Posted in Author Interviews

Author Interview: Robert McCaw

Robert McCaw has been a math major, Second Lieutenant in the Army, and a lawyer (for over 40 years). The common thread that motivated him through it all was a love of solving complex puzzles. When he first visited Hawai’i, he fell in love with the place. Repeated visits to Hawai’i allowed him to pursue another interest – astronomy. With a second home in Hawai’i and intrigued by the richness of the land and people, he studied the culture, history, and language of the region.

He was still actively pursuing his legal practice when he first began to write. His first novel was completed only after retirement though, when he was able to dedicate more time to it. And just like that, he found something else he loved to do. His first novel, Death of a Messenger, introduced Hawai’ian Chief Detective Koa Kāne, whose adventures continue in Off the Grid and Fire and Vengeance. The series is one of the most unique and interesting mystery ones out there.

The latest Koa Kāne mystery, Treachery Times Two, releases on 4 January 2022. You can check out the review of the book, which is one of the best in the series, here. Ahead of its release, we interviewed Robert McCaw and got his thoughts on writing, publishing, the home of Koa Kāne, and a preview of what to expect from the upcoming book.

Rishika S.: Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Robert McCaw: As an army brat growing up around the world, I had opportunities early in life to experience cultures other than my own. As a young adult, I graduated from Georgetown University as a math major, served in the US Army as an artillery officer, and, upon leaving the military, decided upon a legal career, earning my law degree from the University of Virginia (UVA).  In retrospect, I’ve come to understand that the intensity and professionalism I experienced in the Army and at UVA Law became the foundation upon which I built a formidable legal career.  Coincident with my chosen profession, I had the opportunity to visit Hawai’i, where I became fascinated with the Islands’ geography, history, and culture.  Over the years, I went back time and time again before establishing a second home on the Big Island. For more than twenty years, I made it a point to travel Hawai’i’s back roads and absorb its unique topography ranging from lava moonscapes to snow-covered volcanic summits.  I “talked story” with real Hawaiians and generally fell in love with this complex Pacific “paradise.”  And, now, I pour all that fascinated me into the Koa Kāne series of mystery novels.

Rishika S.: You have written four books in the Koa Kāne series. Tell us a little bit about how this series came to be, especially the inspirations behind the setting and the character of Koa.

Robert McCaw: The more I learned about Hawaiʻi, the more I felt compelled to write about the “real Hawaiʻi,” far from the tourist haunts of West Maui and Waikiki. My law practice involved litigation and criminal law – with lots of factual investigation – and I have always loved mysteries. So, I decided to share my love of Hawaiʻi through detective stories and thus created the character of Koa Kāne, Chief Detective of the Hilo, Hawaiʻi police force. He is a pure native Hawaiian with his own personal criminal backstory. His backstory makes him unique, motivates his compulsion to hunt down killers, and explains his fear that a perp might outsmart him as he had once outwitted the police.

Rishika S.: You’ve got a new Koa Kāne book coming out soon – can you tell us a little bit about that?

Robert McCaw: Treachery Times Two (January 2022) weaves together two stories. In one, Koa Kāne’s criminal past comes back to haunt him. The other involves an effort to sabotage Deimos, an American military superweapon under development at the Pōhakuloa Army Training Area in the saddle lands between the Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa volcanoes on the Big Island. In the first story, events force Koa to revisit the circumstances of his own crime as, step-by-step, his carefully constructed cover-up unravels until another man is falsely accused. Koa must ultimately face the possibility that an innocent will go to prison for a crime that Koa committed. The second story throws Koa into the midst of an FBI espionage investigation. The deeper Koa digs, the more he realizes the possibility that the Feds are not telling all they know.

Rishika S.: What do you love the most about the Hawaiian culture?

Robert McCaw: I have a special affection for the spoken Hawaiian language, which is lyrical and quite beautiful. I think of it as a recovered gem. In 1896, after the US takeover of the Islands, the territorial government banned the use of native Hawaiian in schools and government offices, and many Hawaiian elders recall being punished for speaking their native language in these settings. According to the University of Hawaii Foundation, in 1985 – some 90 years after the government banned Hawaiian in schools – only 32 children in the Islands spoke Hawaiian. Fortunately, there’s been a renaissance in all things Hawaiian in recent years, and the Hawaiian state constitution now protects the study of this musical language. Today, people throughout the Islands speak their native language.

Rishika S.: Let’s talk a little about writing in general. What was the final push that made you decide that it was time to write that first novel? And what was the experience like?

Robert McCaw: The genesis and ultimate publication of Death of a Messenger, the first Koa Kāne novel, is somewhat complicated, beginning some twenty years ago. That’s when I first started writing fiction. Back then, I had an extremely active law practice and wrote only intermittently, grabbing a few hours a week while traveling or on vacation. Only when I hung up my shingle did I get serious about finishing and publishing the first story, which had incubated for more than twenty years. My mother and my wife Calli were instrumental in encouraging me to get over the finish line, and for that, I’m most grateful.

Rishika S.: Has the experience changed over time? In what way – good and bad? And what drives you to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) day after day?

Robert McCaw: Lots has changed over time. Foremost among those changes was my transformation from legal writing – where the author has little control over the facts – to novelist where I could make up the facts to fit the story I wanted to tell. Over time, my imaginary characters became ever more real, growing and evolving like real people. With experience, I began to “see” scenes like they were on a movie screen playing in my mind. Lastly, the writer’s tools have gotten better. The Scrivener software I now use allows me to reorder scenes effortlessly, and Grammarly goes far beyond early spell-checking programs. And, the “read aloud” feature of Word is a marvelous proofreading aid.

The book-selling process in today’s world brings both joy and pain. Publishers, large and small, expect authors to play a significant role in promoting their books. As a result, I meet fascinating people and am privileged to engage with readers, something I love to do. On the other hand, while necessary in our virtual age, social media is a royal pain.

Creativity drives me to the keyboard. There is something immensely satisfying about crafting a story that excites readers and hopefully leaves them with a better understanding of the setting’s people, geography, and history.

Rishika S.: Can you tell us a little about the ‘business behind the creativity’ regarding getting published, working with agents and publishers, and your thoughts on the practical stuff involved after the writing?

Robert McCaw: Getting published is easy. Anyone can self-publish an e-book on Amazon with little or no cost. The difficulty is in achieving quality publication and a system of distribution. Quality requires careful editing, formatting, proofreading, and cover and jacket design. Distribution beyond e-books requires a publisher, distributor, provision for shipment and returns, and lots of publicity. One can purchase these services but only at considerable expense.

Finding a publisher who will assume most or all of these costs and pay a royalty is tough. In this endeavor, an agent can be invaluable. But make no mistake, both finding an agent and securing a publisher are daunting, especially for new authors. I got lucky that Mel Parker, an experienced and highly qualified agent, Pat and Bob Gussin at Oceanview Publishing, a terrific specialty publisher, and Fauzia Burke of FSB Associates, one of the best literary social media publicity firms in the country, had faith in my work.

Rishika S.: What is the one thing you love and one thing you hate about being an author?

Robert McCaw: I love plot twists and hate proofreading.

Rishika S.: What advice would you give to aspiring authors?

Robert McCaw: Be authentic. Write what you know. Find a trusted editor to improve your work. And lastly, don’t give up.

Rishika S.: Is there anything else you would like to share with our audience?

Robert McCaw: I have long believed that to reach your highest potential, you must do something you love. That may be even more true for writers than in other fields of endeavor.

If you’d like to pre-order Treachery Times Two (and you definitely should if you like mysteries and thrillers), you can do so from many different stores here.

As always, thank you for stopping by The Book Review Station; we hope you enjoyed reading the amazing tips and insights from Robert McCaw.

Posted in Author Interviews

Author Interview: Robert J. Harris

Scotland author, Robert J. Harris (born in Dundee, settled in St. Andrews) has been a bartender, a game creator, and an author (among other things). Having co-written novels and short stories with Jane Yolen, including Queen’s Own Fool and the Young Heroes book series, Harris had his first solo novel – Leonardo and the Death Machine – published by Harper Collins in 2005. His latest novel is A Study in Crimson (read its review here), where he reimagines Sherlock Holmes in 1942 London.

So, without further ado, let’s jump into discussing writing, publishing, and everything else with Robert J. Harris.

Rishika S.: Tell us a little about yourself.

Robert J. Harris: I am a Scotsman married to a fabulous American lady. We live in St. Andrews, Scotland, where we met as grad students and have three grown-up sons. My wife Debby became a published author while I was creating my very successful board game Talisman. Later, our friend Jane Yolen took me under her wing and made a writer out of me. I enjoy a good cigar, a fine whisky, and listening to the Blues. My sporting activities consist of highly competitive croquet and petanque (French boules).

Rishika S.: What are the genres you love reading and that you enjoy writing?

Robert J. Harris: As a teenager, I read almost nothing but science fiction. As a student, I branched out into classic Russian and American literature. Later still I finally discovered Dickens, Wilkie Collins, and other great writers. Most recently I have been reading classic Scottish authors Scott, Stevenson, Conan  Doyle, and Buchan. Like any civilized person, I enjoy a good mystery and am absorbed in the novels of Fred Vargas and Christopher Fowler.

I consider myself to be a writer of adventure stories for all ages, now mostly for grown-ups. I feel I am following in the tradition of the four Scottish authors mentioned above, to whom I should add Alistair MacLean.

Rishika S.: Is there one (or two) of your books that you absolutely loved writing (or that’s closest to your heart)?

Robert J. Harris: My second novel, ‘Will Shakespeare and the Pirate’s Fire,’ was a real pleasure, as I immersed myself in Shakespeare’s plays while writing it. That was a very enriching experience and I felt inspired all throughout the writing of the novel. Aside from that, my favorite is always the current one, in this case, my second Sherlock Holmes novel ‘The Devil’s Blaze.’

Rishika S.: Who are your favorite authors, and what have you learned from them that you have tried to imbibe (or successfully imbibed) in your own writing?

Robert J. Harris: My first writing was done in collaboration with my great friend Jane Yolen. From her, amongst other things, I learned the importance of interior landscaping, making the personality and history of the main character part of the texture of the novel. My favorite mystery writer is John Dickson Carr often called the master of the impossible crime. He inspired me to create impossible crimes of my own, such as the activities of an invisible thief in ‘Artie Conan Doyle and the Scarlet Phantom,’ and the two mini locked room mysteries that feature in ‘A Study in Crimson.’

Rishika S.: Who are your favorite literary characters and who are the ones you most dislike, and why?

Robert J. Harris: The best characters are to be found in Dickens. My favorite is Sam Weller in ‘The Pickwick Papers.’ On the other hand, it is very hard not to dislike intensely Little Nell in The Old Curiosity Shop.

Rishika S.: What do you like the most and hate the most about the characters of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson as they were originally created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle?

Robert J. Harris: I like the fact that there is a spark to their relationship and that Watson is occasionally able to score a point off Holmes by puncturing his vanity. Holmes is sometimes rather mean to Watson, but that too is part of the charm of the stories and there is never any doubt of the affection and respect they feel for each other.

Rishika S.: Tell us the one thing you love and one thing you hate about the process of writing.

Robert J. Harris: I love it when I am on a rush of inspiration and the words are flashing through my mind faster than I can type. On the other hand, there is the odd day when I stare at a blank screen and can’t think of what comes next. Best thing then is to go away and do something else for a while.

Rishika S.: You have worked on books individually and also as a co-writer. What is the biggest positive and biggest negative difference between the two?

Robert J. Harris: It’s very stimulating to toss ideas back and forth with another author and to hear them come up with ideas you hadn’t thought of yourself. There’s a lot to be learned that way. Writing by yourself gives you great freedom but doesn’t come with the security of having somebody else to blame.

Rishika S.: Tell us a little about what it’s like being married to another author. How do you help each other out and drive each other up the wall (if at all)?

Robert J. Harris: It’s great to have my own personal editor here in the house to give me advice and encouragement. That said, Debby is my most demanding editor, sometimes to the point of actual cruelty.

Rishika S.: Which of your past books would you say is your best work and why?

Robert J. Harris: A number of people have told me that ‘A Study in Crimson’ is the best novel I have written to date. Who am I to argue?

Rishika S.: What are some upcoming projects you’re working on as an author?

Robert J. Harris: I have just completed a second Sherlock Holmes novel (The Devil’s Blaze: Sherlock Holmes 1943). I am currently working on ‘Redfalcon’, the third of my Richard Hannay Returns trilogy which began with ‘The Thirty-One Kings’. For the future, I have in mind a medieval murder mystery and two cinema-related detective novels set in the 1960s.

Rishika S.: Tell us a little bit about the games you’ve created.

Robert J. Harris: Talisman is based on a game I made at high school in which the players are all teachers out to become head of the school. When I started playing Dungeons & Dragons at university, I had the idea of changing that game into one where the players are warriors, wizards, etc. seeking to become the ruler of a magical land. I later created another fantasy game Mythgardia which has a long and complex history. I self-published a limited edition of this and am still hoping to find a proper publisher.

Rishika S.: Are you working on any new games?

Robert J. Harris: No, I’m too busy writing novels, and I already have some games to offer around.

Rishika S.: Any books that you would recommend emerging writers as a ‘must-read’?

Robert J. Harris: That’s a bit of a tall order. I can recommend a mixed bag of books by authors I am friends with, which are favorite books of mine by favorite people. I know that they have all had their struggles and yet have produced these marvelous stories.

  • The Mysteries by Lisa Tuttle (genre-bending detective story)
  • Dark Lord: The Teenage Years by Jamie Thompson (hilarious teen fantasy)
  • Walking Mountain by Joan Lennon (wonderfully imaginative tale)
  • The Dark Side by Anthony O’Neill (lunar murder mystery)
  • The Unscratchables by Cornelius Kane (a dog and cat detective team investigate brutal murders in Kathattan)

Rishika S.: What’s the one piece of advice you’d give someone trying to cut it as an author on each topic – the activity of writing and on the publishing industry as a whole?

Robert J. Harris: Don’t be afraid to write badly. Get a flow going so that you write your story through to the end. Then you can go back and polish it. Second, don’t be discouraged by rejection, and don’t get too caught up in the reasons publishers give for rejecting your work. These are sometimes quite random.

Rishika S.: Would you like to share anything else with our readers?

Robert J. Harris: If they go to www.quantumfridge.org.uk they will find a series of comedy podcasts co-written and produced by myself and my friend Alan McFadzean and performed by our marvelous cast The Peak Performance Players. The shows are:

  • Watch the Skies! (eccentric scientists protect the Earth from alien invasion)
  • The Adventures of Saffron Star (space opera with a glamorous heroine)
  • Jack Standish the British Lion (two-fisted spy stories)
  • Backlash (the president of a newly created country comes up with various schemes to finance his miniscule nation)

We hope you enjoyed this insight into Robert J. Harris. To know more about him and his other works, you can check out his website at http://www.harris-authors.com. You can also follow him on Goodreads here. As always, thank you for stopping by The Book Review Station and reading this author interview.