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Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Behind the Scenes with Mystery/Thriller Author, Boris Riskin

What a charming man, and I thoroughly enjoyed learning more about this author and I am sure you will as well. 

Robert Boris Riskin, the mystery-thriller writer lives in Sag Harbor, a quaint village that is part of the Hamptons, and is also home to many famous writers.   Sag Harbor is at the eastern end of New York’s Long Island, where the bay and ocean are close enough to touch he says, and the air is alive with stories. Jake Wanderman lives there too, back in action now as the Shakespeare-quoting anti-hero of Mr. Riskin’s new autopsy of the art world, Deadly Bones (2008).

Many fiction writers have long been urged to get out of their ivory towers and research the real world for their material.  Boris Riskin did better than that; he went out and actually worked for a living.  A Brooklyn native, Riskin traveled the world.  He lived in France twice, once on a honeymoon, again to attend the Sorbonne, both times to write … and write.  After studying at the University of Michigan with playwright Kenneth Rowe, Riskin supported himself and family at a variety of jobs -- from dishwasher to factory worker, busboy to a hawker of low price garments for high fashion women.  All the while, he worked these jobs he was experiencing firsthand the stuff of the human condition that feeds his writing.

Tell us about the genre of your work. 

My published books are mysteries. I chose to write them because my previous books were not being accepted by mainstream publishers. I thought if I turned to a popular genre, I might have more success.

Aside from the mysteries, I have written a number of short stories. They might be called literary. I have been published in The New Yorker and a number of literary magazines.

What are some of your books, stories that have been published?

The two mysteries that have been published are Scrambled Eggs (ISBN: 159142912) and Deadly Bones (ISBN: 159147159).

Scrambled Eggs refers to a cache of stolen Faberge Eggs. My hero, Jake Wanderman, a retired school teacher and Shakespeare maven) gets involved with the widow of a Russian Mafia don who happened to have them in the house when he died.

Deadly Bones has the same hero. This time the maguffin is an ossuary, an ancient burial box that supposedly held the bones of James, possible the brother of Jesus.

The third book in the series also deals with the art world in that a murder takes place in a gallery. Jake is pressed into service because his best friend’s daughter is suspected of being the murderer. This last book is not quite finished and so has not yet been sent to the publisher.

How do you come up with the names of places and characters in your books?

It is kind of difficult to explain how I come up with the names of my characters. I like unusual names and look for them mostly in newspapers and magazines. As for places, that is easier. I site all the murders in my series in the famous Hamptons, located on the eastern shore of Long island, NY. I live there, so I obviously know it well. At some point in each story, a foreign locale comes into play. I do this deliberately because I want something exotic in the way of place.

Jake Wanderman, my hero, is based somewhat on a dear departed friend of mine. He was a noted Shakespearean scholar. Also, the last person in the world you would expect to become a detective. What I did was marry his character to some aspects of myself, and to a fantasy figure of my imagination. The result is Jake.

How did you develop the character of your protagonist in this book?

I have a recurring hero but not a recurring antagonist. That kind of character might work in a serial killer kind of universe, but I have not gotten into that. In fact, what I like about my books is the amount of humor I have in them. Jake was born in Brooklyn, and so has the Brooklyn wise guy attitude toward people and life itself. If he can come up with a Shakespearian quote that will add some fun to the experience, that is good.

Why and when did you begin writing?

I became a writer officially when I was eighteen years old and changed my major from Engineering to English Lit. I had an epiphany in a physics class when I realized I was bored to death with the subject. I also have to admit I had a hard time understanding anything that was being said. I have been reading since I was a boy, growing up in a house filled with books, music and art. I had probably read more than three hundred books by the time I was twelve, not that I understood all of them. Nevertheless, I was in love with reading, so English Lit seemed the right choice for me. I have never regretted it.

What is your writing schedule?

My writing schedule is flexible in terms of time of day. I used to write every day from about 9AM to 1PM, except, of course, when I was working and had a full time job. Those days I wrote at night or very early in the morning. Now that I am retired I write every day, but the hours vary. Sometimes it’s morning, sometimes afternoon, sometimes night. When the spirit moves me, I am here. Nevertheless, I do it every day. (Almost. I occasionally miss one.)

What kind of advice or tips to you have for someone who wants to write and get published?

There are a few things I tell beginning writers. You must read, especially, the writers in your genre. The next and most important thing is to write on a consistent basis, not just when you feel like it. You have to put your ass in the chair every day. The third and probably most important thing is to never give up. You will be rejected time and time again. Do not quit. If you have the determination to be a writer then by God, you will be one!

What do you do when you are not writing? 

My other life is filled with tennis, biking, gardening, cooking, reading, and traveling.

What “Made It” moments have you experienced in life?

I have had several MADE IT moments in my lifetime. Fighting bureaucracy
and winning. Getting married to a fantastic woman. Having children. Selling my first story to The New Yorker.

You can learn more about Robert Boris Riskin on his website at, and he encourages visitors to ask questions.

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