- The Tracy Crosswhite Series
- The David Sloane Series
- The 7th Canon
- The Cyanide Canary
- The Nix
- Born To Run
- Ender's Game
- Ready Player One
- Lonesome Dove
- The Green Mile
- The Mists Of Avalon
C. G. Cooper: Welcome to Books in 30 with me, C.G. Cooper. Here at Books in 30, we discuss great books with some of today's top authors. Welcome to our listeners and a big Books in 30 welcome to today's guest, Robert, AKA Bob, Dugoni. Bob Dugoni is the critically acclaimed New York Times number one Wall Street Journal and number Amazon bestselling author of the Tracy Crosswhite series. My Sister's Grave, Her Final Breath, In the Clearing, and The Trapped Girl. Close to Home released September 5th, 2017, as a number on Amazon bestseller. The Crosswhite series has sold more than two million copies worldwide and My Sister's Grave has been optioned for television series development. He is also the author of the bestselling David Sloane series, The Jury Master, Wrongful Death, Bodily Harm Murder One, and The Conviction and the stand alone novels The 7th Canon and the Cyanide Canary. A Washington Post best book of the year and several short stories. He's the recipient of the Nancy Pearl award for fiction and the Friends of Mystery Spotted Owl award, that's a cool name, for best novel in the Pacific Northwest. He is a two-time finalist for the International Thriller writers award for best novel and a finalist for Mystery Writers of America Edgar award for the best novel. His Sloane novels have twice been nominated for the Harper Lee award for legal fiction. Welcome, Bob. How are you doing today, man?
Robert Dugoni: I'm doing good. Thanks for the kind introduction, I appreciate it.
C. G. Cooper: Well, you know what, I think you've done enough to deserve me actually, usually I cut out quite a bit just for brevity's sake, but I have a feeling after this conversation, people are going to want to go out and buy each one of those books that I just mentioned.
Robert Dugoni: Thanks, I do, I appreciate it. Yeah, I've been very blessed to be nominated for some of these awards and to win a few of them and there's a lot of great writers out there so it's a thrill for me just to hear my name nominated in some of these. I do, I appreciate it.
C. G. Cooper: Yeah man. Well, tell us a little bit about how you became an author. What's your snapshot story?
Robert Dugoni: Oh God, it's one of those boring child stories probably but the short of a long story is I knew in the seventh grade. I was asked to give a speech on slavery, we had to write it and get up and deliver it, yeah, I was one of those kids that got in trouble quite a bit in grammar school. I had an older brother so I was a smart alec and anyway, I got up to give this speech on being an abolitionist and nobody in the class clapped and nobody said anything and I thought I was in trouble, you know, Catholic school and the nun is standing there and gives me the finger which means "come here." Yeah, go outside and there were two seventh grades and she went in to the other seventh grade while I was standing in the hallway trying to figure out how I was going to explain this to my mother. Then she invited me in and said give your speech and I can remember standing up there in front of the other class thinking, wow, this is really cool. Really what it was, it was a story. I took on the role of an abolitionist telling the story of a slave and the injustices and it was a story.
Robert Dugoni: It was a story about characters, it was a story about people, and boy from there I was really hooked. Then, I just couldn't get enough of it. I started reading, my mother was an English teacher originally so she had a whole collection of books I could read and I remember distinctly The Count of Monte Cristo, The Old Man in the Sea, Of Mice and Men, you name it, I would read everything and anything I could get my hands on. In fact, I can remember getting into, sophomore year, English literature in high school and I'd already read all the books on the list. I was going to do what any sophomore would do, which is don't tell the teacher because then you don't have as much work.
C. G. Cooper: Right.
Robert Dugoni: But I was bored. So I told him and then he started piling more on and giving me other things to read. I always had a love for stories. I had a love for characters, I had a love to see, you open a book on page one and there's this character on there and you got 400 pages and where's it going to go and what's going to happen to this. You just don't know. It's like meeting somebody at a cocktail party and they start telling you their story and you're blown away by all the things that they've done and all the places they've been. It's very much the same for me when I pick up a book. I knew I wanted to write, I took that in high school and gave up a very unfulfilling athletic career and became a journalist for the newspaper and from there I wrote my way to Stanford University and wrote for The Daily when I was there. I got a job at the LA Times when I got out and I worked there for about a year and fell into that rut that a lot of young people do, which is really what am I going to do with my life? I didn't see myself so much as a journalist because I just didn't, even back then I was wondering where is this all going to go?
Robert Dugoni: A lot of my friends got into law school, I went to law school with them, I got out, I got a great job with just a great firm, young guys, and we just had a ball. It took finally waking up one day and realizing okay, this is a lot of fun but I'm really not doing what I set out to do. My wife and I talked about it, she wanted to get back home to Seattle which was her home and I wanted to get out of law and start writing and so we took a shot. That was back in, wow, back in 1999, '98/'99 and I came up here and I started writing books and failing miserably and getting the rejection letters that all writers get and getting nowhere and then realizing that I really didn't understand the craft of writing a novel and really didn't have the time or the money to go get an MFA somewhere. I used to go down to the Elliot Bay Bookstore in Pioneer Square and I used to sit on the floor in their how to section and I would pull books off the shelf on how to write novels and I would take notes. If the book was really a book that I was getting a lot out of, then I would actually buy it but I wouldn't buy it unless I knew I was actually going to get it because I didn't have any money.
Robert Dugoni: I would just take notes and notes and notes and probably then the best thing I ever did was I told my agent that I wanted to get more into the writing community and she found me a job teaching for a guy in Falmouth, Massachusetts who put on a big seminar. Things exploded from there so I started teaching more but really what the teaching did; the teaching forced me to learn the craft because I was terrified of getting in front of 40 doctors and not being able to teach them or even worse, running out of things to teach them. Being a lawyer and being anal retentive, I had just binders and binders of material on how you create characters and how you create a plot and how you create tension and how you edit your novel. What I was really doing was I was teaching myself and not surprisingly, my books got dramatically better, my craft got dramatically better, and I had success. I've been writing ever since, I think the first book came out in 2004, which was The Cyanide Canary, which was a true story. That got me on the people's radars at least and things went from there. It's been a long haul, it's been a long journey, but when you love what you do, you don't work a day in your life and that's how I feel.
C. G. Cooper: Yeah. Well, thanks for sharing. I mean, that's a fantastic story and totally counter intuitive to what I think some people believe writing is these days. They think you can just pop open a laptop and bam, there's your New York Times bestselling book. I mean, you worked at it and like you said you taught to get better and you went and you read to get better and I love those stories. Did you just have that innately or did somebody tell you, hey, go out there and fail and figure it out on your own to get to know that business?
Robert Dugoni: I could always write. Years ago, I was at Thriller Fest and I heard, Steve Berry got up, a great guy by the way, and he got up and he sai in his Georgia accent, "I can't teach you how to write but I can teach you how to teach yourselves how to write." That's really what it's about. I think we all have an innate ability to tell a story. Some people, however, are just much better than others. The writing aspect of it is learning the craft of how to tell that story and how to put it together. I mean, I can teach someone how to write a book, I can't teach them how to write a bestseller.
Robert Dugoni: That is something I think comes from inside of that individual person and it's the way they put phrases together, the way they string words together, the way that they do things. Even to this day with all the experience and the success I've had, I will read unpublished author's manuscripts for a writing seminar that I do every year and there's been two or three where I was just blown away. Where I had to call up my writing partner, Steven James, and say I don't know if I can teach these people, they write better than I do. I think there are some people out there that just know how to tell a story. John Grisham's a guy that people like to knock, but man, that man can tell a freaking story.
C. G. Cooper: Yeah he can.
Robert Dugoni: I still read all of his books. Yeah, some are better than others but who cares? The bottom line is the guy can tell a story and it's a southern, that southern story that some people just have that beautiful way of sitting on a porch and just telling you it and they draw you in. To me, that's the magic in writing, is when I pick up a book and I read constantly, it's just that magic that is in stories. It's so different than television or movies where everything just comes at you. In stories, you have to dive in and you have to put yourself into it and immerse yourself into the story. Man, when you get a good book and a good story and you become a part of it, I don't think there's anything better, I really don't.
C. G. Cooper: Absolutely. You probably feel the same way that instilling that in kids, I mean, there wouldn't be a C.G. Cooper and probably not a Robert Dugoni on Amazon if somebody hadn't put that first book into our hands. Your mom being your influence, those teachers, that nun, somebody was saying hey: 1. You've got a talent and 2. Here, read this.
Robert Dugoni: Nail on the head. I mean, JK Rowling changed the world. I mean, she was able to get an entire generation of readers reading again. You can say the same thing for the woman whose name's escaping me but who wrote all the vampire wolf.
C. G. Cooper: Twilight? Stephanie Meyers.
Robert Dugoni: Twilight, the Twilight series, oh yeah. Whether you like the book, don't like the book, who cares. She had so many young readers. It's funny, my daughter is not a big reader and I recently wrote a book, it will be out next April, which is more of a literary novel, it's called The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell. I got the arcs and the arcs are just gorgeous, I mean, they're just beautiful arcs, the reddish orange background in this profile of this young kid with a baseball hat on. While I was gone up in Surrey, British Columbia at a conference, the arcs came and my wife opened it up and was admiring them and my daughter picked up one of the books because three or four years earlier I had read from her a passage that I wrote in that book and she remembered it. I'm in Surrey and I get this text message, it says, "The book is so good dad, I love the mother, she's kind of a badass." I'm like, first I'm like who is this? This is not my daughter and then I had to stop and I emailed her back and said, "What book?" She said, "It's The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell." I went, "Oh, okay."
Robert Dugoni: I think it's however you can get a kid, a young person reading. You open for them what is potentially a lifelong passion. Some of the best emails I get now are the emails I get from people that will write me and they'll say, "I was diagnosed with cancer and I can't get out of the house as much as I used to and your books have really been a wonderful diversion for me." Or, "I found you on Amazon and I downloaded your first book and it just brought me so much pleasure, I read all the other ones." You can't put a price on those kind of emails. But that's what a book can do for someone. A book can transport them for a little while to a different place, a different area, and give them just enjoyment.
C. G. Cooper: Amen. Amen. It's funny, I heard Shonda Rhimes say something, she said when she realized that viewers were spending more time with her characters than with their own friends and family that a lot changed in her mind when she was writing. It's true, right? How many hours have your readers spent with your characters and they know then inside and out so that when something happens to them, they feel that personally. How else do you get that personal connection? I don't know many ways you can other than living real life.
Robert Dugoni: Yeah, no, I think that's true. You know this as well, when you get the email from someone who says, "What happens next?"
C. G. Cooper: Yeah.
Robert Dugoni: That's the most pleasing you can get because you realize that person sees these individuals as real.
C. G. Cooper: Yeah.
Robert Dugoni: This is a really weird comment to make but I think the more I do this, the more I begin to think that this is true or really begin to think that a lot of the stories we write are already written. They're out there and one of the things that we do as writers is we pluck them and we just begin to channel them, if you will, and put these together so that a lot of times I think those characters become so real because they come out of who we are. They're people that we knew or our subconscious remembers and thinks about and it makes those characters come to life and for a lot of people, that's just something that they really can dive into.
C. G. Cooper: Yeah, I completely agree. The ones that have a little slice of me, I know become a lot more realistic because a lot of times that slice is very imperfect and readers like that imperfection.
Robert Dugoni: Yeah, yeah, no, nobody wants to read about somebody that's better than them, you know what I mean? They want to read about somebody that is suffering through a lot of the same struggles that they're suffering through, yet they're overcoming them
C. G. Cooper: Yeah, exactly. Well, let's get to some meat, let's get to some questions.
Robert Dugoni: Sure.
C. G. Cooper: Let's talk about a book that you're currently reading or that you recently finished that just blew you away.
Robert Dugoni: I never read just one book.
C. G. Cooper: Me neither.
Robert Dugoni: I'm always reading multiple things. I can tell you what I'm reading currently, is I'm readings The Nix, N-I-X, which I had recommended to me. I'm reading that and that has been capturing my attention. I'm reading a book for a friend of mine called Enemy Patriots, it's a historical novel about World War II and Japan. Then I'm reading the Springsteen bio.
C. G. Cooper: Oh really?
Robert Dugoni: I got to tell you, the man writes the way that he sings and it's fascinating and it's fascinating to hear his story. You talk about struggling artists, which I think a lot of us have been. That was a guy that was living in the back of a surf board shop, going up and down the Jersey Shore playing gigs just to try to keep going. Why did he do it? He did it because he loved it. It's really a fascinating book just about the whole artistic experience. But I read everything. People are sometimes surprised but they'll bring up a science fiction novel and I'll say, "I read that." Like Ender's Game or Ready Player One. If it's a good story, I'll read it. I don't really care what the genre is. I'm just looking for a good story.
C. G. Cooper: Yeah. Ender's Game is one of my favorites for sure. Actually, in the Marine Corps back when I was still in, it was required reading just because of the leadership aspect of it and it's funny. You write basically legal thrillers, right? A completely different genre and yet we gravitate towards those fantastic stories, which is so funny to me. This is why I love this show, I never know what you guys are going to answer. I mean, the Springsteen bio I never thought would pop up in a million years. Now, of course, I have to go check that out. All right, well let's-
Robert Dugoni: He does a great job of it.
C. G. Cooper: Good. Well, what a character. I've heard snippets of his history, in fact, I think I heard something the other day about how he originally got onto radio, that it was a mistake or something. That's how his popularity blossomed but anyway, that's a discussion for another day. Let's move on to, and this is a loaded question for pretty much every author we've had on, is what's your favorite book of all time?
Robert Dugoni: You know, I'd say Lonesome Dove.
C. G. Cooper: Yeah.
Robert Dugoni: I read that book when I was 30 and I remember because a friend of mine had a surprise birthday party for me. But I remember reading that book, I was living in an apartment in San Francisco, a flat, and practicing law and I was sort of on my own. I wasn't dating anybody, I just working, and I read that book and I can remember when Call returns to Lonesome Dove and Gus is no longer there and PeeWee's no longer there. They're all gone, they're all dead, and it's just Call. I can remember finishing that book and crying.
C. G. Cooper: Yeah.
Robert Dugoni: It had that much impact on me. To think that this guy was so alone. Again, it's sort of what we were talking about earlier, which is it's just what do you take from a novel and how does it hit home? For me, that book really hit home. Not to mention it's just an extraordinary book about the old west.
C. G. Cooper: Yeah, yeah, you know what, I'm embarrassed to say I haven't read the book. I remember watching the movies probably as a kid. I'm going to have to go back and look at that. Somebody else recommended The Mists of Avalon the other day, which I'm a huge Arthurian legend guy and I'm embarrassed that I haven't read that one either.
Robert Dugoni: I am actually a huge fan of that too. The Mist of Avalon, is that what it's called?
C. G. Cooper: The Mists of Avalon, yeah, and I can see the picture of the book. I know what the cover looks like. I think there's a castle on it and it's old school, an older cover. The person I was talking to, the author, basically she reads it once a year. It's like her all right, let's do this again. Yeah, that's on my list and one of the reasons I love the show is oh man, I got to get that one too.
Robert Dugoni: Yeah. Well, you know, I do that with The Green Mile.
C. G. Cooper: Do you really?
Robert Dugoni: I don't know if you've read The Green Mile but I read The Green Mile every time I'm starting a new novel.
C. G. Cooper: Really?
Robert Dugoni: Yeah, oh yeah. I think that Stephen King is such a genius and his genius is right there on paper when you read that book. Talk about a real master class on how to create believable characters, how to use all of your senses when you're writing, how to create a setting, a scene, boy, that book just really struck me when I read it. I keep a copy of it and it's all torn up and everything but I read it before I start every book.
C. G. Cooper: You know what, I'm embarrassed to say I haven't read that one either. I've seen the movie, I have no idea how many times.
Robert Dugoni: Yeah. The book is better.
C. G. Cooper: Is it really? Golly.
Robert Dugoni: Yeah and the book is better.
C. G. Cooper: Okay. All right. You've convinced me.
Robert Dugoni: The movie was great.
C. G. Cooper: It really was, I mean, Tom Hanks, how can you not love that guy? For me, the book is The Godfather. That's my favorite book of all time, I don't know, it just feels so down to earth and those characters, you love the bad guys and anyway, that's another conversation for another day. Let's get to your work and did you happen to bring a snippet of something that you've written?
Robert Dugoni: I did, actually. I wrote a book, I was talking about it earlier but it's called The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell and it's a story of a man looking back on his life. He was born with ocular albinism, which means he has red eyes.
C. G. Cooper: Wow.
Robert Dugoni: His mother keeps telling him that God gave you extraordinary eyes because you're going to lead an extraordinary life. But of course, he doesn't see that. All he's dealing with is the kids that are bullying him, the teachers that are bullying him, and the difficulties that he has to go through in his life before he gets to a point in his life that he's looking back on and he begins to realize everything his mother told him was true. Yeah, I wrote it really for my mom. I have a brother that was born with down syndrome. I saw what she went through with him and what he went through and I sat down to write it one day and five weeks later, no kidding, I had a first draft and 10 years later, I, yeah, 10 years later I had a book. There you go. I don't know, how much do you want me to read? You want me to read a page?
C. G. Cooper: Yeah, read a page.
Robert Dugoni: Okay, all right. It starts with a forward:
My mother called it God's will. At that moment in my life when things did not go as I had hoped or planned and there were many, she would say, "It's God's will, Samuel." This was hardly comforting to a six year old boy, even when blessed with a healthier dose of perspective than most children at that age. For one, I never understood how my mother knew God's will. When I would ask her that very question, she would answer with another of her stock refrains, "Have faith, Samuel." I realized now that this was circular reasoning, impregnable to debate. My mother might just as well have responded with that other impenetrable parental reply, "Because I said so." Now as an adult with that healthy dose of perspective we call experience, I realized my mother was right as she was so often when it came to my life. We think we have control over our lives, especially when we're young and seemingly invulnerable. We're told we can do anything we set our minds to, that the world is our oyster, that all we have to do is shuck the hard shell and pluck the rich, nourishing meat inside.
Robert Dugoni: I realized now, however, that the shell is a lot harder than I appreciated and that I never could've controlled or even predicted the things that would happen in my life. We believe we choose the paths we take when we come to those forks in our lives. The friends we make, the careers we undertake, the spouses we marry. But we don't. Life is either a collision of random events, like billiard balls during a break, careening off and into one another or if you are so inclined to believe our predetermined fate, what my mother took such great comfort in calling God's will.
C. G. Cooper: Dude. Please tell me there's going to be a master class that you're going to give after you release this book.
Robert Dugoni: Well, I hope that ... You talked about it just a little while ago. It's a very personal book because even though it's not in any way about me, it's about a lot of the people that shaped my life and every book is of the writer. It's very much of me. I'm really excited about it, I mean, it means a lot to me, this book and getting it published finally and having it out in the public domain is really going to be a wonderful experience for me. I had somebody say to me, do you worry about the negative reviews? I don't. I really don't. I focus on the positive and I look at it this way: I don't know how many books I read a year, but I can almost find something positive or good out of every book that I read. I just don't pay much attention to anything that's negative and I hope this book resonates with a lot of people and I hope it finds whatever home that it finds. More importantly, I think it's a book that a lot of people will be able to identify with for a lot of different reasons and that goes back to what we talked about in the beginning of our conversation. If it brings some people some joy, some comfort, some peace, whatever it is, then I'll be more than happy.
C. G. Cooper: Man, if that snippet that you read is any indication, I think it's going to resonate really well with a lot of people. Just make sure you let me know when that thing's released because I would love to help you get that into the world. I feel like that's, and you probably feel the same way, it's a message that we don't hear enough of. Could you imagine going through your life with, what'd you say? Ocular albinism?
Robert Dugoni: Ocular albinism.
C. G. Cooper: I mean, I can't even imagine. I mean, we know how cruel kids can be and adults are just as bad sometimes.
Robert Dugoni: Yeah.
C. G. Cooper: To be able to look back and say I lived a good life and to hear somebody's story, I love that, that's fantastic, congratulations, man. Congratulations that it's finally coming to fruition too.
Robert Dugoni: Thank you, thanks very much, I appreciate that.
C. G. Cooper: All right, I know you don't have any mean reviews, but you said you had a funny one that you want to read for us. You got that with you?
Robert Dugoni: Yeah, one of the funniest I ever received was from a woman from Kansas City and she wrote me and she said ... I write, obviously, from the perspective of a woman when I write the Tracy Crosswhite novels and so she wrote me and she said, "You wrote so well from the perspective of a woman that I had to check the jacket cover twice to confirm your masculinity." I was like twice? I mean, was there some reason the first time didn't work? But yeah, she had to check it twice to confirm my masculinity.
C. G. Cooper: I think I would've been like, wait, so which page was the first time and which page was the second?
Robert Dugoni: Yeah. I told my wife, I think it's time I get a haircut or grow a beard or something.
C. G. Cooper: That's amazing, that's a good one. Well, are you ready for our speed round? I got four questions for you.
Robert Dugoni: I am.
C. G. Cooper: All right, cool.
Robert Dugoni: I am.
C. G. Cooper: All right, number one, what's your favorite thing about being an author?
Robert Dugoni: I love stories.
C. G. Cooper: Stories it is, number two, what is the best advice, not just writing, but what's the best advice you ever received?
Robert Dugoni: Learn the craft.
C. G. Cooper: All right, number three, what is the one piece of technology you could not live without?
Robert Dugoni: My computer.
C. G. Cooper: Amen. Number four, who do you look up to?
Robert Dugoni: I've always looked up to my dad, to my father. He passed away about 10 years ago but he's still very much with me. I look up to my dad.
C. G. Cooper: Awesome, I love that. I love it. All right, well, Bob, thanks again for being on the show. We really, really appreciate it. Do you have any last words for our listeners and can you tell them where to find you and your work?
Robert Dugoni: Yeah, no. The best place to go, obviously, is my website which is just http://www.robertdugoni.com. I have a newsletter on there that people sign up for. I don't spam people, I know you get a lot in your email boxes so I try to just put that out when there's something to actually be said. Like I have a new novel coming out and things like that. I'm also on Facebook (@authorRobertDugoni) and on Twitter and I still try to respond to questions and things like that. GoodReads, you know I'm on GoodReads and all those things. It's fun for me to communicate with writers and with readers. I'm on all those places.
C. G. Cooper: Awesome, well, thanks again. I will wrap this up by saying this has been Books and 30 with C.G. Cooper, thank you for listening and don't forget to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to say hello or let me know about an author you'd like to see as my guest. Thank you for tuning in, this is C.G. Cooper out.
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