Billy Blessing is an African-American chef who does a cooking segment on the fictional New York-based TV morning show "Wake Up America." In Al Roker's new mystery, Blessing is sent to help TV host Desmond O'Day launch the network's new late-night show in Los Angeles. After O'Day is blown up, Blessing helps solve the whodunit.
"The Midnight Show Murders" is a follow-up to Roker's 2009 book, "The Morning Show Murders," which also featured Blessing. Both books were co-written with mystery writer Dick Lochte. Roker, 56, spoke with Newsday about how he manages to write his mysteries and predict the weather - and his appearance Friday night at the Book Revue in Huntington.
Billy Blessing has been called a loosely based version of you. But you compare him to Eddie Murphy in the beginning of the book. So which is it?
Unfortunately he's probably more like me, but I would like him to be more like Eddie Murphy. It's very much like most people want to be like Bugs Bunny, but they're more like Daffy Duck.
You poke fun at yourself in the book, saying, "Even the goofy weatherman on the 'Today' show has written five books." Were you chuckling to yourself when you tucked that in there?
It's kind of my literary version of Alfred Hitchcock, who shows up toward the beginning of his movies. Sort of a little inside joke.
Desmond O'Day speaks in Irish slang, saying things like "I haven't got a baldy [clue]" or "It's my bad cess [luck]." How did you learn the slang?
Dick Lochte, who co-wrote this with me, did most of the research on the Irish slang. I'm a big fan of Craig Ferguson. Of course, he's Scottish. I just decided to change it around . . . and make him Irish.
So O'Day isn't supposed to be Conan O'Brien?
No, no. He's an amalgam . . .
How do you work with Dick Lochte? I saw him quoted as saying that he does the plot, and if you are laughing about the quirky characters, that part is you.
I come up with the ideas: Here's the concept, here's the characters. I come up with where I'd like to go, and Dick shows me how to get there.
Does he mind second billing?
I don't think so, as long as the checks don't bounce.
Who do you think your writing is similar to? The quirky characters seemed like a Carl Hiaasen novel.
That's high praise, indeed. I should be so lucky. I would say somewhere between Carl Hiaasen and Janet Evanovich. Although I don't think I'm in their league. They've been doing this a long time. They're very good at what they do. Much like, no offense, I don't think either one of them would be all that great doing the weather on the 'Today' show. I'm kind of stepping into their world.
How do you come up with your one-liners? Such as "He made Gordon Ramsay sound like a food whisperer."
It's like sausage. Everybody likes sausage. Do you really want to know how it's made? Not really. You're just writing it, and it just kind of hits you. Or when you go over it a second time, you might improve the line.
When do you have time to do this? You make the rest of us look bad.
Maybe because I'm West Indian or have some West Indian or Caribbean blood in me, because if you only have two jobs, you're a slacker. If it's something you enjoy doing, you find the time. I spent a lot of time last year in trains, planes, automobiles and hotels. I could either watch bad television or I could write.
Doesn't your wife, "20/20's" Deborah Roberts, say, "Stop writing and let's have date night"?
We still do that. You find the other spaces. I wrote this book basically on my iPad. So I had it with me all the time. Whenever I had time, waiting in the pediatrician's office or the dentist's office or an airport lounge, I was able to bang out a chapter or two.
On your tours, what's the question you get asked most that has nothing to do with the book? Is it about the "Today" show? Gastric bypass? Cooking? What the weather will be?
What time do you get up in the morning?
And the answer is?
What's the next Billy Blessing mystery going to entail?
Maybe daytime television. Cable news. There's any number of cable news hosts who are ripe for killing off.
Would you like to name any names?
Will the books be made into movies?
Nobody's called yet, but one can hope.
AL ROKER BOOK SIGNING AND DISCUSSION
WHEN | WHERE: 7 p.m. Friday, Book Revue, 313 New York Ave., Huntington, 631-271-1442; bookrevue.com
The "Today" show weatherman will answer questions and sign copies of his new mystery, "The Midnight Show Murders"