By Basil Sands
Ladies and gents I present to you Robert Kidera, author of the awesome new release RED GOLD. A first-person crime thriller that felt like Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, and Lawrence Block all rolled into one.
After an early fling in the motion picture industry and a long and successful career in academia, Kidera retired in 2010. With his desire to play major league baseball no longer a realistic dream, he chose to fulfill his other lifelong ambition and became a writer. He is a member of Southwest Writers, Sisters in Crime, and the International Thriller Writers organizations.
RED GOLD is his debut novel, the first installment in the McKenna Mystery series. He is currently working on its sequel, Get Lost, with a third book to follow.
Robert lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico, with his wife and Otis the cat. He has two daughters, a grandson, and granddaughter.
Welcome Robert. Tell us about RED GOLD.
Red Gold is the first volume of the Gabe McKenna Mystery Series. It’s the story of a shattered man who finds himself swept up in a lethal struggle for a lost fortune in nineteenth-century gold. More than that, it’s about a lost soul resurrecting himself, getting up off the canvas of personal despair and self-pity, and continuing The Fight. And giving himself a second chance at life and love.
Gabe McKenna is an interesting character. What or who inspired you to write such a character?
I wish I knew. Gabe didn’t fully arrive until the second draft of the book. He was the hole in the donut before that. I had a plot, but my main character was a cipher. So I spent a long time sitting down with that, conjuring Gabe up out of necessity. Of course, there’s a lot of me in Gabe. I think that is true of many authors and their main characters. But I didn’t want to get too close. I’ve lived in many places and met a lot of people over the years. I guess Gabe evolved as an amalgam of the nascent human potential I sense in different people, myself included. You know, the kind of guy that people look at and say, “If only he’d get his shit together, he could really be something!” A man with a code that may not be fully articulated or understood, a man more unrealized than realized, but a good man nonetheless. Fixable? Perhaps. Worth trying to fix in any case. Gabe’s a work in progress. Just ask him.
What led you to take the dive into being a writer?
As John Lee Hooker sang in “Boogie Chillen”:
One night I was layin’ down,
I heard mama ‘n papa talkin’
I heard papa tell mama, let that boy boogie-woogie,
It’s in him, and it got to come out
And I felt so good,
Went on boogie’n just the same…
I became a writer because of my father. He was a professor of journalism and in the summer of ’55, when I was six, I watched him write a book. Literally, I sat next to him while he typed. And I thought it was pretty cool. He used to put all six of his kids to bed by telling us interactive stories. He’d start the story, then stop and point to one of us. And we had to continue the story from that point. So you had to pay attention and anticipate the possibilities in the plot. Be ready to make a quick and interesting shift. Have your imagination at hand, ready to go. So I guess it was in me from an early age. And it had to come out.
I really enjoyed your writing. One of my favorite lines from RED GOLD was “With his rumpled brown suit collapsed about his thin frame, he looked like an inflatable device that had sprung a leak.” Do lines like this just come into your writer’s mind or are you professionally trained….or is it a super power?
If I possess any super power, it would be the ability to sit on my ass for extended periods of time putting pen to paper. Seriously, I don’t know where some of the lines come from. I will say, with regard to my characters, I spend time with them before they enter the story. I see them first, and write them as I see them. The same would be true for the settings in my books. I physically visit each location, put my feet on that ground, so to speak. In two days, I’ll travel north to the Puye Cliff Dwellings on the Santa Clara Pueblo, where a climactic scene in my next book occurs. I’ll look around, smell the air, take in the vistas, talk with the people, and carry that back to my desk. As far as the description you cite, I’m not sure how Erskine Pelfrey III made it into the book. I guess Gabe must have been looking for a “different type of lawyer” and Pelfrey just happened to be there. But don’t be fooled by his rumpled demeanor; he has connections and knows how the game is played. There’s a bit of the Grand Nagus in him.
What’s this about an “early fling in the motion picture industry”? Got any amazing films we’ve just gotta see?
I worked in several capacities in the film industry in New York back in the 1970s. My first writing occurred there, when I was one of the unit publicists on a film called Panic in Needle Park, written by Joan Didion and John Gregory Dunne. Notably, it was Al Pacino’s debut film, before The Godfather. I did press releases, feature stories, photo captions, those sorts of things. I also worked on a couple of films by Robert Downey, Sr. One called Putney Swope that was a hit and its follow-up Pound, which, alas, was not. It was however the film debut of his son, Robert Downey, Jr., who played the role of a puppy (don’t ask). It was also on this film where I had my first baby-sitting job, of said puppy. If you can handle a five-year old kid like that, anything is possible.
How did your career in academia inform your dive into authordom?
As a history teacher, I approached my task as a storyteller. I found that one way to maintain student interest was to present the story of humanity with a strong narrative thread. And, of course, you have great heroes and villains, suspense, joy, tragedy, plot twists. Not enough comedy, though. So I started each class with a few jokes.
What advice would you give for new writer’s coming in from the ground floor?
Work hard. Then work harder. Spend time with other writers. If you can, find a writers’ group, as I did with Southwest Writers here in New Mexico. You’ll find that the really good writers will give back; they’re confident enough in themselves not to be threatened by new talent. Seek them out. As far as writing, do it in a way that is true to yourself. You are the one who ends up on the page, after all. Read when you are not writing. And write every day, stay in that zone as long as you can. Writer’s block won’t happen as long as the pen is moving across the page. And don’t be afraid to write crap. We all do, before we revise. And it’s never too late to start! Look at me.
And now we reach the part of the interview where we delve deep into the heart of Robert Kidera and learn what you are truly made of. Imagine if you will:
You are strolling across the university commons one night after a lecture, on your way to sit back and enjoy a nice stiff glass of port and try to rinse away the image of sneering teenage ‘geniuses,’ A light from the sky flashes all around you and a large disk-like object descends to just outside of your reach.
A voice calls out over a speaker in the base of the UFO, “Robert your presence is respectfully requested by the Queen of Zarnthax. She wants you to save the universe from the evil squid-like beings whose names must not be said out loud.”
You look up at the ship and ask, “Why must their names not be said out loud?”
They reply, “Cuz we can’t pronounce it without serious epiglottal strain.”
“Oh,” you say. “Why is your ship so close to me?”
“Our tractor beam is broke,” they say. “Robert Kidera, are you coming with us to save the universe or what?”
What is your response?
First of all, how did you find out about that? It was August 18th, 1978. A Thursday, I believe.
Actually, Basil, I’d do two things: I’d get that bottle of Port open as fast as I could, then I’d say to the Queen of Zarnthax, “Thanks, Babe, glad to oblige!” Might be one hell of a story in it, don’t you think?
After an early fling in the motion picture industry and a long and successful career in Academia, Robert Kidera retired in 2010. With his desire to play major league baseball no longer a realistic dream, he chose to fulfill his other lifelong ambition and became a writer. He is a member of Southwest Writers, Sisters in Crime, and the International Thriller Writers organizations. Red Gold is his debut novel, the first installment in the McKenna Mystery series. He is currently working on its sequel, Get Lost, with a third book to follow. Robert lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico with his wife and Otis the cat. He has two daughters, a grandson and granddaughter.
To learn more about Robert, please visit his website.
He lives in Anchorage Alaska with his wife and teen sons.