Month:

December, 2011

URGENT: Need some help from my readers. Book 1 of The Delphi Chronicle trilogy, The Manuscript, is now FREE at B&N. I could use some help from readers by having them go to Amazon and right under the rankings, select the button that says “Tell us about a lower price” and then enter the B&N link and 0.00. The B&N link is: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-delphi-chronicle-book-1-the-manuscript-russell-blake/1108076528?ean=2940032924692&itm=1&usri=the+delphi+chronicle%2c+book+1+the+manuscript

The Amazon link is: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B006NAY30O

Thank you everyone for doing this. It helps Amazon maintain price matching, and is good for everyone.

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Normally, I write books. On the whole, they’re serious thriller pieces, third person, past tense, and don’t veer into the realm of the speculative or the absurd. Over the holiday I decided to try my hand at first person, present tense, in a decidedly silly and surrealistic mood – the truth is I wanted to do something new, push the envelope, climb a new mountain. The result is, well, different than anything else I’ve written.

I used a few paragraphs from my parody of writing, Gazillions, as the starting point. I deliberately wrote something unlike my stock in trade, while struggling to keep the whole mess to about 3000 words. I’ve toned down the obscenity to what you’d hear on talk radio. Mostly.

I hope you find it diverting. All rights reserved, as always.

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NEWS: Great interview with Write Into Print essential reading for those interested in more info about my process and plans.

BREAKING NEWS: Fatal Exchange receives honors as one of the top books of the year at The Kindle Book Review.

ANOTHER COOL INTERVIEW: Just went live with @jambalian about writing, King of Swords, & my WIP, The Voynich Cipher.

JOHN LESCROART INTERVIEW GOES VIRAL: My interview with NYT Bestseller John Lescroart got featured in prominent lifestyle periodical InClassicStyle. It’s a good one, so if you haven’t read it yet, check it out. Thoughts on process and craft.

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The words of a long dead bard grate on my skin as I speed along the ribbon of asphalt that bisects the high desert between Vegas and the Pacific coast—the obvious unfairness of scale that a million monkeys can bring to the party glares evident in the simplicity of those six succinct words: To be or not to be. I’m not so much bitter that some scribe had synthesized the entire human experience into so few syllables. The rough rub is that I haven’t approached the same level of rhetorical perfection, my delusions of grandeur and superiority complex notwithstanding. My ‘calling’, as I laughingly refer to it, is twisting words to do my bidding—to bend them to my will—to make them dance and tremble, mambo and bop, performing as and how I command them; to amuse or torture or reveal all, each tap of a key chipping shards from the marble to wrest the fettered figure from the block—to the delighted acclaim of the marginally interested, their porcine noses pressed hard against the stained Plexiglas, unappreciative of the miracle of creation cast before them.

Another swig from the plastic jug of Ballerina vodka stills the furies as the tumbleweeds and cactus blur by, the heat of the morning sun distorting the horizon into a shimmering mirage as the miles fly past, leaving echoes of a silent but obvious judgment on my unworthiness as a master of this realm. F#cking Shakespeare always pisses me off once my blood alcohol reaches a certain point and the cocaine edge dulls, and I know my sleep tonight, such as it’s likely to be, will be haunted by the bald, mustachioed head of the smug prick, the stiff collar and antiquated clothing a fitting foundation for the smirk on his face, which mocks the very universe that hosts my sorry existence.

I take a series of deep breaths and reach over to stroke the cold, comforting steel of the Smith and Wesson .357 magnum I like to fire out my of window at the imagined silhouettes of clowns when I’ve slugged back enough meanstreak to fuel my mischief. It’s just a thing I do to soothe my soul, a cordite balm for the open sore my festering lack of talent keeps raw. I should have gotten more sleep before trying the drive, but the moment my eyes opened, it was time to hit the road. I must have freaked out the cocktail waitress—who’d supplied such amenable company after her shift, with her gymnastic prowess that had almost placed her in Cirque du Soleil’s third tier of anonymous contortionists instead of toting watered shots of Jack to losing writers playing blackjack tables on the ghost-shift of a low-level casino, whose façade featured a steer’s snorting countenance as its come-on to frisky cow folk and Vietnamese grocers on holiday.

She’d been dozing after regaling me with tales of her boyfriend, Vinnie—who’d soon be getting out of lockup to take her away from the sordid trailer park reality that imprisoned her as surely as any bars, when I’d bolted awake to the bard’s words mocking me in a gritty tremolo. She’d reached for me, for anything, to fill the void left when her soul vacated the premises after a lackluster run, but it was time for me to get back to the vicious reality that was my daily existence. It was Monday, six in the morning, and I had a life-changing meeting in Lost Angeles at noon I couldn’t miss. If I made serious time I could shower and just make it—some things you didn’t want to blow off. All it would take to get there was willpower, some liquid bravado, a little help from my friends and a full tank of gas. I could do it. Veronica, or whatever, had slitted open an eye as I pulled on my jeans, then upgraded to a blinking accusation: another in a long line of men who’d abandoned her after getting what they needed, leaving her soiled and brimming with ire for her trouble.

“It was fun. Be good,” I’d told her as I negotiated the hotel doorknob with numb fingers that seemed to belong to a leprous stranger. A sigh of unspoken recrimination had dripped off my back as I kicked shut the door behind me.

Like the song, or at least like I think some song must go, I’d known when to hit the road—‘cause I’m a ramblin’ man.

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The sky-blue Oxford button-up shirt collar chafes my neck uncomfortably as I sit waiting for the light to turn green. The faint stink of fuel-rich exhaust mingles with the musty smell of the ancient Pontiac’s perfectly preserved leather interior; an odor redolent of pimp slappings and drug deals sealed in bygone days. I contemplate lowering the convertible top to celebrate the sun’s burning through the brown haze of smog that hangs over the city like a toxic mantle, but discard the idea. I don’t need a wind-buffeting to make me any more disheveled. Red eyes and three days of stubble stare back at me from my rear-view mirror, a silent testament to an extended weekend of excess and debauchery in Sin City; another long stint in a seemingly endless orgy of indulgence.

Working as a B-list screenwriter is a double-edged sword. The pay’s good, when it comes, and the hours can’t be beaten. With a few rewrite jobs under my belt and an action-adventure flick languishing in lesser theaters throughout the country during the holiday season, I now have enough game to drag most of the dim-witted hotties doing the bar circuit home whenever I want. That never gets old, until morning, when they inevitably want to start talking.

The talking is the worst.

Same story every time: In tinsel town from some small berg where they’d won a talent show or had been crowned Miss Cornhuskers, and after watching too many reality shows, they’d mistakenly computed they had what it took to make it. L.A. is awash in misguided hubris and attitude substituting for talent—an entire industry caters to the delusions of the newly-arrived or the perennially-hopeful. Praise the flickering neon Hollywood Jesus for the lean, hard bodies of the aspiring. Their single-minded focus on getting ahead is my entre, and all I have to do is circle the herd, probing for the telltale signs of the weak and slow and stupid before I streak in for the kill. I’m just one of many predators in an uneasy truce at the watering holes, but my line is a little more convincing than most because, now, I have a movie out. The mention of my name in the credits has an aphrodisiac effect on a certain type of entertainment industry social climber, and once I hint that I have sway in casting, the quarry is down, exposed, supine—another easy conquest.

A strident horn sounds from a bombastic Benz behind me, interrupting my reverie. I goose the worn metal pedal and the gas-guzzling V-8′s reassuring burble propels me down the road. Nervous over the imminent meeting and edgy from the half tab of Dexedrine I choked down as an eye-opener with my coffee, I reach for the dashboard and stab the power button on the stereo like it owes me money. AC/DC blares from the speakers with a thrashing of guitars, the singer’s giddy vocal leer lamenting jailbreaks gone wrong. Keeping time with an anxious hand on the cracked plastic steering wheel, I fumble beside me for a can of warm beer. Coors Light, of course. Breakfast of near, or soon-to-be, champions.

I’ve subdued the flitter of butterflies by the time I pull onto the studio lot, waved through by security who spot the access sticker decorating my windshield—a remnant from a spit-and-polish job I did on a pilot two weeks earlier in Building B. What a cringe-worthy pile of shit that had been. Zero chance of ever being made, but someone’s cousin was blowing the right exec, so at least an hour of unwatchable script had been churned out of the sausage machine, in desperate need of a fix—which is where I came in.

I run my hands through my still-damp hair and pat it into straggly place, in an effort to appear at least marginally professional for my pitch session.

After killing the engine, I swing my feet out onto the pavement and stand, stretching to my full six-foot height with a groan. I should have cooled it with the partying yesterday. And the day before. Oh well, what was done…

I make a guttural clicking sound with my tongue, reminiscent of African tribesmen in television documentaries. In response, a brown furry form scurries from the back seat over the center console—which I f#cking hate with a passion. I shake my head in disgust. We’d covered the proper way to exit a car hundreds of times, but some of us were just too stubborn to learn.

The entry to the administration offices looms ominously across the lot, and I move unsteadily toward it, my companion scampering blithely by my side. It’s time to remind everyone who is boss. I clear my throat and stop on the front steps, turning to lock eyes and ensure I have the reprobate’s full attention.

“This is an important meeting. Don’t be an ass-hat. Don’t crap on the carpet, don’t disrupt things, and let me do all the talking. And please, whatever you do…no masturbating.”

My voice sounds disembodied, as though it’s drifting from afar, from down a long tunnel lined with cotton. Maybe the speed hadn’t been such a wise move. I twist the door lever and push it open, fixing what I hope is an amenable smile on my face.

Jarred by the sound of our entry, a breathtaking brunette glides from behind a backlit orange onyx-faced reception desk. She approaches across the Italian marble floor with an indifferent expression, all tanned, sculpted legs and muscled buttocks sheathed in a black executive skirt cut high enough to hint at heaven. I note with approval that she favors five-inch stiletto heels, foregoing practical business flats in favor of a little spice. Things are suddenly looking up.

“Russell, right? Thrilled to finally meet you. Come on in. Sol’s expecting you,” she says in a dusky voice, assessing me in the way spiders eye flies.

“Super. Lead the way,” I reply, the words sounding flat to my tuned ear.

“You want some Pellegrino or Fiji?” she calls over her shoulder as we make our way down the long hall.

“No thanks, I’m good,” I assure her, admiring the view.

We walk through the cavernous building, my furry associate holding my hand, his leathery palm a reminder of what has gone badly wrong with my life. I should have trimmed his nails, but he could be a regal pain about some hygiene niceties. Whenever I brandished the clippers he went berserk—you’d have thought I was trying to do a root canal on him. At least he’d occasionally acquiesce to file them himself, though doing a slipshod job of it. Amateurish. Another source of irritation for me in an already difficult situation.

The stunning assistant holds the door open for us and we edge past her into a large, wood-paneled office with film posters and celebrity photos plastered on every wall. Row aside row of awards are proudly displayed in a custom-made burled walnut armoire, replete with down-lighting—the better to make them twinkle. The heavyset man in his sixties, wearing the inevitable suit vest and loosened neck-tie, rises from behind the largest desk in the world, and pushes an ashtray bearing a smoldering cigar out of the way. Sol extends his arms wide in friendly greeting.

“Russell. Sweetheart. You look great! You get a little work done around the eyes? Nice. Not all Mickey Rourke. Tasteful. But please, sit, sit. Mi casa, and all that.” He pauses. “So whadda ya got for me today? Zombie cats? Space dinosaurs? Just tell me—I always have time for you, but man, today I’m jammed, you know? Tom and Kate are throwing a hissy fit, and Johnny’s…well, he’s Johnny, you know?” Sol hesitates, noticing my silent companion for the first time. “What’s with the f#cking monkey?”

I regard my simian friend, who is toying with the straps of his well-weathered Lederhosen, fingering the ornately embroidered leather suspenders. I lightly smack him and he drops his arms sullenly. I contemplate correcting Sol—chimps aren’t monkeys, they’re apes—but decide not to lecture.

“Sol, this is Emeliano, the chimp. But he likes to be called Ricky—it’s his name de plume, so to speak. He’s my writing partner. Does great work. Fast, and a wizard with dialog,” I explain.

Ricky glares at Sol with malevolent sunken eyes, and then cocks his head and bares yellowed teeth. Sol pulls back his extended hand, reconsidering his choice of greeting.

“All right. So you got a monkey partner. What the f#ck. You shouldda met my third wife…well, maybe not. No problem. Hey, but, Russ, I gotta tell you, your latest, in the theaters now? Magic. Like poetry. The reluctant vampire ex-CIA assassin who takes on his wife’s murderers in the Russian mob? Unexpected shit, that. Not everyone can write on that level. And I love the gender-confused sidekick, from the hood. Total brilliance. We’ll put a push on it after Christmas. It’s got the legs.”

“It was Ricky’s idea to make it personal this time. He’s good at back-story,” I disclose. It was important in the business to be humble and give credit where it was due.

“So whadda ya got for me today? Your girl said you were excited. When you’re excited, I’m excited. Lay it on me,” Sol invites, reclining back in his sumptuous burgundy leather executive chair while motioning for us to take seats in front of his desk. Ricky hops up and squats easily on one, but I prefer to stand for my pitch; to lend it additional gravitas. I close my eyes, draw in a deep breath, and then launch.

“Sol, look, here’s the setup: you have these beavers, and they’re just lovable little furry f#ckers out in a field with blue skies, and butterflies, and nature shit, doing whatever the f#ck beavers do. I don’t know…eating acorns or chewing grass, and then suddenly, they go Mission Impossible on your ass because an oil refinery project threatens their river! Think Dogs and Cats, think Ice Age, think a Bruce Willis smartass fast-talking beaver with a crusty-but-lovable Chris Rock sidekick! And here’s the best part: their sworn enemies are wolves! So they gear up in ninja suits, and it’s two hours of brain suck! Can’t you hear the dialog already? Do I even need to tell you? Every other line’s a wise-crack, and it’s written so kids will love it, but idiot parents will laugh their asses off too! By the end, we’ll all have learned something about ourselves, as will the beavers.” I stop, assessing Sol’s facial expression. You never want to talk past the pitch. Rookie mistake. Let it settle, steep like tea, and don’t talk. Ricky raises his eyebrows expectantly and picks his ear.

Sol slowly stands and removes his reading glasses. He slams his hand down on the desktop and rolls his eyes heavenward.

“Jesus. You’re a genius, Blake! The merchandising will be worth a hundred mil domestic alone! Ka-Ching! Come over here. Gimme a hug. Where do you come up with this shit? Whadda ya want? Three mil? Four? Okay, ya got me. I’ll go five against the usual back-end, a producer credit, full creative control, and you get to pick the director. You. Look at you! F#cking ninja beaver motherf#ckers. You’re killing me with this shit!”

I hesitate to embrace him. “Sol. Do I look stupid? You want me to mouth-f#ck you or something? Don’t insult me or treat me like your bitch. We’re friends here. Five, the usual back-end plus points, executive producer, fifteen of the merchandise including international, and who gives a shit who directs? It’s a f#cking CARTOON! Now where do I sign? Come over here, honey, and sit on papa’s lap!”

Sol grins at me, and we both throw our heads back and laugh in awful unison.

“A cartoon! Beavers! Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha.”

Ricky joins in with the hysteria and executes a perfectly timed back-flip off the chair, landing on Sol’s desk, scattering paperwork everywhere. Sol finds this the height of amusement and cackles with glee, as does Ricky.

The receptionist shimmies into the office and smiles at Ricky after glancing neutrally in my direction. The chimp always has that effect on the ladies. It’s eerie. Ricky decides to push it and show off, and begins lewdly thrusting his pelvis in an elaborately choreographed dance of his own invention. Everyone is amused, even when he leaps off the desk with a somersault and grabs the receptionist’s bottom, fondling her leg in what can only be described as an inappropriate manner. I’ve seen it all before, so know what’s coming. Sol and I watch as the impish primate gropes the young woman’s thigh, and then turns and affords us with a salacious wink.

 

The next thing I know, the sun is streaming bright through my bedroom window, another dawn having encroached its way into my existence. My head feels like I’ve gone ten rounds with Tyson, and my mouth tastes like I’ve gargled cement.

A noise from the front room rouses me into stark wakefulness. I trudge out, bleary eyed, to be greeted by the spectacle of Ricky and the receptionist lying on the couch, sans attire, though their nakedness is partly covered by his cherished neon-pink felt Hello Kitty blanket. His trademark leather shorts are perched jauntily, if a little precariously, on the receptionist’s head. They’re sharing a cigarette, the stereo crooning Barry White even as Ricky smirks at me in triumph.

I pad back to my room in humiliated defeat and close the door.

F#cking chimps have all the luck.

 

 

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24 Dec 2011, by

On Storytelling

NEW INTERVIEW:  Yours truly with Kipp Speicher on craft and process.

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As writers, our job is to tell stories. Whether fiction or non, we are at heart, weavers of tall tales, some fact-based and some pure invention.

I’ve interviewed four different authors for my Author Spotlight blog to date, and each is a storyteller with a different approach to the craft. I have focused my questions on the mechanics of writing, trying to provide illumination as to how these authors arrive at the point where they have a story completed. I find it fascinating to hear what works, as it gives me ideas and insights, as I hope it does you.

But one question remains. Is there a secret to developing gripping, can’t-put-it-down stories? Some magic formula? A template one could follow to make it so?

Sadly, I think not. Just as some people are naturally extremely funny, like Ricky Gervais, or Louis CK, or George Carlin or Sam Kinison, legions will try for funny and fall short. Part of it is timing, part of it is luck, but a big part is that most people just aren’t naturally nearly as funny as those four. We can debate why they aren’t for years, but the plain truth is they aren’t, which is obvious to everyone. I think the same goes for writing. Some are just natural storytellers, capable of arresting us with their gift and carrying us along effortlessly, and making us want to come back for more.

One of the big things I think all great comedians have is facility with language. It’s their currency, their clay. They use words to create an effect, hopefully comedic, just as we, as authors, craft language to generate our effect. Which is why it’s critical to know the rules and broaden our vocabularies. The more armed we are, the more fluid our grasp of our idiom, the better we can get to the business of telling the story.

Unfortunately, knowing the difference between an Em dash and an En dash won’t enable us to better create a compelling narrative, but it will ensure that we have tools with which to do so. Being able to select between car, vehicle, conveyance, craft and myriad other permutations may not help us make a reader feel our protag’s pain or care whether hearts have been broken, but it will avoid reader boredom and annoyance. Understanding echoes and self-censoring them as we write can make editing far easier, but in the end, all of the tools of language are meaningless if our story lacks essential honesty – that quality a reader recognizes, and makes them go, “A Ha, this is true,” even if everyone knows it isn’t. Honesty in writing isn’t about veracity. It’s about demanding from yourself a logically-consistent world you create, and being hard on your writing in terms of making it coherent. If your gut tells you that something is a little too pat, or you sort of suspect maybe you telegraphed something that you shouldn’t have, or if you’re typing just to get the word count up, the burden is upon you to force yourself to fix it. If you want to maintain suspense, you have to be convincing in doing so, and you can’t cheat. You can’t deliberately hold out material facts that would make everything come together in the reader’s mind, or in the end the reader will feel screwed. And they’ll probably pass on any further of your work.

It’s hard to write good fiction, especially good thrillers, because you have to be at the top of your game at all times. You need to have chops, but more than that, you need a story that is worthy of being told, and you need an innate sense of timing, of when and how to provide the beats, or kick the chair out from under the reader. If you can do that well they’ll follow you anywhere. If you try to force it, or if you haven’t thought it all through, in the end you’ll be abandoned by them. As it should be. Life is too short to read crap books. So don’t write crap. Or at least arm yourself with enough technique and vocabulary so it’s at worst well-written crap, and then hope your editor isn’t drunk or apathetic and will tell you the truth about what you wrote.

Now for some shameless self-promotion. My new assassination thriller, King of Swords, has gotten stellar early reviews, and upon re-read, I can honestly say that it is one of the best books I’ve written. Night of the Assassin, the prequel, is the only thing that might top it. Soon, Night will be free, so there will be no barrier to sampling my fiction. This is deliberate. While I’m reluctant to give an entire stand-alone book away, I’m confident enough in its quality to believe that most who read Night will be compelled to buy King. And then, after, to buy Geronimo. And then the two trilogies – Zero Sum and The Delphi Chronicle. By which time, I’ll have released yet more thrillers.

I believe that the more people who get a chance to taste my particular flavor, the more will seek it out. Which is all another way of saying, ya gots to give love to get it.

Am I right about that? Time will tell. But I believe that it’s a decent strategy, and I’ll keep everyone posted on how it pans out. So far, so good.

If you’re not a complete cheapskate, BTW, you can currently buy Night for .99 at Amazon, or download it for free from Smashwords. All I ask is that if you do so, and you like it, leave a review at Amazon and Goodreads. Consider that a way to pay me back for my investment. If you do, my efforts will have been worth it.

I expect Night will polarize my readers. Some will absolutely love it, and some will hate it to the point that they can’t express their disgust and rage strongly enough. I don’t expect to see much, “Yeah, I read it, and it was okay, but you know, I sort of got sidetracked and put it down halfway and then forgot to pick it up again for a week.” Either it’s a thriller that stops you in your tracks and grabs you by the throat like you owe it money, or you’ll hate it. Same for King of Swords. I don’t expect a middle ground. We’ll see.

Happy holidays, everyone. Be good to those you love. Unless they’re clowns or chimps. They deserve nothing but castigation, and they’re probably even now plotting your downfall.

 

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Scott Bury, Canadian literary icon and commentator, has graced us with a guest blog. As part of my continuing series on writers, writing, and the motivations and tactics writers use to write effectively (if alliteratively), Scott throws in his two cents, as I do on his blog this week. So blog swapping. Much like bored, 1960s-era housewives, only without the beehives or the aprons. Speaking from a strictly literary, metaphorical standpoint, mind you. Never mind. You people have sick minds. As well I know.

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Russell and I are swapping guest blog posts this week. We’re both writing about the best, and the worst,
things we do or have done as writers.

I have to admit that I am a terrible procrastinator in a lot of things: going to the dentist, getting a
haircut—and writing. I am continually writing right up to the deadline. Perversely, it seems I have
become dependent on having a deadline.

Distractions play a big part in my procrastination. There are always so many things to do before writing.
First, of course, there’s the research—you have to know what you’re writing about. But so many other
things can call me away from the document: social media, checking email, monitoring the number of
hits on my blog today (91 so far!)

Then, I have to make sure I have everything set up just right. Do I have a full cup of fresh, hot coffee?
Better make a new pot. Is the chair at the right height? Adjust it. Oh, the sun is shining right into my
eyes. Close the blind. Now, it’s too hot. Take off the sweater. Hmm, I could use a snack right now.

See how long it can take to get into the mood?

I often feel despair when I look around at the haphazard stacks of paper, notes, receipts, books, pen
caps and other detritus on my desk. Sometimes, the debris does get in the way by interfering with the
keyboard or blocking notes (or hiding them!)

While it’s essential to have those interview notes for the article about advanced manufacturing
techniques, cleaning the office does not help me to work faster or more efficiently. I admit that I need
to spend some time on long-term organization, but an hour spent on putting every piece of paper in its
proper place is an hour less for writing.

I can proudly say that I learned the most important lesson early: don’t wait for inspiration. That’s like
having winning the lottery as your retirement plan. Productive writers—writers who have written a body
of work—did not sit around waiting for inspiration. They worked at it and got something down on paper.

The best I have done

I have learned, eventually, to focus on the work—even when my coffee is cold, I can’t move my chair
without crumpling paper and I can hear my wife clucking behind me over the state of my office.

How can you focus? First, it’s essential to have a thesis statement and an outline (see my posts
about “getting a GRIP” on my own blog). If you want to get somewhere, you have to know where it
is. I sometimes fool myself that I have an outline in my head, but then I always find myself forgetting
important parts of the story or article and jumping back and forth in the document, scrolling up and
down in the word processor as I write. While having an outline frees you from having to start writing
your story at the beginning, I also find I prefer writing more or less linearly—from beginning to end.

Usually.

I find the method that works best for me is having my outline open on my screen; if I’m quoting from
an interview, I like to have the interview notes on my desk beside the computer, easily accessible for
flipping through the pages. I also have a transcriber’s document stand beside my screen, in case there is
something I need to type directly from paper to screen.

A little deadline pressure is helpful—as long as I’ve done all the necessary research and outlining.

One more thing: it may be a cliché, but I have found that it’s better to write in the morning , whenever
possible. It seems not only do the ideas flow from outline to draft more readily, the final quality is
better. But if I have to write at night, I can and I do.

Don’t wait for inspiration, and don’t wait until all the conditions are just right. They never will be. Know
what you want to write, and just write it.

Inspiration can be wonderful. When it strikes me, I can write like a jet engine. But you can’t sit around
waiting for it. If I did, I’d never write anything.

Or maybe the lesson is to find inspiration in whatever it takes to get the story done.

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Scott Bury is a writer, journalist and editor based in Ottawa, Canada. He has written for a range of publications from Applied Arts to Macworld to the Financial Post. His latest fiction release, The Bones of the Earth, Part 1, is now available on Smashwords, iBooks, Amazon and Barnes & Noble, and the full novel will be out before the end of the year.

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Scott’s blog can be found here. You can also check out my guest blog at his site using that same link. And follow him on Twitter at @ScottTheWriter

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For those who have expressed interest in my cover artist, e-mail me at [email protected] and I’ll hook you up. Cheap, good, and no drama. How often does that happen?

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It’s not often that you get to chat with a living legend. I was recently fortunate enough to interview NY  Times bestselling author John Lescroart, whose career spans decades of consistently turning out over twenty enormously popular, erudite, riveting fiction novels. He was kind enough to subject himself to my inane questions, all for your amusement, and at considerable personal expense – all right, perhaps an exaggeration, but what of it? The point is, this literary icon took the time away from a life of jetting to and fro in the company of celebrities and super-models to offer his thoughts and counsel so you could be enriched. So pull up a chair and read one of the most meaty and interesting interviews I’ve had the pleasure of doing in my Author Spotlight series. Pay attention. Maybe you can learn something…

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NEW NEW INTERVIEW: If you only read one interview with me, ever. this is the one you should read.

NEW INTERVIEW: With yours truly on writing King of Swords, with Cheryl Bradshaw Books. Essential reading.

BIG NEWS: Absolutely must read book review by bestselling author Steven Konkoly for King of Swords.

ANOTHER NEW INTERVIEW: Guest blog/interview with Sibel Hoge.

AND YET ANOTHER NEW INTERVIEW: Busy week for interviews. This one on An Angel With Fur.

AND AN AWESOME NEW REVIEW: By JLandonCocks for Fatal Exchange, just released!

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Russell Blake: Your legacy of work is one of the most impressive out there. Where do you get your ideas from, and what’s your process for moving them from idea stage to where you’re actually writing?

JL:  Right now I’m in the throes of “getting an idea” for my next (2013) book, and I must say that the challenge never stops.  Because really, what’s needed is not just an idea, but a great idea, a concept that can carry your characters through 400 pages of compelling action and development.  If there were a secret to getting that idea, I’d tell you what it was, but I’m afraid that for me, at least, ideas “come” as I’m writing scenes and pages.  And the one, big idea that I’m waiting for – at least for the very next book – is proving elusive at the moment.  I’m sure it’s out there, and I’m sure it will arrive before I reach utter despair, but it is a difficult time.  As to the process moving from the idea to the actual writing, that’s much easier.  Once I’ve got a general idea of what the book is about, I just sit down and start writing scenes and having fun.

RB: How many hours per week do you try to write? Do you have a disciplined schedule, or do you mostly write when the mood strikes?

JL:  I most definitely do not write when the mood strikes.  I go into work, after a physical workout, every weekday, and spend at least two and often as many as six hours putting down pages.  Inspiration often comes to visit during these spells of work, but I think if I waiting for any one given inspiration, I wouldn’t get much done.

RB: Do you do character outlines and structure the book in advance? What’s the mechanism you use? Any?

JL:  As is probably obvious from what I’ve already written here, it’s all very much by the seat of my pants.  I try to see interesting scenes that involve the reader and move the plot and characterization forward, hopefully with a surprise or a little gem of prose included in every scene.

RB: Have you ever had writer’s block? How did you get past it? Any tricks or suggestions?

JL:  My favorite definition of writer’s block is that it is a failure of nerve.  By any objective standard, I’m in a (very rare but very real) state of writer’s block right at this moment; it takes a consistent act of will not to give in to it, but to keep searching in the darkness for a little spark that will eventually light up the internal landscape and let the idea shine forth.  To fight this failure of nerve, I try to gear myself up into what I call “genius mode,” where I tell myself that everything I’m writing is brilliant, let my inner demons be damned!

RB: What’s your story. How did you get into writing, and what was your path to becoming a bestselling legend?

JL:  My story is an extremely long and complicated one, but here is the short version.  I did not know anything about publishing when I started out.  I did not even know how to submit a book.  I actually wrote my first published hardcover when I was 24, but didn’t even send it out to publishers until I was 36!  When I signed the contract for that book, I essentially hired myself out as an indentured servant to my publisher at the time.  The option clause in that contract specified that I would have the same contract, except for the advance, for my next book, and the one after that, and the one after that.  So my first five or six books got published with very low print runs, no advertising, no publisher’s push at all, and – no surprise – none of them did very well commercially.  Finally, though I had no money, I hired a lawyer to help me get out of that option clause.  It cost me $28,000 in attorney’s fees in a year when I made a total of $22,000.  But I got out of the clause.  The very next book sold for six figures, and since then they’ve all been bestsellers.  So the best advice I can give is to tell hopeful writers to be careful when they sign contracts.  Don’t sell out for less than you think you’re worth.  If you’re good enough, somebody will pay you what you’re worth, and treat you right in the bargain.

RB: I follow you on Facebook and Twitter, and you frequently write about structural issues, grammar and style. If you only had 60 seconds to impart to aspiring writers the most vital advice you’ve acquired as a writer, what would it be?

JL:  I would have three things I would say:  master the use and misuse of the passive voice, and avoid it at all costs.  Beyond that, learn what writers mean when they say “Show, don’t tell,” and do that.  Finally, finish something . . . anything . . . short story, novel, scene . . . get done with it and move on.  Only in the doing does learning happen.

RB: If there was only one book that readers could peruse of your work, which one would it be? What’s the landmark, defining example of John Lescroart? And why?

JL:  This is a tough question because they are all my babies.  And some of the early books – The 13th Juror, A Certain Justice, Guilt – really did mark personal breakthroughs in terms of what I was writing and how I went about it.  And even now, my latest two books, Damage and next year’s The Hunter, have marked real departures from my earlier “courtroom” books.  All that said, however, I’d have to say that the quintessential Lescroart book is The Hearing.  It’s got Hardy and Glitsky in all their agony and glory, and a truly great, complex plot.  If you like that one, you’ll know what I’m all about, and can go backward or forward in the series without losing a step.

RB: Whose work influenced your writing? What authors did you grow up on?

JL:  Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Lawrence Durrell, and Patrick O’Brien on the literary side, and Conan Doyle, Rex Stout, John D. MacDonald, and Agatha Christie on the mystery side.  Mark Twain was a giant early influence, but then again, so were the Hardy Boys and the Landmark Books of biographies.  I’ve been an avid reader, some would say an addicted reader, for my whole life, and most of what I read I tried to learn something from.

RB: Why did you become a writer? What made you burn to do so?

JL:  I somehow always knew that I wanted to be an author.  From an early age, I used to make up stories and put on plays that I wrote, so I guess I’ve always had that bug.  Beyond that, there wasn’t really anything else that I felt so passionately about – I worked every “day job” in the world until I started making  a living as a writer when I was 45, and none of them were very fulfilling or interesting.  Also, I generally hated working for bosses, and wanted to be my own boss very badly.  So I just kept at it until it worked.

RB: What gets you up in the morning and keeps you writing?

JL:  I do love the process, the challenge, the fact that I never get bored.  I keep trying to write the best novel that I can envision, to capture all the world that I possibly can on the page.  Having done so many different other kinds of work, I never lose sight of how lucky I am do be able to do what I do now.  Also, much more prosaically, it’s great to be paid to be a writer, to be on contract with a great company like Dutton, to be in this milieu with its talented, interesting people.  To be a part of it is a kind of magic, and I just consider myself supremely blessed that I’ve somehow, after a somewhat tortuous journey, arrived here.

RB: What’s your latest release, and what are you working on now?

JL:  My next release, The Hunter, comes out on January 3.  It is a book featuring Wyatt Hunt and, if I might pass along some really wonderful news, it’s just gotten a starred review in Publishers Weekly.  As to what I’m working on now, it’s that pesky outline referred to above.  Ask me next week, and I’ll probably sound a lot happier about it.

RB: There’s probably a universe of good questions I failed to ask. What parting words would you offer aspiring novelists, other than save your money from your day gig?

JL:  Finish.  Finish.  Finish.  Then rewrite until it sings.

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I’ve written a fair amount about the importance of maintaining artistic integrity when writing – of writing for the joy of it, and striving to better yourself each time you sit down to do so.

Now, I’d like to discuss the unromantic side of writing, namely the business of self-publishing. That business has little to do with writing. It’s a quality-control and product engineering exercise, followed by a marketing campaign. I’d advise anyone considering wading into the treacherous waters of self-publishing to take off their artist hat and don their business chapeau. At the point you are CEO of Self-Pub, Inc. you aren’t a writer. You’re a business person. And the labor of love you’ve slaved over for months or years is a product – your product, which you’ll be trying to entice jaded, skeptical readers to buy.

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BIG NEWS: Absolutely must read book review by bestselling author Steven Konkoly for King of Swords.

BIG NEWS: Sneak Preview excerpt of the King of Swords prequel, Night of the Assassin, can be seen here.

NEW NEW INTERVIEW: With A Book A Day, on An Angel With Fur and my process.

NEW INTERVIEW: Brand new guest blog/interview with Sibel Hoge.

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As product managers, you’ll need to deal with two items before you move on to marketing – a topic I’ll cover in a separate blog. The first is quality control, and the second is packaging.

In the book business, editing is your quality control. Book cover design is packaging.

First thing you need to do is create a budget for both. What’s reasonable for your start-up? If you are thinking, “Nothing,” that’s about what you’re likely to sell of the product. Contrary to the aspirations of millions of like-minded authors, delivering a shoddily crafted product in an ill-conceived or amateurish wrapper isn’t going to be on the list of most readers’ “turn ons.” So you need to plan to invest in your start-up’s packaging and QC. If you don’t, you can expect your readers to return the favor – you weren’t willing to take the steps to create a professional presentation, so they’ll be unlikely to devote their time to purchasing your undifferentiated scribblings.

What I’d advise is that you do this like you would any other business. Set aside a budget for editing and book design, and then calculate how many books it will take at whatever your price point is to break even. Anything over that number is your profit, assuming you’ve invested nothing in marketing.

In other industries, how long does it typically take to break even? In the restaurant business, minimum expectation is to lose money for a year. Minimum. In other businesses, it can go to two years. Or more. So what’s your expectation for profitability for Self-Publish, Inc.? If you’re thinking profitability within a few months without any investment in quality control or packaging, you’re delusional. If six months to a year with a coherent marketing plan and reasonable investment in QC and packaging, maybe you’re on the right track.

When looking at editing, there are two types. Both are indispensable. There’s general editing, and line-by-line copy editing. I pay for both. The skill set of the copy editor is completely different than my general editor. I wouldn’t expect my copy editor to suggest alternative words or sentence structure or question whether paragraphs or even whole chapters need revision or deletion, any more than I would expect my general editor to catch every comma, apostrophe or semi-colon. It’s different work. So plan on an investment in both. I’ve read several books I’ve liked a lot, which had been “edited,” but which contained page after page of missing words, ill-advised lack of proper punctuation, awkward structure, etc. These are books that are 90% there, but lack the 10% they require to be professional quality. You don’t want to be in that camp. If anyone wants the contact info for my team, e-mail me via the Contacts button and I’ll be happy to make an introduction.

Likewise, you need a compelling, evocative and professionally-created cover. It’s the first impression anyone has of your work. Make it a winner. It needs to tell a story, or set a mood, and ideally convey the essentials of the genre and story. I list below my next two releases – Night of the Assassin, the prequel to King of Swords, which are both assassination thrillers, and The Delphi Chronicle trilogy, which is a serial trilogy involving a U.S. conspiracy going back to the 1970s, when clandestine groups within the government decided to get into the murder-for-hire and drug-running business. The covers need to tell readers what they should expect, and be legible as thumbnails. I think these do the job. And you don’t need to spend a fortune. These were created for under $175 apiece. If you’d like my artist’s contact info, likewise e-mail me.

So the take-away here is plan on investing in QC and packaging, or your books will languish and be dismissed as inferior, unworthy of consideration. It’s a competitive world out there, and if you aren’t making the investment to do it right, your competitor is, and you’ll be roadkill. That simple.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Join Russell Blake and 8 of his author friends at WoMen’s Literary Cafe’s Mystery Book Launch, December 13-15. Ten authors will discount their ebooks to just 99 cents. Buy 3 get 1 FREE!”

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This week’s author spotlight is on indie author superstar David Lender. David had the poor judgment to agree to speak with me about writing (no doubt because I lied about being with the NY Times) and his new breakthrough bestselling blockbuster Vaccine Nation, in which he tells a gripping and chilling story I would have gladly plagiarized if he’d have only sent me an advance copy.

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The Geronimo Breach is the featured book of the day at Cheap Kindle Daily! And it just went to .99 for a very limited time, as in a matter of days!

Shameless Self Promotion. New assassination epic King of Swords now available on Amazon! Buy it, or clowns will appear while you’re sleeping and perform unmentionable experiments on you and those you love.

Don’t miss the great new interviews with authors Lawrence Block and Steven Konkoly, the first two in my Author Spotlight series. Great words from great guys. Completely clown free.

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Russell Blake: Welcome, David Lender, bestselling author of a number of terrific Wall Street thrillers, the latest of which is racing up the Amazon sales rankings as we speak. I’ve read every book you’ve written, and am a fan. I’ll be reading Vaccine Nation, your latest, within the next week or two. You’re an automatic purchase for me. Slavish flattery aside, thanks for coming on to my blog and answering some questions about yourself, your process, and your literary journey. Let’s start with some overview.

Give us the elevator pitch on your background. You had a career on Wall Street, so know what you’re writing about. What did you do, and how does your experience color your work?

David Lender:  I was a mergers and acquisitions investment banker for over 25 years, doing mostly international deals.  The egos, ambitions and in many cases, sharp-elbowed tactics that characterize the personalities that inhabit Wall Street and the corporate world are what I write about.

RB: Your latest smash, Vaccine Nation, is interesting to me, having read about some of the ugly science behind vaccines, and the massive financial interests that drive big pharma. Tell us a bit about the book, and why it’s significant.

DL: Vaccine Nation is the story of an award-winning documentary filmmaker who is handed whistleblower evidence about the U.S. vaccination program, and then races to expose it before a megalomaniacal pharmaceutical company CEO can have her killed.

I modeled it after stories like Six Days of the Condor or Hitchcock’s North by Northwest, intending it as a fast-paced action thriller occurring over a few days. While the book is designed to entertain, it also explores the very real issues in the current debate over vaccine safety in the mandatory U.S. National Immunization Program.  Vaccine Nation is a dramatization of this debate, presented in the form of a thriller that will hopefully leave you breathless and make you think.

In Vaccine Nation, Dani North just won at the Tribeca Film Festival for her documentary, The Drugging of Our Children, a film critical of the pharmaceutical industry.  She’s also just started work on a new documentary on autism.  When a pharmaceutical industry vaccine researcher hands her smoking gun evidence about the U.S. National Immunization Program seconds before he’s murdered right in front of her, Dani finds herself implicated and pursued by the police. Dani realizes what she’s been handed could have crucial implications on upcoming hearings by a Senate committee.  A key issue the Senate committee will consider is whether Congress should continue the immunity it granted in 1986 to the pharmaceutical industry for claims by parents on damage to their children from the U.S. National Immunization Program. That puts Dani on the run in a race to understand and expose the evidence.  That is, before the police can grab her, or Grover Madsen, a megalomaniacal pharmaceutical industry CEO, can have her hunted down by his hired killers.  Madsen knows exactly what Dani has and how explosive it is for the pharmaceutical industry: it has the potential to make the tobacco industry’s lawsuits and subsequent multi-billion dollar settlements seem like routine slip-and-fall cases.  Madsen uses all his company’s political and financial resources to track Dani.

The facts in Vaccine Nation are accurate—the 1986 Congressional grant of immunity to the pharmaceutical industry for liability related to their vaccines for the National Immunization Program, the toxicity of certain ingredients of vaccines, the controversy surrounding the safety and side-effects of vaccines, and vaccines’ suspected relationship to the autism epidemic.  The issues in the book are nonfictional and the debate on vaccine safety is increasing: recent CDC statistics show that 10% of parents (up from 2% to 3%.) are avoiding or delaying vaccinating their children because of concerns about vaccine safety.

RB: Many of my readers are authors, so let’s talk process. How do you conceptualize your books – what do you do from idea, to where you start writing? Do you outline your characters? Do a beat by beat outline? Or just grab the tequila and start typing?

DL:  If I was going to grab anything and just start writing, it would be red wine, but I’m afraid the writing wouldn’t be very good.  I was taught by my first editor (who also, I’m thrilled to say, edited Vaccine Nation) to do character bios and a scene-by-scene outline of the entire novel before starting to write.  Since then I learned some techniques from an experienced Hollywood script development exec, like starting with a one-sentence log line (the first sentence of my description of Vaccine Nation above is one, a bit long at 36 words) that captures the story, and then build the outline, including key dramatic steps, in three acts from there.  Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat has a great “beat sheet” that I use.

RB:  You’ve written books with both male and female protagonists, as have I. What’s that like for you, and why do you do it? Is it more of a challenge to write from the female POV, or the male?

DL:  I write each scene from the point-of-view of the one character I feel best suited to present it, using that character’s vocabulary and speech mannerisms, and laying out her/his thoughts, physical reactions and feelings. Once in a while I change POV within a scene if I think it’s essential.  That means I’m always stepping in and out of both male and female minds and emotions as I write.  So it doesn’t really matter to me whether I’ve got a male or female protagonist, antagonist, or incidental character, because I have to write from both female and male POVs all the time.  If I wrote from an omniscient viewpoint I might feel differently, might be more comfortable writing male instead of female protagonists, but given my approach it doesn’t present more of a challenge one way or the other. With either female or male characters, I’m always bouncing ideas off others, testing to see if the emotions or behavior are realistic.  Most frequently I bounce them off Manette, my fiancée.

If you’d asked me if I know how women really think, my answer would be different; I’m twice divorced.

RB: Well, at least we know what two were thinking…How many hours a week do you shoot for when you’re writing? What pace do you set for yourself, and do you usually hit it?

DL:  I shoot to average 1,000 words per day, meaning 365,000 words per year.  When I’m actively working on a book I keep count.  I’m always playing catch-up. Vaccine Nation came in at about 72,000 words, less than what I was targeting (after editing and rewrites it ended at about 65,000).  I finished it on schedule over the summer, some days writing over 5,000 words in order to catch up for days I didn’t write,.  I know for some writers, like you, 365,000 words per year is easy.  Not for me.  I’ll never catch up for 2011. I’m only just outlining my next book.  Outlining doesn’t count, although my outlines run about 35-40 pages.

RB: I wouldn’t say it’s easy for me. Next year I’ll average about that if the river don’t rise. David, your books are selling remarkably well. Do you have any advice for your fellow indie authors?

DL:  It starts with the writing.  I don’t see how anyone can be successful, or grow as a writer, without an editor.  I’m not talking about a beta reader, copyeditor or proofreader, I’m talking about a developmental editor. Your mother will always (well, usually) tell you she loves your book.  Your girlfriend, boyfriend or wife will usually be a little more honest, but doesn’t have the technical skill or experience that a professional editor does.  And an editor, whether she’s the best in the business or only mediocre, will give you an objective viewpoint and be honest. That’s perhaps a long-winded way of saying what Joe Konrath says: “Don’t write shit.”

The next thing is to treat epublishing like a business, because it is. Educate yourself. Look at what successful authors are doing with pricing, their platforms, their content. Read blogs and other tools to learn the business. Joe Konrath. Kindle Review. Kindle Nation Daily. Kindle Author. Read Steve Windwalker’s book on pricing ebooks for Kindle. See what people are talking about on the KindleBoards.

Next, find people to proofread, format and produce professional covers for it. Buy a Kindle, even a Fire, and a Nook and see what your books look like on them, and on the mac or PC version of the Kindle or Nook Readers before you release them.

Then spend at least a few hours of every day staying current with the blogs, maintaining your social network presence, corresponding with your readers and doing everything you can to expand your readership.  Solicit opportunities to guest blog or be interviewed on others’ blogs.  Try book-of-the-day sponsorships on Kindle Nation Daily, eReader News Today, The Frugal eReader or Kindle Author to see if they work for you.  Don’t spend all day writing.

RB: Describe who your typical reader is, in your mind’s eye. Is there one? What do you imagine they’re like?

DL:  A thriller reader who likes other types of novels and nonfiction as well.  My first book, Trojan Horse, had broad international settings and themes based on my own travel and my research into the Islamic culture, computer hacking and the oil business.  I think my reader liked it because she/he’s a thriller reader first, but is also interested in other cultures, technologies and exotic places.  My other books are set either on Wall Street (The Gravy Train and Bull Street) or in a corporate and legal/political world (Vaccine Nation).  I think my reader was drawn to them because of an intellectual curiosity about different worlds they don’t experience every day, regardless of educational level or background.  Anybody can relate to my characters, I think.

RB: What’s next? What’s your WIP? How many books can we look forward to over the next 12 months from you?

DL:  I’m outlining a prequel to Trojan Horse, with Sasha, one of the protagonists of that novel, reprising that role.  Also a family memoir, jointly with Manette and her son, Zac, of the first year of Styles, our beloved pitbull, joining our family.  Realistically, I hope to put out two thrillers per year, but my real goal would be to produce three.  Not sure I’ll make it for 2012, but I’m a grinder.

RB: What’s your favorite book you’ve written to date, and why? Let’s take that in two parts: Favorite story, and favorite character.

DL:  Bull Street, because it’s the most steeped in the world of Wall Street and its inhabitants, which is which is where I came from.  Richard Blum is my favorite character because he’s a lot like I was in my early years on Wall Street; I dug deep into my own emotions and learning experiences to create him.  I feel sentimentally attached to him because that was a unique time in my career and life.

RB: Do you ever experience writer’s block? Procrastination? How do you deal with them when and if you do? If not, you should bottle your secret sauce and sell it by the six-pack…

DL:  I wouldn’t say I get blocked, because of how I work, with detailed character bios and scene-by-scene outlines.  I might get stuck in the outlining process, but that’s stuck, not blocked. I’m also a grinder at pretty much anything I do.  I could give you a thousand examples. One: a seven-foot section of the stone wall around my weekend house was ready to collapse into the street and wouldn’t have made it through the winter.  I’ve had two masons retire on me, and haven’t found another.  So from Friday to Sunday on the Thanksgiving weekend I kissed Manette goodbye, went up to Milford and was outside by 7 a.m., working until it got dark each day.  Wet, cold, dirty, backbreaking work I slogged through because it had to get done.  That’s what my first drafts of scenes are like some days, but I won’t let myself give up on them until I’ve gotten them done.  Even if they suck and I have to rewrite them.

RB: If readers could only choose one of your books to read as the best expression of what you do, which would it be?

DL: Vaccine Nation, because it’s the most current example of how I write, and reflects the best I can do, just as each of my last books reflected the best I could do at that time.

RB: I want to thank you for stopping by the blog and sharing your thoughts with us. I’m quite sure we’ll be hearing a lot more about you. Congratulations on the success of Vaccine Nation, to date – it’s inspirational for other indie authors to hear success stories like yours.

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I’ve been getting a lot of inquiries about who does my book covers. Let me just say that he’s fast, cheap and good. If you’d like more info, e-mail me at [email protected] and I’ll put you in touch.

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Join Russell Blake and 9 of his author friends at WoMen’s Literary Cafe’s Mystery Book Launch, December 13-15. Ten authors will discount their ebooks to just 99 cents. Buy 3 get 1 FREE!”

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5 Dec 2011, by

King of Swords

BREAKING NEWS. Character interview with my creation, Al, from The Geronimo Breach is now live. As of Monday, Dec. 5. Funny stuff. Really.

Don’t miss the great new interviews with authors Lawrence Block and Steven Konkoly, the first two in my Author Spotlight series. Great words from great guys. Completely clown free.

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Every now and then you do something that’s special. It’s different, and feels, I don’t know, just right, somehow.

That’s the only way I can describe my experience writing my new thriller, King of Swords. I believe it’s my best work to date, and represents a kind of turning point on my journey as an author. If every writer has “The” book, then I believe King of Swords is mine. It’s the synthesis of everything I’ve learned in terms of writing thriller fiction – gritty, breakneck pacing, non-stop action, unexpected character development of mulch-dimensional individuals who are complex and possess contradictory qualities and impulses, twists, turns, conspiracies within conspiracies, all set against a backdrop that’s non-traditional and richly evocative. It’s no holds-barred writing, and doesn’t pander. It presumes you’re smart, or you wouldn’t be reading it. Remember when books used to be written like that? Hmmm. But I digress.

It’s the story of a super assassin whose clients are the drug cartels of Mexico, and the discovery of a plot by a captain of the Federal Police – the Federales – to assassinate the Mexican and U.S. presidents at the G-20 financial summit. The elevator pitch of the idea I had when I sat down to write it as a lark, for NanoWriMo, was a single sentence that had been bouncing around in my noodle for a few days, as I finished up writing The Delphi Chronicle trilogy: “Day of the Jackal in Mexico.” From that smallest of seeds developed an incredibly complex and racing thriller that is unlike anything you’ve ever read. Or at least, unlike anything I’ve ever read, or written.

There are moments in the book where my editor sent back comments like “Crimmey” (he’s a Brit) or “Holy shit!” It’s that kind of work. It’s relentless, and shocking, and disturbing at a host of levels for a host of reasons, all of them deliberate. It captures the essence of the casual brutality of the drug cartels who are waging a guerrilla war against the Mexican government, and who are winning – not that hard considering that their budget is on the order of fifty times greater than the entire budget of Mexico’s armed forces.

I’m very excited by this book. So much so that I am three quarters through writing a prequel to it, titled Night of the Assassin, which explores the making of the monster who is the central villain in King of Swords. I had one author whose judgment I respect read the opening pages I posted on the Nano website tell me that he’s never seen anything like King. Neither have I. I have no idea where it came from, or where Assassin is coming from, but it’s an incredibly chilling, suspenseful and dark place.

If you’re a fan, from the first sentences you’re going to know why I’m so excited by this book. If you’ve never read anything I’ve written, this is the book that you should start with. If you only read one of my thrillers, this is the one you should read.

Night of the Assassin will be released in a week and a half, with any luck at all – my editing team is pulling Herculean stints to get both Night and Delphi done on schedule, which is no small feat. The covers for both books are at the bottom of this blog. They are a departure from my current approach for Zero Sum, The Geronimo Breach and Fatal Exchange, but that’s deliberate. These two books, as well as the Dec. 24 release of The Delphi Chronicle trilogy, represent a new direction for my thriller fiction. I suspect we will see a lot more of Captain Cruz and the Assassin known only as, “El Rey” – the King of Swords, the oldest of the tarot card kings. It feels like there are a lot more books these two will carry, and I’ve only scratched the surface of them in the first two. Hope you like the covers, and if you get a chance, pick up a copy of King of Swords. First 10 reviewers will get a complimentary set of The Delphi Chronicle trilogy when it releases. Just e-mail me your review via the contacts page.

A sample of the first few chapters can be found here, for those that want to see what the fuss is about.

And if after reading it, you’re as excited as I am, please, tell a friend. Or two. That’s how it works. That, and reviews, which I’ll also ask you in a small and pleading voice to leave.

There. That about covers my installment of shameless self-promotion, I think. Let me know what you think of the book.

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I’ve been getting a lot of inquiries about who does my book covers. Let me just say that he’s fast, cheap and good. If you’d like more info, e-mail me at [email protected] and I’ll put you in touch.

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Join Russell Blake and 9 of his author friends at WoMen’s Literary Cafe’s Mystery Book Launch, December 13-15. Ten authors will discount their ebooks to just 99 cents. Buy 3 get 1 FREE!”

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Well, here’s the next in my author spotlight series. This time, it’s with one of my favorite indie author, Steven Konkoly. It’s a great interview. Check it out. Also, David Lender will be up next Friday or Sat, and then a week after that, NY Times bestseller and literary luminary John Lescroart. Quite a lineup of interviews for my first few weeks out of the gate. Lawrence Block, now Steven, then David, then John… Pinch me so I know I’m not dreaming. Oh, on the writing front, I’ll be getting King of Swords out next week, and I’m writing the prequel, Night of the Assassin, as we speak. Turning out frigging brilliantly, if I do say so myself. But you’ll be the judges, ultimately. The interviews in this series will be archived under the Author Spotlight tab at the upper left. And now, to Steve:

Russell Blake: Your two books, Black Flagged and The Jakarta Pandemic, are selling like lifeboats on the Titanic these days. Congrats. What’s your secret, and how does it feel?

Steven Konkoly: Thank you, Russell. I wish there was a secret formula for this, but I’m afraid that this recent run on lifeboats has everything to do with the wonderfully generous folks behind the magic curtain at Amazon. Kindle Direct Publishing informed me last week that my first book, The Jakarta Pandemic had been identified by their team as a book they’d like to include in their “Big Deal” post-Black Friday promotion. One week at a 50% discount, and they give the book enhanced promotional placement. Of course, I agreed. I had NO idea how powerful this placement could be for a book, and I’m not the only one. Five other Indie authors were chosen for this promotion, and one of them, Robert Bidinotto, is enjoying a ride like no other. His novel shot into the top ten of all Kindle books! It’s still there. My book took a jump from roughly #3000 to #250. Unbelievable, really, and it couldn’t have been timed better. My recently launched second novel, Black Flagged, is also benefiting from the additional attention paid to my other title. No secret, just some inexplicable luck.

RB: I’m currently reading your new one, Black Flagged, and enjoying it a great deal. Where did you get the idea for the book?

SK: The idea sprang from a character concept. Daniel Petrovich…he’s the protagonist in Black Flagged. I wanted to deeply explore the idea behind a highly trained, field experienced covert operative, and the effects that this type of work would have on them. Dangerous, unpredictable work must take an incredibly debilitating toll on a person, both physically and psychologically. Our recent experience with veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan demonstrate the impact of a short term deployment under these condition…imagine a deep immersion of two to three years undercover as an operative. I wanted to demonstrate this with a character. Then, I took it one step further, and decided to create the concept of a covert training program that would seek out candidates with personality profiles that might mitigate these effects in the long run. In essence, identify apparently normal individuals with what might be considered sociopathic traits. Bringing these traits out in training, would theoretically soften the blow of the horrifying experience that would certainly lie ahead for them. They might even embrace it. Out of this, the Black Flagged program was born, and a story followed.

RB: Black Flagged is a departure from what you did in The Jakarta Pandemic. Which book better reflects your style moving forward from here?

SK: Black Flagged definitely defines my style. This is the book I always wanted to write, and I’m extremely excited about the series, however, The Jakarta Pandemic jumped ahead in line. I couldn’t shake this apocalyptic story, and knew that I would never be able to start a different story. It was a great start to my writing career, and introduced me to the most dedicated group of genre fans I have encountered. Post-Apocalyptic readers. Holy shit! This group is intense and dedicated. They are nearly demanding that I write another book in this genre, and when I finish with the Black Flagged series, or take a little break from the thriller genre, I’ll write another PA novel. You could say that I was “genre confused” in the beginning. I listed Jakarta as a straight thriller, then started hearing from survivalists, horror fans and apocalyptic readers…and the readership grew.

RB: Tell me about your process. How do you create your characters? Do you have a system for outlining them, of do you let them evolve as you write?

SK: Characters evolve as I write. I don’t outline them beyond keeping a sheet of paper with names, a brief description, title, and maybe something key to remember about them. I don’t like to be constrained in the beginning. Once the story is in full swing, I know pretty much everything I need to know about each character…though I still encounter some surprises. Sometimes, they start out one way, and go completely 180 degrees. In The Jakarta Pandemic, one of the protagonist’s key neighborhood allies started out very differently in my mind, and you can see it in their first interaction…he turns out to be something even I never expected.

RB: Let’s talk plot. What’s your approach to plotting and pacing? Put simply, how do you know when you get it right?

SK: Plot is a tough one. Pacing even worse. I have never taken a course on writing, or attended a workshop. I decided one day that I wanted to write a book (several actually), and spent the next year or two talking myself out of it. I read, and re-read Stephen King’s On Writing, picking up a pen to jot ideas here and there. I even started writing a screenplay, which I abandoned, because I thought the book would be better (I never wrote the book). When The Jakarta Pandemic idea hit me, I knew it was time to start writing. I’m not completely irresponsible, so I did a little research. I read blog posts and articles on all of the above mentioned topics, most of which left the bitter taste of bile in my throat. I’ve seen those roller coaster looking sine waves, with peaks and flows for stories. One of them was a worksheet, where you could fill in the lines at the top of each peak with your climax points…I’m sorry, but I have enough trouble keeping my plot straight, let alone try to synch it up with some complicated theory behind building excitement in stages, climaxes, resolutions…all of it. I guess I’m not a formula writer. As for getting it right, I know relatively early if it has gone “pear shaped.”

That being said, I have developed a strategy and a “system.” I start out with a general concept of the story line, and expand it slowly. If I have three or four subplots/arcs in the story, I will write an opening scene for each, and tie them together. I’ll write a few more scenes for each arc, always trying to tie them into the overall plot…once this becomes confusing for me, which is usually pretty early, I create a large posterboard with a flow chart. It shows all of the arcs, written scenes, proposed scenes, relationships between arcs, timing. If you get a moment, take a look at the chart I created for Black Flagged at my blog.

http://stevenkonkoly.com/2011/08/13/measurable-progress/

RB: Tell me about book length. Do you have a set size in mind when you start, or do you wing it and just write however many words it takes to tell the story?

SK: You should really ask my good friend Joe about book length. He almost fell out of his chair at Starbucks when I told him The Jakarta Pandemic was over 200K words. He told me to cut it to 100K, and over the next six months, we haggled like Persians over the word count. Of course, for him, it was easy…after I spent a month cutting, reshaping, and merging scenes, he’d tell me it wasn’t enough. I wanted to strangle him, but I knew there was too much fluff in the story, and I eventually got it down to 150K words. It wasn’t until I decided to self-publish, that I quit caring about the word count. Joe was right about the length, in terms of traditional publishing. Anything over 110K was considered a no-go for a new author. That number changes with the wind, but it seems to stay around 100K. I set out to wrap up Black Flagged in 100K words, and I just missed that goal. To be honest though, if the story needed more words…I would have suffered Joe’s wrath. He was very proud of my 100K accomplishment.

RB: What’s your background? Who are your favorite authors? And what are you reading these days?

SK: I come from a Navy background. I’m not a Navy SEAL or Delta Force operator, though I did enter and promptly exit the SEAL training program after graduating from our nation’s blessed Naval Academy back in 1993. Leg fractures. Once the naval commando option was eliminated, I reported to a small combat ship based out of Japan, where I forged some experiences that I would never trade away. The need to roll around in the dirt never really left me, so I took an unconventional detour for a naval officer. I wrangled orders to a Marine Corps unit that specialized in combat Forward Observation and Air Control, and served as a liaison officer. Two glorious years guiding every conceivable munition to its deserved destination, AND they sent me to Fort Benning to learn to jump out of airplanes (or anything that flies). It was the “jumping out of helicopters and blowing shit up club,” as my wife liked to put it. I guess what I’m saying, is that my military background weighs heavy in my novels…no doubt about that.

As for authors, I have a few favorites, to include Russell Blake. Am I allowed to suck up that obviously? Oh well, I just wanted to make sure he publishes this interview. Seriously, I have split my time between Indies and my favorite standbys. Traditional authors I have turned to over the years? Stephen King…I don’t care how trite it may sound, I still love his books. There were a few that didn’t do it for me, but overall, he is one of my favorites. His influence can be felt in The Jakarta Pandemic. For thrillers, I like Forsyth, Robert Harris, Nelson Demille (older stuff) and Crichton (who is now apparently the Tupac of authors…just published another one under his name). Indies? It’s hit or miss, but I’ve developed a list of favorites. Here are a few that anyone should check out. Well worth the money and time to read. Blake Crouch (for horror…not for faint of heart. Check out RUN first…holy crap, that novel about did me in.), Sebastian Breit (modern military with a sci-fi twist), Paul A. Jones (horror/sci-fi), Robert Bidinotto (spy thriller), and Russell Blake (I’ve read and reviewed all of his books…they’re good, very good.)

RB: How many hours a day, or week, do you write? How many would you like to in a perfect world?

SK: I’m back to my old military ways…I wake up before the rising sun (around 4:30ish) and write for roughly two hours. Some days less. I do this seven days a week, pretty much non-stop while I’m in the throes of writing. I just started this routine, after realizing that I would never finish Black Flagged at 500-2000 words per week, which is the rate at which I was writing back in June. I had 20K words done in the middle of June, and once I started my new torture regime, I had finished the remaining 80K by the first week of September (and I took a few weeks of vacation to go sailing). In a perfect world, I’d like to do this full time, and write all day…taking breaks to answer all of my fan mail (this would start to arrive I’m sure) and teleconference into several book clubs at once to answer questions about my work.

RB: I note you credit your editor on Amazon. That’s unusual. Tell me about that.

SK: Felicia is more than just an editor. She is a champion of my books, especially for The Jakarta Pandemic. I got in touch with her based on a review she posted on Goodreads. A very nice review, with some critical elements that spoke to me. She suggested something that I had been considering, and I didn’t know she was a freelance editor. When I asked her how she would go about cutting some scenes from my novel, she revealed to me how small of a world the writing market truly is. She had recommended my book to an independent press (she edited for them) for a possible book deal, and they contacted me based on her recommendation. I eventually turned them down, but hired her as editor to fix the manuscript. She worked extensively with me on Jakarta, and then proceeded to “pimp” it out big time on Goodreads and among her numerous Indie contacts (reviewers, bloggers, neighbors…all over). She still promotes my books, and she’s not shy at all about it…she treats her edited books like a proud parent. She earned the recognition and credit given.

RB: What’s next for you? What’s your work in progress, and when will you give birth?

SK: I’m working on the sequel to Black Flagged. Part two in the series. I haven’t made much progress…with all the fame and fortune heaped upon me by Amazon. Actually, this Amazon promotion fit right into my procrastination campaign, which has been in full swing for several weeks. I will have the new novel mapped out by next week, when I shall start seriously writing until it’s done. I think my water will break by mid-April…but May is not out of the question.

RB: If you had any advice for fellow indie authors, what would it be?

SK: Oh, this might be worthy of a separate blog post. I think the best thing for an indie to focus on, is to cultivate a loyal reader base. Encourage readers to contact you, and enjoy the banter. Always ask for their support in the form of a review. I haven’t confirmed why my book was recently chosen for Amazon’s promotion, but I have to believe that having 106 reviews factored into the decision process. Readers know what they are getting with my book. They’re not all 5 and 4 star reviews (majority are), but any reader that picks up my book at this point, and is surprised to find out that it is “told solely from the protagonist’s view…it should have multiple POV’s”, didn’t do the basic research right at their fingertips. Get those reviews! Business always picks up on the heels of reviews…good or bad. There’s so much more to tell.

Well, that’s it for Steve’s thoughts on life, at least for this interview. Oh, and Steve? Sucking up is absolutely acceptable on this blog. I like to think that the entire universe exists to pander to my every whim, and that it will start doing so momentarily. I just have to be a little more patient. Although getting up at 4:30? Maybe 4:30 p.m. from my nap, but I’m usually just going to bed at 4:30 a.m….

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I’ve been getting a lot of inquiries about who does my book covers. Let me just say that he’s fast, cheap and good. If you’d like more info, e-mail me at [email protected] and I’ll put you in touch.

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Join Russell Blake and 9 of his author friends at WoMen’s Literary Cafe’s Mystery Book Launch, December 13-15. Ten authors will discount their ebooks to just 99 cents. Buy 3 get 1 FREE!”

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