An Interview with Michael LaRocca

Vigilante Justice
Michael LaRocca
Crossroads Publishing 

ISBN 1-58338-603-3

Drugs from the police locker on the street, his brother dead, his love endangered, one man decides justice will be done.

Author Bio

Michael LaRocca is an American living in Hong Kong. He is an editor for, and published author of four fiction books. Crossroads Publishing has recently published his first novel, Vigilante Justice. An anthology of his short stories, The Chronicles of a Madman, will soon be published by Wordbeams.


1. You have several ebooks already published and yet more due out this year. Tell me a little about each one.

The published novel is Vigilante Justice. I finally got some early reviews, and they’re fantastic. It’s a cop thriller which, I think, manages to rise above the genre while still delivering the hard-hitting action. On the surface it’s about the drug problem, and obsession and guilt, and asking when (if ever) is murder justified. And yet, thanks to an editor, it’s also something of a love story.

I hate to give away one of the more interesting plot twists, but it does involve something you just don’t hear about. Bullets certainly aren’t the biggest danger involved in policework. I aimed it at the teenage male audience, but instead it’s scored with the ladies. I think they’re falling in love with the hero.

A friend gave me the antagonist, someone who’s decided to solve the drug problem by killing all the users. The protagonist is simply what I think my brother (a cop) would have been like if he hadn’t killed himself. For the record, my brother did NOT have the “unusual problem” that my protagonist has. My father-in-law (now my ex) gave me much of the plot. But the end result is all mine.

The first scene of Vigilante Justice is where our hero finds his brother, the author, slumped dead over a computer while working on a manuscript called The Chronicles of a Madman. Inside joke… The Chronicles will soon be published by Wordbeams. It’s a collection of all the short stories I’ve written over the past 20 years, ranging from pure horror to what I call American Existentialism.

The Lazarus Effect is the sequel to Vigilante Justice. It’s coming soon from CrossroadsPub. Imagine waking up in a prison hospital to learn that you’ve lost 14 years to amnesia. Imagine that you’re only alive because of a miracle drug that cures all wounds almost instantaneously. Not a new idea, perhaps, but an usual take on it with an unusual hero.

Rising From The Ashes is the true story of how Mom raised my brother and me alone. He killed himself when he was 20. She died four years later. Both deaths happened on her birthday. I always thought my life story was boring, but my wife insisted that I write it for about 10 months. It’s by far the best thing I’ve ever written.

2. I notice Vigilante Justice is due out in paperback any day now. Who is publishing that and will there be any more of your works in print?

Vigilante Justice will be a print-on-demand paperback, available at the site and at any bookstore. I have a lot of WebTV users subscribing to my newsletter, and they can’t download or read CDs. Plus, I want to send copies to reviewers, and of course autographed copies to friends and family.

The Lazarus Effect will be sold the same way. The Chronicles will not, at least not right away, because Wordbeams doesn’t have a reciprocal arrangement with a Print-On-Demand publisher, and I seriously doubt I could break even setting up my own secure server and trying to sell a book there. I’d love to sell that to a traditional print publisher, but anthologies from unknowns aren’t in demand.

As for Rising From The Ashes, I’m going to try breaking into traditional print publication with that one. But first, I will enjoy the benefits of two free edits and free cover art from CrossroadsPub.

3. I realise obviously that your brother was a policeman so you know a great deal about the police but does writing in the crime genre pose its own particular problems in terms of research and maintaining accuracy? And do you enjoy the research that you have to do for any of your books?

Maintaining accuracy in the crime genre came naturally to me. I’ve read a lot of cop autobiographies, but more importantly, Barry (my brother) told me a lot of what happens. When he was in the Police Academy, typed notes were mandatory, and he couldn’t (wouldn’t?) type. So I did that for him. He also practiced his combat training on me. Ouch.

As for research in general, I love it. I only write about subjects that really excite me, so I enjoy learning about them. I used to spend many happy hours in the library. Now it’s much easier, thanks to the Internet. Heck, it’s hard not to get lost doing too much research and not enough writing. Even books I’ve tried to write and then thrown out – there have been dozens – were rewarding simply because of what I learned in the research.

4. You have chosen to epublish most of your work. Was there any particular reason for this and would you recommend epublishing to other writers?

I strongly recommend epublishing, but not for the reason I stumbled onto it. In December 1999, I visited Hong Kong “for a month” to meet an Internet friend. Now we’re happily married and I’m still here. I was not able to legally work here then, so I dusted off the teenaged dream of being a writer.

Once the writing was done – three novels and a short story – I wasn’t looking forward to mailing manuscripts back to the US. Then I found epublishing, and in 2000 I signed contracts to publish all four in 2001.

I recommend epublishing because with the best of the bunch, the author gets free editing and cover art, then is free to sell those books to traditional print publishers. It really helps if you can say “professionally edited manuscript” in your query letter.

Plus, the epublishers aren’t so strict about manuscripts fitting into a specific genre and being aimed at a specific target audience. Epublishing is where you can find the new and different, much like print publishing was twenty years ago. But I do recommend trying for both mediums, as there are many people who will never read an ebook.

5. Having read all the sample chapters available on your website I can see quite clearly your skill at writing seriously and humorously. Tell me about “An American Redneck in Hong Kong” – how’s it progressing? Would you like to see that in print as well?

I would love to see Redneck in print. Whenever I write a book, and think it’s done, I like to leave it on the shelf for several months before I go back and revise. I need to forget what I was trying to say before I can evaluate what I’ve actually said. That’s where Redneck is right now–on the shelf, waiting. It’s a departure for me, trying to write humor, but I’ve always wanted to do it. I’ve always been able to do it verbally, but print is much harder.

Rising From The Ashes ends with Mom’s death, when I was 26. It’s really her book, not mine, so that seemed like the logical conclusion. Plus, it was more than long enough already.

I thought about writing about my subsequent years, but as a serious novel they just won’t work. But as humor, I believe, there’s a lot of material in there. Thus was An American Redneck In Hong Kong born. So it’s a sequel, but not really. The two novels are entirely too different. For what it’s worth, though, Mom and Daddy have both always been gifted storytellers. I feel I have two writing careers going simultaneously. Vigilante Justice and The Lazarus Effect are basically “thrillers,” and The Chronicles of a Madman and Rising From The Ashes are “serious” and perhaps even “literary.” I’m currently working on a new novel, tentative title The Road Not Taken, where I try to merge the two in a third Gary Drake adventure. (He’s the Vigilante Justice/The Lazarus Effect hero.) I see that as my writing future. But Redneck was a lot of fun, and I’d love to be able to write like that again.

6. I know you have several ebooks lined up for this year but what’s next after that? Is your head crammed with new plots and characters?

The way I write is simple. An idea grabs me and refuses to let go, and I sit down and write it as fast as my mind and my fingers will allow. Between ideas, I edit or sell or market. There is a lot of editing involved in my writing style. I’ve also learned that, when the Muse simply won’t come, editing the works of others is a big help at getting the creative juices flowing. Thus the editing job with CrossroadsPub.

Another pet project of mine–excuse me for talking about it–involves the writing of Gerd Balke. Not including my wife, he was the first friend I made in Hong Kong. I edited six of his novels, then he died of a sudden heart attack. I’ve dedicated a lot of time to publishing four of those novels–two down and two to go–just because I love his writing. All proceeds go to his widow.

The beauty of writing is that whatever you write can only come from you. All else can be mass-produced, but not that initial writing. It’s your voice. It’s you.

What idea will grab me next? I have no idea. But as long as I’ve got something in the publication queue and some half-done scraps to play with when the mood strikes, I am happy. I know that I have a tremendous advantage over most, because I can write full-time. That affects quantity, not quality, but it does feel good. Heck, it feels fantastic.

To get back to your question, I start with characters and conflicts. I may spend months getting those first few chapters just right. Then the characters do all the work and tell me what to write. In between books, there are rarely characters and plots bouncing around inside my head. The Lazarus Effect probably spent 4 months inside my unconscious before I sketched out a very rough draft in a single marathon session. But as a rule, I write it as fast as I can think it, then go back and fix it later.

I also know that, at age 38, my best writing lies ahead. This is a wonderful feeling. In the teenage years, I wrote from my pain. Once I lost that pain, I wondered if I’d ever write again. But after a fifteen-year hiatus, I know the answer. Now the question is, will I ever stop? The answer, I hope, is NO.

Extract: Vigilante Justice

Gary Drake looked into his dead brother’s eyes and knew that he had killed him.
No, he told himself, that’s not right. He was responsible for so much death that he was ready to take the blame for all of it.
Gary’s older brother, his only brother, was sitting in front of a computer. His eyes were open, his head tilted up to one side, staring into space. His lips smiled slightly. He almost could have passed for someone simply lost in thought.
Gary Drake looked at the computer screen. “The Chronicles of a Madman.” He never could stop tinkering with that manuscript.
“Do you know the victim?”
Drake turned to his new partner. She was too young for the job. “Don’t phrase that as a question. It sounds weak.”
“You know the victim.”
“Only by his writings,” Drake lied. “He’s an author. Surely you’ve heard of Matthew Langhorn?”
“No. But is that why you insisted on investigating this case?”
“Before he retired, my partner was the senior on a case involving a serial killer or killers who may or may not be cops.”
“That would explain why we’re investigating a homicide. But not why you couldn’t tell me that on the way over here.”
Drake ignored the barb. “Now I’m the senior because I know more about that case than anyone else and this looks like part of it.”
“Cops who might be serial killers?
You owe me an explanation.”
Drake looked at his new partner. She was 5’6″, with an athletic build and she probably weighed 130 pounds. She wore her curly red hair short. Everything about her manner projected calm, detached professionalism. Seeing her in a pinstriped business suit, it was hard for Drake to picture her posing as a streetwalker.
Drake nodded. “Not right now, though. Your perspective might be useful. When you enter a possible crime scene, it’s natural to form some kind of theory. And that’s fine — creative thinking is good in a detective — but you want to keep an open mind.”
“I’m new to IA, but I’m not a rookie.”
Drake tried to smile. “I just wanted to tell you that it’s wrong to go into a case with any preconceived notions, because I don’t want you learning it from me. Tell me what you see.”
Brooks carefully studied the victim’s body. She leaned over to examine his fingers closely and sniffed them. She looked around the room, then through an open doorway. She stepped into the bedroom for a moment, then came back into the office.

Copyright Michael LaRocca 1999


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