After reading two of Robert Lane‘s Jake Travis mystery novels, I decided I needed to know more about this author and how he creates his characters and plots. I contacted him by email and he graciously agreed to answer a few questions and I thought some of you would enjoy seeing his responses, too. Here are my questions and Mr. Lane’s replies:
Q 1. With your first book, which came first — your idea of a resurfacing letter or the idea to centre your story around the incident of Bay of Pigs and the shifting of American spy goals?
A. Both. The opening of The Second Letter is a concoction of fact and fiction. Dorothy Harrison is based on a real person, Joan Haley. The museum is real and it was a small church before she converted it to her home. She did move down from Washington D.C., and her deceased husband was an early secret service agent–his escapade in saving the president’s wife is factual. All the elements in the opening scene are accurate; her early life, the radio station changing to a Top Forty format, the cover of Vogue magazine, her car, and the release of the Shirelles rendition of Carole King’s “Will You Still Love MeTomorrow” which becomes a central theme of the story.
I threw in a visitor in a black car with an envelope to hide. The time frame matched the Bay of Pigs, and I was off and running, or, in this case, writing.
Q 2. What were the influences for your Jack Travis character? Do I detect a bit of Humphrey Bogart there?
A. Jake, like us all, is his own person. He likely has ingredients from, in no particular order, Crais, DeMille, Randy White, Hemingway, and a dozen more. But Jake does things that surprise me, and he is not even remotely purposely related to any character I know.
I was in a workshop years ago and the leader, a well known best selling author, voiced that she thought Jake had strong strands of two particular authors. I had never read either one. Characters are like colors; they appear different to different people.
Q 3. Did you have your title before you wrote the book? I have to tell you, about half-way through I thought I knew what the second letter was but it turned out I was wrong. I’m thinking that was a deliberate red herring.
A. The working title was In the Shadow of Good. I wrote the opening chapter without a clue that there was a second letter in the envelope. I didn’t even know what the first letter was about. The envelope was sealed in my mind, even as I approached the end of writing the novel. Once I mentally opened it, and a second letter fell out, (a love letter of all things), I realized the second letter was the central theme of the novel. It harkened beautifully back to the opening scene of the book and Dorothy Harrison.
A deliberate red herring? Perhaps. I write for myself and I like surprises. I also know my mysteries are more of the heart and less of politics and law.
Q 4. Did any real-life stories influence either your blackmailing character or your congressman?
A. Not consciously. I read Allen Drury’s Advise and Consent a zillion years ago. Perhaps it left a taste of how nasty Washington can be. Jake needed to be in that mode to meet his objective.
Q 5. I haven’t been able to find out too much about you although I liked your website and the brief bio there. Is writing your first career? If not, does your background contribute to the authenticity of your novels? Have you always wanted to be an author?
A. After majoring in English, I started my own newspaper and wrote short stories. But I needed money for food. I embarked upon a career as a stock broker/investment manager. I returned to writing five years ago; now that I no longer need to worry about my supper.
Q 6. Is there a 4th Jake Travis novel in the works now? Expected publication date?
A. The Gail Force will be released next summer. Jake goes undercover to investigate an international art gallery in Miami Beach. Things are not what they appear. Jake losses control of the game, and again, tests his love for Kathleen.
Q 7. I read a review on Amazon where someone wrote that they found your first novel too violent. I must admit, I didn’t feel that it was. Compared to much of what is written today, I found there wasn’t very much, although what there was could maybe be called graphic, but I think that’s pushing it. What do you say to criticism like that or do you just ignore it and move on?
A. Thank you for your opinion; I agree with you!
I ignore it and move on. Not every book is for everybody. Oddly enough, however, now that I’ve completed nearly four Jake Travis novels, I see that The Second Letter contained more violence than the next three. So it goes.
Now I’m going to have to read Advise and Consent. A HUGE thank you to Robert Lane, author of the Jake Travis spy thriller series not only for his terrific books but for taking the time to share all the interesting behind the scenes tidbits that making reading his work all the more enjoyable. We’ll all be looking forward to the arrival of The Gail Force next summer.