By Ian Walkley
Patrick Kendrick had a long career as a fire fighter before becoming a full-time writer. He has won awards for his fiction and non-fiction, and has degrees in Fine Art and Executive Leadership, as well as Fire Science. Patrick’s second novel, EXTENDED FAMILY, has been described by Don Crinklaw (BOOKLIST) as a “thrill-a-minute plot”, “vivid writing”, with undercurrents that are unsettling, and some of the most gut-clutching murders in modern crime fiction. Here is the cover blurb:
Dr. Harmon Gettys is the perfect man: tall, dark, handsome, and brilliant. He’d seemingly be a catch for any woman—especially those who desire an apparently charmed offspring. But Gettys uses his seed for murder, to create a legacy of violence.
For Fire Marshal Greymon Gift, gruesome burn-related murders are nothing new. But a sudden spike in his jurisdiction has Gift on high alert. When an FBI investigation links multiple arson scenes to the deceased Dr. Gettys, Gift is pulled even deeper into a case that’s hot enough to start a conflagration. He knows that even if Gettys were alive, such an assortment of violent crimes could never be committed by just one man. So who is spreading these horrors from coast to coast?
Gift and FBI Agent Rose Cleary partner up to stop the growing number of savagely murdered victims, but can they uncover the truth before they wind up on the list of the dead?
I spoke to Patrick about his writing, and the story behind EXTENDED FAMILY.
Patrick, you’ve had a remarkable career as a fire fighter and writer, and have a passionate love of the ocean. What’s been the underlying theme in your life?
To live the experience, to the hilt;it’s not only a personal challenge to do the things I’ve done, but those experiences always end up in my writing. I suppose an underlying theme for my writing would be my fascination with exploring the incongruities of people and situations. I see a duality in almost every circumstance and person.
What has motivated you, particularly to write?
I always wanted to write, even in high school, but I didn’t think I was smart enough. It’s true. I didn’t feel I knew enough of the basics of grammar and composition. But, I thought I knew how to tell a story. I always did art work as a kid and was pretty good at it—I even did the cover of my first book—and I used my art to tell stories in a visual way. In college, I took literature classes as my electives. One class focused on genre fiction and got hooked on John D. MacDonald, Chandler, Hammett, Doyle, Poe, etc.
MacDonald came to my university and spoke to us and I corresponded with him a few times. He, too, was a writer who came from a varied background and loved the ocean. I still think the Travis McGee books he wrote are some of the best ever in the genre. When I asked him if I should study writing, he told me, “No. Study anything but writing. Get to know something expertly (he studied business and economics and was actually more closely related to the character of Mayer in the McGee books than McGee himself) and the world in general, then write about it.”
And that’s the direction you took.
Yes. I’ve had an adventurous life: the fire service itself gave me trunk loads of material from which to draw and that’s how I began to write: selling articles and short stories about my fire department experiences. Then, I moved into articles that dealt with my life outside the fire department: diving, travel, drunks, victims, crime, celebrities, running from the bulls in Pamplona, and on and on.
Your fiction has been described as “dark”, “twisted” and “unsettling”.
It’s strange to me that I’ve become branded as a writer of “dark thrillers.” Actually,one hundred percent of the murders I have in my books come from the newspapers.I just try to “personalize” them by making these killers real.People are fascinated with serial killers—sales of non-fiction crime books will underscore that fact—but I don’t know how to homogenize them into palatable characters. These people are aberrations of nature. Still,they are people, and I just try to get into their troubled heads.
I grew up in South Florida and when I was a teenager, there was a serial killer locally, named Gerard Schaefer, who was a cop. It was a time before the term “serial killer” even existed, so Schaefer was truly an anomaly and a thing to be feared. He had been in prison for years when I decided to write a book about him. I spent over five years doing the research and wrote an 1100 page manuscript.
I corresponded with Schaefer in prison and had obtained press credentials to go interview him for a small publication called POLICE TIMES magazine.
When I met the killer, I truly went in with an open mind. But after all my research, which included speaking to the parents of the victims and finding holes in the “facts” that Schaefer was telling me, I concluded he was right where he belonged.
Your second novel, EXTENDED FAMILY, has a rather unsettling theme that could actually happen.
The idea for EXTENDED FAMILY actually came from the CBS 60 MINUTES show. I was watching as they described a doctor who had donated his sperm for money while he was in med school. He was the prime donor: smart, healthy, good family history, etc. Years later he was confronted by one of his biological sons, who had also become a doctor. Turns out the man had dozens of offspring from his sperm donations and while they were all raised in various socio-economic situations, some were male, some female, most of them had become doctors. Not all of them looked like the doctor, but most of them had inherited his ability, his behavior, his inclination for medicine. Of course, I began to think: what if he was a serial killer? Could that behavior be passed on? And could someone exploit that genetic trait?
How did you develop your protagonist Greymon Gift, and his sidekick FBI agent Rose Cleary?
After I’d written PAPA’S PROBLEM, an historical mystery with Hemingway as a murder suspect, people asked me why I had not written a book with a fire fighter character. I have so much experience in the fire service, there is almost no position that I have not filled in my 30 years in the service so I thought,wouldn’t it be interesting to have a State Fire Marshall as my protagonist.
But I wanted my character to be a laid back, beach dwelling character that is pushed into having to deal with the atrocities of serial killers. He is not equipped, mentally or experientially, to be able to handle these murders and something begins to change in him. We see him morph into something else by the end of the book and that, I think, makes the book even more unsettling and the character more interesting.
Agent Rose Cleary is actually based on an FBI agent I came to know from scenes we worked together. She is a “spitfire” if you’ll allow that aged term. One person who reviewed an advanced copy of my book said “there is no way a little woman of 120 lbs could handle the weapon she uses (a Casull Magnum pistol) nor would any FBI agent wear high heels in the field.” Well, my FBI friend does wear high heels in the field and when I shared this reader’s comment she wanted to kick his butt! She is one intense woman, as is Rose.
Both Grey and Rose are layered; they both have complicated pasts that keep coming back to haunt them,and I believe that’s why readers will like them.
And tell us about the bad guy, the handsome and charming Dr. Gettys. Would it be fair to compare him with Hannibal Lecter?
Dr. Gettys was based on Gerard Schaefer. Schaefer grew old and flabby in prison before he was murdered by another prisoner in a most gruesome way: getting his throat cut and his eyes removed. But, when he was a young man, he was handsome and an athlete. His high school year book has him as the school’s star baseball player, golfer, most likely to succeed, etc. But, there was always a dark side to him.
As he began his college career, he began to have “dark thoughts,” was diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenic and he kept a journal, just like Dr.Gettys does. That’s where I got that idea. The entries in these journals show Schaefer’s decline into mental illness and murder.
He started killing small animals, like many serial killers, before progressing to people. Schaefer, again like most killers, was fascinated with anatomy and often dissected his victims.Hannibal Lector in comparison seems like Walt Disney.
Do you see potential in a series with Gift and/or Cleary?
Oh, yes, I’d love to do more books with Gift and Cleary. I really like the characters and can see them working other cases. I’ve begun work on a sequel and I’m hoping sales will demand another. To be honest, the books are very graphic by the nature of the crimes, which are all ripped from the headlines and/or Schaefer’s diaries. They border on transgressive themes and that is what I was trying to do. I wanted to see if I could write a book that was so edgy, so off the wall, according to publishing norms, that it would push the boundaries of the typical thriller. One reviewer called it “splatterpunk.” If readers want it, there will be another.
What about a novel involving your love of the ocean?
And yes, I’d love to write something that emphasizes my love of the ocean, and my concern for its survival. Inspector Gift is always near the ocean and bemoans its degradation. Also, I’ve started another book-one that my children can read for once-that deals with an historic discovery in the ocean, and it relates to the damage mankind has done to the ocean and its negative and long lasting effects on our ocean.
Your first novel, PAPA’S PROBLEM, was a mystery starring Ernest Hemingway. How has Hemingway influenced your writing?
I studied Hemingway in college and, like most people, was more impressed by his life than his writing. (This will get me lynched in some literary circles, believe me.) I think the success of his writing, honestly, is that it was so simple that it was easily translated into various languages. Hemingway was well traveled and grew famous at a time when the world had become a smaller place. The European war theater was gearing up (again) and he became a presence internationally. As the media began to follow him, he deliberately became this character that drew attention to himself, to the point he could no longer live without the celebrity of that character. He literally destroyed himself trying to become something, that perhaps, in another world he would not have been.
His influence on me is a lesson—try to keep it simple—but that is a hard lesson for me. I tend to write long, run on, sentences that express my feelings about my environment and the atmosphere that surrounds me and, by that, I don’t just mean the air. I mean the company I’m with, the sounds in the foreground and the background, the smells and colors that encompass us. Hemingway wrote short, complete sentences, that you have to read into. That kind of writing leads to ambiguity that many people translate into story. I just don’t write that way, though I tried to in my first book, PAPA’S PROBLEM, as homage to him. The Hemingway student will see comparisons to his TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT. The book won a Florida Book Award, so something clicked with the readers, or maybe it’s that eternal affection for Hemingway.
What do you feel is the biggest challenge for up and coming writers these days?
I would still tell any new writer that the key to success is to write something original, write it as well as you can, then be flexible enough to work with editors who know what they are doing. Be prepared to re-write, re-write, and re-write. Writing is like any business. There is give and take and new writers struggle with that concept. They want to be the new Hemingway right out of the box and that doesn’t happen very often. The other good news is this: more people are reading now that ever before. The youth market is doing very well and these people will grow into lifelong readers because of what is happening right now. That means, there is a future for all of us.
Patrick Kendrick worked in the fire service for almost thirty years before retiring to write full time. While in the service he also worked as a freelance writer, publishing articles and short stories in numerous newspapers and magazines. Kendrick was knighted by the Fraternal Order of Police for his articles on crime. He’s won honorable mentions from the Mystery Writers of America and the Beverly Hills Film Festival, the Opus Magnum Award from the Hollywood Film Festival and the Florida Book Award for his first novel, PAPA’S PROBLEM.
He lives in South Florida and when he is not writing, spends as much time as possible in, on, or under the ocean.
To learn more about Patrick, please visit his website.