Frequently Asked Questions

You write mysteries, or what’s commonly called crime-fiction.
How did you get interested in that genre?

It goes back to my childhood. I grew up in a rural area of northern Wisconsin. The closest library was twenty miles away, but we did have a good traveling library system. I’d always pester my mother to order books on two subjects — how to play baseball, particularly how to throw a curve, and Hardy Boys books. I could never get my curve to break more than three inches, but probably read every Hardy Boys book ever written.

How about Nancy Drew? You know, gender equity and all that.
(Laughing). Actually, I read a lot of Nancy Drew books, too. Probably not all of them, but certainly my share.

Your interest in writing goes way back, too, I understand.
Yes, and I think it’s connected to reading. I mentioned the traveling library system we had. I read more than baseball and Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew books in those days. Zane Gray was always high on my list, as were books by Hemingway and others. I probably didn’t always understand the books — at least in the sense that academics like to dissect them — but I really enjoyed them. My appetite for reading led naturally to a love for writing. As a lawyer, I always took pride in what I’d written, trying to be as clear and concise as possible.

When you were winding down your legal career, you began to write short stories, right?
Yes, but it wasn’t part of any grand design. When I finally got turned on to fiction, I happened to take a couple of writing courses from an instructor who wrote short stories in addition to novels. She encouraged us to do the same. The forms are very different, but I believe short stories are a good training ground. When I segued — I love that term — from the practice of law to writing, I started to crank out short stories. Then one day I took a look at what I was doing and said, “If I’m going to write a novel, I’d better get cracking.”

Where did you get the ideas for your books?
Before I wrote TARGET, I’d signed up for another writing course — Advanced Novel Writing, it was called — and the start of the course was less than a month away. You were supposed to have 10,000 words written before class began and then had to write an additional 10,000 words every three weeks. At the end, you would wind up with 50,000 words of your novel. I’d never written anything that long, and as the course start date approached, I was beginning to get nervous. One day I was sitting on my porch looking out at the water and thought, what if they found a woman’s body in the lake. And what if this guy had had dinner with her the night before. I played “what if ” some more and had the germ of an idea for my novel. I did the same thing with my other books.

So at the end of the course, you had 50,000 words written.
How long did it take you to finish TARGET?

(Laughing). Two years. When I caught my breath after the course was over, I looked at what I’d written and concluded I couldn’t pay someone enough to read the gibberish. I didn’t have the foggiest notion of how to bring the story to a conclusion, plus an editor I’d hired to critique the manuscript convinced me that I’d telegraphed so much that it was a foregone conclusion who the killer was. I had enough sense to put my pride aside, scrap what I’d written and start over.

What did you do differently now?
I’ve decided I’m not one of those brilliant souls who can just sit down at the keyboard and pound out the words and end up with a novel that unfolds seamlessly with richly developed characters. Now, I outline the plot and have all of the significant characters write letters telling me what is in their heads. Only then do I start writing.

So you’re an outliner.
Sort of. I can’t do what some writers who outline say they do. I attended a conference a couple of years ago at which one of the speakers — a very successful mystery writer — said his outline may run 40,000 words for a 120,000 word novel. I don’t have the patience for that. I guess I’m in between the two camps. But I’ve found I definitely have to have a roadmap for the book. It changes a lot as I write, but I need some kind of guide before I begin.

Tell us about HARD WATER BLUES.
I didn’t completely stop writing short stories while I learned the nuts and bolts of novel writing. I frequently have two works going at the same time. By the time I was into my second novel, I had a collection of short stories that I decided to publish as an anthology. A lot of writers in the crime fiction field do that, including John Grisham, James Lee Burke and others. But HARD WATER BLUES doesn’t stand alone completely. Pete Thorsen, who is the protagonist in my novels, is in half the stories, and Harry McTigue is in some of the stories as well. So HARD WATER BLUES has a strong connection to those novels.

What’s next?
Well, VICTIM, my eighth book and the seventh in the Pete Thorsen Mystery series, has just come out. I’m in the process of signings and other promotional activities for that book. I’m not sure what I’ll do next, whether it’s write another Pete Thorsen novel or do something else. I’ll definitely continue writing, though. I enjoy it too much to stop.

How can readers contact you?
At rwangard@comcast.net. I’m always glad to hear from them.