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Interview: Michael Ruddy, Author of Conflicts With Interest

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A graduate of the University of Denver, with a degree in Engineering Administration, Michael Ruddy has spent the last 40 years associated with both the commercial and residential disciplines of the construction industry, which help inspire several events within his debut novel, Conflicts with Interest.

Michael Ruddy currently resides in Boulder, CO with his wife, five children, dog, and cutting horses.

First of all, could you tell us a bit about Conflicts with Interest. What is the story about, who are the characters, etc.

T.R. Morgan, a seasoned building professional, finds himself entangled in the combined corruption of the high profile law firm that is attacking him and the insurance companies that are supposed to defend him. Still enduring the painful memories brought on by the tragic death of his wife, he soon finds out nothing involving lawyers and insurance companies happens quickly. Instead of resolution, T.R. unwittingly enters a world of human trafficking, drugs, and illicit sex taking place behind the scenes. And his story comes forward to an explosive climax that no one could possibly foresee, least of all T.R. himself. This suspenseful tale of contemporary fiction is packed with enlightenment and high-stakes characters, provoking thought on a new subject in a new light.

What do you want readers to take away from reading Conflicts with Interest?

Knowledge. An entertaining lesson: a complete understanding of a broken legal system and how it affects them in their lives from the many conflicting viewpoints. Not only how a consumer understands the problem, but a legal and insurance perspective as well. We cannot expect to repair the system without a clear understanding of the real-life problem. The book will provide the necessary awareness. And, yes, believe it, it really does work as the story describes.

What was the most fun about writing Conflicts with Interest?

I have to say creating the various characters that helped make the story entertaining and believable.

What was the hardest part about writing Conflicts with Interest?

The editing process and all of the cuts. It was important that the book read very quickly – that the reader stayed fully engaged. With any type of legal explanation it is hard to limit information – in an effort to avoid being bogged down. And this legal subject was tedious. I must say, there could have been a lot more information. But then the book would have only interested lawyers.

What kind of research did you do for Conflicts with Interest?

Having staged the book in the San Francisco area, there was a great deal of research in the surrounding area as I have never lived there. It took several trips to decide and develop all of the pertinent locations – some great restaurants too. In addition to the geographic research, there was an extraordinary amount of learning the construction defect legal process.

Could you please tell us about your writing process?

The process is really quite simple. I maintain several notebooks with various details – let's say one is just outlines, timelines and events, another is full of ideas that I may or may not use, another, research, and so on and so forth. But, there is always one notebook devoted to writing a chapter that will result in a rough draft. From the draft, I go to the Mac.

Do you ever put yourself within your characters?

Not me so much; but in Conflicts with Interest, however, T.R. Morgan and I shared the same lifestyle, as I am also a builder.

Do you have any particular habits that you take part in while writing? By that I mean certain music you like to listen to, foods you like to eat, environment that helps you write better, etc.

Yes, I make an initial choice of which pen I will use that day. For instance: I'll use a Pilot rollerball to get ideas down quickly, or a stubby, bored out, Mont Blanc dipper for creativity… and stuffy moods require uncasing the venerable S.T. Dupont. You'll know which pen was used when – my lower lip starts to twitch when the words twist around.

Where do you get your ideas and inspirations?

No magic here, they just pop up from everywhere. I wish I could say there was some logical process – sorry.

How did you decide you wanted to be a writer? Was there any authors or books that made you think "Wow, that's what I want to do – craft stories of my own for others to read"?

No, nothing like that, consciously. I entered a TV essay contest when I was 10 and won it. Then the desire lay dormant for many years until I had a short story published when I was 50. Then Conflicts with Interest and now I'm working on a new novel of the contemporary West. It wasn't about wanting to be a writer. It was about participating in a contest initially, and then telling a story that needed to be told; and, now, telling more stories that need to be told.

What made you take that leap from "wanting" to be a writer, as opposed to "becoming" a writer? Many talk of being a writer and dip their toes in, but it seems there is often a sort of "push" to bring one over that wall.

There was no "wanting" or "becoming" distinction. With Conflicts with Interest, it was more about frustration with my real-life world in that I felt the story should be told for everyone's benefit – a duty. Knowledge that everyone should possess for a true understanding of how messed up the legal system has become. Now, the floodgates have opened and there is more to come. My wish is that each new story will teach something meaningful – along with providing the necessary entertainment.

How do you come up with the names of your characters? It almost seems as though, as an author, you have the continuous fun of naming children!

I know that many authors use their junk mail for names and some are a hoot. But, for me, the names usually come from a friend's childhood experience: somebody that already is a memorable character – usually with a story attached. Try asking a friend for their most memorable friend growing up and see what you get. I can't wait for you to meet Robbie Hopper in my next book.

Were you an avid reader as a child? If so, what were some of your favorite books?

No, I was pronounced a non-reader. Today we call it Dyslexic – back then we called it summer school. But I wouldn't trade the artistic result of a confused brain for anything; enjoyable in painting as well as writing.

If you had to summarize your life and give it a book title, what would that title be?

What Happened to Mikey?

What are you working on right now? Could you give us a taste/teaser (aka excerpt) from your current WIP?

My next book is about a tough western family set in the mountains of Wyoming in 1967.

The old man leaned forward in his stirrups and lifted himself out of the saddle – just right. "See that?"

HB pressed his horse closer to the edge, but kept his distance from the old man: one step and one arm length to be exact. Tom and Jimmy sat still, holding a tight rein. One representative was enough unless specifically requested. All three boys knew that.

Cornball stayed even with the lead horse as always. The black and white border collie seemed to be forever even with the old man. The alpha discussion had taken place much earlier in his life and he never forgot the ringing in his ear. Something the boy's could have learned from.

"Dammit HB … will you look there," the old man pointed his gloved rein-hand toward the north end of the ditch below. "Got a plan there, do ya?"

HB closed his eyes before looking at the object of the point. He knew it was coming.

What are you reading right now?

Anna Karenina

Who are some of your favorite authors?

Harry Middleton, Ayn Rand, John Grisham, Leo Tolstoy, Larry McMurtry, Stephen Crane and Jim Harrison.

If you could have lunch and chat with any author, dead or alive, who would it be and why?

Harry Middleton. I love talking about the meaning of fly-fishing with older-than-me rascals.

What do you hope to accomplish within the next five years?

I would like to tell a few more stories.

Is there anything that you would like to add? That you would like readers to know about you or your writing?

I would encourage thoughts on the book from the reader's perspective. Not so much a review but a notion of what was learned and could be taken away by the reader into their own life. My contact email: info@rodeopublishing.com/.

Also, please visit my blog: www.constructiondefects.blogspot.com/

Finally, do you have a favorite excerpt from Conflicts with Interest? Could you share that with us, please?

If not for a man named Martine Segarz, Perua Bufete's decapitated head would have been found washed ashore on one of Mexico's pristine beaches.
Martine Segarz lived in San Ysidro, California, just the other side of the Otay Gate at the Tijuana border. The friendship was now it its tenth year, but it didn't start out like normal friendships do. It started out in a jam for Perua, back when Martine was a new border agent for the U.S. – before the Homeland Security consolidation that changed the name to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, or "CBP."

Martine had signaled Perua over for a routine inspection when he found eight "undocumented" men wrapped in oriental rugs and stacked on the van's floor. As Martine reached for his Berretta, Perua reached for his satchel and opened it quickly, pretending to produce documentation. Martine took his hand off his sidearm when he saw the stacks of sandwich bags, each marked "10k" in red felt marker, packed with twenty-dollar bills. There were eight bags in the fake leather man-purse that Martine had removed, along with Perua's cell phone number.
Ordinarily, this would be surprising, having occurred on the U.S. side of the border. But things were changing rapidly with the drug Cartel's control of Tijuana and the fear of retribution. It was a known fact that eighty percent of Tijuana law enforcement and government officials were on the payroll of the Cartel. More than a few of the U.S. agents were on the payroll as well.

Perua made his day-job wage in an armored car factory owned by the Cartel. The smuggling was his own private enterprise and no one knew of his relationship with Martine, which made it so easy it almost seemed legal.
Perua's reasoning was that his efforts were small tortillas compared to the drugs and sex-slaves that were flowing across the border daily. The sex-slaves, as an example, were bringing $20 thousand each as a standard rate and they were being delivered all over the U.S. and Canada. As fast as the tall, blue-eyed blondes flew into Mexico from the eastern block countries, they were moved "Norte." After, of course, a short period of orientation, or maybe better said, reorientation. No, they weren't going to be models after all.

So, who really cared about a few undocumented workers who just wanted a farm or ranch job and some money to send home? Perua and Martine were just meeting a small niche demand outside of the Cartel business. But, Perua knew that his head would go if the Cartel found out.

Martine had to share his take with a few other agents and it was no big deal. He was careful and the U.S. agents new how to split a take, equally divided by those involved, sometimes as many as ten agents for an evening, split like waiters pooling tips. They would stay away from the drug trafficking though; you had to draw the line of morality somewhere, a small piece wouldn?t hurt anyone. Perua, on the other hand, received $12 thousand per worker, netting him two for expenses after the U.S. toll charge.

Perua's call reached Martine in San Diego, where he was shopping for groceries at the local Costco. Martine was standing in front of a Sony big screen TV, eating a free pizza roll, when he answered his phone. "Hola."

"Coyote?"

"Si."

"Esta?"

"Si. Seis."

The call ended and both knew what to do, simple as playground thought. Perua would drive to Gate Six of the Otay POE with six undocumented workers at 6:00 p.m. that night – with six sandwich bags. Martine would make sure he was at Gate Six at the correct time. Then, Iowa's work force would grow by six new employees, all ready to work at the Sanderson Ranch. The ounce of cocaine in Perua's pocket would merely be an oversight on Martine's part.

Perua was amazed at how much product was moving through the POE as he maneuvered in line toward gate six. He suspected it all around him, looking at the strange vehicles and passengers that were visible – a steady stream of fearful faces. He wondered who would ever drive alone across the border, looking over to the oncoming traffic headed into Mexico. Didn't they know American women were being raped in the Mexican police stations while their spouses were at the ATMs withdrawing bribe money?

Everyone seemed to be focused on the poor bastards making the five-day trek over the mountains to sneak under a fence in Cochise County, Arizona. Perua's clients rode in air-conditioned style to their appointed destinations. Perua smiled to himself while thinking, what were these so-called "Minutemen" doing? Volunteering with their silly digital cameras, monitoring the two billion dollar fence with wireless technology. Were they just looking the other way, or were they that stupid – just tracking the decoys?

Martine halted the Ford van to a stop at the driver's window and reached in, taking the wrinkled lunch bag from Perua, who offered a gaping, split-toothed smile. Martine made a big sweeping movement with his left arm, waving the Ford on like a Matador. He tucked the lunch bag into his uniform jacket.
Mother America had six new dependents.

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