Thursday, January 22, 2015

Believe It: Ripley Comes Storme-ing Back

How is it that I made it all the way through the 1990s without ever once picking up a Wyatt Storme thriller? The protagonist--a Vietnam War veteran, former wide receiver with the Dallas Cowboys, and occasional troubleshooter--and his more dangerous sidekick, screw-loose ex-CIA operative Chick Easton, are not only engaging and supremely resourceful, but guaranteed to bring a smile to your face now and then. Here, for instance, is a late passage from the new novel Storme Warning (Brash Books), in which Storme is “invited” into the company of a mobster named Gus Giovanni:
“We know a lot about you, Storme,” said Giovanni. “War hero. Silver Star, Bronze Star. Even understand you might’ve been a candidate for the Medal of Honor, but you don’t take orders so good. Is that right?”

“I was also a hall monitor in the third grade.”
If you’re thinking that last line could just as easily have been delivered by a certain fictional Boston private eye … well, you’re not the first person to make the connection between Storme and Robert B. Parker’s Spenser. In its review of the third Storme novel, Electric Country Roulette (1996), Kirkus Reviews opined that “Storme has acquired some of the catlike moves of the early Spenser, before he got to be such a prig.” And in a promotional video for Storme Warning, Brash Books co-founder Lee Goldberg says the novel’s author, W.L. Ripley, “is, in a way, the second coming of Robert Parker.”

That’s a heap of praise to live up to, but Pleasant Hill, Missouri, author Ripley (whose first initials stand for “Warren Lee”) does a pretty good job of it with Storme Warning. As I explain in my column this week for Kirkus, this novel finds Storme and Easton
providing protection to Cameron Fogarty, a charismatic but indomitably irresponsible young Hollywood hotshot who’s portraying 19th-century outlaw Jesse James in a big-budget Western film being shot on Storme’s Missouri acreage (much to the retired NFL star’s displeasure). Fogarty has reportedly received death threats, yet he’s not the only one at risk here. A racist, conscience-deprived former mob enforcer, “Glory Rory” Marchibroda, has recently been freed from prison and wants vengeance on Storme for what he sees as a past injustice. Trying to keep Fogarty safe from would-be killers--not to mention his own poor judgment--while steering clear of confrontations with Marchibroda will be a full-time job for Storme and Easton, one that may bring them down before they get anywhere near this tale’s end zone.
Storme Warning is the fourth entry in Ripley’s series--but the first new one to be published in 19 years. After putting Storme and Easton through their paces in Dreamsicle (1993), Storme Front (1994), and the aforementioned Electric Country Roulette, Ripley began a new series, that one starring an “enigmatic ex-Secret Service agent” named Cole Springer (introduced in Springer’s Gambit, 2001). He feared the market for Storme and Easton had dried up and blown away--at least until Brash Books came calling. While preparing last year’s launch of that ambitious, independent print/e-book venture, Goldberg and his publishing partner, Joel Goldman, asked Ripley whether he’d like to give his original series a second lease on life. Having taken retirement not long before then, after more than three dozen years as an educator in the Show Me State, Ripley suddenly had more of the free time he’d always wanted to write fiction, so was ready for the challenge. The results of their deal will be seen not only in Storme Warning (which is officially due out on February 2), but more entries in both the Storme and Springer series, and maybe even some different sorts of crime novels to follow. Ripley calls his association with Brash “a partnership that works for me. The publishers treat my books as if they authored them. Worth a million bucks and an autographed photo of Julius Caesar.”

I recently e-mailed Ripley (now 62 years old, though he claims to “have the body of a man 59”) more than a few questions about his teaching career, his publishing struggles, his crime-fiction tastes, his oft-stated interest in cigars, Storme’s reclusiveness, and myriad other subjects. Part of our exchange went into this week’s Kirkus column, but the rest--really, the larger portion--can be enjoyed below.

J. Kingston Pierce: Information about your work history seems to be rather thin on the Web. Did you start out as a sportswriter and then become an educator, or was it the other way around? Where did you teach, and what subjects were your specialties?

W.L. Ripley: I was a sportswriter while in college, even while I was playing basketball. I wrote for my college paper and the editor/sponsor liked my writing and helped me get a job with a daily newspaper, the Sedalia Democrat. After graduation I began teaching and coaching basketball at the high-school level. I still did some spot reporting for the Democrat and over the years I have served as an interim reporter/editor for some local newspapers.

I was a physical education teacher, but I also taught and held degrees in Social Studies, Driver Education, and Special Services (behavior disorders/emotionally disturbed). I taught and coached for 10 years, first at the high-school level and then at the NCAA Division II level, where we were fortunate to win over 200 games. I loved basketball, both coaching and playing, but I had bad knees and four young children, so I left the coaching profession. I have an advanced degree in Secondary School Administration and served as a school principal/administrator for 27 years. I also taught at two universities--Southwest Baptist University and Missouri University of Science and Technology--teaching education courses at both places and physical education courses at SBU.

I once wrote a research paper in a post-graduate class [on which] the professor wrote, “You’re either a tremendous writer or you plagiarized this entire paper.” I confronted him and asked him if he was prejudiced because I was a basketball coach. He admitted he was, and then asked why I coached when I could write like that? I told him, “Because right now I’m not through coaching.” I got an “A.”

JKP: And are you still teaching? If not, how long ago did you retire from that noble profession?

WLR: I am in my third year of retirement. I loved it, but I had done the education thing for 37 years and wanted to have more time for my wife, my kids, my grandchildren, and my writing. My knees were ruined from playing basketball many decades ago and required knee replacement. I couldn’t get around as much as I needed and I was unable to climb or go down stairs without pain.

JKP: Your first published novel, Dreamsicle, reached bookstores in 1993. But was that actually the first novel you wrote? Or are there other, unpublished novels of yours secreted in a drawer someplace, never again to see the light of day?

WLR: I started out wanting to be a young-adult author, and when I submitted manuscripts I received critiques from editors such as, “This is the best teen sports novel I’ve ever read” and “This is far too intelligent for the teen audience. The writer is slumming.” Or, “High-school kids don’t talk like this” (they hadn’t met my four kids or they wouldn’t have said that). “This is an excellent young-adult book. But too much testosterone for … (I won’t name the well-known publishing house).” I got that last critique by accident, and the female editor was embarrassed and a little frightened I got it. I asked what she would’ve done if a male editor said that a female authored a book with “too much estrogen.” I put her at ease, because I just want to know what they think. I also heard that “boys don’t buy books,” but I always felt publishing houses didn’t care to give boys anything to read. It was very frustrating, so I wrote Dreamsicle, and wrote in it in one fine long flash. I should’ve been writing mysteries all the while.

I do have one of those YA novels, and will publish it in the near future.

JKP: Are you a longtime reader of crime fiction?

WLR: I’ve always read a lot and still do. I’ve read the entire Sherlock Holmes canon, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and many other mystery/thriller authors. It was John D. McDonald’s Travis McGee books that really lit a fuse under me. I’ve read all of the McGee books more than once. Rex Stout was another favorite, and I was greatly influenced by Robert B. Parker and Elmore Leonard, my two all-time favorites. I was saddened by the passing of these two giants, but fortunately, Ace Atkins has continued the Spenser saga in excellent fashion, so right now I look forward to that [as well as his] Quinn Colson novels. James Lee Burke is a huge favorite and I always look forward to reading his work. Burke is the best stylist in the genre and a Faulknerian. Burke makes the setting a living part of his stories; as much a character as Dave Robicheaux. I’ve read most of Raymond Chandler’s novels and enjoy C.J. Box, Tom Kakonis, and Jack Lynch. Presently I’m working on the Fox and O’Hare trilogy [by Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg]. There is so much good stuff out there right now, and I’m enjoying myself.

I have also read many of the classics, including Dumas, Dickens, Shakespeare, Poe, all of Tokien’s Middle Earth saga, and pretty much anything I can get my hands on. I’ve read Norman Mailer and many other writers outside the genre. I’ve read Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye three times and will probably read it again. I’m influenced by Mark Twain and Ernest Hemingway and, oddly, Hunter S. Thompson (go figure that one).

Ironically, I’ve read very few Western novels, though I have read Louis L’Amour.

Two others are Dan Jenkins (Semi-Tough) and the late Pete Gent (North Dallas Forty and The Franchise). These were sports novels that influenced me when I was developing Wyatt Storme. Jenkins’ brand of humor is just marvelous and I had phone conversations with Gent, who once worked to set up a meeting [for me] with Hunter S. Thompson for a book blurb through mutual friends--[but it] fell through when Thompson didn’t show and was incoherent when my publicity guy got hold of him via the phone. Would’ve liked to have met him, as he was kind of a hero of mine.

JKP: Storme Warning is your fourth novel starring Wyatt Storme and his rather unpredictable cohort, Chick Easton. How do you think those two characters have evolved since their early days together?

WLR: When they first met, Storme found Easton’s heavy drinking off-putting. He also thought Easton was full of it, until he saw him in action. Easton quickly learned that Storme is slow to involve himself in things that require his involvement. They have come to be fast friends, closer than brothers, and Storme is the only man to whom Chick Easton will confide his fears and his doubts. They have an unspoken bond whereby Storme knows Easton will be there, and Easton intuits when Storme will zig and when he will zag. Storme has become the first person in many years of Easton’s dark life who always does what he says and says what he means. Storme is a throwback; Easton typifies the modern action hero. Storme is thinking more and more about how to resolve his relationship with Sandra Collingsworth [a FOX-TV personality 10 years his junior], and Easton is getting a better handle on his alcoholism. Easton admires Storme’s values and the length to which Storme will go to protect his integrity. Storme admires Easton’s devil-may-care attitude and is touched by Easton’s fierce loyalty.

JKP: What are the most important things about Wyatt Storme that most people in his world don’t understand about him?

WLR: Why would he walk away from all the adulation and money [of professional football]? Why did he not enjoy his celebrity? Additionally, when and where did he acquire his unique skills? What causes a man to move away from civilization?

JKP: So, why does Wyatt Storme choose to be such a recluse?

WLR: Storme was tired of being in the limelight. He liked playing football and the satisfying ballet-like action of plucking a football out of space. He loved the rhythm and atmosphere of the game, but thought it silly that people ascribed importance to it. To Storme, the game was everything and the rest of it, merely the annoyance he had to endure that allowed him to do the thing he loved. I felt the same way playing and coaching basketball. I didn’t care if anyone came to the games, as long as we got to play. Coaches are the last cowboys, the greatest people I know. I was coaching a game once when the lobby caught on fire. Smoke was billowing out into the arena, people were up in their seats, rushing to the lobby, and I was unaware of it until I noticed my assistant coaches were gone. I asked where they went and one of my players said, “Coach, the lobby’s on fire.” I looked across the floor and said, “Well, that’s none of their business.” The official scorer heard me, put his head down on the table and laughed uncontrollably saying, “Coaches are crazy.”

When I coached, as soon as the game was over I wanted to see my kids and get away so I could savor the moments I had just enjoyed with other coaches or in the privacy of my home.

Storme is like that.

JKP: I asked how Storme has evolved since Dreamsicle saw print. Now let me ask how you have evolved as a writer since then. And what do you now know about the novel-writing biz or your characters that you wish you’d understood from the outset?

WLR: I’ve learned how hard it is to compete against oneself. Each new work carries the expectations of the previous novel and the desire to exceed it and improve upon it. [Developing] character arcs in series novels is a more difficult task than I had first imagined, as you must maintain your character for fans of the series while still having the characters go through some changes before the novel’s denouement in order to create a fresh novel for first-time readers. Yet, you still have to keep your character’s basic attributes and outlook intact.

I wish someone had clued me in about how much work is involved. This is where beginning writers fall back. It is damned hard work and you’re in it alone. They think it’s going to be easy and then they quickly learn that it is [all about] knowing literature, research, writing every day, editing, rewriting, studying the writing task, and worst of all, rejection. Too often I talk to beginning writers who quit after their first rejection.

It’s a truism that I could paper the walls of my office with rejection letters. Writers don’t quit, wannabes do.

One of the most frustrating aspects is when people think I don’t do anything because they don’t see me writing. It’s not a spectator sport. I’m in my office every morning banging away at the keyboard, trying to chip away at a book that will sell and that readers will enjoy. I know the next book is in my keyboard somewhere and I just have to figure out the code under my fingers.

I have also learned that there is no bad criticism. I value the critique of my colleagues, critics, and readers. Sometimes the criticism is valid and I correct in the next book. And sometimes the criticism makes me laugh, especially at those times when critics get all ticked off at the “macho” antics of my characters. I note that the greats get nasty reviews of books that I truly enjoyed. Tastes vary.

I was a basketball coach and a high-school principal. I’m immune to slanderous criticism.

I wrote Storme (and my earlier unpublished attempts) in first-person point of view. First-person is fun, but the writer’s movement is restricted, as you can only detail those things that the protagonist (Storme) sees, thinks, feels, or witnesses. For the Cole Springer novels I wanted to have more freedom of movement in my novel, so I went with a third-person point of view.

For Storme Warning, I did something new. I interspersed Storme’s singular point of view with a smattering of the first-person viewpoint of the revenge-minded button man, Rory Marchibroda. In Storme Warning the reader will learn what motivates Rory and also why he hates Storme. It adds a horror flavor to the thriller, as Rory is a nasty piece of work.

JKP: What have you still not mastered as a fiction writer?

WLR: Self-promotion. I’m not comfortable with it. It probably stems from my career as a coach/teacher/principal, where you don’t want to take credit away from your players, students, and teachers. I accomplished nothing without the efforts of those people, but now I’m in this alone and it’s different. I must learn to self-promote and I’m still learning.

I also have an Archie Goodwin/Jiminy Cricket of my own in my son Jared. Jared does the promo on my Amazon and Facebook pages. He is churlish when I make a wrong step. His favorite phrase is “(insert profanity) old people and technology.” He does an amazing job behind the scenes. My wife, Penny, is also sharp about promotion and set up the best signing I have had to date with Barnes & Noble bookstores. So, I have help but remain promotionally challenged.

I’ll never master this craft. I’m constantly learning things about the writing task. My coaching background is a plus, as every coach has to continue to learn, or die. If you think you know everything about writing you’ll never realize how dumb you are, and your books will fizzle.

JKP: I must admit that Storme Warning is the first entry I’ve read in your series, so I am a little confused about the settings of these books. At least the first couple seem to have been set in Colorado, rather than Missouri. Did you decide later on to move Storme and Chick, or will their adventures take them back and forth between the two locales?

WLR: From the beginning I wanted Storme in both places. He is a hunter and loves the scenery of the Missouri Ozarks and the Colorado Rockies. Storme played college football at Colorado State in Fort Collins, Colorado, and he likes the Missouri Ozarks for its fall weather and bird hunting. I likewise love both places as they are still unspoiled and away from the concrete and neon.

JKP: In Storme Warning you have Storme and Chick trying to provide protection for the thoroughly obnoxious young star of a Western picture that’s being shot on Storme’s property. What made you want to write this particular story?

WLR: I love old Westerns. My novels are all set west of the Mississippi and are modern-day Westerns. Storme and Easton ride into town, dispatch the bad guys, and then disappear into the sunset.

JKP: Do you have favorite Western films?

WLR: There is nothing so uniquely Americana as the Western. I love John Wayne and Clint Eastwood films, but there are many other Westerns I’ve watched over the years. Wayne established the classic Western hero and Clint nailed the anti-hero protagonist. [I love] My Darling Clementine and High Noon, along with Randolph Scott and Jimmy Stewart’s ’50s horse operas. I also loved the old Saturday cinema oaters: The Lone Ranger, Hopalong Cassidy, and Roy Rogers. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is a favorite and has a lot to do with who Storme and Easton are in my books. The best Western of the last 20 years, Tombstone, was so good that it has been hard for Hollywood to come close since that time, and I can watch it over and over because it’s like a good song.

videoThe trailer for Tombstone (1993).

JKP: Storme Warning is often serious, but also packs in a lot of humor. Do you set out to be funny, or do your characters just lead you there? And are you as funny in real life as your players are on the page?

WLR: I don’t set out to be humorous. It doesn’t work if I force it. It has to evolve organically under your hands. I usually have to go back and eliminate some of it. My sons will tell you, “Dad’s not funny, but he can write funny stuff.” I allow the situation to dictate the humor. Chick Easton is a humor machine, as he has such a sideways outlook. Cole Springer’s humor is ironic and meant to goad his adversaries into anger. Storme’s humor runs to amusing himself and Easton. Humor also works to take the reader’s mind off subtle clues, breaks tension, and sometimes foreshadows coming events.

Am I ever as funny in real life? Sporadically. A lot of things that Storme, Easton, and Springer say are things I’ve said many times in the past. As an educator I had to deal with many pompous individuals, and my favorite form of retaliation was to say something that they wouldn’t realize was an insult until several hours or days later.

My other personal use of humor and wit was to make teachers, students, and players laugh or get them to relax in pressure situations. Sometimes it backfired on me. I was placed on the Homecoming Committee at Southwest Baptist University, a place that is still dear to me. Everyone else on the committee was a pastor or a Theology professor. When I was asked if I had any ideas for Homecoming activities, I said, “We could have a dance.”

It wasn’t well-received. Nobody laughed.

I had to follow up with, “It’s a joke.” Still, no laughter. Baptists don’t dance, you know.

When I related the incident to my fellow coaches in the athletic department they cracked up. “See, that’s funny isn’t it?” I said. “Well, nobody laughed and it was uncomfortable.” The guys loved the fact that it made me ill at ease.

When I have a good line, I just can’t resist.

JKP: How was it that you hooked up with Joel Goldman and Lee Goldberg from Brash Books and found new life for Storme? Had you already lost hope by then that he would ever appear again?

WLR: I had given up on Storme and was committed to Springer as well as writing a couple of standalone novels with new characters that will be published in the next two years. Ace Atkins was the guy who told Goldberg and Goldman how to locate me.

JKP: I know you’re hard at work on a fifth Storme novel for Brash, to be titled Wind Storme. But are you already thinking ahead to the series’ sixth installment? Do you think the series has legs again?

WLR: I do. If not I’ll write something else. I write novels I would buy and read myself. I cannot conceive of not writing. I have to write. It is the next best thing to playing basketball for me. My audience and best critics are my sons and daughter, all highly educated individuals who are creative and love books and film. I write the books with my kids in mind, and it pays off. They are brutal critics and always dead on.

There will be more Storme and Springer. I long to do an Elmore Leonard thing by breaking away once in a while to write whatever books and characters interest me, rather than just series characters, but until now the time demands of my job kept me from doing that. With that in mind, I’ve written two other novels with two new characters, one of which could become a series character (I already have a sequel in mind for that one).

I like Storme and Springer. They’re friends, guys I’d hang out with. I know them, hear their voices in my head. And I love Chick Easton and have friends very much like him--not that violent, but truly that funny.

JKP: You mentioned a fourth Cole Springer book. Can you tell me more about what that might offer readers?

WLR: Springer is fun to write and I have so many ideas for future Springer novels. Constantly, people tell me they have an idea for a book. My problem is, I have dozens of ideas for books. My problem is picking just one I want to write. My agent, Donald Maass, once told me that “Springer is smarter than everyone.” I told him, “However, I’m not smarter than everyone,” and I now know how Doyle felt about Sherlock. It makes it sometimes problematic to write a character like Springer, but I like him and, besides, I have time and the research tools to “be smarter than anyone” when Springer does something.

Springer is a moveable feast, who I can use to hit the hot spots Storme would be loath to go. Springer lives in Aspen [Colorado] but also hits places like Las Vegas and San Francisco, as well as Hawaii, Cancun, and other exotic spots. Springer would be comfortable in Washington, D.C., or Malibu and still enjoys the outdoor atmosphere the Rocky Mountains and the New American West provide. Like Storme, Springer is an unusual man to set up housekeeping in Aspen. I’ve been to Aspen three times and it is just the place to put deadly characters. It is culture shock for both.

Springer is a bigger wise-ass than Storme and has skills reminiscent of Easton, but is less deadly, even less likely to use those skills and more likely to use his wits to overcome obstacles. Springer is a genial con man much like characters James Garner often played, such as [Bret] Maverick, only far tougher. Springer’s books are more caper novels than the Storme books, but it’s all in good clean fun …

I have developed a fourth novel, wherein Springer comes to the aid of an old girlfriend. [It’s] set in either Hawaii, Playa Del Carmen, or San Diego; I like all three locations. I also have plans to bring back Max Shapiro (a neurotic, complaining mob money-launderer Springer saved from the mob in Springer’s Gambit). So far, the new Springer novels exist in development as novellas/synopses, but they are very much alive and ready to be written. However, right now I’m all in on the fifth Storme novel, Wind Storme, and as my son tells me, “Just focus on one at a time.” How’d he get so smart with me as his dad?

JKP: You’re writing novels primarily for Brash Books now?

WLR: I’m writing Wind Storme for Brash. … The new Springer will also be written with Brash Books in mind. [Goldberg and Goldman] are, right now, the best publishers in the industry for mysteries and thrillers. They understand these books, they love them, and they are successful mystery authors in their own right. They treat writers like they themselves would like to be treated. They have a vision about the electronic revolution in books and are on the cutting edge.

Of my non-Storme/Springer books, Goldberg and I have a difference of opinion in style and execution of the one he’s seen, Home Fires, which we may resolve, or I may go elsewhere. Goldberg is a brilliant editor and I value his opinion and will take another look at Home Fires when I finish Wind Storme. Brash has not seen the other novel, McBride: Double Down (working title), but they might in the near future.

One thing I’ve learned is you must trust your own instincts. My agent, Donald Maass, didn’t like Springer’s Gambit, so I submitted it [to a publisher] myself. It sold right away and when it did, I went back and asked [Maass] to negotiate the contract. Don was surprised I would go back to him, but I like his honesty and he was able to exploit the subsidiary rights, including film options that I would not otherwise have realized.

As an observation, not a criticism, I will posit that if editors and agents always knew what made a good novel, they’d be writing them instead of publishing and selling them.

Home Fires is set in the Midwest and is a you-can’t-go-home-again type of mystery, and more of a police procedural than I have done in the past. It concerns a suspended Texas Ranger returning to his hometown upon the death of his father and best friend under suspicious circumstances. When he returns to the scene of his adolescence, he finds his past and his mistakes rising up to smack him in the face.

McBride: Double Down is about Vegas, dirty dealings, and a small-time convenience-store robbery which nets the hapless robbers a fortune in diamonds and perfect counterfeit plates for a small Central American country’s currency. Unfortunately for the robbers, the plates belong to Red Cavanaugh, the biggest kingpin in Vegas, and Cavanaugh wants the plates back and the robbers dead. He also wants McBride to locate them. McBride, who runs a small, barely profitable Vegas security company, has a gambling debt owed to Cavanaugh and has to find the robbers, but McBride intends to double-cross Cavanaugh and spare the crooks. Cavanaugh also appeared in Pressing the Bet (Cole Springer No. 2). Look for the introduction of Chick Easton’s nephew (honest!), Trey Easton, as well as the return of sexy Vegas Metro Detective Tara St. John (also from Pressing the Bet).

JKP: And when are the original three entries in your Storme series--Hail Storme (the retitled Dreamsicle), Storme Front, and Eye of the Storme (previously Electric Country Roulette)--due out from Brash?

WLR: Hail Storme will be released this May, followed by Storme Front and Eye of the Storme at intervals during 2015. They will all be available before the end of the year. Brash Books has a definite schedule in mind for the Storme series.

JKP: OK, as a fellow cigar smoker, I just have to ask you what cigar(s) you prefer. And how long have you been a cigar fan?

WLR: I’ve been smoking cigars since I was 19 years old. I started out smoking Swisher Sweets (the Boone’s Farm wine of cigars) and Dutch Masters. Since that time I’ve graduated to hand-rolled cigars, and it opened up a new experience for me. I’ve smoked about all of them, including Cuban cigars. Macanudos, Partagas, H. Upmann, Monte Cristo, Acid cigars, Romeo y Juliet, Arturo Fuente, and even smaller cigars like Parodi, Schimmelpenninck (whatever happened to those? Can’t find them anymore), and about anything that is well put together. I used to be able to smoke the powerful sticks, but as I’ve aged I’ve found I have to stay with the milder blends like Macanudo, Don Diego, Griffins, and Excalibur. My usual smoke is the Macanudo Hyde Park, but I like them all. The beauty of the leaf well-rolled is that I can smoke cigars every day for a month and then not smoke one for weeks. That is the difference between cigarettes and cigars.

I am a time-and-place cigar smoker. I want the conditions to be ideal. Right temperature and atmosphere so I can enjoy the cigar. When I’m smoking a cigar I relax and think over what I’m going to write next. At those times it’s hard to get my attention. My wife will not allow me to smoke in the house (she’s a volleyball coach with a mean left), so I’m relegated to our back deck and smoking rooms. I always pack a cigar or two when I golf and it is the reason I play the game so well … well, maybe not so well, yet it takes the edge off my frustration with my short game.

I love getting cigars as gifts or as a surprise. A non-smoker friend once brought me a cigar after a visit to the Swiss Embassy in D.C. The Cuban diplomats were there and they gave him a Cuban Cohiba, which was perhaps the best cigar I’ve ever smoked. My daughter gave me one of the new Macanudo Estate Reserve Jamaican cigars for Christmas and I’m looking forward to enjoying it. It came in this beautiful cedar presentation box and is aging happily in my humidor for the proper moment for me to light it up.

Right now, I’d say that moment is February 2, when Storme Warning is released by Brash Books.

JKP: Finally, if you could lay claim to having penned any book that doesn’t already appear under your byline, what would it be?

WLR: Either Pronto or Freaky Deaky, both by Elmore Leonard. Both have everything you’d want in a novel. There’s danger, death, tension, great characters, plot, pacing, and the humor is intelligent and smile-inducing. Pronto is the novel which introduced Raylan Givens, Leonard’s best and most famous character. Leonard is the master of inner dialogue as well as some of the best spoken dialogue in fiction. Leonard realizes people often think and speak in broken sentences rather than in perfect grammar. It looks breezy and simplistic until you try to figure out how he did it or why it fits so perfectly with what is going on in the novel. He is the standard for all mystery-thriller writers in my opinion.

Pronto possesses my favorite opening chapter of all time. Every writer should read it, study it, and re-read it. It is a gem.

(Photo of author W.L. Ripley by Lon Campbell/LC Images Studio.)

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