Friday, November 26, 2010

A Vist with Alan Orloff

Bestselling author John Gilstrap said of engineer/novelist Alan Orloff's debut novel, "Make room on your shelves for a fresh new voice in mystery writing. Diamonds for the Dead has it all: compelling plot, great characters, and the kind of tension that keeps you screwed into your seat for a one-sitting read."

Alan, how did your Diamonds for the Dead concept come about?

I wish I could point to a specific event as the impetus for this story, but, like most of my ideas, it just popped into my head. I will say that, out of the eight or nine manuscripts I’ve written, this one has the most “autobiographical” elements. When I was about ten or twelve, my father found out that we had a cousin in Russia who was being persecuted—in and out of jail for being an outspoken professor. So I incorporated some of that background into Diamonds.

Tell us about the book.

Talk to anyone in Reston, Virginia, and they’ll say Josh Handleman’s dad, “Honest Abe,” was a real mensch. But when Josh returns home to bury his estranged father, he gets the shock of his life: his thrifty dad was filthy rich. Oy!

Who was this man who donated millions to charity, invested in the dreams of Josh’s friends, and shared his home with a strange vodka-swilling Russian? Apparently, Abe collected diamonds too. But when Josh can’t find the gems, he begins to wonder if his dad’s death was truly an accident.

Hounded by grief and remorse, Josh resolves to find his dad’s diamond stash—which could be his inheritance and proof of his father’s love. What he doesn't realize is that this emotionally charged treasure hunt is taking him closer to his dad’s killer.

My next book, Killer Routine, is the first in a series, and it features Channing Hayes, a stand-up comic with a tragic past. It will be out in April 2011.

Not many engineers write mystery novels. When did you start writing and why mysteries?

I didn’t start writing fiction until about six years ago. I never liked my English classes in school and I certainly didn’t like writing papers (maybe that’s why I became an engineer). But I’ve always been a voracious reader and I guess my latent desire to write a book finally blossomed. As for writing mystery and suspense novels, those are the kinds of books I like to read so it seemed only natural to write them.

You were born in Washington D.C. and still live in the area. Have you ever written about politicians? If not, why?

Frankly, I read about politics every day in the newspaper (yes, I still read the daily paper), and I hear about them nightly on the news. Boring! Having said that, it figures that my [work in progress] (the sequel to Killer Routine) is about a politician.

You’ve had a varied career, including working on nuclear submarines. What else have you done besides writing?

You probably don’t have enough space on your blog for me to list all of my careers. Some of my “jobs” have included supervising assembly workers in a factory, consulting at a newspaper (on the business side), managing a group of product planners for a TV/radio ratings company, and helping to commercialize spin-off technology from the Star Wars program.

For whom do you write?

Interesting question. Mostly, I think I write for my readers. I want my stories to be entertaining page-turners, full of suspense with threads of humor. Is it a coincidence that those are the same kinds of books I like to read? No. So I guess I write for myself, too.

What’s the hardest part of writing for you and the part you enjoy most?

The hardest part of writing is finding enough time to flesh out all my ideas. If you’re talking more about craft, then I’d say I usually have a tougher time with description. The parts of writing I enjoy most are those rare times when I’m in a zone and the words come flowing out too fast for me to type. That’s a very cool feeling.

How do you schedule your writing?

I’m a stay-at-home dad (I have an incredibly supportive wife, in every sense of the word). When the kids are at school, I can usually hear myself think. Otherwise…not so much.

Advice for fledgling writers?

I’ve got a five-pronged strategy I’ll pass along. Take classes and workshops. Get yourself into a critique group. Network with other writers, at conferences and in professional organizations. Read, read, read. And, of course, write, write, write. If you want to get published, perseverance is key.

Thanks, Alan, for stopping by.

Alan's website:
His blog site:


Jean Henry Mead said...

Welcome to Mysterious Writers, Alan. It's good to have you with us. (You can leave some of those diamonds with me.) :)

Sunny Frazier said...

Alan sounds fascinating and I can't wait to feature his comedian sleuth in the Murder Circle when the book comes out!

Thank you, Jean, for bringing Mr. Orloff to our attention!

jrlindermuth said...

Diamonds sounds like a good read. Interesting read about your background, too.

Marja said...

Very interesting interview. It reveals a bit about you and your writing, and I can see I'll want to read your books.

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Another terrific interview! Alan, I agree--those days that the words just come out so fast your fingers can't even keep up with your brain..exhilarating. (Almost makes up for the days when..well, we won't discuss it.)

Hope our paths cross in person soon! xoxo

Alan Orloff said...

Jean - Thanks so much for inviting me!! As for the diamonds, you'll have to wrestle my wife for them.

Sunny - Thanks! And I'd love to "visit" the Murder Circle.

jr - Glad it sounds interesting. (I think I'm much more boring in person :) )

Marja - Thanks for your interest! Some of those answers were even true.

Hank - Thanks! Yes, let's not discuss those dark times. And speaking of dark times, I'll be in my cave until springtime.

Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

Looking forward to your April release, Alan! And...great 5-pronged strategy for new writers. Great interview, Jean!

Holli said...

I love your five-pronged strategy for writing and subscribe to it completely. I also agree that perseverance is the key, although I believing in following up every dose of perseverance with a tenacity chaser.

Holli Castillo
Gumbo Justice

Barb Goffman said...

Hi, Alan. I didn't know we share the same description deficiency. Maybe we should start a Reston-area description support group. Everyone will meet, state their bare-bones problem, and then we can all leave. It'll be the fastest meeting of the day.

Paula Matter said...

Good interview, Jean!

Alan, I'm looking forward to the new book. Working Stiffs will have to invite you back when it comes out! I enjoyed Diamonds for the Dead.

Elizabeth Kolodziej said...

Alan, I really loved this interview! My dad was an engineer before he went to work for CSC. Is it a coincidence that you both love mystery books? Maybe its an engineer thing. hehehe. But I want to get your book for my dad for christmas. Thanks for letting me know about it!

Hart Johnson said...

Thank you for hosting Jean!

And Alan, great interview! I think this is the fullest description I've seen of your book and it sounds great. I also don't think engineering and mystery writing are so different--I am a statistician and I think there is 'method' to mystery that works very well for a numbers person.

Alan Orloff said...

Elizabeth - Thanks! Of course, if pressed, I suppose I could think of a few more prongs.

Holli - Thanks! Followed by a helping of stick-to-it-iveness.

Barb - I'm all for fast meetings. Let's not invite William Faulkner.

Paula - Thanks! I'd love to be a Working Stiff again for a day.

Elizabeth - Thanks! Maybe mysteries are an engineer thing. Maybe we did a lot of daydreaming in engineering class.

Hart - Thanks! I think you're right. Many engineering problems are simply mysteries, like "how the heck am I going to design that widget with this measly budget?"

Sheila Deeth said...

I enjoyed the interview. And I'm working on the writing.