Monday, November 14, 2016

Author Interview: Carl Schmidt: Author of Dead Down East

Carl Schmidt graduated from Denver University with a degree in mathematics and physics. As a Woodrow Wilson Fellow he studied mathematics at Brown University.

Carl lived and traveled widely throughout Asia for seven years, including two years as a Peace Corps volunteer in the Philippines and five years in Japan, where he taught English.

Carl has spent dozens of summers in Maine, on lakes and in the woods. He chose it as the setting for this novel because he loves its rugged natural beauty and the charming idiosyncrasies of Mainers. He has also written and recorded three musical albums. This, along with his formal education, proved invaluable when molding the persona and voice of Jesse Thorpe, the narrator of Dead Down East, and endowing him with both a creative eye for detail and a sense of humor.

Dead Down East is the first novel in the Jesse Thorpe Mystery Series, which includes A Priestly Affair and Redbone.  In 2001, New Falcon Press published his non-fictional book, A Recipe for Bliss: Kriya Yoga for a New Millennium.

Currently, he is a freelance writer living in Sedona, Arizona with his lovely wife, Holly, and their faithful German shorthaired pointer, Alize.

Dead Down East

Dead Down East, a fictional murder mystery, is both detective noir and smart screwball comedy rolled into one. Jesse Thorpe, a young private investigator operating out of Augusta, Maine, receives a mysterious phone call from a former client, Cynthia Dumais.  She begs to be rescued from an island south of Brunswick, within a mile of where William Lavoilette, the governor of Maine, was assassinated the night before. She insists that her life is in danger, but is unwilling to provide any further information. Reluctantly, Jesse goes to fetch her.

Within a week, Jesse has three separate clients, each with his, or her, own desperate need to have the murder solved. He assembles a motley team of compadres, including rock band members, a tie-dye psychic and his rousing girlfriend, Angele Boucher, to help him with the case. While the FBI and the Maine State Police investigate political motives, Jesse looks for the woman—Cherchez la Femme—as the trail draws him through the lives, and DNA, of the governor’s former mistresses.

Who are your influences?
Two novelists come to mind. First, Tim Cockey wrote five quirky mysteries (The Hearse Novels) before changing his name to Richard Hawke and writing more traditional, edgy ones. I much preferred the Cockey stories, which are laugh-out-loud funny…pure entertainment. They are smart, witty, and hard to put down.
And second, David Guterson, who wrote Snow Falling on Cedars. This novel was spellbinding for me. Each paragraph is constructed with precision, texture and feeling.
Both of these two were snuggled somewhere in the back of my mind as I began writing fiction.

When did you begin writing?
I published a non-fiction book on Kriya Yoga in 1999. It is partly autobiographical. Putting that together helped me develop a writing voice, but it was many years later that I turned to fiction.

 How do you come up with your stories, characters, character names, POV, etc?
I wait for a basic outline to take shape before I begin writing, but from the outset I had chosen Maine as the setting for my Jesse Thorpe Mystery Series. I have spent many summers in Maine and love its natural beauty and its eccentric personalities.

I use two tricks for developing characters. First, I search the Internet for photographs of people who might play well in the storyline. When I find one that seems just right, I put the photograph in a file and refer to it from time to time to help cement the personality in my mind.

And second, for the names, I go to lists of both first and last names that are commonly found in Maine for the age of each individual. I want the names to be authentic. Occasionally, I’ll let an outsider in, but for the most part, I want the Mainers to be Mainers in every respect.

Do you work from an outline?
Yes. But it’s an evolving outline, without a lot of detail. I trust that the story will tell itself, once it begins to roll.

Tell me about your favorite scene in your novel.
Three different scenes come to mind, and it’s hard to pick my favorite.

1. The Prologue.
            In the novel, Dead Down East, Jesse Thorpe, the narrator/private detective of the story, has his first really dicey moment in the middle of chapter four, as he is trying to worm his way through an FBI roadblock. In my first draft, I had chosen that moment to insert a rather lengthy internal monologue, to expose the witty side of Jesse’s nature. I was having so much fun with it that by the time I was done, it was almost fifteen hundred words long. And while I liked the tension it created by suspending the dramatic moment in mid-air—for several pages—eventually I decided that it would be more effective as a prologue for the book. This way, on the very first page, the reader gets a preview of the inner workings of Jesse’s mind, a snapshot of his modus operandi and a quick peak at his girlfriend.
(You can read this prologue by going to either my website or Amazon.)

2. The Frank Hayden scene.
            In each of my first three Jesse Thorpe Mysteries, I introduce one character who speaks with a strong down east accent. The intent is to fully immerse the reader in a “Maine” experience. If I had allowed this type of dialogue to run rampant in the book, it would be tedious both to write and to read. Just a touch, however, gives it local charm and color.
            Jesse discovers that the license plate on the car driven by the man who has assassinated the governor is “GOFURS.” He suspects the plate has been stolen and put on the car prior to the killing, but to double check, he runs a search to find the owner of that plate and calls him on the phone. Here is some of that dialogue:

“Hello, is this Frank Hayden?” I asked.
“Mr. Hayden, my name is Jesse Thorpe. I am sorry to call you this early in the morning, but I am investigating a minor automobile accident. A vehicle with the license plate, ‘GOFURS,’ was seen leaving the accident. That plate belongs to you. Is that plate on your 2008 Ford F-150?”
“Ah-yuh, that it tis, but there’s been no accident.”
“I see,” I said. “It’s possible someone misread the plate. Is your plate still on your truck?”
“Hahd tellin’, without lookin’.”
“Would you be kind enough to check?”
“Shuwah,” he said.
I heard his footsteps, so he must have carried his phone with him. About a half minute later he bemoaned, “By thundah, mah plate’s missin’. That’s damn wicked, it is. It didn’t fall off. Some pissant mustah stole it.”

3. The Dennis Jackson takes a baseball bat and smashes Jesse’s Subaru scene.
            Suffice it to say, Jesse gets even.

Can you tell us a little about your writing philosophy?
I work hard to bring together a number of somewhat diverse elements: humor, an intriguing story, interesting characters, scientific fact, lively dialogue, and suspense. I want the reader to try to solve the mystery as it develops, but my primary concern is that the reader enjoys himself…and laughs out loud. 

Have you ever tried writing in any other genres?
As I mentioned above, my first book was a non-fiction work, published by New Falcon Press. The title is: A Recipe for Bliss.

Do you have any interesting writing-related anecdotes to share?
I’ll share just one. The first chapter of Dead Down East is set in Bear Spring Camps, on Great Pond, not far from Waterville, Maine. The photograph on the cover is of my son standing on the porch of cabin number 11, commonly referred to at Bear Spring as “The Sunshine Cabin.” According to my father, that happens to be the very place where I was conceived. (Not on the porch, mind you, but inside.)

Dead Down East is available on Amazon, and Carl Schmidt can be found on Facebook or his website.

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