This Week’s Featured Author Interview
is with Dale Lehman!
Hi, Dale Lehman, welcome to the Indie Publishing Group website. Introduce yourself to us. Tell everyone who you are, where you’re from, what do you enjoy doing, hobbies and interests.
I’m Dale Lehman, born almost sixty years ago in Toledo, Ohio. We left there for the Chicago suburbs when I was eight. I spent a big chunk of my life in Chicagoland, and another big chunk in the Baltimore suburbs, where I now live. I also did a three-year stint in Sacramento when I was in junior high school. I make my living as a software developer. I got started in that field somewhat by accident following a period of unemployment and an appendectomy back in 1979. I’ve worked in the financial, healthcare, and government sectors. I’m married to my editor, lucky me. We have five children and, so far, five grandchildren.
As you can imagine, this keeps life pretty full, but when I have time I’m an amateur astronomer and a bonsai artist in training. Unfortunately, I haven’t had a great deal of time for either in recent years, but I did manage to convince my wife to take the money we didn’t have and spend it on a trip to South Carolina to witness the total solar eclipse this past August. The next one in the U.S. runs right over my oldest daughter’s house, so we’re planning a family reunion there for that date. I’m also a Baha’i—that’s my religion—which fact informs some of my writing.
My wife and I run a small religious publishing company, One Voice Press, and its fiction imprint, Serpent Cliff. I’ve published the first two in a series of mystery novels set in Howard County, Maryland and have the third about ready for publication. In addition to my novels, my nonfiction writing has appeared in a couple of technical journals and in Sky & Telescope.
When did you start writing and why?
I’ve been writing nearly my whole life. My earliest story—at least that I can recall—was probably written when I was in second grade. It was a silly little thing inspired by learning how to fold a sheet of paper to make a boat. I covered the boat will birds—little V’s actually—and then unfolded it to see where the birds fell on the full sheet of paper. After that, I wrote a sort of Noah’s ark story in which all the characters were birds. The title, naturally, was “Birda’s Ark.” Yeah, well, I was only, what, seven?
I think the writing bug is genetic in my case. Somewhere along the line I discovered that my father was a writer, too, although he didn’t share much of his writing with others until the last decade of life, and farther back a distant cousin of some degree or other wrote a fictionalized account of my great-great-great grandfather’s amazing westward migration from central Ohio to western Ohio. That may not sound like much, but at that time they were heading into sparsely settled territory.
My writing took off in high school when I mostly penned science fiction short stories. When I met the woman, I was destined to marry at Northwestern University, I began a long period of training in what she termed “Kathy’s slash and burn school of writing.” It was only in the late 1990’s that my writing approached publish-ability. Unfortunately, that’s when I had a bad experience with an agent—or rather con artist—and stopped writing for ten years. When I finally wrote my first Howard County Mystery, The Fibonacci Murders, I was out of practice. (My wife told me so.) It’s a good story, I think, but I’ve had to work hard to get back up to speed in my subsequent novels. I’m finally about there.
Which is your favorite book you have written and what gave you the idea for it?
In terms of published works, I only have two to choose from: The Fibonacci Murders and True Death. My next novel, Ice on the Bay, should be out by the end of 2017. Of those three, I think True Death is my favorite, although Ice on the Bay is likely the best written.
At its core, True Death deals with the death of Sandra Peller, the wife of my principal detective, Rick Peller. The seed of the idea was planted in The Fibonacci Murders, where I mention that Sandra had been killed four years previously in an automobile accident. I hadn’t explored the incident, just mentioned it as part of Peller’s backstory. When I started looking for an idea for my second novel, it occurred to me that Sandra’s death could be a springboard for delving into Peller’s character, as well as the characters of the other detectives. I decided that the traffic accident had been a hit-and-run and that the other driver had never been found. In Fibonacci, it’s also mentioned that an emotional rift had opened between Peller and his son, who lives half a continent away, following Sandra’s death. So obviously there’s a lot of potential in this situation. How Peller and his colleagues bring the case to resolution, both legally and personally, involves many twists and turns and introduces some new characters that I really enjoyed writing (bad guys as well as good guys).
Ice on the Bay deals with Peller’s underlings Corina Montufar and Eric Dumas and their budding relationship. It’s a more complex story still, involving missing persons, arsons, a dying father, and of course a murder, plus some seriously weird characters.
How did you come up with the title for your book?
The Fibonacci Murders is pure description. The book is about a series of murders based on the Fibonacci sequence, a mathematical series in which each number is the sum of the previous two.
True Death popped into my head one day as a good title. I don’t know where it came from, really, although it likely had a religious impetus of some sort: true death is death of the spirit, not death of the body. I had the title before I wrote the book, which is a bit odd, but that’s what happened.
Then it happened again with Ice on the Bay, but in that case, it was literal: I was driving over the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore on my way to work one January morning during the coldest winter in a long time. Below me, the waters of the Patapsco River flowing into the Chesapeake Bay were covered in ice. I thought the phrase made a great title, so I set the novel during a similarly cold winter, and of course, there is a theme of coldness running through it.
Who helped you with the cover? Or did you design it yourself? What was your inspiration for your cover design?
My wife and I do the cover designs, using stock photos and artwork from Dreamstime.com. For both of my previous works, she selected the images and I put the text onto them. Here’s a rather funny story for you. The cover of True Death features a beautiful young woman walking down a country road with a suitcase, her clothing ripped and dirty. She’s been through something terrible and is leaving whatever it was behind. It rather looks like all she’s wearing is a tattered and filthy shirt. A young female friend of one of my daughters asked if my next book would be titled, The Girl with No Pants. No, I’m not using that title! Nor was the photo selected because of the subject’s skimpy outfit. My wife found it after I suggested I wanted a woman walking down a country road. The woman is Sandra Peller, walking out of this life on a journey that’s not yet complete.
What are some of the themes of your story?
Fibonacci doesn’t have any obvious theme that I can tell. True Death deals with betrayal and forgiveness, and Ice on the Bay with spiritual/emotional cold and warmth.
What’s your process when you sit down and decide to start writing a book? What is your process, and do you have a system?
I like to have a sense of what the story is about before I start writing, but I don’t do much in the way of outlining. I’ve tried, and it just doesn’t work for me. I have to see the characters in action to understand what’s going on. So, I generally wait for an idea, put down a few notes about the big picture, and plunge into the writing. In recent times I’ve started to keep a log summarizing what happens on each day of a novel because otherwise, I lose track of the passage of time in the story. This can also help me if I get stuck. I can go back and quickly see what’s already happened in what order, so I can decide what needs to happen next. In addition, I’m working up a “bible” for my Howard County Mysteries, largely to keep track of the characters’ backgrounds and lives. When you get three or four books into a series, it’s hard to remember such details unless they’re recorded in some organized fashion.
Who are some of your favorite characters and why?
I like all of my characters. Of course. Rick Peller is a bit like me, so I guess I have a particular affinity for him. I’m a bit enamored of Sandra Peller, but she’s a married dead lady, so I have to watch my step there. And I have a lot of affection for Corina Montufar and Eric Dumas, each of whom have passed through a great deal of adversity and came out shining. Although I wouldn’t really want to meet anyone like him, I think Orion Speros—one of the key bad guys in True Death—is pretty awesome, in his bad guy way. But the main characters in one of my works-in-progress, Bernard, and Melody Earls, are rapidly becoming my all-time favorite characters. They’re a lot of fun to write.
Who are some of your favorite authors?
Ray Bradbury. I consider him the greatest 20th-century American writer. When I grow up as a writer, I’d like to be him—in my own way, of course. Not that I have much chance of that, but it’s something to shoot for. In the mystery genre, Martha Grimes is right at the top of my list, along with P. D. James. I particularly enjoy the levity Grimes throws into her Richard Jury novels with Jury’s friend ex-earl Melrose Plant and his screwball associates.
Have you got anything you’re working on now?
Oh, my yes. I’ve started Howard County Mystery #4 (no title yet this time). I have a completed SF/humor novel, Space Operatic, out to a couple of beta readers. As I mentioned, I’ve also started a crime/humor novel about a husband and wife team of thieves named Bernard and Melody Earls who I first introduced as a joke in a flash fiction story. They’re a great couple. Nothing ever seems to go quite right for Bernard, but he’s such a nice guy that you can’t help but root for him. And you can’t help but fall in love with Melody, kleptomaniac though she might be. The whole world does.
If you could have any superpowers what would they be?
Hmm. The ability to write a great story the first time, no revisions required? Failing that, the ability to get people to listen to reason? I know, I know. Dream on.
If you could travel to any location in the world where would you go?
I think it would be really neat to stand on the top of Mt. Everest, but I don’t want to have to climb it, and helicopters can’t fly anywhere near that high. More realistically, I’d take off in a heartbeat for the mountains of the western U.S. I’ve been there before, in the Sierra, in Glacier National Park, in Rocky Mountain National Park. For one thing, when you get high enough and are away from the lights, the night sky is the most inspiringly beautiful thing you’ve ever seen.
Where do you hope to be in 5 years’ time?
I hope my writing continues to develop and becomes well known enough that I can make a little money from it. I’m closing on retirement age, and although I can code in my sleep, I’m starting to think I’d like to spend a lot less time at the office. Besides, like many people I know, I don’t have enough in retirement savings to actually retire. I think I could keep writing until I drop in the traces. If it would pay the bills, I’d be set. That doesn’t sound like a bad “retirement” at all.
Thanks so much for taking the time to do an author interview, Dale Lehman! Take a minute and check Dale Lehman out on the links below. Dale Lehman’s book, The Fibonacci Murders: A Howard County Murder Mystery, is available now on Amazon!
Dale Lehman Author Twitter
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Dale Lehman Author Website/Blog
Dale Lehman Author Books
Dale Lehman One Voice Press