We are pleased to welcome author Robert McClure to CrimeFiction.FM’s digital interview booth today.
Robert’s debut novel is DEADLY LULLABY (Alibi/Penguin Random House, September 2015). Deadly Lullaby is a father-son story of a different type. The father is a gangster just released from prison and the son is a cop. The book features terrific characters, spot-on dialogue and a breakneck pace.
We recently had the opportunity to spend some time with Robert to chat more about DEADLY LULLABY. Then we got into how some of the “morally flexible” people he’s met over the years have helped to form his characters, his gratitude to his aunt for sharing a book by Xaviera Hollander during his formative years, and more.
CFFM: Thanks for being here, Robert. Let’s get started with you telling us a little about your book.
The two protagonists are Babe Crucci, a mob hit man just released from serving eight years in San Quentin, and his son Leo Crucci, an edgy Los Angeles police detective. Not surprisingly given their opposing professions, Babe and Leo are estranged and Babe sorely wants to rekindle the relationship. Leo’s not thrilled with the idea, and throughout the story he struggles with what he should do. The key question that propels the plot is whether Babe will achieve his goal, and events frustrate him at every turn. Don’t get me wrong. There’s a lot going on in Deadly Lullaby—mob politics, violence, murder for hire, romance and pure lust—but above all else it’s a story about a man who loves his son, a son who’s unsure about how to feel for his father.
ROBERT: While Babe and Leo Crucci and the father/son angle are the significant features of Deadly Lullaby, I think the supporting characters set the book apart, too: Leo’s commanding officer Lt. Jon Abel plays a not insignificant role, and Babe’s sidekick is an old friend and associate named Jack Barzi, who goes by “Chief.” And there is Babe’s girlfriend Maggie, a prostitute he met the day of his release. And, of course, there are the villains, who are difficult to identify completely without spoiling the plot. The unique feature about Deadly Lullaby is that most people would probably have a hard time finding a character in it who’s “good” in the traditional sense, including the protagonists. From the very start, though, my goal in writing crime fiction has always been to create characters that thieve, kill and create other forms of mayhem who readers can’t help but love, and the guiltier the reader feels about it, the better. I feel like I accomplished that with Deadly Lullaby. With that proviso, then, the list of “bad” guys who play significant roles in the book are as follows: An LA mafia kingpin named Joe Sacci, who is Babe’s ex-boss; Sacci’s top henchmen Ricardo Donsky and Michael Fecarotta; a Russian gangster named Viktor Tarasov who spent time in San Quentin with Babe, and his henchmen; and a Cambodian drug lord named Khang Nhou who helped found The Oriental Lazy Boyz gang in LA.
CFFM: We understand you’re working on a sequel to Deadly Lullaby. How do you expect your characters to evolve over the course of your series?
Robert: Answering that would be telling, would be a plot spoiler of unforgivable magnitude!
Seriously, I can say that in the sequel I’m calling The Slow Dawn, I’m exploring whether Babe and Leo can fulfill their desire to go straight and live law-abiding lives. They will face challenges, and have every bit as a rough and tumble time of it as they did in Deadly Lullaby, and evolve they will.
Robert: There’s not much in the plot of the book I’ve experienced; and, believe me, this is to my credit. The characters are a quite different story. Though I invent my characters mostly from whole cloth, they are all informed to some extent by those characters I’ve admired on film, on stage and in novels, and all the people I’ve ever met, especially the shady people. I have been up close to many, shall we say, morally flexible people over the years. I was a Criminology major in college and met a lot of cops and criminals while working in jails and prisons before I went to law school. My childhood environment plays a large role in the development of my characters, too.
I was born and raised in downtown Louisville, Ky., directly across the street from the backside of Churchill Downs Racetrack, the site of the Kentucky Derby. My father Charles (who died young when I was 22) was a gunsmith who owned Charlie’s Gun Shop. Charlie’s was a small business Dad eventually expanded into a standalone building on 7th Street Road, not far from our house right in the heart of a notorious block that was then known for its strip clubs and prostitutes.
Growing up around Churchill Downs was a study in the characters that surround any large institution that thrives from gambling–professional gamblers, bookies, bail bondsmen (one of the most notorious being the father of my then best friend), fences, pawnbrokers, loan sharks, prostitutes and pimps, hustlers of all stripes and nationalities, and cops. Lots of cops. All these people were my father’s customers, especially the detectives and patrolman who purchased their service weapons from us and often asked Dad to modify them to their specifications. Regardless of which side of the law they occupied, Dad welcomed all these people into Charlie’s and treated them with equal respect. It wasn’t unusual to walk inside the shop and see a cop shooting the breeze with a known criminal. I hung out at Charlie’s a lot and worked the counter during summers when I hit 19 or so, and like my father grew to like respect all these people. Every single one informs my writing to some extent.
CFFM: Where do you do most of your writing?
All my serious writing happens in my home office we built in the corner of our basement, what I’ve come to call my Dream Factory. It’s a comfortable, lived-in space with a large, white oak wraparound desk that takes up one corner and half the length of two walls. The desk has racks built in to house my PC equipment, and there are a lot of shelves that are mostly packed with copy paper, a dictionary, a Thesaurus, those sorts of things. Significantly, though, one shelf is packed with out-of-date Novel & Short Story Writer’s Market reference books, the most recent being from 2009; not coincidentally, 2009 is the year I landed my dream literary agent, Nat Sobel of Sobel-Weber, and I haven’t needed to refer to a N&SSWM since.
Another shelf of the desk is packed with rejection letters I received in response to long-ago short story submissions. I didn’t consciously notice these until now, but I’m sure there are those who’d give you a Freudian explanation for me keeping the rejections so close at hand when I can’t find a single acceptance letter anywhere in the house, much less in my office.
The top shelf of my desk is filled with pictures of family and sports mementos, and the walls are ringed with bookshelves jammed to overflowing with books, as are the rest of the bookshelves in my house, which is why I now read books almost exclusively on my Kindle Fire. What little free wall space that remains is covered with pictures, the prominent one being a poster of the cover of Best American Mystery Stories 2009 that carried the reprint of my short story My Son, the story upon which I based Deadly Lullaby.
CFFM: That sounds like a fantastic writing cave and a great place to create. Now, let’s go back in time a bit – what’s the first crime story you remember reading and what was your reaction to the story?
Robert: I’m almost certain it was a Nancy Drew Mystery where our foxy heroine goes on an archeological dig, something about a mysterious, Native-American mask she uncovers in a cave that someone steals. I discovered the book at a little neighborhood public library within easy walking distance from my house, on Louisville’s Taylor Boulevard. In the summers, I practically lived there. The library stocked an entire row with Nancy Drew Mysteries, and the first one hooked me on mystery/crime fiction. I read every Nancy in the library, then the Hardy Boys and other YA mysteries, and quickly graduated to the hard stuff. My Aunt Judy lent me all her Ellery Queen, Alfred Hitchcock, Black Mask and True Detective mags, and she introduced me to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Mickey Spillane, Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett (when I hit puberty, Aunt Judy also lent me her copy of Xaviera Hollander’s The Happy Hooker, an enlightening read for which I will be eternally grateful).
CFFM: What hobbies do you have that might surprise your readers?
Hmm. I guess one might say I’m athletically built, and at first glance a reader might conclude I’m a competent golfer. On a good day, though, I’m average at best. Usually I suck at the sport, and persist only because golf allows me to enjoy the outdoors and to bond with the people I play with, most importantly my younger brother. My remaining hobbies would surprise no one: devouring fiction, watching movies, following practically all major sports and drinking with my pals, all activities at which I excel.
Robert McClure read pulp fiction as a kid when he should have been studying, but ultimately cracked down enough to obtain a bachelor’s in criminology from Murray State University and a law degree from the University of Louisville. He is now an attorney and crime fiction writer who lives and works in Louisville, Kentucky.
His story “My Son”, on which his crime thriller Deadly Lullaby is based, appeared in The Best American Mystery Stories 2009. He has had other works published in MudRock: Stories & Tales, Hardboiled, Thug Lit, and Plots with Guns. To read more about his short stories, click here. He is currently working on a sequel to Deadly Lullaby that he is calling The Slow Dawn, the next phase in the evolution of Babe and Leo Crucci.
Author Website: www.robertmcclure.net
Robert on Twitter