BE MY GUEST: Author Interview: Joseph Rinaldo

Today, I am in conversation with Joseph Rinaldo, author of a suspense thriller, “A Spy At Home”. How can I describe him? Well, in literary terms, he is an “unusual character” with quirkiest stories and experiences to tell in a straight-forward and honest manner. No, he is not a fictional character *laughs* He is very real and definitely has “a mind of his own” (a quality trait found rare!). One thing is for sure, he loves his “life-partner” very much as we see her becoming a part of this conversation. So, let’s welcome them (Joseph and his wife) here on my blog.

RG: Why did you think of becoming a writer? Did some person or incident in life inspire you? Or you thought you had the germs to be a writer?

The actual impetus for me to begin writing came while I was reading “Three Weeks With My Brother” by Nicholas Sparks. When I got to the part where he received a million-dollar advance, I thought, “Holy cow! He’s a good writer, but I know I can do this, too.” I’ve been writing since that day in 2004.

Eight years prior to reading about the million-dollar advance, I had only considered writing once in my life. Living alone, I hand wrote a page of a would-be book that I later read to my girlfriend, who is now my wife. She said the characters didn’t really tell the story and that she heard me reciting the story rather than the voice of the main character. I wadded up the sheet of paper and threw it away. I never forgot what she said and believe I have corrected those mistakes in A Spy At Home.

RG: In which genre do you think your book falls into?

The genre of my books is very hard to pin down. My wife and I have searched numerous times for standardized publishing industry definitions with no success. As silly as that may sound, especially for a person who wants to deal in words as a career, genres are hard to define. A Spy At Home could be considered contemporary fiction, mainstream (this sounds like a synonym for dull), thriller, suspense (what’s the difference between thriller and suspense? Shouldn’t you be thrilled reading a suspense novel, and shouldn’t you wonder what will happen next in a thriller?), drama (any book without intense turmoil probably won’t be worth reading), or adventure (my main character travels to another continent; that’s adventurous, right?). I honestly don’t know where my books fall in the narrow definitions of the publishing world; I do know I have tried to make the characters interesting and multi-faceted, moving through difficulties in their lives.

RG: It seems your book is a mix of a lot of genres. So, what would be your take on authors who restrict themselves to one genre?

Authors who try to confine their books to a specific genre make their books too formulaic. Take for example romance novels. They all end with a tidy happy ending – not very suspenseful. Restricting oneself to a predetermined genre stifles creativity.

RG: Tell us a little bit about the story of “A Spy At home”.

In “A Spy At home”, a retired CIA operative comes to believe he wasted his professional life not only promoting questionable American policies, but missing life with his family. To ease the pain, he diverts millions that the CIA expected him to use funding a coup attempt that would establish a pro-American government in an African country. Seeing the coup would fail, Garrison decides to keep the money for himself. The reader can decide if he's a villain with evil intent, a hero with altruistic motives, or a regular guy sick of working for peanuts in a dangerous environment.

Once he’s back at home, he and his wife look forward to their golden years being luxuriously comfortable and opulently relaxed. Unfortunately, after his wife dies in a tragic accident, he must learn all that she knew about caring for Noah, their mentally retarded son. After a life of planning for contingencies, the former spy must deal with the possibility that he may die before his son. Who will care for the son when the dad spent a life out of the country and now has no one to lean on?

RG: Gripping plot! If you could be one character from your books, who would you choose to be and why?

The protagonist, Garrison, and his wife, Louisa, adopted a baby with Down syndrome, Noah. To help them navigate the complex adoption laws and find all the social services available for Noah, they received a great deal of help from a social worker named Clarita Johnson, whom they called Ms. Johnson because of her advanced years and the respect they had for her. At one point in A Spy At Home, Garrison compared Ms. Johnson to a kind and loving picture of what he hopes God is.

I am obviously closely related to Ms. Johnson. My generosity, kindness, and self-deprecating personality know no bounds. Actually, I hope to write fiction for a living, so my best answers are made-up. In truth, I’m with Garrison. If I found a way to acquire ten million dollars with impunity, I’d be on a beach somewhere enjoying the money.

RG: Where do you get ideas for your stories and characters?

A Spy At Home came from my wife. She wrote a short story about a single woman with a mentally retarded daughter where the mother was worried about dying first. I wrongfully and maliciously stole her story and added about 230 pages and a spy, stolen millions, a beach house on a Caribbean island… in what became A Spy At Home. As for how Garrison’s and Noah’s specific story came to me, I honestly have no idea. I guess it’s a combination of reading too many fiction and nonfiction spy stories mixed with wondering what would happen to my own daughter if my wife and I died.

My other books actually came to me. By “came to me”, I mean they actually, literally played out in my head. The characters appear in my head, and I write down what they say and do. Usually, I feel like I’m not even involved. The scenes play out in my mind. I don’t sit on the couch with my eyes closed and fists clinched demanding the next plot twist appear. It just happens. I’ve been lucky; I haven’t experienced writer’s block. In fact, I wish I could type fast and had more time to devote to writing.

One book about a cult came to me in blinding flash. While I was watching TV one night, it appeared, and I wrote nine pages by hand in outline form. That book followed the original outline better than any other book I’ve authored. Usually the basic situation comes to me, and I as I write, the rest of the book plays out in my head.

RG: Do you have any upcoming projects? Tell us about them.

Another book, Hazardous Choices, has been professionally edited and will be released in the near future. Here’s Hazardous Choices in a nutshell:

“After surviving life in a violent Chicago street-gang through his high school years, Darnell Jackson’s future appears promising. A football scholarship gives him the chance to escape the thug lifestyle.

During his first year in college Darnell safely resides in a small Kentucky town, playing Division Two college football and trying to make something of himself. Adjusting to the new surroundings proves tough, but a teammate and a girl give him hope that his future will be better than his past.

In the summer after his freshman year, he returns to the old neighborhood to be with his mother. The gang reasserts its hold on him, and the leader orders Darnell to kill a member of a rival gang. Nearly dying in a gang fight and mistakenly shooting the wrong rival gang member forces Darnell to re-evaluate his future. As a result, he lies to the mercurial leader of his gang. When the head gangbanger learns of Darnell’s lie, the small Kentucky town isn’t so safe anymore.”

I have seven more books waiting to be professionally edited and released. As we save the money for more editing, we’ll get the others done, too. At present I have three books floating around in my head but can’t find the time to write them.

RG: List 5 suggestions/writing tips for those who want to venture into writing fiction.

1. I was at a writer’s conference, and a woman was telling me about her historical novel. She found the menu for the heads of states dinner that actually happened, and she was using it in her novel. While she said this, I kept thinking, ‘That has got to be the most uninteresting book ever if you’re telling the reader what they had to eat.’ Research can be good and bad. Research can make the book come alive and seem real. It can also come across as if the writer is bragging about all he/she knows. If your reader wanted to read a textbook, she/he would’ve bought one. For writing novels the most important thing is being believable, not scientifically accurate.

2. Advice probably isn’t what helped me the most. In my opinion writing is similar to singing; either you can or you can’t. Of course, one might improve, but writing requires talent. The most important outside help for me came when reviewers said they enjoyed my books. I’m talking about reviewers that would be willing to say it was terrible if they thought so. Most people will not be honest when the news is bad. When was the last time you told someone with an awful haircut what you really thought? It’s important for writers to find someone, or better yet, several people, who will tell you if your story stinks. Unfortunately, that’s harder than you probably think.

3. Write what you know! That is almost as stupid as “everything in moderation” (which I’ve been trying to convince people, since I was twelve, is a joke; recently I learned it was said by Roman comic dramatist Terence poking fun at Aristotle’s philosophy).

Quick, write something you don’t know. Impossible. Write what sounds believable and entertaining. If you read Stephen King’s The Shining, you’re really convinced the hotel was haunted. Seeing as how ghosts don’t actually exist, no one can “know” them. Yet, Mr. King gave life to the imagined.

4. At a writer’s meeting one night a woman asked for suggestions about books describing kids from New York (This happened in Nashville, Tennessee.). She claimed to have a story but didn’t have the main character’s voice. If you don’t have the main character’s voice, you don’t have a story – period.

5. Never write a book thinking how much other people will enjoy it. That’s two mistakes hidden in one. First, you’re not letting the characters reveal themselves. You’re stuffing them into some self-satisfying mold. Second, you actually do not know what people will and won’t like. They’re unpredictable. Every book released by Random House isn’t a bestseller. If they can’t get it right every time, how can you?

RG: Do you think that book blogs play a vital role in getting the books across to readers?

This would depend on the number of followers for the blog. Conversely, linking your book blog posts to other social media not only brings increased exposure but also helps recruit new blog followers.

RG: Printed books vs. E-books. What’s your take on this?

Ironically, I posted a question about this controversy on "LinkedIn’s Published Authors Network" in May that stirred a surprisingly heated debate with nearly equal numbers coming down on each side. I believe there is room for both; however, advances in technology may prove me wrong. Well, not only advances in technology, but as the current techno toys get cheaper, more folks will buy them and utilize e-books rather than paper ones.

RG: How much time did it take for you to complete “A Spy At Home”? What was your routine for writing?

A Spy At Home took a few months to write. At that point in my life, I taught as adjunct professor at local colleges. When not teaching, I wrote. I write when I have time – whenever that is. Now I have a full-time job, which makes finding time to write extremely difficult. Also, we’re trying to prepare more books for release. The three books I have dancing, spinning, or infecting my head (however you think if them) will have to wait to be written.

RG: How do you balance your family life and your writing commitments?

For the most part we keep daytime on the weekends just for the family. This helps keep us balanced. If you’re serious about writing, then it will cut into your family time. While I was writing most of my nine books, my wife worked full-time, and I worked part-time as an adjunct college instructor. Now that we’re publishing the books online, she works part-time, and I’m the full-timer. She’s so much better at the internet, blogging, and so forth that we’re trying to play to our strengths. Also, doing it together helps keep us close. We work together very well. With only one of us working a full-time job, this frees up time for the family. Our daughter hasn’t noticed a big change since we started this, I think. I do most of my jobs associated with writing and publishing in the evenings when she’s watching television anyway.

RG: Are you inspired by any particular author?

I think most people read the word ‘inspired’ and think ‘copy’ or ‘imitate’. I hope that I’m the only one who writes the way I do. As for being motivated by other writers, that happens with every book I read. If a book stinks, whether because the plot is too predictable or the characters undeveloped, I am moved not to make those same mistakes. Of course, great books have an effect, too. Often I’ll go back and reread a scene to determine which word(s) the author used to set the mood or create suspense. Those are lessons I hope to take with me when I sit down to write in front of the computer.

This will probably sound strange, but I don’t have a favourite author. I read books, not books written by certain people. One time I read too many books in a row written by men. I switched to a female author for the next book, but I didn’t do it with a specific person in mind.

RG: Among other author’s books, any character which you could relate to and you will always remember? What was the character about and how could you relate to it?

This is a tough question for me to answer. Bits and pieces of books I’ve read come back to me at odd times. I guess the book that I actually think about the most, is Sharp Objects. I highly recommend this book. The main character has so many inner demons, she’s hard to forget. She might be the most multifaceted protagonist ever! Her problems come out a little at a time as she goes back to her hometown. We all have a past. I guess that’s what makes that main character so interesting.

RG: I believe that there are only two categories of books: good books and bad books. In your opinion, what are the qualities of a “good book”?

A great book is one that you keep thinking about long after you’ve finished it. Also, it’s one where you don’t skip any of it. You devour every word.

RG: What suggestions would you give to aspiring authors who are entering the market? What mistakes should they avoid?

This answer comes from Joe’s wife Vivian.

I have spent countless hours on the internet promoting A Spy At Home on such sites as Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, Goodreads, Authors Den, Google Friend Connect, FriendFeed, LinkedIn, Scribd, Reddit, Shelfari, Tumblr, StumbleUpon, and others. I help him with his blog, and we had a professional webmaster design his website. I believe that the work I do on a virtually daily basis on these social networking sites is creating buzz that is helping sales of his book climb steadily each month on Amazon. In addition, of course, being interviewed for other authors’ blog sites is of great benefit to him in “getting the word out there”.

RG: Last but not least, why should people buy your book?

Everyone likes to be first. You can be the first of your friends to read the next big thing! Seriously, I found Garrison’s story so touching and compelling that I wrote it down. Please take the opportunity to read it and see if it stirs your soul, too.

RG: Thank you for such an amazing  interview. I especially loved your writing tips. It was a great pleasure having you (along with your wife) on my blog. Wish you all the best for your current and upcoming books.

Thank you for having me! Clearly you spend a great deal of time and effort on your blog, and I’m flattered to be included on it.

About the Author:

In Joseph’s own words, “By day I work as Credit and Financial Manager for a heating, ventilating, and air conditioning distributor. When I first started writing, I thought being a numbers guy would make me an oddity as an author. That’s proved to be wrong. The more people I meet in this industry, the more I run across accountants and CFOs. Apparently, creativity infects a variety of people. Of course, I have the same dream as other writers. I hope my book sells a million copies and becomes a smash hit movie. Selling e-books isn’t the get-rich-quick scheme I thought it was before being published. It’s been a lot of work.

Until then, I enjoy boating, reading (of course), and running. My wife, daughter, and I live in Music City U.S.A., Nashville, Tennessee.

Visit his website: www.josephmrinaldo.com

Visit his blog: http://wwwjosephmrinaldocom.blogspot.com/

To buy his book, “A Spy At Home” on Amazon, click here.


  1. It's so wonderful when those closest to us can help fine-tune our writing.
    Great interview!

  2. Thanks Elisa! I think he has got great support from his life-partner and that is incredible! Apart from that, I really like the way he answers to the "writing tips" question. Great observations on his part.

  3. Awesome interview and such fabulous questions. I interviewed him a while back too and I agree about that "unusual character". I hope his books are very successful because he is a great writer.

  4. I have thoroughly enjoyed this interview. Especially the part where you say: "Restricting oneself to a predetermined genre stifles creativity." It's so true! There are so many other things that stifle creativity - it's always better to just sit down and write from your heart, with joy and passion.


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