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. 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.
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….