AR Simmons

This week it is my pleasure to interview AR Simmons. Would you please introduce yourself to my readers and share something about your life.

I was born on Chicago's north side, but grew up in the Courtois Hills region of the eastern Missouri Ozarks. I’m a country boy who walked a gravel road to attend a one-room elementary school. My wife and I still live on farmland cleared from the native forest by my grandfather.

In early life I was in turn a carpenter, a factory worker, and a soldier. The GI Bill financed my college education (a Bachelor of Arts and a Master’s degree in History). Passing up a doctoral program (I was 27, married, and unemployment), I took a public-school teaching position "until something more suitable came along." To my amazement, it suited me and became my life calling.

As a high school teacher, I wrote supplemental essays on the history of technology and on foreign policy for use in the classroom. I began writing science fiction short stories in the early 90s, but gravitated to mystery/suspense novels which I now write exclusively. Some ten years ago (2003), I began serializing my novels on-line. In 2013, I published the first of the Richard Carter novels as an e-book. As of 2018, there are twelve novels in the series.

I use the culture, language, and mores of this "Bible Belt" region to write stories of obsession set amidst the small-town and rural Ozark life that I know and love. I write in a hybrid genre somewhat closer to cozy than to hard-boiled. Although most of the stories are adult themed, I shun excessive profanity, graphic violence, and gratuitous sex. I rely on the imagination of the reader.

When did you write your first book and how did it come about?

I attempted my first book, Bonne Femme, in 2001 after considering this question: can a man betray a woman’s trust and ever regain it? As a novice, I threw everything that came to my mind into the story, including opinions and memories. The result was long, awful, and discouraging. I set the story aside and wrote other stories, getting better as I learned that I didn’t have to record every thought that flew through my mind. Because I loved the idea of the story, I returned to Bonne Femme in 2006. I immediately hacked away sixty percent of it and rewrote the rest. To this day, it is my most difficult plot because of my damaged main character’s unusual relationship with the woman he betrayed. 

Do you always write in the same genre or do you mix it up?

I exclusively write in the mystery/suspense genre. In the series each story covers a year in the lives of Richard and Jill Carter. The series is somewhat of a family saga as the characters grow and change. I’m very much interested in characters that change according to the things that life throws at them.

When you write, do you start with an idea and sit down and let it evolve, or do you make notes and collect ideas on paper beforehand?

I conceive the plot and let the story evolve according to the dictates of my character. There is a trap in writing a series, the trap being that the stories will become repetitive and predictable. I try very hard to make each story unique. Some are pure mysteries, some are pure suspense, and some are suspenseful mysteries. And each of the stories involves obsession.
So I write relationship subplots to make the Carters, their friends, and colleagues more real to me and (I hope) to the involved reader.  

Would you like to give us a short excerpt from one of your books?

Kit rolled to her side and looked at the window. Pitch dark, she thought. I don’t need this.
Yawning, she picked up her phone and punched it to check the time. You have to be kidding. Five ten? Really?
Rolling onto her side, she tucked her right arm under the pillow and pulled up the blanket to cover her shoulder. She was almost asleep when a furtive sound came from the kitchen. What now, a mouse? Maybe I’ll get a cat.
She heard it again.
Whatever he’s doing, he’ll just keep it up if I don’t scare him off, she thought as she angrily threw aside the blankets and got up.
The hardwood was cold on her bare feet, and a cool draft cut through her flannel pajamas as she made her way through the dark to the kitchen. Out of sensible habit, she refrained from turning on the lights. If a prowler was outside, she had no intention of letting him see her. She had no illusions as to the dangers of a single woman living alone. A modicum of caution was common sense. That was why she kept a loaded pistol on the nightstand beside her bed.
Feeling the draft again, she almost retreated to get her piece.
A little overkill for a mouse, girl. I probably left the window over the sink cracked. Maybe that’s how he got in.
Despite the cold, she did that during the day because the old farm house had a lingering stale smell.
By the time she reached the kitchen doorway, the noise stopped.
So I scared him off. I just hope he stays gone.
She went to the sink and ran a glass of water. After taking a sip, she frowned.
The window’s still—

Kit came to in stages. At first, all she was aware of was the throbbing pain at the back of her head.
I got dinged. Someone undercut me when I was in the air.
She was on her back on the floor with her knees up. There was a towel on her face.
They must be trying to stop the bleeding.
What the—I don’t play ball anymore!
She went to rub her head, but her wrist was tangled in something. She struggled to sit up. Something dug painfully into
her wrists and ankles.
Terrifyingly awake now, she realized that someone had tied her up.
A sound!
Behind me! He’s still here!
She shook the towel from her face, rocked to a sitting position, and swiveled her head to see where he was.
A plastic bag slapped down over her head, turning her world blurry.
Realizing what he was trying to do, she flung her head back and forth violently, trying to free herself.
Her attacker grunted, but held her fast with his forearm locked under her chin.
“Why are you doing this?” she screamed.
A fist slammed into the side of her head.
Stunned, she slumped.
A hand grabbed her hair through the bag and twisted it painfully.
His laugh was a soft whisper, as he patted her cheek.
In panic, Kit realized that it was the Alton girl’s killer.
          Her bare feet slid futilely on the hardwood floor as she bucked, twisted and jerked, trying to break the cords fastening her ankles to her wrists.
He loosed his hold on her hair.
A moment later, she felt something constricting around her neck. Her face was exploding.
She thrashed and kicked against the blackness sucking at her.
In mindless terror, she fell to her side and kicked again and again at her bonds, breaking the skin of both wrists and
ankles. The pain barely registered.
Her lungs were afire.
Blackness bloomed.
She gasped and thrashed, but weakly now in her death throes.
No one was going to save her.
She was going to die.
No! No!!
Even as she rallied for a last effort, her remaining strength bled away.
Kit arched her back.

From a far somewhere came a rattling noise.
The muted sound of breaking glass faintly registered on her oxygen-starved brain.
“Kit! Kit! Oh my God!”
The bag was ripped open. She sucked in the sweet, sweet air.
The thing pinching her neck popped loose.
           As the blood flow returned, her head began to swim. Now the adrenaline flooding her bloodstream brought sudden
The whirlwind of nightmare wasn’t through with her. Kit was suddenly convinced that she hadn’t really been saved.
It’s just a wishful dream!
“I’m dead,” she croaked weakly.
“No. No. I’m here, Kit. You’re going to be okay,” said McAnulty as he worked at the knots of the ligatures.

Who is your favourite character and why?

Jill. She is a passionate woman who always sees clearly what must be done and has the strength to do it. She has done for Richard what most women could never do. She is Richard’s rock and pole star, his confidant and lover, his partner in every sense of the word. The two of them are truly one.  

Which of your books gave you the most pleasure to write?

Journey Man. In it we learn that PTSD is not limited to combat trauma. It is also the story of two remarkable women, who, although they appear quite different at first, do what must be done and carry with them the resulting scars.

What is the best marketing tip you have received?

Don’t place too much trust in internet marketing. There are more peddlers than customers in that bazaar.

How would you describe yourself?

I’m a storyteller with no pretention of literary expertise.

What do you do when you are not writing or reading?

Gardening, doing carpenter work, taking frequent road trips in the Ozarks, and conversing with my wife, muse, and best friend.

If you could holiday anywhere in the world, where would you choose and why?

Spain. For the culinary experience, the history, and to enjoy the culture.

If you have owned pets, do you have a funny story you would like to share with us?

We had an Airedale named Mac, an intelligent dog who was gentle but protective. The problem with him was that he thought of himself as “the hairy kid.” One Sunday evening, my wife was having trouble getting our sons to quit watching television and take their showers in preparation for bedtime. I think they were watching Headbangers Ball or something.
“I’m telling you for the last time. Get in the shower right now!”
Neither of the boys moved a muscle.
Then Mac got up with a sigh, hung his head, and left the room headed for the shower.

What is the biggest factor for you when selecting a book to read?

I read the blurb along with a short passage chosen at random to see if the story speaks to me.

Do you have your own website?

Are you working on a new book at the moment?

Yes. The Playpretty has undergone the final edit and was released at the end of December.