Veteran – TV Cameraman, NASA Journalist, Sci-Fi & Mystery Writer
What’s the name of your most recent book? And could you tell us a little about it and any other books you’ve written? My latest novel is “Death in the Holler,” a mystery published on June 15, 2020. Luke Ryder, the main character, is a Kentucky game warden who’s an alcoholic. He’s in danger of losing his job because of his addiction.
Ryder’s life-long friend, Sheriff Jim Pike, wants to hire him, but only if Ryder can control his drinking. Pike offers to ask Ryder’s boss to give him a temporary transfer if a big case comes up. In Kentucky, game wardens are also law enforcement officers.
A Latino man from Louisville is found shot dead on a farm’s food plot shortly after the beginning of “muzzle-loader” deer-hunting season. Sheriff Pike calls on Ryder to help with the investigation. The two lawmen wonder why a man from a big city ghetto would be killed on a remote farm in a holler, a small, wooded valley. And why was he killed with a modern black powder weapon or perhaps an antique flintlock firearm?
This story is loaded with rough and tumble action, plus a smidgen of romance. Readers tell me that as they follow the story, they constantly root for Ryder to defeat his alcoholism and to find the killer.
Another of my books, “The Knight Prowler, a Novella,” is a mystery about a government researcher whose body is discovered not far from the Livermore Lab in Northern California. Rick Knight, the protagonist, is a TV nighttime crime reporter. His brother, John, is a Livermore Police detective. They team-up in an effort to catch the killer.
How did you come up with the ideas for those two mysteries? The concept for “Death in the Holler” came to me when I was visiting my daughter, Melody, and her husband, Matt, in Kentucky. Matt hunts deer with a crossbow. To attract deer, he plants “food plots” on a relative’s farm. My brother-in-law also lives in the Bluegrass State and has hunted deer. I helped him plant a food plot on his farm years ago. So I wondered, what if somebody was killed on a food plot during hunting season? That was how the idea for “Death in the Holler” was born.
As for “The Knight Prowler,” I wrote that short book to see if I would like writing in the crime/mystery genre. I have a background filming crime news for television, though I did this many years ago. My first jobs after my Army service were news cinematography positions. I covered daytime crime for several years for WMAL-TV (now WJLA), the ABC affiliate in Washington, D.C.
I filmed stories about many bank robberies and homicides. Often I found myself in bad sections of town, usually on my own. More than once, friends asked me if I carried a “piece,” a pistol. I didn’t. I found that most folks in the “bad” part of town were good people. At first, I felt edgy going to murder scenes by myself, often after the police had left the scene. But I grew to like the excitement—I became addicted to taking chances to get stories.
Even now, flashes of memory from crime scenes I visited years ago pop into my mind’s eye. I see money blowing across the street after a bank robbery, a pistol lying near a curb of a major avenue, bullet holes in a door, blood on a concrete sidewalk, and much worse. So, when writing a mystery, I find it easy to realistically picture scenes, even though I’ve invented a purely fictional story. When I think of what will happen in my stories, I daydream. I see the story unfold. I hear the characters talk, and I feel the cold or hot air, the humidity. I imagine smells that waft through the air.
Do you write in more than one genre? In addition to crime/mystery, I write science fiction. I began to write it because I worked for NASA for years. I saw many projects and learned of numerous discoveries that would have been fiction in years past.
What brought you to writing? I was born on Chicago’s Southside. When I was very young, my family moved to a small, two-bedroom house in Milton Township between Glen Ellyn, an affluent suburb, and Lombard. I was lucky to attend very fine public schools in Glen Ellyn. In contrast to many of my schoolmates’ families, mine wasn’t well-to-do. At times we were poor. Later, our financial situation was better. But I have always been sympathetic to poor and downtrodden people.
I was good in science and math at school. English was my weakest subject. Some of my teachers urged me to study to become an engineer or a scientist. But I wanted to do something that could help right the wrongs of the world, journalism. So, I studied TV news when I went to the University of Illinois. That’s where I began to learn to write.
The day after I completed college, I was drafted into the Army during the Vietnam War and was on a jet plane on my way to basic training. The university sent my diploma to my parents’ house. The Army made me a journalist. Early on, my Army newspaper editor taught me the most I’d learned to that point about writing. I wrote for the Ft. Lewis newspaper, “The Ranger,” a weekly that included as many as forty pages. It had roughly 20,000 to 30,000 readers because Ft. Lewis is the size of a small city. I also wrote and hosted an Army radio news program that aired on a few stations in the Pacific Northwest.
After the Army, I worked in commercial TV news. I filmed crime and other news events. Later, I was a broadcast engineer at WMAL-AM/FM, an ABC Network station. While I was having a beer with a NASA official, he offered me a job to write and produce documentary programs for the agency. After joining NASA, I made more than a hundred NASA TV programs. Later, I wrote hundreds of articles and news items for NASA. I earned my living for much of my career writing about news events and discoveries. After thirty years, I retired from NASA. It was then that I decided to take a stab at writing fiction.
What are you working on now? I’ve nearly completed a volume of short stories called “Florida Grand Theft & Other Tales.” It not only contains crime stories but also includes a section of sci-fi short stories. My next mystery novel is tentatively titled “Murder at NASA.” Besides that, I’m planning a memoir about my TV news experiences and my time working at NASA.
How do our readers contact you? My website is an excellent place to contact me at http://www.bluckart.com. There’s a place on the home page where you can send me a message. There’s another page on my site that lists my books and where they can be purchased: http://bluckart.com/books.html.
Scott Decker’s first book is a true crime memoir,
Recounting the Anthrax Attacks—Terror, the Amerithrax Task Force, and the Evolution of Forensics in the FBI (Rowman & Littlefield, 2018). I attempted to write it as creative non-fiction (see, creativenonfiction.org).
“The book is fascinating and absolutely authentic—a behind-the-scenes account, never before told in such detail, of the FBI’s forensic detective work into the chilling anthrax bioterror attacks after 9/11. Decker, who ran the “dark biology” part of the FBI’s investigation, recounts how agents and scientists used cutting-edge tools of biology to narrow down the search for the perpetrator and finally focus on one suspect. I don’t think the world realizes just what the FBI accomplished or how they did it, or the pitfalls and difficulties of the investigation, but Decker tells us the story from the inside.” —Richard Preston, NY Times Bestselling Author, The Hot Zone and The Demon in the Freezer.
Do you write in more than one genre? No, just one genre, memoir, as narrative non-fiction. I am a stickler for historical and technical accuracy.
Where do you write? What, if any, distractions do you allow? I converted the spare bedroom at the end of our house to an office. I have a 27″ iMac that allows me to have two or three documents or Internet sites on the screen at once. I have a printer hard-wired to the Mac and a hardline phone next to it on an antique desk with an antique NYC Public Library table forming an “L” shape.
Distractions are numerous. Probably my two rescues, a beagle mix and a miniature pinscher, are the biggest. They really are high maintenance. They keep me company, sleeping on a day bed next to my desk, but if I ignore the pinscher when I am lost in the writing, he pees in my office. Then I have to stop typing and clean it up.
What are you currently working on? These days I free-lance for Security Management magazine and Knife Magazine. I am also researching for a second memoir. The working title is Papermaker—A Memoir of the Ups and Downs in an American Industry. Papermaker will discuss the dangers of working in a paper mill, one that an entire community depends on for their livelihood—the maimings and fatalities notwithstanding.
Has an association membership helped you or your writing? I have to give a shout-out to the Public Safety Writers Association. I joined when my book was in the very early stages. Over a couple of years, my writing improved with the help I found attending their annual conference. They also held a writing workshop the day before the conference, and it included the opportunity to submit writing samples for critique. I submitted my first book, two chapters, which had undergone numerous revisions. The instructor had only one minor suggestion for my dialog. I entered my unpublished manuscript in their annual writing competition. It won first place in the non-fiction book category. At that point, I felt I was ready to query publishers in earnest.
Who’s currently your favorite author? I’ll list two. The first is Linda Greenlaw; she has authored three or four memoirs about fishing the Atlantic. Linda is portrayed in the Warner Bros movie, The Perfect Storm as the woman swordfish captain opposite George Clooney’s character. The second is Colson Whitehead. He has authored both fiction and non-fiction books and is an excellent writer.
How long did it take you to write your first book? I began in 2012, and Recounting was published in March 2018. During that time, I got married, my wife and I moved three times, took two family estates through probate, and put the family farm in preservation. I stayed busy.
Do you outline, or are you a pantser? I am an outliner. I begin with a timeline of events. I then go down the timeline and make chapter breaks at places I think will lend themselves to a cliffhanger. Following that, I write one-half to two-thirds of a page summarizing each chapter. The chapter outlines will comprise a large part of my non-fiction book proposal. A book proposal is mandatory for publishing non-fiction—all publishers require it.
A proposal is a fair amount of work in itself, but I find it makes writing the book easier. I take each chapter outline and fill in between the sentences to build a chapter.
What kind of research do you do? These days most is over the Internet. Sites like fold3.com and the National Archives (archives.gov) contain loads of information. Even the FBI has a ton of case histories available on their site, vault.fbi.gov. I read books on the same subject I want to write about; these books become part of my book proposal’s “Comparable Books” section. I request books through the Inter-Library Loan process at my local public library or buy them outright.
What is the best book you ever read? I’ll list two again, first is John Conroy’s Belfast Diary—War as a Way of Life (Beacon Press, 1989). The second is Craig K. Collins’ Thunder in the Mountains: A Portrait of American Gun Culture (Lyons Press, 2014). Both are narrative non-fiction memoirs.
The second, Thunder in the Mountains, had a great effect on my writing and encouraged me to embrace writing about myself in the first-person—memoir. Collins’ book showed me how to speak to my audience in a personal way, which I think appeals to most readers.
Looking to the future, what’s in store for you? I’ll continue to free-lance for Security Management magazine and Knife Magazine and research for a second memoir. I have partnered with an established producer who optioned my book. We are pitching networks on both a documentary series and a scripted narrative series.
Do you have any advice for new writers? Don’t give up on publishers versus self-publishing. Going with an established publisher, even a small house, has advantages. The first version of my book, or rather my non-fiction proposal, was rejected over and over by small presses. I finally sat down and rewrote it using much more first person and ending each chapter with a cliffhanger. I submitted the revised proposal to a dozen small presses and received three contract offers. I went with Rowman on the advice of a fellow author. Working with both my editor and production manager at Rowman was great.
How do our readers contact you? Your website, blog links, any links you want to be posted? Readers can contact me through my Internet site: www.rscottdecker.com. The site’s “Contact” page is forwarded to my email address, which I check several times a day. The site is low cost, and I edit it myself. The Authors Guild (authorsguild.org) hosts it.
Scott Decker with Robert Mueller
Into Madness (Born from Stone Saga – Book 1 of 3)
After a decade in hiding, captured, and imprisoned, Ravin Carolingian believes she has nothing more to lose. Instead of the execution she expected, Ravin faces a forced marriage to Brakken, the son of the man who killed her father and toppled her kingdom. Blinded by hatred, Ravin vows that marriage will never take place. Instead, she will exact revenge, no matter the cost.
Following a series of magical attacks, and as she fights the unnatural attraction she feels for Brakken, Ravin is left to question everything she thought she knew about herself. Still, as the line between ally and enemy blurs, one thing becomes clear, if she is to help the Carolingian people, Ravin must escape the evil that walks the halls of the palace she once called home.
The second book in the trilogy, Heart’s Divided, is due to be published in May of 2021, and the third, The Reckoning, later that fall.
Do you write in more than one genre? Memoir, short stories, and fantasy.
What brought you to writing? As a child, there wasn’t much I loved more than reading. Actually, there was nothing I loved more than horses. In my youth, I didn’t have a horse; I fed my passion by submersing myself in books: My Friend Flicka, Black Beauty, and any novel where the protagonist was a girl with a horse.
As an adult and a trainer of racehorses, I started writing freelance for industry publications, like Backstretch Magazine, Bloodhorse, and The Racing Form. From there, I branched out and started writing special feature articles for local newspapers, like The Contra Costa Times, Tri-Valley Herald, and Valley Times.
When I joined the Tri-Valley Branch of the California Writers Club, I was encouraged to write a memoir. My book is about the horse I owned and trained to run in all three legs of the American Triple Crown of Racing—the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, and Belmont Stakes.
With international recognition for Casual Lies – A Triple Crown Adventure, I tried my hand at telling stories. Short stories kept my interest until a close friend encouraged me to try the NANOWRIMO challenge. Four years later, I published my debut novel, Into Madness.
Are you traditionally published, indie published, or a hybrid author? I would have to say hybrid. Literary agents, through their query submission standards, make it difficult to hire them, emphasis on hiring them. To send a query, you must follow their detailed outline—and whatever you do, don’t deviate from their outline—and, by the way, don’t expect to get a response unless they pick you. Still, I prefer a readers’ opinion over an agent who’s looking for a reason to reject rather than enjoy.
Where do you write? And what about distractions? I sit at my kitchen table here in Central Oregon and gaze out at a bucolic scene for inspiration. Here are my distractions:
- I get to watch as the deer clear cut my garden.
- Squirrels chew off the sprinkler heads, trim the siding, and shorten the roof’s metal exhaust pipes.
- Don’t even get me started on the Robins.
- Pine needle hurricanes.
- Still, the quail and their walnut-sized babies are as cute as all get out.
Do you ever develop plots or characters around real-life experiences? Memoir aside, in my first book of short stories, For Want of a Horse, I drew on my twenty-four-year experience with training racehorses. Some of the stories were real-life incidences, though a few I embellished.
The current novel that I’m writing and have tentatively named ‘Out of the Blue’ is a middle-grade novel about training and racing dragons. So, of course, after more than one-third of my life spent at the racetrack, I change everything that has to do with hoofed animals to winged animals.
Since dragons don’t eat hay and grain, I doubt children will like the idea of leading lambs down the shedrow at feeding time. Feeding the dragons was a problem to overcome. An essential part of the story, it had to be ironed out right from the start.
How do you come up with names for your characters? That’s the easy part of the creative process, at least for me. I develop a character in my head, and then the name comes easy. I Google popular names for specific eras in history—for instance, Irish names in the 8th century. I don’t use character names that aren’t easily pronounceable. To me, those types of names tend to slow down the reader.
Do you use real settings or make them up? Unless it’s a massive city like New York, London, Beijing, I like to make up a name located in a recognizable area. Heaven forbid that a real town resident reads my book and calls me out on a lake that doesn’t exist.
In my historical fantasy, Into Madness, I loosely based the world I built in a Baltic region. The landmasses and names are all created. However, there was a Carolingian in history. I liked it, so I used it. (My sister, who I lost to cancer, was named Carol. Might have something to do with the name choice and why I liked it.)
Have you ever developed a quintessentially eccentric character? At first read, this question seemed simple, but I found myself stumped. Once I begin to interact with them within the story, my characters become very real to me, and I don’t think of them as quirky or eccentric.
What is one of your favorite books? Why? Lonesome Dove — If I had not seen the mini-series first, I would’ve put this book down in the first chapter―pigs, dust, and rattlesnakes. For me, it started so slow; it was an effort to turn the pages. When I finished the book, I grieved. I grieved because there was not another page to turn, I grieved for the loss of the friends left behind within its pages, and I grieve even now―because I wasn’t the one who wrote it.
What’s your biggest pet peeve? As an author? Literary agents. ?
Looking to the future, what do you see? Finding within myself the focus necessary to finish the three novels I have in the works. And in particular, I am excited about the dragon racing novel. The characters are so endearing, and the plot elements are so current. My characters face prejudice, racism, bullying, climate change, species extinction, fair play, and hope within the story’s overall umbrella.
Any other thoughts you care to share? I have heard many reasons why writers write—the list is long. A good story is a gift. A gift that you get to share over and over again. And each time you share it, you enjoy it once again along with the recipient.
We don’t need to ask a comedian what’s the best part of his performance. It will always be the audience’s laughter, right? As an author, I find no greater pleasure than the thought that my words, my story, brings a few minutes or a few hours of entertainment into someone’s life.
What do you find to be the best part for a writer? A review. A five-star review was recently posted on ‘Into Madness,’ in the comment section was a “ :)” and nothing more. While I like to hear my readers’ opinions, what they liked, what they wanted, still that smiley face was just as encouraging as any other review. It told me so much about how my story had affected my reader. And, just as important, that smiley face encouraged me to get to back work.
For those of you who hesitate to take the time to post a review, remember even something as simple as a smile is manna from heaven for the writer who has spent hundreds of hours alone bringing words to life.
How can our readers contact you?
Ana Manwaring – Creator of Thrilling Mystery
Aha has several books available in the JadeAnne Stone Mexico Adventures Series
The first in the series was The JadeAnne Stone Mexico Adventures: Set Up—Secrets and Lies in Zihuatanejo.
Good News! Good News! The audiobook is slated to launch this winter.
The second in the series is The Hydra Effect—Revelations and Betrayal in Mexico City.
Number 3, slated for release early in 2021, is Nothing Comes After Z—Death and Retribution in Tepoztlán.
Ana’s books, including her chapbook, Nature Girl, are available on Amazon.
When I asked Ana about her writing and how long she had been working at it, she told me a wonderful story. Here’s part of it.
I write in several genres. I fell in love with poetry during my angst-ridden years of high school. My greatest influence was Ferlinghetti, and I started writing sappy free verse more resembling Rod McKuen than the taught socio-political commentary of Ferlinghetti and the Beats. My first poetry chapbook (2019) is called Nature Girl and explores my relationship with the natural world.
I dabbled in short story writing in university, but I’d always secretly wanted to write the novels I voraciously read. After I had my palm read and was told I’d be a bestseller by the time I was 50 (I was 13 at the time,) I started a couple novels. These languished in boxes under my parent’s house until the mildew and rodents took up residence. In the many years between the prediction and my first published book, soon to be a bestseller, I wrote newsletters, promotional copy, poetry, and journaled about my life.
It was in Mexico on a deserted highway at dusk with the odor of growing marijuana filling the cabin of my VW bus, I started writing in earnest. Nothing like being threatened by flashy jewelry wearing, gun-wielding thugs to incite creativity.
While I wrote my first novel, I also wrote a memoir of living in Mexico, a monthly lifestyle column for a local newspaper, numerous short memoir, short stories, and poems. Many are now published in over a dozen anthologies, papers, and some even on the radio.
It took me 27 years to write and publish Set Up. I chose to indie publish after several encouraging rejections I received from agents and the demoralizing lack of communications whatsoever from most of the rest I queried. Although marketing is a big challenge for me, my entrepreneurial side enjoys being a small press owner!
After this, I had to know where she writes, her style and process, and what she finds the most difficult in completing her work. Recalling that she is also a teacher, I couldn’t skip asking about research.
I’m naturally a pantser. When I started book 1, I knew my protagonist and who was going to die. Everything and everyone else was a surprise. Set Up was a NaNoWriMo book, so I actually wrote the lion’s share during the 2007 contest and “won.” Book 3 is a 2017 NaNoWriMo winner. I used a hybrid method for Hydra, which sped up the writing process, but not enough. Generally, the successful writers I know put out a book or two every year. For NaNoWriMo 2020 and book 4, I’m learning to outline. I’ll never let go of the in the moment inspiration that comes with pantsing, but a pre-structured plot will save hours of revision.
Travel is the best part of my writing process. I never say no to a trip, not even a virtual one. I research just about everything, keeping Google Search and Dictionary.com open behind my draft while I write. Recently JadeAnne was gazing out the car window while passing a cemetery. Hurray for Google Street View! I was able to describe what she saw and let her muse on the current stats on deaths in Mexico linked to the war on drugs.
Unfortunately, research is my favorite part of the process. I’m able to wile away hours upon hours reading, watching videos, note-taking, and organizing instead of writing. The benefit is, I get my place, plots, and plot twists, even characters, from my research. (I once read a newspaper article about an old lady packing her dead husband into a suitcase. When asked why, she said he’d always wanted to go to Niagara Falls. I won first prize in a contest for the short story.) Although I know my human and canine characters and have experienced much of Mexico, this book will lead JadeAnne to places I haven’t visited. I may have to make a trip across the border for some experience. Smugglers’ tunnels, anyone?
The hardest part of writing is actually getting to the writing. It used to bother me that I’d mosey through the house and yard, finding chores that couldn’t wait—like weeding, ironing, cleaning out the garage. . .but I came to understand that when I finally got to the computer, the words flowed. I named it “composting.” I’ll be raking up my eucalyptus grove of all the “tree trash” blown down in the recent high winds starting on November 1st.
I’m looking out my writing studio window at all that flammable eucalyptus bark now. It’s everywhere, hanging like tinsel from the branches, ornamenting my garden, littering much of the yard. It’s going to be a big job—that outline will really help.
For many of us writers, finding and naming our characters can be a daunting task—it holds true for Ana.
Besides getting butt in the chair, one of my biggest challenges is characterization. I keep a binder of character sketches on a table next to my keyboard. Every character is identified to the extent of their function in the books with their role in the story, a physical description, a personality description, their habits, mannerisms, background, internal and external conflicts, and every random idea I have about them. It turns out JadeAnne is allergic to house dust, loves the fruit, mamey, and has a collection of vintage shooters from her days playing marbles. I make plenty of it up, but I pattern some of my characters from specific people I know. Lura in book 1 is a woman I worked with in a real estate appraising office in the 80s. (Yes, she gave me permission.) And the dog trainer in book 2 in real life wasn’t nearly as horrible as I made him out to be. Others are composites of people I know. The trick is to use the traits or background that serves the story and let the rest go. I follow Anne Lamont’s advice from Bird by Bird on this. Look it up! However, she did not have advice on how to write notorious cartel members. (In fact, she once asked me why anyone would write “that.”) I’ve grappled with this. Publicly known figures without a specific role, I mention by name. If I’m making one a character, I use narco already dead, or use him for a crime he is in prison for and alter his name. And never answer calls I don’t recognize. Don Winslow received threatening phone calls for his Narco series.
Naming characters is another problem. I look up baby names and last names and associate the name with the character’s personality or origin. JadeAnne Stone is the daughter of a Vietnamese mother and American serviceman father brought to the US in Operation Babylift. Her name was Jade (in Vietnamese) with the suffix -an, which is often added to girl’s names, hence JadeAnne. Anibal was the name of my favorite waiter in Zihua, and Anahí was a typical name from the Mexican working classes in the mid to late 20th century. It all goes back to the question of research.
Thanks for sharing your story with us, now; how can our readers contact you?
Building a Better Story
Saints and Skeletons