A Conversation with: Quintin Peterson
March 9, 2014
Plays, screenplays, Noir novelist, poet, and actor—oh yeah, and retired from 28 years of police service![i]
Like with so many other authors, Quintin and I have only met electronically. We’re both PSWAmembers, an organization that has wonderful writing contests—and Quintin has taken home several PSWA writing awards. In addition, and once again, I have to confess that besides not only wanting to get to know Quintin, I’m also intrigued and amazed how he does so much. Sure hoping some will rub off on me!
Welcome, Quintin, so glad you’ve stopped by for a visit. From the first time I read your biography I knew you were an author I wanted to meet—albeit electronically for now.
I’m going to jump right in and ask you about plays and acting. Sounds so exciting to me—I still remember stage-fright eons ago in high school, and writing a play sounds really challenging. So, to start off, do you still write plays? And act? Would love to hear anything you’d like to share on the topics, including your plays airing on the radio? I recently listened to a set of audio-books that had a cast of characters…it was wonderful and took me back a few years.
Thanks for having me, Madeline. No, I haven’t written a play or acted in years. Instead, I incorporate what I learned about drama working in the theater into my crime fiction. My stories are dramatic, if nothing else because that is what holds the reader’s attention. Another benefit from having been involved in theater was getting the opportunity to present radio dramas based on a couple of my plays. Back when I was a kid, I received a grant from the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities and along with a couple of other grantees we produced the radio dramas and aired them on Pacifica Radio WPFW. And the experience of making radio dramas helps with the production of audio books.
I can sure see how your acting experience would translate to audio books. Moving a few years farther in your life, during your service with the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD), you were “a liaison between the department and members of the motion picture and television industries, acting as a script consultant and technical adviser.” Again, a job that sounds very exciting. What did it entail? Any movie involvements or adventures you can share?
Mostly I assisted motion picture and television production companies accurately portray D.C. police officers – who usually only appear as set decorations – by providing costumers, set designers, and prop people with MPD clothing and equipment specifications, but sometimes I was given scripts and asked to point out inaccuracies. I’ve assisted moviemakers employed by The X-Files, The District, The Wire, Bones, Jericho, Seasons 6 and 7 of 24, and Lie to Me, as well as a number of major motion pictures, including No Way Out, Suspect, Timecop, The Pelican Brief, In the Line of Fire, Absolute Power, Random Hearts, Kiss the Girls, Along Came a Spider, Naked Gun 2 ½, Deep Impact, The Jackal, Minority Report, Murder at 1600, True Lies, Dave, Dick, The Distinguished Gentleman, Enemy of the State, National Treasure, X-Men III, The Invasion, Breach, National Treasure II: Book of Secrets, Die Hard 4: Live Free or Die Hard, Body of Lies, and State of Play. I have also assisted well known crime fiction writers such as James Patterson and George Pelecanos, and quite a few crime writers who are not so well known.
WOW, what a list of great credits. I’ve seen some of those movies. Which leads me from your plays and books, to your screenplays. From my efforts (alas, and abilities) screenplays seem very difficult. What is your perspective on books versus screenplays? How they differ? Your preference? And, are you trying to market your screenplays?
Each medium has its challenges, its pros and cons, but it is all storytelling after all. Writing short stories and novels is a solitary endeavor, but the performing arts require the cooperation of a great many people, working together to tell a story. Marketing screenplays is a daunting task, because you’ve got to convince a group of people to tell your story. So I have to say that I prefer writing books and short stories because it is more direct…even though I have irons in the fire for the screen. I like motion pictures.
Yes, I would think collaborative efforts are tricky. And love reading, but like you, I also have a fondness for motion pictures. You are also “an employee of the Folger Shakespeare Library’s Department of Safety and Security.” Was your employment there eventually related to your writing “Guarding Shakespeare?” I’m guessing it was, (smile)—and I think it’s such a great title and would love to hear more about the impetus, inspiration, etc. for that novella.
Thank you. Yes, the Folger Library obviously was the inspiration for that story. I started working part-time at the Folger as a Special Police Officer in December 2010, about eight months after I retired from the Metropolitan Police Department. It’s a fascinating place and while guarding the treasures, a story occurred to me: A disgruntled security guard close to retirement is tapped for an inside job by a beautiful young femme fatale to heist a priceless artifact from the Folger vault. Think The Maltese Falcon meets The DaVinci Code. I wrote a short story version, which appeared in the January 2013 issue of eNoir Magazine (now known as Heater Magazine) and in March 2013, the novella version of Guarding Shakespeare was published. That story never would have occurred to me had I not been employed at the Folger.
What a great idea! I haven’t read yet, but Guarding Shakespeare is on my list. (need more time to read!) Then there’s your poetry! Is there a back-story behind Nativity, your book of poetry?
Not really. I tried my hand at poetry over the years and finally decided to collect them. How about a sample?
Yes, would love to hear one of your favorites!
I think my favorite poem is Beauty in Decay:
Saw a walking corpse today
Shaking violently as it fell prey
To the violent shaking that comes
From not taking to the skies
I knew her, once, during the time
When I believed that beauty never dies,
Long before the tracks marked her arms
The veins of red cracked her eyes
Yes, I did know her…once
Baffling: how anything could make her
Nothing is more heartbreaking
A thing of beauty in decay
Quite powerful, Quintin. Glad you put a collection together—again on my TBR list!
On a different note, I’ve never lived on the East Coast (Midwest and west coast mainly). And in light of all the recent snow storms hitting your area—it’s a much different environment than out here in the desert. What’s it like in your area—things like weather, scenery—especially aspects of living in the Washington Metropolitan Area that would touch and affect your writing?
Much like the social climate in our nation’s capital, the weather in this area is volatile and unpredictable, e.g., 18 degrees one day and 50 degrees the next. One day last week it snowed early in the morning, then it rained and washed away the snow, and when the rain stopped the sky cleared up and the temperature rose above 40. As for the scenery, beautiful and ugly neighborhoods are within a few miles of each other – sometimes within a few blocks of each other – order and chaos all around you, the sounds of Beethoven and gunshots competing for your attention. This area is also plagued by vehicular traffic congestion, so we spend a lot of time getting nowhere fast.
Sounds like an area rich in literary inspiration, especially for poetry and screenplays. Before you go, would very much like to hear what you’re doing these days?
Well, I am a contributor to a new noir anthology to benefit the Mines Advisory Group (MAG), Explosions: Stories of Our Landmined World, edited by Scott Bradley for Evil Jester Press, which is scheduled to be released this May. The collection also includes brand new stories by Jeffery Deaver, James Grady, David Morrell, John Sayles, Eric Shapiro, Peter Straub, and many others. The book’s cover art is by Pulitzer Prize-winning Politico cartoonist Matt Wuerker.
100% of the proceeds from the sale of this book will be donated to MAG, the international non-profit organization dedicated to clearing war torn land of unexploded ordnance, thus rendering that land safe for habitation, agriculture, and development. Since 1989, MAG has worked in over 35 countries on 4 continents. In 1997 the organization was a co-laureate of the Nobel Peace Prize. For more information about MAG and their work, please visit their website at www.maginternational.org.
The mood of this anthology is noir, and although that tends to suggest crime, mystery, and espionage, there are other takes: science fiction, horror; mainstream literary fiction, experimental fiction; historical, contemporary, and futuristic. Stories with dark moods that have one thing in common: they all concern the curse of landmines.
My contribution to the anthology is DAMAGED GOODS, a hardboiled detective story about a rugged disabled soldier-of-fortune-turned-private dick working a hard case:
Private Eye Luther Kane had planned to free his client Nadia “Gypsy” Kurylenko from the clutches of Russian Mob Boss Ivan the Terrible Sizov by stealing evidence from Ivan’s safe and turning it over to the feds to get the mobster picked up on RICO charges. His plan came off without a hitch up to the point he woke up on the floor of Sizov’s living room, helpless and at the mercy of the merciless…
Buy a great book and support a great cause.
Sounds like a good anthology, Quintin, and great contributors.
It’s been a pleasure getting to know you better, and continued success in all your endeavors. Be sure to let me know when one of your screenplays hits the big screen! Thanks so much for taking the time to talk with me…
[i] Native Washingtonian Quintin Peterson is the author of several plays and screenplays. As a junior high school student, he attended the Corcoran School of Art on a scholarship. While still in high school, he was honored with the University of Wisconsin’s Science Fiction Writing Award and the National Council of Teachers of English Writing Award. Upon receiving the Wisconsin Junior Academy’s Writing Achievement Award, his name was included in Who’s Who among American High School Students of 1975.
As an undergraduate communications major at the University of Wisconsin, he wrote and performed in two plays for stage and videotape and received a Mary Roberts Rinehart Foundation grant for his play project, Change. A National Endowment for the Arts creative writing fellowship and a playwriting grant from the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities followed. Subsequently, two of his radio plays were aired on WPFW-FM Pacifica Radio as productions of the Minority Arts Ensemble’s Radio Drama Workshop ’79.
Mr. Peterson retired from the Metropolitan Police Department in April of 2010 with more than 28 years of police service. He was assigned to the Office of Public Information as a media liaison officer. He was also a liaison between the department and members of the motion picture and television industries, acting as a script consultant and technical adviser. In December of 2010, he became an employee of the Folger Shakespeare Library’s Department of Safety and Security.
He is the author of a book of poetry, Nativity, two novels, SIN and The Wages of SIN, and one novella, Guarding Shakespeare, a noir story about a plot to heist a priceless artifact from the Folger Shakespeare Library. He is a contributor to the crime fiction anthology D.C. Noir, edited by George Pelecanos, the John L. French edited crime fiction anthology, Bad Cop, No Donut, the anthology From Shadows and Nightmares, edited by Amber L. Campbell, the noir anthology To Hell in a Fast Car, edited by John L. French, the anthology Felons, Flames and Ambulance Rides, and the noir anthology to benefit the Mines Advisory Group (MAG), Explosions: Stories of Our Landmined World, edited by Scott Bradley. He has also penned several Kindle Edition and BN.com Nook Books e-stories and his work is featured in Issue 3 of the British horror magazine SANITARIUM and Issues 2 and 4 of eNoir magazine (now known as Heater magazine). Also, Mr. Peterson is an Active Member of Mystery Writers of America, Police Writers, and the Public Safety Writers Association (PSWA). Peterson received PSWA Writing Awards in 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2012. http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B002BMCR2E