Picturesque Port Jefferson has long been a favorite subject for artists, for instance in the works you can see exhibited at the North Shore Art Guild at the Port Jefferson Village Center. But it's also a favorite subject for at least one author: mystery writer R.J. Torbert, whose new novel The Face of Fear is set in our village.
The publisher describes the plot of the police mystery novel is described as "an inexplicable kidnapping that sets off a horrible series of events that shakes not only the village of Port Jefferson but the entire nation—and the reader." Patch had the chance to do a Q&A with the author.
Patch: How often do you visit Port Jefferson, and how often do you visit Z Pita?
R.J.T.: My family and I are in the village 3-4 times a week. We are regulars at Z Pita, for 14 years. My daughter grew up drawing pictures for Joey Z and we just celebrated her 18th birthday there. We are also regulars at Tommy's, Village Way, The Pie, and go to Pasta Pasta, Toast, Billie's and Tiger Lily on occasion.
Patch: What qualities did you find in Port Jefferson that made you want to set your book there? And what is it about Z Pita that made you want to feature it prominently?
R.J.T.: The more time I spent in the village, the more I was inspired about writing the book. Those who know me, know Im a big history buff, and I think the history of the village is very interesting, plus, the village has so much character, from the ferry, to over 25 restaurants within a 2 minute walk. If you are a writer, I ask, "How can you not be inspired to set a story there?"
Patch: How long did it take to write this story?
R.J.T.: Because i have a demanding full time job that requires travel around the world, I spent 10 months of Saturday and Sundays writing in the village library. There was some writing on planes, but over 90 percent of it was written in the library. I need to be focused with no distractions. It was another 6-7 months of fine tuning the book, and over a year working with the editor and publisher at Two Harbors Press. I can now say that writing a book is not as easy as people think. I will now laugh when people say, "I should write a book" there is much more to it than people know.
Patch: The Ghost Face mask is a pretty iconic image in pop culture. What does it symbolize within the story? Can you describe the role it plays in this book?
R.J.T.: Ghost Face is arguably the most recognizable mask in the world. It has been in 6 motion pictures and numerous televison shows. It was created by Alan Geller – who I can now kid with and say, "yes, but I wrote the book." Actually, I had envisioned the role Ghost Face plays in this story for a few years. It was just getting it down on paper. I don't want to say the role it plays because it would be a spoiler, but I can tell you it has nothing to do with Scream, this is a police murder mystery. I spent hours doing research with the police in regard to what is possible and not possible when it comes to the police. Two of the characters in the book: Det. Kevin Cronin was the head of the homicide squad for years in Suffolk County and was involved in the capture of the "Long Island sniper"... He was gracious to allow me to use his name in the story. Officer George Lynagh is also a Suffolk County cop who walks the village streets on occasion [and] is also featured in the storyline. Joey Z from Z Pita and Nada Marjanovich from LI Pulse [are] also in the storyline. Using Z Pita was a no brainer; spending so much time there inspired the creative process to put one of the main characters living above in the apartment. It is the centerpiece of Main Street with its rich history, it was natural to the writing process. Writers use their imagination but writing what they know helps.
Patch: What are some of your influences as an author?
R.J.T.: I have to say, that I have always read books, and the more I read, the more I felt I could write my own novel. Many great books from John Grisham always kept my attention, but it was a very bad book while I was on a plane that got me thinking, "Why am I wasting my time reading, when I could be writing?" So everyone is different, and I think have different reasons for putting them over the edge to pursue their dream.
Patch: Got any advice for aspiring mystery writers?
R.J.T.: Yes, keep writing, and show it to people you trust and care about for their opinion, they will tell you the truth because they care about you no matter who you are or will be. Be driven from the passion in your heart, not what you think you may or may not make financially. A good writer is a passionate writer, the rest may or may not come. But do it for the right reasons and you may be surprised one day.
"The Face of Fear" is available for $17 through Two Harbors Press. You can meet R.J. Torbert at any of three signing events planned for March 26, March 28 and April 3 at 6:30 p.m. at Z Pita. For more information on the book, visit the Powers and Johnson home page.