What prompted you to write The Elliott Smith Mystery/paranormal series?
Ordinary people finding themselves in extraordinary circumstance have always fascinated me, and always make good material for stories. I just wondered how an average guy who didn’t believe in spirits would react when he ran into a spirit who believed in him.
What kind of paranormal elements do you incorporate into the series?
I take the view that John, who is introduced in His Name is John, the first book of the series, is like Elliott Smith, also a basically ordinary guy who just happens to be dead. There is nothing evil or really weird–at least not so far–in the series. The spirits around which each book is based are still very human, just non-corporeal and often very confused as to how they died and why. Elliott, with John’s assistance, helps them to find out.
As a matter of fact, I have had a couple through my life, most notably with a very pleasant spirit named Robert. I’ve not heard from him in quite awhile, but he first came to me in California and has shown up a couple of times since I moved back to the mid-west. I’m always delighted when he shows up, though he seems to enjoy hiding things which don’t show up for months. He is very partial to classical music and bedrooms.
Did you have to do a lot of research writing The Elliott Smith Mystery Series? And, if so, would you share some of your favorite research books/sources?
I didn’t really have to do any formal research: everything comes from my own beliefs, opinions, and–thanks to Robert–experiences.
During your research, did you find an interesting fact/situation that you just had to include in your book?
I use the Elliott Smith series to explore my own beliefs in what happens when we die. I’m always delighted when I find I had opinions I didn’t know I had–such as that time affects only the living, who are bound by it, and the non-corporeal (which I vastly prefer to “dead”) don’t have any such constraints.
Can you tell us a little bit about your latest release?
In Caesar’s Fall, the winner of a $57 million lottery moves into Elliott’s building and Elliott finds himself trying to protect him from the schemers and con men out to get his money. Following a tragic accident, Elliott, with John’s help, must determine if it was an accident or murder, and if the latter, who was responsible.
Do you plot your stories out or do you just start writing?
For me, to try to plot a novel–other than having some basic thoughts as to what and who the story will be about–is totally inconceivable. I see detailed plotting as a form of straightjacket, and my mind simply would refuse to go along with it. I am constantly surprising myself, when I write, to find new elements popping into my mind which subsequently change the course of the story in ways I couldn’t have foreseen.
In addition to The Elliott Smith Mystery Series, you also write the Dick Hardesty books. Do you write both series at once? And if so, how do you keep the two separate?
I alternate the series: Dick Hardesty then Elliott Smith, then Dick Hardesty, etc. And I really have no difficulty at all in keeping them apart. The Dick Hardesty series is written in first person and takes place in an unnamed city in the mid-1980s–though I never specifically identify which year. The Elliott Smith series is in third-person, and is set in modern-day Chicago.
The Dick Hardesty series was the first, and Dick is an alternate-universe me. We share the same opinions, outlooks, and offbeat sense of humor. Dick is the me I would so dearly love to be. Elliott and I have many things in common, but I really don’t know if he would want to be more than a casual friend to me. He’s much more down-to-earth than I and lives in a totally different world than I do. I live vicariously through both Dick and Elliott.
Can you describe your office or where you normally write? Do you have anything in your office that helped inspire you to write the story?
My work area is a large computer desk in my bedroom and I spend an inordinate amount of time there. I often have classical music playing in the background, but when I am totally caught up in writing, I am aware of nothing other than reading the words that my fingers put up on the computer screen.
Which came first the plot or the characters?
When writing a series, the major characters are a given…they are part and parcel of the work. But, that being given, I generally next think of the basic plot and then people it with other-than-the-main characters.
Have you ever gotten stuck while writing a scene or chapter? How did you overcome it?
While it happens infrequently, it does happen, and I almost always resolve it by simply going back a few chapters and starting to read. By the time I reach where I had the problem, I’ve usually figured out how to resolve it. It’s rather like a truck without tire chains trying to get up an icy hill…I back up, rev the engine, and try again.
What is the wackiest thing that’s ever happened to you since you started writing?
I think the strangest thing is the very real split between my personal life and my writing life. I am as comfortable being–and truly see myself as being–the non-corporeal Dorien Grey who lives within my mind as I am being the corporeal Roger Margason from whom Dorien emerged.
Where can readers find more about you and your books?
All my books can be found in or on order from any bookstore or on-line bookseller, and the first chapter of every book can be read free on my website. http://www.doriengrey.com