Flossmoor author travels to New Orleans in crime trilogy’s final chapter

  Peter Robertson

“Colorblind,” Flossmoor resident Peter Robertson’s third installment in a trilogy of crime novels, is being released this month by Gibson House Press. In “Colorblind,” Robertson’s unlikely hero – a Scottish-born businessman who uncovers murder and mayhem as he travels around the United States — goes to New Orleans to unravel the link between a young person’s death in the present day and the mysterious demise of a singer following Hurricane Katrina.

A book release party for “Colorblind” is taking place from 6 to 8 p.m. April 14 at Grape & Grain in Homewood.

Robertson recently shared his thoughts about writing, and other subjects, with the H-F Chronicle.

When did you start writing fiction?

It was during the period when I reviewed mystery novels for a number of magazines and newspapers. Most of what I read, I liked. Some were wonderful. A few were awful. But it did seem to me that I could write at least as well as the ones in the middle, so I decided to try. This was between 1987 and 1997.

How did you decide to write the first book?

I should admit that “Permafrost” was my third attempt at a novel. My first was a shamelessly autobiographical piece of fiction, which one editor referred to as “unleavened.” He was probably right. Following that, I tried my first mystery, which was set in Chicago and Galena, and which featured an elderly illiterate detective. It was cumbersome and hard to plot a narrative where the sleuth can’t read. Following these two attempts, I started writing “Permafrost.”

How long did you work on it?

My three published books have taken different amounts of time. “Permafrost,” and my newest, “Colorblind, each required two years. “Mission” went much faster and was largely completed over the course of a summer break.

How did you come up with the main character?

I wanted to create an outsider. In the case of “Permafrost,” I wanted a solitary yuppie who evolved over the course of the novel. When I returned to him in “Mission,” over a decade of his life had passed, and it seemed fitting that he’d be warmer and less callow.

When did you realize it would be a series?

When I sat down to write “Mission” (the second book), it never occurred to me that I wouldn’t write about Tom again. Even though he had changed, he still seemed like someone I wanted to spend time with, and I hoped readers would feel the same way.

The locations for each of your three books are so different from each other. How did you choose them?

I want the locations to function as a character in the books. I always want Tom to feel like an outsider, so I choose locations where he knows enough to survive but not enough to not make mistakes. I’ve also chosen locales that either strike me as slightly strange or that I can fabricate/manufacture into something strange. In the case of “Colorblind,” I’d wanted to write about New Orleans for a long time. I’ve probably been there more than a dozen times, and finding the inherent peculiarities of that city isn’t very much of a challenge.

You moved to the U.S. from Scotland when you were 23. How did you come to live in Flossmoor?

I never really had a plan. I studied U.S. history in college as an undergraduate in the U.K. The U.S. was a place I wanted to travel to, so I did. I hitchhiked part of the way around the States and ended up in the Chicago area. I’ve lived in Evanston, Chicago, and now Flossmoor without any grand design, but I’ve been very happy in all three.

As a teacher at local elementary and middle schools, you sometimes brought your guitar to class and played for the students. What effect did that have on them?

I’ve worked mostly as a substitute and teaching assistant, although I did work as a classroom teacher in Harvey for a year. Generally speaking, I seize every chance I can to bring my guitar to class to sing and play. I even spent one full term at Western Avenue teaching music every day. I’m by no means skilled, but my sense is that students like to sing, they like to be entertained, and they like to make a personal connection with their teacher. I think singing and performing together does that.

What are you working on now? Have you ever considered writing about the South Suburbs?

I’d like to spend the start of the summer promoting “Colorblind.” I have been thinking about a novel set in a world where most people choose to die at age 75 in a state of genetically modified perfect health. And those who choose not to die risk the sudden onset of mortality and a totalitarian government intervention. I haven’t gotten very far yet.

I’ve lived in H-F too long now to be able to view the place through the eyes of an outsider. Maybe I should have written about Flossmoor when I first moved here. Both “Mission” and “Colorblind” include several south suburban moments. In fact, a pivotal scene in “Colorblind” takes place in a coffee shop that may seem familiar to local residents.

Any advice for would-be novelists?

Don’t think about it in terms of writing a novel. Think about it in terms of writing a page and then the next day writing another page. It’s much easier that way.

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