks about my books and gives tidbits about history. (Who was the most beautiful woman in Edwardian England? Why are English constables called "bobbies"?)

Who inspires you?
That's a funny thing, actually. I have writers I admire: Agatha Christie for plotting, Rex Stout for dialog, Georges Simenon for setting. In fact, the last time I had trouble with plotting, I paused and re-read a Hercule Poirot mystery. That got me back on track!

But some of the greatest inspirations have been from BAD books—those with poorly developed characters and unbelievable plots. I think, "Heck, that got published—and I can do better than that."

How do you research your books?
Researching facts are easy: what kinds of hats did women wear in 1906? What did motorcars look like in 1902? What guns did soldiers use in the Boer War? But attitudes are harder to grasp: how did different classes look at each other more than a century ago? Alice Roosevelt meets with Italian and Chinese immigrants—what would a young lady from a wealthy and socially prominent family think about them? I read contemporary literature and accounts to get a sense of what my characters' contemporaries thought and said.

What is your work in progress? Tell us about it.
Something I'm really excited about: In 1888, young Police Constable Alan Heath, in rural England, comes across the murdered body of Patience Ashleigh, daughter of the Earl of Westmere. A man is convicted and hanged, even though Heath and most of the town think him the innocent victim of an Ashleigh conspiracy.

In 1923, Detective-Superintendent Alan Heath of Scotland Yard returns to Westmere to solve the case. In the intervening 35 years, Heath's patient investigations take him from Westmere to London to India to the battlefields of World War I. His life is bound closely to the Ashleighs, and Patience's death affects the Ashleighs in ways they couldn't imagine, almost destroying them. Meanwhile, England goes through its own changes, including the slow decline of its ruling class.

In the end, Heath solves the crime, and although it is too late for justice, he sees how he can give the surviving Ashleighs one last chance to redeem themselves.

I think of it as a "Police Saga."

Interview with R.J. Koreto, author of Alice and the Assassin
What are your thoughts on self-publishing verses traditional publishing?
I'm traditionally published, but I have a lot of admiration for people who do it themselves. That's a lot of work, promoting and selling a book on their own. I don't think I'd be able to do that.

Who or what inspired you to become a writer?
I've enjoyed writing as long as I can remember. "Creative Writing" was my favorite activity going back to elementary school. As I grew, I realized I was a much better communicator in writing than in person. When I was in college (long before social media and email) I once spent a summer writing actual letters to a classmate I had grown fond of—amusing anecdotes about my summer jobs and so forth. When we met again in September, she said, "I loved your letters! They were so funny and clever. I read them aloud to my family over dinner." And then came the kicker: "I couldn't believe they came from you." I realized then I'd join the large group of introvert writers, better on paper than in person.

Does your family support you in your writing career? How?
Very much so! My wife and daughters have been understanding about my writing time. In addition, my wife, who's an English teacher, is my first reader and gives me wonderful feedback. It was her idea to focus on the Edwardian time period.

What are you currently reading?
Catching up on back issues of my Ellery Queen and Alfred Hitchcock magazines. Great short fiction!

What books or authors have most influenced your life?
There are some books that just made me think after I finished the last page: How did that author do that!?

John le Carre: the George Smiley books. The astonishing way he explored his characters' deep and conflicted feelings of loyalty to their friends, colleagues and nation.

Isaac Asimov: The Foundation Series. The books' portrayal of a future society that is both completely alien and yet totally believable.

Umberto Eco: The Name of the Rose. The rich intellectual games woven into a historical mystery make this a one-of-a-kind thriller.

When you’re not writing, how do you spend your time?
With family. My wife and I like taking our Yellow Lab on long walks in a nearby state park, for example.

Interview with R.J. Koreto


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