After reviewing his newest release, we have the privilege of interviewing author Robert Kidera today! Author of the Gabe Mckenna mystery series, Robert is a prolific writer who has experienced a lot of success with this series. Set to release on October 9th, Midnight Blues is now available for PRE-ORDER!
1. How did you create the character of Professor Gabriel McKenna?
When I read Raymond Chandler’s “The Simple Art of Murder”—the famous part where he says, “Down these mean streets a man must go, who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid”, I’d found a general framework for Gabe McKenna. He is in one sense a Chandler-tradition hero, but also a man of intellect as well as courage, and not the loner that Marlowe is. Gabe maintains true and loyal friendships and leans on his friends in time of need. In my books, the ensemble of characters is paramount. It’s through Gabe and his deep and unusual friends that I try to touch my readers.
2. You have mentioned before that you have a background with academia. Did that, or any other part of your personal life, influence McKenna’s character/personality?
Absolutely. I lived in New York, went to Fordham University, taught American History for many years. And I share some of Gabe McKenna’s weaknesses too (except for the booze!). Gabe’s emotional struggles, his ups and downs mirror many of the things I have experienced in life. But I also felt a need to maintain some distance from Gabe to preserve my artistic objectivity. We maintain an ongoing dialogue, Gabe and I, a professional conversation. One final point: I made Gabe a retired history professor. I wanted to write a series and needed a framework I understood, one that also opened up sufficient plot and character possibilities.
3. The first three books are all part of the same series, but they have very different story lines and premises. How do you keep your books from getting old or simply being a rehashing of the previous installment?
Two things. First, I set my series in New Mexico, a land of varied cultures, traditions, and physical landscapes. It’s a land so rich in history and anything can happen here. Setting is a major character in my books. I physically go to each locale, get my feet on the ground, breathe the air, mingle with the people. I need to feel the different locales to do them justice in my writing. Second, I decided at the beginning that instead of giving Gabe a “side-kick” who traveled with him from book to book, I would create a different “co-star” for each story. That creates a fresh dynamic between Gabe and his cohort(s) and gives me more room to be original and fresh in each story.
4. What does “Midnight Blues” offer that separates it from other books in the genre?
One of its themes is that of deferred heroism. A group of people are given a second chance to make a difference in this world after missing out on opportunities earlier in their lives. America is a country that believes in second chances. I also tried to show that heroism comes in all sizes, shapes, and ages, male and female. And because it’s a Gabe McKenna story, there’s a fair amount of humor in it as well. I tried to blend suspense, human interest, social relevance, humor, and a good number of surprises. I think I succeeded.
5. If a Hollywood film ever brought Professor Gabriel McKenna to the big screen, which director/actor combo do you think could really pull the character off?
Now we are getting into the realm of dreams. I worked in the film industry in my younger days, so I know what ends up on the big screen often bears little resemblance to what was written in the book. But let me take a shot anyway: I think Scorsese would be a great choice to direct. He’s so talented and substantial. Besides he and Gabe are both from Queens, New York. So, he knows the guy and his attitudes from the inside. Actors? Gary Oldman would be my first choice. He can do anything and with such brilliance. He has that gravitas too. Denzel Washington would be terrific. In another ten years, maybe Robert Downey, Jr. (for whom I once babysat, but that’s another story.)
6. In your opinion, what separates great writing from good writing?
Good writing provides the reader with enjoyment, stimulation, and uplift while reading. The reader closes the book with a sense of satisfaction. Great writing works most of its magic on the reader after the book is closed. The reader has not only read, but emotionally experienced the story, its characters, and internalized its lessons. Great writing has a lingering, often transforming effect—the benefits of experiencing great writing can last a lifetime. The reader is no longer the same.
7. Where do you see the series going from here?
Gabe McKenna’s journey will likely continue as long as mine does. And as they say, it’s the journey that matters, more than the destination. The McKenna series is a continuing narrative of a man’s drive toward truth at the cost of a loss of his innocence. In future novels, I see Gabe confronting societal challenges as well as personal ones. I added this dimension in MIDNIGHT BLUES with Gabe grappling with the social horror of human trafficking. I can see Gabe continuing down this road in the future. God knows there are enough problems in our world that need the attention of good people.
Thank you very much for this interview. Great questions that made me think!
Thank you for giving us such insight into your writings, Robert! The way you approach your writings in creating your settings/themes/characters really shows that you “get” what it means to be a writer. We wish you the best in the release of Midnight Blues!