March 4, 2012

Author Q&A: Tail spinner

David Rosenfelt wanted a new job in a different place, and found both in Maine, where he writes books in the company of his wife and their 28 rescued dogs.

By TOM ATWELL / Special to the Maine Sunday Telegram

Mystery and thriller novelist David Rosenfelt recently moved to Damariscotta with 27 large dogs. While in Maine, he has added a 28th dog.

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"Heart of a Killer" is Maine author David Rosenfelt's latest mystery novel, and the fourth of his stand-alone books.

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David Rosenfelt and one of his 28 rescued dogs.

Courtesy photo

Rosenfelt's career as a writer has been varied, and he admits to being fortunate – although a talent for humor and writing has helped. He was president of marketing for TriStar Pictures, then wrote some movie and television scripts.

While he had some time to kill, he wrote 50 pages of a novel, which his wife liked. So he finished the book and got it published.

Rosenfelt has since written a series of nine books featuring wise-cracking lawyer Andy Carpenter. "Heart of a Killer" (Minotaur Books, 298 pages, $24.99) is the fourth of his stand-alone books, which Rosenfelt tries to keep more serious than his Andy Carpenter books.

"Heart of a Killer" features a lawyer who is given a pro-bono assignment to help a convicted killer. The convict wants to die so she can provide a heart for her 14-year-old daughter, who will die without a transplant. That case gets the lawyer involved in a terrorist's plot, and the action cascades along from there.

Rosenfelt and his wife also created the Tara Foundation, which has rescued more than 4,000 dogs from shelters. 

Q: How did you end up in Maine?

A: We bought a house about four years ago. We are from back East originally, but lived in southern California, and we wanted to move. We were sick of the weather and everything. We first considered the Northwest or Northeast, but we have grown kids and a grandson in New York City, so it made sense to come here.

Our son went to school with someone from Damariscotta, and we visited and fell in love with the place, and we live on Damariscotta Lake.

We are so excited to have a real winter, only we really haven't had one this year. We are the only people I know who are rooting for cold and snow. 

Q: Tell me about the move.

A: We moved 27 dogs here. We had actually literally thought about it for four years: How to do this move. We have only old or sick dogs that nobody really wants, so we couldn't fly them. We got 11 people from all over the country, some of whom I didn't even know – they were just readers of mine. We rented three RVs and drove across the country – it took five days.

I am actually writing a book about dog rescues, and the move is going to be a big part of it.

 Q: How did you get involved in dog rescue?

A: When I met my wife she had this golden retriever, Tara, and when she died my wife couldn't get another dog right away, so we started volunteering for an animal shelter. Animal shelters in southern California are terrible, with dogs being put down all the time. So we started a rescue foundation that has rescued 4,000 dogs, and when one was old or blind that no one wanted, we would take it. So we got two and that became 12, and when you have 23, what difference does one more make?

So we are absolutely insane and out of control. We just rescued our first Maine dog.

Q: Do you feel like the little old lady in all the cartoons with a house full of cats?

A: Yeah. We were watching a commercial a while back for some cleaning product, and this woman was saying she really needed the product because she had six dogs, as if you have to be absolutely insane to have six dogs. At that time, we had five dogs in the bed with us.

If you were to die and come back as a dog, our house would be a good place to come to live. Now, if you were a person, I'm not sure I would advise it. 

Q: Time to get to the book. "Heart of a Killer" is really two plots woven together: The Sheryl Harrison story and a computer-terrorist thriller. Is it tough to weave something like that together?

A: It's harder for me than for most writers. It's about the way I work: I can't plan a book in advance or do an outline. I just start writing, and I don't know how it comes out. It just goes where it goes. The more complicated it is, if two separate things are going on, the more difficult it is. It was sort of a challenge.

 Q: How is this different from your Andy Carpenter books?

A: Very different, although the main character in this book is not that far off because for the first time in one of the stand-alone books, the main character is a lawyer.

The Andy Carpenter books have a lot of humor in them, probably too much. The editor has to go through these books with a sieve to take things out. This one is more of a thriller, and has serious issues that people really care about.

Q: How does the process of swapping them off go?

A: I do one a year of each. Next year, I will have three books, including that one about the dogs.

The Andy books are told in the first person and present tense. Andy is me, a younger, thinner version of me. It is easy because I write like I am talking with people I am just friends with, and the 10 or so characters are like old friends. The trick is to give all this background information to new readers in such a way as the regular Andy readers aren't bored to death.

The others are harder for me to write. The first one is called "Don't Tell a Soul," and I set out to make it as unfunny as I could. I sent it to my editor, and she reads it and says how much she loved how I blended the humor and the mystery. I just can't help it, I guess. The hard thing for me as a writer is how to not have the humor be inappropriate. In one book, I have a really funny scene with a father and son at a baseball game, and at the end of it, the father has as heart attack and dies. So I have these books with murders and all this serious stuff and the humor, and I worry at the end that it seems inappropriate. But I think I have handled it pretty well. 

Q: People think of the movie business as glamorous, but you gave it up to write books. How did that come about?

A: It's nothing complex. I was president of marketing for TriStar Pictures in New York, and Sony bought us and was going to move us to California, and I didn't want to move. So I wrote a screenplay and sold it, and all of a sudden I am a writer. A director friend of mine had seen some of my work in advertising and liked it, so he coaxed me through the process.

I sold a bunch of movie scripts, and sold a bunch of TV scripts, and one day I was waiting to get a script back from CBS, so I decided to write a novel, and got about 50 pages done when the script came back and I went to work on that.

My wife took a look at the book and said she liked it, so I finished it and sent it off to a publisher, and I got a contract with sequels.

The whole process took about six or seven weeks.

Q: Do you know how jealous all the would-be writers out there are?

A: Yes. I had an advantage because I already had an agent for the film work, and it was just lucky because I was ignorant about the process of being a writer. Now I had to do a series, and you have to do an outline of the sequels, and I didn't know how to do an outline. I didn't even know it was a mystery. I thought it was a courtroom drama, but they sold it to Mysterious Press. That's how I found out it was a mystery. 

Q: Do you have any signings or appearances scheduled?

A: Not locally. I am leaving for some in Florida and Arizona. I do have a lot of appearances planned for the next Andy book, "Leader of the Pack," which comes out in July.

Tom Atwell is a freelance writer who lives in Cape Elizabeth. He can be contacted at 791-6362 or at:

tomatwell@me.com

 

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