Rick Bleiweiss is the definition of a true renaissance man. In addition to being the award-winning author of Pignon Scorbion, Rick Bleiweiss’ professional history includes: touring musician, recorded songwriter, music producer of a Grammy-nominated album, record company senior executive, convention speaker, lecturer at multiple universities, journalist, publishing executive, and devoted social activist.
At the end of this month, Bleiweiss will be releasing the second installment of his award-winning Pignon Scorbion series, titled Murder in Haxford.
When a delightful day at the Haxford spring fair turns deadly after a balloonist plummets to the ground, Bleiweiss' beloved Chief Inspector Pignon Scorbion is on the case. The quirky detective is accompanied by his six even quirkier deputies as they work to crack the mystery.
We can’t wait to read Murder in Haxford. And in the meantime are thrilled to bring you this fascinating interview with Rick Bleiweiss.
Murder in Haxford
To get our audience up to speed, tell us a bit about you, and your writing and reading interests!
I’m a healthy, energetic, 78 years old and trying to be both an example and inspiration to other seniors that you’re never too old to follow your dreams or try out new ventures. In fact, I hope I can inspire anyone at any age to take chances and carry out their passions.
I’ve had a fabulous life working with, and on the records of, huge superstar recording artists including Whitney Houston, U2, Wu Tang Clan, David Bowie, N*Sync, Brittney Spears, Pink, TLC, Kiss, Melissa Etheridge, Kenny G, Barry Manilow, The Backstreet Boys, Alicia Keys, John Mellencamp, Herbie Mann, The BeeGees, and many, many others.
I’ve done the marketing and sales for some great movie soundtracks including Star Wars, This Is Spinal Tap, Saturday Night Fever, Grease, Chariots of Fire, Flashdance, and the first-ever rap movie RUN-DMC’s Krush Groove. And, I’ve had the honor of working with four of the greatest record label legends: Clive Davis (Arista), Chris Blackwell (Island), L.A. Reid (LaFace), and Neil Bogart (Casablanca).
Since I’ve become a publishing executive I’ve functioned in many areas, with one of them being acquiring books and catalogs by major authors and celebrities in that space as well.
I have been a reader for as long as I can remember. Mystery and science fiction have been my two favorite genres. I recall reading the entire Hardy Boys series very early on and then devoured everything from Agatha Christie, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Ellery Queen, Erle Stanley Garner, Rex Stout, Dashiell Hammett, Chester Himes, and other classic mystery writers. In later years I read most everything written by Robert B. Parker, Clive Cussler, Elmore Leonard, and too many other authors to keep naming. One of my absolutely favorite mystery books of somewhat recent vintage was Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafron.
In science fiction I was thrilled by Asimov, Silverberg, Blish, Clarke, Heinlein, Dick, and so many others.
I’ve also had many experiences during my life—I’ve fossil hunted in both France and the U.S., studied and practice manifesting, and kayaked the rapids of the Ardeche River in France. I attended film school with Martin Scorsese and Bob Balaban, lectured at numerous universities and OLLI programs, and co-founded and taught a curriculum at Baruch College. I was offered a job by a porn film company and another to work on The Odd Couple by the show’s production company. I acted and sang in a Summer Stock production of The King & I, was in the peanut gallery on the Howdy Doody show and had my foot stepped on by Clarabell, was on a TV game show (The Sale of the Century with Joe Garagiola) where I won a trip and other prizes. I’ve appeared in Sex & the City, acted in the remake of Arsenic & Old Lace where I met Helen Hayes, Lillian Gish, Fred Gwynn and Bob Crane). I created and ran The National Visual Art Search with artist Peter Max and attended an accelerated course for senior business executives at Harvard University. I had what turned out to be private concerts by Jerry Lee Lewis and Jimi Hendrix, attended Toni Braxton’s wedding, acted as a lookout for Gene Simmons of Kiss, lost my toddler son at a party and found him sitting on Donna Summer’s lap at a piano as she played a song and he pounded the keys along with her. I once sat behind a governor at a tennis match while he was under threat of assassination. I also signed Richie Havens and produced his only music video. I worked in the NYU computer room when I was twenty-one and learned how they programmed computers with plug in wires. I created an Anthrax comic book (the rock group) and also created the first-ever CD single. I was in a skyscraper that caught fire two floors below me. I signed Robert Englund to play Freddy Kruger on an album I commissioned called Freddy’s Greatest Hits. And more.
You have certainly led a fascinating life! Now, let’s back up a bit. You are called a “man of many hats.” What are some of these proverbial hats?
I’ve always tried to find the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, so to speak, and found the chase the most fun part, whether I ever got that pot of gold or not. So, my whole life I’ve tried new things. In music, I’ve been a working/touring musician, record producer, recorded songwriter, record company owner, promotion man, sales and marketing executive, headed three record companies, was a major record label executive, and a consultant to at least six record labels.
I’ve written my whole life, but until my first mystery novel was published last year when I was 77, it was all non-fiction—writing chapters for anthologies, newspaper and magazine articles, columns, and cover stories, and I wrote and published a sports newspaper (when I was twelve). That said, I did self-publish an illustrated book of political humor under a pseudonym seven years ago that sold virtually no copies but won two major international book awards.
I founded and ran a tourism company in New York City that put people’s names and messages in lights on Broadway on a gigantic digital billboard, and owned and ran a video sales company. I did information seminars for concerned groups in the early days of GRID (AIDS), was a film editor, ran a video studio, produced corporate video presentations and convention programs, produced a circus, taught myself to program computers and programmed databases and advertising systems for companies I was employed by as a music executive, and I have been a publishing executive for 16 years now—and still going strong.
I was a board member of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival for eight years (and head of their Business Alliance), the Ashland Independent Film Festival, the President’s Board at Southern Oregon University for ten years (chair for two years) and head of their Fine & Performing Arts Committee. I was in the group that raised money for the Ashland Emergency Food Bank to buy their permanent building and have been honored for my fund-raising work by UCLA and the Boy Scouts.
I’m really interested in your background as a musician and music producer. Tell us a bit about that. And: does your experience with music inform your writing?
I began studying and playing classical guitar when I was eight years old, or possibly even younger. But then I saw film cowboy Gene Autrey singing Back in The Saddle Again while sitting on his horse Champion, and lost interest in classical guitar and started playing pop/country guitar. Then when I heard my first rock & roll song, which was in 1955 or 1956, I immediately started playing pop rock guitar licks and songs. I went on to be the leader, guitarist/bassist, songwriter, part-time singer, and arranger (as well as the manager in many cases) in a number of bands and had songs I wrote recorded by other artists.
One of the highlights of my band days was opening for 3 Dog Night in front of almost a thousand club-goers in Buffalo, New York the day the men first landed on the moon. My bands also played alongside the Music Machine, Ruby & the Romantics, Steam, The Cufflinks, The Vagrants (Leslie West’s band before Mountain), The Rascals and a number of other hit acts of the 1960s.
I started producing records in 1975 and co-produced over 50 singles and albums, including one that was Grammy-nominated, another that was used as the music bed in a Coca Cola commercial, still another that the NFL used as their musical intro and outro to their holiday game broadcasts, and lastly one that popularized whistles in discos and sold over a half million copies (Gary Toms Empire’s 7-6-5-4-3-2-1 Blow Your Whistle!). Many of my record productions have been sampled by rap artists over the years.
I also ran record companies, and in that role, I signed one of the first all-female rock bands, had a #1 jazz record with Herbie Mann, signed Shari Lewis, Paul Winter, Stephen Halpern, The Tokens, and the aforementioned Richie Havens and Robert Englund.
I also co-wrote a science fiction rock musical that almost became a Broadway play, and I’m in the process of updating it right now. It’s what it would be like if Star Wars was crossed with Rocky Horror Picture Show as a musical.
I can’t say that my experiences as a musician or producer have impacted or affected my writing, but my years as a senior executive in the music industry in record companies certainly prepared me for my current role as Head of New Business Development for Blackstone Publishing in the publishing industry.
How does your unique background influence your perspective as a writer?
I don’t really know how it influences my perspective, except that I have tried to be fearless over the course of my life and try new things without trepidation or concern for failure.
Some experiences I’ve had during my life I have somewhat incorporated into my books. For example, I have ridden in hot air balloons, I won a crossbow shooting contest at a castle in England, I produced a circus performance, I have been to Hawaii many times, I know quite a bit about art and painting (no I don’t paint myself), and I’ve undergone past life regression hypnosis, all of which I’ve used in some form or other in my Scorbion books and in my stories in the Murder, Mystery and Music anthology series.
I really want to talk about your new book, but before we get to that, please tell us more about the broader scope of the Pignon Scorbion series.
The series is set in the summer of 1910 in the small fictitious market town of Haxford in the countryside of England. It’s very much of the Downton Abbey era, as well as right between when Sherlock Holmes passed away and Hercule Poirot was just starting to get acclaim. The book is a classic whodunit in the style of Christie and Doyle, and Scorbion has been compared to Holmes and Poirot by many reviewers and endorsers.
The characters are colorful, quirky, and humorous, and in the case of bookseller Thelma Smith who joins the amateur detectives assisting Scorbion, beautiful, brilliant and a romantic interest for him.
Scorbion himself is a dapper dandy dresser, unconventional, observational, and highly deductive. He has a knack for solving crimes and mysteries and is tormented by a malicious newspaper owner who continually tries to discredit him.
The books are written to entertain people, take them away from their day-to-day stresses, and transport them back to the kinder, gentler times of early 20th century England. There are deaths in the books, but no gore, no violence, and no overt sexuality. The mysteries are challenging (but can be figured out), the characters are fun, Scorbion is interesting, and the books are fast reads.
Pignon Scorbion & the Barbershop Detectives
The first book in the series, Pignon Scorbion & the Barbershop Detectives is a PNBA BuzzBooks Winner. Can you tell us more about that and what is was like to have this book be recognized like that?
It was, and is, Fabulous with a capital F! When the attendees at their Fall Conference voted it the Buzz Book I must have smiled the biggest smile I’ve ever smiled. It was a joyous occasion. After that, the book was a Barnes & Noble Debut Pick, Amazon Editor’s Pick, Publishers Weekly Debut Pick, and was #1 in five mystery categories on Amazon. It also received a batch of tremendous reviews.
But even before all that happened, some truly great authors endorsed that first book and kicked it off really well—Heather Graham, Rex Pickett, Andrews & Wilson, James Wade, Shelley Sheperd Gray, Natasha Boyd, Pamela Binnings Ewen, Reed Farrel Coleman, Catherine Coulter, Nancy Pickard, Dick Lochte, and Beth Albright. Their enthusiasm and support for the book blew me away.
And then recently I’ve experienced two other wonderful things with the book.
First, a number of teens have found their way to it and they and their parents have told me that they devoured it and want to read the second book. I’m really pleased that a middle-grade and YA audience is starting to discover the books and have a great experience reading mysteries.
And second, a European film and TV production company has optioned it for a TV series and is currently casting actors and writing scripts. I realize there’s a huge leap from option to actually having something that airs, but it’s quite exciting, nonetheless—another case of a fun chase to try to reach the pot of gold at the end of a rainbow.
Murder in Haxford is the next book in the series. Without spoiling too much, share a bit about the book.
The adventures and exploits of Pignon Scorbion continue as he solves baffling cases through his distinctive powers of deduction and observation. He continues to conduct investigations and interrogations in the barbershop, aided by his sergeant, Simon Adley, and his colorful band of amateur “deputies”—barbers Calvin Brown, Yves and Barnabus, shoeshine man Thomas, Morning News reporter Billy Arthurson and unconventional bookshop owner Thelma Smith, whose brilliance and beauty captivate, challenge, and complement Scorbion.
During an unusually heat-filled English summer, Scorbion and his cohorts are presented with a series of intriguing crimes: the near-impossible death of a hot-air balloonist shot and killed by an arrow while seemingly aloft and alone in the balloon, a blacksmith murdered on his way home after helping deliver twin calves, and the poisoning of a usurious moneylender who mysteriously dies in barbershop as he is having his hair cut.
While Scorbion is working to unravel the mysteries and motivations behind each murder, Faustin Hardcastle, owner and editor of the Haxford Gazette, continues to smear him, and assigns one of his reporters to solve the murders before Scorbion. And to complicate his life further, Scorbion deals with the possible unwanted return of his ex-wife, Katherine, while he attempts to maintain and grow a relationship with Thelma.
The book has been endorsed by the likes of Al Roker, Andrew Child (Jack Reacher), Catherine Coulter, Andrew Gulli editor of Strand Mystery Magazine, Rex Pickett (Sideways), Patrick Larkin, Joshua Hood, Don Bruns and other great authors. It’s already gotten a B&N Press Pick and great reviews from Publishers Weekly, Booklist, the Historical Novel Society, and many other publications and organizations.
Now: why historical mysteries? What draws you to them?
I can’t say that I’m drawn to historical mysteries and only historical mysteries, because I’ve now also written a science fiction novel, a magical realism book, and a short story series which are all set in contemporary times.
But, and here’s a quite big but, the way I write is that I plan nothing out in advance. I see the stories and characters play out in my mind like a movie and find that my job is to type out on my computer what I’m seeing in my head so that a reader will what I see as they read. I get absorbed in the plot and characters to the degree that they become an alternate reality for me, and I am totally absorbed in what they do.
And the way that relates to writing historical mysteries is that having read so many of them over my life, and watching a ton of historical mystery TV shows, especially on Brit Box, that genre is ingrained in me, and when Scorbion and his time period appeared to me, I knew I had to write what I was imagining. I had a tremendous sympathy and liking, of the language of the era, Christie’s and Conan Doyle’s writing style, and the ethos of that time and place.
And finally, is there anything else you’d like readers to know that I haven’t touched on here?
I hope readers will try out the series no matter what their age is, and they could start with either book. While Murder in Haxford is a stand-alone, to get the full history of Scorbion and the other characters a reader might want to start with the first book.
Also, I’m in the process of writing a third Scorbion book, a non-fiction book on sound business leadership, my memoir, and a novel about a crotchety 85-year-old ex-Army lifer who unwillingly goes to a retirement home but then helps the residents fend off a group of teens who are harassing them. It’s like a cross between Home Alone and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. My agent is very enthused about all the books, as am I. But then again, I’m the author, so I’d better be partial to them.