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Author Talk: May 11, 2017

Thomas Kies has worked for newspapers and magazines, primarily in New England and New York, for a number of years. His debut novel, RANDOM ROAD, kicks off his mystery series starring veteran reporter Geneva Chase, who is battling alcoholism and bad choices but has a chance to redeem herself by covering a horrific story: the murders of six people, all of whom were found naked and hacked to pieces. In this interview, Kies talks about the key event that led him to pursue his dream of becoming a published author, an important decision he made in the early stages of preparing the book’s first draft, and the challenges of writing from the point of view of a female protagonist.

Question: For how long have you wanted to become a published author? And was there a key event that brought you to that realization?

Thomas Kies: Since I was in high school, I’ve wanted to be a novelist. Real life got in the way --- working, marriage, raising three children. Then, in my 40s, I went through a divorce and became a single dad. Soon after, I also met and started dating Cindy, the lady I’d eventually marry. Over glasses of wine, she asked me to write down, on a cocktail napkin, a list of things I really wanted to accomplish now that I was starting a “new” life. Number one on the list was write novels. She never let me forget that.

Q: Once you committed to the idea that you were going to write a novel, was your initial effort the book that now has just been published? Or did you embark on a false start or two before arriving at your eventual debut novel?

TK: RANDOM ROAD is my fifth attempt at getting a book published. The other four novels never made the cut. And when I first started writing this one, it was from two points of view: Geneva Chase was one and Kevin Bell was the other. About four chapters into the first draft, I realized that Genie was the most interesting of the two. Snarky, dysfunctional, making really bad decisions --- she was flat out the most interesting character. And you don’t want to know how many re-writes RANDOM ROAD went through before an agent liked it enough to ask to see the full manuscript. I had more false starts on this book than I can count.

Q: Considering that most mystery readers have dozens of authors whose work has left a favorable impression, could you zero in on one or two crime writers whose books are emblematic of what you aspire to for your own work?

TK: When I was a kid, I couldn’t read enough of John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee series. When I bought my first car, a ’63 Ford Galaxy with over 100,000 miles on it, I called it “The Busted Flush” after Travis McGee’s houseboat. And my love of mysteries was initiated by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Who doesn’t want to be a know-it-all smartass like Sherlock Holmes? Or write hard-boiled detective stories like Dashiell Hammett?

Q: How soon after you completed your debut novel did you latch onto the idea for what your second mystery ought to be? Is there one particular dead-end path you stumbled into in the writing of your first book that you will be sure to avoid on the follow-up novel?

TK: The idea for the second mystery came quickly, especially when I knew the publisher wanted to make Geneva Chase a series. I was looking forward to working with some of the same characters again. As far as not going down the same bone-headed, dead-end path I stumbled into from writing the first book? I learned to reach out and grab the reader by the collar in the very first paragraph and not let go until the last page.

Q: Mystery fans seem to embrace a central character whose life choices can be observed from book to book to book. Do you feel that Geneva Chase is built for the long haul? Can you see yourself living with her for as long as, say, Robert B. Parker wrote about Spenser, or Sara Paretsky has written about V.I. Warshawski? Or do you see yourself venturing into a new area with a different protagonist down the line?

TK: When I originally wrote RANDOM ROAD, I finished it with the idea that this book was not going to be a series. It had a very clear story arc. But everyone, from my agent to the publisher and editor and all who have read it, seems to like Geneva Chase. I’m certainly not going to argue. She’s a blast to write.

It’s a challenge because the stories are written from a first person POV and, duh, Genie’s a woman and I’m not. It’s lucky I like her so much. It does make me be very attentive to how women around me speak and what they wear. I just have to make sure I never cross the line from being observant to being stalker-creepy.

And should Genie decide to retire, I have a very different protagonist waiting patiently in the wings. But I hope Ms. Chase is around for a very long time.