Happy Thursday everybody, I hope you’re all well! Today, I am pleased to welcome AR Simmons to my blog to take part in a Q and A session. I recently read and reviewed Bonne Femme and if you haven’t seen it already, you can do so by viewing it here.
1. For those who aren’t familiar with your books, tell us about your works and your latest release?
My books are mystery/suspense stories featuring Richard Carter, an ex-Marine carrying considerable emotional baggage from his experiences in Somalia. Without providing a spoiler, I can tell you that events in Bonne Femme, the first novel, kill his dream of a career in the FBI. As you might guess, that doesn’t keep him from becoming an investigator of sorts, although not the kind he hoped to be.
I had no intention of writing a series while writing Bonne Femme, however, an interesting dynamic developed between my two protagonists. I wanted to follow their evolving relationship, and realized that it was best to move them to the Ozarks, where I live. (Write what you know is the rule, isn’t it?) The trials and tribulations, the successes and triumphs of the life partnership that developed between them, along with a setting of which I have intimate knowledge, make them complex and real people. It’s a cliché to say that readers will care about them, but I believe that’s true, especially if they follow the stories in order.
Each story takes place roughly a year after the preceding one, but this is not a mini-series family saga. Yes, the life that they share is important in each story, but the novels are all “stand-alones.” The crime, case, or mystery is always the story. Each story is also about a specific obsession, whether it be a sexual predator’s fantasy, personal ambition, or revenge.
I set the stories after Bonne Femme in the rural Ozarks where I live because I know its people, history, and culture. I hope no one is thinking about shoeless hillbillies distilling moonshine and smoking corncob pipes. No, it is simply small-town life in an area where people go to “get away from it all.” With our transportation and mass media, no place in the industrialized world is a cultural island any longer. Furthermore, Jill brings enough sophistication to ground the stories firmly in the modern world.
I don’t know if this is the appropriate place to mention it, but I think readers may appreciate rating information before investing time in the books. They are adult themed, but contain neither explicit sex, nor overly-graphic violence, and only enough profane language to make the dialog believable. Think prime-time television.
In my latest release (Call Her Sabine), Richard investigates the case of a missing coed in the almost total absence of clues indicating that anything untoward has actually happened. Unlike Richard, the reader knows at the outset that Charlie Fouts has been abducted. This story is a two-part medley: a straight-forward mystery (Richard’s investigation), and a psychological thriller. Charlie tries to discover who is holding her captive, all the while trying to fight off her mind-numbing despair so that she can devise a way to escape.
2. I recently read your novel ‘Bonne Femme’ and I absolutely loved it, where did the idea come from?
On the cover of Bonne Femme, you can find “A Tale of Betrayal and Dark Obsession.” That description summarizes my inspiration for the story. Maybe this is not a guy thing to admit, but I was thinking about relationships and how difficult and awkward they can be sometimes. Before we meet “the right one,” we fantasize about her (or him). When we think we may have found the right one, many things can go wrong. (I’m a little uncomfortable here. I’ve never put this into words before.) The quickest way I know to mess up a good thing is by some sort of betrayal, even if it is only betraying a confidence. Now, let’s take that idea up several notches. Let’s make it a serious betrayal. Can trust betrayed ever be regained? That was the seminal idea that produced the story.
I paired a second idea with it, something that is a recurring theme throughout Bonne Femme. It’s this quote from Mark Twain: “Life does not consist mainly—or even largely—of facts and happenings. It consists mainly of the storm of thoughts forever blowing through one’s mind.” That also is what the story is about.
3. Richard Carter (from Bonne Femme) has suffered slightly from his time in the Army. Is this loosely based on personal experiences of your own?
Only vicariously. I was rear echelon. However, I have spoken with veterans from WWII through Afghanistan and Iraq. I know people suffering from PTSD (not all of them soldiers). I can tell you this: There is a callousness that is almost required in order to do one’s job as a soldier. If you think about what we ask them to do for us, you will realize that we are putting them not only in harm’s way physically, but also psychologically. The things Richard remembers, the guilt he feels and the naïve bewilderment he experiences are real. I was just the sort of naïve soldier he was. In my service, I saw first-hand how life becomes cheaper and how easily cruelty can be donned in an all-male society when the entire population around you is seen as “other.”
Richard says in one of the novels: “War changes a man, and never for the better.” I believe that, for I have seen it. My personal experience (a half-hour mortar and rocket attack), however, hardly qualifies me as a combat veteran.
4. Did you always know you wanted to write suspense and mystery novels?
Actually, my first foray into writing was history, and my first love in literature was science fiction. I still love those genres. In fact, while I am writing a book, I only read history. I tried writing science fiction short stories, but I probably didn’t take enough time to be brief. I really admire short story writers.
I’ve read mystery/suspense my whole life: Arthur Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie, Dashiell Hammett, Earl Stanley Gardner, Jonathon Kellerman, James Lee Burke, Tami Hoag, Patricia Cornwell, and Tony Hillerman are just a few of my favorite authors. My training is in history, so research is my expertise. I think that makes mystery a natural fit. As far as suspense is concerned, who doesn’t enjoy a good scare as long as one can exit by closing a book?
5. Your biography shows us your journey into writing (after serving in the military and teaching) do you think you’ve found your calling in life?
No. Teaching is my calling. I am an amateur writer in the original sense of the word: I write for the love of it. No one could pay me enough to put in the hours it takes if I didn’t love it. In a sense, writing is derived from one of my main strengths as a teacher, I tell stories and pose questions with the dual motives of entertaining and provoking thought.
There is nothing I enjoy more than hearing from someone who has thought enough about one of my stories to let me know what they think.
6. Do you have any upcoming projects you can tell us about?
Yes. In April, we’ll be releasing a new mystery, “Devilry” (RC #7). A young deer hunter discovers two bodies in the woods, while a man seeking the source of a wildfire stumbles onto a gruesome scene of torture. Hawthorn County is too small for this all to be just coincidence. After “Devilry,” we begin beta reading and copy editing “Road Shrines,” the story of a serial killer with a thirty-year history of mayhem.
7. Any person that visits my blog gets asked this question, how do you like your Tea? Mine’s milk and two sugars.
Well, I’m an American male from the Ozarks, so creek-bank coffee is more my “cup of tea.” I do enjoy unsweetened iced tea, but we are talking about proper tea, aren’t we? If I should ever have the pleasure of taking tea with you, I’ll have one sugar and pretend that I know how to behave myself in polite society.
About the Author
I was born in Chicago where my mother’s family (recent German immigrants) lived. Dad was a country boy from the eastern Missouri Ozarks. After moving back to the hills, we worked a subsistence farm. My home today is on land cleared from the native forest by my grandfather. I worked as a carpenter and factory worker before entering the army at nineteen. I served a tour in the Far East. If I ever grew up, it was then.
My service experience gave me three important things: an appreciation of the cultural diversity of my country, an introduction to a world far different from my own, and the G. I. Bill, which paid for my education. In college (I was able to get Bachelor and Master degrees in four years), I majored in history and met a wonderful teacher from New Zealand who made my writing bleed. I refer to the red ink she used for corrections.
I also met my wife and partner in college, where we had Art and Spanish classes together. We’ve been friends for a long time. She’s my first beta reader, my first copy editor, my illustrator, and my muse. She can be brutally honest. In fact, she told me (correctly) that my original draft of Bonne Femme was both over-crammed with scenes of dubious value, and totally unbelievable. While writing, I sometimes think Richard and Jill as us. Although I’m hardly Richard, she is close to being Jill.