Robert Dugoni appeared at the Velma Teague Library on his book tour for Murder One. He told us the Phoenix area was his last stop on an extensive tour. He spoke at the library, and he was speaking for the Poisoned Pen Conference over the weekend, ending the trip with a class on the craft of writing on Sunday. Then he was heading home to Washington state.
He did get to lay by the pool on Thursday, but it was a difficult trip. There were a number of changes in flights due to all the storms in the south. One night, when his flight was canceled, he was faced with sleeping in the Charlotte Airport. The hotels had no vacancies at 1:30 in the morning. When a Holiday Inn van came around, he jumped in with a bunch of other people. The others put their baggage in the bag, but Bob knew they'd have to wait to unload their baggage, so he held onto his. He hurried into the hotel, and, even then, was fourth in line. He kept hearing the question, "Do you have a reservation?" When he got to the front, and was asked, "Do you have a reservation," he pleaded with the line from the Steve Martin/John Candy film, Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, "Have mercy." They found him a room, and he went to sleep at 2:30, only to get up at 5:30 to get to the airport. He had a 7:40 flight to Hilton Head. Then, that was canceled, so he had two flights out of Charlotte canceled.
Dugoni said he never thought he'd write a series. When he wrote the first David Sloane book, The Jury Master, he never thought he'd see the character again, so he tortured him. Then, when it hit the New York Times Bestseller list, his editor told him they wanted more David Sloane. Murder One is the fourth one in the series. It's had fabulous reviews, and even Publishers Weekly liked it. He's had a number of starred reviews. Bob did a large amount of research for this book.
According to Dugoni, the book you see isn't what he started to write. He starts with a big idea, but he takes it down to the personal level. You used Wrongful Death as an example. He had a friend whose child died due to a toy. So, Bob researched the toy industry. But, Wrongful Death became the personal story of someone who wanted justice, and contacted David Sloane, the lawyer who couldn't lose, to try to get justice.
With Murder One, Dugoni researched the Russian mafia, since it's very big in Seattle. He thought Sloane was going to take it on. He researched about the fall of Russia, the drug trade. The Russian mafia viewed capitalism as a legal way to steal. Four or five months after he started his research, the catalog copy for Robert Dugoni's new book came out. Bob read it, and contacted his editor, telling her that's no longer what the book is about. His editor, who is also his publisher, said, talk to me. Bob said the book is a personal story about a woman who lost her daughter to a drug overdoes. She asks Sloane to go after the Russian mafia in a civil case. Dugoni told his editor he saw it as a cross between Presumed Innocent and Basic Instinct. Afterward, Bob thought, "Oh, my God. What did I just do?" The book has to be a criminal trial book. Sloane is a civil lawyer. He doesn't do criminal law. Robert Dugoni doesn't do criminal law either.
There was a capital murder case being tried in King County just at that time. It was a horrific crime. A young man slaughtered two women and two children. It was unusual for King County to have a trial with four capital murder charges because Washington is a liberal state. The senior prosecutor was a friend of Dugoni's, and he was able to get in to watch the trial. For three months, he sat in the back and watched it. A criminal case is like a play on stage. When the jury is out, everyone is quite casual, with jackets off, and talking together. When the jury comes back in, jackets are on, ties are up, and it's business-like. Dugoni recommended that the audience see a criminal trial if they get the chance. Part-way through the trial, the judge called counsel into his chambers and asked, who is the guy in the back taking notes. He was told it was a novelist who wasn't writing about that case, but needed information.
Eventually, Bob was able to go to lunch with Brad Porter, the homicide detective from the case. He walked him through the investigation. Then, he said, "But, you know, you really should talk to a CSI homicide detective. So, he toured the Washington Crime lab. Then, someone said, "But, you know, you really should talk to Kathy Decker, a man-tracker." She can look at vegetation, and tell when someone walked through it. She worked on the Green River case. So, he met her at Starbucks. She was quite tan, and he asked her if she played sports. No, she had her tan from working outdoors. She spends a lot of time looking for bodies. She can look at footprints on a lawn, and say how long they've been there, the weight of the person who made them, and, if there are overlapping footprints, who stepped there first.
Then, she said, "But, you know..." The investigators would have brought a dog. So, she hooked him up with a sergeant, a man nicknamed Ziggy, who handles canines. And, he told him he should see the dogs in action, so he was to meet them at midnight at a warehouse. The dogs actually scent skin cells. They can even scent people in water. Then, when Dugoni thought he was done at 2 a.m., he was told, "But, you know...," you need to talk to a ballistics expert.
So, Bob was to meet the head guy for the Washington State Criminal Lab at a Starbucks. And, he got there, and waited, and finally he saw a guy who looked about 14 watching him, and he asked, "You, Bob?" He was in his forties, but when he got out of school with a degree in English, he couldn't find a job. So, he got a low-paying job with the criminal lab, and it turned out he was good at blowing things up and shooting things. He has a talent for simulating shootings. But, he told Bob there was a lot of stuff they needed for the lab, so he was hoping Bob would put the stuff in his book so they could get it. There were so many people that helped him with the research for Murder One.
Even with all that help, Dugoni still had to find a way to get David Sloane into criminal court. Then he realized this is the fourth book in the series, but really a sequel to Bodily Harm. David is coming out of grieving. He connects with Barclay Reid, the attorney he was up against in Bodily Harm. Now, she's a mother who lost her duaghter.
In thirteen states there is a "Drug dealer liability act." You don't have to show why a drug dealer is responsible for a death, just that the guy deals heroin, for example, and you can go after him. But, Washington doesn't have that law. Barclay has been lobbying for the legislature to pass it, but the system fails her. So, she goes to David, the attorney who can't lose, and asks him to sue in civil court. Before he can take action, the drug dealer she blames ends up death, and all evidence points to Barclay. She insists that Sloane take the case, and he agrees to defend her.
This is the story Dugoni sent his editor, and then he waited. Finally, he got a phone call saying it was great. Murder One has received great reviews. But, Bob's favorite came from a blogger in Washington who said the book is a cross between Presumed Innocent and Basic Instinct. Dugoni is happy with the book, and happy he didn't shy away from criminal court.
One question from the audience referred to the man-tracker. They wanted to know who she was teaching her skills to. Dugoni said she's part of the search-and-rescue team in Washington. Homicide there is divided into six divisions. It takes 1200 hours of time in class and working before you can be certified as a man-tracker. It's a job that is mostly finding bodies. And, sometimes the bodies have been dead for decades, as in the case of the Green River killer.
Dugoni modeled the homicide detective, Kinsington Rowe, in Murder One, on Brad Porter, the detective that helped him. He's contemplating doing a second series. He'd like to bring back Kinsington Rowe. He also had the chance to meet Washington's only female homicide detective, and she was honest, telling him how no one wanted to work with her. If he does that second series, he'd do two books a year.
Bob has started another book, but it's hard to write on the road. That book would be out in June 2012. It's another David Sloane. This time, though, his publisher made him work from an outline. That book will be Jake's story, the story of Sloane's son. He realized they have parallel lives. Both Jake and David watched their mothers die violently at a young age. He's going to deal with the psychological and legal elements.
With Bodily Harm, Dugoni took a leap of faith that his readers would follow him. Other authors told him not to kill off Sloane's wife. But, Dugoni never intended to write a series, and he doesn't ever want to write the same book over and over. He won't cheat the reader with a cheesy ending. Every book has to stand on its own, and he doesn't want readers to say they could predict the ending. He wrote Bodily Harm when he himself was dealing with grief because he had lost his father that year. Everyone has to deal with grief sometime, and he wanted his character to have to go through the same thing. In that book, Sloane showed that he could be vulnerable, angry, rage, and want revenge.
Asked about writing time, Bob said he doesn't follow a certain schedule; he just writes. He starts as early as he can, and just goes, without setting limits. He may go until 3, when it's time to pick the kids up. He's a father of two who are involved in sports, and he enjoys sports. In the evening, he'll work on Facebook and Twitter.
He said his characters do talk to him. He might go through a book forty times. He views it as a blank canvas for an artist, and each time he goes through it, the details become clearer. He didn't see at first that Jake and Sloane were leading parallel lives.
In closing, asked about the writing classes, Bob Dugoni closed by saying this weekend he was teaching a class on creative pageturners, how to maintain suspense. He said the characters need to entertain, not the writer. The number one purpose of the writer is to entertain.
I have been a library manager/administrator for over 30 years, in Ohio, Florida, Arizona, and, now, Indiana. Winner of the 2011 Arizona Library Association Outstanding Library Service Award. I am a contributing Book Reviewer for Library Journal, Mystery Readers Journal, ReadertoReader.com and VibrantNation.com. Winner of the 2009 and 2010 Spinetingler Awards for Best Reviewer. First Fan Guest of Honor for Desert Sleuths Chapter of Sisters in Crime, Write Now! Conference.
It's an honor to be asked to review books, and I'm grateful to all the publishers, publicists, and authors who send me books. Thank you. Reviews will appear on my blog if I've had a chance to read, and finish, the book. If I do not finish a book, I won't review it, and I will not respond to emails asking when, or if, I'll be reviewing a book.
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My Oct. 19, 2009 blog provides full disclosure that I only receive review copies of books, with no other compensation. All review copies are marked as such. If there any any questions, please feel free to contact me.