Interview: David Corbett

Please give a warm welcome to David Corbett, author of The Long Lost Love Letters of Doc Holliday.

Tell us about your main character.

This is something of a story, so take a moment to freshen your cup of coffee, settle into your chair, and pull the cat onto your lap.

doc hollidayI was about 100 pages into this book with the same protagonist as the last—Phelan Tierney, the hero of The Mercy of the Night—when I had a conversation with my agent about taking it to a new publisher. She quite reasonably informed me that she couldn’t take the second book in a series to a new house, and then added that editors were crowing for strong women protagonists. “Could you do that?”

Of course I could.

This obliged not just complete revision of what I’d written. It required creation of a whole new character from nothing more than “strong woman protagonist.”

Fortunately, I’m blessed with a number of formidable women friends to cannibalize—ahem, rely upon—for inspiration.

I knew the character was going to be a lawyer, given the story, and I happen to be very close to an impressive litigator named Allison Davis—brilliant, funny, tough, i.e., perfect.

I also wanted to give my character a bit of a wild streak and a complicated backstory. Fortunately for me (if not so much for her), I’m also friends with the poet Kim Addonizio. Seriously, read her work, especially Tell Me, which was nominated for the National Book Award, or her set of biographical essays, Bukowski in a Sundress. Kim gave me more than enough to work with, especially when I melded her incendiary spirit with a lawyer’s mind.

But the real, original inspiration for the character who would become Lisa Balamaro, my protagonist in The Long-Lost Love Letters of Doc Holliday, was a friend of my wife’s whose identity I will keep secret. The moment that convinced me I needed somehow to use her as a character occurred at our wedding.

It was that moment when the DJ announces, “I want all the single ladies out on the dance floor.” The dreaded bouquet toss.

None of my women friends bothered to respond—no way they were going out there. Most were well beyond hoping for (another) husband. But one of my wife’s dearest friends—call her Belinda—bravely went out as requested. Alone. As in absolutely—except for the four-year old daughter of another friend.

It was one of those excruciating gaps in time when you almost close your eyes, hoping the seconds will tick on by and it will all be over soon.

But then suddenly a voice cried out, “Okay buddy, come on,” hands clapping, “chop chop, let’s go!” Another friend, a Philly Italian in a vivid red dress, came out on the floor, pushed up her sleeves, and dared the DJ to throw those damn flowers. It took all the attention off Belinda, and made an otherwise unbearably awkward scene into comedy. It was so selfless, so caring, so funny I knew I had to use it, use her. Here was my big fat Italian heart.

In the book, these three women meld together into one composite character, with some additional inventive touches of my own. The result is a young arts lawyer, the black sheep of a prominent east-coast family, with a generous heart, a savvy mind, and a bit of a chip on her shoulder. She’s been dismissed as a mediocrity if not an outright embarrassment by her famous father, her demanding mother, and her over-achieving siblings, but she’s about to show them and everyone else just what she’s really made of.

This entails dealing with the man on whom she has a secret crush: Tuck Mercer, one-time bull rider and sketch artist (“The Rodeo Rembrandt”), reformed art forger (“The Man Who Forged the West”), and real-time possessor of the most infamous romantic correspondence in American history: the letters Doc Holliday wrote to his cousin Mattie and she to him both before and after she entered the convent. Those letters become the cherished prized in a battle for possession that pits Lisa not only against a corrupt judge from the Tombstone area, but a quartet of highly motivated ex-marines.

Do you listen to music when you write? 

Sometimes. Nothing with lyrics or too inviting a melodic line. If it becomes a distraction I switch it off.

But on occasion, especially when I’m too much in my head, I will turn on something largely for the sake of atmosphere. The stuff I listen to is pretty obscure, and depending on what mood I’m after it might be:

  • Morten Lauridsen, a composer of stunningly beautiful choral music and an “American mystic”
  • Arvo Part, another composer of spiritual music, but Estonian, not American
  • Russian church music, Gregorian chant, or the canonical polyphony of Palestrina or Josquin
  • Richard Strauss, in particular the “Four Last Songs,” Metamorphosen and Verklärte Nacht
  • Max Richter, a “post-minimalist” composer perhaps best known for his film scores
  • Kultrum, an album of fluid, haunting pieces with just bandoneon and string quartet
  • Classical guitar pieces from Cuba and Argentina

What themes do you regularly (re)visit in your writing? 

The struggle for truth, justice, authenticity, and decency in a world driven by greed, power, cruelty, and cynical deceit.

The need for honest love, while frequently getting driven off-course by our romantic or sexual obsessions.

Our hunger for kindness.


David Corbett is the award-winning author of six novels, including 2018’s The Long-Lost Love Letters of Doc Holliday. Other works include the novella The Devil Prayed and Darkness Fell, the story collection Thirteen Confessions, and the writing guide The Art of Character (“A writer’s bible” – Elizabeth Brundage). George Pelecanos remarked, “Corbett, like Robert Stone and Graham Greene before him, is crafting important, immensely thrilling books.” His short fiction has been selected twice for Best American Mystery Stories, and his non-fiction has appeared in the New York Times, Narrative, Bright Ideas, and Writer’s Digest, where he is a contributing editor. For more, visit:


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5 thoughts on “Interview: David Corbett”

  1. Welcome, David! I think I saw you (a fleeting glance, to be sure) at Bouchercon last week. Anyway, my appetite for this book is well and truly whetted now, what with your previous blogs, Keenan’s review yesterday, and now this. On to Mount TBR it goes!

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Lisa Balamaro was so real, young and in the process of becoming wizened, smart and naive at the same time, I immediately felt protective of her and felt the urge to reach into the pages to bestow my unsolicited advise, although I sense she would probably tell me where to stick my advice. Hope to see her again!

    Liked by 2 people

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