Rod Reynolds is the author of The Dark Inside and Black Night Falling. The third book in the series featuring Charlie Yates, Cold Desert Sky, is published in paperback by Faber and Faber on 6 June 2019.
Rod kindly answered a few of my questions.
1. Tell us a little about Cold Desert Sky.
Thanks very much for having me on your blog!
Cold Desert Sky is the third book in the Charlie Yates series and is set in Los Angeles and Las Vegas. It sees Charlie obsessed by the disappearance of two Hollywood starlets, but having to lay low in the City of Angels because infamous mob boss Benjamin ‘Bugsy’ Siegel wants him dead. Charlie’s investigation eventually leads him to a nascent Las Vegas, where Siegel is finishing his palace of sin, the Flamingo Hotel. Finding himself caught between the mob and rogue FBI agents, Charlie’s hellbent on doing whatever it takes to find out what happened to the missing girls.
2. What inspired the book?
I’ve been travelling to Las Vegas for twenty years now and have always been fascinated by the place and its ‘colourful’ (read: criminal) past, so I’ve wanted to set a book there for some time. Then serendipity came into play, in that in researching my previous book, Black Night Falling, I discovered that the infamous mobster Bugsy Siegel, who did much to create Las Vegas as we know it, was a regular visitor to, and took his inspiration from, Hot Springs – the town where Black Night Falling is set. Furthermore, at the end of 1946, the time period of my other books, Siegel was just about to open his Flamingo Hotel – the first mega casino-hotel and precursor of the one that still stands today. That confluence of historical factors – gangsters, mob money, glitz – felt like the perfect melting pot to toss Charlie Yates into.
3. Are you a plan, plan, plan writer or do you sit down and see where the words take you?
I’d call myself a reluctant planner, in that when I started out, I would have a skeletal plan for the novel but nothing more – and would always deviate from it. However, I’ve ended up planning more with each subsequent book, because I find it saves a lot of time and trouble later on. It still doesn’t come naturally to me, mainly because I like my characters to drive plot, and their actions are hard to plan out before you get into the writing, but I’ve come to realise that having a plan does not constrict you like I feared it might; setting a destination doesn’t mean you can’t change the route.
4. Why did you pick the 1940s for your novels? What appealed about that era?
Actually the 1940s chose me. My first novel, The Dark Inside, was inspired by a real life case known as the Texarkana Moonlight Murders, and I wanted to be true to the period and place when writing that book. When my publishers asked me to bring Charlie Yates back as a series character, it just made sense to keep writing in the same timeframe – and it was such a time of flux and societal change, it’s very easy to find interesting background stories and places to build the books around.
5. What research did you have to do and how important is it to stay true to the time period?
I did a lot of research into the historical facts – particularly Bugsy Siegel and the origins of the Flamingo – and visited Las Vegas as well. Although I’d been many times before, it’s safe to say I wasn’t thinking much about book research the previous times! I made a trip to the Mob Museum while I was there, which is a fascinating place to get your head around the town’s past.
I try to respect the history as much as I can, without letting it become a constraint. I think readers will give you a certain amount of latitude, if you don’t take liberties with the big, well-known facts. So, for example, if I was writing about JFK, he has to die in Dallas on November 22nd 1963 – you couldn’t mess around with any of that. But you could certainly fictionalise where he was the week before, or who he ate lunch with the day before, or even what he might’ve said five minutes before he was shot. So that does present challenges, in terms of ensuring your plot fits those immovable facts – but it leaves the writer with a lot of leeway too.
6. Having been through the publishing process a couple of times is there anything about the process of creating a novel that surprised you?
I think the pace of the publishing business took me a while to get used to. It’s very grown up in a way, in that when I was working to a deadline fourteen months away, no one ever checked up on me to make sure I was doing the work – you’re just left to get on with it. It can then seem very slow as you send of your MS and wait for edits, and that can be anything from a couple of weeks to a couple of months. Coming from the advertising industry, where I worked previously, and where clients always want everything yesterday, it was a real change for me.
But then around publication, everything goes into overdrive – blog pieces, PR pieces, Q&As, events – and then it all stops again almost as quickly. All of that took some getting used to.
7. What do you do when you aren’t writing? What do you do to relax and get away from it all?
I’ve got two young kids and I’m a full time dad, so ‘relax’ and ‘getting away from it all’ are not concepts I’m familiar with.
I do like to keep fit, and running in particular is my stress buster/plotting time.
8. If you could only read one book for the rest of your life which book would it be?
The Big Nowhere by James Ellroy. Ellroy is the most important writer to me and my biggest inspiration, and that is my favourite book of his as I think it’s where he really nailed his style and setup. It also has one of the best and most moving last pages of any book I’ve read.
9. I like to end my Q&As with the same question so here we go. During all the Q&As and interviews you’ve done what question have you not been asked that you wish had been asked – and what’s the answer?
What is your favourite cake and can I send you a lifetime supply, please?
The answers are: ‘coffee and walnut’ and ‘yes.’
About the book
No one wanted to say it to me, that the girls were dead. But I knew . . .
Late 1946 and Charlie Yates and his wife Lizzie have returned to Los Angeles, trying to stay anonymous in the City of Angels.
But when Yates, back in his old job at the Pacific Journal, becomes obsessed by the disappearance of two aspiring Hollywood starlets, he finds it leads him right back to his worst fear: legendary mob boss Benjamin ‘Bugsy’ Siegel, a man he once crossed, and whose shadow he can’t shake. As Yates’s search for the truth draws him to the desert and the burgeoning city of Las Vegas, he finds himself caught between the FBI and the mob. Can he possibly see who is playing who, and find out what really happened to the girls?
*I approached Rod to take part in the Q&A. I was not asked to help promote Cold Desert Sky and I have not received a copy of the book*