Frederick Ramsay, author of Copper Kettle, will be at The Poisoned Pen on Tuesday, January 24 at 7 PM. He’ll be joined that evening by Donis Casey, author of The Return of the Raven Mocker, and Clare Mackintosh, author of I See You. In the meantime, Fred took the time to answer questions for an In the Hot Seat interview.
Frederick, would you introduce yourself to readers?
I am, as of this year, an octogenarian! And more to the point, one who is still struggling with that idea. Sometimes I think I will grow up and act more like the adults I admire. Then I realize it’s too late, I’m past the point of no return.
I started out as an academic (20 +/- years) teaching, doing research, and administering at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and the Health Professions campus in Baltimore. I tried my hand at writing when I was forty-five and failed. I served as the Vice President for something or other at the Sheppard and Enoch Pratt Hospital (a mental health facility best known for having been one stop of several for Zelda Fitzgerald) I also worked briefly at BWI airport as a tow man, sold insurance. I ended my salaried life as an Episcopal priest in a small, but wonderful parish in Pasadena Maryland. Before retiring, I tried my hand at writing again and was working on what finally became Judas, the Gospel of Betrayal when I moved to Arizona with my wife Susan in 2000. I attended a writers conference, learned a thing or two about this business, dug up the old (failed) manuscript from years before, rewrote it and The Poisoned Pen took it. The rest is, as they say, is history – well, mine anyway.
Tell us about Jesse Sutherlin.
The third in the Ike Schwartz series is entitled, Buffalo Mountain. I was introduced to this place by my sixth grade history teacher whose father was part of that story. He must have been as Old As I am now. He had read some of my books and encouraged me to read The Man who Moved a Mountain. I wondered at the time, how, if at all, that mountain culture would affect its decedents in a crime solving situation. Anyway, the mountain and its people were on my mind and while I waited for the muse to show up for work and tell me what the next Ike book should be about, I thought it might be fun to project one of the characters in the series backwards in time so to speak, and tell the story of Billy and Frank Sutherlin’s. great grandfather, Jesse. I put him on Buffalo Mountain to complete, if you will the notion, proposed in Buffalo Mountain. I wanted to tell a story about what it is like to return home from war and try to fit in to a society that cannot accept the changes war makes in a person. A story which is as relevant today as then. I also wanted to write a little mystery. Thus, Jesse, a person with a big heart and a soul seeking after peace from the trauma produced by the horrors of trench warfare.
Without spoilers, tell us about Copper Kettle.
Copper Kettle is a simple tale about feuding families, meaningless death, and life and love, in the mountains at a time when “hillbillies” were mostly the object of scorn. They were, at that time, pretty much what the stereotype made them out to be. Read, Richard C. Davids book, The Man Who Moved a Mountain. The mountain after WW I and into the Great Depression was an insular community noted for its lawlessness, isolation, ignorance, and sturdy individualism. It is now a State Park, its residents gone and mostly forgotten. In that mix, I put Jesse, returned from the Great War, a changed man. He finds redemption, of a sort, and love, and a future in a new, post-war world.
You may have to discuss Ike Schwartz before answering the question. Why did you write a prequel to the Ike Schwartz mysteries?
I think I covered most of this earlier. When I started the Ike Schwartz series, there was never a dearth of ideas for the next book. Now at number ten (eleven aborning) the ideas of what I can do with Ike and his people are harder to come by, I mean how many times can Ike solve a different crime, chase a different bad guy around the country before he meets himself coming around the corner. With the Botswana series done, the Jerusalem series done, and no immediate story for Ike and Ruth to romp through, a trip down a fictional memory lane seemed to be the thing to do.
You also write mysteries set in Botswana. Would you tell us about your connection to that country?
My son lives, has raised a family, and works for the (Botswana) government there. I have (had) grandchildren there. One of them is being married as I write this, in Botswana. I have visited them and the country several times (not as much as I would have liked) and thought there was a place to set a different kind of mystery. The culture would necessarily dictate a different kind of sleuthing. I take no issue with McCall Smith. His Botswana is late twentieth century. You can still find Ma Ramotswe there, but the vast majority are modern in their outlook, the country is a model progressive democracy and very much of this century. If I were younger, I might very well have considered retiring to that country. I love especially, the northern part, the Chobe and that is the locale for the series.
What authors have inspired you?
Oh dear. Can I say, I really dislike that question? I was raised in an era when reading was not only the main source of entertainment, but required by schools, encouraged by my parents, and expected of all. My mother was a member of the Book of the Month Club and, if she let me, I read all of them (some were not so hot), plus what I could from the school library and I should add, my aunt Mary was a member of the Mystery Book of the Month club (I think that was what it was called) and she would ship me a year’s supply from time to time. Anyway reading is what we did, so top pick out one or even several authors who inspired me would not be either fair or easy, I will say that I read every single one of John D. McDonald’s Travis McGhee novels. Does that help?
What’s your favorite book you’ve written, and why?
I have two, no, make that three. This one, Copper Kettle, of course. Not because it is the latest, although I would have said so even if it weren’t (we are flogging books here, right?), but I really do love this book. I like Jesse and everything he stands for and the story, for me, just sings. Next, I would say Impulse. It is semi-autobiographical. That is I was raised on a campus very much like the one I describe in the book. The characters are almost real and because of that, it was the easiest book to write of any. Finally, I like Choker. It is as close to a thriller as I can manage and because it has an entirely feasible plot, it is scary. Also, I think it has the best cover art.
Other than your own, name several books you would never part with.
I have a rule about what books I will keep and which I will pass on. If I know I will never read it again, it goes. If it is not a signed copy, it goes. So, what is left on my shelf are books that are either signed copies or they will be read again. I have in the latter category, The Maltese Falcon, The Continental OP, The Colour Bar, several books by Lee Child, The Man Who Moved a Mountain, one or nearly all of the Poisoned Pen Press writers, and on Kindle or iBooks, Jane Austin, Agatha Christie and on and on.
What author would you like to recommend who you think has been underappreciated?
Oh, golly. Well, there is Donis (Casey), of course. She has a touch that is not equaled anywhere else. I teach wannabe writers to master their craft, of course, but what makes the difference between writers who are readable and those who are not, is their voice. Donis has a distinct and compelling voice. (I’m not entirely sure she, or any of the PPP writers I so admire, is “underappreciated, but I take your meaning.)
What was your favorite book of 2016?
Maybe Jeff Siger’s, Santorini Caesars? Nick Page: The Kingdom of Fools, The Unlikely Rise of the Early Church, Chandler, The Lady in the Lake. Okay, some of these were not published this year, but that is when I read them, so there.
Thank you, Fred. If you’re looking for Fred’s books, including signed copies of Copper Kettle, they’re available through the Web Store. http://bit.ly/2ipcbDK