JL Rehman has written four Florida crime novels and is now working on her fifth.
When did you first start writing?
I wrote a Y&A novel (before they were called Y&A) starting in1978. It was my practice book, revised ten times but I don't think it has commercial worth. I didn't start writing again until 1998 with my first novel, No Middle Ground.
Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?
When I was four, I drew animals in the bottom margin of an Aesop's Fables book. They were going on a long journey. I vaguely remember there was a lot of drama and some of the animals disappeared. I don't remember how they ended up, but it might explain my weird macabre writing.
Do you remember the first story you ever read, and the impact it had on you?
Salem's Lot. It fed that fear factor and need to know why people make the choices they make.
What is your writing process?
I write in scenes. I'll work it for weeks in my head, get a feel of the mood and the characters involved. At some point they start the dialogue on their own. I'll set the session in music to fit the mood, loud, no interruptions and pound it out. I collect music from everywhere. From popular to film scores to compilations from around the world. Anything that gets it out of my head and onto the paper. Writing in the quiet brings in too many distractions. The music keeps me focused.
What motivated you to become an indie author?
I did a lot of research. Traditional publishing began to change in the late 90s. Jumping through hoops in the hopes of getting under contract only to find out how little input I would have. It made me rethink it. It became about control. If I failed, I wanted it to be because I failed, not because a publisher decided not to publish the work for whatever reason and I couldn't do anything about it. I didn't want forced into strict deadlines. I'm not a formula writer. I write as it comes. Sometimes it sits around a while before it's ready to hit paper.
How do you approach cover design?
The cover design approaches me. The trick is converting what's in my head to a finished product. I love cover design as much as the writing itself. I never use ready-made off the internet covers. Each is unique and tells a story of its own.
What inspired the series?
I didn't intend to write a series. It just evolved into one. The first book idea, Death Impressions, came from a HGTV show series called "Modern Masters." One particular show featured an artist who was an expert in Gyotaku, "Fish ink impressions," a form of art dating from the 1800s originally used by fishermen to record their catches. The art of inking to get a perfect impression: scales, fins, etc, intrigued me. Then my mind jumped to what a frustrated artist might do if an opportunity to do something unique fell into his lap. But there are logistics that can't be anticipated. For example, how to preserve the victim, how to dispose of them afterward and how to keep the whole thing secret. Especially after a neighbor sees more than she should and calls the police.
Why did you write Blood of Belladonna?
I wanted to know if Joe gets away with it. Life was pretty secure for him until Roy and Eddie Vega showed up looking for their brother Ricky. Those were two characters that came out of a prompt in which the writer had to choose a very public place and write a description of two or more people and their vehicle and write a short story of who they were and what they were doing. I chose a grocery store parking lot. Two dudes that looked exactly like the Roy and Eddie characters were two cars over. I couldn't write it fast enough. Then entered Bella. And that inspired Insanity Road.
What's the story behind your latest book?
Insanity Road is the prequel, and third book in a series starting with Death Impressions. After the second book, Blood of Belladonna, I wanted to know why the three Vega brothers turned out the way they had. What was in their family history that turned them so criminal, so pathological? Was it nature or nurture? Even I didn't know the answer until almost halfway through writing it, what their mother Bella was hiding. It's those surprises that make writing so much fun.
Why write about child exploitation?
In the late 1990s, these guys were evolving. They were connecting and supporting each other on the internet. And they were getting smarter and finding easy targets in the churches. They manipulate the very faith the victims and their families cherish, use it against them. Although a work of fiction, the incidents in the storyline were taken from actual cases. Bill Emmons, John Harley and Judge Bridges were compilations of real offenders. Sadly, these people aren't even news anymore. Now they're part of the culture.
What are you working on next?
A Florida crime mystery set in the 1980s. This one has been on the back burner since then. Lots of dust.
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