MA: I have a very special guest today. Charles Ray is not only an author, he’s the U.S. Ambassador to Zimbabwe. Ambassador Ray is a native of East Texas, and has been involved in leading organizations (particularly those in trouble) for over 40 years. He’s written a number of articles on history, culture and leadership, and recently completed a book on leadership, Taking Charge: Effective Leadership for The Twenty-First Century, which is a follow-on to Things I Learned From My Grandmother About Leadership and Life. Although he says he goes by Charlie, Geronimo, or Tank…I’ll just call him Mr. Ambassador!
Welcome, Sir. Tell us about your fascinating background.
CR: I grew up in a small east Texas town, population 715, and have been interested in books all my life. My mom taught me to read when I was four, and I read Edgar Rice Burroughs as a second grader, and was hooked for life. I started writing early, publishing a short story at age twelve that won first prize in a Sunday School publication. When I joined the Army in 1962, I wrote poetry that was published in Stars and Stripes European edition. I started seriously freelancing in 1973 when I was stationed in Korea, doing travel pieces mostly, but also on other topics. I have also been a newspaper editor, editorial cartoonist, and have had gag cartoons and art in a few (now defunct) publications, except for Ebony and Essence. I have been dabbling in fiction for a while, publishing a few short stories on line, and have had poems in a number of print and online publications. Color Me Dead is the first full-length fiction work I’ve put before the public, but I’m working on making it a series, and am also working on some others. I submitted a fantasy piece to this year’s Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award competition. I am interested in a wide variety of things – Science Fiction, history, etc. Never quite been able to settle on just one thing. I spent 20 years in the Army, in Asia and Europe, but mostly Asia, and am philosophically a Buddhist.
MA: Thank you for your service, not just your Army career, but your enduring service to the United States in the diplomatic corps. With all your experience writing articles for publications, as well as writing non-fiction books, what brought you to write fiction?
CR: I chose to write novels because of a compulsion to write something more substantial than magazine articles or short stories. Also, I just want to share my observations and experiences. That’s also why I wrote the two books on leadership, and why I have about five or six more non-fiction ideas in my notebook.
MA: I wonder how you find the time! Tell us about your novel.
CR: Color Me Dead is about a PI who lives and works in the DC area. He’s on retainer to a law firm and does mostly legwork for them. An elderly woman in the neighborhood of his office asks him to prove that her grandson, who was gunned down in the street, was not involved with gangs or drugs – the cops wrote it off as just another gang killing. As the PI, Al Pennyback, digs into the case, he uncovers that it wasn’t just another random killing, but was related to another crime that spanned the east coast. In the process of solving the teen’s death, he comes close to losing his own life.
MA: He sounds like a colorful character. Tell us more about him and the people around him.
CR: Al’s wife and son were killed in an auto accident, and he has become something of a loner, but with a soft spot for the downtrodden, especially kids. A retired military officer, he is also disciplined and somewhat opinionated. Mini-flash backs are used to develop his attitude about life and the case he’s working. There is also the byplay with his assistant, Heather ‘Honey’ Bunche, and Buster Mayweather, a DC homicide detective. He’s also a bit unconventional, preferring, for instance, riding the DC subway to driving. His strengths are his code of honor, discipline, and compassion. These are also his weaknesses, because they lead him to putting himself and those around him in peril at times.
MA: So who’s the villain in the story?
CR: The main antagonist in this book is a nosy, but otherwise harmless appearing old retiree who lives next door to the murdered boy’s teacher. He is slowly developed into a devious, dangerous criminal mastermind who does not hesitate to order a killing to achieve his ends. His other ‘nemesis’ is the uncaring bureaucracy which is sort of a background character throughout the book.
MA: Gotta watch those nosy old retirees! I like the idea of a deceptively harmless-looking bad guy. So what’s in your writing future?
CR: I’m working on a follow up to this story. In the second installment, the reporter who wrote the story on the teen’s killing asks Al to solve a 100-year-old murder case for a historical series she’s writing for the paper. In doing the research, he stumbles across a modern day murder case that almost gets him killed. In all the follow up stories, I plan to do tie-ins to previous stories with characters or events – except for those who don’t survive to the last page. I’m also working on an epic sword and sorcery piece for young adults, and a piece on a group of feisty residents of a retirement home who play amateur detective. In addition, I have in my notebook, ideas for some further commentary on leadership.
MA: I can’t let you leave without telling us more about your other pursuits. I know you have other writing and community projects you are involved with. Please elaborate.
CR: I also write for a number of Internet content sites (Helium and Associated Content), and like my other pursuits, I don’t restrict myself to one genre. Over the past 48 years since I graduated from high school, I’ve traveled the world and done a lot of things that have left an impression. While I still can, I want to share them with others. I do a lot of mentoring and speaking on leadership and personal responsibility, and encourage people of all ages to take control of their own destiny. When I was a kid growing up in Texas, the view was that people of color were limited in their prospects. For reasons I do not understand, I never bought into that belief, and try to encourage others to have the same view.
MA: I’m glad you didn’t listen to those views and didn’t buy into that belief. Mr. Ambassador, thanks for all you do and thanks for stopping by to share your time, background, and story information with us. I would like my readers to visit Ambassador Ray’s website for more information: http://www.redroom.com/author/charles-a-ray/