ED- The Eerie Digest loves to reveal breaking news about developments in the Literary field. We, therefore, are proud to present author Bruce DeSilva to all our readers. Bruce, you have worked for over forty years as a journalist before retiring to write novels full time. Your early years found you working for two of the most prestigious newspapers in New England. Please tell us about your work with them.
BD- The summer after I graduated from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, I took what was supposed to be a summer job covering the little town of Warren, R.I., for The Providence Journal. The plan was to earn a few bucks and then head off to Yale in the fall as a PhD candidate in history. But that is not what I did. You see, I’d always been an eclectic student. My course selections (not to mention my outside reading) had always flitted wildly from subject to subject — human genetics, Brazilian politics, urban sociology, constitutional law, Chinese history . . . and I was also, I must admit, something of a gossip. That first summer at The Journal, I discovered that newspaper work was ideal for an oddball like me. Anytime I found a new interest, I could talk my editors into letting me poke into it. And when I was done poking, I could tell thousands of people what I’d found out by writing about it. After a couple of years covering the news in that surprisingly interesting little town, I moved on to the city staff, working the police beat for a time before becoming the medical writer. But the medical beat was too confining for someone like me, so I didn’t stay in it long. For most of my 13 years in Providence, I wrote long-form narrative journalism on a wide variety of subjects and did a lot of investigative reporting. Among other things, I helped solve a murder, dug into the doings of the Mafia, and wrote about horrific conditions in state institutions for the mentally ill, homeless children, and the mentally retarded. I exposed many instances of government corruption including the looting of Medicaid and low-income housing programs, as well as voter fraud so massive that it probably determined the outcome of a mayoralty election. Over the years, an even 100 people (I once added it up) were indicted or fired as a result of my investigative reporting. There should have been more, but Rhode Island was a place that tended to laugh off corruption rather than do something about it. From there, I moved on to the Hartford Courant, first as a regional New England reporter and then as a national writer. The Courant even sent me overseas occasionally — once on a month-long reporting trip to China — back when fine newspapers in small cities still did ambitious work like that. Later, The Courant’s brilliant editor, Mike Waller, made me an associate editor and charged me with the task of improving writing and editing across all news departments. We were blessed with a very talented staff, and together we succeeded in turning The Courant into one of the best-written newspapers in America.
BD- Back in the 1960s, some of the finest long-form journalism in America was being written out of a cramped and cluttered corner of the Associated Press Building in Rockefeller Plaza. Reporters like Saul Pett, Hal Boyle, Hugh Mulligan and Jules Loh did brilliant work, with both Boyle and Pett winning Pulitzer Prizes. Together, this great collection of reporters was known as “Poets’ Corner” But by the early 1990s, the AP had inexplicably let this franchise slide. Many of the stars had retired, and what was left of the unit even went without an editor for more than a year after its legendary leader died. Bill Ahearn and Lou Boccardi, AP’s executive editor and president at the time, recruited me to rebuild it to its former glory. I supplemented a few fine writers I inherited (including medical writer Dan Haney and national writer Sharon Cohen) with some great in-house talent including writer Todd Lewan and editor Chris Sullivan. And I hired a few remarkable writers from the outside, including Helen O’Neill from The Hartford Courant and Michael Luo (now at The New York Times) from Newsday. Together, this team, which at its height included 25 writers and editors, specialized in national investigative reporting, magazine-quality profiles, and long-form narrative storytelling. Their work was extraordinary, making them worthy successors to the old Poets’ Corner. But toward the end of the last decade, new AP management seemed to devalue what we were doing and started breaking the unit up, gradually reducing it to just six reporters. That’s when I moved on to become the AP’s writing coach, responsible for training AP writers and editors worldwide. But soon I decided it was time for something new; so after 14 years at the AP–and more than 40 years in journalism–I took early retirement to write crime novels.
ED- You also worked for more than fifty newspapers as a consultant on writing, editing, and newsroom management. Please reveal the names of some of those papers.
BD- Back when newspaper companies could afford to pay consultants (few can anymore), I trained writers and editors at a wide variety of newspapers large and small. Big ones included The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Dallas Morning News, The Detroit Free Press, The Portland Oregonian, The Seattle Times, The Atlanta Constitution, and The Kansas City Star.. Small ones included The Ann Arbor (Mich.) News, The Cape Cod Times, and The (Westchester County, NY) Journal News.
ED- During the course of this work you earned many awards for the stories that you worked on. Please inform our readers what they were, and the stories associated with them.
BD- In the early years of my career, I won some national and regional writing awards. The one I’m most proud of is the New England Master Reporter Award, given in recognition of a body of work over a career. At the time, I was the youngest reporter ever to win it. But I’m much prouder of the dozens of national awards won by the writers of stories I assigned and edited. They include the Polk Award (twice), the Livingston (twice) the ASNE, the Michael Casey, the James Aronson, the Sidney Hillman, and the Batten Medal. I also edited two Pulitzer finalists and was part of a team that edited a Pulitzer winner. One of my favorites was the last big project I worked on at The Associated Press: an expose of the exploitation of child laborers, some as young as five years old, working in dangerous and unhealthy jobs in the gold mines of West Africa. For that story, the writer, a brilliant young woman named Rukmini Callimachi, was named a finalist for The Pulitzer Prize. During my years as an editor and a writing coach, I found much more satisfaction in the success of the writers I worked with than I did in the stories themselves. Helping to advance their careers was both a joy and a privilege.
ED- You are also a most sought-after speaker at professional journalism gatherings. Please name a few and tell us if this is something that you will continue to do, and if so where can you be contacted?
BD- I’ve spoken at the Nieman Foundation’s Narrative Journalism Conference at Harvard University, the National Education Writers Association, The Investigative Reporters and Editors conference, the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, the Knight-Ridder Training Program, the Associated Press Managing Editors annual meeting, and the Poynter Institute-sponsored National Writers Workshops in Hartford, Orange County, Portland, Seattle, Fort Lauderdale, Orlando, Minneapolis and Charlotte. I am currently a master’s thesis advisor at The Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. And now, in my new life as a novelist, I was a speaker at the big Bouchercon crime writer’s conference last year and will be on a panel at the Mystery Writers of America’s symposium in Manhattan in April. Yes, I’m still available as a speaker and can be reached at email@example.com.
ED- One of the other venues that you undertook was with the New York Times, reviewing crime novels in their book review section. And you continue to write several book reviews a month for The Associated Press. Now you have written a crime novel of your own. Please tell our readers about your debut novel, “Rogue Island” and the theme behind it.
BD- On the surface, “Rogue Island” is about an investigative reporter on the trail of a serial arsonist who is systematically burning down the neighborhood where the reporter grew up. But the novel is really about two other things. First of all, it is very much a novel of place–an evocation of 21st century life in the smallest state in the union. One of the many quirks of Rhode Island history is that no one can say for sure where the state’s name came from. One theory is that “Rhode Island” is a bastardization of “Rogue Island,” an epithet the God-fearing farmers of colonial Massachusetts bestowed upon the swarm of heretics, smugglers, slavers, and pirates who first settled the shores of Narragansett Bay. The state has a history of corruption that goes all the way back to a colonial governor dining with Captain Kidd, but it also has a history of integrity and decency that goes all the way back to its godly founder, Roger Williams. Those two threads are woven throughout the state’s history and are still present today. The tension between them is one of the things that make it such an interesting place. But that’s not all. Most crime novels are set in big, anonymous cities. There are also some very good ones set in rural areas. But Providence is something different. It is a claustrophobic little city where everybody on the street knows your name and it’s very hard to keep a secret. But it’s still big enough to be both surprisingly cosmopolitan and rife with urban problems. I strove to make both the city and the state not just the setting for the novel but something more akin to main characters. I never considered setting my story anywhere else. One reviewer called my portrayal of the place “jaundiced but affectionate,” and I think that’s exactly right. Secondly, the novel is also a lyrical tribute to the dying newspaper business. The main character, a reporter named Mulligan, is never sure how long he’ll have a job; and he’s in despair about the demise of the business he loves. This gives the book an additional layer of tension. And as the reader watches Mulligan doggedly pursue the serial arsonist, it becomes clear just how much is being lost as newspapers fade into history.
ED- Who is your main protagonist in this story and tell us something about him.
BD- Mulligan is a lot like me, except that he’s 25 years younger, six inches taller, and quicker with a quip. He’s an investigative reporter; I used to be. He doesn’t do well with authority; I do worse. He’s got a smart mouth; I get a lot of complaints about the same thing. He and I both have a strong but shifting sense of justice that leads us to cut corners and work with bad people to bring worse people down.
ED- Please list the many positive reviews and awards that are associated with this book.
BD- “Rogue Island” has been short-listed for the Mystery Writers’ of America’s Edgar Award and “Deadly Pleasures” magazine’s Barry Award, both in the best first-novel category. It has drawn raves from a who’s who of crime fiction royalty including Dennis Lehane, Michael Connelly, Harlan Coben, Ken Bruen, Alafair Burke, Thomas H. Cook, James W. Hall, Ace Atkins, Marcus Sakey, Otto Penzler, Peter Blauner and Tim Dorsey. For example, New York Times best-selling thriller writer Joseph Finder says: “Bruce DeSilva has accomplished something remarkable. He takes everything we love about the classic hardboiled detective novel and turns it into a story that is contemporary, yet timeless.” As for reviews, I have been astonished not just that they have all been raves but that there have been so many; because it‘s very hard for a first-time novelist to get reviewed at all. “Publishers Weekly“ called Mulligan “a masterpiece of irreverence and street savvy“ A starred review in “Booklist“ called the novel “definitely one of the year‘s best.” The Dallas Morning news said it “raises the bar for all books of its kind.“ The Washington Post called it “as good and true a look at the news game as you’ll find this side of ‘The Front Page.’” The Minneapolis Star Tribune compared the book to the best of the great Ross MacDonald. It’s also received rave reviews from The Associated Press, The Providence Journal, “Kirkus Reviews,” “Library Journal,” and a bunch of other print and online publications. I’ve been very fortunate.
ED- We also have learned that there is to be a sequel to “Rogue Island” titled “Cliff Walk,” and that these will usher in “The Mulligan Crime Novels.” This must be exciting for you. When will this next work appear on the market, and where can our readers find them?
BD – “Rogue Island” is available in hardcover at all the usual places including amazon.com, the big chain bookstores, and mystery specialty bookstores; and a paperback edition will be released in June. My agent has also negotiated deals with major publishers in France, Japan, and Russia. There is no firm publication date for “Cliff Walk” yet, but it should hit the market after the first of the year. That novel explores what happens when the two extremes of Rhode Island society — the Newport mansions and the (until recently) legal brothel business–collide. Meanwhile, I’ve made a small start on the third book in the series.
ED- Where can we find you online?
BD- My website: http://brucedesilva.com
My blog: https://brucedesilva.wordpress.com
On Facebook: facebook.com/bruce.desilva
On Twitter: twitter.com/brucedesilva
ED- Bruce, we want to thank you for your time with us and look forward to hearing more about you. Your genre is one that our readership thrives on, and we want to keep them updated with news about all upcoming events being generated by you and all your work being produced for their reading pleasure.</strong>
This interview first appeared in The Eerie Digest, a literary website. You can check out the rest of its offerings here.