Now residents of
Prize winning mystery writer William S. Shepard is the creator of a new genre, the diplomatic mystery, whose plots are set in American Embassies overseas. That mirrors Shepard’s own career in the Foreign Service of the
United States, during which he served in Singapore, Saigon, Budapest, Athens and Bordeaux, in addition to five tours of duty. Washington
His books explore this rich, insider background into the world of high stakes diplomacy and government. He evokes his last Foreign Service post, Consul General in
, in Vintage Murder, the first of the series of four “diplomatic mysteries.” The second, Murder On The Danube, now also available on Kindle, mines his knowledge of Bordeaux and the 1956 Revolution. In Murder In Dordogne Robbie Cutler, his main character, is just married, but their honeymoon in the scenic southwest of Hungary is interrupted by murders. The most recent of the series, The Saladin Affair, has Cutler transferred to work for the Secretary of State. Like the author, Cutler arranges trips on Air Force Two – now enlivened by serial Al Qaeda attempts to assassinate the Secretary of State. France
Now I have a few questions for Mr. Shepard (eight to be exact):
1. In Vintage Murder, Robbie Cutler, your protagonist, is a suave, smart American diplomat living in France. How did he join the Foreign Service?
Bordeaux is his second diplomatic assignment. To join the Foreign Service, he passed the Foreign Service oral and written and security exams (still I think about 1 in 100 survive). Robbie grew up in a Foreign Service family, so is used to living overseas. He is also though a fairly junior official. I had a problem with that, for I wanted him to have, here and in succeeding novels, access to highly classified information. That is how Uncle Seth came about – a nationally prominent man who keeps Robbie in the picture on national security matters.
2. What do you and Robbie have in common?
Like Robbie, I am a Francophile. I supposed that started with Dad’s stories about World War One when he was a combat veteran there, and then a university student. I was a French literature major in college, and taught in a French high school for a year after graduation. His love story is his own business, with very little help from me!
3. The setting for Vintage Murder is the lush countryside of Bordeaux and the rugged region of the Basque country in France. What made you set the story here?
I served as the American Consul General in Bordeaux, and so it is an area that I know very well, on both sides of the border. I wanted a vivid enemy, and the Basque ETA fit that requirement. What they have not done is take my “suggestion” and start blackmailing the owners of the great wine estates in Bordeaux. If that happened, I’m not sure I would still be welcome there!
4. Where does Robbie go from here?
He is assigned to the Embassy in Budapest for the second novel in the series, Murder On The Danube. Here, the murder of a prominent American visitor sets off a change of events. The back story is the Hungarian Revolution against the Russian occupation. Someone apparently was a traitor to the Freedom Fighters, and is now trying to cover his (or her) tracks). My research into the actual events was extensive, and had the assistance of both the American Embassy in Budapest (where I served as Political Officer), and the Hungarian Embassy in Washington. I was honored to be invited to present this novel at both the Library of Congress in Washington, and at the Hungarian Embassy.
5. Describe your writing process.
There are times when I cannot write (March/April, devoted to income tax preparation). I try to set aside roughly half a year, and then spend lots of time plotting out the novel. After that, it is a ruthless deadline – one chapter each week. I write in the morning. A cat perched on the desk usually helps!
6. Authors today are expected to do most of their own promotions. How do you balance social networking with writing? What promotions work best for you?
This is a work in progress. Writers’ blogs such as this one help spread the word. So do personal acquaintances. Reviews are most helpful. So is some paid advertising. I would like to be at the stage where this all melds together and is self-sustaining. But not yet, I fear!
7. What inspires and motivates you to write?
I enjoy storytelling, and writing is based on that. It may be something of a family trait. I had an uncle who was a gifted storyteller, and had virtually no formal education. He was a spellbinder. He and my Aunt took in foster children. When someone misbehaved, the worst punishment would be banishment to bed, and no story hour! Of course this was before television, but Irvin Foster really had the gift.
8. What advice do you have for someone who is thinking about starting a novel?
I’d say there are four things to consider. First, write about what you know and have experienced. Second, do try to plot out the entire novel, at least as a sketch. Third, consider whether what you have planned fits the entire story line. For example, in my novel Murder On The Danube, the back story continually involves a small group of Hungarian Freedom Fighters. Who is present at what stage of the fighting is crucial, and that had to be planned with great care – the one who was missing might be the one who betrayed the group! Fourth, sit down and write the first chapter. Then revise it, again and again. Characters you hadn’t considered will begin to assert themselves, you’ll see!
Yes, we will see.
Amazon.com: Murder On The Danube (Robbie Cutler Diplomatic Mysteries) eBook: William S. Shepard: Kindle Store
Amazon.com: Vintage Murder (Robbie Cutler diplomatic mysteries) eBook: William S. Shepard: Kindle Store
Thank you for letting us know about this new genre. Fascinating!