Q&A: Robert Greer, Author of Astride a Pink Horse

This month mystery writer Robert Greer sets aside his familiar CJ Floyd series and heads further afield with Astride a Pink Horse (starred review, LJ 2/1/12), an ambitious story that revolves around World War II and the Cold War and weaves together a seemingly disparate cast of characters, led by a female African American Air Force major and a Denver-based web journalist who has roots in the Dominican Republic. LJ mystery columnist Teresa L. Jacobsen talks to him about his writing process and future plans.

After successfully writing series mystery titles, what led you to a stand-alone?

I decided to write a stand-alone mystery/thriller after ten CJ Floyd mysteries for three reasons: (1) to develop a new female protagonist and surround her with a strong supporting cast; (2) to use the Rocky Mountain region and Wyoming, specifically, as the backdrops for the new series; and (3) to explore some skeletons in the U.S. closet left over from World War II and the Cold War.

Your book has an arresting title.

The title relates to the image of a horse and rider who have suffered the consequences of a catastrophic event. I don’t want to give too much away about that image because it is that vision that in many ways is the metaphoric message of the book. The image arose from something I read during my research for the book.

Was it difficult to inject a little humor (some of your characters are pretty quirky) into a topic that is laden with historical pain?

Not at all. Most of the humor, at least for me, has its basis in irony, which is, [to paraphrase] Twain, the backbone of a writer’s message.

How did you manage to keep track of all your narrators?

Keeping track of the narrating wasn’t a big challenge because I have used multiple narrators and changing points of view in several other novels. What was difficult, however, was keeping the time lines straight as I moved back and forth among the various narrators. Luckily, I have a terrific editor and two seasoned copy editors who have kept me on track through many books. It is their skill and those extra sets of eyes that help me keep a novel’s pace and its time sequences on track.

Bernadette and Cozy, your protagonists, both have medical conditions or disabilities that keep them from pursuing their professional dreams. Was that intentional, and did your medical background come into play when you created them?

I purposely gave my central characters, Cozy Coseia and Bernadette Cameron, medical maladies that kept them from pursuing their dreams. My background as a doctor helped me quite a bit in that respect. I did have to research what simple malady might ground a fighter pilot like Bernadette, and, of course, I had to do some research on motorcycles and speed to fully explore Cozy’s medical issues.

What can readers expect next from you?

My next novel will feature Bernadette and Cozy in a second adventure. I don’t have a title for the book yet, but they will be confronted with the murder of an astrophysicist who, just days prior to his death, discovers what he believes to be a life-sustaining planet similar to Earth.