Friday, 1 October 2021 HOTWALKER published
A contemporary murder mystery debut in a classic vein: introducing private eye Jim Guthrie in this gripping first crime novel by Rick Neumayer. When a Guatemalan groom’s body is found on the backside after the Kentucky Derby, police are stymied by the distrust of immigrant workers. Then the victim’s son makes the sleuth an offer he can’t refuse, plunging Guthrie into an alien world of danger, violence, and beautiful women. Rick Neumayer is a fresh voice in American detective fiction and his Hotwalker novel is one you don’t want to miss.
— journeymanpate [at] gmail [dot] com
Hotwalker (2021) is Rick Neumayer’s second published novel following his debut with Journeyman in 2020. Rick has published short fiction in many literary magazines, and three of his full-length Broadway-style musical collaborations have been produced. A career teacher, he has had a wide variety of experiences, including working as a newspaper reporter, book reviewer, literary magazine editor, and singer in rock bands. He is a Louisville native and resident, and Male High grad with degrees from Spalding University (MFA), University of Louisville (MA), and Western Kentucky University (BA).
Guatemalan groom Felipe Rojas’ body is found in a barn the morning after a fight over a poker game. Police are stymied due to the immigrants’ distrust. An incident in the opening scene involving racehorse owner Herb Alexander’s son results in Guthrie taking the case.
With the help of his client, the murder victim’s hotwalker son Carlos, Guthrie begins interviewing persons of interest, including the three conspirators. Several violent encounters with Alexander occur during the investigation. To further sidetrack the detective, veterinarian Dr. Freya Hall seduces Guthrie. But later their mutual attraction becomes real.
Guthrie proves robbery was not the murderer’s motive since the victim still had $2,000 in his pocket long afterward (a retired watchman stole the money). Guthrie tries to provoke the killer (assistant trainer Luke Ericson) into making a mistake by proclaiming in a racetrack tip sheet that he’s getting close to solving the murder. The sheet’s publisher, Wyatt Whitlow, has been secretly investigating race-fixing. Whitlow’s prevented from revealing his findings by Luke, who kills him and plants the murder weapon in a rival’s barn.
Guthrie discovers a flash drive containing Whitlow’s findings--that PEDs are being used to darken the form of longshots to collect huge payouts. Guthrie learns that Felipe Rojas was the groom for Quicksilver, a longshot who won and dropped dead on the track. Guthrie hypothesizes that Luke and Freya killed the horse with an unintentionally fatal dose of their PED. The P.I. theorizes that the murdered groom must’ve had proof, which he used to blackmail the villains into bringing his family to the U.S.
When Guthrie discovers that Rojas was secretly having an affair with married hotwalker Sandy Diaz, he tries to question her about also being Rojas’ accomplice. At a midnight rendezvous with Sandy, Guthrie is shot and wounded (by Luke). Based on what happened with Quicksilver, Guthrie assumes that the bad guys will next inject their Derby horse, Speckled Band. Since Guthrie lacks the evidence to prove it, his warnings to police and Derby security fall on deaf ears.
With the race only 90 minutes away, Guthrie tracks Sandy to Freya’s house. Captured and bound with duct tape, he finds that Freya kidnapped Sandy’s daughter to recover the evidence used by Sandy's lover to blackmail the killers. After prying the truth from both women, Guthrie breaks free. Despite loving Freya, he convinces them to implicate Luke and Herb in return for leniency. Then he rushes to the Downs, arriving in time to watch Speckled Band die in the winner’s circle. In the ensuing tumult, Guthrie chases down Luke, ensuring that justice will be done—at least for the murder victims.
The book is extremely topical, as well. Many characters are Central American immigrants who must live in fear of being deported by ICE. The plot also mirrors real-life crimes for which two top trainers were recently charged by prosecutors in New York.
Want to sample the Kentucky Derby scene? Mount up with author Rick Neumayer’s splendid Jim Gutherie, P.I. mystery, Hotwalker. This riveting, action-packed novel made me laugh out loud even as the suspense spurred me to read on. Neumayer’s charactes and Louisville life along the Ohio River seem amazingly real, and his witty, tough, carefully ethical detective someone you’d like to know.
—Sena Jeter Naslund, author of novels Sherlock in Love, Ahab’s Wife, The Fountain of St. James Court, and The Disobedience of Water: Short Stories
Fast paced, action packed, and intricately plotted, Rick Neumayer’s Hotwalker is a winner straight out of the gate. If you like the Kentucky Derby, smart-mouth detectives, and plenty of fisticuffs and gunplay, this novel is a must read. The finely crafted story, vivid characters, and sharp dialog make Hotwalker one of the best detective novels I’ve read in years. In fact, it’s so good that I wish I’d written it.
—Chris Helvey, author of novels The White Jamaican, Flowers for Sergeant Schiller, Dancing On The Rim, and The Yard Man
Paperback / $ / 264 pages
ISBN Print: 978-1-942856-87-0
Publisher: Literary Wanderlust LLC, Denver, Colorado (October 1, 2021). https//www.LiteraryWanderlust.com
Cover design: Pozo Mitsuma
Printed in the United States of America
I was having a drink on my dock on the Ohio River when the radio announcer’s voice was suddenly drowned out by an earsplitting noise.
I was thrilled that the Kentucky Derby was once again alive and well post-pandemic, but still hoped to avoid the hoopla surrounding it. While every TV and radio station in town blared about Derby Week events, from the hot air balloons to the Pegasus parade and the Great Steamboat Race, everything else got put on hold. It was unlikely that I would have any new clients. Every phone call or piece of mail addressed to Jim Guthrie, Private Investigator, was a past-due request.
“The twin spires rise from Churchill Downs like church steeples, fitting since thoroughbred horse racing is a religion here this time of year, with worshippers substituting bourbon for the sacramental wine and betting windows for collection baskets. Some 160,000 spectators are expected to line the fences at the racetrack to witness the most exciting two minutes in sports.”
That’s when—startled by the whine of high-powered engines—I glanced upriver to find a red speed boat with a white fiberglass hull hurtling my way. It was bouncing high and slapping the waves hard while throwing up a ten-foot rooster tail. Six miles upriver from the city of Louisville where sailboats and fishermen dotted the channel was no place for a muscle craft like this to zoom close to shore at sixty knots, especially not while recklessly shifting directions and jumping its own wake. Only a grandstander would do that. This one must’ve been showing off for the woman standing beside him in a two-piece swimsuit.
When I waved him off, he veered to the right. But then he veered back while letting go of the wheel, like a kid on a bicycle riding with no hands. He must not have expected the torque that forced the boat to swerve, pitching him out across the waves. Seconds later, he popped up unhurt and swam for shore. But his passenger was not so lucky. As she flipped overboard, she banged her head on the stern and became entangled with the tow rope. Now she was being dragged feet-first underwater.
With no time to think, instinct took over. The driver-less boat was going around in circles, with each pass coming closer. When it seemed within reach, I sprinted the length of the dock and leaped, barely hurdled the watery gap, and landed on the foredeck with enough force to carry me over the other side. Instead, I grabbed a railing and, almost dislocating my shoulder, pulled myself up.
Once in the cockpit, I throttled back, bringing the boat to a lurching halt amid a welter of white water. I went aft and pulled in the rope towing the woman. When I got her into the boat, she wasn’t breathing. I laid her out on the deck and tilted her head back, blowing harsh rhythmic breaths into her mouth until she gagged and began spewing up copper-colored water.
“You okay?” I said, realizing at once what a stupid question that was.
Journeyman is a coming of age novel about an idealistic, alienated young teacher looking for answers and experience during the turbulent aftermath of the 1960s. Pate Merwin begins his teaching career as a permanent substitute with troubled inner-city middle school students. He also falls in love with Deborah Johnson, an African American bank teller and single parent. When his relationship with Deborah and his teaching career founder, Pate agrees to hitchhike across the country with his friend Stan Hicks, a Navy vet who is now against the Vietnam War.
In Denver, the two stay with Pate’s old school mate Matthew Duncan, an acting student, and his wife Rebecca, who is putting him through grad school. Domestic discord ends Pate’s visit with his friends. He and Stan resume hitchhiking on a southwest course to see cliff dwellings and sample magic mushrooms. During a fierce mountain storm, they are picked up by an older couple with a psychedelic camper. They are stunned to find Matthew is a fellow passenger.
Pate and Matthew rescue Stan, who has foolishly risked his life out on The Great Sand Dunes. Then at Mesa Verde, Pate is smitten by a young Ute woman named Johona, who believes in the spirit world. The couple sleep together in the desert following a deeply spiritual and hallucinatory experience produced by taking psilocybin. Stan severely injures his ankle trying to climb a cliff face in the dark. In the morning, Matthew reveals that he has been using Stan and Pate to model for a hippie role in a soap opera and departs on his own for Hollywood. Stan, upon hearing that Johona’s cousin is a shaman, agrees to have him perform a healing ceremony. Johona and Pate take Stan on horseback to an isolated cliff dwelling ruin in the desert, where Stan is healed.
Pate is broken-hearted when his brief love affair with Johona ends. He presses onward with Stan to San Francisco. In Haight-Ashbury, they meet Willow, a free-spirited macramé artist, who invites them to stay in her commune. As time passes, Pate and Willow become an item. Pate becomes disenchanted with free love, however, and wants a monogamous relationship. When he finds out that Stan has bedded Willow, Pate beats up his friend. Stan says he did it to save Pate from loving someone who would never love him back.
Unable to fit into the civilian world, even in the counterculture, Stan re-enlists in the Navy. Pate, at loose ends, begins painting the big Victorian communal house’s trim for beer money. When Stan is killed while hitchhiking, his dying words are that he loved Pate like a brother and hoped for his forgiveness. Pate is crushed by the news and plans to leave the commune. But first he decides to finish the paint job and, in so doing, comes to acknowledge human selfishness, blindness, and uncertainty in himself and others. He realizes that Stan has taught him a precious lesson—that human beings are all imperfect and in need of forgiveness.
Based on a true but wholly fictionalized experience, Journeyman will appeal to anyone who has ever wanted to hitchhike across the country or has had an interest in the 1960s. It adds a missing piece to the literary portrait of the U.S. during the Vietnam War viewed from half a century later. Its protagonist probes the original American sin of white cruelty and injustice to African Americans and Native Americans. The natural world, the highway, and San Francisco as the promised place all figure in Pate’s quest for authenticity and connection.
Paperback / $16 / 258 pages
Publisher: The Louisville Review Corp. and Fleur-de-Lis Press (September 8,2020)
Available in paperback for $16 at: The Louisville Review's website (https://mailchi.mp/a2e74329364a/fleur-de-lis-press-announces-new-release-by-author-rick-neumayer), in store and online at Carmichael’s, and online at Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, and your local independent bookstore.
Rick Neumayer's Journeyman tells a timeless tale of youth striving to define not only itself but the world it inhabits. Who lives and who dies and why? What new and old values to reject or embrace--and at what point in the journey? A journeyman in earlier lingo was a tradesman who was no longer an apprentice but not yet a master of his trade. This honest, funny, and heartbreaking novel
delivers everything a reader could wish for in the way of action, characters who are convincing and engaging, and ideas worth pondering.
—Sena Jeter Naslund, Author of Ahab's Wife, Sherlock in Love, Four Spirits & seven other titles
Two intrepid young men set out from Kentucky to retrace the westward peregrinations of Kerouac and Cassady, twenty years after the fact, with tragic results for one and life-changing consequences for the other. Journeyman is the survivor’s stirring, multi-layered account of their travels and travails, interwoven with recollections of the life he left behind. Rick Neumayer’s writing is direct and purposeful, and it propels us through these misadventures as though we were along for the ride.
—Ed McClanahan, author of The Natural Man, Famous People I Have Known, and other books
Journeyman is an affecting and well-wrought story told against the backdrop of a war that shaped a generation of Americans. Rick Neumayer’s good-natured narrator hitchhikes with his friend across the United States during the sixties, and the friendship between these two young men is a lively, steady stream running throughout the book. Both are complex, vulnerable, imperfect human beings who make you ache with their youthful desire to find a meaningful direction in their lives and to create a better, more just world. If you lived through the Vietnam War era, you will recognize the deep truth of this novel; if you were not alive then, you will fathom the chaos and hope and heartbreak of those years and how they laid the foundation for the world we’re living now. This is a timely, generous book that deftly captures a powerful, heady, mind-bending time.
—Eleanor Morse, author of White Dog Fell From The Sky
Rick Neumayer's Journeyman immerses the reader viscerally in the America of 1970-71, with a quixotic hitchhiking pilgrimage from Louisville to a San Francisco commune at its narrative center. It's a moving and provocative story of initiation during a time, not unlike our own, when the energy and possibilities of youth rub up against the complicated realities of a country divided by racial mistrust, generational misunderstanding, political fractiousness, and domestic and international instability.
—K. L. Cook, author of The Art of Disobedience and Marrying Kind
I went to high school with Rick, and when I learned of him publishing a novel, I jumped at the chance to buy a copy and read it. I'm very glad I did. The book takes place along a westbound journey from Louisville, Kentucky, to San Francisco, while flashing back to the protagonist's earlier life in Louisville. Pate and Stan are college friends who work at various jobs in the Louisville area while rooming together in the Old Louisville neighborhood. When their lives take a turn for the "not so great", they opt to abandon their local aspirations, and journey to San Francisco for a post-1968 Hippie love fest. They hitchhike, meeting a number of colorful characters, camping and living off the barest of means. All the while the westward journey takes place, Rick takes us back to Louisville to fill in the backgrounds of Stan and Pate. Being a native of Louisville, the places to which I'm taken are all familiar, and the locations were well known when I was raised and lived there. That local knowledge really enhanced my enjoyment, and brought back many fond, and not-so-fond memories.f you enjoyed Jack Kerouac, Hunter Thompson, Mark Twain, and others, you'll find that Rick has woven a wonderful story of missed opportunities, redemption, hope, and loss.
Rick Neumayer’s Journeyman is an On the Road set in 1971. With friendship, adventure, and quest for love, this fast-paced book is eminently readable. Just a few years too late for the summer of love, Pate and Stan nevertheless make the journey by hitchhiking to San Francisco. The friends arrive at both physical and emotion destinations. Tenderly told, the story uses authentic, compelling details of time and place. For anyone who has ever wanted to take a trip back to the summer of love in San Francisco or early adulthood, or for anyone who’s ever been curious about what living in a commune for a time is like, this is the book for you.
Journeyman is an excellent, deeply felt and experienced story of the journey of two friends in the Vietnam War era. I felt I was right there with them, feeling and seeing the same things they did, and I couldn’t stop reading it. The similarities between then and now really stood out for me. Excellent book. Definitely a keeper, and I can’t wait until the next one! AND, the artwork on the cover was spectacular!!!!
This story is about a road trip to San Francisco for the Summer of Love - four years late. But the narrator still feeds the need to go, and thumbs his way from Kentucky, with his friend Stan. Journeys can be actual, or they can be the searching in our minds. This trip is about both, and readers learn from the journey, too. An enlightening read.
Stan pulls out a doobie.
“I didn’t know you were holding. Why didn’t you tell me?” I ask.
“I just had the one.” He lights it. By the time the joint’s half-smoked, the sun has dipped behind the trees, the horizon purple and gray. Tossing a pebble into the water, I hear a satisfying plunk. Bullfrogs croak. Crickets chirrup. Cicadas click.
“Ah,” Stan says, flipping our dinner over carefully with a stick, “the simple life. Think how much time people waste working jobs they hate to acquire things they don’t need. Ever seen a picture of Thoreau’s house? It was tiny—just ten by fifteen.”
“This is our own private Walden Pond.”
“But what about the Summer of Love?” I ask.
“Hell, we’re already four years behind schedule.”
“Yeah, but Mark Twain might say that for Kentuckians, we’re ahead of schedule. According to him, everything happens there twenty years after it’s already happened everywhere else.”
“I read where he didn’t really say that.”
When the fish sizzle, our meal is ready. We eat it with our fingers. It smells and tastes wonderful. When we finish, I put another branch on the fire, stirring up sparks and bits of white ash that rise and float away.
“We should be in Denver by tomorrow night,” I say. “My friends there might put us up. We could take a hot shower and sleep on a mattress instead of the ground. I could call.”
“Okay.” Stan passes the joint, tilts his head back, and says, “Look at all the stars.”
I shift my gaze. “I’ve never seen so many.” We sit quietly, smoking what’s left of the marijuana.
“Do you believe in God, Stan?”
“Yeah, I guess. I don’t really know. What about you?”
Poking a stick at the fire, I tell him about being dragged to a holy-roller church every Sunday, where the sermon was invariably hell fire and brimstone. “They were always collecting to send missionaries to Christianize Africans. But when the neighborhood turned black, they moved the church to the suburbs.”
I toss the stick into the flames and listen to the fire crackle.
After a while, Stan bends and twists until his legs look like a pretzel. He tells me it’s a half lotus. A chick named Carla showed him how to do it.
“It opens the central conduit so you can drink the nectar of your essence,” he says.
“Opens the what?”
“It’s supposed to be relaxing.”
“So you can drink what?”
“Shut up,” he says.
I obey, inhaling and holding onto the smoke before exhaling. “What happened to Carla?”
“Hell if I know.”
“Have you ever had a real girlfriend for more than a week?”
“Once, back in high school.”
I’m expecting more baloney.
“Cheerleader named Teresa. She had perfect skin and big green eyes. We dated my whole senior year and broke up on graduation night.” Stan explains that he had a basketball scholarship. The plan was for Teresa to go with him. “But I guess down deep she was a practical girl because after we walked across the stage and picked up our diplomas, she told me she’d decided to go to some out of state college on her own. When I asked her about us, she said, ‘Oh, Stan, these high school romances don’t last.’”
Untangling his legs, he picks up a twig and starts whittling. After a long silence, he says, “Thoreau believed we can’t begin to understand ourselves until we’re lost.”
“Thoreau’s the man.” Stan keeps whittling until that twig is nothing but scattered shavings.
First things first. Can you tell us a little more about you?
I started trying to write fiction seriously soon after graduating from college. I wrote part-time at night, on weekends, and during the summers when I was teaching. One year before my daughter was born, I taught half-time while trying to write my first novel. I failed. Now I am a full-time writer and have been since 2004, when I retired after thirty years of teaching. My first book, Journeyman, was published 1 September 2020; my second, Hotwalker, 1 October 2021.
And what about the books you write?
Journeyman is classified as literary fiction. Hotwalker is a mystery novel.
Tell us about your new series.
Hotwalker is the series opener, a fast-paced classic mystery novel and the debut of private eye Jim Guthrie, Louisville’s contemporary Philip Marlowe. No zoot suits or snap-brim hats, but a complex story, surprising twists, quirky characters, off-beat humor, and a vivid sense of place. When a Guatemalan groom’s body is found on the backside after the Kentucky Derby, police are stymied by the distrust of immigrant workers. Then the victim’s son makes the sleuth an offer he can’t refuse, plunging Guthrie into an alien world of danger, violence, and beautiful women.
What inspired you to write this book and series?
I’ve loved mysteries all my life and once spent twenty years trying to write one. The great fictional sleuths appear in series, from Sherlock Holmes onward. In the 1970s and 1980s, the classic American P.I. hero began springing up in places other than NY, Chicago, or LA. I loved this development and decided why not in Louisville, KY? In this way, I get to write the kind of story I love and set it in the place I call home, which I happen to know more about than I do the aforementioned ones and which makes it feel even more real to me.
What, in your opinion, are the most important elements of good writing? What do you think makes a good story?
Motivation is number one through 100. No writing can exist without it. I look for voice, a polished prose style, authenticity, and a strong sense of place. There is no story without interesting characterization, obviously, and I prefer plotted fiction to amorphous narratives. Every. Word. Counts. So does every sentence and every paragraph. Hee’s a quote from a creative writing prof that I admire: “I can’t teach you to write, but I can teach you to rewrite.” Two separate skills really, and rewriting is by far the more important. If I like a writer, I will try to read every word he or she has ever written. I hate it when my favorite writers die because they won’t be writing any more books for me to read.
Where do you get your ideas?
I stumble across them, usually. Rarely do I know what I’m going to write when I begin. I have some ideas but until I write the epiphany—I’m a James Joyce disciple—I don’t know what I’m doing. I’m speaking now of short fiction. My longer fiction tends to grow out of my shorter fiction. An exception is my mystery writing, where I start with the final clue and work backwards to the beginning of the story.
What is your writing process like? On a typical day, how many hours do you spend writing? What time of the day do you usually write? What is your work schedule like when you are writing? What is the best part of your day?
It varies. There are times when I have worked for ten or twelve hours straight, day after day. Other times, not so much. Usually nowadays, I write from after breakfast until late afternoon—somewhere between four and six hours. That’s every day, seven days a week. The best part of my day can be the moment when I write something I consider really good. It can also be when I get to stop writing. Of course, writing is not my entire life and I usually enjoy the rest of the day, as well.
When you are writing an emotionally draining scene, how do you get in the mood? Do you write listening to music?
I love music. I am a singer, used to sing lead in bands. But I cannot concentrate on writing if I am listening to music, so I don’t. When I write an emotionally draining scene, I usually soldier on until a draft is finished. Then I go work out or grab a beer, or both. Writing a book is a hard slog that takes many, many months for me. I try to pace myself, but at times it becomes too much, and I feel overwhelmed. Then I need a break. But I always come back. I do think writing has changed me in some ways. Despite the nearly constant rejection of agents and editors, writing has helped improve my self-esteem, thus making me (I hope) a better, more empathetic person.
What is the most difficult part about writing for you? How do you handle writer’s block?
Getting it right is the hardest part, whether in the initial inspiration stage or the rewriting. None of it is easy. Rewriting over and over, making sure there are no clunker sentences, no errors, nothing that belongs there left out—this is the laborious part, but also the glory of it all because once you do get it right you feel wonderful. I seldom have writer’s block anymore, though I did at first. I believe it is usually just self-doubt, which we all experience from time to time. I did not mention the rejection part because that comes after the writing, and we don’t need to think about that until the time comes.
What advice do you have for writers?
Do what you want to do with your life, not what other people tell you. Somebody once said, “Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour on the stage and is heard no more. It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” That’s how I see it, too. You must make your own meaning in life. The single most important lesson I have learned about writing is to finish what you start. I cannot say I have always done that. But even if your work-in-progress is truly terrible, in finishing it you will establish an essential habit. In my own case, I would have started earlier, stuck to it with all my might no matter what, and never have thrown away anything I wrote. I’m talking about complete stories, not bad drafts. I tossed my first short story out of embarrassment and have regretted it ever since. That was well over fifty years ago.
How important is autobiography in your books?
Fiction writers all use the canvas of their lives and experiences to create characters. It is almost impossible not to do so, at least for me. The chief advantage of writing autobiographically is that I know everything about the character and thus can be very authentic in my portrayal; the chief risk is that I may limit myself unnecessarily to the facts rather than creating something new and different.
What are the most important books to read?
The ones you enjoy. I’m a firm believer in the pleasure principle. Nobody willingly does stuff that makes them unhappy. Once you develop a love of reading, of course, wise adult guidance can be very helpful. I was reading the Classics Illustrated versions of books like The Count of Monte Cristo when I was really young. By the time I was ten, I had read every Sherlock Holmes story and novel there was. I also liked the Hardy Boys. I read Treasure Island and Kidnapped, and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. I read everything I could get my hands on.
Who are your favorite writers and why?
I have difficulty picking my favorite anything. On top of that, as an English teacher by trade for many years, I am keenly aware that there are just too many great writers to name one or two. If I had to choose one on pain of death, though, it would probably be Hemingway, who had a huge effect on my writing because of his style and courage and because he’d been a newspaper reporter, which I was myself as a young man. Different books have been important to me at different times in my life. Mr. Russell, my fourth-grade teacher in Torrance, California, for example, read Don Quixote aloud to us daily, and I thought it was about the funniest, wisest thing I’d ever heard. Still do in many ways.
Who are the mystery authors you most admire? What books or authors have most influenced your own writing?
I’ve always read mysteries for pleasure. But they have also been my textbooks as a mystery writer. Again, this would be a very long list. But any list would have to include Arthur Conan Doyle, Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, Ross Macdonald, John D. MacDonald, Robert B. Parker, Ed McBain, Dick Francis, Elmore Leonard, Lawrence Block, John Lutz, Loren Estleman, Peter Corris, James Lee Burke, Michael Connelly, James W. Hall, Tony Hillerman, Sue Grafton, Ian Rankin, Jonathan Valin, and Randy Wayne White, to name but a few.
What is your favorite quote?
“Give me love / give me love / give me peace on earth.” –George Harrison.
“Always do sober what you said you’d do drunk. That will teach you to keep your mouth shut.” —Ernest Hemingway.
How many books have you written, including unpublished and half-finished books?
Five novels, two published, three still in-progress.
What was the inspiration for Hotwalker?
I read a newspaper story about an unsolved murder on the backside at Churchill Downs and it occurred to me that I’d never heard of that happening before. It remains unsolved today. The fact that the victim was Guatemalan and part of a world that few outsiders ever see or understand made it more intriguing. I had already invented a detective hero. All he needed was a case. I’d never read one set on the backside at the Downs. The idea seemed irresistible.
What was the inspiration for Journeyman?
In 1971, I hitchhiked across the country with a friend, an experience which inspired Journeyman. I also taught in an inner-city school that year, which helped to inspire the other part of the tale. It was a story I had been wanting to write for half a century but didn’t know how. Or didn’t feel ready to do it justice. Until I did.
What is the significance of the Hotwalker title?
The title refers to the job, of course, usually performed by low-paid immigrant workers who are at the bottom of the pecking order in the racing world. When a racehorse returns from its workout or a race, it is untacked and given a bath by the groom. Then a hotwalker leads it around with periodic water stops for a half-hour, or until it is thoroughly cooled out. I love the word because I find it both poetic and slightly obscure.
What is the significance of the Journeyman title?
The title refers to the hitchhiking trip out West. It also alludes to the protagonist’s level of life experience (a journeyman in earlier lingo was a tradesman who was no longer an apprentice but not yet a master of his trade.) Of course, it is also a pun. My late writer friend Joe Peacock suggested the title.
Is there lots to do before you dive in and start writing the story? What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?
Yes, there is much to do. Before writing the narrative, I try to find out anything and everything I can about setting, real life events and people connected to the story, and all manner of technical information. Sometimes it takes a couple of months, sometimes less. But that is only the beginning. While writing the narrative, I am constantly going online to learn more about the subject of the book. Yes, I have a library card which I use all the time. And Mr. Google and Mr. Wikipedia are two of my closest friends.
How much ‘world building’ takes place before you start writing?
A lot. My mentors at Spalding U. placed great emphasis on creating a strong sense of place. It was an eye-opening discovery for me that changed my fiction dramatically. Basically, when the reader parachutes into the novel, it is the writer’s job to provide him or her with a road map to understand where they are and what it’s like there. Imagine the difference between a desert setting and a frozen mountain range setting. Or New York City v. Hopkinsville, Kentucky.
Do you want each book to stand on its own, or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each book?
As with most either/or questions, both are desirable goals. Fictional world building can be fun. Faulkner created Yoknapatawpha County for his fictional realm. Everything James Joyce ever wrote is deeply rooted in Ireland. In his Dark Tower series, Stephen King attempts to link characters from many of his fictional worlds. I’d like all mine to be connected, too, but that may not happen.
What comes first, plot or characters?
This is a chicken-or-egg question to me. It can, and has been, either one. If I hear an anecdote or of an incident that I find interesting, I’ll make a note of it and try to explore its fictional potential. Same thing with people. Storytelling is all about details—choosing the right ones and getting them right—and knowing what to leave out, like a sculptor discovering the form concealed inside the marble block.
If Hotwalker and Journeyman became movies, who would you cast to star in each?
I would almost always prefer an unknown to portray my protagonists, especially for Journeyman where the two main characters are such young men. Stars bring so much of their own glamor to a role that they tend to crush nuances and distinctions that matter to me. But if pressed by Hollywood to cast someone to play Jim Guthrie in Hotwalker, the actor who comes to mind is Timothy Olyphant who played Raylan Givens in “Justified.”
How was the writing process in Hotwalker different from Journeyman? What was the highlight of writing each novel? What were the key challenges you faced?
Journeyman was an early attempt at writing a literary novel after several tries at mystery novel writing. It grew out of my studies in the MFA program at Spalding U. and continued for several years with the help of my writers’ group. Everything about it was a challenge. A lot of the time I did not know what I was doing, but I did have a lot of autobiographical experience to guide me. Otherwise, I might never have finished it. On the other hand, I have no autobiographical experience with murder whatsoever.
What are the key themes and/or messages in Hotwalker and Journeyman? What do you hope your readers take away from reading each?
Pleasure. Let me say up front that I dislike theme or message-mongering. But I cannot deny that themes and messages exist in my work. In Journeyman, I think it is obvious that peace and love and all the things that resonate with them rank high. But I am mainly just trying to tell a story, one that will appeal to a lot of smart, good-hearted readers who can then draw their own conclusions about what it means. Hotwalker, of course, is a mystery novel and by definition an entertainment. Justice, naturally, is big in any mystery. Hotwalker is also about immigrants. And cheating in racing. And love.
You have written both mystery and “literary” novels. Do you have a preference? Is one easier to write than the other?
I loved doing both. Neither is easy. In fact, writing any kind of novel is the hardest work I have ever done. But it is also the most satisfying. Plotting a mystery is generally far more difficult than plotting a literary novel. But plot matter much less in a literary novel, where characterization and figurative language are more valued.
Do you find it more challenging to write the first book in a series or to write the subsequent novels? How do you keep a series fresh?
I think they are equally challenging, but in different ways. Of course, if the first book is no good, you’re doomed. But if it works, then you have a protagonist and other equipment already going for you, which helps a lot. You must give the reader “the same thing, only different” in the sequel. We all know about Star Wars and Indiana Jones and how they revisit familiar landscapes while also trying to add new territories. Same here.
Have you always wanted to be a writer?
I wanted to be a baseball player. My grandfather played ball and I wanted to be just like him. I did play baseball for many years and remain a big fan of the L.A. Dodgers. I also wanted to be a singer—and was lead singer in local rock’n’roll bands for fifteen years. There were no writers in my family (although I later learned that my father had some unrequited writing—and singing—ambitions). So, it never occurred to me that I could be a writer any more than I could be an astronaut. But almost everyone in the family was a reader. And as a kid, I adored being read to. I memorized entire books just for the fun of it. One early one was “The Night Before Christmas.” I also memorized Poe’s “The Raven,” which of course is a long poem, not a book.
Share something your readers would not know about you.
In 1979, I was arrested for a solo protest at the Marble Hill nuclear power plant, which was under construction. I did it for two reasons. One, because I feared that if completed, Marble Hill would endanger my young family. And two, I was sick and tired of hearing people talk about doing something without ever actually doing anything. I thought Thoreau had the right idea. When Emerson visited Thoreau in jail for protesting the Mexican War, he said, “Henry, what are you doing in there?” And Thoreau replied, “Ralph, what are you doing out there?” I also believed that one person protesting alone might make a special impact. And it did, at least on my life. I expected to go to jail (which I did, but for less than an hour—and was basically forgiven by the court when my case came up) and possibly lose my teaching job—and my career—for doing it. Instead, everyone from my fellow jailbirds to my students to school board members wanted to shake my hand and congratulate me. I was very lucky that fate smiled on me that November afternoon in in Madison, Indiana.
Where can readers find out more about you and your books?
My website, rickneumayer.com, is the best place to find out more about me and my books, and to contact me. I am on Facebook, too, and am always happy to communicate with my readers.
If you had to describe yourself in three words, what would they be?
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