Alan Orloff’s debut mystery, “Diamonds for the Dead” was published in 2010 with Midnight Ink, and went on to be nominated for the prestigious Agatha Award for Best First Novel. He published two more novels with Midnight Ink, “Killer Routine” in 2011 and “Deadly Campaign” in 2012, a duology in his Last Laff Mystery Series.
Alan has also self-published a number of horror and darker thrillers as Zak Allen, including “The Taste” (2011), “First Time Killer” (2012), and “Ride-Along” (2013).
His latest suspense novel, “Running From the Past” (2015), was a winner in Amazon’s Kindle Scout program and was published by Amazon’s new imprint, Kindle Press.
Your first book, “Diamonds for the Dead” was nominated for the prestigious Agatha Award for best first novel. While it was a great mystery, what struck me was how it dealt with the relationship between a son and his father and uncovering information about his father that he never knew. What inspired you to write this?
I get the ideas for most of my books from different, random places. (I woke up at 4 a.m. once, with a perfectly-formed plot. That was nice!). But this book came about by merging two ideas (one a character and one a situation), both tangentially related to my father. When I was a kid, I had an Uncle Julius and he used to spend the Jewish Holidays with us (my father’s side of the family). He was very polite and super friendly and always smelled of booze. He morphed into the character Kassian. At that same time in my life (around age 13), my father discovered he had a cousin living in Russia who was being persecuted, and my father worked hard to help him immigrate to Israel. I wound up weaving those two strands together to come up with DIAMONDS.
The Last Laff Mystery Series focused on Comedian Channing Hayes, the co-owner of a comedy club. What inspired this setting?
I always found the lives of comedians (famous ones, anyway) fascinating. So many of them led very tumultuous, incendiary personal lives (Lenny Bruce, Sam Kinison, Robin Williams, Richard Pryor—literally incendiary!). It thought it would be cool to examine this comedy/tragedy tightrope that they walked. Although the novels take place in the world of stand-up comedy, I wouldn’t classify them as “funny” books.
The Zak Allen Books are horror and darker thrillers. You have three standalone books self-published under this name. Tell us a little bit about these books.
As I mentioned, sometimes ideas just pop into my head (and I can’t get rid of them, no matter how hard I try!). THE TASTE was one such idea. Once you get beyond the initial premise, it’s really just a thriller. I have to say, I think I may have had the most fun writing this one, out of all my books. I get a kick reading the reviews that start out with something akin to, “Based on the description, I didn’t think I’d like that story, but I’m sure glad I gave it a read!”
RIDE-ALONG was born from a terrifying experience I had during a police ride-along (natch!), and, in FIRST TIME KILLER, I was able to incorporate a pretty cool plot twist while skewering the talk radio industry.
Each of my Zak Allen books has a special place in my heart.
How did you find self-publishing and can we expect more Zak Allen books?
Some people find great success and personal satisfaction self-publishing. I am not one of those people. So while I enjoyed writing the books (and think they are top-notch—as good as my traditionally published books, if not better), I didn’t enjoy the entire process of self-publishing. I like having a team of professionals—each an expert at what they do—working with me on my book. And I really, REALLY appreciate the marketing muscle a traditional publisher can bring to the project. But as many people know, the business of publishing is constantly evolving, so it’s not out of the realm of possibility that I’ll self-publish again in the future.
“Running from the Past” was a winner in Amazon’s Kindle Scout program. Tell us a little bit about the book.
Here’s the recap from Amazon:
After selling his company for millions, Colby Walker takes his family—and his son’s friend Jess—on vacation, wanting nothing more than to unwind in the sun and surf. But he spots the alarming signs in short order: Jess’s downcast eyes, a familiar passivity, and angry red welts marching across the boy’s bare back. Walker understands what they mean because he’d been that boy, many years ago.
He’d suffered in silence, too.
Can Walker stand by and let the torment continue? Does he trust the authorities—the same ones who had failed him in his youth—to take care of Jess?
With Jess in tow, Walker packs up the minivan and takes his family on the lam, keeping one step ahead of Jess’s cruel father and unhinged ex-con aunt. When the stakes escalate and his headstrong actions put people’s lives in jeopardy, Walker must finally conquer his past before he can save those he loves.
He can run no longer.
How was that Kindle Scout experience? Would you participate in it again?
I thought it was pretty cool. My book was in the first batch entered, so I didn’t really know what to expect going in. I got a very thorough copy-edit, and the Amazon Publishing people are great to work with. The sales are way, way better than I could ever achieve self-pubbing. What’s also pretty great was the bonding with the other Kindle Scout winners. Everyone supports each other, which is very nice!
If I had the right project, I certainly would consider participating again.
You also write short stories. Which do you like better and which is harder for you, novels or short stories?
I can’t say that I prefer one over the other. They’re just different. And I can’t really say one form is harder than the other. (About all I can definitively say is that stories are shorter than novels.) I’ve been fortunate in having some success getting stories published over the past year or so, with my work appearing in Shotgun Honey Presents: Locked & Loaded, Jewish Noir, Chesapeake Crimes: Storm Warning, and Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. I also have stories in the upcoming anthologies Windward: Best New England Crime Stories 2016 and 50 Shades of Cabernet.
Share a little bit about your background.
In high school, I hated English class, and that carried through to college, where I majored in engineering. I didn’t like engineering, so I went back and got an MBA, still never having taken a creative writing class. Fast forward some years later, and now I’m writing fiction! Weird.
When did you decide to become a writer and when did you start writing?
About twelve years ago, I decided to try my hand at writing fiction. As I mentioned above, I’d never taken a creative writing class, so I enrolled in a nearby Adult Ed class. I wrote a story or two (as proof of concept), and I didn’t stink! I took more workshops, wrote a lot (still didn’t stink!), got into a great writing group, and continued to work on my craft. Now, going full circle, I teach writing workshops!
Which writers inspire you?
As a teen, I hated reading the “classics” and instead turned to books by Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, Stephen King, and Dean Koontz. I guess they stoked my love of reading, early on. Now, there are WAY too many inspiring authors to name!
What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
Write! And by this I mean finish something. If you’re writing a story, finish that story. If you’re writing a novel, finish that first draft, no matter how bad you might think it is. There’s just something about typing, “The End,” that builds your confidence as a writer. I’ve found that getting involved with a critique group is very beneficial, too. Feedback is important!
What is your favorite social media site?
I spend a lot of time (too much time!) on Facebook. And Twitter. I just joined Instagram, too.
How can readers discover more about you and your work?
Probably the best way is to visit my website and Friend me on Facebook.
Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/Alan-Orloff/e/B002ZMFR5Y
Book Links: (you can get to all my books on Amazon from my author page)
Thank you very much for taking the time out of your busy schedule to take part in this interview.