By Virna DePaul
TIME OF DEATH…It isn’t easy being a strong, idealistic, independent young woman in 1952. It’s even harder when you see and speak with ghosts but that’s Melody Rush’s life. While working on the case of a murdered prostitute, Mel is put on retainer by a major supernatural client, namely the Grim Reaper. What does Death want from the young detective? Someone has stolen his mask, the one magical item that gives him the power to execute his dark duties, and unless it’s returned before the last stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve, humanity’s existence will be rung out with the last notes of Auld Lang Syne.
“Madden’s debut mystery is an offbeat combination of noir and the supernatural that could appeal to a wide audience.” —Kirkus Book Reviews
Recently, I interviewed Mr. Madden. Here’s what Mr. Madden had to say about his writing journey, his story, and his upcoming release.
In your author bio on Amazon, you indicate you first applied your creative drive to “extricating” yourself from troublesome exploits. Care to elaborate?
I think like many kids who grew up in suburbia, I spent a lot of time looking for any exciting distraction that could take me away from the boredom of day-to-day life. Let’s just say some of the ways I chose to accomplish this escape wouldn’t have went over well with my parents and required carefully maintained cover stories to avoid punishment. In retrospect, this taught me a great deal about consistency in storytelling.
How long did you write before publishing short stories in 2006?
The public school I attended had a Young Authors Program, which introduced writing to the students but I don’t think I started really writing until high school. There I had a great creative writing teacher who encouraged me to stretch my skills. I did a little collaborative writing and fan fiction, just as a hobby, but I didn’t begin thinking about getting published until sometime around 2000. I started putting a serious effort into my writing in 2002.
Can you tell us a bit about your debut novel, TIME OF DEATH?
TIME OF DEATH is a novel in the fashion of the classic, noir detective genre pieces created by Dashiell Hammett. It’s set in 1952 Pittsburgh, PA, and it tells the tale of inexperienced detective Melody “Mel” Rush. After the disappearance of her father during World War II, Mel develops the ability to see and speak with the ghosts of the dead. Her talent and compassion lead her to take up the case of Virginia Beal, a murdered prostitute. Mel quickly finds herself involved in a much larger case and with the Grim Reaper himself as a client.
How did you transition from writing short stories to getting your first novel, TIME OF DEATH, published?
As I worked on various short stories I found that there were a few that never quite gelled. The concepts involved were either too big or too involved for a smaller word count. One of these pieces contained the seed that developed into TIME OF DEATH.
Reviewer Harriet Klausner calls TIME OF DEATH a paranormal historical noir. Can you explain what that means in relation to the novel?
It means that the novel is THE MALTESE FALCON meets GHOST WHISPERER. TIME OF DEATH takes place in 1952 Pittsburgh, PA. This presented a great opportunity to explore some interesting parts of fifties society and an area of the country that’s largely neglected in classic detective literature. The paranormal portion of the novel is a reflection of my own interests and an outward manifestation of the ghosts that pursue and hector many noir heroes.
Your protagonist in TIME OF DEATH is a female detective named Melody Rush. Is there a reason you chose to write about a female as opposed to a male protagonist?
I think having a female protagonist, especially in the conservative fifties, opens a lot of potential for exploring parts of the American culture that may have been overlooked in the noir detective tradition. Add Mel seeing and speaking with the dead and you’ve got a main character who is, in many ways, a total outsider.
How difficult was it to develop of your Grim Reaper character?
You know, I’ve had a fascination with the character of Death for a long time. I’ve always imagined, in my last moments, having a cup of coffee with the Grim Reaper before heading off into the great unknown. My morbid fascination paid off by making the development of Death’s character easier (and very enjoyable).
You describe Mel’s physician as a “hunk.” Does that mean your novel has a romantic thread?
There is a romantic thread, but I think the romance is less about Mel’s interest in the doctor and more about her attraction to the possibility of leading what she sees as a “normal” life. Mel’s heart still flutters at the sight of the doctor, though, and there are a few romantic scenes between the two of them.
Can you tell us about Mel’s cat sidekick Voe?
One of the challenges Mel faces is adapting to the side effects of meeting the Grim Reaper. For example, now she has the ability to converse with cats who, she finds, are very in tune with the paranormal world. Voe not only acts as Mel’s guide to the world of the supernatural, he also is the sole witness to a murder that she’s trying to solve on Death’s behalf. Throughout the book, Mel and Voe form a close friendship though I’m not sure if either of them would admit that fact!
Is there a message in your novel’s you want readers to grasp?
At its heart TIME OF DEATH is a novel about loneliness and the power of the underdog. Mel is an outsider because of her gender and her abilities and she’s working to help a woman who’s considered unworthy of society’s compassion. If there’s a message, it’s that the least of us can sometimes make the biggest difference.
What are you reading now?
Sometimes I think my reading list sounds a little like the requirements for a literature class! I’ve always loved F. Scott Fitzgerald and I’m reading THE BEAUTIFUL AND DAMNED. Waiting in the wings is DON QUIXOTE by Miguel de Cervantes. I’m also reading NEXT by Michael Crichton.
Is there anything you find particularly challenging about writing?
For me the challenge lies in disciplining myself and focusing my efforts on writing. I’m the sort of person who has a hundred different interests, all of them competing for my time and attention. Luckily, writing is a passion and that makes it easier to dedicate myself to putting words on the page.
How has your writing process changed as your career has developed?
I think though the process of writing I’ve finally discovered how I write. I had the good fortune to have a few very good writing professors but nobody can teach you how to be a writer because it’s different for everyone. When I first started, I spent a lot of time sitting in front of a screen in a quiet room without getting much on the page. After a few years of writing, I’ve learned that a change of scenery does a lot of good for my creative process. So, I spend time writing in my car, in airports, and so on. I also switch between composing at the keyboard and writing by hand in a journal, that seems to help me break through writer’s block.
What are your thoughts on marketing and the e-book revolution?
Marketing definitely is a challenge. It’s interesting that being an author is considered a lonely profession but it also requires that you get out and flog your book unless you’ve been fortunate enough to sell your manuscript to a publisher that will promote your work. I think that the best thing to remember is that selling a manuscript is only the beginning of your association with the work. You’ve got to help get the word out, reach out to local booksellers and newspapers, request reviews, and generally act as your own PR department. The main thing is to be proactive and take an active role in marketing.
The e-book revolution is an interesting phenomenon and I think it’s a little early to know exactly how it will impact authors. On one hand I think of e-books as the proverbial “wave of the future.” More people are receiving content via iPads, smart phones, and various e-readers. On the other, there are troubling stories about electronic publishing, such as some of the controversy around Amazon’s “Lending Library.” As an author I think it’s great to be published in either media.
Can you tell us a little about the next writing project you’re working on?
Currently I’m working on two new novels. The first and most complete is a follow-up Mel Rush paranormal thriller tentatively titled ‘TILL DEATH DO US PART. The second is a straight-up (not paranormal) historic mystery/thriller based in rural Indiana shortly after World War I.
Gary Madden’s upbringing in the American Midwest has given him a familiarity with the landscapes and people that feature prominently in his storytelling. A lifetime interest in history and the occult influence his work, and he frequently weaves in paranormal and noir influences. His work has been featured in various electronic magazines and print anthologies. TIME OF DEATH is his inaugural novel.
To learn more about Gary, please visit his website.