How did Sins of Omission come to be? This brief Q&A explains how I came up with the idea, the historical background, and where my writing is headed.
Q: What are you reading now?
A: The Ragged Edge of Night by Olivia Hawke. It’s a World War II novel about an ordinary man caught up in the events of that time. I just finished Bob Woodward’s Fear and, prior to that Trapeze by Simon Mawer, another World War II novel. I’m drawn to well-told people stories from that era, but I also read a lot of nonfiction. I typically have two or three books going at any one time.
Q: Who is your favorite writer?
A: There are so many, but a book I keep returning to, year after year, is Joseph Heller’s Catch-22. The writing is engaging because it breaks so many rules so well. I read everything by the Sicilian writer Andrea Camilleri. His protagonist, Inspector Montalbano, operates in a bureaucratic mire, so to do the right thing, he has to break all the rules.
Q: What led you to write Sins of Omission?
A: In a way, it’s been percolating for fifty years. I went to an integrated high school in Toledo, Ohio. My classmates were blacks, Hispanics, and whites of a variety of ethnicities. I went to college and began working in Washington, DC and had many black colleagues and friends. When I moved to Jacksonville in 1965, the Klan was still burning crosses near the city’s airport, there were separate taxis for blacks and whites, and the school system was still segregated, twelve years after Brown v. Board of Education. It was a culture shock, and it’s never left me.
Q: And Jacksonville’s historical background you describe in the book?
A: All true. The disaccreditation of the school system, government corruption, and subsequent consolidation city and county government, all of it. I saw it unfold as a young reporter and did some of the reporting. I worked for the station that revealed the corruption, WJXT. It was owned by the Washington Post Company and lost many advertisers when its investigative reporting revealed such things as purchases of city vehicles at list prices from some of the city’s largest auto dealers. Katherine Graham was willing to take the financial hit. Keep in mind, this was seven years before the Post’s Watergate reporting.
Q: Why did it take you fifty years to write the book?
A: I never intended to write a book about it–certainly not a novel. I felt compelled to write something when the mood surrounding the election of 2016 convinced me we are slipping backward. Much of the language used against racial minorities and other marginalized people is reminiscent of the attitudes I found when I was dropped into mid-60s Jacksonville. I was reading a history of black Jacksonville at the time, Rodney L. Hurst, Sr’s Unless WE Tell It…It Never Gets Told!, recalled a documentary we considered at OPB [Oregon Public Broadcasting] on the murder of Harry Moore and his wife, and began writing.
Q: Which brings up the question, are you a “plotter” or a “pantser?”
A: I’m a “plantser,” meaning that I started with a detailed outline, but modified it as I discovered my characters doing new things as I wrote. I added new scenes and a couple of twists, removed others, but the beginning and end are what I envisioned at the outset.
Q: Your subplot on the Supreme Court nomination battle is reminiscent of the fight over Justice Kavanaugh…
A: I wrote that before Kavanaugh was nominated. The moden parallel is serendipitous, but just as I was about to publish the book, a friend reminded me of the back-to-back rejections of Clement Haynesworth and G. Harrold Carswell in 1969 and 1970. I added a reference to that in one scene.
Q: You said that other elements of the story have historical bases.
A: Without revealing any spoilers, a Florida circuit judge once gave a newspaper interview similar to the one cited in the story. It cost him his seat on the bench. I knew that judge during my days in Jacksonville. And a Canadian jurist was removed from the bench after suggesting to a rape victim that she should have kept her legs together. A lot of what I wrote is based on actual events. Florida readers will enjoy searching through the mangroves for events they recall.
Q: Nothing is new?
A: The Florida mystery writer Carl Hiassen once said he doesn’t have to make up many of the outrageous stories in his novels, he just finds things in the newspaper and strings them together. There’s a lot more to it than that, of course, as there is in Sins of Omission, but truth is stranger than fiction.
Q: What’s next?
A: Alan Rudberg will return in a prequel and at least one sequel, and I’m researching a nonfiction story that spans five generations. As long as my fingers can find the keyboard, I’ll keep writing.