Today I am in Sedona, Arizona, sitting down to have a chat with my buddy Carl Schmidt. Carl has recently released the first two books of his Jesse Thorpe Mystery Series, Dead Down East and A Priestly Affair. I’m reading the first but have not finished it yet, and I have the second one sitting on my bookshelf, staring at me. You know how insistent those unread books can be. They’re just so pushy.
So, Carl, can you give us a brief introduction to Jesse
Thorpe? What’s he like? What drives him? Why does he do the work he does?
CS: Jesse is an easy going guy in his mid-thirties, trying to make ends meet in Augusta, Maine. He has three professions. He’s a bass player in a local rock band, a carpenter and a private detective. He’s smart—he has a degree in physics from Colby College—and he’s witty, but he has bills to pay, so he plugs away at work, trying to catch a break.
Sounds like a cool guy, and someone we can relate to. Is Jesse based on anyone you know? Perhaps a composite of several people, or is he just completely fictional?
CS: I’d have to say that Jesse is a composite of me and my son, Jaia, who kindly allowed me to put him on the cover of my first novel, Dead Down East.
So the book is a family affair! Have you been inspired by any other fictional or real investigators? Would you liken Jesse to anyone else? Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot, Magnum, PI?
CS: Humphrey Bogart played Phillip Marlowe in The Big Sleep and Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon. I’d say that Jesse is a modern day, and somewhat younger, Humphrey Bogart. Jesse Thorpe is not quite as cocky as Sam Spade. But almost. His feisty girlfriend, Angele Boucher, keeps him on edge and sees to it that he “keeps it real.”
A Bogey for the newer generations? What draws you to write mysteries? Is it plotting out the crime and the methods to avoid capture? Or is it figuring out how to put the pieces of the puzzle together? Did you ever want to be a PI?
CS: Mysteries are like puzzles. I like that. It never occurred to me to be a PI, but now that I’m writing these novels, perhaps I missed my calling. On the other hand, most PI work in real life is tedious and unpleasant. So probably it’s best that I never ventured in that direction.
That’s probably the nicer part of writing mysteries rather than doing the real work: you can focus on the exciting stuff and pass over the boring stuff. Do you read a lot of mysteries, perhaps as research or reference? Or do you steer clear of them so they don’t bleed into your own stories, and read other genres instead?
CS: I was inspired by the mysteries of Tim Cockey, who injects a lot of humor in each of his “Hitchcock Sewell” mysteries. It was the humor that got my attention, and it hung on until I finally began writing. But, for the most part, I steer clear of other mystery novels. I want my own works to be fresh and independent.
I know you’re working on the third book of the series, Redbone. Did you plan to have three books from the get-go, or have they grown organically out of the first? Do you find it easy or hard to come up with new adventures for the same character?
CS: It grew organically. When I finished the first one, I seemed to be on a roll. So I let it keep rolling. The real problem is getting started. Once the story begins, it takes hold and carries me along.
Love when that happens! You’ve also written a non-fiction book, Recipe for Bliss: Kriya Yoga for a New Millennium. Which do you think is easier to write, fiction or non-fiction? Why?
CS: At this point in my life, fiction is much easier, and more fun, to write. It’s more open-ended and allows me to assume numerous identities without judgment. It’s more free-wheeling and there are virtually no limitations.
You graduated from college with degrees in mathematics and physics, then spent some time teaching English in Japan, all of which would seem to use a completely different part of the brain compared to fiction writing. Were you a “closet writer” during your younger years, or did you just recently begin setting words down on paper?
CS: My life has been a progression of sorts. As a child, I had a natural aptitude for math and physics, but when I reached my 20’s, I knew I needed to branch out. So I began playing and writing music. This stimulated the other side of my brain. I try to use both sides when I’m writing. But I have to say that it took me many years to find my voice as a writer. It has been a long process, but I’m comfortable with it now. I know what sounds good. All I have to do is keep at it until the narrative rings true and tickles my funny bone. Humor brings out the best in all us. Without it, everything looks black and white.
So is Redbone finished, or are you still writing and/or polishing? What’s next on the horizon? Do you have more books planned out, or are you thinking of doing something different?
CS: Redbone is finished. All that’s left is to create the cover. I have a picture in my mind. I’m looking for a middle-aged Hispanic woman to represent one of the main characters in the story. When I publish Redbone, I’ll continue writing. I like the genre, so I’m pretty sure that a new case is about to land in Jesse Thorpe’s lap.
Carl, thanks so much for stopping to visit and answer my questions. Now, if people want to find out more and/or connect with you, how can they do that?