Robert Greer is a Denver-based novelist and renaissance man (as you'll see). His latest is a prequel to his CJ Floyd mystery series, FIRST OF STATE, which is out today! On Thursday evening, he'll be speaking and signing at the Tattered Cover Colfax Avenue store. I've had the pleasure of meeting him several times and he's a fascinating and lovely person. If you're in Denver, go!
White Readers Meet Black Authors: You also are a practicing physician and a rancher, correct? What made you start writing? When/how do you find time to write?! Do doctoring, ranching & writing have anything in common?
Robert Greer: There are many things that being a doctor, rancher and writer have in common but the two most significant things might well be the fact that each requires a demanding sense of dedication and precision. I’m actually a pathologist and as such, when trying to establish a diagnosis, I have very little margin for error. The same thing goes for ranching. Sending too big a head of water down an irrigation ditch to irrigate hay meadows can result in disaster. A little bit of math and physics expertise and a great deal of common sense are required to irrigate 700-800 acres of hay meadow without taking out half a mountain side. Writing, of course, requires a precision of language and often an ear for dialect. These I suspect are but a few things that the three things you have mentioned have in common.
RG: My latest novel, a prequel to my CJ Floyd mystery series, represents the tenth novel in the series. I wrote FIRST OF STATE after finishing a literary novel SPOON, my brief respite from the mystery and thriller world. I decided on a prequel because I wanted to bring readers up to speed on the central character’s early life. I first introduced CJ in 1996 in THE DEVIL’S HATBAND. At the time of that novel, CJ was forty-four. The reader never really finds out in that book what happened in CJ’s life between the ages of twenty and forty-four except that he’d served two tours of duty as a navy patrol boat machine gunner in Vietnam and that he eventually joined his uncle Ike’s bail bonding business in Denver. FIRST OF STATE fills in much of that twenty-four year void as CJ takes on the task of finding out who killed an antiques collector friend of his. A man he befriended just weeks after coming home from Vietnam. The novel also lets readers see CJ forging long-term friendships and watch him get bitten by the western memorabilia collecting bug. Interestingly as the novel unfolds, CJ ends up solving three cases, not simply one.
WRMBA: Describe your work for someone unfamiliar with it. What's your writing style like? What subjects/themes do you explore?
RG: I think my writing can best be described as character-driven writing that has an associated strong sense of place. I use the backdrop of Denver and Denver’s historically black Five Points community to set most of the novels in motion and have explored everything from the perils of molecular biology and gene splicing gone array in novels like LIMITED TIME and HEAT SHOCK to who might’ve really killed JFK in THE MONGOOSE DECEPTION. In a sense, all of my novels are travelogues that take the reader across the vastness of the American West, allowing them to rub shoulders with, and to find out about, people they might not otherwise encounter in real life.
I’m not sure how to describe my writing style except to say that I was trained formally as a writer and have a Masters Degree in Creative Writing. I suspect academics would argue that there is some of the “academy” in the way I write. I often use language, dialect and certainly dialogue to move a story along and to describe the West, a land that I so much love.
WRMBA: What's your goal(s) as a writer? Do you set out to educate? entertain? illuminate?
RG: I have never really had goals as a writer except to write a book that I am proud of and that I hope people will enjoy. I suspect that I do educate people about certain things although I don’t purposefully start out to do so. I do not use my writing to try and change the world, and I am exceedingly suspicious of people who claim that they not only do but have. There seems to be a certain arrogance to such statements, and although there are clearly documents out there that prove that you can change the world with words (the United States Constitution, for instance) I guess I’m just not arrogant enough to believe that my words equal those of Jefferson.
WRMBA: What's next for you?
RG: I’m always working on a book and typically write one a year. Currently I’m working on a stand-along thriller entitled ASTRIDE A PINK HORSE, a book about revenge which deals with the making and possible triggering of a “dirty nuclear weapon.” That’s probably as much as I should say about the novel right now because I don’t fully have it formulated in my head.
WRMBA: What's the best book (or whose the best writer) that not enough people know about?
RG: I would recommend that readers read “Cemetery Road” a mystery by Gar Anthony Haywood. The book is a great mystery and Gar is a wonderful great writer and friend. For those who have not read him, I think you’re in for a treat.