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Between The Pages, Past
A Mystery Column
By Dennis Collins

Interview with John Robinson

I ran across John Robinson when I was struggling with my first novel. John had the same problems and we both belonged to the same internet forum dedicated to dealing with publisher issues. We seemed to have a lot in common back then and still do. We’ve remained friends over the last decade in spite of never meeting in person. John has been married to Barb for forty years and they have two grown sons and a couple of grandchildren. John is a powerful writer with a captivating style. His books are... Until the Last Dog Dies, When Skylarks Fall, To Skin a Cat (Joe Box Christian mysteries). The Radiance (Sci-fi), Last Call (Thriller), Pitfall (John Brenner - soldier of fortune). Here’s our conversation.

Dennis: How long have you been writing?

John: It was New Years Day, 1999, and I was watching one of the bowl games on TV when suddenly I started seeing something different on the screen. Don’t laugh, but it was almost like watching a movie. During that I was unaware of the passing of time. When I roused myself I found only a few minutes had passed, but amazingly I had the entire plot of my apocalypse-with-a-twist novel Last Call completely lined up in my head; it was then just a matter of writing it down and editing it. That process took about a year. Finding a house that would take such a controversial novel proved to be a challenge, though, and it wasn’t until 2008 that it was sold to Sheaf House Publishers, and it came out in 2010. When it went out of print last year I re-published it on Kindle. During those intervening years I wrote and sold the Joe Box novels, and began the John Brenner series.


Dennis: What made you settle on writing mysteries?

John: I’ve always been a curious sort, and I’m intrigued not only by the “who” of a crime, but also the “why.”


Dennis: Do you consider yourself the author of strictly Christian mysteries?

John: Not anymore. Once I finished the Joe Box series for the CBA, my agent and I decided that genre was too confining for what I was stretching for; thus the John Brenner series was birthed.


Dennis: Explain the Christian mystery genre.

John: About the best I can do is try to explain what I was attempting with Joe Box. Joe’s a Vietnam vet and former Cincinnati cop, now working as a down-at-the-heels private investigator. In the first story he’s just recently come to the Lord, but given his violent past he’s not really sure how, or if, it’s going to work out for him. He’s a Cincinnati resident, an unwillingly transplanted Southerner with a strong code of honor and an almost pathological need to right wrongs, but he also has a dark side and a sarcastic mouth. To my knowledge Joe’s an anomaly in the CBA, and was a real kick to write


Dennis: Was there a particular writer who influenced your style?

John: I would have to be Robert Crais. I love his Elvis Cole character, as well as Cole’s taciturn sidekick Joe Pike.


Dennis: What do you do when you’re not writing books?

John: My fulltime job keeps me pretty busy. Beyond that, I’m an inveterate reader.


Dennis: Tell us a little about you.

John: I’ve been married for forty years to my lovely and longsuffering wife Barb. We have two grown sons (one of them married, a missionary with a family of his own), and a little daughter waiting for us in heaven, and probably driving Saint Peter to distraction. For the conspiracy theorists among us (and you know who you are), I’m director of business development for a large company that does medical contracting work for the military and the federal government. My favorite movie is Open Range, my favorite musical is The Phantom of the Opera, my favorite band is Yes, my favorite color is blue, and my favorite meal is country ham, greens beans with fatback, cathead biscuits with clover honey, spoonbread, chocolate pie, and good, but not great, coffee. Due to a brain injury when I was nine I’m dyslexic, and can only type with my thumbs and index fingers. I also have syndactyly, giving me webbed toes. Now, aren’t you glad you’ve read this far? I know I am! As a boy I was reared in a denominational church, but it never really took. By the time I’d entered high school I’d become a secret, hardcore atheist—the secret part being Southern boys from nice Christian homes outwardly have to show at least the letter of piety, if not the law—wink, wink, nudge nudge. I had no idea as a high school geek my dark mindset would change in just a few years, and in a big way.


Dennis: This is your space to talk about anything you’d like.

John: There’s a story I once heard about Winston Churchill. The time was either the late fifties or early sixties, and by then Churchill was quite elderly when he was asked to give the commencement address for a large university.

The day came, and the auditorium was packed with students and alumni wanting to hear strong words of wisdom from the man who’d basically saved Britain during the darkest days the country had ever known. Slowly Sir Winston took the platform. Standing behind the podium, he gazed out at the sea of faces.

Then setting his famous bulldog jaw, he ground out these words: “Never give up. Never, never, never, never give up.” He fixed them with a gaze of iron. “Never.”

Then he sat down. And the place erupted in praise.
That’s what I try to tell people: “never give up.”
Just that.

2014 Past Columns