This week we sat down with Robert K. Lewis, author of the Mark Mallen Novels. His latest, Innocent Damage, is out now!
Robert K. Lewis: About seventeen years, give or take.
MI: What influence have other authors had on your writing?
RKL: I love a strong voice, so I’ve spent a lot of time with the noir heavy hitters such as Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, and Ed McBain. A more contemporary example of a strong voice that influenced me would be Kem Nunn. However, beyond the writing, these authors also influenced me by showing me just how hard writing can be, and how much work it takes to get better with every book.
MI: If you weren’t a writer, what would you be doing?
RKL: Playing blues guitar in a power trio or quartet. I love playing the blues, and playing it very loud is a pre-requisite.
MI: If you have a job outside of writing, what is it?
RKL: I’m the office manager of the art department at UC Berkeley. Best possible job and environment for me to have, given that my other job is writing books.
MI: What is/are your favorite thing/s to do when you’re not writing or working?
RKL: Playing blues and hard rock guitar, learning piano, and drinking.
MI: Who is your favorite mystery sleuth and why?
RKL: Frank Kane’s Johnny Liddell. He’s tough, never gives up no matter how much he’s been beaten and battered, and will always solve the case no matter what the price. He’s the sort of detective that will come after you again and again, even if it means dragging himself along the road on his bloodied elbows.
MI: Do you have a favorite murder case from a book (either yours or another author’s)?
RKL: The Abbey Grange, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. This is not only my favorite murder mystery, it’s also one of my favorite Sherlock Holmes stories. The Abbey Grange is actually one of the inspirations for Mark Mallen, because this is where Holmes really becomes judge and jury, and by doing so, gives us a glance into his great heart. This story is Holmes in one of his finest moments.
RKL: Ah, that’s a large question. Mallen is made up of so many things that I’ve watched, read, and witnessed. There are, of course, the classic detectives: Sam Spade, Marlowe, Johnny Liddell, and Mike Hammer. Then there are the New York cop films of the 1970s: The French Connection, Serpico, The Seven Ups, The Warriors, Taxi Driver, and Death Wish. Also on that list would be other gritty films such as Panic in Needle Park and Midnight Cowboy.
MI: How does this book/series compare to your past works?
RKL: The Mark Mallen series bears no resemblance at all to my earlier works. When I began writing long-form fiction (I’d written screenplays before turning to fiction), I wanted to be a literary writer. That died on the vine. After that I wrote an urban fantasy that went nowhere when I queried agents. I would have to say though that if there were any comparison to my earlier work, it would be in how I write my protagonists. I want to write heroes that will not be stopped. They keep going on, no matter what.
MI: Do you have a pet? Tell us about him/her.
RKL: Not anymore. However, I’m haunted by the ghosts of three very cranky cats.
MI: If you don’t have a pet, do you have a favorite animal?
RKL: Cats. I love cats. They’re possessed of so many personality layers. They can be fastidious, but have no problem shooting litter all over the floor. They love you unconditionally, until they don’t. They have a fascination with throwing things off of counters and tables. Endless amusement. The only thing I have to complain about is that I wish they travelled better. Can you image a cat loving a car ride, hanging its head out the window, filled with the joy of being in a car? Man, that would be greatness.
MI:What food could you live off of for the rest of your life?
RKL: Is Scotch a food? If not, then Patty Melts.
MI: Do you have a favorite recipe?
RKL: For destruction, or success? Oh, you mean food? Then that would be my mother’s recipe for baked chicken. She was a scratch cook, and her cooking usually included every spice in the house, using her intuition as her cookbook.
MI: What’s your favorite part about being an Inker?
RKL: The level of input I’ve been able to give, and having that input acknowledged. There are not many publishers out there that would allow the writer to have a large say regarding covers, but my editor and the artists over at Midnight Ink did. Add to that the level of communication I received from my editor and copy editor and I would say unequivocally that this has been a fantastic experience.
MI:Were the Mark Mallen Novels based off of/inspired by your own life in any way?
RKL: I’ve lived, from time to time, in some very hard environments. When I was sixteen years old, I rented a studio apartment located next to a very old and very large Victorian building, every flat filled with someone eking out a living any way they could, by any means possible. I also lived in the Tenderloin of San Francisco for many years, and if anything, Mallen’s books were influenced by what I witnessed in both of those places, along with the people I saw there and interacted with.
MI: Why did you create Mark Mallen as a former junkie?
RKL: Mallen is a former junkie because I wanted to show that it is possible to overcome our demons. Our world is filled with addictions. Drugs. Alcohol. The Internet. Porn. Our iPhone. You name it, and we seem to have an addiction for it. It takes a strong will, focus, and determination to overcome those addictions, along with the belief that those addictions can in fact be overcome. I wrote Mallen the way he is because I live in hope that we can regain the inner strength and moral compass that I feel our society has lost.
Innocent Damage is available online and in bookstores now!