Making a Hole-in-One at the SANCTUARY MOTEL
The Big Thrill Interviews Alan Orloff
By Susan Goldenberg
Multiple-award winning, prolific suspense author Alan Orloff came up with a unique memorable protagonist name for his new suspense series—“Mess Hopkins.” The first book in the series SANCTUARY MOTEL: A Mess Hopkins Novel, published by Level Best Books, was released in October. Alan is doing a follow up.
For 22 years, Mess’s parents have owned the small, modestly priced and furnished Fairfax Manor Inn in Fairfax, Virginia, near Washington D.C., and Mess is running it during their long-term travels. Kind-hearted Mess provides free sanctuary at the motel for people in dire straits. Mess says: “One of my passions is helping others less fortunate.”
Mess’s given name is “Benjamin” but nearly everyone calls him “Mess.” When both were children, his sister bestowed the nickname because Benjamin’s bedroom was messy. Although Benjamin is now 31, the nickname clings to him, and being an affable fellow, he doesn’t mind.
Naturally I asked Alan if he was a messy boy, if Mess’s bedroom replicates his. He fessed up. “I had the messiest bedroom ever as a child—two single beds covered with clothes and books and paper and sports equipment, not easy to find anything.” Alan, who writes in his Boca Raton, Florida home office, displayed the clutter on his desk, divided into piles, to me during our Zoom conversation. “When my wife says it’s messy, I tell her I know where everything is,” he boasted.
Alan has had 10 stand-alone suspense novels published and is working on an 11th. He’s also published 50 short stories. He explained his different approach for a series. “A large dynamic cast that readers will want to revisit. Depth and back stories. The dynamic grows from book to book.”
Alan is blessed with a fertile mind. “Ideas just pop into my head,” he says. As an example he cited Pray For The Innocent (2018), one of his two ITW award winners. Alan woke up with the plot, a race to prevent a deadly scheme against the U.S., “at 4 a.m., fully formed in my head.” He then joked, “The downside is that if I don’t wake up every day with an idea I’m disappointed.” Alan has also won an Anthony, an Agatha, and a Derringer award.
Ultimately, I think it’s a book of hope—that those in trouble can realize that better situations exist, if you have the courage to seek them out. He has a set word quota per day and stops mid-sentence if it’s reached. Although incomplete he says it’s helpful when he returns. He coined the acronym BICFOK – Butt In Chair, Fingers On Keyboard.
SANCTUARY MOTEL deals with what Alan describes as “two serious problems in society”—battered women and homelessness. Mess provides sanctuary to a mother and her 14-year-old son who flee abuse from her despicable husband. Alan had seen a TV report about a local government repurposing old motels to house those needing shelter. “I thought it was a wonderful idea.” He isn’t preachy—“Entertainment is always my top priority”—but says that “after finishing this book I hope that readers get some inspiration to help those who might need a little assistance from time-to-time. Ultimately, I think it’s a book of hope—that those in trouble can realize that better situations exist, if you have the courage to seek them out.”
Fictional Fairfax Manor Inn is based on Alan’s fascination with low-priced motels which began in the 70s and 80s when his father took the family to the beach at Ocean City, Maryland. “It was before the chain motels. A stairway led to pinball machines in the basement; the vending machines had foods and drinks I’d never heard of before; and there were racks of brochures about nearby attractions.
“Fifteen or 16 years ago my wife and I and our two children took a seven-week cross-country mini-van trip, and, when not staying with friends, we stayed at inexpensive motels. The internet didn’t yet exist so we couldn’t check in advance about room availability. One time we arrived in a town at 2 a.m. and all the motels were filled. The next motel was 50 miles away. One of the lower-priced motels said we could stay in a room that didn’t have a lock. We shoved furniture against the door and managed to get some sleep.”
Alan writes: “The Inn was built back when clean, no-frills, economy motels were the rage. It stood in the northern part of the City of Fairfax in Northern Virginia, on a stretch of Route 50 dominated by chain restaurants, gas stations, and car dealerships.”
The fictional inn has a miniature golf course which becomes pivotal to the story. Alan played miniature golf as a youngster. “Mondays were one-dollar days every summer, and I played four to six hours.” He modestly said he was “pretty good.” The Fairfax course has kitschy décor typical of miniature golf courses.
Alan has some humor in SANCTUARY MOTEL, e.g., “I didn’t know you played golf. What’s your handicap?” “Right now, you.”
Alan handles talks and interviews skilfully. “I’d been a stone-cold introvert who’d never done public speaking. I was terrified, like a deer in the headlights.” His protagonist in his early series The Last Laff was a stand-up comedian, and Alan had the clever idea of publicizing it with his own routine; e.g., “I have trouble with grammar. I don’t know the difference between a dangling participle and a Flying Wallenda.” The routine is on YouTube. He said he may use it again for SANCTUARY MOTEL’s launch.
Alan was both a panelist and a moderator at this year’s Boucheron Festival. He estimates he’s done close to 75 panels over the years. “As a panelist I seek to be entertaining. As a moderator my goal is to make the panelists shine, to bring out the best in them.”
The Big Thrill Interviews Alan Orloff