Interview and Giveaway: author Rick Mofina visits the Dollhouse!
Thriller writer Rick Mofina has experienced enough adventure for several people. Don’t believe me? Check out his bio page at www.rickmofina.com and you’ll see what I mean. Prior to RT in April, I e-mailed Rick to see what the chances were of pinning him down for an interview. Turned out the chances were pretty good. It was the actual meeting up that was difficult. First, there were no quiet spots to just sit and talk. Then when we finally found a place, it happened to be outside on a second floor patio with the sounds of traffic all but drowning us out. As if that weren’t enough, we watched a steady stream of people pour out onto the patio. Later that day, I learned that the exodus was caused by a fire alarm.
So picture us sitting at a small table on the patio with excited, chattering people streaming past and horns, air brakes, and an occasional whistle filling the air. Now you’re getting the picture. Rick was a trooper, though. By the time the interview was finished, he was reduced to hunching over the recorder to answer my questions. For that, I thank him wholeheartedly. Thanks for being such a good sport, Rick.
Mona: What comes first – your character or your plot?
Rick: It’s a combination of both. I like to come up with a character and put them in a situation—a ‘what if.’ For instance, what if it’s an everyday, work-at-home mom facing a life or death situation. I take those two elements and work on the character and the situation.
Mona: Where do you usually find your inspiration?
Rick: Everywhere. I draw on my experiences as a former reporter. I also look at situations using basic human fears and try to draw a theme from that. We’re all afraid of losing a loved one, losing a job, someone finding out a deep, dark secret that could destroy everything, threats from outside that come out of the blue. For instance, you’re driving along enjoying your day-to-day life at the mall and maybe a killer escapes from prison and jumps into your car. And it just takes off from there.
Mona: Of all your characters, which one is your favorite?
Rick: I like them all, really. You hear this answer all the time from authors, but they’re like your kids or relatives. (laughter) Well, maybe not relatives. You like them all, there’s really no one favorite. They all have different pros and cons and I enjoy them all.
Mona: Which was the most difficult to write?
Rick: Sometimes the hardest ones to write are the antagonists, the villains, because I really want to make them well rounded as well. There’s no excuse for what they do, but you want to know their reasons. So whenever a horrendous thing happens, we always hear the same questions asked: Why did they do this? How could they do this?
These are the same questions I ask when I’m drawing or defining my villains to try to explain why or to understand why they did it. It does not excuse it or make it accepting, but it gives a fuller picture.
Mona: Who or what was your biggest motivator to start writing?
Rick: Grade school teachers, in the earliest grades that I can remember, they sat us down and said, “Everyone’s going to write a story. It’s going to have a beginning, a middle, and an end.” It just captured my imagination—it was magical. It’s stayed with me ever since.
Mona: I know teachers have a lot of influence over students, so last year I asked the authors if they’d had a particular teacher who’d had a great influence on them. How about you?
Rick: There were several. The one who comes to mind was a nun—I went to Catholic school and the teachers were nuns. And one nun was like a drill sergeant with grammar. She’d fill the chalkboards with sentences and then do an autopsy on the sentences. She’d slap her pointer on the blackboard, “Subject, predicate, subject, predicate, subject…” She had our desks numbered and called us out by our last names as though we were in boot camp for grammar. I remember, she was a tiny little nun and she wore a back brace that squeaked when she walked. She’d look me in the eye, right over her glasses, and say, “Mofina, one day you’re going to thank me for this.” And I do.
Mona: What author has had the biggest impact on your writing?
Rick: Maybe Ernest Hemingway, who I started reading seriously when I was in high school as a teenage boy and I didn’t really know his work. Because it was accessible in the sense that it was plain language, it was easy to read, and it introduced me to literature.
Then I went to James Joyce, which was the opposite end of the spectrum from Hemingway, the Russian novelists, then Faulkner, of course, was not an easy read. Steinbeck, as well, was plain language. So I’d have to say Hemingway, because he opened the doors for me to that plain style. It’s much like newswriting. He introduced me to others masters of literature.
Mona: Do you prefer writing stand-alones or series?
Rick: I’m going to cheat a little bit and say yes to both. I’ve only written one stand-alone. I’m writing the second stand-alone now. The first two books were meant to be stand-alones, but they emerged as a series. The pros of a series….you can grow with the character and you develop a readership. The pros of stand-alones….you can do whatever you want knowing you don’t really intend to come back to them again. So I do enjoy both, but to stay published, readers and publishers tend to prefer series, or continuing characters, at least.
Mona: When you want to get away from your own books and take a break, what do you read?
Rick: I read everything. I’ll read classic literature that I’ve always meant to read or revisit again. I’ll read stories behind the real works of the classics. Like Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. I’ve discovered a couple of books that delve into the actual case and the region of Africa that inspired that book. I really enjoy reading the biographies of writers from years ago. When I went to London for book business, I went to the Dickens museum. I sat in the writing room of Charles Dickens and sat at his writing table. I had the room to myself for ten minutes. There’s just something very cool and spiritual about that. I visited Joseph Conrad’s house and Edgar Allen Poe’s grave. That kind of stuff is fun. And last time I was in Hollywood, I went to the apartment where F. Scott Fitzgerald died. There’s something to be said about paying homage to the literary greats who have gone before us.
Mona: The old saying goes, “Write what you know.” What do you do when you don’t know something?
Rick: That’s a good question. I’m glad you asked that, because I think what happens for beginning writers, and I’ve experienced this myself, is that you are deceived into believing you don’t know anything. And I think what people think of when they’re told that bit of advice is that they have to have, or have to have lived, some kind of exciting life. But that’s not true. I’ll give you a story behind that. I had a chance to visit a poet who was well regarded and won many awards. I was quite young and didn’t know anything and I told him I didn’t know what to write about—I had no experience in life. He looked at me and said, “I think you do. You can write what you know. Have you ever had your heart broken?” I said, “Well, of course.” And he said, “Have you ever felt betrayed?” “Yes” And he said, “Have you ever felt unrequited love? Have you ever felt angry? Have you ever felt so mad sometimes you want to get back at somebody?” I said, “Yes.” And he said, “That’s what you know. These are universal feelings that all human beings have felt at one time or another. Just apply that.” And I was enlightened; I got what he meant. And that’s my advice to anyone else. When you write what you know, then you’re well on the way to setting the foundation to writing what people will understand, what they know, too.
Mona: Do you have a method for doing research when you’re looking for particular information? Your books are tense and packed with a lot of detail. How do you go about finding the details to use?
Rick: I do everything that I can. There is no substitute for the real deal. What I mean is, when you have the chance to visit a place, use it. When I was in London, I used what I could and put into my books what I needed, because it gives me the confidence to write solidly. For research, everyone will find their own way. The internet is good, of course. A tip that I would suggest to people is that if you think you have a character who is a nuclear physicist and you don’t know a thing about nuclear physics—you don’t even know what they think about—go to the library and get biographies where nuclear physicists will talk about their lives. Read one or two of those and then you’ll know their thought process. You’ll know the terms they use, what’s important to them. You don’t have to know about the subject, but you can pluck enough or prune enough or glean enough from that. And that would hold true for any profession. Get a detective’s autobiography; get a coroner’s autobiography if you can’t visit. There are ways around it, but remember to tell a human story. Lay out a human story about the people you’re writing about and then research what you need to research and only use what’s necessary to tell that story. My experience as a reporter is that you’re immersed in a situation that’s dramatic and you have so little time to absorb everything in the moment. From the way a mother who’s just lost her youngest child is holding the photo album, the way they show you the room—these are things you don’t forget. These are things you remember as being important, that you needed to know, and you want the readers to know. Also, when you come to a crime scene how detectives will push you away, how you feel the tension in the air, all of that sort of thing. Just remember the most dramatic things in your life or your friends’ lives and what was important at the time or what they remembered. Or even visit them and ask them, “Do you feel like talking about this? What was important at the time?” And there are books on every subject, about every human experience. The library and the internet are great resources.
Mona: If you were to change genres, what would you write?
Rick: Initially, I toyed with supernatural and horror stuff. I really grew up loving being scared to death. I am toying around with a sort of supernatural book and coming back to that or even a spiritual, as well. I don’t mean like religious spiritual, but sort of a supernatural spiritual that makes us wonder about the greater questions. Those stories are pretty good. The Sixth Sense, the movie itself, was really a spiritual book—a bit of a ghost story—but it had a spiritual message.
Mona: You said you started to enjoy writing in grade school, but when did you start writing seriously?
Rick: I think it was in high school. I did take creative writing courses and the teacher there was very helpful and guided me. And I consciously took typing in the ninth grade—I was the only boy in the typing class to type manually. Something told me if I was going to pursue this, I should learn to type. If I was going to be a reporter or writer, I should learn to type. So I learned to type and I used the school’s typewriters after class. I’d type up my short stories and mail them in. So in high school, I started to write seriously when I discovered a magazine published out of Boston that I could get in my hometown called The Writer. I couldn’t believe here was a magazine actually telling you the do’s and don’ts on writing your short stories and how to submit them. That was in the days of the SASE—self-addressed, stamped envelope. So I would send these little short stories off to magazines while I was in high school and I would get all these rejection slips. I made the mistake of throwing them out and now I wish I’d saved them—a whole suitcase full of rejection slips. Until I got one that said, “We’ve accepted your story,” and that did it. It changed my life. I got sixty dollars from a magazine in New Jersey and my dad couldn’t believe it. So I actually became a professional writer in high school.
Mona: So do you write full time?
Rick: No. I have two full time jobs—writing and a day job—because we live in uncertain times and I don’t want to roll the dice with kids. One’s in university and another is about to go to university so I play things pretty conservatively. Maybe someday…
Mona: Are you a plotter or a pantser?
Rick: Oh, I plot. Yeah, I plot.
Mona: How detailed do you get?
Rick: Anywhere from ten to sixty pages and I outline. A publisher purchases the outline, actually. And I use it. They know I have a road map of where I’m going and it makes them comfortable. And it helps me to have a map—it’s not the story, it often changes many times and so do the characters—but the general plan stays the same.
Mona: What’s the most difficult part of writing?
Rick: First drafts. First drafts are like drilling through rock. They’re very hard, it’s a blank page, even if you’ve got an outline you really have to know what each chapter, each scene, each paragraph, is meant to be. You have an idea, but to lay it all down is extremely difficult. I find, for me, the first draft is the hardest.
Mona: Do you have a crit group or crit partner who helps you?
Rick: I have a secret circle of readers and no one sees my work until I’m ready to show it to them. I’m a writer who has to get it all down first before I show it to anyone. I don’t write by committee. I know a lot of writers like to have it read during the process, but I don’t That instills a lot of doubt in me. I have to get it down and out of my system. Then I throw it at my secret circle of readers and they throw it back. They let me know where it’s weak, where it needs work, and where it’s okay. Sometimes I have different people read for technical purposes.
Mona: We all bring our own personal baggage from our families to our books. Did you come from a large family, small family…?
Rick: Small family.
Mona: If we were to ask them, “What type of a kid was Rick?” what would they tell us?
Rick: (Laughs) I don’t know. I’d like to sit on the opposite side of the table to hear that one. I don’t know.
Mona: Do you think coming from a small family helped encourage your thought processes, gave you time to dream or think?
Rick: My parents were dedicated working class. I mean dedicated in the sense that they worked hard. We came from pretty humble means and there was a strong moral compass. What I got from them was a good understanding of right and wrong, and to finish what you start. That gave me the backbone to go the distance. They bought my first typewriter. They bought me a textbook called The Writer’s Market in 1978, and they didn’t mind when I was up there just typing away. Even my brother knew I was up there at my little table typing away. To this day, my wife does everything so I can write. The kids understand that dad’s down in the basement writing or he’s got a day job and he’s writing or he’s on a trip. The family has always been supportive of everything I’ve done.
Mona: One last question. What does the future hold for you? What are your aspirations at this point?
Rick: My aspirations are….I do enjoy the writing life. It’s solitary, but the social aspects when you come to conferences like this and chat with people like you and chat with readers, it’s wonderful. And when you get e-mails from readers—you get a few letters from readers, but it’s mostly e-mails—it connects you with readers. Working with the publisher…when things are going right it’s great. It’s a solitary effort, then it becomes a team/community effort, so I feel blessed and lucky. I can’t believe I’m writing my fourteenth. I’ve got twelve published, the thirteenth comes out next year. The future…who knows. I hope I continue to write, maybe move into an early retirement or write full time eventually, and maybe travel more, meet people more. I do enjoy the trips very, very much. I’m quite shy and withdrawn usually, that’s probably why I gravitated to writing—you can chase something, but still remain anonymous. I liked the concept of that. I was not meant to be a rock star or movie star, that’s for sure. (laughs) If I can make people feel something on the page, I know it’s just an entertainment element, but I like to go as deep as I can for what the genre is and what I’m offering. And if you feel something, some readers let me know if something’s really connected with them, then I know I’ve taken it a little deeper. So I try to give a thousand percent. I put everything I can into it. I know you’re going to invest your money, you’re going to invest your time, and I want to give you the absolute best. You expect perfection. When people lay their money down, you better deliver, and I feel the same way about my work, I know we all do, all my fellow authors. They’re all totally dedicated, we all get it, we may all come to it from different points, but we all get there. And at the center of it is the reader, and it’s gotta work for them or we’ve failed. I feel I’m in a privileged position and I want to maintain that every way I can. And every time I hear from a brand new reader, “Never heard of you before, I’ve just discovered your books,” I say great, that’s what I’m aiming for.
Paperback Dolls would love to thank Rick for sitting down with Mona and sharing with us!
Rick Mofina grew up east of Toronto, in Belleville, Ontario, Canada. He began writing fiction in grade school. At age 15, he sold his first short story to a magazine in New Jersey. In his teens he hitchhiked to California and wrote a novel about the experience. He has held jobs ranging from working at a horseracing track to delivering cars to Florida, before he attended Carleton University where he studied Journalism, English Literature, and American Detective Fiction. Read Rick’s full bio