How long have you been writing?
The actual impetus for me to begin writing came while I was reading Three Weeks With My Brother by Nicholas Sparks. When I got to the part where he received a million-dollar advance, I thought, “Holy cow! He’s a good writer, but I know I can do this, too.” I’ve been writing since that day in 2004.
Do you remember the first thing you ever wrote?
I started a short story and read it to my girlfriend one night over the phone in 1996 or 1997. She pointed out that my characters didn’t tell the story, and she didn’t like the all-narration format. In 2004, when said girlfriend had now been my wife for several years, I tried again after reading the Nicholas Sparks book. She was much happier with the end product of Valerie’s Retreat.
Valerie’s Retreat is a romantic thriller and also your newest release. Can you tell us a little about it?
Valerie’s Retreat follows the life of a forty-one-year-old woman who happens to fall in love with a man sixteen years younger. My wife is sixteen years older than I am, so that might have helped foster this idea for a book. The jokes Valerie must endure, such as, “Do you have to cut his meat for him?” are actual barbs my wife received during our dating process. Like Valerie, I also worked in a bank. Unlike Valerie, I never considered robbing the bank where I worked.
Valerie doesn’t consider herself a “cougar”. Franco, her boyfriend, happened to attend the same church singles dance on the same night. They talked, talked some more, went on a date, and presto- they’re boyfriend/girlfriend. That’s how it happened with my wife and me. “Cougar” makes the women dating younger men seem somewhat predatory. That isn’t the case at all with Valerie or my wife. For the record, my wife never considered robbing a bank either. Well, maybe considered, but never planned it out.
Your bibliography strikes me as very interesting because you don’t focus on a specific genre so much as exploring the different walks of human life and telling their unique stories. How do you come up with your ideas?
Usually, the main characters’ inner turmoil provides the foundation for the rest of the book. Once the underlying internal conflict/motivation is established, the book flows pretty easily. Here’s a condensed version of where my ideas start: Valerie’s Retreat – she’s abused as a child without the emotional tools to handle unfair situation, meets a man getting his Ph.D who’s 16 years younger and they fall in love; A Spy At Home – a CIA spy promoting rebellion in African countries to install pro-American governments sees his life’s work as a wasted career, so instead of transferring ten million dollars to the rebels, he launders the money to himself; Hazardous Choices – Darnell, a Chicago gang member, leaves home to play football in a small Kentucky town where he struggles to fit in with the other students who grew up in safe towns where they never worried about street violence, and the end of the story is the rest of this idea so I can’t put it here; you’ll have to read the book; A Mormon Massacre – a young man’s strong sense of justice compels him to go undercover in the Mormon church to rescue women from abusive plural marriages. See how simple the stories are to write once you understand the driving inner force of the main character?
On the topic of genre: What is your favorite genre to read?
I don’t choose books by genre. I like to pull books at random off the shelf or pick one my wife downloaded on the Kindle and start reading. I rarely read more than the first sentence of a book jacket, and if the title or cover is sufficiently interesting, I won’t read that much of the book jacket. I like to be surprised when I start reading. The only two genres I infrequently search for are biographies (I love studying people; please refer to the above answer as to why) and sports books (baseball has the best books, although I don’t watch a whole game unless the St. Louis Cardinals are in the World Series).
I cannot image the hell it must be to write in a genre. The extreme example is a Romance novel. The format is so completely defined that the author has little to no movement for plot twists. The story must have a happy tidy ending. Throw out suspense! I challenge you to guess the endings of any of my books. Valerie’s Retreat is a Romantic Thriller, which means it has the physical desires of a Romance and the action/suspense/mystery of a Thriller. Test it out – use the Look-In feature on Amazon. This gives you a free sample of the book, and if it grabs you, you won’t regret getting it.
Do you try to put messages and morals into your fiction, or do you write simply to entertain the reader?
I’m not arrogant enough to believe I have a message that the reader needs to learn. That said, Valerie’s Retreat has kind of a side message. Valerie’s best friend, Janet, develops heart issues. I hope women take note of that and have their hearts regularly checked. Heart disease is the number one killer of women, and women need to be aware of that.
As for the main character, Valerie presents herself to the readers for them to judge her behavior. Her childhood of abuse gives her leeway on the sliding scale of morality, her relate-ability (especially for women) makes you want to take her side, but like all people, Valerie is flawed. How much forgiveness she deserves is up to the reader.
Do events from your past play a role in your fiction?
They do. I don’t take scenes from my life and insert them in my books, because, well… frankly, my life hasn’t been that interesting. Things people have said or done in my presence might make it into a book. However, I never try to put a specific joke or event in a novel. To use an event that happened, say, at a bar would require setting up the scene and giving the reader enough background to believe this character would say this and that one that. By the time it is all set up, the scene becomes the reason for the chapter or the book. That’s wrong; obviously the scenes should enhance the book, not be the objective.
The synopsis for A Mormon Massacre has left me feeling intrigued, and I must admit, I’m curious about something that has nothing to do with the plot itself. I’ve witnessed fellow authors get ripped to shreds by the public at the mere mention of religion. It goes without saying, one must have a thick skin to take on the task of challenging a mainstream religion, whether in fiction or non-fiction writing. Has there been any negative backlash? What has been the overall response to this novel?
YES, lots of backlash from a group that I thought would love the book! The group that hates A Mormon Massacre the most are former Mormons. That was not a typo – former Mormons. If you do not know much about Mormonism or The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, let me give a brief synopsis. Joseph Smith, founder of Mormonism, claims he found stones that enabled him to translate a book from god (or God depending on your beliefs). No one was allowed to watch him translate this book, and no one was ever allowed to see the book. He then proclaimed that this book defined the one true religion and deemed him its leader. His followers were required to give him all their money. If someone standing outside the grocery made this claim, you’d probably tell them that’s about the dumbest thing you ever heard. Mormons on the other hand give the LDS their life savings, refrain from caffeine, never curse, men never grow beards, women never wear pants, never drink alcohol… I’m not saying Mormons are gullible (you read the part about the stones a few sentences ago, right?). So, when a member leaves that church I think they see a book like A Mormon Massacre as an attempt to make them look foolish and easily manipulated.
A Mormon Massacre does have likeable, intelligent, hardworking Mormon characters because most Mormons are exactly that. Personally, I love the show Sister Wives; while their religion is an off-shoot of the LDS, the Browns are wonderful people who represent alternative religion at its best.
As for the backlash, I expected it, but I thought it would come from present day Mormons, not the former members.
If you could invite any five authors from any time period to dinner, who would they be?
Gillian Flynn – Gone Girl and Sharp Objects had me from the first word to last. Johnny Unitas, quarterback of the Baltimore Colts in the 1960s, who was listed as the author of his biography, so I am taking the liberty of including him here. However, when a reporter who knew Mr. Unitas pretty well asked him if he wrote the book, Johnny replied, “Hell, I haven’t even read it.” Anne Rice, Interview With a Vampire – her books are so out of the norm that you know she’d bring an imaginative slant to the dinner conversation. Brad Meltzer, The Inner Circle; his books are always so well thought out that he’d undoubtedly make a terrific guest. John Feinstein, A Season on the Brink; this great sports writer has numerous books to his credit, and he’s a great interview on the radio. I’d love to know his research techniques, and if Mr. Unitas gets tired of the other guests, he and Mr. Feinstein could have their own side conversation.
What do you hope to accomplish in the coming years as an author?
Of course, I’d like this book to help remind women to have their heart health checked regularly. Selling books would be great. But the biggest accomplishment is when someone enjoys a book I wrote. I hope A Spy At Home touches people; Valerie’s Retreat is a fun read that you think about after you put it down – what would I do if my boss sexually harassed me? Hazardous Choices might encourage you to see gang members as people, and A Mormon Massacre shows you how power corrupts and how hard a person must work to correct injustice.
As for setting goals, I don’t do that when it comes to writing because I really have very little control over writing. For instance, I can’t say I want to write a book next year… What if the Muse is cruel and refuses to allow me another creative thought?
What are you working on at the moment?
I have three books rolling around in my head (ha ha, yes, there is a lot of empty space up there). Between working full-time, attending Special Olympics events for my daughter, and promoting Valerie’s Retreat, I’m not sure when they’ll be written.
Where can we find you on the web?
If any of the books I’ve mentioned interest you, please go to the free “Click to Look Inside” and sample the first chapter on the Amazon webpage for my books. If a book grabs you that quick, you’ll probably be glad you got it. Also, if you are in a book club that reads one of my books. I’d be honored to join your discussion. Feel free to contact me through Facebook or my website, www.josephmrinaldo.com.
Amazon link – Valerie’s Retreat, ebook: http://www.amazon.com/Valeries-Retreat-Joseph-Rinaldo-ebook/dp/B00GCWNOQM/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&sr=8-1&qid=1390826759
Amazon link – Valerie’s Retreat, paperback: http://www.amazon.com/Valeries-Retreat-Joseph-M-Rinaldo/dp/1492762628/ref=tmm_pap_title_0?ie=UTF8&qid=1390826759&sr=8-1
Facebook author page: https://www.facebook.com/JosephRinaldoBooks
Twitter handle: @jmrinaldo