Once upon a Crime: Robert Dugoni

by Lindsey A.

This week we feature an interview with bestselling crime writer Robert Dugoni, who will be at the Oak Harbor Library on Oct. 10. This is part of the series Once upon a Crime, in which local authors of mystery, thriller, and suspense novels visit the library on select Tuesdays to talk about their books and the craft of writing mysteries. Last week we shared an interview with Marty Wingate.

Bob’s books, including the critically acclaimed Tracy Crosswhite and David Sloane series, are sold and translated worldwide. He is known for high-speed, intricately plotted stories set in the Pacific Northwest. Bob has earned many honors for his work, from winning the Nancy Pearl Award and the Spotted Owl Award, to appearing on The New York Times Best Sellers list.

Bob was kind enough to spend some time chatting with Sno-Isle Libraries staff member and mystery enthusiast, Marie B. I hope you enjoy their conversation!

Interview with Robert Dugoni

Marie: Have you ever based characters on people you know?

Bob: All the time. Writing is a very personal endeavor and I know a lot of writers who pull from their past for experiences, scenes and characters. I laugh sometimes if a reader says a character isn’t believable when it’s based on a real person. The interesting thing is that people you do write about don’t see themselves in your characters, and people you don’t write about often do. It can get a little crazy that way. I’ve received emails from people I’ve never met telling me that one of my characters or the experiences they encounter, were exactly the experiences they encountered at a time in their lives. I write fiction, however, and all of my characters, ultimately, are fictional, because they come from my impressions and imagination.

Marie: What (or who) inspires you when creating characters who kill?

Bob: You know, I really don’t think I write killers all that well. I know some thriller writers who write from the perspective of the killer and it is really creepy. I’ve done that only once or twice in my career. Most recently, I wrote from the killer’s perspective in Her Final Breath and, to be honest, it’s difficult to go to that place. I think, like all good writing, writing from that perspective comes from a place within the writer, but that is not the writer. Weird as this sounds, I’ve come to believe over the years that, at times, I’m just a medium and the story is already out there, written. My job is to just take it down. It’s strange, I know, but I also know other writers who will understand what I’m saying.

Marie: Your experience as a lawyer has served you well in the David Sloane series. Do you have personal experiences that you draw on for the Tracy Crosswhite series?

Bob: Some experience for sure goes into those novels, but I rely heavily on professionals in law enforcement to help me to get it right. My novels usually contain a long series of acknowledgements at the end thanking all those people who provided their expertise – homicide detectives, forensic medical examiners, trackers, officers who investigate traffic accidents, CSI detectives. It’s fascinating for me and I couldn’t write the novels without them.

Marie: What mystery in your own life could be a plot for a book?

Bob: I’m laughing because I can’t really think of any. I live a pretty mundane life. I love to be home with my family and dogs more than anything. Thankfully, I’ve avoided any scenarios too horrific or worthy of exposition. I recently sold a literary novel that I had first written almost ten years ago and spent a lot of time refining over the last few years. I’m in the process of editing that book now and it is eerie all of the things in that novel I had forgotten about that have come to fruition. One of the characters suffered a stroke. I suffered a stroke about a year and a half ago. One of the characters made a trip to Costa Rica. I made that trip and didn’t recall the trip in the book. There have been other things as well.

Marie: What was the last amazingly good book you read?

Bob: I really enjoyed A Man Called Ove. It was poignant, funny, sad. All those things that make us readers continue to turn the pages, to laugh out loud, and to cry.

Marie: What do you do when you’re not writing?

Bob: I spend time with my family. I used to coach, but the kids have outgrown me. One is in college and the other will soon follow. So I’m working on rekindling hobbies I had before I was working two jobs. I bought a boat and recently went shrimping. Salmon fishing is also on the horizon. I also bought some new golf clubs. The others were hand-me-downs and not too good, but then, neither am I. I’m hoping to spend more time with friends. I also love to read and to listen to books on tape in the car. I have about a half an hour commute each way from my office and I have listened to dozens of books over the years. When you get the right narrator, it makes the time in the car just fly.

Marie: What was your favorite book as a child, and why?

Bob: I wasn’t really a child when I read it, but I’d have to say Lonesome Dove really had a profound impact on me. That book spoke to me at a time in my life when I was floundering in my legal career and really uncertain what I was going to do. I wanted to write novels, but I was terrified to step away and take that chance. That book helped me to get past that fear and to go for it. It was men on a high-adventure and they were such great characters, fearless in many ways. It was a book with drama, tension, passionate moment. I felt like I knew those characters, or at least I wanted to know them. And when that book ended, and Captain Call goes home again, this time alone, I cried for what he’d lost, and would never have again. I decided that I didn’t want to be that guy looking back at a life unfulfilled. I wanted to follow my dreams. Shortly thereafter, I did.

Marie: What do you enjoy most about interacting with fans?

Bob: It is particularly heart-warming when I get an email from a fan who thanks me for my novels and tells me that they’re ill, that they have cancer and are undergoing treatment, or that they live alone and can’t get out easily anymore. They tell me how much my novels have entertained them during difficult times in their lives and made stays in the hospital better because they feel as though they have company. Really, for a writer, or any artist for that matter, I don’t know that it can get any better than that.

Marie: What is the worst job you ever had?

Bob: I haven’t. I loved my jobs. I loved cutting lawns. I loved being my dad’s delivery boy, I loved working at a gas station. I loved being a janitor at a school and then at a hospital. I loved working construction and learning how to perform tile work. I loved the painting jobs I’ve had, I loved writing for the LA Times and I loved the law firm that I worked at. I’ve been very blessed this way. I honestly can’t think of any job that I hated, but if I had to come up with one, it’s probably working cleaning dishes at Stanford University to help pay my tuition. Some days the job was Saturday morning after a late Friday night and you can imagine what it’s like cleaning slop while hungover.

Marie: Which authors do you enjoy most, and what do you like about their books?

Bob: Years ago, I read a lot of Stephen Hunter. Not so much anymore. I love the Stephen King novels – not his horror books – but his other books, like The Green Mile, 11-22-63 and others. I think that man is a genius and with time, people will look back on his novels the way we look at the greats like Dickens and Hemingway. His descriptions are so vivid, so engaging, that’s what makes his work so frightening, and moving. Other than him, I read books more than I read authors. If someone tells me they’ve read a good book. I’ll read it. I love reading literary works especially.

Marie: What is your favorite thing about being an author?

Bob: Every day I wake up I’m excited to go to work.


Below is a list of Bob’s books in our collection and the titles mentioned in the interview.

Meet Robert Dugoni at the Oak Harbor Library on Oct. 10 at 2:00 p.m. Books from The Book Rack will be available for purchase.

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One response to “Once upon a Crime: Robert Dugoni”

  1. […] of mystery, thriller, and suspense novels. Previous authors interviewed include Marty Wingate, Robert Dugoni, and Kevin O’Brien. This week we feature an interview with author Stella Cameron. On Oct. 31, […]

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