Friday, May 1, 2020

Ed Ruggero

Ed Ruggero is a West Point graduate and former Army officer who has studied, practiced, and taught leadership for more than twenty-five years. His client list includes the FBI, the New York City Police Department, CEO Conference Europe, the CIA, the Young Presidents Organization, Forbes, among many others. He has appeared on CNN, The History Channel, the Discovery Channel, and CNBC and has spoken to audiences around the world on leadership, leader development and ethics. He lives in Philadelphia.

Ruggero's new novel is Blame the Dead.

My Q&A with the author:

How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

The combination of title and cover art have to compel the reader to want to find out more.

Blame the Dead is actually lifted right out of a line of dialogue in the novel. When the protagonist, Lieutenant Eddie Harkins, starts investigating the murder that kicks off this story, the comment he hears most often about the victim is that “he got what he deserved.” The dead man’s colleagues don’t seem to care about bringing the killer to justice. But that’s not an option for the lawman, Harkins, who says, “You can’t blame the dead guy for his own murder.”

There’s more than that to the title, of course. The verb “blame” is weighted, smacking of accountability, a little dash of guilt, maybe a bit of vengeance. And using the word “dead” lets readers know that this is high stakes stuff. I like that the title is staccato, a little rat-a-tat-tat. The second book in the series is Comes the War, and my wife refers to the third book, which I’m only now laying out, as Verb the Noun.

What's in a name?

In my Author’s Note I talk about my grandmother, who landed at Ellis Island in 1905, an unmarried, uneducated twenty-two-year old who did not speak English. Decades later, three of her sons served during WW2. Many of my characters are the children or grandchildren of immigrants, because those new Americans shouldered their share of the burdens.

My father’s parents were from Sicily, and my mother’s ancestors from Ireland. Those were the hyphenated Americans whose stories I was most familiar with, so many of my characters come from those backgrounds. The main characters are from the Philadelphia neighborhood where my parents grew up and met.

My protagonist, Eddie Harkins, shares a name with my great grandfather; and the main female character shares a name with my wife’s great aunt. I like weaving those threads through a story because they make me feel connected, and I hope they give the reader a sense of how connected we all are.

How surprised would your teenage reader self be by your new novel?

My teenage self wrote overwrought, over-long prose. I didn’t have the confidence to write simply, to trust that I could find the right phrase or word. Instead, I’d just pile on the sentences, hoping that something would break through the noise. I now have the courage to edit.

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

I write the chapters in order; not all writers do. I pay a lot of attention to the beginning because I know that, as a reader, I expect a lot from the opening. It has to grab me. Since I write the ending last, I’ve had 500 or so manuscript pages to think about it, to get to know the characters really well, to see the whole arc of the story. I love writing the ending and there is a terrific sense of accomplishment when I type “The End,” even though I know that’s actually the beginning of the (sometimes) arduous and critically important revision process.

Do you see much of yourself in your characters? Do they have any connection to your personality, or are they a world apart?

When my kids were growing up, I was always surprised when someone made a big deal about how much we look alike. It was harder for me to see. Similarly, I don’t see a lot of me in my characters, though I have had friends make that observation. One Army buddy, a voracious reader I’ve known for nearly forty years, said the protagonist of Blame the Dead, Eddie Harkins, shares my values. In real life, I don’t want to spend a lot of time in the company of people whose values I don’t respect, so I guess it makes sense that the character I most want readers to love is a likable guy. I hope I’m like that.

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

The vast majority of my work, both fiction and non-fiction, features military people. I draw on my experience with soldiers when I create fictional characters: what they sound like, what they worry about, their quirks and idiosyncrasies, their generosity or—sometimes—meanness of spirit. In my fiction there are little vignettes that come from my actual experience or from stories shared with me by other veterans. Generally, the more outrageous, funny and implausible an event seems, the more likely it was drawn from real life.
Visit Ed Ruggero's website.

Writers Read: Ed Ruggero.

My Book, The Movie: Blame the Dead.

The Page 69 Test: Blame the Dead.

--Marshal Zeringue