MA: My guest today is Joseph M. Rinaldo. He’s not only an author, but he has a distinctive family background that makes him an expert of sorts on the subject matter of his writing. I’m going to let him tell us in his own words. Joseph, welcome.
JR: Raising my daughter with Down syndrome has made me uniquely qualified to write this book, and I have witnessed the effects of Alzheimer’s on a family member. As for the espionage-related topics in A Spy At Home, I prefer not to disclose the source of my knowledge.
My daughter, wife, and I live in Tennessee. I look forward to releasing another ebook in the near future, as I have written seven others that deal with a variety of characters.
Thank you again for taking the time to help me promote my book and myself on your blog. I have always felt the writing community is a very generous and altruistic one, and bloggers like you have proven me correct.
MA: It’s my pleasure to have you here today. Tell us how you came to write.
JR: The actual impetus for me to begin writing came while I was reading Three Weeks With My Brother by Nicholas Sparks. When I got to the part where he received a million-dollar advance, I thought, “Holy cow! He’s a good writer, but I know I can do this, too.” I’ve been writing since that day in 2004.
Eight years prior to reading about the million dollar advance I had only considered writing once in my life. Living alone, I hand wrote a page that I later read to my girlfriend, who is now my wife. She said the characters didn’t really tell the story, and that she heard me reciting rather than the voice of the main character. I wadded up the sheet of paper and threw it away. I never forgot what she said and believe I have corrected those mistakes in A Spy At Home.
Now, by day I work as Credit and Financial Manager for a heating, ventilating, and air conditioning distributor. When I first started writing, I thought being a numbers guy would make me an oddity as an author. That’s proved to be wrong. The more people I meet in this industry, the more I run across accountants and CFOs. Apparently, creativity infects a variety of people. Of course, I have the same dream as other writers. I hope my book sells a million copies and becomes a smash hit movie. Selling ebooks isn’t the get-rich-quick scheme I thought it was before being published. It’s been a lot of work.
MA: That’s something many people who begin writing don’t realize at first. Getting published is a business venture, and while craft is important, so is a healthy understanding of the work that goes into marketing and advertising, for example.
In your story, did you frame any characters on real life people whom you’ve known?
JR: A Spy At Home recounts the life of a CIA operative which means I cannot answer any questions about a career as a spy that I may or may not have had. Generally, I think of the characters in my books as being completely separate people. The characters don’t interact with me, let alone stem from me. At least that’s how it is in my mind. None of my characters are “based on” a person I know. They are combinations of traits from many people, and some imaginary traits are thrown in to keep my friends from recognizing themselves. Just kidding, the characters live in my head, and I write down what they say and do. Hopefully this doesn’t sound too bizarre.
MA: Tell us about the story. Is it a mystery or a thriller or something else?
JR: The genre of my books is very hard to pin down. My wife and I have searched numerous times for standardized publishing industry definitions with no success. As silly as that may sound, especially for a person who wants to deal in words as a career, genres are hard to define. A Spy At Home could be considered contemporary fiction, mainstream (this sounds like a synonym for dull), thriller, suspense (what’s the difference between thriller and suspense? Shouldn’t you be thrilled reading a suspense novel, and shouldn’t you wonder what will happen next in thriller?), drama (any book without intense turmoil probably won’t be worth reading), or adventure (my main character travels to another continent; that’s adventurous, right?). I honestly don’t know where my books fall in the narrow definitions of the publishing world; I do know I have tried to make the characters interesting and multi-faceted, moving through difficulties in their lives. A Spy At Home is my debut published novel.
MA: Fair enough. Tell us, then, about your main character. I assume you crafted him/her by design before you began writing?
JR: I didn’t. That probably sounds absurd, but I don’t intentionally mold a protagonist. The characters live their lives in my head, and I write it down. During the editing process, I might smooth a rough edge, but I try not to do that very much. I mean, for example, instead of having the protagonist cuss out his girlfriend, he simply yells at her. However, I keep his anger, frustration, or whatever in full view of the reader.
Some books I’ve read develop a character like a precise mathematical equation. The character may say, “I hate the Rolling Stones. They’re like nails on a chalkboard.” The reader now knows that he or she will be trapped into listening to Brown Sugar and Satisfaction at some point. To me this detracts from the story because the character becomes too formulaic.
MA: So who is he? What are his attributes?
JR: Garrison in A Spy At Home loves his wife and son with every fiber of his being. That’s his greatest strength. This keeps him going through several ordeals. His biggest downfall is failing to accept life as it comes. As a spy he manipulated people and events to better America’s position in African countries. As a civilian he struggles and often fails to accept life’s messy obstacles. Without revealing too much, Garrison steals a little under ten million dollars before retiring. A stronger person would have taken his pension and left the spy life behind.
MA: And the “bad guy?”
JR: That’s a tough question to answer. A Spy At Home doesn’t have a traditional villain. The reader decides for themselves who’s evil and heroic. Some might find the protagonist, Garrison, deceitful. Others might see the U.S. government as cruel. Garrison worries a great deal about his own death and what will happen to his mentally retarded son after it. This overwhelming worry could be considered the book’s villain. The “bad guy” is in the eye of the beholder.
MA: I know you have a personal connection to your hero’s life and his family circumstances. Talk about that.
JR: Like Garrison, I have a child with Down syndrome. People with Down are living much longer than ever before, which means my daughter might outlive my wife and me. Who would take care of her as well as we do? This question haunts every parent with a dependent child. My wife wrote a short story based on this concern. I blatantly stole her idea and added a spy, stolen millions, a beach house on a Caribbean island…
MA: That’s really interesting! So what comes after A Spy At Home?
JR: Another book, Hazardous Choices, has been professionally edited and will be released in the near future. We’re waiting to release it until we’ve promoted A Spy At Home as fully as we can. I have seven more books waiting to be professionally edited and released. As we save the money for more editing, we’ll get the others done, too. At present I have three books floating around in my head but can’t find the time to write them. Hopefully, A Spy At Home will be made into a movie, and I’ll have Garrison’s boat where I can write all day long!
MA: Do you have a sequel planned?
JR: I can’t think of anything more boring than writing a sequel. Mr. Potter has proven what a great success they can be, but following the same characters from one book to the next doesn’t interest me. Once the book is finished, the characters are done with me.
MA: What are your thoughts on historical research when writing novels?
JR: I was at a writer’s conference, and a woman was telling me about her historical novel. She found the menu for the heads of states dinner that actually happened, and she was using it in her novel. While she said this, I kept thinking, ‘That has got to be the most uninteresting book ever if you’re telling the reader what they had to eat.’ Research can be good and bad. Research can make the book come alive and seem real. It can also come across as if the writer is bragging about all he/she knows. If your reader wanted to read a textbook, she/he would’ve bought one. For writing novels the most important thing is being believable, not scientifically accurate.