Author Interview The Purple Heart Detective Agency


Tell us a little about yourself and your background?

I was born and raised in Kansas, the grandson of two ranchers. My parents were both from the first generation of their families to attend college and they both became teachers.

My mother is a painter and an artist, but also taught language arts and literature and although my father is a great reader, it from dear ole Mom that I developed my love of literature. She got me to read early and often and I read everything – crazy stuff, Alexandre Dumas novels that our library didn’t even have, not The Three Musketeers or The Man in the Iron Mask, although I read those, of course, but the two sequels to Musketeers, and much more obscure stuff, The Son of the Phantom by Lee Falk, Jules Verne, Ray Bradbury, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and westerns by Louis L’Amour. But I wasn’t a total nerd. I lettered in basketball and golf in high school. Not college level material, although my father still holds the scoring record in Kansas for 1A basketball in the state finals, 49 points, I think. He could play, and was a college and professional official back in the day.

I have a great brother and sister, both back in Kansas, and a wonderful extended family. My wife Vicki is the glue of the household, and my step-children and grandchildren keep us all busy.

  1. What were you like at school?

I like to think I was a bit of a renaissance man. Not sure I was, but I like to think it. But I did play basketball (pretty good), and golf (not very good). I was on the debate team and was in a couple of plays. I was on the high school newspaper for a couple of years. But mainly I ran with my friends and was highly into music. Saw a lot of great concerts back then. Partied more than I should. Far from a ladies’ man. Never knew what to say.

  1. Were you good at English?

Yeah, I was good at English, but it wasn’t until I got to college at Fort Hay State in western Kansas that I really ever thought about English as a vocation. I just liked to read and therefore, had learned to write by imitating my heroes. I was initially a business major. In fact, I had Senator Jerry Moran as an instructor, mentor and friend, but he knew and I knew I was not meant for the business world. He kind of laughed about it. Anyway, one day I realized all the classes I was taking as electives would come closer to letting me graduate with a degree in English. Then with the assistance of two of my buddies, Tim Goulding and Bill Meyers, I graduated with a degree in English. Then perversely, I went into sales for 14 years. Ha. Go figure.

  1. What are your ambitions for your writing career?

What did Elvis Costello say, “Tiny steps, almost real….,” well, that’s where I am today. Would I love to be a full-time novelist? I would say yes, but I have learned you have to be careful what you ask for – you just might get it! Writing is pretty solitary as a craft. I love teaching literature and film at Gateway Community and Technical College. Turning this hungering learner onto an awesome work of literature or a great film, knowing that it is a game-changer for him or her is pretty cool. Writing full-time might be isolating. However, a little income from it would be welcome, so I could teach a bit less and write a bit more. Right now, I have one rough draft of a novel that has possibilities in my hall closet on the shelf. I have a sequel to “Purple Heart” in my head trying to find its way out through my fingers onto the printed page. And there’s a serious novel, my Great American Novel, percolating too. Waiting for the right moment, which is soon.

  1. Which writers inspire you?

Okay, there are two sets – the entertainers and the literary. For entertainers, Graham Greene’s spy novels are the best I’ve read. His body of work is the ideal of what I’d like to pattern my career. He wrote what he called “entertainments” and then serious novels – in his case, serious Catholic novels. But my favorite of his is easily The Quiet American. In that one he crosses the literary with the entertainment and ended up with a masterpiece.

There are lots more, of course, which I must mention: Entertainers: Robert B. Parker, whom I am happy to say I met and who kindly did me a favor; Martin Cruz Smith (close to Greene in the literary); Don Winslow (whose surf noir is most close to my current series); and James Crumley (the decadence of his detective novels greatly influenced me).

As for the literary, Hemingway captured me as a young man (although I know the current vibe on him is regarding his misogyny, but lordy, the man could turn a sentence); John Steinbeck; F. Scott Fitzgerald; and over the last few years, I’ve been taken with the transcendentalists, even to the point of obsession. It all started with reading Susan Cheever’s American Bloomsbury. It so captured me that I wrote this gushing note to Ms. Cheever and she kindly replied. Nice of her. I read the sequel on Louisa May Alcott too, loved it, and then read pretty much all the transcendentalist work I could lay my hands on. So how nerdy is this: I really, really like Ralph Waldo Emerson. Try saying that at the sports bar during a Bengals game.

  1. So, what have you written? (*Include books, novellas, short stories, poems, blogs, awards or anything of interest.)

Well, over the last 10 years, I have graded about 9,000 essays, so have not had a lot of writing time, but prior to that, I wrote a novel that is still on the shelf in the hall closet. It’s a caper novel about stealing a bunch of money from the IRS – I think I figured out how! I did write a chapter in Writer’s Digest’s book for 2007 on Christian Fiction. Look at the previous two sentences and say, “Cognitive Dissonance!”

Before that, I was a contributing editor and wrote a lot, and I mean a lot of magazine articles on apparel for trade magazines. There are still a few of them floating around on the web, but the recession of 2008 knocked some of those trade mags out of circulation and thus most of those pieces are gone for posterity. I did win an award at the University of Cincinnati for a travel piece I wrote about Ouray, Colorado. It was a nice cash award, but it has not been published.

I have submitted poems to magazines and written some songs which friends and I have recorded; in particular Cam Miller, did some amazing work, but nothing professionally. The Purple Heart Detective Agency has been my baby for about two and a half years.

  1. Where can we buy or see them?

Better buy the book. That’s all that’s available right now. But there will be more. I am hard at it right now. Roddy and Grace have more to say and more crimes to solve. And I’ve got the Great American Novel somewhere up there in the grey matter organizing itself.

  1. Give us an insight into your main characters. What do they do that is so special?

Roddy and Grace are heroes to our nation. These soldiers made a big sacrifice – they lost limbs, and they lost friends in war to protect our nation. Forget the politics. The men and women in our armed forces are heroes. What we asked them to do while we stayed at home having to sacrifice so very little is amazing.

And the novel is about what happens to two of them upon their return. They can’t find jobs. Their worlds have moved on, but strangely theirs were put on hold by their injuries. Their old lives are gone and to replace those vacuums they have opened a detective agency, using the skills they acquired in Iraq. However, the two manage their problems quite differently: Grace carries his problems on his back in a big heavy bag that gets bigger with every case he takes on; Roddy is the more disturbed—violence, drugs, and illegal behavior. He is striking out. Neither has reached equilibrium. This particular case allows them the first steps to reintegrate, but it’s a hell of a ride! The Purple Heart Detective Agency is meant to be a page-turner, a cliff-hanger, and a laugh at the same time.

  1. What are you working on at the minute?

The sequel is started already. I have the beginning and the ending and am outlining over the holidays to fit the pieces together. I have a short story or two in mind—I’ve been reading Dashiell Hammett’s The Big Knockover, a volume of short stories and novellas about the Continental Op. I want to put Grace and Roddy into action in a short piece or two this year too. Dashiell Hammett staggers me with his dialogue and storytelling, so I’ll use him for inspiration and then put him aside before I start writing as Dash can be pretty intimidating to someone writing about sleuths.

  1. What’s it about? (*if relevant)

The sequel is about dualism. There are two cases. There’s two villains. There are much bigger parts for the two women in the story – Janelle and Karen move to the forefront a bit. In particular, the first case is about reincarnation (two lives) and the second is about predictive policing (how the past can impact the future). But really, like the first, the novel is about Grace and Roddy. Having lost legs, they are out of step with society. That sounds like a bad pun, and it is, but it is also true. The case(s) are simply excuses to put our heroes out there and let these soldiers not be forgotten. The case puts them out there to have an audience with whom to talk. They have a story and America needs to hear it.

  1. What genre are your books?

Good question. You know how on youtube that there is this genre called mash-ups? Those are two songs mixed together to form a new sound – one with ties to the past and links to the new. The Purple Heart Detective Agency is like that, I think. So what are its ingredients? Let’s do it like a cocktail: one part hard-boiled detective novel, a ’la Raymond Chandler 1940’s style (think Bogey); one part war story (think Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket); and one part Martin and Lewis goofy comedy.

So what is the genre? Perhaps Surf Noir comes closest. Who’s the godfather of that genre right now? Don Winslow easily wears that fedora. Read Savages—well, read it after you read The Purple Heart Detective Agency. Winslow kicks serious ass in that novel. And in his others as well. Surf Noir has a California setting, a slacker mentality, including the pot smoking, violence, profanity (used for effect and humor), and of course humor. Hopefully, what we’re doing will make you laugh while you’re hooked into the plot.

  1. What draws you to this genre?

I wanted to write a book that both women and men would read while sitting at the pool, in bed, or on the couch and enjoy. It’s supposed to be a fast read with short chapters, but chapters that propel you into the next chapter. I want you to care about the characters; they should make you laugh and cry. Their world is kind of a hyper reality, but the main characters are intended as real people – people with whom you could identify, someone who could be your brother.

  1. Which actor/actress would you like to see playing the lead character from your most recent book?

I think James McAvoy would be a terrific Grace. Grace is guilt-filled and McAvoy seems to have that down perfectly, but he’s capable of a great range of emotion. Grace has experienced loss and rage. And ultimately regret. McAvoy could do all that.

Viola Davis would be perfect as Janelle Jackson, the homicide detective. She has ties to Grace, but can’t be his big sis anymore. He’s out in the cold cruel on his own, but Viola Davis has the humanity to show Grace the way back from his exile of the soul. Yeah, she’s be great at that.

Roddy is a tricky role. He’s bigger and younger than Grace, but he’s a loose cannon and dangerous. Very, very dangerous. Chris Hemsworth has the build and the look to carry off Roddy’s particular brand of madness.

For Angie, we would need someone who can jump the tracks at a moment’s notice. She’s the love interest for Grace, but she’s also the client and there’s this iffy thing going on with her the whole book. Hmmm, Natasha Henstridge has the right look, but inside me, I’m always thinking she’s gonna go all “species” on everyone, so her brand of crazy might be too close to the surface there.

  1. How much research do you do?

Quite a lot on the weaponry used in the book. During these days of the NSA recording our every keystroke, I did wonder at times when I typed in queries into Google on how much a bullet deflects going through a glass pane window and what kind of bullet to use for such an assassination and other such matters. But I eventually found most of my answers on the web, at the library or from asking a soldier who’d been there. As regards to the NSA, I’m sure I’m on a list somewhere.

I asked a lot of questions of the men and women veterans who came through my classroom. I owe them a ton for their patience at my questions. Any mistakes on that front certainly fall to me for misunderstanding. And for mistakes of omission — as Donald Rumsfeld so ineloquently said, “for not knowing what we do not know.”

  1. Have you written any other novels in collaboration with other writers?

Nope, and I don’t see how that actually works. Stanley Kubrick famously said that novels are written by a single individual and movies should also be the vision of a single person. I tend to agree with him. Writing a novel is often about denotation and connotation. Denotation is dictionary meaning; connotation is the feel of a word. Writing in collaboration would change connotations of the novel through word choice. I might choose “slimy.” My collaborator might choose “slick.” While they mean close to the same, they are not the same in connotation. At least for now, I’ll leave the collaborations to others.

About The Book

PHDA - Cover Front OnlyTitle: The Purple Heart Detective Agency

Author: Rock Neelly

Genre: Comedy / Mystery

“What do wounded warriors do when they return from war missing a leg or two? These tough guys start The Purple Heart Detective Agency. Using battle-tested skills, laughing all the way, when others have turned their backs, these sleuths solve mysteries. Rock Neelly’s novel is easy to pick-up, hard to put down.”

– Robert Beattie, author of Nightmare in Wichita: Hunt for the BTK Strangler

“Rock Neelly hands the reader well-defined, believable characters, caught up in a deft blend of old-school detective noir and modern technology.” 

– Brian Dobbins, author of The Witch’s Cartel and Corryville

The sudden disappearance of a magician isn’t usually cause for alarm, but it’s a different story when the disappearance isn’t part of the act.

Clay and Roddy are two war veterans – both amputees – trying to rebuild their shattered lives through their struggling Purple Heart Detective Agency. Then the beautiful Angela Thayer enters the picture, asking for their help in finding her missing friend and employer, Trevor Baker – stage name, Merlyn the Magician. The high profile case promises to jumpstart their careers…until the search leads to betrayal, intrigue and mind control. And then the murders begin…

A hard-boiled detective story of murder and mayhem, a war story of pathos and survival, an action story of intrigue and violence, a love story of abandon and betrayal, a stick in the eye of the entertainment industry, wry social commentary on how America treats its veterans of war, but mostly a rousing tale of brotherhood in war and beyond.

And of course, a foul-mouthed monkey named Jerry.


Author Bio

LoResRockRock Neelly is a Professor of Communications and English in the Cincinnati area. He has written numerous articles in magazines, journals, and books over his career. In his storied career, Rock has been a newspaper man, a sales manager, a contributing editor, and a bad guitarist in a garage band. The grandson of cattle ranchers, Rock grew up on the high plains of Kansas shooting baskets and pheasant. He currently teaches film, literature, and writing at a community college in Northern Kentucky. He lives with his wife and family in Liberty Township, OH.

The Purple Heart Detective Agency is his first novel


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