Carl grew up in Cleveland in a religious family that believed that God could heal all illnesses. No wonder he escaped to California. He attended Stanford University and discovered a whole new world. Carl graduated in economics and then studied music at San Jose State. His parents were not thrilled with the music. They were relieved when he became a banker. That career enabled him to live and work in Latin America, Canada, and North Africa. He’s put his foot in his mouth in Spanish, French, and Portuguese. He also became a dual U.S. and Canadian citizen. His debut thriller, MURDERABILIA, won Left Coast Crime and San Diego Book awards. SAVING EVAN is his second novel and was published in August 2023.
Nonprofit work also inspires him. He is the president of Partners in Crime, The San Diego chapter of the Sisters in Crime organization of authors and fans of crime writing. Additionally, he works with San Diego Social Venture Partners, an organization that mentors other nonprofits.
Carl lives with his wife in San Diego. His two grown sons are close by, and wonder how he knows so much about serial killers and banking crimes.
Saving Myles – When the FBI can’t help free his son from kidnappers, an unassuming banker takes matters into his own hands. He joins a bank owned by a drug cartel and negotiates. Wade gets his son back. But now he needs to save his family.
What brought you to writing? As a young child, I read and wrote stories. That continued through high school, where I added writing poetry and music. But in college, I felt I needed a career and majored in economics. No fiction writing at all. That and international study in Colombia launched me into a career in banking. I got to work in some exotic places—Montreal, Colombia, Venezuela, and North Africa. I was in Algeria 3 months after the Iraq invasion. But while I was a banker, I kept wanting to do something more creative. So I started back on what I’d loved as a kid—writing fiction. I did it in secret and told no one at work until I published my first book. When we moved from Montreal to San Diego, a whole writing community and support system opened up for me. Writers conferences, page submissions to editors and agents, critique groups, writing coaches, and groups of writers like Sisters in Crime. That led to my first published book, Murderabilia. During this long apprenticeship, I learned that not only did my books take place in the financial industry, but they involved families. My motto became: Behind every crime is a family.
Tell us about your writing process: I extensively outline a book before the writing begins. There are corkboards and index cards in my office. I also use Plottr. The outlining applies to characters too. I define their physical characteristics, their backgrounds, their tragedies, motivations, and weaknesses. I hate doing this, but it helps me get off the ground. Then I became a pantser, and the outline continually changes as I write.
My first draft is by hand on a legal pad. I scratch out a scene as fast as possible, often just dialogue. A sense of relief comes when I reach 5 or 6 pages because that means I have something. The best feeling is when the characters move ahead of me, and I can’t write fast enough to keep up. Sometimes the scene doesn’t begin until after the first page, but that doesn’t matter. Within 24 hours, I type it into the computer. That’s when I start removing unnecessary exposition or flatness. I also fill in setting, senses, and stage direction.
How long did it take you to write your first book? A long time. The book took more than ten years and was never published. Murderabilia was the next book. That also took several years—more than 20 revisions. But I got better. However, the last revisions made the book worse, and I had to go back to an earlier version. I have to continually guard against not over-revising.
What’s the most challenging thing about writing characters from the opposite sex? Portraying a woman and her voice is difficult. One of the POVs in Saving Myles is a mother who has sacrificed her younger years and much of her career to help her son through his troubles. The workaholic father has been absent. After they have sent their son to a treatment center, she separates from him and sets about rediscovering herself. That includes having an affair. I really needed to understand her and get inside her psyche to make her sympathetic.
What kind of research do you do?
I had to research the wife in my book and why a woman like her would have an affair. I also had to research a teenager. How do they talk, and how do they view the world? I tried to get into the mind of a boy fascinated by girls, determined to go his own way, resentful of his parents for sending him to a treatment center, and wanting to be closer to them. The idealism of a teenager is wonderful.
The book contains lots of insider information about kidnapping, money laundering, and settings in Tijuana. A number of people helped me—the author Kimberly Howe, two FBI agents, and two DEA agents. I also I enrolled in courses at Certified Anti-Money Laundering Specialists (ACAMS), an international organization dedicated to fighting financial crime. In Mexico, I talked to a man who had been kidnapped and got his perspective on a terrible ordeal.
Where do you place your settings—real or fictional locations? I based my settings as much as I could on actual places. In San Diego, I tried to find the right details that would evoke a visual and emotional response in the reader. To get them right for Mexico, some of my friends at the Y took me around to locations in Tijuana to pick out where scenes could occur.
Do you have any advice for new writers? The two most important qualities for a beginning writer are patience and tenacity. Patience comes first. Most of us submit our work far before it’s ready. Taking writing courses and joining a critique group helped make the manuscript better. The downside of critique groups is that they can only see a few pages at a time and may miss where the pace or character growth is falling short. Or how the middle got boring. That’s why a beginning writer needs to submit their work to a development editor.
That brings me to the second quality—tenacity. Critique groups, agents, acquisition editors, and reviewers will highlight all the weaknesses. The writer has the hard test of figuring out what makes sense and what doesn’t and then revising. My rule is if two people find the same thing wrong, I should revise it. Many people can write a book. But only a few have the tenacity to bring it to the level where it can be published. You aren’t born a writer; you must become one.
How do our readers contact you? I have a website and a newsletter you can sign up for there. I’m also active on Facebook and Instagram. I enjoy talking to people. Here are the contacts:
Facebook: Carl Vonderau
Instagram: Carl Vonderau
Groups I belong to
President of Partners in Crime, the San Diego chapter of Sisters in Crime.
Part of Social Venture Partners, a nationwide nonprofit dedicated to helping other nonprofits rise to the next level.