JOHN BLUCK – Crime and Sci-Fi Novelist and Storyteller

The title of his latest book is Florida Grand Theft & Other Tales: Crime and Sci-fi Short Stories.

John G. Bluck is the author of five books, some in the crime/mystery genre and others science fiction. He worked for thirty years for NASA and retired as a public affairs officer. Prior to that, he was the daytime crime reporter/photographer for WMAL-TV (now WJLA) in Washington, D.C. During the Vietnam War, Bluck was an Army journalist at Ft. Lewis, Washington.

Another of his recent books, Death in the Holler, earned praise in a BookLife review printed in the January 11, 2021, issue of Publishers Weekly magazine. “For Southern murder mystery fans, this whodunit and its heart-of-gold protagonist will hit a bullseye. Murder, gangs, and black-market marijuana run rampant in this testosterone-filled thriller. . . . Bluck’s mystery keeps readers quickly flipping the pages with short, fast-moving chapters.”

Tell us about your most recent book. My latest book is Florida Grand Theft & Other Tales. It’s a collection of sixteen crime and science fiction short stories; some are strictly fictional crime stories. Others are solely in the science fiction genre. Many of the yarns combine both crime and sci-fi genres. Florida Grand Theft was released on October 4. The first image below is for the paperback and the second is for the eBool.

   

 

 

 

 

 

 

I began writing a couple of the stories as long as fifteen years ago when I was working at NASA. Over the years, I edited and revised them numerous times. One of those stories is the “DNA of History.” In it, ant-sized extraterrestrials visit a young boy, affecting his entire life. A second sci-fi story that I began developing a long time ago is “Adventures in Time.” In this story, an astronaut transmits a message as his ship careens toward a black hole.

I dreamed up other stories only months ago. That’s obvious when you read one of them, “Big Brother’s Bracelets,” which is related to the current pandemic and Covid-19. In this story, a feuding couple has to adjust their lives.

In the first story in the book, “Florida Grand Theft,” a young woman short of money tells how she’s tempted to steal a purse. In “Death by Snub Nose,” a hobo is accused of murder. These are among the crime and sci-fi stories I wrote recently, as is “Buzz.” Buzz is a robotic bee who’s an undercover agent.

Why do you write in more than one genre? I spent much of my life in a career path that’s linked to both crime and science-fiction. When I was in the army, I wrote news stories for an army newspaper and read army news on a couple of local radio stations.

After that, I worked a few years in Washington, D.C., as the television daytime crime cinematographer for WMAL-TV (now WJLA). I mainly covered homicides and bank robberies. Naturally, I covered other stories, too, including sports, politics, and even Watergate. I was in a pool of about six or seven still and motion picture photographers who filmed the submission of President Nixon’s letter of resignation.

Then NASA hired me to be a documentary producer. I saw many fascinating things at NASA that were true, but which might as well have been science fiction. I saw huge rocket engines; walked under the Space Shuttle; peered through telescopes, and wandered through laboratories, machine shops, wind tunnels, as well as many other locations.

When I explored NASA and filmed news for TV, I met many kinds of people. Whether they were in bad or happy situations, they taught me about human nature. Covering news “on the scene” in city streets and later working in science and engineering environments gave me a myriad of potential story ideas related to both crime and science.

How do you create your characters? Lately, I’ve been consulting a psychology book to try to shape some of my characters’ personalities so that they are vastly different from each other. This can lead to conflict and drama.

I don’t try to dictate what a character will do all of the time. I like to put characters with different personality traits into the same room or location. I begin to write dialogue rapidly. I permit the characters to talk, to say what they want. This is hard to describe, but it’s as if they wake up and begin to speak. I simply type what they’re saying. That’s why I say I don’t try to make the characters do or say what I want them to say.

However, there are times when something specific has to happen—a climax, a turning point. Then I might dictate that a tree will fall, a ship will sink, or a fire will erupt. The characters then have to react to the situation based on who they are and their personalities, which I have assigned to them. Sometimes, that personality changes when a character starts to act and come alive. I’ve found that if I “listen” to my characters, rather than try to shape them too much, the people who populate my books are more realistic, more human.

Do you outline, or do you write as you go? When I design a novel (plot it), I like to outline “sort of.” That is, I use the Act I, Act II, and Act III format.  I know where the climax is supposed to be. I write the beginning and the end first and perhaps the climax, and then I fill in the middle of the story. Each scene is like a bubble or a block. I note what “should” happen in a scene.

But as I go along, I let the characters have a lot of freedom, and they may take me off on a tangent. Also, sometimes when I’m writing, a character will just pop up. This is where the “sort of” comes into my writing process. I then have to decide if an unexpected path taken by a character is good or is merely a diversion that takes the story too far off course.

I like to work in this hybrid—mostly planned—but freewheeling kind of a way.

What’s your next book going to be about? Its potential title is Murder at NASA. Luke Ryder, the protagonist of my last mystery novel, Death in the Holler, is called into work undercover to solve a cold-case killing at NASA Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley, where I worked last at the agency. I’m quite familiar with the Ames campus, which some Hollywood producers have called a great location to make a movie. I doubt that Ames would ever be the set for a major movie, but the place has so many good locations for me to use in a novel. I’m almost salivating; I’m ready to completely plot my ideas and turn the characters loose at Ames.

How do our readers contact you?

Readers can message me through my website: http://www.bluckart.com.

They can visit my Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/JohnGBluckSciFi.

My Twitter page is located at: https://twitter.com/JohnBluck1.

Readers can sign up for my e-mail list by visiting: http://eepurl.com/cJh_pP.

6 Comments

  1. Mar Preston

    I could use a few Florida stories now as Canada grows cold. You’ve had an interesting life and been drawn into some good situations to write about.

    Reply
    • John G. Bluck

      Hello Mar,
      Thanks for finding my stories of interest as winter approaches. Though the first story in “Florida Grand Theft & Other Tales” is set in the sunshine state, there are other stories that take place in the greater Chicago area, northern California, Cleveland, New York and Naples, Italy…. so I hope you also find the stories set in these other locations interesting enough to warm up your imagination. (Many are places where I’ve visited or lived.) Of course, I haven’t been to outer space and a few other locations on which I focus in a few of the yarns.
      But my ultimate goal is to entertain. I hope you enjoy the sixteen stories in the volume.

      Reply
  2. John Schembra

    Interesting background- I can see it would lead to some intruiging plots. I will look you up to find out more about your books!

    Reply
    • John Bluck

      Thank you, John. I appreciate it that you’ll check out some of my books. Cheers, John G. Bluck

      Reply
  3. Michael A. Black

    John Blunk is a masterful writer. I read his Death in the Holler and enjoyed it immensely. I’m delighted that Luke Ryder is heading to NASA for another adventure. I ordered his new short story collection, too. I love stories set in Florida. Good luck, John.

    Reply
    • John Bluck

      Thanks, Michael. I also enjoy your books. I’m looking forward to read one of your latest books, “Chimes at Midnight.”

      Reply

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

John Bluck – Drops in to Share His Story

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.

 

5 Comments

  1. Michael A. Black

    Interesting interview, Mr. Bluck. You’re in good company having worked as a journalist in the army. During WW II Dashiell Hammett did a stint working for an Army newspaper in the Aleutian Islands. (It was his second time in the service.) Your books sound fascinating. I’ll have to check them out. Good luck with your writing. And thank you for your service.

    Reply
    • John G. Bluck

      Thanks, Michael. My service in the Army was memorable to say the least. I probably should write about it. In my short story book, “Venus Warning and Other Tales,” there’s a short story that recounts how I was almost killed in a helicopter. Jet fighters nearly hit us. (We didn’t crash.) I changed the names of the characters, but it really happened.

      Reply
  2. Ellyn H Wolfe

    Congratulations, John, on this enlightening interview! “Death in the Holler” was terrific, and I’m looking forward to your next book.

    Reply
    • John G. Bluck

      Thank you, Ellyn. My next book will be my second volume of short stories, half about crime and the other half about sci-fi. The tentative title is “Florida Grand Theft & Other Tales.” I’m hoping it will come out in early 2021. I like writing short stories. Of course, writing them takes much less time than writing a book. I also enjoy throwing in a twist at the end of some of my stories.

      In addition, I’ve made preliminary plans for a second Luke Ryder mystery novel. For now I’m calling it, “Murder at NASA.” Because I worked at NASA for 30 years, I’ll weave in lots of little known detail based on my observations.

      Cheers, John

      Reply
  3. John Bluck

    Thanks, George. The page looks great. Cheers, John

    Reply

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published.