Rocking Out with Frank Lauria

Frank Lauria and the Maltese Falcon.

Frank Lauria and the Maltese Falcon.

It’s been a good few years for Frank Lauria. The Giants won the World Series…again! He’s released the highly acclaimed Fog City Blues and Demon Pope the first new Doctor Orient novel in twenty years. In June 2015, Openroad Media will complete the Doctor Orient series by re-publishing the classic book franchise. We caught up with up Frank and hoped he wouldn’t walk away with our Maltese Falcon.

How would you compare the Beat writing process to todays? 

The Beat writing process and today’s process… I think the Beat writing process was more instinctive, intuitive, there was a lot of free-style practicing. We used to practice writing to jazz. Just putting on jazz music and writing poems, words, whatever. Stream of consciousness, and it would be a form of writing exercises for us. I know that Kerouac wrote that way… I learned from them. Hanging out, from them I learned bits and pieces of writing from all of them. Certain angles to approach, approaching the subject or the page from a very different angle, which I try to do in my novels. I try to cut, it’s kind of cinematic. Cut from action and come back to a quiet dinner or someone driving in a car, it’s an unexpected segue.

William S. Burroughs’s cut-up method I have tried. He used the fold-up method. You would fold up a magazine and connect various columns that don’t belong together and read across and see what came out of that.

What made you turn to Detective Fiction? 

Why I turned to detective fiction. In my family nobody ever told you anything. You were always finding out family secrets, things no one would talk about… I was always drawn into it, I mean since I was a kid and guys were jumping on the running boards of old Fords shooting at people. I kind of enjoyed the old genre. I tell people you can learn the truth from fiction because in fiction people are trying to tell the truth, in nonfiction they’re fudging the facts all the time to fit whatever agenda they have in that piece of work

During the 60s when the hippies and all of that started to go over ground, I realized that everybody was getting it wrong. They were concentrating on the long hair, free sex, all of that, but what they didn’t figure was that this was a spiritual movement. This is why so many people are into yoga today. This is why people are watching what they eat. This is when macrobiotic diets came in and people started realizing that they were being herded.

I underwent a spiritual change during that time. I wanted to write about that and plus I’ve always believed that telepathy is possible if we could get rid of the screens between us. You can’t lie in the process of telepathy, which makes it very difficult for human beings. Lying…it’s kind of the thread that keeps the social fabric together.

And I wanted to create a nonviolent hero. The guy doesn’t solve his problems by shooting people. This is why I started the Dr. Orient series. I wanted to see if I could pull it off. I mean it was my first novel.

The second novel Raga Six, I quit my job when I got the advance from my first novel. Went to Morocco, went to Tangier, went to Rome to write the novel. I was a very romantic character in my youth. Raga Six hit. Out of the blue it became a bestseller. For some reason people responded to it and that’s how it worked. I started figuring out new ways to do Dr. Orient. I didn’t want to write the same novel over and over again.

How has Owen evolved over the 8 novels? 

This is the eighth book and he’s about fifty. I’ ve aged him very slowly. He’s been broke because of his search for enlightenment. He usually worked as a physician and now it’s tough for him to get a job because his resume is spotty. You know they don’t want guys who leave a job, then come back and he can’t tell people he was involved in telepathic research. And he doesn’t have as much money as he used to. He had a fortune, now he doesn’t. And he’s aged, he is a little more…slightly cynical, I won’t say totally cynical, but he’s not as wide eyed. He’s a little tougher.

He’s aged certainly, but he’s kind of my vehicle to talk about all the things going wrong in my life, you know what I mean?

Dr. Orient applies for a job at St. Luke’s 

The head woman, Hannah, interviews him. She’s a very together person. She disapproves of what he’s done with his life. She was in the Peace Corps after college. After that she grew up. But she’s oddly attracted.

He is now, however, through this book…more stable. He and Hannah have a tentative relationship. He has a serious job now. So he’s doing okay at the moment.

Tell us about Sybelle. 

Well you know Sybelle is always getting him into trouble. Sybelle is a professional psychic. She’s a very talented psychic. She has a townhouse in New York and she was one of Orient’s students, a telepathic student. He realized she had telepathic potential and they worked together on it. He disapproves of the fact that she’s a professional psychic and takes money for this, but there’ s nothing he can do about it.

Is that a generational thing where someone like Owen from the 60s sees it as a spiritual thing, something to be kept pure and she doesn’t? 

No, she just takes money for her services. Her services are pure, but with her it’s okay. What he sees is if people start taking money for doing this there will be a point at which the money outweighs the learning process, the teaching process. So that’s why. There is a corruptive influence with it and so that’s his fear with doing this for money and being a professional.

There’s Sybelle and there’s also Moe. 

Moe Klein, my new character. He is the FBI archaeological and art expert. His colleagues behind his back call him Museum Mo. He carries a very small gun, which is something else they make fun of him for. He has a bad back and a heavier gun would just throw him off.

What made you decide to bring in a character like Moe? 

I wanted to ground Dr. Orient a little bit. I wanted to bring him closer to real life as opposed to him being off on his own dealing with vampires and werewolves like that, so as I said, to be grounded a little bit more with the real world and more to let the real world deal with him and see what he does too. I mean Moe gets to see what Orient can do. He develops a little respect for what Orient does, whereas before he considered it trickery.

What kind of research did you do before you sit down to write? 

I did at least a year of research on the Nazis for this. That was the nuts and bolts part, the hard part, the reality part. Then I have a library of occult books that I refer to and it depends on what form of magic because each book is a different form of magic. I touched on Macumba and Ayahuasca in South America. I touched on snake worship in Marrakech. I used archeological artifacts like the Key of Solomon and the Spear of Destiny which was very important in those books. Hitler made a big point of going to Austria and seizing the Spear of Destiny when he took power. As you know a lot of the Nazis were into the occult. So yes, I do a lot of research.

Each book deals with a different form of magic, was that your plan when you started your series? 

I never thought it would expand. I thought I would maybe be lucky to do one or two, at the most three. The first one was of course concentrated more on the Black Mass and more traditional themes of the occult and then I kind of got into Vampirism in the second book and werewolves in the third. I was about ten years ahead of the zombie craze in 1991.

[Honorious] he did have a grimoire. Every good magician has to have a book where you handwrite your own spells. He was historically in favor of human sacrifice, but so was probably the king who installed him.

When you decided to do the Nazis you kind of have to hit on how the church dealt with the Nazis over the years.

[The church] was a big factor in helping [the Nazis] escape, which astounds me because they weren’t any great friends of religion in Germany. I guess they laid off bombing the Vatican…. There were a lot of priests in favor of the Nazi program.

When you did your research on the Nazis was there anything that really surprised you? 

I didn’t realize how actively involved [the Nazis] were in killing each other. They were scrambling for power constantly and knifing each other in the back. And how they managed to pull it off is interesting to me. I keep watching these documentaries and I’m still amazed that they managed to pull this thing off. But I think the world… at that time you had Mussolini in Italy, you had Germany, Japan, all militaristic states rising at the same time. People seemed to believe in this philosophy. When the Germans came up, Hitler was using airplanes politically for the first time. He was flying all over to get elected. He was using all the tools, propaganda, film, radio. All these were new at the time and he was using these to hoodwink the public. And he did a very good job.

What do you think is the appeal of the Detective over the years? 

It’s this lone man who is going to try to set things right, or try to find out who did what and usually he is going against the grain, usually nobody wants to talk to him. He is a lone figure trying to do the right thing or at least one right thing in his life. And I think that appeals to people I think we all feel that we’d like to address some wrongs and stand up for the little guy. You know we all have that thing but of course it’s very hard to do in real life.

What’s the one thing Owen wants to set right? I think he would like to see his spiritual life and his material life meet and kind of balance at a certain point, which it has not done yet. His spiritual life is kind of throwing him a little off balance in many cases

You’re operating under rules that haven’t been written yet and you are trying to do the right thing. II somebody hits you, you hit them back, that’s a normal reaction. If you’re kind of spiritual, somebody hits you, you take a step back and ask ‘why are you doing this?’ So you can get hit again, certainly, while you ask that question. It’s a little bit of turning the other cheek and finding out isn’t there another way of solving your problems, besides violence. I see video games and we had the most sophisticated tools available to us on the internet, Xbox, all of it and all we can think of to do with it is shoot each other. I mean I haven’t seen a game that makes sense yet.

Owen has to stay behind the lines, but he might not even know where the lines are yet. In a sense he has to go outside the lines because he needs to ask questions that aren’t asked. How do you rectify those two things? 

I don’t. That’s part of the problem in these books. He is always trying to solve this problem and maybe there is no solution. Maybe it’s just a juggle all the way through. You know you just keep the balls in the air and keep going. I’m still trying to figure it out myself.

He’s very good at self-control. He can put out a candle with his mind. He can knock something over with his mind. He cannot make people fly in the air if you know what I mean. I try to limit his abilities because then he’d be a superhero or an unreal character. I’d like to keep the connection to what we’re doing on Earth here. So he is still working it out.

Do you think the era of the public intellectual is gone? 

No it’s periods. You know, it’ll happen again. It’ll happen, it just has to happen. It’s normal, like waves coming in. Somebody has to spearhead it. It has to capture the imagination. And right now the internet is really great at dulling the imagination. It’s dulling the spirit. I mean movements just get absorbed on screen and they disappear.

Everything is politically correct, everything is mediated.

Tell me about Fog City Blues. 

This is a left-wing thriller that has nothing to do with Dr. Orient. It’s a whole other kind of character, a more pulp character. A rogue DEA agent who used to likel his drugs and got into trouble. They gave him a chance on 9/11 to be dead and he takes it. He finds out it’s a setup…He takes off and goes to Canada. He becomes another person and comes back as Max LeBlue. One of the interesting things I did was find out how you could get out of town on 9/11 because the island was blocked. I had him go to Hoboken, from Hoboken to Atlantic City where you don’t need credit cards for your hotels. Then to Chicago where he crossed over to Canada. Now he’s back in San Francisco and Marin County and he has a lot to say about these places… I kind of satirized life in Marin County, but there’s a lot of serious things there’s a lot of Hell’s Angels types, trafficking of human beings, along with meth. It’s fast and funny in spots.

Demon Pope and Fog City Blues are both available from Rothco Press.