Interview with Harley Mazuk

101044HarleyinTuscanyHarley Mazuk was born in Cleveland, the last year the Indians won the World Series. Harley grew up in Shaker Heights, Ohio, attended Hiram College and spent his junior year at Elphinstone College, Bombay University. He received his B.A. in English literature. Retired from a long career in U.S. Government Service, Harley now writes full-time. He and his wife Anastasia live in Maryland, where they raised two children. Harley’s passions are writing, reading, Italian cars, and his family. He and his protagonist, Frank Swiver, share a love of California wine. Visit Harley Mazuk online at: www.harleymazuk.com

Tell us about your new release.

51ZieRgHZBLWhite with Fish, Red with Murder is the story of Frank Swiver, a private eye, who accepts an invitation to a wine tasting on a private rail car, and brings along his secretary and lover, Vera Peregrino. The host, General Thursby, wants Frank to find proof that a friend whose death was ruled accidental had been murdered. Thursby suspects Cicilia O’Callaghan, widow of his late friend and an old flame of Frank’s. But Thursby takes two slugs through the pump, and the cops arrest Vera for his killing. Frank finds himself trapped in a love triangle as he spends his nights with Cici, and his days trying to find Thursby’s real killer and spring Vera. But soon he realizes his relationship with Cici is poisonous, and he risks losing both women . . . and maybe his life.

What led you to write this book?

Being a bit of a rebellious youth, I never expected to reach old age. So as my 50th birthday loomed, the occasion called for a celebration. I decided to write a murder mystery game for my 50th birthday party. I asked the guests to dress in their best 1940s fashions, at a minimum fedoras for the gents and stockings with seams for the dames. I wrote scripts and assigned roles. There was plenty of wine, and everyone had fun. Some years later, I began to entertain serious thoughts about becoming a writer when I retired. I took the old scripts and dossiers I had written for the murder mystery characters out of the drawer and began to turn them into a novel, White with Fish, Red with Murder.

Which is more important characters or setting?

When you think about the elements of fiction–plot, setting, character, point of view, theme—setting is perhaps first among equals. Everything begins with, grows out of, starts with place. A story has to know where it is in time and place. Characters develop in and are shaped by their environments.

I didn’t think this way about the primacy of setting when I wrote most of White with Fish, so in my book, characters are more important than setting. It’s a character-driven novel.

Are any of your characters loosely based on people you know in real life?

They are, loosely. Some are composites of characters I’ve known; with some I relive incidents from my life that I think have or had emotional or dramatic impact. A good example is that I’ve never been a private eye, and I’ve never lived in San Francisco. Yet there’s a lot of me in my P.I., Frank Swiver. Frank is a pacifist, a Roman Catholic, and he drinks too much wine. I was a conscientious objector, I’m a Catholic, and I drink a lot of wine, too. So we share a consciousness, a philosophy, and an approach to life. That makes it easy for me to write Frank’s part. Other characters in the book share traits with people I’ve known, and we’ve lived through incidents that I recreate it the book.

What do you hope readers take away from your work?

This book is an “entertainment,” as Graham Greene used to say about some of his works. So I hope readers enjoy it and have fun. I’d like to transport readers to a slower paced, less technical world, in which the detective doesn’t rely on technology, lab results, or computers to solve the crime, but rather on his courage, his persistence, and work ethic. I’d like to leave readers wanting to come back and see Frank Swiver and some of the other characters again—there will be more.

Do you read the same genre you write?

For the most part, yes, I do. Mystery or detective fiction. This last fall and winter, I read Black Water Rising by Attica Locke, A Corpse in the Koryo, by James Church, Finding Nouf by Zoe Ferraris, The Coroner’s Lunch, Colin Cotterill, Miami Purity, Vicki Hendricks, and two Michael Didbin’s Cosi Fan Tutti and Dead Lagoon, featuring Aurelio Zen. Zen is one of my influences for Frank Swiver. I read an Eric Ambler novel, The Light of Day, on my Kindle.

What are you reading now?

I’m reading Richard III by William Shakespeare, a play about what happens when a sociopath takes over a great country. I’ve never read this before, but so far, I find it absolutely brilliant. I often have to use study guides to understand Shakespeare’s language, but the dialogue in this is so vivid, so clear, I know exactly what’s going on. Richard is not a likable character; he’s loathsome, actually, but he establishes a connection with the audience in his opening monologue. I won’t say readers (or audiences) root for him, exactly, but like Hannibal Lecter, he’s compelling, fascinating even. And though it is classified as a history play, the title page calls it “The Tragedy of King Richard the third.” It’s very enjoyable so far, and I think a writer can learn a lot from reading Shakespeare.

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