M.W. Gordon, Author of the Macduff Brooks Fly Fishing Mystery Novels
The following have been compiled from lectures and readings
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Q. Did you study English or Creative Writing in College?
I had one required English course in my first term, but it interfered with soccer. My dream had always been to play professional soccer with Nottingham Forest or Tottenham Hotspur in England. My knees decided otherwise and won. My grades improved.
Q. But you did learn to read?
I did. But I still liked soccer better.
Q. Do you have any favorites?
Yes. I reread A River Runs Through It (Norman Maclean 1976) about every two years. It is my favorite novel involving a family with one or more members fly fishermen. For salt water I love John Hersey's Blues (1987). And for a sailing mystery The Riddle of the Sands (Erskine Childers 1903), which is my all time all subjects book favorite.
Q. Why do you write mystery/suspense/thriller novels?
Because I retired and I do not play golf. Not because my wife wanted me occupied. She wanted me at home because she had a long list of projects for me to do. I think she started the list the year we were married sometime in the last century. As to golf, I am reminded of angler Paul O'Neill's comment: "I am not against golf, since I cannot but suspect it keeps armies of the unworthy from discovering trout."
Truthfully, I had written extensively as a law professor. Books, articles, book reviews, chapters, etc. Law book writing may have helped me become disciplined to write, but it proved to be a handicap to writing novels and especially to fashioning dialogue.
My career involving the Navy and teaching international law gave me the background to develop the Macduff character. My first assignment as a naval officer was to attend the military’s school of atomic, biological, and chemical warfare (called learning your ABCs). Three months later I was in the Oriente Province Mountains of Cuba gathering information about public opinion toward the then Robin Hood figure of Fidel Castro, who would within months take over the nation. After law school I began to teach and soon was asked to travel by the State Department to some nations in unstable situations, including Yugoslavia, India, Paraguay, the Sudan and Guatemala. Until I retired from teaching and consulting, I was not able to write about those experiences but they gave me many ideas for fictional characters.
I like reading dialogue. I wanted to write something where dialogue was a critical part of the narrative. Macduff Brooks began to germinate, and when I reached the point where he had to decide what to do with his new life, I drew on my background of fly fishing, which goes back to the last years of World War II. I caught my first trout (a nine inch brook trout on a Royal Wulff) the day our troops were landing in Normandy, June 6th, 1944.
The real question was: could I develop characters using some of those experiences that would draw readers? Time has answered that yes.
Q. Have you ever worked for the CIA or any U.S. agency?
No, I have never been directly employed by any U.S. government agency. But I have been involved with international law issues and/or sent abroad to numerous countries by our departments of State, Justice, and Commerce.
Q. Do you outline the book before you begin to write?
No. I start with an idea of what will be the main focus. For example in writing Crosses to Bear I had an image of using a drift boat trailer on which to leave bodies. That developed to having the dead persons be members of the shuttle service. For Gill Net Games I had heard of an instance where a gill net fisherman fell off his boat while pulling in his gill net, and drowned. He became entangled in the net. Add that to the highly volatile issue of gill net use in Florida--especially their use being banned in 1994--and I was off and running, or in my case writing.
I do have a framework, which consists of three lines that meander through the books. One is the relationship of Macduff and Lucinda. When many years ago I first read The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett, I was intrigued by the dialogue between Nick and Nora. A second line in my books is the conflict between Macduff Brooks (actually Professor Maxwell Hunt as Macduff was known for most of his life) and his adversaries Juan Pablo Herzog and Abdul Kahliq Isfahani. The third line is the mystery, the deaths on his drift boat (Deadly Drifts), its trailer (Crosses to Bear), or otherwise linked to Macduff ("You're Next!").
I am also less interested in repeating the traditional murder mystery where early in the book a murder occurs and at the end it is cleverly resolved, than in the variations of killings and the aftermath. More than half of all murders go unsolved. Of those that are, often there is no one alive to arrest, or the persons can't be arrested, or could be but they can't be found. Or even that they are known and could be arrested but are not for one reason or another.
Q. Any ideas for the future?
I wait until I finish writing one book before I give any thought to the next.
Q. Does that mean you don’t know how many people will be murdered when you start?
That’s right. I really have no idea of the number of deaths that are needed, or who will be the perpetrator(s). It’s quite exciting to find out as I go along. I have written myself into a corner more than once. But that is also exciting--how to get out.
Q. Are any of your characters real persons?
Not by name but two are based on two very good friends, one a law professor in Florida and the other a fly fishing guide in Wyoming. I suppose it would be in poor taste to use a real or close name for a bad character, who might disagree all the way to his/her lawyer’s office.
Q. On whom did you base your main character Macduff?
Not on any one person. Before I decided to write I tried to read every mystery/suspense/thriller book in every series that had a fly fishing guide or game warden as the main character. I add game wardens because I am a totally committed fan of C.J. Box’s books on Wyoming game warden Joe Pickett. And Victoria Houston’s books on rural Wisconsin police chief and fly fisher Lewellyn Ferris and retired dentist Doc Osborne. Except for Box and Houston, the lead character usually seems to be a former easterner from a dysfunctional family who was a drug addict, alcoholic and/or sex wanderer, and who viewed the western mountains as one large rehab center. I wanted Macduff Brooks to be a nice guy, not into drugs, and monogamous (like Jimmy Carter, however, he is free to lust for others). And I wanted a character who does not find it necessary to liberally sprinkle four letter words throughout his speech (or have friends who do the same). However many Macduff Brooks episodes I may write he will never be involved with drugs, abuse women, or alter his perfectly polite-in-mixed-company speech.
Q. The same for his companion, Lucinda?
Mostly. She and Macduff are good people. They are faithful, honest, truthful, hard working, good looking, bright, make mistakes, and love fly fishing. And they adore each other.
Q. Do you share any of Macduff's characteristics?
Only the best of them. I was a law professor for 42 years teaching various aspects of foreign and international law, which was the focus of Macduff when he was Professor Maxwell Hunt. I built a wooden drift boat named Osprey, which I use in the West during the summer. I am certified as a professional fly fishing guide, and still fine tuning my casting skills. I practice about four times a week. I have a Sheltie (one named Wuff passed away at 14, the current one is Macduff). I like Gentleman Jack but I don’t drink hard liquor anymore (I finished my life-time quota by the time I was 40). I studied oboe for a decade. I knew after the first year that I would never match my teacher and play with the New York Philharmonic. I sold my oboe, which pleased my neighbors.
One thing I don’t share with Macduff is I that haven’t built a log cabin in the West. I would like to but it is has been enough to maintain houses in Gainesville and St. Augustine. That ended with the total move to St. Augustine, at least for the winter months.
Q. You disposed of Macduff’s wife early in the first book, Deadly Drifts. Why?
One rule I read about before I wrote Deadly Drifts was that if your main character is married, get rid of the spouse. I did so, actually ten years before the book opens.
Q. Has your wife talked to you about getting rid of her character in the book?
I’d rather not go into that. I have also introduced characters which some of my friends seem to believe are based on them. Most of those characters have also been disposed of and when I see my friends I am reminded of my transgressions. Some ask if there isn’t some way to bring them back. I have by now killed most of my friends and am working on acquaintances and when they are all dead I will turn to people whom I have met, however briefly. Be wary.
Q. Speaking of bringing them back, you did that with Elsbeth in the third book, “You’re Next!” Did you plan that from the beginning?
No, I was forced into it by Elsbeth writing the prologues and epilogues. My daughter is named Elsbeth and I think she is much relieved that Elsbeth survived.
Q. Did you write anything other than law before you wrote the first Macduff Brooks novel?
Yes. Over the years I wrote articles on sailing for Yachting, Yachting World (UK) and won the Bruce Morang writing award (a beautiful half-model of a Maine lobster boat) for a piece in the annual Friendship Society Annual. One of the highlights of my teaching career was being named a Bellagio Fellow and spending five weeks writing at the Rockefeller Foundation’s Bellagio Center on Lake Como in Italy. I wanted to stay longer, but they wouldn't have me, even as a gardener.
Q. Are Macduff and Lucinda really married?
I’ll ask them the next time I see them. If you see them first you ask them. And then write to me and tell me the answer.
Q. How do you respond when a person wants to read one of your books and asks which one to start with?
That raises a very difficult question – how much of the background of characters and places that appear in the first book – Deadly Drifts - must I condense in each sequel? One of the difficult decisions in writing Deadly Drifts was how many chapters I should devote to the creation of Macduff Brooks, as he assumes a new name and location and begins to work as a guide. I tried to make the process of conversion interesting and humorous (using FBI and CIA characters makes the latter easier). I also had to decide where Juan Pablo Herzog and Abdul Khaliq Isfahani should first appear. Herzog is a little like Professor Moriarty in the Sherlock Holmes series--Herzog keeps popping up and causing trouble. Maybe when I’m tired of writing the Macduff Brooks series I’ll have Juan Pablo Herzog and Macduff Brooks grapple on the top of the Grand Teton and both fall to what should be their death. But, as with Sherlock and Moriarty, would it really be the end?
The above answer, to a question that is often asked at writing association lectures, has changed with the number of volumes. With ten finished, I now answer that it is best to start with the first novel. Enough is then know to skip some, but to keep up with Lucinda's and Macduff's growing love, and Herzog's pursuit of Macdiff, it is best to read according to the way they were written.
Q. Macduff and Lucinda often discuss food. Do you cook?
Very well. I can make drip coffee, including grinding the beans. On occasion I make tea. I’m very good at opening bottles of Gentleman Jack or wine (cork or screw cap). I once, in a moment of foolish ambition, tried to make rice. I bought a box of Mr. Ben’s and put the whole box into a pot. I soon had to deal with rice puffing up, flowing over the top of the pot, spilling onto the floor and spreading from the kitchen to the living room. I was not allowed in the kitchen for some time, except to wash, dry, and put away dishes and silverware.
Q. Are you on Facebook or any of those places where readers may contact you or leave reviews?
Yes, at least I believe so, considering that with regard to technology I am hanging on to the 1950s. I wrote my first half-dozen law books on an Underwood upright office typewriter I received from my wife as I entered law school in 1960. I should take it to the Antiques Roadshow where I suspect I would learn it is worth more than she paid. I haven’t progressed very far since those days trying to keep up with the technology revolution. I am finally on Facebook, which is linked to this website. I added Goodreads which is linked to Facebook but also not to this website. I have doubts about the benefit of Goodreads. I don’t like the sound of twitter unless its related to birds in my garden.
As time has passed I have given Facebook more time. I dislike much about it, especially the push to advertise and the occasional emails that I haven't posted anything in a while. A while seems to mean in the past few days. Facebook constantly shows me a box that says "Boost Unavailable", which means my ad account status is disabled (that's fine) because of lack of any ads (that's fine also). Facebook will probably tire of me and misplace my site. Until then I like this website for much that some use Facebook, or Twitter, or whatever, to accomplish.
Please – no more high tech questions.Questions are updated periodically, last in December 2018. Content copyrighted. MWGORDONNOVELS.COM. All rights reserved.