Rich Zahradnik is my Wednesday’s Guest today. He is the author of a mystery series featuring a journalist working in New York in the ’70s. A Black Sail is the latest book, and I reviewed it HERE last Sunday.
I forgot to ask Rich what kind of refreshments he might like, but since he and Coleridge, the central character in the series, are both journalists, I thought they would like a mug of ale. Help yourself if you wish to join us.
Rich has agreed to let Coleridge interview him, and I can envision them both sharing a draft and a story. Enjoy….
I sat down to interview mystery author Rich Zahradnik in his office. I wasn’t happy about it. I’m working on a story about a double murder in Harlem and don’t need to be wasting my time on fluff like this. But my editor insisted. Zahradnik has so far written three in a series of six crime novels featuring a journalist as the hero. He claims the hero is me. We’ll see.
Taylor: How long were you a journalist and why did you start writing fiction?
Zahradnik: I was a journalist for almost thirty years working in newspapers, television and online. Somewhere in the middle of my career, ideas for crime novels started popping into my head, and I decided to start writing fiction. It was an idea I’d give up on in high school, but now came back to. I wrote novels while working full-time in journalism until around seven years ago, when I was able to quit and spend all my time on fiction. Took another two years to get the first book out.
Taylor: What’s the difference between journalism and fiction writing?
Zahradnik: Well, the oblivious one is I can make things up and you can’t—
Taylor: You bet your sweet bippie I can’t. It would be the end of my career if I made up a story.
Zahradnik: Yes, I know. In one of the novels, you’re accused of doing exactly that and get demoted to writing obits.
Taylor: Wait, how do you know that? Oh right, you claim I’m a character in one of your books.
Zahradnik: I’m writing what you’re saying right now.
Taylor: Riiiiiight. Let’s get back to the interview. Are there other differences between fiction and journalism?
Zahradnik: To finish my answer, there are actually some things I can’t make up. The books are set from 1975 to 1977 in New York City. The historical details, little and large, need to be accurate. That means there is some research involved. Which brings me to another difference. The most important work in journalism is reporting. That’s why the job is called reporter. The great journalists aren’t great writers—some are and many aren’t—but they are great reporters. They know how to find the story—how to dig out the facts, research documents, track down witnesses. Most importantly, they know how to do great interviews, which is an art in itself. In almost all fiction, the most important work is the writing.
Taylor: Do you miss it? Journalism?
Zahradnik: I miss the people, not the work. I like making stuff up.
Taylor: You would rather make things up then write stories that could help a victim, or at least change the direction of an investigation? What about deadlines?
Zahradnik: I have deadlines.
Taylor: How often?
Zahradnik: About once a year.
Taylor: (Laughs.) That’s not a deadline. That’s a holiday. I really find it hard to believe you were a real journalist.
Zahradnik: Well neither of us is a real journalist at this point.
Taylor: You were a reporter and I am on. Are we similar?
Zahradnik: I was only a police reporter at the beginning of my career, and I didn’t cover really serious crime like you do. You’re a much better reporter than I ever was. You’re far more focused on getting the story—often to your detriment. I was interested in and distracted by too many other things—like novel writing. I think my writing is better than yours at this point. Writing for you is about following the formula to get the story on the wire fast, with a good strong lead and the facts needed to support it in descending importance.
Taylor: Do you always compliment and insult people at the same time?
Zahradnik: Only people I know really well.
Taylor: Is there anything else you do besides write the novels?
Zahradnik: I volunteer to teach kids how to publish newspapers around my area and in New York City. It keeps my hand in journalism and in touch with the energy of kids.
Taylor: At least you’re doing that.
Zahradnik: Which reminds me…
Taylor: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Back to the grindstone for both of us.
A Black Sail is book three of a mystery/thriller series featuring newsman Coleridge Taylor, set on the mean streets of Manhattan and surrounding boroughs in the ’70s. On the eve of the U.S. Bicentennial, Taylor is covering Operation Sail, and New York Harbor is teeming with tall ships from all over the world. While enjoying the spectacle, Taylor is still a police reporter. He wants to cover real stories, not fluff, and gritty New York City still has plenty of those in July of 1976. One surfaces right in front of him when a housewife is fished out of the harbor wearing bricks of heroin, inferior stuff users have been rejecting for China White, peddled by the Chinatown gangs.