Julia interviews Ben Rehder

Author of a series of humorous mystery novels revolving around a game warden in Blanco County, Texas. Visit the author's web site.

HOLY MOLY is your sixth Blanco County mystery, available in May 2008 if I calculate correctly. Where do find your terrific titles? How do you decide upon your supporting characters, and do your different characters ever meet?

Yep, May 13 is the pub date. The titles usually come to me fairly late in the writing, or after the manuscript is complete. I look for a punchy two-word combination that is somehow relevant to the book. In this case, since there’s a televangelist involved, I started playing around with “religious” words, and, of course, “holy” was high on the list. Didn’t take long for “Holy Moly” to pop into my head.

As with most series, there is a core cast of characters in my books, but the antagonist (and his or her cohorts) changes each time out. The one thing they have in common is that they all like to visit my website--www.benrehder.com. (Was that a shameless plug, or what?)

What is HOLY MOLY all about?

HOLY MOLY is about the timeless struggle between good and evil in a world rife with temptation and hypocrisy. Does that even mean anything? I just made that up. It’s about a televangelist, a backhoe operator, a game warden, and their twisted love triangle. Still making things up. Okay, it’s about a televangelist who wants to build a new church in Blanco County, a backhoe operator who causes trouble for the aforementioned televangelist, and the game warden who helps investigate the backhoe operator’s untimely death. (By the way, when I die, I want my death to be timely.)

You write some of the funniest mysteries I’ve ever read. What sort of background do you have in writing? Or do you have an in with the Writers Guild?

Thank you for the compliment. My background is in the world of advertising, which is a great way to learn how to write fiction. If you want to see some creative writing, check out my old timesheets. I was an English major at the University of Texas, but it was really my job as a copywriter that readied me for writing novels. If an ad doesn’t catch and hold someone’s attention, it’s doomed.

The Pedernales figure prominently in your books. For us non-Texans, what is a Pedernales? And isn’t that where LBJ had his ranch back in the day?

The Pedernales is a river, but we grossly mispronounce it and put the “r” in the wrong place. We say “per-duh-nah-les.” If someone says it right, we know they’re not from here. Yes, the river runs through LBJ’s old ranch. Rumor has it he used to skinny dip in the river, which is why, to this day, that water can still eat the flesh off your bones.

What’s your writing process? Outline or organic?

Mostly organic. I have a vague synopsis, maybe one page, before I begin, and then I just wing it. I can’t imagine writing a fifty- or sixty-page outline, as some novelists do. What happens if you get ten pages in and decide to change something major? What if that makes your outline obsolete? Seems like a waste of time. You know what isn’t a waste of time? Origami.

What projects are occupying Ben Rehder at the moment?

Other than origami, I write a variety of things to keep me busy. Tomorrow I’m writing a magazine article for Texas Parks & Wildlife magazine. In the last month or so, I wrote the narration for a hunting-related video game. That’s all I can tell you about that, because they made me sign a confidentiality agreement, and because I have amnesia. Good talking to you, Ursula. Oh, we’re not done?

What pithy words of advice would you offer for newbie crime fiction writers just starting out?

Boy, I could write a hundred pages on that topic. Here’s my advice, boiled way down: Never give up, but only after making certain that you have promise as a writer. You’ll know you have promise if you get beyond the standard rejection letters. Agents will actually consider your work and give bits of encouragement. If you land an agent and then get published, just enjoy yourself as much as you can, because the odds are still long as far as making a living at it. On the plus, side, you CAN have a lot of fun, and the people are great, and very few things in life match the feeling you get the first time you walk into a bookstore and see your book on the shelf.

Who are some new voices you enjoy in crime fiction?

Well, there’s this hotshot named Julia Spencer-Fleming, but it would be a case of world-class sucking up if I mentioned that name. How about Sean Doolittle, Harry Hunsicker, Jess Walters. It’s impossible to keep up with all the new authors out there, which is a great thing for readers.

Who were your literary influences growing up?

Everyone from J.D. Salinger and Ken Kesey to Mario Puzo and Donald Sobol (who wrote the Encyclopedia Brown series.) I didn’t discover my favorites--Hiaasen, Leonard, Laurence Shames, Robert B. Parker, Cormac McCarthy--until I was an adult.

Is it true Kinky Friedman wanted you as his running mate when he ran for governor of Texas?

If only. I would’ve gladly taken that PR. I’d never met Kinky until we did a panel together at a convention. Beneath that glib exterior is an extremely nice guy. Right in the middle of his campaign, he took the time to blurb my fifth book. In hindsight, maybe that’s what dragged his campaign down.

Your plotlines are so tremendously off-beat and hilarious. Where do you get your ideas?

There is no magic answer. As an author, you just have to keep thinking and thinking until you end up with some good plotlines and intriguing characters. Sometimes current events help. I read the newspaper every day, and surf the Web quite a bit. Of course, I read a bunch of crime fiction, and that can help get my imagination going.

I enjoy visiting your website, www.benrehder.com. Will your next book have foreign dating services as a subplot? And what’s that all about anyway?

It appears that you not only visited my website, you followed the link to my blog. I appreciate it. The blog provider I use runs ads across the top of the page. It wasn’t long before I noticed that the ads seem to tie in with what I write in my blog. I guess they use some sort of software that scans my content for key words. Anyway, a few weeks ago, I cut and pasted a newspaper article that was so lurid, it sounded like a plot for a great thriller; it involved the murder of a beautiful Russian model who was also a renowned bodyguard with training in martial arts. After I posted it, the ads at the top of the blog began to offer “Russian girls for dating.” So, at the moment, I’m happy to be dating a sturdy Russian girl. Yes, it’s a long-distance relationship, and there’s the issue with the language barrier, but I’m really hoping it works out. Don’t tell my wife.

Ben Rehder

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“My background is in the world of advertising, which is a great way to learn how to write fiction. If you want to see some creative writing, check out my old timesheets. I was an English major at the University of Texas, but it was really my job as a copywriter that readied me for writing novels. If an ad doesn’t catch and hold someone’s attention, it’s doomed.”