The Story Behind Project Moses!
(The following was adapted from an interview with Robert B. Lowe at http://www.QueenofAllSheReads.blogspot.com)
1. You’ve had several careers prior to becoming a debut author. You’ve been an investigative reporter, a lawyer, an entrepreneur in high tech businesses and now a writer. Did you always know you wanted to write a contemporary mystery/thriller?
As a long-time reader of mysteries and thrillers, I always wanted to try my hand at writing one particularly when I ran across those with big holes or plots that didn’t make sense. And, as a journalist, I always had a few co-workers working on book projects so it felt doable. I actually started on Project Moses when I had a few months between jobs in the mid-90s and finally could finish it last year. So, the interest and desire has been there for a while but things intervened on the way to getting the first one finished.
2. What about “bioterrorism” lent itself to you as the basis for your first novel? Was there a specific incident that made you think about it as the subject of your book?
I’ve been interested in genetics for a long time. Even in law school my main paper concerned genetic testing and how that plays out in the fairness of health insurance rates. I thought people’s fears about genetically engineered food was a place to look for a plot and my imagination kind of took it from there.
3. While “Project Moses” is a suspense thriller, you also chose to add a romance about two characters who happen to work in careers you’ve had. Was the romance between Enzo and Sarah always a part of your plot or was there something about these characters that caused you to add it?
From the outset, I planned to have a romance subplot. I think it just adds to almost any story. So, I knew I wanted that and I knew which characters. But, I didn’t have the characters nailed in the beginning and they sort of morphed over time – both individually and in terms of their romance. When I went back to rework the book after literally not looking at the manuscript for more than 10 years, I mainly felt that the characters needed more attention. Being able to review it with that distance is a luxury I don’t expect to have twice. I’m sure being older gave me a different take as well. I look at it as a form of personality sculpting and with it I had to resculpt the romance, too.
A decent day of writing for me usually begins at 9 am. I’m out of pajamas, shaved, got a thermos of coffee and walk 120 feet to a room above my garage away from people and repair projects that inevitably distract me. I work until lunch, with some breaks as I finish parts of what I’m writing. After lunch, I’ll work for one or two hours more depending on other commitments. So, 5 hours and, say, 1200 words is a pretty good day for me. I’m almost always polishing and rewriting what I’ve done the last two days so a lot of editing is built in as well. I’ll cheat on that a bit – use the afternoon time to get exercise, etc. But, I also try to get a chunk of writing on the weekend, usually several hours on Saturday, which compensates somewhat. If things are going well, I can keep this schedule. If they aren’t, I start figuring out ways to cheat.
5. Kirkus Reviews gave “Project Moses” an excellent review and touched on the strength of your characters, including your secondary characters. Will some of these characters ever get their own books, in specific Bobbie Connors, the female detective who has made quite an impression on several reviewers?
I was recently talking with another first-time author who remarked that everyone seemed to like one of her secondary characters. It made us both wonder if there is something about that. Perhaps we aren’t trying so hard. Maybe you can simply model the character after a person you know and let it go at that. Bobbie Connors was like that – largely based on someone I knew. Anyway, a couple of the secondary characters will be in the next book. I can’t say yet about a separate book for Connors but I don’t rule it out by any means. But, I do want to give them a chance to run and have a bigger role. So many plot lines, so little time.
The next novel will be called “Divine Fury” and will be out in the Fall. I’m close to finished with the first draft (end of July) although I’m polishing as I go. Enzo Lee again is the star. Some of the secondary characters are carried over into the next one as well. I was pleased that no one was overwhelmed by everything that went on in Project Moses – and there was quite a bit going on. In fact, readers seemed to like that. That’s good for me because my big challenge is keeping things manageable and not overloading with too many characters and subplots. Like Project Moses, Divine Fury will be largely based in San Francisco, has some romance and I’m aiming for fast-paced suspense.
7. What have been your best and worst experiences as a debut author?
Well, luckily, a lot of people like the book. Even with my first wave of family and friends, I could tell that the “I couldn’t put it down” responses were sincere and I was hearing the feedback indirectly as well so it wasn’t just folks being nice to me. Then, the “reading public” response was also very enthusiastic. With any book, I think you just don’t know what the response will be and it must be many times worse with your first. So, you just go, “Whew! Thank God.” Worst experiences is just seeing how big the hill is to climb to get your book in front of people. The time, energy, multiple books and luck involved to have even moderate success – like making half a living as an author – is quite daunting.
8. What can you tell us about Robert Lowe the man? Favorite hobbies ?
Well, I’ve entered the “golf phase of life” so I’m lightly obsessed with the little round ball at the moment. I’m a tad restless which probably has some bearing on my serial career changes. I am a bit of a foodie and enjoy throwing that element into my writing. I’m actually a pretty good cook when pressed. Lately, I’ve been needing to think of tricks to get into the next chapters and I’ve found that describing things – a detailed setting or a round of appetizers – is a good way to get going even if it gets lost or condensed later. I like plays and seeing dance performed. I also am a big sports fan (Thank you, SF Giants, for the 2010 World Series!) and annoy my wife and daughters with the amount I’ll watch although I must confess I click away from hockey and soccer.
I worked in Arizona as a reporter for 5 years and won a Pulitzer Prize for my investigative work there. One of the major investigations I conducted there occurred in a rural area mainly known for cotton farms, the state prison and absolutely blistering weather five months out of the year. I spent two months during the summer there knocking on doors in the poorest neighborhoods – sometimes mere shacks. My partner and I were finding women who had been forced by doctors at the county hospital to be sterilized. The doctors hoped to reduce the number of new kids coming onto the welfare rolls. Those weeks left me with some incredibly vivid memories and I incorporated some in Project Moses. We found numerous cases, exposed the forced sterilizations, and ended the practice.
I also worked in Miami for 5 years when the cocaine trafficking was rampant and on the heels of successive waves of Cuban and Haitian immigration. Every two years there was a race riot and the newspaper kept a supply of bulletproof vests for reporters and photographers who covered it. For an investigative reporter, it was like deep sea fishing in a strange but bountiful ocean.