Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Entry # 124 - WRITERS TALK - John Reisinger, Maryland Mystery Author - Part 1

Background Notes:
John Reisinger is the author of a Roaring 20's Mystery series featuring Eastern Shore detectives Max and Allison Hurlock. His recent mysteries are based on real-life cases that occurred in the 1920's, as are his earlier works, Nassau and Evasive Action. In addition, John is the author of Master Detective, a well-researched book about Ellis Parker, his career as a detective, and his controversial involvement in the investigation of the infamous Lindbergh kidnapping of 1932. 

Master Detective has been published in both hardback and paperback, and has also been published in Chinese editions in both Taiwan and Mainland China. Timeframe Films, producers of films for both Nova and the History Channel is currently planning a feature film length version of the book. John is a former Coast Guard officer and civil engineer.    
His website is www.johnreisinger.com

Jan:    Thank you for taking the time from your busy writing schedule to talk about your work.  When did you know you wanted to be a writer? 

John:    Although I was an engineer in my real job, I wrote frequently.  After writing articles, reports and the like, I started writing longer pieces when my wife injured her hand and had to do therapy every night. I got my first publishing contract in 1995, but that publisher went out of  business.  I particularly enjoy writing. It gives me a chance to learn about history and meet interesting people. 

Jan:    Tell me about your newest book. 

John:    Actually you might want to know about my newest books.  Just released in November, Death at the Lighthouse, is a Roaring 20s mystery based on a real life murder of a Chesapeake Bay lighthouse keeper in his lighthouse. Much of the action takes place in Crisfield in its heyday. There are oyster packers, bootleggers, corrupt federal officials, the Coast Guard, and of course, watermen. Max and Allison also encounter Houdini, H.L. Mencken, Gaston Means, and J. Millard Tawes. A fun time is had by all, except the victim.
John:    My next book, Tyler Flanagan and the Crown of Mexico, is due out in e-book format in January. It is the start of another series based on real history. Flanagan is a first generation Irish immigrant who gets admitted to the Naval Academy during the Civil War, but gets assigned to leave the Academy and he is sent as a spy/diplomat to Mexico. The French have invaded, driven President Juarez from Mexico City, and installed an Austrian nobleman named Maximilian as Emperor. Flanagan’s job is to encourage Juarez to keep fighting and do what he can to undermine the French. Along the way he encounters a number of historic people. He almost faces a firing squad; he is kidnapped and thrown into a dungeon. He is threatened by a French general and attempts to seduce the Empress Carlota. It’s all in a day’s work for our hero with his gifts for blarney, misadventure, and self-preservation.

Jan:    You are best known for your Max Hurlock Mystery series set in the 1920’s and based on real cases from that era. What inspired you to write this particular type of mystery novel?

John:    After Master Detective came out, I was contacted by a retired doctor in Moorestown, New Jersey who had read the book. He was familiar with one of the cases I had written about and offered to show me the actual house where the locked room double murder had occurred. Well, I couldn’t turn that down, so off to the Garden State we went. With the additional information, I really thought the case should be written about in more detail than what I had included in Master Detective, but I didn’t think it was well known enough outside of New Jersey to justify a full nonfiction treatment, especially since it turned out to be a murder-suicide. Who would plow through a book to get to that conclusion? So I decided on a “based on a true story” mystery that would use the facts of the case but have a more satisfying ending.

John:     That book, Death of a Flapper got me thinking of other cases I had come across while researching Master Detective, and the Max Hurlock Roaring 20s Mysteries were born. As for the Roaring 20s, most of the good cases were from that era and you have all the great background of Prohibition, flappers, bootleggers, speakeasies, crime, and bathtub gin. 

Jan:    How you go about finding and researching real cases behind this series?  

John:    Most are cases I ran across while researching Master Detective. Other cases are from historic newspapers, and other sources. My wife is my research partner and we travel to different places. Whenever we’re in a new town we stop by the historical society and ask if they had any sensational crimes in the 1920s. We also try to visit true crime locations. For Death of a Flapper, we visited the present owners of the house where the double murder occurred and saw the actual room. 

For Death on a Golden Isle we visited the Jekyll Island Club several times, and for Death at the Lighthouse we obtained records and photos from the Tawes Museum in Crisfield. For Master Detective, we visited the Lindbergh house in Hopewell, New Jersey, and were granted access to all the case files and evidence at the New Jersey State Police Museum in Trenton. I also track down descendants of the people involved if I can. They sometimes have family photos or documents they are willing to share. People like to help and I like to let them.

Jan:     How would you describe your writing process?  How do you write and when do you write?

John:    With nonfiction, I try to write at least something every day, but this is often interrupted by the need for additional research. For fiction, I write in spurts. I’ll go for days without writing anything, then write for hours. I have only the most basic outline of the plot and story arc when I start; the story and the characters take on a life of their own and reveal themselves as I write.

Jan:    Tell me about the story behind the story of one of your novels, for example, Evasive Action.  How did you find this story and how did you access old records to research it?

John:    Evasive Action is based on an article I read about the real-life secret capture of a German U-boat and the British efforts to keep it a secret so the Germans wouldn’t know their secret codes had been compromised. One of the things they did was send the U-boat crew to a POW camp in northern Canada. The premise of Evasive Action is that the German POWs figured out what had happened and one of them escaped to try to get the word back to Germany, thus setting off a cat and mouse manhunt across Canada. It was sort of Day of the Jackal meets The Fugitive.

John:    For research, I got microfilm records of real POW escapes from the Canadian Department of Archives and contacted the libraries of several Canadian towns where the camps were located. I also corresponded with a German Luftwaffe pilot who was captured and sent to a Canadian camp and escaped six times! He was recaptured each time and went on to work for IBM developing word processing after the war. He filled me in on details I could find nowhere else, and even put me in touch with a Canadian who had been one of his guards.

Jan:    What have you learned from all your years of working with publishers that you wish you’d known from the start?

John:    Probably the biggest surprise was that just because you have a signed contract that does not necessarily mean your book will ever be published. My first publisher went to jail for gambling away author’s royalties in Vegas; my second went bankrupt just a few months after agreeing to an advance, and my third got fed up with the business and just quit “to write a symphony.” A later small publisher put Death of a Flapper on indefinite hold due to family problems.

And of course, another unpleasant truth is that you have no way of knowing if the sales figures on your royalty statement are accurate, that is, unless you want to hire an accountant to audit their books.

Jan:    I have more questions than we can explore today so we will continue your interview at 4 p.m. on Friday, January 11, 2013, for Part 2 - Entry # 125.

Special Notes:  
John Reisinger is a former Coast Guard officer and civil engineer, a background some might think unusual in a writer, but John disagrees. “I’ve always written reports, studies and proposals to transmit ideas, and by dealing with people and traveling to projects in places such as Canada, Germany, Greenland and Nigeria, I’ve been exposed to a wide variety of people and situations.”

John’s first published work, was an article in Engineer’s Digest about Arctic water storage while he was in the Coast Guard. Later, he began writing books that reflected his interest in some of the more obscure corners of history. John has been guest lecturer at Fairleigh Dickenson University, Washington College, and Johns Hopkins University.
Jan Bowman’s work has appeared in Roanoke Review, Big Muddy, Trajectory, Pen-in-Hand, Broadkill Review, Third Wednesday, Minimus, Buffalo Spree (97), Folio, The Potomac Review, Musings, Potato Eyes, and others. She won the 2011 Roanoke Review Prize for Fiction. Her stories have been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, Best American Short Stories and a story was a finalist in the “So To Speak” Fiction Contest. She is working on two collections of short stories and currently shopping for a publisher for a completed story collection. She has nonfiction work pending publication in Spring 2013 Trajectory and Pen-in-Hand. She writes a weekly blog of “Reflections” on the writing life and posts regular interviews with writers and publishers.  Learn more at:

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