Exclusive Author Interview with Joel Burcat is here.
I was looking forward to getting to talk to the author of Amid Rage. Below you will find my exclusive author interview with Joel Burcat! Have you read his novel?
Tell us more about Amid Rage (without giving away spoilers!).
Amid Rage is a novel about a battle over environmental degradation, fury against government, loyalty, and love. In Amid Rage, a psychotic coal mine operator and cynical neighbors with an anti-mining agenda fight out a strip mine permit battle. Mike Jacobs, a 28-year old environmental prosecutor with Pennsylvania’s environmental agency, DEP, who lives in Harrisburg, is caught between the warring factions but is ordered to “babysit” the case. All Mike wants to do is to protect the environment and neighbors from certain harm as a result of the proposed mining. Sid Feldman, the Philadelphia lawyer for the mine operator, who oozes power and privilege, offers Mike a job midway through the proceedings. Miranda Clymer, the lawyer for the neighbors, pulls out all the stops to win Mike’s affection and assistance. Mike’s nearest and dearest friend, Nicky Kane, is by his side as his paralegal. Mike must use all of his talents as a lawyer and rely on his discretion and courage to do what is right and not anger the political bosses for whom he works. In the cataclysmic ending, someone will die, but who?
Did you have to do a lot of research for this book?
Yes. I did a lot of research, such as research into mining, blasting, science, and legal issues. I talked with experts in mining, blasting, and geology to come up with realistic scenarios. Also, I worked hard to boil that down into an enjoyable mix that presents environmental issues without being preachy and teaches without being teach-y (sorry!).
Is there one chapter you are most excited for readers to read?
Quite a few, actually. I present chapters on a calamitous accident in a coal strip mine and blasting. Also, I relied on my skills as an environmental lawyer and came up with an exciting cross-examination that pits Mike against Ernie Rinati, the owner of the mining company. Without going into detail, I think the end of the novel is particularly exciting and will be hard to put down.
Do you have a favorite character in Amid Rage?
Naturally, I like Mike Jacobs quite a bit. He’s a 28-year-old, shaggy-haired environmental prosecutor. Mike’s not afraid to bend the rules when he has to do so. He had a difficult past, and his friendship and love for Nicky is a driving force for his actions in the story. Mike is a likable guy, so it’s easy for him to be my favorite character.
Like Mike, I have a bit of a crush on Nicky. How could you not?
Surprisingly, I really like Ernie Rinati, the antagonist of the story. He is a truly evil man. We see that from the very first chapter. I worked hard to make him as evil and awful as possible. His one good point is his love for his three-legged dog, Butch. In a way, Rinati really drives the story. He’s my favorite character that I love to hate.
How did you come up with the twists in Amid Rage?
Great question. There are many of them. I don’t want to give away the story, but a writer generally has to work hard on the twists to get them right. They have to be surprising but believable. You do not want the reader saying, “that could never happen.” You do want the reader saying, “I didn’t see that coming, but yes, it makes perfect sense.” Amid Rage is full of twists and each one of them enhances the story.
Was being an author something you always wanted to do?
I always wrote as a hobby. In my sophomore year of law school, I decided to be an environmental lawyer. I went to Vermont Law School, which specializes in environmental law, and followed that career path for many years. It was very satisfying, but between practicing law and raising a family, I had little time left over for writing.
I never gave up writing, though. About 14 years ago, I started writing again more seriously. I wrote a short story every month for a year. Then I wrote my first novel after about a year. I have now written six novels; Drink to Every Beast was the first one published (the first Mike Jacobs novel), and now Amid Rage. The third book in the Mike Jacobs series is Strange Fire. That book is done, and I’m hoping it will come out at the end of 2021. I have another novel I’ve finished, entirely different from my environmental legal thrillers. It is a gritty, post-pandemic Young Adult novel called Hush Little Baby. Hopefully, that will be out soon.
Long story short, I always wanted to be a writer and really never gave it up. For the past three years, I’ve been a full-time writer. I’m glad I’m finally here.
Walk us through the publication process of Amid Rage. Did you come up with the name? The cover?
I came up with the name very early in the process. The title comes from a verse in the biblical prophet Habakkuk. In it, the prophet says, “In the midst of rage, remember to be merciful.” Wow. That verse really stuck with me, and it seemed appropriate to this story. My publisher liked the Mike Jacobs series and was enthusiastic about publishing Amid Rage, the second book in the series, so that really wasn’t a major issue. My publisher and I came up with the cover together. I had obtained the logo for Rhino Mining Company from a logo design crowd-sourced group and wanted it incorporated into the cover. The cover was probably the third or fourth design. All similar, but I liked this the best.
If you could give one piece of advice to aspiring authors, what would it be?
I have two pieces of advice. To be a good writer, two things must be at the top of your To-Do list: READ. You hear that advice all the time, but it is one of the best pieces of advice I can give. I read in a four-book cycle. (1) A book by a debut author or new author so I can support them and also see what new authors are doing with our craft. (2) A book by a tried-and-true thriller writer. There are so many good books to read, and I cannot possibly read all of them, so I try my best to read the books I hear other writers talking about. (3) Non-fiction. I spend a fair amount of time reading about climate change, but also other non-fiction. (4) Whatever the hell I want to read. Then I start over.
WRITE. This is also the advice given by every writer, and it is true. You cannot be a writer unless you write. I’ve met quite a few aspiring writers who have confessed they are ashamed of their first drafts, so they hesitate to put their words onto paper. The great writer and teacher Anne Lamott in Bird By Bird (a terrific writing book) said:
“Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere. Start by getting something—anything—down on paper.”
She goes on to say: “Perfectionism will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft.”
Just write, people.
Thanks for giving me this opportunity.