Alan Orloff will kill you with a laugh. Or, at least his skillfully crafted characters will. Orloff is the author behind the Last Laff mystery series centering around amateur sleuth and standup comedian Channing Hayes. Though Orloff employees a unique brand of his own humor, the stories themselves hold true to the genre with edge of your seat suspense and enough clues and twists to keep the reader guessing to the very end.
A born and bred Washingtonian, this husband and father has worked as a forklift operator, factory supervisor, in engineering, and on nuclear submarines. I have no clue how he got the forklift on the submarine. With degrees in engineering and business, Orloff has been employed in the newspaper business, marketing, and software development. A believer in waste reduction and recycling, he started his own newsletter, educating the public about the need to improve our ecosystem through simple changes in our daily routines. But, Orloff’s passion for writing refused to take a backseat.
“Killer Routine” debuted last year, introducing Channing Hayes, his comedy, and the tragedy he’s had to overcome. “Deadly Campaign,” the second in the series came out this year and once again has Channing immersed in a mystery embroiled in politics, payoffs, blackmail, and, of course, murder.
Orloff’s initial offering to readers was “Diamonds for the Dead,” an Agatha Award nominee. In that novel, he established a solid storytelling foundation rife with family secrets and murder that would serve as a precursor of things to come from this talented author. However, similar to Channing Hayes, Orloff has a parallel persona he dubbed Zak Allen, who also happens to write mystery novels, albeit a bit darker than Orloff. Zak pits his protagonists against cannibalistic killers and psychotics who enjoy bragging about their victims to a shock radio DJ. Whether a reader starts with Orloff or Zak, there is more than degree of certainty the reader is in for bumpy and thoroughly enjoyable mystery ride.
Q) Why mystery?
A) They say you should write what you know, but since most of the stuff I know is pretty boring, I decided to write what I read. I read a lot of crime fiction--mysteries and thrillers and everything in between. I guess over the years I’ve absorbed many of the conventions, rhythms, and pacing from those types of stories. I don’t think I’d be very good at writing romances or historical fiction—they’re just not my cup of tea. Now, if you want to talk horror and science fiction, I’ve read quite a bit in those genres, too, so…well, enter Zak Allen.
Q) You credit your wife with providing much needed support for your venture into a career of writing. Writing is a lonely occupation with little regard for clocks. How do you stay connected with your wife and children?
A) My wife is my biggest supporter and my kids are my biggest fans. I’m a stay-at-home dad, so I’m fortunate to get time to write when the kids are at school. When they’re not in school, or when my wife’s not at work, I get plenty of opportunities to interact with them—we’re quite connected. What might be lacking is my connection with the outside world. Sitting in my cave, pounding a keyboard all day long makes Alan a dull boy.
Q) Quite literally, you have utilized your own neighborhood as stalking ground for your killers. Have your neighbors ever raised a questioning brow during barbeques?
A) My neighbors, my friends, my relatives. All are fair game. I’m always looking for inspiration for my next plot, my next characters, my next setting. Now that you mention it, though, I stopped getting invited to barbeques about two years ago, right about when my first book came out. Probably just a coincidence, huh?
Q) I have to ask. What was your involvement with nuclear subs?
A) Armed with a mechanical engineering degree, my first job out of college was with General Electric, in their Manufacturing Management program. It consisted of different jobs, in different locations, in different business units. One of my assignments was at the Newport News Shipyards, helping to supervise a crew repairing the missile hatch seals on nuclear subs. All in all, a fascinating experience, both on the subs and in the rest of the shipyard (The USS Nimitz was in drydock there, too, and man, that thing is huge!)
Q) You acknowledge there’s a fine line between comedy and tragedy. Actually, the line can be almost nonexistent. How do you maintain your characters’ balance without leaning too far to either side?
A) It is a tough balancing act. I wanted to write a series that concentrated more on the “darker” side, than on the comedy, and I think I achieved that. Those readers looking for a “funny-funny” book might be a little disappointed. These are mysteries that just happen to take place in the comedy club world. Of course, since many of the characters are comics, their worldviews do have some humor behind them.
Q) Any parting comments for your readers and those yet to pick up one of your books?
A) I’m thankful to all my readers (and reviewers!) for spending their precious time with my characters and my stories. I work very hard to make those stories entertaining!
DA Kentner is an author and journalist www.kevad.net