I first met author Alan S. Mosier on Facebook. As I recall, he had just published one of his books, and was doing some promotion for it in a writers group I had recently joined. We had a few exchanges about the book, one thing led to another, and before long we were cyber friends. I find Al’s books particularly interesting because of their unique topic: fine art theft and recovery. Read on, and you’ll soon discover the genesis of this post’s headline.
Joe: Welcome to my blog, Al. I appreciate your spending some time with me.
Al: Thanks, Joe! I always enjoy doing these interviews, and I’m sure I will enjoy answering your questions. I find that in doing so, I get the chance to really think about the craft we love as opposed to just doing it. Self-reflection is a good thing now and then.
Joe: You write a very unique mystery series, the Dean and Derringer novels, which involve crimes in the world of fine arts. Where did you get the idea for this series?
Al: I had the two central characters already developed, and was searching around for a plot to put them in. It so happened that my wife, Beth, and I took a trip to Paris. After visits to the Louvre and Musee d’Orsay, we decided to visit the Opera Garnier. We got lost, and somehow the fine art aspect popped into my head while we were walking about the city. From Paris, we took the high-speed train to Amsterdam, where they have that remarkable Van Gogh museum. That gave me the artist. By the way, you’ll find both Paris and Amsterdam figure importantly in The Van Gogh Affair, the book inspired by that trip.
Joe: Interesting. I notice that you use a lot of the French language in your books. Is there any particular reason for that? Not many readers are able to do that effectively. You do, though.
Al: Well thanks for that. Actually, I like the sound of it. I’m a romantic at heart, and nobody talks romance better than the French. It also helped establish a real sense of place in The Van Gogh Affair. Using French came in handy while Alex and Lindsey were visiting Paris. When I use a foreign language, I always try to put it in context with what’s going on, so even if the reader doesn’t speak it, they can figure out what’s been said.
Joe: That’s a great idea. Do you only write mysteries, or are there other genres in your repertoire?
Al: I’ve written a novel called Making Meghan, which is part Sci-Fi, part thriller, and part social commentary, with a big serving of romance. It’s the story of a twenty-something man, stuck in a nowhere job, who unwittingly becomes involved with a clandestine government research project. I think its resolution is quite thought provoking. There are two more books I’ve penned called The Ballad of Tom Cat, and Second Verse. These two books are about the adventures of a young musician, living in a fictional island town that I very cleverly created to hide the real location; Key West.
Joe: Oh, I love Key West. I hitchhiked there when I was a freshman in college. But I digress. Tell us more.
Al: Well, I was a working musician for over twenty years, and these stories are based upon some of the funnier things that happened to me while playing gigs.
Joe: What instrument do you play, Al?
Al: Bass guitar, guitar, and keyboards.
Joe: Wow! That’s pretty good. Most people are lucky if they play one of those. So, Al, how many books have you published so far?
Al: Well, with the five Dean & Derringer books, a total of eight.
Joe: Do you use a professional editor?
Al: Semi-professional. I have a librarian friend, who serves as my alternate eyes. She’s very good at poking holes in my grammar, and at picking up any conflicting items that have managed to escape after I’ve finished my seventh read-through. Don’t know what I’d do without her.
Joe: I know it’s always said that authors should “Write what you know.” A good deal of the action in your Dean and Derringer books is set in either New England or “across the pond.” Is it fair to assume that these are two areas with which you have a particular history?
Al: Certainly New England. I’ve been a part of “Red Sox Nation” all my life, and Boston’s my home turf—it’s a city I’m very familiar with. The European settings are all places I’ve visited. I travel with “location scouting” always in the forefront of my mind. The Dean and Derringer series has visited Paris, Amsterdam, St. Martin, Italy, and Germany. A friend of mine says that he always gets a tour along with the mystery when he reads my books. Here in the good old US of A, the series has visited New York, Key West (Did I mention Key West? Love that town), and San Francisco. By some strange coincidence, those are all places I’ve been in the last five years.
Joe: You make me envious. I’ve never left North America. So, which aspect of writing a novel do you find most challenging, and why?
Al: Working an idea into a novel length story. I start with the basic premise, and then develop it. Finding ways to add to the idea—secondary plots, side trips, how and where to develop my characters etc. Anyone who’s ever done this knows what I’m talking about. At the same time that it’s challenging, it’s also a whole lot of fun. It’s like assembling a literary jigsaw puzzle. Each piece needs to go in exactly the right spot to create the big picture.
Joe: Makes a lot of sense. Al, I’ve read two of your books, The Van Gogh Affair, and The Rembrandt Affair, and I found both of them to be very original. Some authors claim to be inspired by things as innocuous as TV commercials, or even local news stories. Where do you get the ideas for your books?
Al: In the fine art series, the artist always comes first. After I choose the artist, I create a fictional painting or sculpture to be recovered. At the end of books two through five, the last chapter is the set-up for the next book. Number six is going to be about a recovery involving the Nazi seizures of art during World War II. However, with the movies Monument Men and Woman in Gold having been released recently, it’s going to have to be from some unique angle. You don’t want to reinvent the wheel.
Joe: Yes, I understand. Who are some of your favorite authors, and is there any one in particular who you admire more than all the others, and has your writing been influenced in any way by that author?
Al: Wow! Where to begin? First, there was Conan Doyle, someone I go back to frequently. I’m one of those lucky types who can re-read a book and still get enjoyment out of it. Same thing with Rex Stout. Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin are the best. I currently read books by Lindsey Davis, Will Thomas, and Christopher Fowler, as soon as they come out. All three are great. Davis writes mysteries set in ancient Rome. Thomas is the author of the Barker and Llewelyn series, based on an obscure reference from the Holmes Canon. Christopher Fowler’s books are alternately hilarious and fascinating. He writes a good mystery. Who was I influenced by? Probably the most by Robert Parker. I try to use him as a yardstick against my own work, especially for dialog. Nobody better than Parker for dialog. He died too soon.
Joe: So, Al, if you could have lunch with just one person, living or dead, who would that be, and what would you want to ask him or her?
Al: That’s a good one! How about Igor Stravinsky? We’d do coffee and a croissant on the left bank at one of those cafes on the sidewalk. I’d ask him how he created such a unique style, such a different sound in his music, one that changed music on a permanent basis. I think he’d be interesting to listen to.
Joe: And besides writing, what other hobbies or interests do you have?
Al: I’m a musician, and, as you can guess, I love art. I assist in the art room of my old elementary school once a week. That’s been helpful for my writing. Obviously, I’m a reader. I always have two books going. Right now, it’s the Autobiography of Mark Twain Volume II and Private LA by James Patterson and someone else (does he even write books, or just hand off outlines?). I loved the TV show Chuck.
Joe: I’ve never heard of it.
Al: I have the entire series on DVD and BlueRay. Tim Jones, who wrote the music for the show, is a friend.
Joe: Do you have a work in progress?
Al: I do! The title is Death on Your Doorstep. It’s not a Dean & Derringer book, though. It’s set in Boston, and involves a young music professor and some past activities by his ancestors, which lead to a string of murders. It’s a thriller/mystery. I’m really enjoying writing it. Nice to change-up every once in a while.
Joe: I certainly can understand that. When did you begin to take writing seriously enough to consider being published?
Al: I’ve been writing since I was in elementary school, but I didn’t start seriously trying to write novels until I hit my late forties. I wrote a Holmes pastiche, and a sequel to 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (both still in the junk drawer), before I felt confident enough to create my own characters. Now that I’m retired, I have the time to devote to it. Look out!
Joe: Is there a particular type of writing, or a special book that has been haunting you, that needs—make that demands—to be written?
Al: Not yet. I guess the closest was The Van Gogh Affair. That one was the most fleshed-out before I put fingers to keyboard. I couldn’t wait to get home and start writing.
Joe: Have you received any awards or special recognition for your writing?
Al: My Mom seems to like it! (Al smiles broadly.)
Joe: What’s a typical day like in your life? Do you keep a strict writing schedule?
Al: Pretty much so. I get up at between five and five-thirty every morning, make my coffee, check the email and Facebook, and then I’m off to mysteryland for two hours or so. John McAleer, who wrote the definitive biography of Rex Stout, told me Rex never wrote less than a page a day, every day. Even if you only write one page, you’re making progress. Joan Parker told me “Robert B” wrote an average of ten a day.
Joe: What other things interest you? Hobbies? Likes? Dislikes?
Al: MUSIC! It’s the other driving force in my life. I’ve recorded two CDs, one called Coaster, about people and places I’ve encountered in the Caribbean, and the other is called Child’s Play, developmental songs for elementary age children. Those were all written during my career as a public school music teacher. I love to travel and go to interesting places. Just got back from Nashville! Hmmm…
Joe: What aspect of writing a novel do you find the easiest? Hardest?
Al: Easiest is the title. Especially in the art series. For the novel I’m working on now I chose a title in the style of Rex Stout. Just letting the characters lead you along, as they take you through the plot, is always fun. I didn’t know who the thief was in The Van Gogh Affair until about ten pages from the end. Alex and Lindsey knew! Boy, was I surprised when they told me. Hardest is the second draft, when you actually have to tie up all those loose ends you left in the first draft.
Joe: Are any of your books available as audiobooks?
Al: Not yet! I’ll have to do something about that.
Joe: Where can readers find you on social media? Do you have a website? Twitter?
Al: My twitter handle is @kwkindaguy, and my Facebook page is: MusicAL (https://www.facebook.com/pages/MusicAL/344108555655784).
Joe: And where can readers buy your books?
Al: The Van Gogh Affair and The Rembrandt Affair are available for Kindle through Amazon. I had them formatted by Escarpment Press. They did a great job for me. All my books, in paperback format, are available through lulu.com—some under Al Mosier, and others under Alan S. Mosier.
Joe: Thanks for the plug, Al. (Escarpment Press is the little publishing company I recently formed to provide services to self-publishing authors. Al was one of my first clients.) Is there anything else you’d like to say to the followers of my blog?
Al: Hey! If you’re a beginning writer, keep writing. The more you do, the more you’ll learn about the craft. I’m learning every day I write. Choose good models. As I said, I love the way Robert B. Parker wrote dialog. I keep his style in mind as I write my own. Read, read, read!! Books are so amazing. The internet is great, but books are so much more satisfying. Here’s an important one: Write what you know. Don’t write about something you know nothing about. It never works. Trust me!
Joe: Al, it’s certainly been a pleasure getting to know even more about you than I already knew. Thank you for taking the time to chat with us, and continued success with your writing.
Al: Thanks, Joe. It was my pleasure.
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