On Writing, with R.D. Cain
Dark Matter (ECW Press) is R.D. Cain's second book following the adventures of Dectective Steve Nastos. This time Nastos is racing against the clock to find a missing girl and track down a sadistic criminal.
R.D. talks to Open Book about how his career as a first responder informs his writing, the challenges of writing about missing children and what's next for him and Detective Nastos.
Tell us about your new book, Dark Matter.
Dark Matter takes place in Toronto, Ontario. Disgraced and out-of-work former detective Steve Nastos reluctantly teams with his lawyer friend Kevin Carscadden for a paycheck. Nastos had built his career on channeling the shadowy instincts within him to hunt dangerous predators-takes on a mission to track the whereabouts of Lindsay Bannerman, a troubled teen who is missing from her wealthy adoptive home. The mundane paycheck case begins to get out of control when the fist dead girl appears. Nastos and Carscadden soon pick up a trail littered with lifeless bodies that leads them a sadistic team of abusers. Nastos is torn between spiteful former colleagues — detectives who maintain Nastos belongs in prison for homicide — a wife who wants her husband to finally liberate himself from the darkness that fuels him, and the promise he made to a stranger to find Lindsay. The search becomes frantic as Lindsay’s time runs out and she vanishes forever into the dark matter.
How was the experience of writing Steve Nastos for a second time? What are some of the challenges and rewards of writing this particular character?
At first the concept of writing another Nastos novel was daunting because I felt that the first story was complete and never imagined there would be second. Then I signed a multi book contract with ECW Press and I found myself committed to developing further stories. When I had the opportunity to spend time with Nastos again I found the story grew naturally. All I then had to do was invite Nastos to take on the case and follow along. It was great working with Nastos and Carscadden again; though Nastos is emotionally guarded I’m getting to know him better. In this novel he goes through a particularly rough time. Nastos frequently surprises me with the decisions he makes and the aggressive methods he employs but it’s because he becomes emotionally invested with helping people. The challenge is trying to get him to put the brakes on some times.
Is it difficult, emotionally, to write about the anxiety experienced by parents around missing and threatened children?
It can be difficult. A person asks the question what would I do if my child was missing? Most people asked would say that they would pull out the stops like Liam Neeson in the movie Taken. But how many would really do that? I have spoken to parents while CPR was failing to revive their children, parents whose children were missing and presumed dead; in real life I’m a police officer. The people I’ve seen collapse emotionally, they can barely stand up. I’ve see this kind of pain with my own eyes, repeatedly. Mordecai Richler once said that a writer should be nothing more than an honest witness to his time and place. I apply that to both writing and policing. Going to that emotional place for me is just a matter of trying to be honest with the reader. People don’t live in vacuum tubes; most people have experienced loss or the urgent fear that their child is gone, if even for a moment. If the reader thinks that you aren’t authentic, or worse, don’t have the balls to dig deep, they will tune out. I have this job where I observe humanity from this particular perspective. I see how real people act so when I see a person who acts differently I come to identify the red flags rather easily. Readers can do that too. If the writer provides the details authentically the reader continues on the journey.
When writing, how do you draw on your background working in emergency services and as a police officer? With your experience, do you ever find yourself objecting to popular depictions of law enforcement and first responders?
Our day to day business is going from call to call stepping into the worst day of people’s lives, and the people who caused it. We see the frauds, the scams, the liars and the psychos and we hunt them down and lock them up. It’s pretty easy to tap into. I find most TV depictions of first responders recycle the same veneer of how it supposedly works and misses huge areas of drama that have yet to be properly exploited for TV and novels. Investigations twist and turn dynamically, hinging on so many decisions, in measured doses I bring this to the stage. I have seen what it’s like after the camera turns off, the crime reporters have gone and the corpse is still warm. Some shows are better than others and it’s a shame that they fail to take advantage of areas of drama that make for compelling stories. I work in some of the investigative techniques police in real life use or the way we actually work our way through acquiring the evidence needed to solve the case. Considering the narrow rules of engagement, police are a lot more creative than TV or most novels give them credit for.
What are some books you've read recently that have really knocked your socks off?
Recently I’ve enjoyed, God is not Great by Christopher Hitchens, The Denial of Death by Ernest Becker, which I reference in Dark Matter. I often go back to classics like 1984 by Orwell and Stephen King’s The Stand, The Onion Field by Joseph Wambaugh.
What are you working on now?
The third novel in the series is in the production cycle, we are going through cover designs, getting ideas together and it will come back to me in a few months for the rounds of editing. I have also just begun developing the fourth novel. I have most of the characters sorted out, the beginning and ending, all of the action in between I generally allow to develop naturally as I go. If I run into trouble I’ll get Nastos and Carscadden to figure out.