Thursday 2 November 2017


Steve Goble, author of The Bloody Black Flag, on the blog yesterday, answers a few questions for me....

Is the writing full time? If not, what’s the day job?

I would love to make writing fiction my full-time gig, but like most writers I have to maintain a real job. I am part of a team that handles website management, social media and a few other digital chores for the Cincinnati Enquirer and ten other Ohio news organizations as part of the USA TODAY Network. It is a fun job, and seldom boring.

What’s your typical writing schedule?

I work nights, finishing a little before midnight, and do the bulk of my fiction writing for an hour or two after I finish my shift. I do the plotting and thinking any time I can, such as when mowing the lawn or showering or waiting in a grocery line or whatever. By the time I sit at the keyboard, I know what I am going to write.

Do you insert traits of family, friends, and colleagues into your characters?

No, but I have vicariously killed people who pissed me off in my fiction. It’s cathartic.

Your debut novel The Bloody Black Flag features an 18th century pirate, Spider John – where did John come from? (Please don’t tell me a man crush on Johnny Depp.)

Heh, I really liked the first “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie, but they started going downhill from there. Anyway, my inspiration for Spider John came mostly from reading “Treasure Island” at a young age and then following up with Rafael Sabatini’s “Captain Blood” and “The Sea Hawk,” among others. There is just something about pirates that I really dig. I also fell in love with murder mysteries at a young age, Sherlock Holmes first, but then Nero Wolfe and Ellery Queen, followed by Travis McGee and a bunch of others. I like the mind puzzles you get from good mysteries, and the fact that justice usually prevails, at least more often in fiction than in the real world.

I always thought I might write a mystery some day, but it can be tough to find an original take so I just kept thinking about it. At some point, and I wish I could recall specifically when, it occurred to me to combine my love of pirates with my love of mysteries. I had not seen anyone else do that, and it seemed a fresh notion. I remember telling a good friend “pirate murder mystery, that’ll sell.” And it did.

How long did it take from conception of your original idea of a pirate tale to seeing it completed?

I think about three years. It is tough to say, because my job duties changed a couple of times and there were periods where I just did not have the time or energy to write. But I always kept thinking of the book. I had some down time for a few months, and finished it during that period. I tend to do the actual writing quickly once I have the plot and general outline done.

How long then until you found a publisher and eventually saw it in print?

It took me about nine months to secure an agent, partly because I was kind of stupid in my approach to finding one. My first mistake came when the first agent I queried liked my query, asked for more pages, liked those and then asked for the complete manuscript. My correspondence with that agent led me to think he would offer representation, so I stopped querying other agents. A few months later, that initial agent decided not to represent me, and I was mad at myself for not sending out queries while he considered the book. So lesson one for would-be writers: Keep querying until you have a deal.

My second mistake was not sharply narrowing my query list. I basically sent queries to any agent who listed “mystery” under the categories they represented. But if you think about it, “mystery” is a very broad term. A particular agent might say “mystery,” but mean “psychological thriller” or “cozy” or “cop novel” or whatever. So I got a lot of rejections early on. Once I narrowed the focus to agents who listed historical novels, mystery, action, etc. as genres they were interested in, I started getting more interest. I spoke with a couple of agents and hooked up with the Evan Marshall Agency, and I think Evan got me a deal with Seventh Street Books in about three months.

Did the end result resemble the book you envisaged when you set out? Were there many bumps in the road along the way?

The book did not change a great deal after signing with Seventh Street, although it did get some very good polishing. The copy editing support was outstanding. I had to wait a while to see the book published, because they work ahead and scheduled me for a fall release. Waiting was hard, but it was worth it.

Seventh Street has been really good, too, in terms of cover design and marketing and all those other things. I feel lucky to be with a good house.

I’m guessing because of the setting of the book, you had to conduct a lot of research, or did you already have a keen interest and knowledge of your subject matter?

I have read tons of pirate fiction, good and bad, and continue to snatch it up whenever I find it. And I have done considerable reading of transcripts of pirate trials and eyewitness accounts, etc.  David Cordingly, an historian who worked with the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, England, wrote a book called “Under the Black Flag” that examines the truths and myths of piracy in a very entertaining and useful way, so I enjoyed that. And I look at numerous ship design sketches, nautical lingo dictionaries, etc.  Roaming about on tall ships once as a journalist and again later on a visit to Mystic Seaport in Connecticut, a fabulous “living history” museum, also proved helpful. I would love to actually go sailing on a tall ship for a few weeks.

What’s the current project in progress? A second Spider John book? How’s it going?

I am in the edit-and-polish stage of a second Spider John book, tentatively titled “The Devil’s Wind.” It is a bit more of a traditional mystery than the first, but still involves a murder at sea, pirates, battles and all that. I hope to turn that in to my editor at Seventh Street before year’s end, to give him plenty of time to suggest tweaks or revisions if needed.

Will we be seeing a long series with John, or do you have other plans and ideas to explore? More historical mysteries or something contemporary?

I have two-and-a-half Spider John books planned beyond “The Devil’s Wind.” The “half” means I have just a very nebulous idea for the hook, but have not thought much further than that. The other two, I have pretty good loose outlines for, but I need to do some more research before I write. In any case, I plan to have Spider try to escape the pirate life for several more books.

I also have about 50,000 words written on a modern-day cop story, set in rural Ohio, that I want to finish once I have “The Devil’s Wind” wrapped up. That book has series potential, too.

What’s the best thing about writing?

It’s great escapism. I can settle down with the keyboard (I write on my iPad, actually) and just get sort of lost in this fictional world of larger-than-life pirates for a little while. All my real life problems remain, of course, but I can ignore them for a bit — and get paid for it.

The worst?

It grieves me considerably when I have the next chapter or the next scene firmly in mind and I am really excited about it but can’t get away from real life long enough to write it down. That drives me nuts. Also, I sometimes look at what I wrote the night before and hate it. That generally leads to sulking, and thinking, and overthinking — and eventually to editing and rewriting, and things get better. All writers go through that, I think. If you think every sentence you write is absolute genius, you probably aren’t as good as you believe.

What are the last five books you’ve read?

“Our Lady of Darkness” and “The Dealings of Daniel Kesserich,” both by Fritz Leiber, for Halloween season. “Murder on the Orient Express” by Agatha Christie, in anticipation of the new movie. “The Haunting of Hill House,” by Shirley Jackson, another Halloween read. And “Idyll Fears,” a new cop novel by Stephanie Gayle, another Seventh Street author. I highly recommend her book.

Who do you read and enjoy?

Fritz Leiber, who wrote mostly horror and fantasy, is amazing. His prose mutates to fit whatever mood he wishes to strike. Ursula K. Le Guin never disappoints. Daphne du Maurier is amazing. Jane Austen handles a large cast of characters so expertly it makes me jealous. I love swashbucklers by Alexandre Dumas and Rafael Sabatini.  Nicholas Guild tells a good story, whether writing about spies, cops or ancient history. I greatly admire Mark Twain.

Other crime writers I really like include Raymond Chandler, Ed McBain and Mark Pryor. John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee books are favorites.  And I love getting caught up in a John Le Carré spy novel.

Favourite activity when not working or writing?

I treasure family time, good beer, good coffee, and I like riding my bicycle.

TV addict or not? What’s the must-watch show in the Goble household? 

We do not watch a lot of TV,  but we are really digging “Stranger Things 2” right now. We also watch old favorites, like “Midsomer Murders” and “Psych,” a comedy about a guy who pretends to be a psychic detective.

In a couple of years’ time…

... I hope to be visiting the Caribbean set of a Spider John movie, and writing fiction full-time. A man can dream.
Many thanks to Steve for his time.

You can catch Steve at the following haunts



  1. As always, really interesting! Thanks, both. And I know the feeling of vicariously killing off someone who's gotten you angry. I've done the same. Wishing you much success.

    1. Margot, I'm glad you enjoyed the piece. Remind me not to cross you!

  2. Nice interview as usual, Col. Interesting ideas about finding an agent. Except for Sherlock Holmes, Goble and I read the same series in our youth (Wolfe, Queen, and Travis McGee) so he must be OK.

  3. Col, this was an interesting interview with Mr Steve Goble. I liked his answers to the best and worst things about writing. I feel much the same way with whatever I write, even a press release.

    1. Prashant, I'm glad you enjoyed Steve's answers. I think writers have more in common than things that separate them.

  4. A particularly informative and interesting interview, Col, particularly about the process of getting an agent. And he sounds nice. Definitely interested in the book.

    1. Moira thanks. I hope you enjoy his book if you take the plunge.