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INTERVIEW: Robert Dugoni Regrets Killing Off Sloane's Wife

Updated: 3 days ago

CHRISTINA: Critically acclaimed New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, and #1 Amazon bestselling author Robert Dugoni lives right here in Washington State.  Dugoni writes espionage and legal thrillers, which are not usually my cup of tea, more my husband's preference, so his books were not on my radar. After hearing him speak at my first Pacific Northwest Writers Association (PNWA) conference, I looked up his books and found his impressive backlist is indeed what my dear Mr. B reads. So, of course, I immediately fed his Kindle the first in the "Sloane" series and have since read a few myself. You can imagine my delight when I told my husband Bob agreed to this interview.


How has the publishing industry changed since you published Cyanide Canary in 2004?

 

BOB: I’m told by other authors that it is getting more and more difficult to get published, and more and more difficult to remain published. Many authors are getting just single book contracts and told that the publisher wants to see how those books will do in the marketplace. I’m also being told that advances that authors are receiving are lower than they have been in the past. The other significant change I’ve heard from authors and editors is genre-bending. Things like Romantasy and Romantathrillers and other combined genres.

 

CHRISTINA: Too right. Because describing my manuscript as a "dual-era romantic, upmarket fiction with elements of magical realism" is a mouthful. And yet I still do.


What comes first, plot or characters?

 

BOB: For me it is usually characters, but sometimes it will be an idea. I’ve read something that makes a lot of sense, and that is that the two are usually formulated side by side. That is, you get an idea, and you immediately develop the character that will carry the story, and the two—the plot and the character arc—work side by side.


CHRISTINA: Sounds organic to me. Makes absolute sense.


Is there one of your characters you most identify with and why? 

 

BOB: It might be William Shumacher in A Killing on the Hill. I was a young, naïve reporter for the Los Angeles Times, living alone in a friend's apartment, without family or friends. All I had was my work, and I busted hard to try to be good at it. Los Angeles was like a different time, altogether for me, growing up in a small town in Northern California.

 

CHRISTINA: As a CNN intern in 1991 who never made it much beyond, I am fascinated to know you were once a reporter for the LA Times. I think I am going to have to add this Depression-era thriller to my must-read list.


If you could tell your 21-year-old self anything, what would you share?

 

BOB: Everything happens for a reason, and often, the things we think are our worst moments are actually just epiphanies that set us on the path we are intended to be on. We learn this with perspective.


CHRISTINA: If only our twenty-one-year-old selves would listen.

What makes you get up in the morning? What do you love?

 

BOB: I love my job. I love to get to my desk and get to work. I love to get up and golf as well.

 

CHRISTINA: So, if you weren’t a writer, what would you be?

 

BOB: Unhappy.

 

CHRISTINA: I love it when I chat with people who really have found their bliss.


What’s the most difficult scene to write? And why?

 

BOB: I think the mistake we make is pushing too hard. You have to let the character act and speak of his/her own accord. I think of myself as an observer, just putting down the story as it is told to me.

 

CHRISTINA: I get that. Sometimes, the words just flow as if taking dictation.


So far, what is your greatest accomplishment as a writer? What goal is still yet to be reached?

 

BOB: Getting that first book published. I don’t set goals. So, I’m never disappointed. I just do my job, every day, and let the chips fall where they may. There is so much to writing that we don’t control.

 

CHRISTINA: Do you hide any secrets in your novels that only a select few might know, and how do those people react?

 

BOB: Sure. I’ll put in real names of friends, or I’ll put in an event that my friends will recognize as having happened. It’s a lot of fun.

 

CHRISTINA: Dreamcast your next book.


BOB: Can’t. I don’t know the young actors anymore!

 

CHRISTINA: I am going to recommend Theo James as David Sloane. He's British but can do American very well. Let's manifest that out into the universe. Ommm... Hear me, Hollywood execs?


Have you gone on an author pilgrimage or research trip? Where and what was the most memorable moment?  

 

BOB: I’ve traveled many places and taken notes and done some research, but often I don’t even know when I travel that a book may come from it. I went to Costa Rica, and ten years later, Sam Hell ended up there.

 

CHRISTINA: Hmm. Now I'm thinking of who I would cast as Sam Hell, young and middle-aged.


When did you first think you had a book to write, and how did you start? 

 

BOB: I watched an attorney in San Francisco who was just so good, he didn’t lose, and I got the idea for David Sloane, my protagonist in five novels. I started The Jury Master many different times and ways. I think I have nineteen different drafts. It was my writing classroom.

 

CHRISTINA: Nineteen? Strangely, that's heartening to me as I revise my manuscript. Again.


Best advice for new writers, ahem, me.

 

BOB: Learn the craft before you start. Read The Writer’s Journey by Chris Vogler and Sol Stein’s book on Writing. Will save you endless drafts.


CHRISTINA: Endless drafts. Hmm... It does feel like that. I suppose I must eventually pull the trigger and query again. (Sigh...)


If you were to revise any of your books, which would you choose and why?

 

BOB: Just one. I never should have killed off Tina, Sloane’s wife, in Bodily Harm. That was a suggestion by an editor, and it was wrong.


CHRISTINA: Aww, that's really sad. As a freelance editor, I would hate to think I recommended such a significant change that the writer regretted later.


What is your current project or latest release?

 

BOB: A Killing on the Hill is the latest release. Beyond Reasonable Doubt, the second Keera Duggan book, is out October 2024. Hold Strong, a 1947 WWII novel, is out January 2025.

 

CHRISTINA: Gosh, you are juggling a lot of plates—best wishes for the upcoming releases.


Which of your novels is your favorite?

 

BOB: The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell. It is deeply personal, a tribute to my mom.

 

CHRISTINA: That's lovely.


If you could have dinner with three people, who would be at your table—and how might that go?

 

BOB: Jesus Christ.

Elvis Presley.

My Father.

 

I’d love to learn there is a heaven, a better place for all of us. I have a very strong faith, but the thought of dying remains terrifying. I believe there is more to our lives, but wouldn’t it be nice to know you’ll be okay?

 

I loved young Elvis. I’d like to warn him about Coronel Tom Parker and all the others who took advantage of a young man, and about the booze and the alcohol.

 

I’d love to see my dad again. He died far too young. Love to see him interact with Elvis, who he really loved as an entertainer.

 

CHRISTINA: Love that. All. Of. It. Beautiful, really.


What do you think makes a good story?

 

BOB: Great characters!

 

CHRISTINA: Agree! The plot draws me to the book, but great characters make me read on.


Is there a period you would like to set a future story?

 

BOB: Love to write another 1933 Seattle story during the depression.

 

CHRISTINA: Yes! You have all the research from A Killing on the Hill. What's keeping you?


What are you reading now?

 

BOB: Four books by authors seeking blurbs.

 

CHRISTINA: That's great of you to give back like that. But I am seeing why maybe writing another 1933 Seattle story might be on the back burner.


Favorite contemporary author?

 

BOB: Stephen King.

 

CHRISTINA: Ha! My husband likes to tell my author friends how, as a teenager back in Maine, he used to work for a landscaping company and mow Stephen King’s lawn.


How did writing your first book change your writing process?

 

BOB: I had to learn the writing craft the hard way – trial and a lot of error. That convinced me I needed to learn more about how to write a novel and set me on three years of learning the craft, etcetera.


CHRISTINA: Your excellent backlist is a testament to your dedication to honing your craft.

Thank you again for your time. I hope it didn't take too much away from writing projects. I look forward to taking your “Creating Plots for Page Turners” class at the Surry International Writers Conference later this year.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Robert Dugoni is a critically acclaimed New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, and #1 Amazon bestselling author, reaching over 9 million readers worldwide. He is best known for his Tracy Crosswhite police series set in Seattle. He is also the author of the Charles Jenkins espionage series, the David Sloane legal thriller series, and several stand-alone novels, including The 7th Canon, Damage Control, The World Played Chess, and Her Deadly Game. His novel The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell received Suspense Magazine’s 2018 Book of the Year, and Dugoni’s narration won an AudioFile Earphones Award. Washington Post named his nonfiction exposé The Cyanide Canary a Best Book of the Year.

 

Several of his novels have been optioned for movies and television series. Dugoni is the recipient of the Nancy Pearl Award for Fiction and a three-time winner of the Friends of Mystery Spotted Owl Award for best novel set in the Pacific Northwest. He has also been a finalist for many other awards, including the International Thriller Award, the Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction, the Silver Falchion Award for mystery, and the Mystery Writers of America Edgar Award.

 

Dugoni’s books are sold in more than twenty-five countries and have been translated into more than thirty languages. You can connect with Dugoni via his website.

3 Comments


Dugoni's books sound perfect for my mom, who loves legal thrillers. Thanks for this interview, Christina! (And it's so cool to learn you were an intern at CNN once!)

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What a terrific interview, Christina. I attended a writer’s conference years ago and met Bob. During his session he wove delightful stories about his mom into his presentation, which was filled with craft details and motivating info. He also did an imitation of a certain author famous for writing historical Scottish epic fiction about peeling the layers of an onion. I’ve never forgotten it. He was approachable and generous with his time. Since then, I’ve followed his career and wish him all the best. Thanks for this.

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Christina Boyd
Christina Boyd
4 days ago
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Yes, I heard him speak at a conference in Seattle, and he is dynamic, smart, and thoughtful. He’s the real deal!

Thanks for stopping by, Joy.

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