News & Views

Mug Shot: Rich Zahradnik

Rich Zahradnik is the award-winning author of the critically acclaimed Coleridge Taylor Mysteries. The latest installment, Lights Out Summer, comes out in October. Publishers Weekly said, “Zahradnik nails the period, with its pack journalism, racism overt and subtle, and the excesses of the wealthy at places like Studio 54, as he shows how one dogged reporter can make a difference.” He worked for almost 30 years in journalism and now teaches kids in the New York area how to write news stories and publish newspapers.

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In your most recent finished work, what was the hardest scene to write?
Lights Out Summer is set in 1977. An important set piece is the New York City black out of July 13-14. I was working from newspaper coverage of the looting and destruction. I wanted to turn the facts into a true feel for the chaos of being out on the streets as mass crime happened--the skip-jumpy fear of trying to get through it.

What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?
The day after I received an offer of representation, I found out I was admitted to the Crime Fiction Academy, a first-of-its-kind program run by the Center for Fiction. I workshopped my novel during my semester in CFA before my agent took it out to publishers. That effort helped the manuscript a great deal, and it became my first published novel.

What do you think is the best way to market your books?
This is a tough one. I’ve tried Facebook post boosts and ads, Google, Goodreads contests and ads, various deal emails and blog tours and still have not found the outlet that delivers a return on investment. I sold a bunch of books when a novel was priced at 99 cents, and I used the deal newsletters (others than BookBub; I couldn’t get on that one). But after costs, the royalties weren’t much because I’m traditionally published. In the end, I’d say having a PR person work on the book for three months before launch is the thing I would always do because I’ve got someone who knows the crime fiction blog scene and can secure good placements.

Who are some of your favorite authors that you feel were influential in your work?
Michael Connelly, for the way he uses seemingly straightforward, everyday language — though it’s really not — to draw you in. Before you know it, he’s grabbed you with his story. The energy builds and the fireworks go off.

Derek Raymond, for the dark, harsh yet emotional writing of this author of 1980s British noir. I don’t write this way, but I borrow bits of his technique.

Tony Hillerman, for making his landscape and setting a character in all his books. What he did with the southwestern desert, I attempt to do with 1970s New York.

Georges Simenon, for telling great, complex mysteries in 150 pages.

If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
Start writing sooner.

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