I had the absolute pleasure of interviewing Richard Schwartz, author of The Underdog Detective Series, published by Mascot Books. Pearl River Mansion is the second book in the series, and already has garnered impressive reviews from readers all across. His first book, Two Dead and Counting, was hailed as ‘…An auspicious series starter that blends murder, bad medicine, and screwed-up family dynamics…’ by Kirkus Reviews.
It was pretty surreal to have Richard answer some of my questions especially because thrillers are my go-to-favourite genre, and hearing him talk about his writing process, the idea that led to this series, and how much research goes into it, was enlightening to say the least!
Before we dive deep into the interview, let’s get to know the author:
Richard Schwartz, a lifetime resident of Jackson, Mississippi, practices law at Richard Schwartz & Associates, one of the largest plaintiffs law firms in the state of Mississippi. He earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from Millsaps College and a juris Doctor Degree from the University of Mississippi School of Law in 1981. He served as Assistant City Prosecutor for the City of Jackson for ten years, and the City Prosecutor for Ridgeland for two years. Richard stays actively involved in the community and participates with numerous charities, especially those related to children.
About the book, Pearl River Mansion:
Detective Jack Kendall and his assistant, Stacy Young, receive a disturbing call that opens the door to a missing persons case that has tugged at the heartstrings of Mississippi and the entire nation. Now Jack and Stacy hold the key to the most shocking, complex, and emotional case of their careers, and they are all in!
As the only heir of Joan Chandler, Tyler Chandler stands to inherit everything a man could want, including Pearl River Mansion—a 450-acre, post-Civil War estate that sits at the end of one of the many fingers of the Pearl River. Tyler’s mother makes a game out of controlling people by trading on her wealth, but Tyler refuses her money—which always comes with strings—and struggles to make it on his own, trading instead on his intelligence and exceptional good looks. But he’s not as good at the game as she is and finds himself trapped in a marriage that infuriates his mother.
It is a destructive battle of wills, and just when Tyler believes he’s winning, fat intercedes… And for the second time in her life, Joan finds a purpose for the alligators that have kept her well away from the water’s edge—and the stakes keep rising.
- Tell us a little about your book
Pearl River Mansion is a thriller in which a very young child disappears. The search for the child reveals crewel deception, family disfunction, and even murder. It takes place in the deep South, primarily on an old antebellum estate, which contains many secrets, some of them deadly. Expect lots of twists and turns, and a shocking, but immensely satisfying ending that will leave the reader to contemplate one unanswered question.
- As an attorney, how much of your writing is inspired by your real-life job?
A lot. In my business I represent the underdogs of society from large insurance companies who, without help, would absolutely take advantage of them.
You often see the worst of people in my business, and this pattern is clearly reflected in my stories, but, like me, detective Jack Kendall has a passion for helping those who, through no fault of their own, find themselves at the mercy of those who seek to harm them for their own purposes.
- Did you always want to become a writer?
Yes. When I was six years old, I wrote down all the accomplishments I wanted in life. One was to own a large law firm. I’ve accomplished that. One of the other goals was to become an author. At a very young age and throughout my life, I have imagined stories that I’d love to publish. I have now published two books, Two Dead and Counting and my newest book, Pearl River Mansion.
- When did the idea of your book come to you? Did you know it would be a part of a series?
The ideas for most of my stories come to me in twilight sleep. When I awake, I do my best to jot them down.
No, I didn’t know that my first book, Two Dead and Counting… would become a series, but the two main characters, Jack and Stacy, were clearly not finished working together. Besides, I’ve always enjoyed reading books where I already knew something about the characters.
The relationship Jack and Stacy developed in the first book surprised even me! Together, they make an entertaining and dynamic team, as you will see carried forward in Pearl River Mansion. People often ask if there will be a romance between them. You’ll have to read the book to find out!
- The characters in your book always have a lot of depth and richness to them, how do you execute it so brilliantly?
As a writer, I don’t map the entire story from the beginning. I decide on the crime and who’s going to commit it. I ask myself a series of questions for each character: rich or poor; how do they dress; are they content, angry, moody, happy, arrogant, or depressed, and then I look through images on the internet until I “see” a picture of the characters I visualize in my mind. This helps me visualize their mannerisms and helps me create vivid, life-like characters.
It’s a simple but powerful technique. Sometimes, as I talk about the stories I’m writing with friends and family, I share the pictures, which helps them to see the exact same characters I do, and that helps us collaborate on plot points or ideas along the way.
- The setting of your book, and its scenery is quite visceral, making the readers picture every scene and live through them vicariously: how do you incorporate the details? How much research goes into it?
Research is important, as is giving the reader enough details for them to visualize the setting in which the story takes place. This happens along the way, bit by bit. I’ve never been one to linger too long on infinite details. Just enough… because my scenes move quickly. If you skip a paragraph, then you’ve probably missed something important.
- Have you started working on the third book in the series?
Yes, Operation Commander in Chief. Jack begrudgingly assists a United States Senator with a touchy situation, which draws the attention of the President, who later calls upon him for a mission of his own. Unfortunately for Jack, it’s the President prerogative to place people in dangerous situations when he feels it’s necessary, which will happen in this third book of the series. The question I have, and don’t yet have the answer to, is whether Jack and Stacy will survive this difficult case.
- What’s the most difficult part about writing a thriller? How do you ensure your readers are invested right from the beginning?
I normally begin with a short but shocking scene. Often times, it’s forgotten because the story that follows begins in a completely different place, and yet that first scene is important. There is a foreshadowing there, a hint about something that will come up again somewhere in the story.
As for writing a thriller, a writer must always be mindful of keeping the suspense moving forward, leaving clues, doing what’s unexpected. That’s fun for me because I usually allow the characters to do what they will. Once they have been fully developed, they often do things I don’t expect. There have been times that the suspense was so intense that I’ve had to get up from my desk and walk around because I couldn’t write fast enough to see what was going to happen next! That’s when the best and most exciting things happen.
- Lastly, do you want each book to stand on its own, or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each book?
I absolutely want each book to stand on its own as a completely rich and satisfying reading experience, and yet there are rewards for reading the other books in the series. There is deeper knowledge that you gain about the characters, and a “knowing” that you’ll have when certain things are mentioned, a history that you understand because you’ve read the other books.
Either way, it’s my goal for each story to stay with the reader long after they turned the last page.
Thank you Mascot Books and Chris for the lovely opportunity!
To know more about the series, click here.
While you’re here, you may want to check my interview with Aanchal Malhotra, Sanam Maher & Faiqa Mansab.