|Welcome to our New Faces column, where we take great pleasure in introducing some of the newest authors in the mystery genre. This time we're visiting with Andy Straka, whose first mystery is A Witness Above from Signet. Let's find out about the unusual background of this book.
Andy, welcome to The Mystery Reader! Tell us about yourself.
I was born and raised in upstate New York. I attended public school and went
on to major in English and write sophomoric, quasi literary prose at Williams
College, where I also played basketball for four years. After Williams, I
married my college sweetheart (still together after twenty years) and
embarked on a career in medical sales. We have two children, ages seven and
fourteen. I am also, by the way, an identical twin.
Are you coming to mystery writing from another job?
Five years ago, my wife made me an offer I couldn't refuse. I had been
working as a sales representative for almost fifteen years, peddling
everything from soap and toothpaste to intraoperative monitoring equipment
for neurosurgery. After a long hiatus, I had also begun to write again, even
managing to publish an essay and short story or two. My wife, who is a
physician, had been working part time for a few years while our children were
young. She said she was ready to expand her practice. Would I consider
quitting my job to stay home with the kids and write full-time? My answer
was yes. Now I am a chauffeur (the kids are seven and fourteen). And I have
chunks of time to write and promote my first book, A WITNESS ABOVE, in
between runs to the school, the store, errands....you know the drill.
What led you to write mysteries? Are you a longtime reader?
Since college, I have been a big fan of traditional PI and detective fiction.
Something about the voice. Reading so much in the genre and getting in tune
with that voice has allowed me to create what I hope is my own individual
Your protagonist, Frank Pavlicek, is a falconer -- an unusual plot
point. How did you get involved with falconry and choose to use it as a major force in your story?
First off, I must offer the disclaimer that I am not a licensed falconer.
There is a reason for this: I simply don't have the time needed to properly
care for a falcon or hawk. I get to enjoy the best of both worlds, however.
I'm able to live vicariously through Frank. Falconry is an enthralling and
romantic sport--some would even call it art--with ancient roots. I've spent
many hours talking to and hunting with falconers up and down the East coast.
Most falconers will tell you the sport becomes a way of life, which is what
it becomes for Frank Pavlicek: waiting for the next hunting season,
maintaining a partnership with a wild, free-flying bird that always has the
choice to stay or go. When I first created Frank (in early drafts of A
WITNESS ABOVE), I didn't completely understand the tension and beauty
inherent in this. But the more I learned, the more I came to understand how
integral a part of his life falconry would need to become. I'm still
learning, researching, meeting and spending time with more falconers. I
strive for the same authenticity in portraying falconry as I do in portraying
the technical elements of a crime.
Tell us about your road to publication.
My road to publication involved a lot of persistence, networking and seeking
advice from other (published) writers, and, quite frankly, prayer. It took
two and a half years of serious writing in order to produce A WITNESS ABOVE.
In this I was helped by several other writers in a couple of different
critique groups I've belonged to at various times. Then it took another year
or so to find an agent and another year after that to sell the book.
The most important lesson I have learned, I think, is to be willing to accept
legitimate advice and criticism from true professionals. If you think you
are the next William Faulkner or Raymond Chandler just waiting to be
discovered by some lucky editor, you probably won't be published. If you can
write, have a story or two to tell, and are willing to put in the necessary
time to craft an engaging novel with the help of others, you have a chance.
What kind of research was involved for your first book?
As I mentioned, I've spent countless hours soaking up the culture of
falconry. I've also had to spend a fair amount of time talking with several
law enforcement contacts I've developed in order to make sure I get my
details straight when it comes to a particular crime. Still, I wouldn't say
I'm a big researcher. I don't believe my novels should revolve around the
latest technical spec for whatever. I try to create an exciting, well-told
story with just enough specifics to make for a believable story.
Who are your influences as a writer?
Charles Frazier, Mark Helprin, Scott Turow, James Lee Burke; and
then, of course, other PI writers--Chandler, Hammett, MacDonald, Parker,
Grafton, Crais, Paretsky, Riordan, Coben, Randisi, Pronzini, Hamilton. Last
year, I read my first Janet Evanovich novel and thought it was hilarious--I
can see why she's so successful.
What does your family think of having a mystery author in their midst?
They think it's just great. My son even thinks A WITNESS ABOVE is "pretty
good." High praise indeed from a fourteen-year-old.
Tell us about plans for future books.
I have a two-book contract with Signet for the Frank Pavlicek series. We are
into the final editing for book 2, which is due out in March 2002, and I've
begun sketching outlines for later books in the series. I'm also starting
work on a new, completely different series.
How can readers get in touch with you?
My website can be found at either www.falconmystery.com or
www.andystraka.com. There is a place to send me e-mail. I love hearing from
readers and always try to respond within a few days. There are also several
falconry and mystery links and an ever-growing art gallery of original
watercolors by the young man who created my logo, also known as "The Maltese
Andy, thanks for joining us, and best of luck! Readers, we have a review of A Witness Above here at The Mystery Reader.
Aug. 17, 2001