Robert Crawford talks about Tatterdemalion and The Doll Maker

Welcome to writer Robert Crawford!

Tell us about your life outside of writing.
There’s really not a helluva lot to tell. Probably moreso than most in our craft, I identify as a writer. The way I have my pattern set up now, I’m a political blogger by day and a novelist by night. I aggregate news and so forth, write political commentary on my blog then when I go to bed at night. I write my fiction. I used to enjoy following the Red Sox in the spring and the New England Patriots in the winter but with the pandemic, all sports have been put on hiatus.

Do you have a work in progress?
LOL! A good writer always has irons in the fire. Like you, I’m juggling multiple series. Yet, since beginning the first book in the Scott Carson series in November 2012, that’s been the one series that’s occupied most of my fiction-writing time. In fact, I even started a spin-off from one of the characters. Last spring, I’d finished the first draft of a new series taking place in contemporary Wisconsin entitled The River Never Speaks, the first in a trilogy that I’m currently shopping around various publishers and literary agencies. Yet of all my protagonists, Scott Carson speaks to me most readily and in an Old New York English that greatly appeals to me. He’s primarily a 19th century character who keeps finding himself in the middle of one murder mystery or another. In Tatterdemalion, Carson basically gets hog-tied into going to Whitechapel by Buffalo Bill Cody to hunt down Jack the Ripper.
The book on which I’m working now and have been every day since March 14th is tentatively entitled Nemesis, which, although I’ve written and started other sequels to Tatterdemalion, is what I call a “direct sequel” because, while it picks up 12 years after the events of that seminal novel, it actually spans over two decades when Jack the Ripper, whom Scott thought had died at the end of the first book, comes back for revenge. So, yes, while I have many irons in the fire at all times, I also have to regrettably admit that for every novel I complete, there are six or seven others I never do or have yet to complete.

What was the most difficult section/piece you ever wrote? What made it difficult?
Two scenes spring to mind and there were both death scenes. I had to kill off a character in my novel, American Zen. There really was no way around it. The rest of the story as it had to be told would’ve been impossible to tell without that death. But it was a character to whom I’d really grown emotionally attached and as I wrote his death scene, I admit, I cried a little after I drafted it out. I really grew to love that guy.
The second is Mary Kelly’s death near the end of Tatterdemalion. No spoiler there because she was Jack the Ripper’s final victim. But early in the book, she enters the story applying for a cook position working for Bill’s team and then eventually becomes almost like a member of the team and even goes on an operation with them to try to flush out Jack the Ripper. Carson, a 21 year-old lab rat who actually invented moving pictures working for Buffalo Bill’s show in 1887, falls madly in love with her. Her death is obviously a major dramatic spike in the book, probably the biggest, and that and the denouement not only determines the course of the rest of the story, it completely alters the trajectory of Carson’s life and even basic psychology in that and well into the series.
My WIP, Nemesis, replaces his ongoing guilt with a need for vengeance when he realizes he didn’t actually take Jack the Ripper’s life. Yet that still leaves the death of Mary Kelly, the love of Scott’s life, unavenged. So the two take turns being predator and prey as they stalk each other well into the 1920’s when Carson goes to Hollywood to become a cameraman.

What sort of research do you do for your work?
Well, because I’m always operating on a shoestring budget, I can’t go traveling like other authors used to before the pandemic hit. So I’m restricted to the internet and getting my historical data from trusted sites. When that doesn’t give me the depth of research I need, I also go to Amazon and get affordable books that expound at much greater lengths and depth for my research. I once bought an 800 page book about the history of Central Park for another sequel I was writing (The Doll Maker, which takes place 5-6 months after Tatterdemalion.), even though I only wound up using maybe 1% of the information in the book.

Which books and authors do you read for pleasure? Is there an author that inspires you?
I read literally dozens of authors for pleasure, too many to name. I’m in the middle of Anne Holt’s 1222, which is actually the eighth entry her Hanne Wilhelmsen series. Before that, I’d read the first in a startling new series by Swedish author Niklas Natt och Dag, The Wolf and the Watchman, which takes place in the filthy, corrupt and incredibly dangerous world of 1793 Stockholm. And, of course, I’m currently enjoying your Death Without Honor on my Kindle.
But since you’re asking me to name any that actually inspire me, I’d have to say Caleb Carr. His Alienist and Angel of Darkness duology (third entry was supposed to come out last September then it mysteriously got pushed back three years, so I don’t know what the hell’s going on with that.), Carr showed me the rich world of late 19th century New York City, which not only got me interested in historical psychological thrillers but also in the history of my home town. He also showed the literary possibilities of genre fiction. Since reading The Alienist for the first time in 1996 (exactly a century after the story takes place), I’d harbored a desire to write a comparable novel. It took me over 16 years to find the right story. Tatterdemalion wouldn’t have been possible without Caleb Carr and his Alienist epics.

Was there a person who encouraged you to write?
There were several, hardly any of them being in the business. Since 1980, I’d begun writing and later became friends with X. J. Kennedy the poet, novelist and academic. Since 1977, I’d written virtually nothing but poetry and it was Joe Kennedy who’d exhorted me several times during our correspondence to try my hand at prose. 17 years later in 1994, I’d written my first novel (somehow, it got me a literary agent) and, once I’d shown myself that I could write a 100,000 word story from start to finish, I was bitten by the bug and I haven’t stopped since. By 1996 I’d stopped writing poetry for good.
I can’t really say that aside from my readers and the occasional author that anyone has given me any real encouragement aside from the Keep your nose at the grindstone and shoulder to the wheel bromides that are cheaper than talk usually is. There have been a few bestselling novelists who have helped and encouraged me on Facebook such as Alex Shaw, Jenny Milchman, Ruth Downie, Noel Hynd and precious few others. But bestselling authors always stop short of introducing you to their agent without reading your work, which they also never seem to have time for. Essentially, it’s usually the same old story of elitists who look down their noses at self-published and indie authors like us. And that’s fine. It’s not as if I need their encouragement, anyway. Stephen Crane once wrote about “the itch in the fingers” and that about sums it up perfectly. There are those who want to write and there are the ones who need to. I’m the latter. Writing is intellectual respiration for me.

"In the fog-slicked back alleys of 1888 Whitechapel, an unprecedented evil abides. Scotland Yard, Parliament and even the Crown are jittery: Since the Trafalgar Sq occupation and brutal crackdown the year before, confidence in the police has never been lower or the threat of revolution higher as the first City Council elections approach: Opportunism breeds like rats for anarchists and newspapermen recklessly exploiting the murders for their own political and financial ends. Desperate for a solution, Queen Victoria grants harried Chief Inspector Fred Abberline her permission to use legendary showman Buffalo Bill and his friends Annie Oakley, Sitting Bull and others to bring Jack the Ripper to ground, all of whom having their own motives for doing so. Vividly narrated by Cody’s young official cinematographer Scott Carson, Tatterdemalion is the tale of how Buffalo Bill’s posse, aided by Sigmund Freud, Arthur Conan-Doyle and his real-life Baker Street Irregulars pursued history’s most elusive serial killer. By the harrowing conclusion, no one in this ad hoc investigatory team will ever see innocence the same way as these legends use 19th century frontier justice and modern science on, in Carson’s words, an emerging 20th century evil, 'rendering redundant the necessity of embellishment or dramatization.'”

The Doll Maker

      "Jack the Ripper was just the beginning.
      In 1889 New York, 22 year-old Scott Carson retreats to his parents’ basement on 69th Street. Unwilling to venture back into the world, the reclusive engineering genius is still licking his wounds after winning his final battle with Jack the Ripper and trying to reassemble his shattered psyche. Then his friend Jacob Riis, desperate to get him back into the land of the living, shows him a photograph given to him by a detective that seems to be of a dead girl sitting on the lap of an adult hidden by a shroud.
     Carson quickly realizes this person who’d had delivered the photo to NYPD HQ on Mulberry Street may be a more advanced photographer than him and his interest is piqued. Riis introduces him to this detective, Angelo Delmonico (of the famous restauranteur family) and he finds the scientific-minded detective and he are of a similar mind regarding this new killer. Together with teenager Kelley McCarthy, a pioneering female urban explorer 'who goes where even the rats don’t go', the trio chase an ingenious and elusive serial killer who is murdering little girls and turning them into human dolls."


  1. Wonderful little interview, Diane. Thanks for having me.

    1. You are very welcome! Come back when you have another new book!


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