Excerpted from an exhilarating conversation with Fiona over at her Authors Interviews Blog. Please visit Fiona here for the full interview.
Fiona: Tell us your latest news?
I just released my third novel, a mystery named Missing Mona, the first in a hopefully long line of Tommy Cuda Mysteries. It’s a big departure for me from the thriller genre, because it’s a straight mystery told in the first person about a guy who wakes up after his 29th birthday party and realizes his life is half over. He’s unhappy with living a virtual life based on social media interactions, so sets out to change it using a gift from his late grandfather: a 1965 Plymouth Barracuda.
Fiona: How did you come up with the title?
A redhead tells Tommy her name is Mona. Then she goes missing. I look for a key element in the story, and then think about the structure of the title. One hard noun (RATS), or something that paints action (Missing Mona). I like ambiguity and depth in a title. What kind of RATS? Oh, Washington, DC. You mean two legs, double-dealing low-life sneaking conniving RATS. And there is yet another RAT that plays a key role in the book, but no spoilers here.
Also consider, has Mona disappeared, and is therefore missing? Or is someone missing her in her absence…or perhaps both? Or even, is Mona missing something or someone?
Fiona: Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
Beyond the action and plot, my novels are a meditation on some aspect of social intercourse. In Missing Mona Tommy’s life is evolving, and as part of that evolution he examines his relationship to technology, or as he puts it in the book, he enters a “technology reallocation phase.” I simply hope readers meditate on the issues along with me, drawing their own conclusions about what aspects of the story may or may not apply to their own lives.
Fiona: Are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
Yes, all of the above. And extrapolations of anything I can imagine from people I’ve known, situations I’ve experienced, worlds I’ve imagined, adventures I’ve wished I could have. No character I write is a direct copy of a real person, never, not even close; though some of the character’s traits might have come from real people. I know many computer scientists, and musicians for example, and having known them I’m sure is blended into the characters I write.
It’s as if all of my life experience has been mixed into a huge huge pot. Then as a writer staring at a blank page I ask, okay, from this pot I need a guy who would get into his Grandfather’s car, alone, and point it west, on an impulse. Who is that guy, what motivates him, and what does he do when he meets Mona? Tommy Cuda is the result.
Fiona: What books have most influenced your life most? a mentor?
Early books that stand out: The God Machine by Martin Caidin created a future world that was both scary and exciting for a young boy in which computers were dangerous. Four Wheel Drift by Richard Hough (writing as Bruce Carter) featured a racer and an engineer that built the car. What could be better? Something awesome to do (race), and the blueprint on how to get there (learn).
On the writing front On Writing by Stephen King is amazing in its scope. And a book I had to locate used on Amazon, Lessons from a Lifetime of Writing by David Morrell (the creator of Rambo), is brilliant in its guidance on craft.
I also received sound advice in a one-on one-meeting with Tim Maleeny at the Mystery Writers Conference, and learned a great deal from reading Robert Crais, Michael Connelly, Don Winslow and a host of other great writers who took the time to speak at this conference.
At the end of the day, anything a writer sees, hears, smells, or reads can and will find its way into his or her writing. So be careful what you let into your head.
Fiona: What book are you reading now?
The Last Good Kiss by James Crumley, written in 1978, is a masterclass in characterization, action, and the profound use of the surprising metaphor.
Fiona: What are your current projects?
I’m working on the Kandy and Qigiq novel that chronologically follows Mash Up—the interaction between these two detectives has captured my attention. The book is moving along, and I hope to release it in 2016. But my predictions have been wrong before. (Please ask your interested readers to sign-up for Joe’s Readers. It’s the one thing I always send out when a new book is released. Social networking is fine, but using it for communication is sketchy at best.)