Monday, October 8, 2012

A Gruesome Vision of Murder: An interview with paranormal thriller author John "Rocky" Leonard

1) Please tell us about your book. 

Dan Harper is a computer programmer, not a cop or a private detective. When he has a vision of a gruesome crime, he struggles to decide whether to try and ignore what he saw, or dismiss it as a hallucination. He’s a rational man, a family man, with a pregnant wife and a full plate at home and work. The last thing he wants or needs to do is to get involved in a murder investigation, but he soon discovers he doesn’t have much choice but to investigate these visions himself to either put his own mind at rest, or gather clues to provide the police.

2) Please give us some insight into the mind of your lead, Dan Harper. 

Dan is just a regular guy who likes his job, the competition of playing tennis, and being married to his wife. He’s very pragmatic and reason-oriented. With an analytical mind used to solving problems in computer software, Dan is accustomed to figuring out complex problems rather easily. He’s always looking for the most logical solution to any problem. When things begin to happen that don’t seem to make any sense and for which he has no explanation, considerable conflict erupts between Dan’s rational mind and his senses. He knows what his eyes see and his ears hear, but can’t explain why he’s experiencing these strange and violent visions.

3) What inspired this book?

My own personal experience with the paranormal, particularly with ghosts inspired Secondhand Sight, as well as an interview with Detective Joe Kozenczak, the man who arrested serial killer John Wayne Gacy. In the interview and his book The Chicago Killer, Kozenczak credited a pair of psychics with providing him critical information that led to Gacy’s capture. So I thought, what if the murder victims of a serial killer communicated with a psychic in order to help catch the murderer? What if the psychic didn’t know he was gifted prior to this particular case?

In some respects, there was actually more of a basis in reality for Secondhand Sight than Coastal Empire.

4) Different sub-genres tend to tolerate different levels of depicted violence. In your book, you don't shy away from depicting violence. How did you decide what to show and what not to show?

While I didn’t want to disturb people unnecessarily, I must confess the inspiration for some of the descriptions of man’s inhumanity to man didn’t come from dramatized shows like CSI, but instead documentary-styled programs where very bad things happened to real people. I’ve observed enough of reality to conclude that if anything, truth is often worse than fiction, and most certainly stranger. I do not believe that the true nature of evil should be sugarcoated—good people ought to know what they are up against.

There really are people like Clayton in this world, unfortunately.

5) Your previous book, Coastal Empire, was a more conventional suspense book in that it didn't have any paranormal elements. Were there any particular challenges you faced writing Secondhand Sight, related to the paranormal elements, that you didn't face with Coastal Empire?

If anything, Secondhand Sight was easier to write because my own personal experiences were borrowed from for the story. I really do believe that ghosts exist, because of personal experience. One or two incidents might have been rationalized away, but I had too many strange experiences, often witnessed, to deny the supernatural. With Coastal Empire, the idea was nothing more than a seed that grew into a plot, so it was actually tougher to write. I had to make up more stuff.

6) Genre is always a nebulous thing, but, contrary to what some might argue, it also brings with it a certain amount of tradition and associated expectations. Do you feel the inclusion of supernatural elements into your narrative puts it into a separate literary tradition compared to mysteries and suspense books that don't include such elements?

That’s a very good question. Yes, it’s very hard to classify the book and mention similar works, if nothing else. Dean Koontz and Ted Dekker are the only authors that readily come to mind, when asked for a comparative reference.

With all fiction, the author is asking the reader to suspend his or her disbelief, as long as we adhere to an unwritten code that demands we strive for realism as much as possible. I think it’s very important for my readers to know that Hidden Hills really is an abandoned golf course, and I spent hours and hours wandering around…I wanted someone who happened to follow in my footsteps to see what I saw. So believability for the reader is very important to me. With paranormal elements, that’s not so easy to do.

In a rather conventional action-adventure detective novel like Coastal Empire, it’s not that difficult to wander around Bonaventure Cemetery and see the tombstones and crypts I described, and I wanted the reader tempted to look for the bullet holes marking the gunfight there. It’s a little harder for people to envision what a ghost might look like, or how a psychic might receive information from unconventional sources. The burden is a little harder on the writer to convince the reader to suspend disbelief. Although I’ve certainly witnessed paranormal activity, I can’t exactly claim that I’ve seen a ghost. I did see an orb at a legitimate haunted house, once. Some people just don’t believe in ghosts—heck, I didn’t always believe in them myself. To this day, I still have had no personal experience with psychics, and would not have considered it possible had I not watched the Kozenczak interview.

So, when someone asks me to classify Secondhand Sight as a horror novel or a detective thriller, the temptation is for me to say something along the lines, “Imagine if Dean Koontz and Michael Connelly co-wrote a novel…”

7) Please tell us about your literary influences.

I am a rather voracious reader in general, but I really love detective novels and thrillers. If you get me started on science fiction, I can literally start with Asimov and go to Zelazny without picking a favorite author. My favorite detective novelists include Michael Connelly, Nelson DeMille, T. Jefferson Parker, Michael Crichton, Dean Koontz, Jeffery Deaver, John Sandford, Thomas Harris among others.

If you asked me specifically by what standard I’d like to eventually measure my work, I think the Michaels—Connelly and Crichton, are about as good as it gets.

8) Please share with us a bit about some of your other projects.

I use the pseudonym Rocky Leonard for my novels so readers can easily differentiate my fiction from my nonfiction writing. I’ve written a book called Divine Evolution, my attempt to reconcile creation with evolution theory, and another that’s going to be called Counterarguments for God. The draft hasn’t been given to my editor yet. I also wrote a collection of short stories about our adventures in animal rescue, called Always a Next One.

My next project as Rocky, currently in rewrite, is the sequel to Coastal Empire, with the working title of Purgatory.

9) Do you have  any excerpts you'd like to share?

Here are a couple of short excerpts. If those don’t work for you, let me know.


I looked into the mirror and gasped. Blood splatters covered the glass, obscuring my reflection in the mirror. My hands felt warm and sticky. Reluctantly, I looked down and saw to my horror that they were covered in wet blood. It was all over me. My mind reeled. Bile rose in my throat. I looked around frantically for the source of the spreading crimson stains. Did I cut myself? I felt no pain.


It happened on the way home from the hospital. I must have blacked out behind the wheel. I remembered turning right onto Alpharetta Highway heading home, and then I snapped out of a trance and found myself parked with the engine shut off in front of a strange, dark house on an unfamiliar street, nowhere near my neighborhood.

How in the hell did I get here?


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John L. Leonard was born in Savannah, Georgia and graduated from Savannah Christian School. He holds a BBA in Management Information Systems from the University of Georgia and worked as a computer programmer for more than twenty years before becoming a writer.

John has spent most of his adult life in the northern suburbs of Atlanta. His writing has also been influenced by shorter stints working as a bartender, real estate investor and landlord.

He has been married to wife Lisa for twenty-one years and is the proud father of two and grandfather of three, as well as pack leader for several wonderful dogs and a hostile Maine Coon cat.

His first non-fiction book was published in 2010.

John writes detective novels under the pen name Rocky Leonard. His first detective thriller was published in 2012.

The local color in his writing is equally authentic whether the setting is a Georgia beach, downtown Atlanta, or the Appalachian foothills in north Georgia.

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