By Karen Harper
Robert E. Dunn, a native of the Missouri Ozarks, wrote his first book at age 11, turning a series of Jack Kirby comic books into a novel. Over many years in video and film production, he produced documentaries, training films, and travelogues. He turned to writing mystery, horror, and fantasy fiction and has published the horror novels, The Red Highway, Motorman, and The Harrowing, and now the Katrina Williams mystery/thriller series, which began with A Living Grave.
Please tell us what your book is about.
A PARTICULAR DARKNESS is book 2 in the Katrina (Hurricane) Williams series from Lyrical Underground. It follows the events of A Living Grave but the book can stand alone.
In the aftermath of tragic events and the loss of her new husband, Sheriff’s Detective Katrina (Hurricane) Williams is adrift, tethered only to her job. Work is enough for her until a body is pulled from the lake and onto a stinking heap of fish. What seems at first like a simple case of murder over the poaching of paddlefish for domestic caviar quickly forks in two directions.
One way leads under the tents of the Starry Night Traveling Salvation Show and into the presence of its charismatic leader, Roscoe Bolin. The other takes her into the teeth of a joint investigation conducted by the Army CID and FBI.
The two ends of the case tie together when a young man disappears from the evangelical show with a teenaged Peruvian refugee illegally smuggled into the country. The girl is found dead and the boy goes on the run. At every step, the antagonistic feds block Katrina’s efforts to dig into the preacher and the mysterious military men who surround the show. Following the trail of poached fish eggs leads her to a mysterious Russian with connections to both weapon and human trafficking.
When more refugees, all young girls, disappear, Katrina will stop at nothing to find the truth. The fight opens her to danger and opens her heart to the enigmatic Deputy Billy Blevins. Through the shifting shadows of night, murder, and terrible violence in the name of truth, Katrina discovers her own Particular Darkness.
Katrina Williams, the main character of this novel and your mystery/thriller series, has a fascinating past and sounds like a real take-charge person. Why did you decide on a female lead instead of a man?
I have a love for the larger than life characters of thriller and adventure fiction. I enjoy seeing how they can stand up to brutal and life changing events. You know the kind of men I mean, Jack Reacher, Walt Longmire, Joe Pickett, Dave Robicheaux, Quinn Colson, and a hundred others. I wanted to see how a woman would handle the same situations. Not that I am the first to write a strong woman but I like to think I handled her differently.
Aside from the desire to see a strong, kick-butt character differently, there were two other things on my mind when creating Katrina Williams. I have daughters. They are not dainty, frail things, who need rescuing. I didn’t want to write a woman who was less than a full person or that added to the female sidelining message of so much of our culture. Also there was the more practical consideration of making a book different. If nothing else, a strong female main character sets the series in a smaller pool of thriller/mystery books. Add to that, the fact that most readers are women and I had a lot of reasons to write a female lead.
Your setting of the Missouri Ozarks sounds unusual and compelling. Since you grew up there, you must know the area intimately. With such a unique place, is the setting also a “character” in the novel and, if so, how?
Location or environment as character has a strong influence on me. Look back to the list of male characters I used in the last answer and you will notice a strong “rural-noir” kind of influence. Craig Johnson, C.J. Box, James Lee Burke, and Ace Atkins are masters of making place a living character in their books.
The woods and waters of the Ozarks where I grew up has such a unique history and atmosphere, I wanted to share it with readers. The way I tried to accomplish that was to focus on the shadows under the oaks and walnut trees rather than the bright lights of the familiar Branson area tourist world. Water and woods, hidden life, and old feuds, the conflicting needs to change and to hold on to what has always been, these are the ways I chose to look at, and show off the Ozarks.
The odd thing is that I made the location, a hybrid of the modern world and the world of my youth. Taney County and the Branson area are familiar to so many people as a tourist spot. That wasn’t what I wanted you to see though. I wanted the world to believe the old cabins (some still linger) the old wooden docks, the small time music shows. It’s all still there but not obvious. The lights of a hundred music theaters are too bright. My Ozarks are definitely fictionalized but, I hope, true.
Your plot and character use of an illegal refugee sounds ripped from the headlines, but did you do any other research on this hot-button topic?
I wanted to touch that button but not quite press it. That’s why I spent time reading up on other, lesser known, refugee problems. We live in a world at conflict and any conflict runs the risk of becoming simply noise if you stare at it too long. So I looked at some of the changes and turmoil happening in South America. We seem to have forgotten the ravages of drug crime, political upheaval, and failed policies on our own doorstep.
People will move away from war. The movement of so many make targets for the unscrupulous. In A PARTICULAR DARKNESS, trafficking and the illegal immigration of the desperate is a small but important part of the story. It’s, obviously, important outside of my story too. My research about it was to read some personal accounts, some news, and some dry government facts. It was all disturbing and sorrowful. The hard part was not letting it consume my book.
You have also written horror novels. Do any of the pacing, themes or writing techniques for that genre appear in A PARTICULAR DARKNESS?
Yes. Not as obviously as it did in A Living Grave. In the first Katrina Williams book there was a mysterious character much like the Slender Man that has gained so much attention the last few years. In A Particular Darkness, it is more about atmosphere and the unknown antagonist. The real difference (it seems to me) between horror thrillers and mystery thrillers, is the supernatural or other worldly influence. Both need a sense of something behind the scenes and a little dread.
Does your past video and film production work influence you as a writer?
That’s a big yes! Both for good and for bad. The good is as it works on story. I started off in theater then moved to film/television. Let me tell you when you have no budget and you need to get the message across about used cars in thirty seconds, you learn to put the ideas together. On the other hand, the actual technical aspects of writing, grammar, punctuation, syntax, those suffered. When writing scripts I aimed for conversational styles that fit the material and wrote to be spoken. I did that with physical breaks and often run on sentences, all cued to visuals. It was kind of like only tweeting for years then trying to write a business letter.
One of the excellent blurbs on this novel says, “This is hardboiled fiction at its best. We’re talking Elmore Leonard territory.” Can you share with us your definition of hardboiled and how that is reflected in your story?
That blurb is from Hunter Shea, an amazing writer of horror and thrillers and one I am so proud of. Hardboiled, in my little world, is a way of saying that the toughness, the bad news, the stony-dirty road, runs throughout the story. It is the story. There is no wonderful life into which some rain falls, there is only life in general, then things get worse. The problems that make the life of your main character don’t get solved, they get eliminated. Like Katrina’s nickname, hardboiled is a hurricane. We begin when the storm warnings are already up and clouds are marching in. We go through the wind, rain, and floods to come out on the other side. But that other side is always damaged.
Katrina is a storm waiting to happen at the best of times. She’s angry, in therapy, and in A PARTICULAR DARKNESS, struggling to remain sober. Just a few pages in she is investigating a grim murder, surrounded by ex-military keeping secrets and people she thought she knew, showing new sides. There is little period of balance Then things go bad. By the way, there’s a tornado in Hurricane’s life. What fun is that?
Lastly, can you give readers and especially other authors any tips on how you handle the demands of writing and promotion time with real life?
I handle it not very well. There was a time I could freely brag of writing 4000 words a day. That was before I published regularly. Promoting a book is harder than writing one for me but it is not just promotion. There is everything that happens after I write a book.
I’ve had a lucky string of publishing credits over the last couple of years. The sad fact is that being a writer is not the same as writing. Sending off a manuscript takes work unless you are going right back to a publisher you have a history with. Sometime that won’t work. I write in multiple genres. That means multiple publishers and often, one is full up for a year or the book I wrote just doesn’t fit what they want. So I work to find the right home for a book. Through that I keep writing the next one. When I get a sale, the editor will want her changes. Sometimes that’s small and sometimes not so small. And I keep the next work in progress. Then there will be copy edits and approvals. Then, you get to start promoting it. The problem with that is that I never got to stop promoting the last one. All you work deserves its best chance. So you promote.
These days, while drafting a new book, I write a minimum of 1,000 words a day while drafting a new book but require of myself 10,000 words a week. It keeps me going and is manageable. In all that I do interviews and guest posts for book blogs. And, of course, I’m hitting up everyone for reviews.
So, I guess my answer is no, I can’t give any tips. I stink at it. The real luck is that all of this is my day job and my night job and my in-between job. If I had to go back to video production I would burn out. I admire all the writers who do it between other jobs and home life. It is a tough path any way you take it.
Robert E. Dunn was born an Army brat and grew up in the Missouri Ozarks. He wrote his first book at age eleven turning a series of Jack Kirby comic books into a hand written novel spanning a dozen spiral bound notebooks.
Over many years in the, mostly, honest work of video and film production he produced everything from documentaries, to training films and his favorite, travelogues. He returned to writing mystery, horror, and fantasy fiction for publication after the turn of the century. It seemed like a good time for change even if the changes were not always his choice.
In addition to A PARTICULAR DARKNESS, Mr. Dunn is the author of A LIVING GRAVE, the first book of the Katrina Williams mystery/thriller series, and the horror novels, THE RED HIGHWAY, MOTORMAN, and THE HARROWING. Coming soon, is the gritty TexMex, noir A DEADMAN’S BADGE. He’s currently hard at work on A MOMENTARY LIFE, the third book to feature Sheriff’s Detective Katrina Williams.
To learn more about Robert, please follow him on Facebook and Twitter (@WritingDead).