He was a carpenter's helper and factory worker until he entered the US Army at nineteen. A tour of duty took him to the Far East where he saw a world far different from his own. His military experience acquainted him with his country. The racial, ethnic, and cultural makeup of his squad changed forever his concept of "American."
The GI Bill financed his entire college career. After declaring and rejecting majors in Business (lacked interest) and Art (fairly talented, but color blind), he settled on History, in which he obtained BA and MA degrees. Passing up a doctoral program (he was 27, married, and had no job), he took a public school teaching position "until something better came along." He discovered, to his amazement, that the calling suited him.
He began writing shortly after he started teaching (supplemental essays on the history of technology and on foreign policy). His fiction writing career began with short sci-fi stories. Then he turned to the mystery/suspense genre which he now writes exclusively. In 2003, he began serializing novels on-line.
Today, he and his wife (life partner, collaborator, illustrator, and muse) still live on the farm his grandfather settled. His roots (four generations deep) are in the Ozarks where the Richard Carter series is set. Using the culture, language, and mores of this "Bible Belt" region, he writes culturally immersive stories of obsession set amidst the small-town and rural life that he knows. (Amazon)
BBB: What inspired you to become a writer?
ARS: This should be an easy answer, but it’s not—not if I’m honest. I’ve thought about it, tried to find a moment of decision or the germ of ambition somewhere back there, but I can’t zero in on any particular thing other than my love for stories. As a child, I sat listening to my parents and grandparents tell real-life stories. I read a lot, at first totally unrealistic sci-fi novels like Marooned on Mars. I read everything from the Arabian Nights to Ivanhoe toMoby Dick, from the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew to Heart of Darkness and Steppenwolf. My tastes were and are eclectic.
After college, I tried my hand at Sci-fi short stories and collected a slew of rejections. I don’t think I really had ambitions of being a serious writer at that point, because I didn’t edit enough. I loved telling the stories, but wasn’t up to the hard work it took to polish them. I didn’t take the time to be brief.
Then came the idea which led to the series of which The King Snake is the fifth novel. It was: “Can trust betrayed ever be regained?” I ran with it, enjoying myself immensely, and produced a truly wretched first draft full of more stuff than you’d find in a hoarder’s basement. However, the story also produced Richard Carter and Jill Belbenoit. Years later, I (at the urging of my wife and partner) pared away better than half of the book and rewrote the remainder, and changed the title to Bonne Femme. To my surprise, this psychological thriller turned out to be something of a romance novel. (Me? Writing a romance?) Rightly or wrongly, the experience convinced me that I could at least write genre fiction. Who knows? Someday I might actually write literature. Right now, I’m a story teller.
ARS: First, let me explain for those not familiar with the Richard Carter series that each book is centered on a particular obsession. For the straightforward thrillers, it won’t be a spoiler to tell what the obsession is. For example, in bothBonne Femme (#1) and Canaan Camp (#3), the bad guy is a sexual predator.
I can’t tell you the obsession in The King Snake without providing a spoiler. I can say that it is based on an “idée fixe” of an acquaintance of mine from long ago, a perceived injustice that he just couldn’t let go. The title played a big part too, because it came to me before the plot did. Let’s see what I can tell you without giving things away. Rural people here in the Ozarks consider some snakes good and some bad. Garter Snakes, Rat Snakes, and Black Snakes are good snakes because they eat vermin. Rattle Snakes, Cotton Mouths, and Copperheads are poisonous and, therefore, bad snakes. The King Snake is considered good because he eats other snakes.
The story opens with a sniper killing a low-level drug dealer in Hawthorn County, causing Richard to be assigned to an area-wide drug task force. The sniper begins going after cops too. So is this a case of bad guys killing other bad guys? Or is it a case of dirty cops killing snitches? Or does the killer, whom a local newspaper christens “The King Snake,” have another motive?
BBB: Tell us about your main character, Richard Carter.
ARS: Richard, six years removed from, and haunted by, combat in Africa, suffers PTSD, survivor's guilt, and periodic depression. A pardon for felony homicide in the death of a serial killer has shot down his dream of an FBI career. He has come to the rural Ozarks where he serves as criminalist for the Hawthorn County Sheriff's Department. Richard’s strength as an investigator is persistence. In an odd dichotomy, this former Marine, so scarred by violence and bloodshed, escapes his own darkness by obsessing about violent criminal activity. It comes with a price, however: guilt for enjoying his work.
He is a “good man,” unable to excuse what he has done as fate. His lifeline is Jill, his wife, lover, friend, and therapist. I can’t speak of Richard without mentioning her (and now Mirabelle, their precocious daughter). A casual read and hasty judgment might lead you to think that Jill’s roles as wife, mother, and community college professor (all traditional female roles) are demeaning. In fact, the first reviewer of The King Snake felt so strongly that way that her scathing review termed the whole book sexist. I don’t think it is. Jill chooses the traditional “female” roles for two reasons: first to have what she defines as a “real family, one with a functioning father,” something she was deprived of as a child. She chooses to toil in rural obscurity rather than taking a prestigious major college position because she sees it as the only way to save her damaged husband. She is by far the strongest, most intelligent, and wisest of the two.
This is not to say Richard is weak. He is not. He always manages to do what must be done. He just cannot exorcise his own demons, nor excise a defining moment from his past. Others may, but he will never pardon himself. Such is the burden of an uncompromising conscience.
BBB: What do you think readers will enjoy most about your book?
ARS: Well, after reading my last reply, they might think that the book is gloomy and Richard brooding, which isn’t the case. Richard is upbeat most of the time, and there is quite a bit of humor, especially in scenes where he interacts with fellow deputy, Ron Guidry. (Guidry is a sort of sidekick who says and does things that Richard cannot.) If readers are followers of the series, they will be interested in the evolving dynamic of the Carter family. By now, those readers should be emotionally invested in Richard, Jill, and Mirabelle. Everyone should enjoy the twists and turns of the investigation. I hope they will become immersed in the culture and mores of the hills. The characters are people many of us may recognize from our own experience, whether that is rural or urban. Well, maybe not the eccentric ones like Arley. Of course, the climax scene is extremely tense. That was my favorite part of the book.
ARS: Yes. It’s been a blitz since June of 2013, when we began getting the stories ready for publication. Since The King Snake, we’ve released Call Her Sabine and Devilry. Currently we’re working on Road Shrines, which begins with the abduction of a US Senator’s daughter from a tribal store near Wounded Knee in 1991. It then flashes forward eighteen years, when the body of another girl is found in Hawthorn County. One of the most interesting characters in this story is Woodie Koeltz, a rookie female deputy from another county who collaborates on the case with Richard.
ARS: Readers can connect with me via
Twitter: AR Simmons @arsimmons_rcn
My website: http://www.bluecreeknovels.com