Rick Mofina has been in the publishing world for over 2 decades. Today, we are talking about the series that started it all— The Tom Reed Series. Mofina’s protagonist Tom Reed is a jaded news reporter in San Francisco who teams up with a grizzled police detective, Walt Sydowski, starting in If Angels Fall. We sat with Mofina to talk about the inspiration behind the crimes in his stories, how his career as a crime reporter influenced Tom’s characterization, and what advice he has for new authors.
SRP: Could you tell us a bit about the plot of If Angels Fall?
Rick: This book introduces my series characters, San Francisco reporter Tom Reed and SFPD Homicide Inspector Walt Sydowski, as they pursue a string of abductions haunting the Bay Area. If Angels Fall begins with a toddler being abducted from his inattentive father while they are riding BART, San Francisco’s Bay Area Rapid Transit System. Readers have told me that it reads as if I’d drawn it from a real case. I didn’t. The scene is entirely fiction. However, the seed for that moment arose from a real incident I experienced years ago while I was working at The Toronto Star. That summer I was a Star cub reporter and a tragedy hit the city. A child who vanished under chilling circumstances was later found murdered.
Fear gripped the metropolitan area and the story screamed from page one headlines of Toronto’s major papers. In that climate, I was riding Toronto’s subway when I saw a father and his toddler. Dad was hidden behind the newspaper he was reading, one that happened to be blaring the latest on the tragedy. His little boy had left their seat and was toddling up and down the full length of the subway car aisle. The father was oblivious. The train would stop. Doors would open. Waves of commuters would rush in and out, even bumping the toddler. Doors would close. The train rumbled to the next station. The father had no idea what was happening as the scene was repeated at the next station. Then the next. Then the next.
As I witnessed this, I became a little angry at the father for not watching his kid. Then I grew a little fearful as my imagination went into overdrive. If I were a criminal, I could easily abduct that boy without his father noticing until it was too late. That moment haunted me until years later, when I fashioned it into the opening and foundation for the plot of If Angels Fall.
SRP: Tom Reed is a news reporter, a career you held for many years. How much of yourself did you put into Tom?
Rick: In creating, Tom Reed, a battle-weary crime reporter who lives on the edge, I drew upon some of my own experiences. For most of my time in news, I worked the crime beat. It put me face-to-face with the best and worst of the human condition. I was expected to write about it. I was expected to derive some sense out of horrible events and incidents that made no sense at all, then present it to readers on deadline. Sadly, the true horrors that happen everywhere everyday seldom end well. If they end at all. This kind of work can take a toll, so that’s why Tom Reed is doing all he can to hang on, to his personal and private life. He is a composite of every real hard-driving news reporter that I’ve ever known, including myself.
SRP: This series is five books total, could you pick a favorite of those five? And why is that your top choice? (We know this is a totally unfair question to ask any author, but we like to see our authors squirm a bit!)
Rick: Oh no, you can’t ask that question. It may sound cliché, but all of them are my favorite because in each case there were different paths to how the stories emerged as ideas before evolving into a finished book. If Angels Fall was sparked by a scene I’d witnessed on a subway train. Cold Fear emerged from a case of a child missing in the Rocky Mountains. Blood of Others came to life from a bridal shop storefront my wife and I drove by regularly. No Way Back took shape from interviews I did with customers who survived an armed robbery of a jewelry store. Be Mine became a “what if” story concerning crime reporters and homicide detectives. In each case, the challenges and struggles to write those books were different in terms of what was going on in my life personally, professionally and creatively. Each book is cherished equally. However, there is nothing like the thrill of seeing your first published book on the shelves, which was the case with If Angels Fall.
SRP: Speaking of If Angels Fall, it is the first book you ever had published. How do you think the publishing world has changed since this book was first released?
Rick: Gosh, that book was first released about 22 years ago. In that time, I’d say a lot has changed. I came up through legacy publishing and my relationship with my legacy publisher today is very good. But when my first book was published, digital publishing was just on the horizon. A light went on for me in 2009 at a conference in Indianapolis. A reader showed me her Kindle. I’d never seen one before. Then she showed the book she was reading. It was one of mine produced by my legacy publisher. It was then I saw, and witnessed, self-published e-author success stories, and saw an industry in the throes of a revolution. I then became a hybrid author, keeping my traditional published work going while self-publishing my backlist. I think what digital publishing has done is levelled the publishing playing field. Those who are born storytellers, those who have the talent, discipline and pride of craftsmanship, now have a better than ever chance to find an audience. They get an opportunity that was, until now, denied them. That’s exciting.
SRP: What are you working on now?
Rick: I’m working on the next book. When I’m not doing that, I like going to bookstores and flea markets searching for used books, especially old editions of classics. It’s like panning for gold. Another hobby, or interest of mine, is visiting the former residences of authors. Some of the places I’ve visited include Hemingway’s home in Key West, the Dickens home in London, (I sat at his writing desk) a place where Joseph Conrad lived in London. I visited Edgar Allan Poe’s house in Baltimore and the apartment in Hollywood where F. Scott Fitzgerald died. Also, there’s a plaque in Quebec City marking the house where H.P. Lovecraft stayed on a visit to Canada.
SRP: What are you reading now and/or what good books have you read lately?
Rick: I just finished Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown. A heartbreaking story. I’m now reading Libra by Don DeLillo. I always go back to The Last Tycoon by F. Scott Fitzgerald. This is Fitzgerald’s unfinished novel and notes. It’s a great guide for writers at all levels. I also recently finished working my way through and enjoying the big the classics, Les Misérables by Victor Hugo, for such tragic human stories. And Tolstoy’s War and Peace. The battle scenes were incredible. I’m still working on The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas. If you read this one closely, you can see where thriller writers like Robert Ludlum and Thomas Harris, plucked an idea or two.
SRP: You’ve published close to 30 crime thrillers and several shorter works. What advice do you have for a writer just starting out?
Rick: It’s a tough business but above all it is a business whereby you aim to sell your product—your ability to craft a story. There are no magic beans, no secrets. You first of all must be honest with yourself and know whether you possess the will, confidence, discipline and the talent to craft a story worthy of investment; investment of a publisher and readers in terms of their money and time. When it comes to writing a book, your book, the only person who can do it, is you. The only person standing in your way to reaching your goal is you. If you feel doubts, go to a bookstore or library. Take in all those books as proof it can be done. Every author had challenges, but they succeeded. Be disciplined and write every day. Don’t talk about doing it, do it. If the next word you think after reading this is “but” as in, “but I don’t have the time” or “I have this or that going on,” fine. Guess it’s not meant to be for you. There is never “a good time” to sit down and write that book. That is an excuse, a rationale for failure. Don’t make excuses. Create sentences. Read, read, and read. Read who you like and study them. All the while ask yourself if you know the difference between “being” a writer and “wanting to be” a writer. It’s the difference between dreaming and doing.