Rich Zahradnik is the award-winning author of the critically acclaimed Coleridge Taylor
Mystery series (Last Words, Drop Dead Punk, A Black Sail, Lights Out Summer). Zahradnik was a journalist for 30-plus years, working as a reporter and editor in all major news media, including online, newspaper, broadcast, magazine and wire services. For more information, visit richzahradnik.com. He thought he wanted to write novels at 14 1/2, but didn’t get around to starting until he was 31.
Did you try your hand at poetry as a teenager or use stick figures to illustrate your comic books? Tell us about your early writing efforts.
I wrote a private eye short story in seventh grade—a very bad attempt at hard-boiled—to impress a girl. After that, I got involved in journalism and didn’t come back to fiction for a long time.
What’s your work in progress about? What inspired you to write it?
I’m writing a thriller that is “Die Hard” meets “The Perfect Storm.” It’s called “Ismael’s
Hammer.” Terrorists are trying to get off an island with a bomb before a hurricane hits. Three everyday heroes are the only ones who know and the only ones who can stop them. The idea started as a single image: a couple on a beach arguing, the guy being a real jerk, as a teenager looks on. The sky is dark. A storm is coming. I didn’t know what the storm—or storms—were at the time.
What do you think the hardest emotion to elicit from a reader is? Why?
Sadness. There lots of thriller writing techniques to build anxiety or fear and humor will make people laugh. Real sadness is much tougher because it’s so easy to tumble into maudlin.
Practice pitching: tell us what your latest book, Lights Out Summer, is about in 30 words or less.
Taylor is closing in on a story about a murder neglected by the Son-of- Sam obsessed press. The New York blackout of 1977 strikes. Can Taylor stay alive until the lights come on?
What’s the best thing about writing?
When a character walks into a room and does something wholly unexpected…when the story takes a turn you hadn’t planned on or thought of until the instant you typed it.
What’s the worst thing about writing?
Getting stuck and realizing it’s because of a decision you made two chapters ago—and all that rewriting before you can move forward.
Due to oppressive taxation you have to move into a tiny house. What are the ten books you aren’t giving up?
The Big Sleep
The Black Echo
He Died With His Eyes Open
Do you listen to music when you’re writing? How does music/art influence you creatively?
Yes. I worked in newsrooms for 27 years, so I can’t write in silence. Music has the added
benefit—compared to newsroom chatter and clatter—of motivating me. A good song gets me writing. Or typing, at least.
What detail in your writing do you obsess over the most? Character names? Locations? Description? Dialogue? Research?
Dialogue. Readers need to see real people having real conversations that, at the same time, propel the plot. In two of my four revisions for each book, I read the whole novel out loud, mainly to hear if the dialogue is working on several levels.
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