Killer Nashville Founder Clay Stafford’s Thoughts About “Providence Rag”

Rag Cover 2Clay Stafford, author, filmmaker, and founder of the Killer Nashville conference, wrote this commentary on Providence Rag, the latest novel in my hardboiled Liam Mulligan series, to accompany a guest blog I wrote for the conference website:

“Madness and Media: An Ethical Exploration:

“Author Bruce DeSilva goes, not only into the mind of a serial killer, but into the court system designed to hold him in Killer Nashville’s 52 Weeks, 52 Guest Bloggers series.

“Never say never. That’s one of those things we all probably learn with age. Edgar-winning author Bruce DeSilva swore he would never write a story about a serial killer. But he did. Sort of.

“What he has written is a story that haunts you. What kind of person is safe for release and, if everyone knows a prisoner is a time bomb, is it right to release him? Or is the court system allowed to invent charges to keep certain people behind bars after they have served their time for the public good? Doesn’t happen? Yes, it does.

“This is one of the most intriguing and informative studies I’ve read in a long time and we couldn’t find a better author than Bruce DeSilva to fictionalize it. This story will make you think.

“I can see why Bruce DeSilva wanted to write Providence Rag, even if it is something he said he would never do. This is not a story about where do you get your ideas, but how do you exorcise them for your mind. Some stories such as this- haunting and ethical- need to find a voice.”

You can read all of the guest blogs, including mine, here.

Providence Rag is the third novel in my Edgar Award-winning series featuring Liam Mulligan, an investigative reporter at a dying Providence, R.I., newspaper. I hope you will purchase a copy from an independent bookstore; you can locate one in your area here.   If that’s not convenient for you, the novel, as well as the first two books in the series, are available in print, e-book, and audio editions here. 

 

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“Providence Rag” Featured on Cover of September “Suspense Magazine”

suspense magazine coverMy thanks to the great folks at Suspense Magazine for putting me on the cover this month and for including a fine three-page interview with me about Providence Rag, the third novel in my Edgar Award-winning series featuring Liam Mulligan, an investigative reporter for a dying Providence, R.I., newspaper.

The magazine is a print and online publication available by subscription, and if you like suspense, you ought to consider signing up here.

Meanwhile, here is the text of the interview:  

“Providence Rag” is your latest book and inspired by a true story. What was it about the story that inspired you to write the book?

 Six years ago, when I retired from journalism to write crime novels, I vowed I would never write one about a serial killer. For one thing, it seemed to me that we already had enough of them. Ever since Thomas Harris created Hannibal Lecter, novelists and screen writers have fallen all over each other trying to make the next monster more twisted than the last; and I didn’t want any part of that.

Craig Price Shortly After His  Arrest

Craig Price Shortly After His Arrest

Besides, after I researched and wrote a long non-fiction article about Craig Price, the butcher of Warwick, I never wanted to get that close to pure evil again. But for decades, the true story haunted my dreams. Price was only thirteen years old when he began butchering his neighbors in a Providence, R.I. suburb. He was the youngest serial killer in U.S. history—and that wasn’t the interesting part. When he was caught in the 1980s, Rhode Island’s juvenile justice statutes were antiquated. When they were written, no one had ever imagined a child like Price. So the law required that all juveniles, no matter their crimes, be released at age 21 and given a fresh start. Today, Price remains behind bars, held on a series of offenses allegedly committed on the inside. I have long suspected that at least some of those charges were fabricated, and he obviously has been wildly over-sentence for them. For example, he was given 30 years for contempt of court because he refused to take a court-ordered psychiatric exam. I wrote the novel to explore the legal and ethical dilemma the case poses. The result is an unusual crime novel in that the murders are committed and the killer is caught in the first 75 pages. The rest of the book is devoted to exploring this question: What are decent people supposed to do if the only way to keep a psychopath from killing again is to fabricate charges against him? No matter which side of the question you come down on, you find yourself condoning something that is reprehensible.

Your main character Liam Mulligan is caught in the middle of a very emotional situation; how difficult was it for you to explore those emotions?

As a journalist, I often confronted difficult ethical choices. For example, what should I do when I learn that conditions in a state institution are so medieval that residents are dying of diseases rarely seen outside of third world countries—and the only way to expose it is to gain access to the place by violating a sacred journalism rule against misrepresenting myself? (I chose to get the story by any means necessary.) But the dilemma posed by the Price case was the most troubling I ever encountered as an investigative reporter. Exposing the truth could force the state to set a monster lose to kill again. But allowing officials to fabricate charges is incredibly dangerous, because if they can do it to him, they could do it to anyone. My protagonist, Liam Mulligan, is also an investigative reporter for a Providence newspaper. As such, his first instinct is to report the truth. Forcing him to confront the consequences of doing that in this case tortured both of us. Sometimes, there is no right answer when matters of truth, justice, and public safety collide. Recently, a working journalist who read the novel asked me if he should dig into the truth behind the Price case. I told him I’d decided not to long ago, but that he should be guided by his own conscience.

Rag Cover 2“Providence Rag” is the third book to feature Liam Mulligan; how has he grown from book to book?

Creative writing teachers always insist that novels fail unless the main character changes in some fundamental way during the course of the narrative. They’re wrong. The late Robert B. Parker wrote 40 Spenser novels, and his private-detective hero was exactly the same guy from the first book to the last. The protagonist of Lee Child’s wildly successful Jack Reacher novels never changes, either. He’s always the Lone Ranger, the mysterious stranger who drifts into town, kicks butt, and moves on to the next town. But the things I’ve put Mulligan through have changed him. At the beginning of “Cliff Walk,” my novel about the wide-open Rhode Island sex trade, Mulligan believed that prostitution is a victimless crime—that if women want to sell their bodies and men want to buy them, it’s nobody else’s business. But as his investigation dragged him through the underbelly of sex clubs and online pornography, the things he found made him doubt everything he’d believed about both sexual morality and religion. With each novel, Mulligan grows older, sometimes wiser, and always less cock-sure about the wavering lines between right and wrong.

Is there one sentence or one scene in the book that you feel captures the essence of your writing?

In “Providence Rag,” I invented an early childhood for the killer, showing how he gradually evolved into the monster he was to become. On the first page, a little boy is torturing a grasshopper with a magnifying glass. I like the contrast between the violence of the act and the poetic beauty of the language.

 Your first book “Rogue Island” won the Edgar Award. Do you feel pressure with each new book to match that success?

 Pressure was having the city editor stand over me screaming for copy on the brink of city-edition deadline. Pressure was bolting upright from a sound sleep in the middle of the night, terrified that I’d spelled someone’s name wrong. Pressure was having a thug warn that things would “go badly” for me if I persisted in investigating his boss. I find, now, that being free to make stuff up is liberating and pressure-free. Besides, a novelist learns something new with each book, and I’m convinced my third is both better written and more textured than the one that won the Edgar and Macavity awards.

Is there a character in “Providence Rag” who ended up having a bigger voice than you originally thought he or she would?

My first two novels were written in the first person with the protagonist narrating his own story. But as I waded into “Providence Rag,” it became clear that its moral complexities required multiple points of view. As a result, significant portions of the story are written from the points of view of two of Mulligan’s colleagues, a one-eyed news photographer named Gloria Costa, and Edward Mason, the young son of the publisher who is learning the trade as a cub reporter. This made “Providence Rag” more of an ensemble-cast novel than I had originally envisioned.

 In your opinion, do you feel that a suspense/thriller fiction book should have an underlying moral?

 “Should” is too strong a word. Elmore Leonard, for example, is one of the best crime novelists of all time, but he rarely tried to do more than entertain. That said, as a reader I prefer books that use the popular form of the crime novel as a platform to address serious social issues and still have readers. I’m thinking of the work of George Pelecanos, Laura Lippman, and James Lee Burke, to name a few favorites. As a writer, I strive to be more like them. Each of my novels has a dominant theme. “Cliff Walk,” for example, explores the consequences of living in an era of ubiquitous pornography and sex-for-hire internet sites. And because Mulligan is a reporter for a dying newspaper, each novel chronicles the sad decline of the business he and I love.

 What scares Bruce DeSilva?

I can’t begin to describe the damage the decline of newspapers is doing to the American democracy. Network television news, never all that good to begin with, is being eroded by the same economic forces that are destroying newspapers. Cable TV news has morphed into a sewer of irrelevant celebrity news, shrieking talking heads, and warring propaganda machines. Most online news sites are no better, and the few that try to do an honest job aggregate most of their news from dying newspapers. As a consequence, we find ourselves in an era of misinformed citizenry, paranoid conspiracy theories, and the widespread belief that political opponents are traitors. Real reporting is expensive, and investigative reporting is especially costly. I see nothing on the horizon to replace newspapers as honest brokers of information.

 Did you have a personal goal for yourself when you starting writing fiction?

Because my wife, Patricia Smith, is a wildly successful writer—one of the few poets able to make a very good living–I faced no economic pressure when I retired from journalism. I approached the first novel as if it were a hobby to be pursed at my leisure. But after the first novel won awards and was lavishly reviewed, my agent and publisher clamored for the next one. Suddenly the hobby became a full-time job. Now I’m in the middle of a six-figure, three book deal; and just like when I was a reporter, I have deadlines again.

What can fans expect to see from you in the future?

 My fourth novel, “A Scourge of Vipers,” is finished and will be published next spring. In it, Mulligan explores the world of legal and illegal sports betting and the impact of big money on politics. I’m now working on the fifth. When that’s finished, my wife and I intend to a crime novel together.

Providence Rag is the third novel in my Edgar Award-winning series featuring Liam Mulligan, an investigative reporter at a dying Providence, R.I., newspaper. I hope you will purchase a copy from an independent bookstore; you can locate one in your area here.   If that’s not convenient for you, the novel, as well as the first two books in the series, are available in print, e-book, and audio editions here. 

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My Review of Reed Farrel Coleman’s New “Jesse Stone” Novel

BlindSpot_2-191-e1395860393867After Robert B. Parker died, his publisher commissioned TV writer Michael Brandman to continue Parker’s series of novels about Jesse Stone, the police chief of mythical Paradise, MA. The three books that followed were utterly forgettable.

Now the publisher has passed the torch to veteran crime novelist Reed ReedFarrel Coleman, who is proving to be an excellent choice. Check out my Associated Press review of Coleman’s first stab at it here. 

You can learn more about Reed and his work here.

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Who’s Reading “Providence Rag” Now? It’s Best-Selling Mystery Writer William Kent Krueger.

William Kent Krueger.  DoneWilliam Kent Krueger won this year’s Edgar Award for the best crime novel of 2013.  In my opinion, the honor was overdue, because he’s been writing some of our finest literary mysteries for years now.

Some of his books have also been New York Times best-sellers. If you haven’t read his work yet, trust me. You owe it to yourself.  You can learn more about him and his work here.

I snapped this photo of him last month at Killer Nashville, a crime fiction conference in  Kentucky.

Rag Cover 2Providence Rag is the third novel in my Edgar Award-winning series featuring Liam Mulligan, an investigative reporter at a dying Providence, R.I., newspaper. I hope you will purchase a copy from an independent bookstore; you can locate one in your area here.   If that’s not convenient for you, the novel, as well as the first two books in the series, are available in print, e-book, and audio editions here. 

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Who’s Reading “Providence Rag” Now? It’s the Queen of Romantic Suspense, Lisa Jackson!

Lisa Jackson DONELisa Jackson, a New York Times-best-selling author, is the most successful writer in the genre of romantic suspense.I snapped the photo last month at the Thriller Nashville crime-fiction conference.

You can learn more about her and her work here.

Providence Rag is the third novel in my Edgar Award-winning series featuring Liam Mulligan, an investigative reporter at a dying Providence, R.I., newspaper. I hope you will purchase a copy from an independent bookstore; you can locate one in your area here.   If that’s not convenient for you, the novel, as well as the first two books in the series, are available in print, e-book, and audio editions here. 

 

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“Original Sin” by D.P. Lyle: A Review

DPLyle3D.P. Lyle, award-winning novelist and practicing cardiologist, has a sinnew thriller in his series featuring police officer Samantha Cody. It’s a tense, intelligent tale well-told.

You can read the full text of my Associated Press book review here.

And you can read more about Dr. Lyle and his work here.

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Who’s Reading “Providence Rag” Now? It’s Mystery Author Jon Jefferson!

Jon Jefferson DONEJon Jefferson is half of the best-selling “Body Farm” mystery-writing team published under the pen name Jefferson Bass.  I snapped the photo last week at Killer Nashville, a great crime fiction conference in Tennessee.

Jon’s writing partner is Dr. Bill Bass, a world-renowned forensic anthropologist. You can learn more about them and their work here.

Providence Rag is the third novel in my Edgar Award-winning series featuring Liam Mulligan, an investigative reporter at a dying Providence, R.I., newspaper. I hope you will purchase a copy from an independent bookstore; you can locate one in your area here.   If that’s not convenient for you, the novel, as well as the first two books in the series, are available in print, e-book, and audio editions here. 

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Who’s Reading “Providence Rag” Now? It’s the Writin’ Doc, D.P. Lyle.

D.P. Lyle doneD.P. Lyle, a cardiologist by trade, has won the Macavity Award and been a finalist for the Edgar Award for his medical thrillers including the Samantha Cody and Dub Walker novels.

He has also served as a technical consultant to television shows including “Law & Order,” “CSI: Miami,” “Diagnosis Murder,” “Monk,” “Judging Amy,” “Cold Case,” “House,” and “The Glades.”

Doc was one of the first veteran crime writers to befriend me when, as an aspiring novelist, I began showing up at crime writing conferences, and ever since he’s been a warm and supportive friend. And I’m grateful to him for always including me on the faculty of Craft-fest, the training portion of the annual Thrillerfest conference in Manhattan.

I took the photo at the latest Thrillerfest in July.

You can learn more about Doc and his work here.

Providence Rag is the third novel in my Edgar Award-winning series featuring Liam Mulligan, an investigative reporter at a dying Providence, R.I., newspaper. I hope you will purchase a copy from an independent bookstore; you can locate one in your area here.   If that’s not convenient for you, the novel, as well as the first two books in the series, are available in print, e-book, and audio editions here. 

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The Tragic Genius of Robin Williams

williamsI tarried before writing about Robin Williams because his suicide produced such a melancholy in me that I needed a few days for the feeling to fade a bit in order to think about it clearly.

Robin had so much to live for. He had more money than I could ever dream of. (Rumors of financial difficulties were debunked by his agent.) He never had trouble finding creative work.

He had apparently been diagnosed with Parkinson’s, but Michael J. Fox has shown the world how to live with that disease with dignity and grace. Can’t you picture Robin incorporating it into his standup, turning every tick and tremor into a comedy prompt? The divorces must have been painful for such a sensitive soul, but he had been happily married for some years now, with a beautiful and intelligent wife and children.

I cannot imagine taking my own life–except, perhaps, at the very end, if physical pain should become too difficult to bear. Like Robin, I have much to live for. But depression is a terrible illness.

Robin Williams was never my favorite comedian. George Carlin was, both in life and in death. And I was never a fan of Robin’s movies. Many were heavy-handed message films. Perhaps because of the scripts, but probably because of Robin himself, the characters he portrayed were often cloying and maudlin.

good-morning-vietnam-645-75The exception was “Good Morning Vietnam,”  because director Barry Levinson had the good sense to chuck the script and let Robin improvise his rantings as an Armed Services Radio disk jockey in the war zone.

Comedic improvisation was Robin’s great gift. No one did it better. Not anyone. Not ever. Only Jim Carrey and Robin’s idol, Jonathan Winters, can be mentioned in the same breath, and they fell a distant second.

He was at his best when he was able to run wild. In his standup routines, of course. In “Mork and Mindy,” where a series of directors gave him free reign. And most of all in his many appearances on late-night talk shows, where his conversations with the likes of Johnny Carson and the others inevitably produced bursts of improvisational brilliance.

MorkMindyOne great moment out of many occurred toward the end of his astonishing appearance on “Inside the Actor’s Studio.” The host, James Lipton, asked Robin to explain why his mind worked so much faster than anyone else’s. Robin said he couldn’t explain it but could demonstrate it.

He rose from his seat, approached the audience, and took a pink shawl from a woman in the front row. With this as his prop, he proceeded, in rapid succession, to improvise six very different characters including an oppressed Iranian woman, the Iron Chef, and a car emerging from a car wash. You can find that segment here. But the entire hour-long broadcast is available on YouTube here, and I know you’ll love every second of it.

The mother of a drama student who was in the audience told me the ninety minutes that were aired represented only a fraction of a mind-blowing session that went on for an incredible five hours.

There is no question that Robin Williams was a rare sort of genius. I’m both sad and angry that he is gone. I miss him like crazy.

 

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Who’s Reading “Providence Rag” Now? It’s Best-Selling Thriller Writer Joseph Finder

Joseph Finder doneJoseph Finder is one of the top thriller writers in the business, and his latest novel, “Suspicion,” is a New York Times best seller. You can learn more about Joe and his work here.

Providence Rag is the third novel in my Edgar Award-winning series featuring Liam Mulligan, an investigative reporter at a dying Providence, R.I., newspaper. I hope you will purchase a copy from an independent bookstore; you can locate one in your area here.   If that’s not convenient for you, the novel, as well as the first two books in the series, are available in print, e-book, and audio editions here. 

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