Today I get to share my space with the super talented author R.P. McCabe. I recently read his novel Thick Fog In Pacheco Pass, which is the first in his Charlie Caldwell Crime Series, and I can’t wait for the next one! Here’s a piece of my review:
This book takes readers on a journey of self-discovery, mystery, romance, and drama. There are unexpected twists that kept me guessing throughout. The characters and setting felt so real, it was like I was living the story along with them.
Enough from me. Let’s meet the man behind the words:
Mr. McCabe’s 2012 debut novel, Betrayed, attracted both national and international attention rising in the U.S. to #8 in Amazon’s promotional Mystery – Thriller category and making it to #40 on Amazon’s Mystery, Thriller & Suspense list in Germany for English language books, garnering strong reviews and solid reader support. Mr. McCabe has been interviewed on nationally syndicated radio shows including WGCV radio from Washington, D.C., and WCIT from Lima, Ohio. Feature articles about Mr. McCabe have appeared in major publications such as AOL Finance, Kiplinger Review, Business Insider Magazine.
Connect with R.P.:
Set in tiny Divina, California in 1972, the novel begins the saga of Charlie Caldwell, a returning Vietnam Vet with a chip on his shoulder and plenty of baggage from the battlefield jungles of Vietnam and host of demons from his youth that have followed him into adulthood.
Charlie arrives on the scene only to discover Miranda DeCosta has been murdered. Death, as Charlie has so cruelly learned, cheats one out of any opportunity to set life on the correct path.
Charlie has come to Divina, where he grew up, bent on confronting Miranda DeCosta over her part in the event that has defined and destroyed every romantic relationship he has ever entertained.
Questions about Miranda’s unraveling life and violent murder gradually invade Charlie’s consciousness. Bits and pieces of seemingly insignificant information begin to nag at him causing Charlie to question whether the man locked behind bars and charged with her murder is, in fact, the real killer.
Join Charlie on this life altering journey as he takes his first baby-steps toward reinventing himself, solves the question of who really murdered Miranda DeCosta and discovers another unforgettable woman who will reshape his life.
Why did you decide to set this story back in the early 1970s?
I came of age, grew to young adulthood, during the 50s & 60s. I lived through and witnessed how our country was torn apart by the Civil Rights Revolution, the Feminist Movement and the war in Vietnam. In 1966 I was drafted into the US Army and Vietnam took on a more personal impact. I was against a war I was stuck in the middle of.
When I sat down to write Thick Fog In Pacheco Pass, I was about to venture into a new genre for me, crime series. One of my goals as a writer, whether a stand-alone novel or a series such as this Charlie Caldwell series I have created, is to bring my readers something more than story. One of the ways I deal with that aspect of construction is to weave the backcloth of history into my work. Though I have only published two novels, I have been a writer since the 80s. I was a feature writer during the 90s for Enterprise Magazine. It was a small regional rag that didn’t survive the digital age. I’ve published many articles and stories. One hallmark of my writing has always been to ensure my readers come away either having learned something they didn’t know or having been reminded, in some historical sense, of lessons perhaps forgotten.
America is in terrible upheaval once more. As a writer, I have the opportunity to share with readers, in a non-confrontational way, what price we pay for repeating the mistakes of history. Instead of beating you over the head with my personal political beliefs, I can subtly remind readers, while they enjoy what I hope is a fun and engaging adventure, what the consequences of the mistakes we make as a nation lead to.
The Charlie Caldwell Crime Series will traverse the landscape of American History beginning in 1972. Sprinkled through these stories will be the sounds of the music of a time, the taste of the foods, social upheaval and changes in our moral outlook, favorite movies and TV shows as well as key political events of the time and how those events impact my characters. Each new novel will progress through time until on the evening of my final written words I do a face-plant into my laptop with an empty glass of good red wine next to me, having departed for my journey into oblivion.
Such a great answer!
I loved Charlie Caldwell right from the start. Please share a bit about his character and your creation process.
When I consider story construction, character is critical. I’m an avid reader. My favorite stories always center on characters drawn that I can relate to: real people. Real people have flaws and faults. We make mistakes and say silly things, make poor decisions, which we, and the people we love, suffer for. I wish it weren’t so, but I’m afraid that is the truth of it. Since this is to be a long running series, I wanted a good guy you could care about, but also a person you could relate to. People might know a real Charlie Caldwell. He is a good guy. But he screws up, has bad attitudes, is unsure of himself; he has a short temper but he is also kind. He is paradoxical (good grief someone is going to blast me for getting uppity with my vocabulary.) You’re okay if he happens to like you or love you, but look out below if you piss this guy off. So I have a character that begins to resemble a real man that we could all like, but that we want to take aside and say, “Hey, Charlie…cool it. We’re trying to be your friend. Take a risk and let us like you.”
You get my drift. My characters are very real people to me. It is my opportunity to play Creator. I breathe life into these characters. The trick is to make you…and others…say to me, ”I loved Charlie, right from the start.”
You perfectly captured life in a small town, particularly back in that time period. Did you draw on any personal experiences in your writing?
I grew up in a small town. And I’ve lived in several small towns in my life. There is a characteristic similarity about small-town America that is frighteningly universal. I am, I believe, a keen observer of the human condition. And I’m fortunate to be possessed of the faculty for being able to see history in the moment. An interesting anecdote: I love Garrison Keillor. And I will swear to you that Lake Wobegon was the town I grew up in. It is every small town I have ever been in. I am convinced I was one of his main characters and my parents were the town crazies (Mine might actually have been! The McCabes were fun people.).
I tell this story because I have set this fictitious little community, Divina, California, near the small community in California where I grew up. The character names are ethnic to match the demographic of that geographic location. Already I’m receiving emails asking if certain characters are who someone thinks they might be. Another reader assures me she knows who all but a few of the characters are in real life. That would be a feat in as much as I have not been back to the place in forty-five years and there isn’t a single character in this novel that is based on any real person. Interestingly, I’ve received similar email from up state New York. The guy is convinced I’m writing about the town he grew up in. I have another from Georgia and yet another from Texas and one from Utah.
I’m calling this the ‘Lake Wobegon effect’ as homage to Keillor. But if this story and these characters feel to people that it is about them and their little town, maybe I’ve struck the right chord?
Being from a small town myself, I’d have to say – absolutely!
Tell us about your process for naming your characters.
The name of my protagonist and key ancillary characters are very important to me. I choose their names once I know where a story will be set. I figure I have two options: Characters can be totally foreign to the setting, in which case I am free to choose any name or ethnic background I want, or characters are local in which case there are demographic considerations. One could make many arguments about this point but this is my rationale.
I spend a good deal of time deciding on the names for key characters. It helps me a good deal to begin to see the physical person come to life. Names are strong drivers for me. Not infrequently, minor ancillary characters show up as a story progresses. I don’t spend nearly so much time with them. They generally feel like a certain name and that’s the name I give them. Kind of a fun thing to be able to do.
Do you outline your novels first, or take an idea and run blindly?
My process is conceptualization. I have a sense of progression with a storyline but nothing more. I am an adherent to the Robert Olen Butler philosophy of writing from the subconscious in sensory sequence. In order to do that, you have no choice but to proceed by following your characters through the door. I write in cinematic view and attempt to report to you…in a creative and dramatic way I hope…what my character sees, hears, smells, tastes. I try to understand their reactions and talk about that: how they feel about things and people and circumstances. I try to capture their pain and fear and hatred and love and joy.
It makes for a fairly visceral style of writing. I frequently have difficulty in condensing those experiences without forfeiting critical sensory experiences my readers need. But that is the beauty of the rewrite, isn’t it. We get to see it and re-see it until we see it correctly…one hopes.
What is it about the Crime/Mystery genre that attracts you as a writer?
The possibilities for setting and stories in this genre are endless. And I think if one hones his or her skills, this is a genre that will allow a writer to produce new stories with reliable frequency. And I, as much as any reader, enjoy keeping up with the adventures of characters I come to like. I mean, check out the mileage Clive Custler has gotten out of Dirk Pitt. And what about Robert B. Parker’s great characters, Spencer and Jesse Stone? We could go down the list. This is a great genre. And by creating a series, an author has the ability to build audience, which is no small feat. I have great hopes readers will be demanding of me to get the next Charlie Caldwell novel to them. I should be so lucky.
I have turned my debut novel, Betrayed, into a crime series with a different twist. The Colin Craig character, who was a key ancillary character in Betrayed, has gone on to become Colin Craig, protagonist, in the sequel currently being written, Itsy Bitsy Spider. The twist is, Colin is a good-guy criminal like his uncle Wally Stroud in Betrayed. The plot concept here is…the good-guy criminal has to keep from being caught. I plan to carry this series forward as well with new criminal acts for which we do not want to see Colin caught.
Thick Fog In Pacheco Pass is the first book in what will be a series. You’re now writing Slaughtered, which will be book #2 in this series. Can you tell us a little about that book? When can we expect to see it published?
I moved a bit ahead in the previous question in discussing series, but as a context it works, so let’s leave it and discuss Slaughtered. This novel is based on a live cold case murder that took place in a tiny San Joaquin Valley community in California back in 1973. When you come to the end of Thick Fog In Pacheco Pass, I have written a Prologue to Slaughtered along with the first chapter of the new novel. I’d rather your readers have to receive that Introduction to Slaughtered the same way you did; by reading Thick Fog first.
This murder was brutal in nature and has never been solved. It occurred in the town I grew up in and I learned about it from news clippings my mother sent to me while I was living in Denver, Colorado in the early 70s. Frankly, I’d forgotten about it until my parents passed away seven weeks apart between February and April 2000. In executing their estate, I came across a file of old news clippings my mother had saved about the murder. About two years ago I became curious what happened, who did it? When I made a few calls, I discovered it was an unsolved cold case. When I came up with the Charlie Caldwell crime series I thought of this murder case.
Through my attorney I made inquiry of the California law enforcement authorities in charge of the case files and made a request for them to work with me on the development of this novel, to which they have agreed. Research is underway and interviews with homicide detectives involved in the case are planned for this summer (2013). For this logistical reason, and other writing obligations, a specific publication date for this novel has not been set. I plan for a 2014 release, but this novel could well develop twists and turns neither the law enforcement agencies nor I can foresee. Clearly, there are far reaching possibilities (and consequences) for this Charlie Caldwell adventure to go well beyond the bounds of a novel. I really believe Slaughtered has the potential for me of Truman Capote’s, In Cold Blood. I am taking the development of this novel very serious.
Very cool background!
I know from experience that series writing is quite different than writing stand-alone novels. What, if anything, have you found more challenging in writing the second book? Has anything been easier?
It is easier in the sense that I know who the main players are going to be. I have thought a great deal about how I manage a true story in a fictional novel. But if you have ever read any of Margret George’s wonderful novels or David McCullough, you will find a beautiful, artful blend of fiction wrapped together with non-fiction for a genre I will call, faction. Perhaps that is what this second Charlie Caldwell novel will end up. In any case, it will be Charlie, et al, engaged in solving a new murder mystery. Along with exploring this horrific crime, there was a lot of history going on in 1973 and 74 that will impact our cast of characters. Divina will grow and change as will everyone in this story. I rather enjoy the prospect of watching these people live through these times. I think it’s going to be seriously exciting.
Where would we be most likely to find you on a rainy Sunday afternoon?
I have a large double chair that my two King Charles Spaniels, Fanny and Emma can snuggle up in along side me. There is nothing kinder in life than a chilly, pouring rain outside pounding the surface of the Sea of Cortez while my girls and I sit quietly listening with the fireplace glowing, a lap blanket across my legs, a great novel in my hand and a bottle of good red wine within reach so I don’t have to move.
Sounds like the ideal day!
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Standing before my big gas stove, deep frying fresh oysters for a small group of close friends I love, all huddled `round slurping the oysters down as fast as I pull them off, debating the latest political brouhaha in Washington; Fanny and Emma being surreptitiously fed a share while the culprit thinks I’m unaware. A great cd of arias or a robust Yo-Yo Ma cd playing so loud in the background we can all just be heard above the den of music. Someone continuously pouring our glasses full of an excellent Cabernet. Oh yes… we need one friend pissing and moaning to put on Jimmy Buffett. It’s Five O’clock Somewhere! Sort of a mad, crazy opera of our own making.
Both of R.P.’s novels are available in print and Kindle format on Amazon:
I hope you’ll take the time to connect with R.P. and explore his fictional world.
Thanks for reading.
Tags: author interviews, Betrayed, Charlie Caldwell Crime Series, Crime Fiction, crime fiction authors, Crime Fiction Series, Fiction Based On True Crime, Life In Small Towns, Mystery Authors, mystery series, Naming Characters, Novels Set During Vietnam War, Novels Set in 1970s, R.P. McCabe, Thick Fog In Pacheco Pass, Vietnam War