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Q&A: Journalist Tim Rodriguez, author of ‘Never is Now’

Tim Rodriguez is a former crime reporter at the New Bern Sun Journal, and he recently released “Never is Now,” a murder mystery novel set in the sleepy town of Random.
Ryan Shaffer
PRE News & Ideas
Tim Rodriguez is a former crime reporter at the New Bern Sun Journal, and he recently released “Never is Now,” a murder mystery novel set in the sleepy town of Random.

Ryan Shaffer: This is PRE News and Ideas and Classical Music for eastern North Carolina. I'm Ryan Shaffer. I'm joined in the studio by Tim Rodriguez. Rodriguez is a former crime reporter at the New Bern Sun Journal, and he recently released “Never is Now,” a murder mystery novel set in the sleepy town of Random.

Now, before we dive into the book, I'd like to ask you a little bit about your time as a journalist. You were on the crime and justice beat, and for a time, you worked at the New Burn Sun Journal. How did you get into journalism and how did you end up on that beat?

Tim Rodriguez: I got into journalism because I graduated from college with a degree in Spanish and asked myself now what are you going to do? But I always knew I wanted to write so the best avenue for that was journalism. I first started in 1971 in Petersburg, Va., at a daily called The Progress Index, and from there I came here. Back then this was in the mid- to late-seventies. We had five reporters: a sports reporter, a social reporter, city editor, wire editor and managing editor. So, your duties with that small of a staff, I covered not only cops and robbers and justice, but Craven County and the Craven Commissioners. Cops and robbers was a full-time job, and doing both was well. . . you might know there's no overtime in newspapers.

Shaffer: Could you describe a typical day or week for a journalist on that beat?

Rodriguez: In New Bern, back in the day, I got up at about 6:00. We were downtown right across from the town hall, and I parked in the lot. I go across the street to the magistrates office. Back then anybody that was ticketed, much less arrested, we put in the paper, so I had to copy down every ticket citation that the magistrate had issued. Then I go over to the police department, copy down all their activities that evening, and it took about an hour and a half. I go back and type all that up. Pretty tedious. And then, if I had a a county commissioners the afternoon before I had to write that story up, and we had an 11:00a.m. deadline. So, if a lot of people got arrested, I was really pressed to make my deadlines.

Shaffer: In your author's bio in the book, it says “Tim Rodriguez was a journalist when newspapers counted.” What do you mean by that?

Rodriguez: The paper here is a very good example. Everybody in town got the newspaper. And if it went to one household, you had about two, maybe four readers in that household. The newspaper was read, and people remembered the stories and remembered your byline. I have a friend who was my city editor here. He made the rounds of Freedom newspapers as editor. He came back to Kinston as a publisher. He had started with seven reporters, and by the time he left, there were two. And I understand there's only one or two people writing the newspaper here at the Sun Journal today. I heard also from my friend in Kinston that the newspaper was bragging because they just hired somebody to do the local sports, which back in the 70s, if you didn't have local sports, you didn't have a newspaper.

Shaffer: Moving on to the book a little bit, you write poetry you've written for journalism, and you've written novels. How does writing a novel compare to other mediums?

Rodriguez: It's writing a novel as a marathon. Writing a poem is more like a sprint, and writing a short story is maybe like a 1/2-mile run, so be prepared to go the distance if you're going to sit down and write a novel.

Shaffer: Your book "Never is Now" is fictional. It's a crime novel where two shocking deaths wake up the sleepy town of random. Did you have this story in mind before putting pen to paper?

Rodriguez: It's sort of evolved. When I got out of newspapers, I sat down to write another novel. This story, once I started, just sort of evolved into the characters, many of whom are based on or a composite of people I've met over the course of my years in journalism. The crux of the story is also a composite of stories I heard over the years writing about the good guys and the bad guys.

Shaffer: Let's talk about the characters a little bit. You have Agnes and Will Blake. The parents of one son who was shot and burned and the other who was deemed missing at war. But it's been so long that they just presume he’s dead. Agnes is a quiet, suffering mother who if she doesn't keep busy, her thoughts will take over. Will the father is unpredictable. Where did these characters come from?

Rodriguez: I was just drawing on my experience in crime reporting for newspapers, but this setting where the farm is, and the twin ponds, it bears a striking resemblance to the twin ponds down the street from where we lived in Snow Camp. So, it's very much mirrored after the community in which we lived. And I wanted to write a mystery, and I wanted to write it in this community called Random, which bears a striking resemblance to another community called Snow Camp, N.C., where my wife and I lived for 25 years. In fact, if you went to Snow Camp, you'd see a blinking light, a store, and a Quonset Hut – the hallmarks of random.

Shaffer: You open the novel with this bit about a snake in the commode. Could you walk me through that scene and where it comes and where it comes?

Rodriguez: Perhaps somewhere I heard a story of a snake getting into somebody's commode. And here again I just kind of pulled it all together. I started with that story specifically to give the reader an opportunity to meet really, one of the most impressive characters in the book, which is the setting of the book. Random is a character much like the sea is a character in “The Old Man and the Sea.” I had already drawn the personalities for Will and Agnes. Him shooting that Moccasin in the commode, it's not too far from what he's going to do later on in the story, but I really wanted to give the reader a sense of where this is taking place.

Shaffer: It's a bit of a sleepy town. I think about the sheriff's deputy Tinnin. He's an overweight sheriff's deputy who loves his routine. He's not really expected to do much except patrol the area, which he finds absolutely perfect.

Rodriguez: It's his ideal job.

Shaffer: But he gets thrown into this whole mess surrounding the murders because it happened in his patrol area. What motivates Tinnin?

Rodriguez: Deputy Carson Tinnin, who patrols Random, likes it because he grew up there. He's a native son and two, it involves nothing but socializing because there's no crime. Never has been. So, he rides around in his car and says hello to people that he's known all his life. There's really no pressure on him to become a detective. And when these two murders occur in his region, he has this sense that he's let everybody down. He hasn't done his job. These occurred while he was on patrol and events like that have never happened in this area.

Shaffer: This has been described as a throwback murder mystery novel. Agree with that.

Rodriguez: I don't know about throwback. It occurs in 1982, and the reason it occurs then is because that's when I started it. It took me a long time to write it.

Shaffer: I was wondering when. You first put pen to paper.

Rodriguez: 1982. I was finally satisfied with it, maybe three or four years ago. I've rewritten this thing half a dozen times or so.

Shaffer: What were you pursuing? What do you think was maybe missing from it that you kept editing and re-editing?

Rodriguez: I think details—identifying these characters or the events so that the reader could actually visualize what was going on. And two, in my second revision, I had the exact dates of when these events occurred. Through Google I could find out what the weather was like that day and what phase the Moon was in. So, I knew all this, and it helped in developing a keener, sharper story.

Shaffer: That was Tim Rodriguez, author of Never is now a murder mystery novel. Rodriguez is a former newspaper journalist on the crime and justice be at newspapers across the coast, including the New Bern Sun Journal. He now lives in Ocean Isle.

Ryan is an Arkansas native and podcast junkie. He was first introduced to public radio during an internship with his hometown NPR station, KUAF. Ryan is a graduate of Tufts University in Somerville, Mass., where he studied political science and led the Tufts Daily, the nation’s smallest independent daily college newspaper. In his spare time, Ryan likes to embroider, attend musicals, and spend time with his fiancée.