Today I welcome author AR Simmons to my blog.
What genre(s) do you write in? Who is your audience?
I write mystery/suspense. I couldn’t term them “police procedurals,” “cozies,” or “hard-boiled.” They are an amalgam of all these embedded in the narrative of a young couple’s evolving relationship.
My audience. Let me see. They are probably twenty-five or older (I hope not exclusively), they love to solve puzzles, identify with complex characters, and vicariously escape terrifying threats. They might even “take up residence” in Hawthorn County and make personal connections.
Tell us about your books. Is there one in particular you are promoting right now? What is it about?
My books comprise a series of stand-alone stories featuring Richard and Jill Carter, who have come to a small Ozark town to escape celebrity/notoriety stemming from their encounter with a serial killer in Michigan. Richard (now a rural deputy) is a former marine, haunted by guilt and suffering PTSD. Jill, dealing with PTSD of her own, is the “rock” of the family (their precocious daughter Mirabelle is the third member).
The latest book is “The Daughter.” Shara McGregor has it all: brains, beauty, and a well-connected family friend (former Senator Willis Sparkes), who intends to see to it that she gets into a prestigious law school. When Shara, the town’s “golden girl,” disappears on her way to visit a university, only her blood-stained car and discarded phone are discovered. Suspects abound, including an ex-boyfriend, several would-be boyfriends, a boss who can’t keep his hands to himself, and the family friend who continually inserts himself into the investigation. Imagining his own daughter at Shara’s age, Richard becomes obsessed with finding the missing girl.
Tell us about your main characters? What makes them so special?
Richard is tormented by guilt involving an event in Somalia where, as he puts it, “I broke the oldest taboo that there is.” Despite suffering PTSD as well as periodic depression, intermittent flashbacks, bad dreams, and chronic insomnia, he functions well. He is, on balance, happy—except for an irrational fear that all his undeserved good fortune (Jill and daughter Mirabelle) will suddenly be ripped away in some cosmic settling of accounts. He is convinced that “…all things precious are ever at risk.” As an investigator, his only strength is persistence born of OCD.
Richard once saved her life. She continually saves his. Jill is smarter, has better judgment, and is stronger than Richard, and they both know it. She has an approach/avoidance conflict concerning his job, both because he becomes lost in it, and he tends to bring the ugliness home with him. Jill grew up with only one parent, a maiden aunt whom she idolizes. Having been deprived of a traditional family, she is determined that her daughter have a “fully functioning family” with the requisite number of parents. Don’t think for a moment that she is the docile wife and stay-at-home mom. No one intimidates Jill.
Is there one passage that you feel gets to the heart of your book? If so, can you share it?
The following bit of dialog defines Richard, and perhaps the “heart” of the book.
[Scene: a convenience store. Where McGregor family friend Willis Sparkes and Richard are talking.]
“Would you say that I’ve been useful to you on this thing?” [Richard speaking]
Sparkes frowned as he looked down at the table. “Of course you’ve been useful to . . . all of us. But what an odd way to put it.”
“Then maybe you can help me. There are a few things my obsessive-compulsive nature won’t let me leave alone.”
Sparkes nodded without looking up.
[Here Richard reveals something that I can’t for fear of “spoiling” the mystery. Suffice it to say that the old pol doesn’t want to hear it.]
“What are you doing?” asked Sparkes softly.
“What I do,” said Richard.
What is your favourite scene in your book?
Days after Mirabelle is nearly kidnapped, she comes into her parents’ bedroom where they are looking at some disturbing pictures she has drawn. When asked, she tells her fearful parents a child’s version of an abduction story, complete with a slave-trading extraterrestrial that traffics in children between worlds. Richard asks with a lump in his throat as Jill digs her nails into his arm:
“Do you think that could happen to you?”
She squinted the way she did when she was trying to figure something out.
“It’s just a story, Daddy. There ain’t no ET’s except in stories and stuff.”
Where do you get your ideas for your writing?
I daydream plots, and then let my characters write the script.
What do you read? What are your favourite books and who are your favourite authors?
I’m an eclectic reader. My favorite authors are Kipling, Twain, Melville and Joseph Conrad. I think the best novel of all time is Kim.
If you could have dinner with a character from a book, who would you choose and why?
I’d travel to London in 1898 and dine with Charles Marlow. I am a huge Joseph Conrad fan, and Marlow is his alter ego. I imagine myself sitting without saying a word as he tells of the sea, the Congo, remembered youth, and life itself.
Do you have any advice for someone starting out as a writer?
Read. Then find your “voice,” and let it sing.
What new projects are you working on or are excited about right now?
I’m working on my next novel, Journey Man (to be released this summer). It involves a “blog lover” with a taste for serial killer tribute sites. Two epigraphs define him:
The real monsters make themselves.
A Faustian deal? Evil does not buy what it already owns.
I enjoyed the challenge of writing its extensive back story so as to make it an easily-read stand-alone while referencing occurrences from two previous novels. Perhaps it will interest the first-time reader in those earlier books. It is a cracking story with the sort of tense climax scene which I consider my signature.
Thanks so much AR for being here today. Your books sound exciting and action packed, but with lots of humanity as well.
AR Simmons was born in Chicago, but grew up in the Missouri Ozarks. He lived on a gravel road and attended a one-room school through the eighth grade. His parents were factory workers, but the family worked a subsistence farm on land cleared from the native forest by his grandfather.
The first small step from the insular rural life came when attended the high school in town where each class numbered around 500. Following graduation, he was a carpenter and factory worker until he became a soldier. A tour of duty in the Far East revealed a world far different from his own. His military days literally acquainted him with his country’s racial, ethnic, and cultural makeup and changed forever his concept of “American.”
The GI Bill financed his entire college career. After declaring and rejecting majors in Business (lacked interest) and Art (passably talented, but color blind), he settled on History, in which he obtained BA and MA degrees. Passing up a doctoral program (he was 27, married, and had no job), he took a public school teaching position “until something better came along.” He discovered, to his amazement, that the calling suited him. Thirty years of teaching in a hill school immersed him in the contemporary Ozark culture, the setting of his stories.
After a brief flirtation with science fiction short stories, but gravitated to the mystery/suspense novels which he now writes exclusively. In 2003, he began serializing his novels on-line. In 2013, he published the first of his Richard Carter novels as an e-book. As of 2016, there are ten books in the series.
Today, he and his wife live on the Ozark farm his grandfather settled. His roots (four generations deep) are in the Ozarks. Using the culture, language, and mores of this “Bible Belt” region, he writes culturally immersive stories of obsession set amidst the small-town and rural life that he knows and loves.
Book Synopsis of The Daughter Minus Spoilers
Two days ago, Shara McGregor, the girl whose face adorns the junior college billboard on the highway, headed west to Springfield. A bright future lay ahead. After she completed her undergraduate degree, her mentor, former State Senator Willis Sparkes would pull the right strings to get her into a good law school. Despite her humble origins, the small-town girl seemed destined to be among the “movers and shakers.” However, Shara never made it to Springfield.
Yesterday, two counties away, three drunken teenagers found her car hidden in the woods near an abandoned cemetery in the Irish Wilderness area. Having lost the keys to their own car, they “borrowed” it to go home for another key. When a deputy stopped them, he found blood in the car—lots of blood.
Since the girl came from Blue Creek, Hawthorn County has jurisdiction. Deputy Richard Carter begins what he assumes will be a short investigation. After all, this wasn’t criminal genius at work—or was it?
The more he learns about the girl, the more Richard becomes emotionally involved. She seems one of his own, one of the “good people.” The obsessive-compulsive ex-Marine pours his soul into the investigation, spurred by an irrational fear that something similar could happen to his own seven-year-old daughter Mirabelle someday.
Except for Shara’s blood in the car, there is no physical evidence: no murder weapon, no crime scene, no body, and no one with a motive. There are no suspects and no motive. Everyone liked the girl, and she had no history of high-risk behavior. What happened to her shouldn’t have. She wasn’t that kind of girl.
Don’t imagine that everyone in a small town knows everything about everyone else. There are secrets. And there is evil to match anything in the wider world.
If Shara had a secret that cost her life, what was it?
Maybe it was someone else’s secret.
The Daughter is available on Amazon (as are the rest of the books in this series).
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