Interview with J. David Core, author of the Lupa Schwartz Mysteries

The Indie Crime Scene is pleased to interview J. David Core, author of the Lupa Schwartz Mysteries. His latest book, On the Side of the Angel, a story in the new Bartering Angel series, was released on June 7, 2017. This interview was conducted by Dennis Chekalov and Cora Buhlert.

1.        How did you become a writer?
My dad was an avid reader, and a few members of my family were born with the gift to tell a story. My grandfather could keep a bar full of people enthralled with a story about his day, and my brother can take the most mundane story about an incident at work and make it the funniest thing you ever heard.
I, on the other hand, have a few speaking hurdles to contend with. For one, I talk far too fast, even when I try to speak in slow and measured sentences, and while I have a reasonably competent vocabulary, I sometimes can’t quite recall the words I’m looking for. As a result, I’ve learned that the best way for me to get a point across is to write a note or essay.
And since my dad loved reading, I became a student of story structure.
I also was the best drawer in my class growing up, so for years I thought I’d be a cartoonist or animator or graphic novelist when I grew up. I even went to art school out of High School, but I quickly became disillusioned with illustration. I had written some plays in high school for our drama class, and eventually, all of these discordant things came together and I realized that what I really wanted to do was write.

2.        You write in different genres. What’s your favorite? Why?
I’d have to say crime-thrillers. I began writing in the sci-fi genre because I loved Star Trek and Isaac Asimov, but I realized after a few stories, that even when I was writing in that genre the roots of my stories were always crime stories and thrillers. A novel I wrote about how a man learns that everyone he knows is a robot studying him on an alternate Earth in prep for an invasion of the real Earth has very little sci-fi in it. It’s basically a story about three real people who find each other and go into hiding as they plot to defeat their enemy. My time travel novella is about a vendetta to kill the man who ruined the hero’s life.
When I switched to mysteries, my novels were pastiche of the Nero Wolfe series, but there’s a progression from novel to novel with the first being straight who-dunnit; the second being part who-dunnit and part heist; the third full novel is barely who-dunnit, and is more procedural and psychological thriller;   and the last one is a Dan Brown style conspiracy thriller with a little who-dunnit thrown in for good measure.  
But lately I’ve been focused more on the crime angle. I put out a collection of eight noir stories, and my new novel coming out this month is about a woman with a secret identity who is working as a fixer for the syndicates biding her time until she can find and destroy the man who murdered her family.
As for why it’s my favorite genre – I think I’d have to say because I’m drawn to characters who skirt the social contract. We think, in America, that we have freedom, but we really don’t. And it’s weird that I’m so drawn to this in fantasy, because in my real life I’m the straightest straight-arrow in the quiver. I’m not a libertarian or an anarchist by any stretch, although I do hate when I see the police state rear its head, and I love the idea of life after an EMP takes out the grid and we’re all forced to live by our wits. I don’t know. I guess by writing crime thrillers I get to vicariously live the rebellion I never want to actually see take place, but I love to fantasize about.

3.        One of your main characters, Lupa Schwartz, is often compared to Sherlock Holmes. How have you created this character?
Ironically, I patterned Schwartz after Nero Wolfe who was patterned after Holmes. Rex Stout was a huge fan of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the man who created Holmes and Watson. When he created Nero Wolfe he took all of the tropes that made Holmes who he was and tweaked them, then he gave him a Watsonian foil who was patterned after the popular gumshoes of the day. Where Holmes was thin, he made Wolfe fat. Where Holmes was a musician, he made Wolfe a collector and cultivator of orchids. Etc.
And there is also speculation that Rex Stout intended for Wolfe to be the illegitimate lovechild of Holmes and Irene Adler. So I took some similar liberties and made my character the grandson of Wolfe through his “adopted” daughter, Carla Lovchen; then I tweaked the tropes that made Wolfe Wolfe. Where Wolfe is a misogynist, my character, Schwartz, is a womanizer and a bit of a feminist. Where Wolfe is afraid of cars, I made Schwartz a collector of cars instead of orchids. Schwartz, like Wolfe, enjoys beer, but he’s less of a snob about it. They both love to eat, but Schwartz is more fit because he’s more active. He’s less a gourmet and more a foodie.
Then there’s the name. Schwartz means black. Lupa means wolf. Actually it means she-wolf, but there’s a Wolfe-based reason for that as well. In Stout’s series, the name Nero is presumed to be after the Roman emperor, but in a few of the books, Wolfe claims to have been named not for the man but for the mountain. The mountain in question is Montenegro – which means “black mountain.” Meanwhile, Wolfe’s daughter has taken the name Lovchen – which is also a mountain in the Balkan region. My character needed to be named for a mountain, he needed to be named for the color black, and he needed to be named for a wolf. In the Arctic there is a mountain called Lupa, near the Romulus and Remus glaciers and neighboring a mountain called Black Thumb.

4.        Please tell us about your Watson-like character, Cattleya Hoskin.
I knew two things about my Watson character going in. One was that he or she was going to be the offspring of Archie Goodwin (the gumshoe Watson to Wolfe’s Holmes.) The other was that he or she was going to be a writer because that would give him or her a reason to write the adventures.
I noticed something about the Watson/Goodwin paradigm. Their names were poetically similar in meter and beat. So I decided to give my character a similar last name, and I settled on Hoskin when I researched the meaning and found it to be satisfyingly neutral. (It means a maker and seller of socks.) This meant I had to make her female as well. Otherwise, as Archie’s son, his name would be Goodwin. By making her a divorcee I solved the name problem, and I gave her a reason to be seeking an adventure. It also helped that the trend in mysteries is for a strong female lead.
Next I decided that her first name should be Cattleya, which is a sub-genus of orchid. Her father would be fond of the name, and her mother wouldn’t mind – her own name being Lily which is also a flower. (Lily Rowan is a recurring love interest of Archie Goodwin in the Nero Wolfe stories.)
So now all that was left was to determine the dynamic of the two characters. I decided to make Cattleya strong willed – like her father, and clever, and because of her back story to also make her unwilling to be shown up by a man – even the great Lupa Schwartz. I also thought it would humanize her to give her romantic stumbling blocks. She couldn’t be the suave femme fetale we’d expect Archie Godwin’s offspring to be, so I patterned that much of her personality on Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum.
Then, since I had decided that Schwartz would be pro-woman, and a bit of a showboat, he’d be happy to have his case files chronicled by a smart young woman. But his ego would never let her show him up.  After that, their relationship worked itself out. It’s entirely platonic, a little competitive, and frustrating and enthralling to each of them.

5.        On the Side of the Angel is the first release in a planned multi-author series. Why did you decide to take part in a multi-author series?
Actually, the series was my idea. I heard in an interview a romance author talking about a series she’d taken part in where each author had written her own story but there was a shared character, a matchmaker. I thought it was a great idea, and it dawned on me that mystery and thriller writers could do something similar with an archetypical crime character like an assassin or a thief. I put the idea out in a message board and wrote to a few authors I know personally, and pretty soon we were collaborating on a back story for a “fixer” character.
Ultimately, I’m hoping that at least six authors will write Bartering Angel stories. I know at least two others have the frameworks for their stories in the can. Then I want to open the series up for other writers who are not in the core group. The character begins her career in 2005 and continues to present day, and she moves from place to place and keeps changing her name and modus operandi, so this gives other writers a wide berth for creating scenarios and incorporating her into their pre-existing worlds if they choose.
The hope is that a reader will find the character in one author’s story and follow her to the world of another writer, and perhaps become hooked into a whole different series on the way. But even if a writer puts her in a stand-alone tale, he or she might still find a new fan.

6.        Who is your new character, Lina Forman?
Lina Forman is a nom-de-guerre. It’s an assumed identity of the Bartering Angel, a woman who has faked her death in order to seek revenge on the man responsible for the death of her mother, father, and aunt. In 2005, she turns up in Pittsburgh with a fake student ID card, some cash, the clothes on her back, a satchel of bogus identities, and nothing else. In her previous life, she learned survivalism from her father as a child in the Alaska wilderness.
After her parents’ deaths, she moved in with her aunt, a brilliant chemist who taught her science and a local boy taught her about computers (and hacking on the side). She then joins the military where she joins a spec ops team, before she discovers that she suffers from mild xenophobia, a condition that prevents her from becoming a military policeman. Back in civilian life, she decides to go to police academy to learn forensics, but again her xenophobia (and her aunt’s sudden illness) prevents her from moving forward. As she cares for her aunt from home, she continues her studies in police forensics on her own.
By the time her aunt is killed and she is framed for the murder, she has acquired a broad range of skills making her the perfect fixer for the mob. All of this back story is only hinted at in my story, but my next project is a prequel spelling out her entire story leading into my novel.
My story is her first job as the Bartering Angel. A local strip club owner who also runs heroin for the mob hires her to keep his son out of jail after the son and his girlfriend accidentally murder a convenience store clerk during a petty robbery. She collects a cash payment for doing the job, but she also collects indebted mobsters who owe her a return favor which she can call in whenever the need arises.

7.        Will you continue your Lupa Schwartz series?
There will be at least one maybe two more books in the series. The next book in the series will be a collection of three short novellas, similar to the omnibus collections Rex Stout frequently released in the Wolfe series – which was also something Conan Doyle sort of did with Holmes who appeared in both short and long form stories. If there’s another full length novel it will be dictated by current events. So it depends on what is happening in the world in a few years.

8.        Will Lina Forman and Lupa Schwartz meet in some crossover? If they had to fight against each other, who would win?
I have no plan to face them off against each other, although in my Lina Forman story she is helped by a character named Jackie Viadeckid who also helps Lupa Schwartz in one of my stories. So it’s possible there will be a Viadeckid story at some point in which both characters (Lina and Lupa) appear. We shall see.
But Lina meets Jackie in 2005, and then she abandons the name Lina and heads off on her own adventures. Lupa meets Jackie a decade later, and uses Jackie to hide out as he changes his appearance to go undercover in an assumed identity of his own. I can’t imagine that their paths would cross in a way that wasn’t forced.
As for the character Jackie Viadeckid. He’s a very interesting personality. His parents were paranoid conspiracy theorists who never reported his birth to authorities, so he lives in an underground bunker on his family farm where he makes moonshine for a living and studies anything from the NWO to alien abductions and everything in between.
If Lina and Lupa ever came up against each other though, I think Schwartz would figure her secrets out, and keep it to himself. He’s kind of an anti-establishment type that way too. For example, he refuses to own a cell phone because he doesn’t believe in the telecom solution to the area code shortage from the nineties.

9.        In your opinion, should series characters change?
Characters are people. There has to be growth and adaptability. But people don’t tend to change easily.

10.        What’s more important for your characters, Law or Justice?
That’s a great question. For both Lina and Lupa, justice is the most important thing. Lina is looking for a personal justice. Lupa seeks the moral justice in each case. If he has to break the rules to get it, he’s fine with that.

11.        What's your favourite mystery or crime fiction character not created by you?
That’s easy; Walter White. Breaking Bad is the best crime genre story ever created. I love everything about it. The arc of how Walter goes from straight arrow to ruthless murderer is brilliant, and he does it all while never actually changing who he is. Even when he was a straight arrow chem teacher with a wife and son, he had Heisenberg in him.

12.        What’s the most important thing in writing to you?
Story. Character matters. Phrasing and tempo and style, all of that is important; but if there is no foundation of story, nothing else means anything.

13. You also run a crime fiction and mystery podcast, Thrills & Mystery. Could you tell us a little about that?
 It’s called the Thrills and Mystery Podcast. The way it came about is I heard of a site called podiobooks, and I went looking to see if it was a place I could put my work. While there I discovered Seth Andrews and a podcast he ran for a short while called the crime WAV where he allowed other new-comer writers to put episodic stories. I wrote a story for his podcast and then went looking to submit but learned that it was no longer live. So I decided to pick up the torch.
Four seasons later I’m still going strong. Some of the stories are mine. Some are other writers who I invite to submit. Some are very short, and there might be three stories in an episode. Others are longer, and a single story might be broken up over three or more episodes. Genre doesn’t matter so long as there is an element of suspense or intrigue.
Between seasons I do interview episodes where I invite an author to tell us about his or her stories with an emphasis on the stories and not so much on craft.
I’ve never sold advertising or asked for donations. After all, I don’t pay the authors for the use of their stories. So it would hardly be fair to profit from them. My hope is that a few listeners become fans and readers of my contributors or maybe even of my stuff. Anyone interested can find the podcast at, and they can subscribe to the rss feed or subscribe through iTunes or Stitcher. 

About J. David Core:

With a profound interest in religion, liberal politics and humor, Dave began writing in High School and has not given up on it since. His first professional writing jobs came while attending the Art Institute of Pittsburgh when he was hired to create political cartoons for the Pitt News & to write humor pieces for Smile Magazine.

Dave has worked in the newspaper industry as a photographer, in the online publishing industry as a weekly contributor to, and was a contributing writer to the Buzz On series of informational books and to the Western online anthology, Elbow Creek. Dave’s science fiction novel, Synthetic Blood and Mixed Emotions, is available from Dave currently resides in his childhood home in Toronto, OH with his beautiful girlfriend and his teenage daughter.

He enjoys participating in local community events & visiting with his two adult children and his grandkids. 

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