Interview with Steven Konkoly — Writer of Post-Apocalyptic Thrillers

 

Whenever I write fictional scenes featuring “special ops” personnel or exotic military hardware, I have to consult and rely on actual experts.

Thriller writer Steven Konkoly doesn’t have to. That’s because he is such an expert.

Steven graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1993, with the unlikely degree of Bachelor of Science in English Literature. He served the next eight years on active duty in various Navy and Marine Corps units.

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Technothriller and “prepper” novelist Steven Konkoly

From leading Visit, Board, Search and Seizure operations as a boarding officer in the Arabian Gulf, to directing Close Air Support as a Forward Air Controller assigned to a specialized Marine Corps unit, Steven’s “in-house” experience with a wide variety of regular and elite military units brings a unique authenticity to his writing.

His first novel, The Jakarta Pandemic (2010), explored the world of disaster “prepping,” well before television and books popularized the concept. Hailed as a “grippingly realistic” family survival story, The Jakarta Pandemic introduced thousands of readers to the unfamiliar concept of “survival in the suburbs,” motivating many of them to take the first steps to better prepare themselves for a major disaster. Steven’s recently launched trilogy, The Perseid Collapse (which includes the sequels Event Horizon and Point of Crisis), continues his legacy of engaging and informative post-apocalyptic fiction.

But Steven also established himself as a writer of sizzling bestselling technothrillers with his “Black Flagged” series, which so far includes Black Flagged, Black Flagged Redux, Black Flagged Apex, and Black Flagged Vektor.

Home for Steven and his family is in coastal southern Maine, where he wakes up at “zero dark thirty” to write for most of the day. When “off duty,” he struggles to strike a balance between a woefully short sailing season and an unreasonably long winter.

This busy husband, father, and writer took out some time this week to be interviewed, and you’ll soon see why I was eager  to learn more about him.

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The Vigilante Author: Welcome to “The Vigilante Author,” Steve. I’m pleased to be able to introduce you and your work to fans of the Dylan Hunter series.

Steven Konkoly: Robert, thanks for giving me the opportunity to speak with your readers. The “Hunter” books and my “Black Flagged” series share many common themes, so I’m thrilled to talk about my work in such good company.

Black Flagged coverBriefly, the Black Flagged series is a hard-hitting, gritty, black-ops/espionage series centered on an unsanctioned Special Operations team. When I say unsanctioned, I mean unaffiliated with the U.S. government. The Black Flagged premise is entirely different than most covert operations thrillers involving “off the books” groups, in that the team has been assembled and trained by a disgraced former Special Operations general, to swiftly and brutally address threats against America that fall far outside the bounds of potential U.S. involvement.

In this case, the threat is a rogue Russian bioweapons engineer selling his skills to Islamic fundamentalists . . . or so it appears. The most recent book in the series is Black Flagged Vektor, which closes the bioweapons threat and pits the Black Flagged team, CIA, and Russian mafia against a secretly revived Russian Federation bioweapons program. Trust me when I say that the relationship that evolves between the three entities is unlike anything you’ve read. The last third of the book might be my favorite stretch of chapters in all of my novels. You won’t see what’s coming.

The Vigilante Author: I have some trouble wrapping my head around both your disaster novels and your technothrillers, and placing them all into some over-arching genre category or concept.

Steven Konkoly: I’m what you might call genre-confused. I cut my teeth as a writer with The Jakarta Pandemic, a claustrophobic, apocalyptic thriller set during the deadliest pandemic in human history. Realizing that I could write fiction that people wanted to read — nobody knows if their books will sell when they start — I shifted gears and wrote four books in the Black Flagged series.

The Black Flagged books fall into that broad category of political/military/covert ops/espionage thrillers. I never know exactly how to classify them, since each novel contains a subplot or storyline deeply rooted in each of those categories. [Tom] Perseid Collapse coverClancy’s novels are a great approximation of what you get in this series, minus about 300 pages of technical descriptions and miles-deep character backgrounds. I go heavy on the technical aspects at times, which adds yet another genre description — technothriller — to the mix, but I don’t go overboard. I’ve been a hardcore fan of Frederick Forsyth, so you’ll see some economy of storytelling.

The Vigilante Author: Thank goodness for that. Clancy had a tendency to sprawl. I prefer tighter writing. What prompted you to branch out from technothrillers?

Steven Konkoly: After writing four Black Flagged novels in two years, I decided to take a break from the characters and return to my roots. The Perseid Collapse series, my latest project, is a post-apocalyptic, prepper-themed story, with a strong technothriller flavor. Like my first novel, The Jakarta Pandemic, the Perseid Collapse books revolve around the trials and tribulations of a single family and their close friends during a devastating catastrophe. Without a doubt, elements of the Black Flagged books leaked into this series, widening the plot and delivering a fast-paced post-apocalyptic story.

The Vigilante Author: From technothrillers to disaster prep — that’s quite a range of settings. But are there some qualities common among your protagonists that might set them apart and make them memorable? And do you draw them from real-life people, or completely from your imagination?

Steven Konkoly: I’ll stick to the Black Flagged heroes, since they represent what I consider to the most unique aspect of my protagonist worldview. The Black Flagged series started with a character concept. I wanted to create a different type of black-ops-based protagonist. A group molded from the ground up; their selection based on a psychological profile compatible with the type of morally flexible decisions required to execute the deep-cover, gray-area missions I envisioned for the Black Flagged group.

EREDUX coverssentially, the Black Flagged graduates are highly functioning sociopaths, trained from the ground up to function in the worst possible mission environments imaginable. Daniel Petrovich, the series’ main protagonist, spent two years infiltrating a ruthless Serbian paramilitary group during Slobodan Milosevic’s worst years as the despotic, genocidal leader of the former Yugoslavia. You can imagine the atrocities he witnessed and perpetrated in his deep cover role. Other graduates spent time infiltrating the Colombian and Mexican cartels, Russian mafia, and former Soviet-bloc arms dealers.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that the protagonists in this series will stop at nothing to accomplish the mission, regardless of who gets in the way. They are pathologically practical, brutally efficient, and not very observant of society’s rules and principles. With that said, they are definitely the good guys, mission-focused on protecting the United States. They just take a few moral detours to get there. Think Jack Bauer, with a little less personal torment.

The Vigilante Author: Jack did tend to lose his cool a bit.

Steven Konkoly: To answer the last part of your question: This is totally drawn from my imagination. I’ve never been fully satisfied with a black ops character, outside of John Clark from Tom Clancy’s Without Remorse, and I wanted to create a new class of operator suited for purposeful immersion in morally sketchy operations.

The Vigilante Author: What in your youth explains how and why you became thriller author Steven Konkoly?

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Interview with Richard Bard — Author of Bestselling International Thrillers

 

A few years ago, just as I was getting HUNTER launched, I was fascinated to witness the soaring success of another indie author, Richard Bard. His debut thriller, Brainrush, had a fantastic premise, and it was racking up fantastic sales and reviews. Since then, each new release in the “Brainrush” series has rocketed to the top of the bestseller lists.

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Bestselling thriller author Richard Bard

I’ve long been curious about the author and his books — especially since we seem to share a lot of readers (and entertainment tastes). Richard and I recently started corresponding, and with the release this week of his new “Brainrush” novel, Everlast, I asked him if he’d do an interview for me. I’m delighted that he accepted.

Richard draws on his own experiences as a former United States Air Force pilot and cancer survivor to craft compelling characters who risk it all for love and loyalty. Born in Munich, Germany, to American parents, he joined the USAF, like his father. But he left the service when he was diagnosed with cancer and learned that he had only months to live.

Happily, that diagnosis proved to be premature. Richard went on to earn a management degree from the University of Notre Dame, then ran three successful companies involving advanced security products used by U.S. embassies and governments worldwide. Now a full-time writer, he lives in Redondo Beach, California, with his wife, and he remains in excellent health.

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The Vigilante Author: Richard, thanks for taking time out of your crazy schedule to do this — and huge congratulations on the enormous success of your “Brainrush” series. I’m in awe of the sales and reviews garnered by all three books in the initial trilogy: Brainrush, The Enemy of My Enemy, and Beyond Judgment.

Richard Bard: Yes, I’ve been extremely fortunate. The “Brainrush” thriller trilogy has garnered over 1,500 Amazon 5-star reviews to date. I still can’t believe it! It’s an international action thriller with a bit of mystery, suspense, romance, and even sci-fi. But at its heart it’s about second chances and embracing each day of your life as though it’s your last.

It was a natural first step in my writing since Jake Bronson’s emotional journey — as an Air Force pilot who faces a terminal diagnosis — parallels my own. It was a blast to write. The story is filled with unexpected twists and turns, and I promise that you will never predict the ending! When Publishers Weekly reviewed the unpublished manuscript, they said it “culminates in a particularly outrageous and fitting conclusion.” Good! Life should be that way, don’t you think?

The Vigilante Author: No argument from me. You only live once. And you have a keener awareness of mortality than most of us.

Now you have a new book out, and I want to know all about it.

Everlast e-Cover BRAINRUSH thriller SMALLRichard Bard: My latest book launched this week. Everlast, A Brainrush Thriller, while not part of the original trilogy, features the same characters fans have grown to love. It’s about a gifted boy forced to grow up too fast, a father who will do anything to protect him, and a madman bent on destroying them both.

The story begins when Jake’s family and closest friends are simultaneously abducted in a globally-coordinated kidnapping scheme. He’s thrust into a frantic race that takes him from the canals of Amsterdam and the cobbled streets of Rome to the back alleys of Hong Kong and the South China jungles, where he must lever every scrap of his failing mental abilities to rescue his loved ones and crush a madman’s plans to bring the world to its knees. (Whew!)

The Vigilante Author: “Whew” is right! Sounds like Robert Ludlum on steroids. So, give me your “elevator speech” about your “Brainrush” thrillers.

Richard Bard: Brainrush was described as “the international thriller with thought-provoking soul.” It’s a moniker I strive to live up to in every book. I like to draw readers in from the very first page, and keep their emotions (and heart rate) engrossed until the very end.

The Vigilante Author: There are so many thriller series out there, and so many thriller protagonists. What do you think sets yours apart?

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Interview with Nate Granzow–Author of Unconventional Adventures

 

Nate Granzow is a professional magazine editor by day, a novelist by night. He’s also a husband, father, avid outdoorsman, woodworker, leatherworker, and competitive shooter.

Always in love with writing, Nate graduated from Drake University with degrees in English writing and magazine journalism. His work has been published in over ten professional publications to date, and he currently works as a magazine editor in Des Moines, Iowa.

Nate Granzow

Nate Granzow

His debut novel, The Scorpion’s Nest, was selected as one of 1,000 finalists in Amazon’s Breakthrough Novel Awards 2012, and was ranked first in the Mystery/Suspense/Thriller category at the IndieReader Discovery Awards 2012. His sophomore work, Cogar’s Despair, reached top 100 bestseller status in Amazon’s “Men’s Adventure” category. It was followed by Cogar’s Revolt — a Top 3 finalist in the Clive Cussler Collector’s Society’s 2014 Adventure Writer’s Competition.

I interrupted Nate’s work on two more novels — the next entry in the Grant Cogar series, and the debut novel of a new series — and he graciously took some time to reply to my interview questions.

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The Vigilante Author: Nate, thanks for introducing yourself and your work to my readers. Tell us a little about your novels, and please focus a bit on the latest.

HekuraCoverNate Granzow: Thanks, Robert! I currently have a running series starring a vulgar, boozing, womanizing war correspondent — Grant Cogar — and I have written two stand-alone novels in addition to the two from that series. My most recent release is a novel titled Hekura — a jungle exploration/science-gone-wrong thriller in the vein of James Rollins’ or Michael Crichton’s work.

The Vigilante Author: Cogar is definitely a departure from the kind of heroes usually spotlighted here. In fact, I find your stories tricky to categorize. How would you describe them?

Nate Granzow: I write what I find exciting as a reader. I’ve tried my hand at historical fiction, science fiction, travel adventure, and I’m even working on an archeological thriller now. I suppose they could all be loosely corralled under the title “adventure,” but they’re very diverse. I write and edit for a living, but much of that work is technical in nature. This is my creative outlet. I try to challenge myself regularly, and explore and expand my writing skills with unique projects.

The Vigilante Author: What did you have in mind in creating as unusual a protagonist as Grant Cogar? Did something or someone inspire you to create the character?

Cogars Revolt coverNate Granzow: The idea for a fallible antihero like Grant Cogar came to me after reading George MacDonald Fraser’s “Flashman” series. The protagonist, Sir Harry Flashman, is an illustrious Victorian soldier in the British Army and is a complete lout, both ignoble and, in many ways, utterly contemptible. Yet he’s wildly entertaining, and by the end of each novel, despite Flashy’s displayed cowardice and lascivious behavior, the readers find themselves cheering him on. I thought I’d reinvent that same concept in a war correspondent, since journalism is something with which I’m intimately familiar.

In many ways, though, Cogar has surpassed a mere comical exploration in character development. Cogar is my doppelganger — the yin to my yang. The man I might have been if my life had taken on a different direction — no wife, kids, or nine-to-five job. And that makes him really fun for me to write. The depth of character I’ve been able to achieve with him, particularly in forthcoming works, regularly surprises me.

The Vigilante Author: So, Nate, what life path did you follow that led you to write fiction?

Nate Granzow gun photo

Among other things, Nate Granzow is a competitive marksman

Nate Granzow: I was born to humble parents on the barren, snowy plains of Minnesota. Long, long winters there. I spent a lot of time reading, and the natural segue is to go from reader to writer. Of course, even as a young man I knew that you had to make money to survive, and I figured even then that writing fiction wasn’t the way to make it. So I turned to journalism. My favorite character in my favorite book, Gideon Spillett in Jules Verne’s The Mysterious Island, was a war correspondent, and he left a lasting impression on me. I wanted to be a man of action. I wanted to write. Journalism sounded like the right fit.

I continued writing fiction, mostly short stories and poems, just for giggles. It wasn’t until my junior year of college, when I took an English class on writing novellas, that I started down this road as a novelist. It began as a personal challenge to write a novel. Then, I realized that I’d been wrong all these years about the viability of writing novels for a living. There’s really never been a better time to be a self-published author than right at this moment.

The Vigilante Author: As someone who also migrated from nonfiction and journalism into writing fiction, I can relate to a lot of your career path. And I also agree with you that there’s never been a better time to be an indie author. But we writers all face challenges. What are some of yours?

Nate Granzow: Finding the time to balance my work and home life, while still eking out a few minutes to write my novels each day, can be really tough. Fortunately, I have an understanding and supportive wife and daughter. I’ve also found writing early in the morning, before anyone else in the house is up (and preferably before the sun comes up), is when I’m most productive.

The Vigilante Author: When I write fiction, I wear my convictions on my sleeve, so to speak. Do your stories present your philosophical or political views, or do you try to mask them?

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Neil Russell Revisited — A Fresh Interview with the Creator of Thriller Hero Rail Black

 

Back in early 2012, I conducted a brief (okay . . . perfunctory) interview with movie-maker-turned-thriller-author Neil Russell. I knew there was a lot more about this man that I wanted to learn and share with you. Well, Neil graciously agreed to a longer (okay . . . long) interview. And I’m so glad he did: This one may be the most entertaining author interview I’ve yet conducted.

Neil’s remarkable life and colorful personality can’t be captured adequately even by his impressive biography. If you’re a movie or TV watcher, I’m sure you’ve seen some of the motion pictures he’s been associated with as a studio executive. Many are now considered classics. Born into a theatre-owning family, Neil Russell began his career in theatres, joined Paramount Pictures and later Columbia in theatrical distribution, where he handled some of the most acclaimed motion pictures of that era, including “The Godfather I and II,” “Chinatown,” “Serpico,” “Death Wish,” “Saturday Night Fever,” and “The Way We Were.”

Neil Russell profile photo

Movie-maker and thriller author Neil Russell

Recruited by MGM prior to their acquisition of United Artists, he was charged with merging, then heading, the combined companies’ television distribution units. During his career, Neil has been a senior executive at Paramount, Columbia, MGM/UA, and Carolco Pictures (which produced the “Rambo” movies, “Terminator 2,” and “Total Recall”). He also founded and led Carolco Television Productions. These days he’s president of Site 85 Productions, which creates, acquires, and produces intellectual properties for motion pictures, television, and music, and which also has begun publishing books through its Rothington House imprint.

As he relates here, Neil has been a storyteller all his life. But after spending his film-making decades telling other writers’ stories, he decided to start writing and publishing his own.

With City of War in 2010, he introduced flamboyant thriller hero Rail Black — a towering, fabulously wealthy, ex-Delta Force operator who lives in Beverly Hills, and who turns his staggering wealth and lethal talents to helping friends in trouble. Rail might be described as a hybrid of John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee and Ian Fleming’s James Bond . . . but about a half-foot taller than either. New York Times best-selling spy author Gayle Lynds described City of War as “utterly gripping,” a “fascinating mystery” with “exciting suspense that doesn’t release the panting reader until the last page.”

Neil has since published two Rail Black sequels, Wildcase and Beverly Hills Is Burning. He started out as a traditionally published author with HarperCollins; but now he publishes independently, through his own imprint.

Rather than continue to summarize his fascinating story, though, why don’t I let him tell it to you himself in his own funny, sometimes salty-tongued fashion?

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The Vigilante Author: Neil, welcome again to “The Vigilante Author.”

Neil Russell: Thanks, Robert.

The Vigilante Author: You’ve created a truly fresh hero in your Rail Black series. The books are attracting quite a following and getting rave reviews. Personally, I love the fact they’re based in and around your stomping grounds in Hollywood. But you’re a movie executive. So how did you get started writing thrillers?

Neil Russell: Though I am third generation in the motion picture business, until now, I had never written about Hollywood. In fact, I had avoided it. So much acreage has been plowed — either brilliantly (see Nathanael West and Elmore Leonard); scathingly (see Gore Vidal and Norman Mailer); or amateurishly by a few who think they know how it works and don’t — that bringing something fresh to the arena can be daunting, even for an insider. Then there’s the problem of pushing back from your keyboard, turning to your bookshelf, and being reminded that Fitzgerald, Chandler, Cain, Ellroy, Huxley, McMurtry, and Schulberg have been there before you. It gives you pause.

The Vigilante Author: Yeah, I can see how it would.

Neil Russell: However, when you grow up and work in this industry, you meet remarkable people, experience things that couldn’t occur anywhere else, and hear stories you think can’t be topped — then they are the next time the door opens. My father used to say that every genius and pissant eventually finds his way to Sunset Boulevard. I steer clear of the pissants, but the chairs in my office have held Nobel Prize-winners and CIA directors, Colombian bounty hunters and Asian warlords, Cold War spies and Chernobyl survivors, along with various rogues and charlatans, and the rich, famous, and talented from all corners of the globe. I’ve also been invited places I never knew existed and discovered that everyone picks up the phone when they hear Hollywood is calling. I never cease being amazed by how fortunate I am.

And thus, into the maw my word processor and I dove.

The Vigilante Author: So, to borrow some ancient jargon from Hollywood gossip columnists, why don’t you dish the dirt about your latest novel?

Neil Russell: My third Rail Black novel, Beverly Hills Is Burning, is an edgy story about old mobsters, new movie studios, gruesome murders, and money — lots of money. It is also about the underlying anxiety of an industry that rides, not on technology or patents or how many shelves you fill at Walmart, but on the fragility of one hundred and twenty pages of words, written in a format few people can evaluate and even fewer can write. Pages that determine the fates of those who pursue the bright lights and those who own them — and upon which rest a trillion dollars of shareholder equity.

Beverly Hills Is Burning takes place in Hollywood, Havana, Palm Springs, and Laguna Beach, with a side trip to 1930s Matamoros, Mexico. And though clearly fiction, the story is rooted in reality. It is also unlike any other I am familiar with. So far, no one has told me otherwise.

beverly-hills-is-burningThe Vigilante Author: Havana? What’s that connection all about?

Neil Russell: For those who came along after Fidel and Che made mass murderer T-shirts fashionable, Havana had two Mafia- and Hollywood-entangled eras: The one portrayed in “Godfather II,” which took place in the 1950s, and a less-remembered but more-sophisticated, high-society version, which occurred twenty-five years earlier. Beverly Hills Is Burning derives half its plot from the one most people never knew existed, and the other half from the shrouded inner workings of modern-day Hollywood.

The Vigilante Author: Could a reader new to your work just dive in with this one, or should he or she start with the first?

Neil Russell: All three Rail Black novels are stand-alones, so it is not necessary to have read the first two, City of War and Wildcase, to enjoy BHIB. (Though, of course, I hope you eventually will.) I must note, however, that my books are not breezy reads but intricate, complex thrillers. They interweave events from the past with connected ones from the present, which requires keeping track of names and events in different time periods.

Eventually, everything comes together, but I’ve not yet had anyone tell me they unraveled the mystery before the reveal. If you like going places you’ve probably never been, looking at things through very different eyes, being challenged and surprised, Rail Black may be for you.

The Vigilante Author: I know enough about your stories to sense a “however . . .” coming.

Neil Russell: A very big “however.” All the Rail Black novels contain violence, profanity, and sex, some of it explicit. BHIB is the most explicit. This is pull-the-blinds, hide-the-picture-of-your-priest storytelling, and I strongly caution sensitive readers. Sometimes the world isn’t pretty — and Hollywood occasionally leads the way.

I encourage everyone to check the reviews at Amazon and Goodreads before buying any of my books — especially the reviews written by people who were not enchanted. My goal is to entertain, not have you fire it through your favorite Rembrandt.

The Vigilante Author: Yeah, I’d sure hate to damage my Rembrandt. So these are straight-out thrillers, right? Or how would you characterize them?

Neil Russell: Since I didn’t set out writing Rail Black from any particular genre standpoint, the books aren’t a straight-out anything. There’s some thriller, a lot of mystery, and definitely crime and suspense. The locations also range from LA across every continent except Antarctica, so the stories travel as well.

The Vigilante Author: But you’ve also taken a fresh approach to subjects and settings.

Neil Russell: The two things I made a conscious decision to avoid were terrorism and ticking nukes about to vaporize Washington or New York or some gentle, tree-lined neighborhood in Dubuque. There are very fine writers who cover those beats and who are so well-versed in the intricacies that I didn’t believe I could be anything more than derivative. More to the point, unconventional characters and entangled personal relationships are what interest me, not global conflagration.

It turned out that my books also have developed a substantial and loyal military following. I’m proud to have them as readers, and I thank them for making America safe for my family. I don’t think the special operator who sent me a recent email would mind my quoting his take on Rail: “Big, bad, rich, and gets laid a lot. Count me in.”

The best way I know to describe my novels is to ask yourself what you would do if you had more money than you could count, and some soulless asshole committed a dreadful act on you, your family, or a close friend. As a civilian, you don’t have the infrastructure of law enforcement, but wealth and celebrity open doors — some even the cops can’t get through. Rail Black’s a door-opener. And he doesn’t come with handcuffs and Miranda.

The Vigilante Author: Rail and Dylan Hunter would get on splendidly. But there are differences, too. What makes your hero special? Does he represent for you what Dylan does for me — an idealized fantasy projection?

Neil Russell: I’ll leave uniqueness to the reader to decide, but Rail Black originated from a voice I’d been using to guide stories and scripts for years, if only from a distance. The kind of man we’d all like to think we could be or would want as a friend. A big, physical man with an attitude and moral underpinning that refuses to be compromised. One who also occasionally makes mistakes — and they bother him. And just to keep it interesting, I endowed him with a heaping helping of wiseass.

Half-Brit, half-Brazilian, all-American, Rail Black is a former Delta Force operator who, through birth and inheritance, is extremely wealthy. He lives in Beverly Hills, and if you’re lucky enough to have him in your Rolodex, he’s the call you make when fools and scoundrels upset the balance of nature.

The Vigilante Author: I was pondering the similarities and differences of our respective heroes, Neil. Both of them are mysterious guys with loads of money and special operations backgrounds. Both are tough, smart, and operate like vigilantes. But I see Dylan Hunter as leaning more in the direction of a hybrid of Batman and Jason Bourne (with some of Ayn Rand’s philosophical pirate-hero, Ragnar Danneskjöld, tossed in); while I see Rail Black as more in the direction of a cross between James Bond and John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee. Am I totally off here? How do you see them?

Neil Russell: I’m not a big fan of the word vigilante. I prefer paladin; it sends people under the age of fifty to the dictionary. Otherwise, I’m good with your assessment. Maybe someday they’ll meet. But give Dylan a heads-up, Rail’s a big dude. How’s that for throwing down the gauntlet?

The Vigilante Author: Game on, dude . . . So, instead of “Wire Paladin, San Francisco,” you “Wire Rail, Beverly Hills.” What else makes him special?

Neil Russell: He has a low tolerance for those who take advantage of others, politicians, badge-heavy cops, and self-appointed, righteous blowhards who stand on the throat of personal freedoms. Rail also — scrunch your toes a little tighter in your Birkenstocks, NPR fans — smokes, which generates more angry mail than all the salacious sex and violence I’ll write in my lifetime.

I will add that Rail has an appetite for women. Smart women who are as attractive on the inside as they are in the mirror. And some of them smoke, too.

The Vigilante Author: Yikes! A rich, sexist, ex-military guy who uses guns! Gee, in a few more years we’ll have to read your books under the covers at night with a flashlight.

So, what kind of man created this Rail Black guy? Where did he come from?

Neil Russell: You may be sorry you asked that, but here goes . . .

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My November HUNTER Sales Promotion Results

 

I am revising and updating the original post here, to reflect the final results of this campaign:

Folks, I’ve never run a sales promotion for my books before. But going into the holidays, I thought that I’d give HUNTER a boost.

From Thursday November 13 through Monday November 17, the Kindle edition of HUNTER will be on sale for just 99 cents!

HUNTER WSJ TAGLINE FINAL UPLOAD smallerIf money is tight and you’ve been wondering what to give for holiday gifts, here’s one that won’t break the bank but is likely to be appreciated by most fiction readers. You can send the ebook as a gift, by email, right from the purchase link box in the upper right of the HUNTER product page.

No Kindle? No problem! You or your gift recipient can download the free Kindle app from the product page, too, then use the app to download and read HUNTER on any tablet, smartphone, or computer.

This is the only time in three years that I’ve run a book promotion, and it may be a long time before I run another. And at less than a buck, never has HUNTER been priced so inexpensively.

So grab it now, either for yourself or for somebody who will enjoy a tale filled with thrills, action, mystery, romance, spies, criminals . . . and the most original swashbuckling action hero in a generation.

Update #1: The “Readers in the Know” online book promotion site, besides running a HUNTER promotion scheduled for November 14, also invited me to blog about my promotion, its rationale, my expectations, and the final results. Check out my first November 13th post here.

Update #2: Also on the first day, I ran this promotion on “Free Kindle Books & Tips.” If readers sign up to subscribe to their site, at no charge, they will notify you by email of daily free and discounted ebook bargains. For authors, you pay a modest fee to have your book promoted, with a site listing plus the email to subscribers.

Update #3: The Day #1 (Thursday) sales results exceeded my highest hopes. Almost 300 copies of HUNTER sold, and the day ended with an impressive Kindle ranking of #634 out of more than 3 million ebook titles. The pace of sales hasn’t slowed a bit during Day #2 (Friday): I’ve piled on about six more promotions, plus more social media. As of mid-afternoon I’ve recorded another 162 sales, and the Kindle ranking has further plunged, to #452.

And my thriller-author friend Stephen England has just posted the long interview he conducted with me a few days ago, including many previously unrevealed aspects of my writing the Dylan Hunter series. I hope you check it out.

Update #4: Day #2 (Friday) finished up with 301 paid downloads for HUNTER. Its Kindle ranking sunk as low as #296 before settling back into the mid-300s prior to the big Day #3 promotions.

Day #3 (Saturday) saw huge sales, driven mainly by the big email book advertiser Bookbub. As a result HUNTER crested at #38 on the Kindle Bestseller List during the wee hours of Sunday morning. It also hit #1 in three Kindle categories: “Crime Fiction,” “Vigilante Justice,” and “Assassination Thrillers.” It went to lows of at least #12 in “Thrillers” and #14 in “Mystery, Thrillers & Suspense.”

All told, 1515 ebooks sold on Saturday — 1493 sales, and 22 “borrows.” About a hundred of those sales were from the UK. Collateral sales of BAD DEEDS went way up, too — 47 copies on Saturday. In addition, I found that on Day #2 of the promotion, when I was using smaller sites and lists, HUNTER generated 14 audiobook sales; on Saturday, it added a whopping 30 more.

For Day #4 (Sunday) I scheduled no formal promotions. But just driven by the momentum of the preceding promotions, plus the book’s new prominence on various Amazon bestseller lists, sales continue to be significant. As of 6 p.m., I’ve recorded 397 purchases of HUNTER plus 31 more of BAD DEEDS. While HUNTER has slipped out of the Top 50 rankings (at this moment positioned at #58), it’s still doing extremely well in its various genre categories: #1 in “Assassination Thrillers” and “Vigilante Justice,” #2 in “Crime Fiction,” and #18 in “Thrillers.” BAD DEEDS also holds a very respectable ranking in the low # 3000s.

One other nice thing: The book has been selling extremely well in the United Kingdom, too, the only other nation in which I was permitted by Amazon’s rules to run a Kindle Countdown Deal. Over 100 copies sold on Day #3, and I’ve so far chalked up two dozen more on Day #4. As a result, HUNTER is also holding the #1 position in the UK “Vigilante Justice” category — simultaneously with holding that same position in the U.S.A.

I’m extraordinarily proud that my debut thriller has now twice surged onto the Kindle Top 50 Bestseller List . . . three years apart.

HUNTER hits #1 in Kindle "Assassination Thrillers

HUNTER hits #1 in Kindle “Assassination Thrillers

 

Update#5: Campaign Results

The totals from Days #4 and 5 were excellent, adding 922 purchases of HUNTER alone.

Let me summarize by listing the major achievements during the campaign’s duration (and many will continue long afterward):

* More than 3,000 copies of HUNTER were sold. In addition, another 200+ copies of BAD DEEDS were purchased.

* On Saturday November 15, HUNTER sold 1,515 copies in a single day.

* For the second time in three years, HUNTER hit the Kindle “Top 50″ Bestseller List, peaking at #38 out of 3 million ebook titles.

* The book soared to #1 in the categories “Crime Fiction,” “Vigilante Justice,” and “Assassination Thrillers,” and still holds that top ranking in the latter two categories. It also hit #2 in “Espionage Thrillers.” It reached #12 on the big “Thrillers” list, and #14 on the even bigger “Mystery, Thrillers & Suspense” list. (It may have gone even lower in those numerical rankings; I wasn’t paying attention all the time.)

* HUNTER also went to #1 in “Vigilante Justice” in the UK, and still remains in that ranking as of this writing. In a market where it has never done that well, it sold over a hundred copies in a single day.

* The collateral benefits include big spikes in sales of the HUNTER audiobook — 14 on Day #2 and a whopping 30 on Day #3 — plus many new readers who will go on to purchase BAD DEEDS and the coming sequels. I also expect sales of both books to remain considerably higher in daily sales than they were before the campaign, for a long time.

All in all, a tremendous success. HUNTER is now a two-time Kindle Bestseller!

 

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Interview with Rose Robbins — Author of “Domestic Thrillers”

 

Rose Robbins was born and raised in the Pacific Northwest. A precocious child fascinated by words, she ruined many library books by leaving them out overnight in the fields of her family’s farm.

Now her life-long love of books has inspired her to write her own.

Her “Carlin Series” is a quintet of interrelated suspense novels. (In sequence, the books are: In From the Cold; A Hundred Lesser Faces; Continue As Jenyfer?; Bring Back My Bonnie; and Sheltered.) Each is a compelling, credible story of a strong woman who must escape and heal from the physical and psychological abuse she’s endured in domestic and religious settings. Each story also explores a different aspect of relational abuse, and its effects on the many people it touches.

Rose Robbins writer

Author Rose Robbins (click to enlarge)

These five novels — written at white heat, within the span of a single year — were inspired by Rose’s own experiences while hiding in a domestic violence shelter with her small children. There she found that all types of women, from all walks of life, can find themselves victims of abuse. From those grim days, she made it her mission to change the way society views relational abuse and its roots. Besides writing about it, Rose also heads a mentoring program for former victims and hosts a website that offers resources for victims and mentors alike.

Prior to writing “The Carlin Series,” Rose independently published three nonfiction books presenting her personal philosophy about how to live a happy, meaningful life. Most recently she co-authored, with her daughter Katherine, The Accidental Dragon, an enchanting children’s fantasy adventure. (See my previous interview with Rose and Katherine.)

I first met Rose Robbins in an online discussion forum more than a decade ago, and over the years we’ve become good friends. I knew her then as a brilliantly talented and critically acclaimed musician: She writes, sings, and publicly performs her own award-winning work, accompanying herself on guitar and keyboards. You can listen to her songs and learn more about her musical career at her website.

I’ve invited Rose here to share the literary side of her multifaceted life. Having read and thoroughly enjoyed her books, I’m delighted to let you share some moments with an extraordinary lady.

~~~

The Vigilante Author: Rose, even though I’ve given your books glowing endorsements on Amazon, let me congratulate you once again. Based on the rave reviews they’re receiving from other readers, it’s clear that they’re touching lives.

Since we’ve already chatted about your new children’s fantasy novel, let’s focus today on your “Carlin” novels. What gave you the idea for this series?

In From the Cold coverRose Robbins: The first book in my series, In From the Cold, was not intended to begin a series at all! I just wanted to tell the story of Tess, a young mom who was led deeply into an abusive relationship one small step at a time. But then, when I finished the book, there was another character in the story I had grown to love. I felt that I should tell her story, too.

The Vigilante Author: That first novel began with the deceptive sense of surface serenity, but with hints of menace lurking below the façade of normalcy. I think that’s the key to the suspense in the whole series. So how would you classify them? As thrillers? Or as “romantic suspense”?

Rose Robbins: I call them “domestic thrillers.” Each story’s villain is an abuser of some kind, and any suspense in the story — some of the books have more suspense, others have less — comes from an abusive situation.

The Vigilante Author: If you don’t mind my asking, what prompted you to address such unusually serious subject matter in fiction?

Rose Robbins: In 2006, I ended up in a shelter with my five young children. During the month we were there, I not only had many eye-opening experiences, but met several other women from a variety of circumstances. All strong, brave, beautiful women — all experiencing some form of abuse. Then each of us went back into the world, carrying our stories silently inside. I decided those were stories that needed to be told.

Rose in red dress 1

Rose during a recent promotional photo shoot (click to enlarge)

The Vigilante Author: And you’ve told them exceptionally well. They are gripping reads. I have my own views on this, but what do you think is unique about your heroines?

Rose Robbins: The heroines in my books are the strong women that reach down deep and find strength and courage to start over. And their allies, which can be found in unusual places. I greatly admire courage. I wish I had more of it.

The Vigilante Author: I know you, and you underrate your own courage. Anyway, anyone who meets you now would be amazed by your unlikely background. Why don’t you share a bit about it.

Rose Robbins: I grew up on a farm in southwestern Washington state. I milked cows and helped bale hay, and when I had free time, I was usually up in a tree. I was a total tomboy. I spent a lot of time watching cows, which was like being a shepherd, only with cows. I’d read and write stories and music while alone in a beautiful field at the edge of the woods. It was a pretty great childhood.

A Hundred Lesser Faces coverFor years, I tried to compensate for my upbringing by trying hard to be sophisticated and surround myself with sophisticated people. Now I’m finally relaxing into myself — a person who likes a lot of time alone.

The Vigilante Author: I know the feeling. So where do you think your desire to tell stories came from?

Rose Robbins: I have always loved words. I grew up reading older books — The Bastables by E. Nesbitt, The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis. I love beautifully or cleverly put together words. When I dream, I see words like subtitles. I have always known I would create using words in some way. I believe I wrote my first stories and poems at age six. They were very bad.

The Vigilante Author: I’m glad adults didn’t discourage you back them. What writers influence you today?

Continue As Jenyfer coverRose Robbins: A favorite author now is Nora Roberts (or J.D. Robb). She creates characters that are funny, that speak like real people speak, and her reasons for people doing what they do are honest and compelling. I also love Jacquelyn Mitchard, whose style is much more lyrical. She writes in a way that almost feels like poetry.

I strongly dislike when I feel an author is trying too hard, whether it’s to be lyrical or to be “gritty” or to be real. You can sense that overwork, and it feels false, pulls you away from the story. I love authors who have settled into their own style and aren’t trying to make Oprah’s book list or anything.

The Vigilante Author: No one will ever accuse either of us of pandering to Oprah. So how would you compare your work with that of some familiar authors?

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Interview with Wayne Stinnett — Bestselling Adventure Novelist

The Self-Publishing Revolution has produced a lot of rags-to-riches stories. One of the most recent and inspiring is the success story of Wayne Stinnett. Reviewers are comparing Stinnett and his nautical protagonist Jesse McDermitt to the likes of author Clive Cussler and his seafaring adventurer Dirk Pitt — and even more frequently to late literary icon John D. MacDonald and his houseboat hero Travis McGee.

A veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps, Stinnett enjoyed a colorful and varied life as (among many other things) a deckhand, commercial fisherman, Dive Master, taxi driver, construction manager, and most recently, long-haul truck driver. But two years ago, his long-simmering writing ambitions caught fire, and he has since written and published five thrilling sea-themed adventures that have shot up the Amazon bestseller lists. Their success has allowed him to escape from the cab of the truck where, hunched over his laptop, he churned out 1,000 words per day at rest stops and while waiting for loads.

Not only is Stinnett a gifted storyteller, but he is also one of the smartest guys around when it comes to marketing books. An affable and generous man, always willing to share his experiences, he’s recently been schooling me about the mysteries of Amazon’s ranking algorithms and the secrets of internet advertising and promotion.

So I was delighted when he accepted my invitation to do this interview, because you now have the opportunity to meet a remarkable man, discover his great stories, and — if you’re a writer — learn a lot about the habits and methods that lead to a successful literary career.

I hope you enjoy this interview as much as I have.

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The Vigilante Author: Wayne, welcome to “The Vigilante Author.” And kudos for your books and your meteoric success.

Wayne Stinnett: Meteoric? Well, maybe cometic. Is that a word?

The Vigilante Author: It is now. Why don’t you start by talking about how your career as a writer began. And also tell us a bit about your series of adventure novels, including your latest.

profile_5Wayne Stinnett: I first started writing in 1987 and received 37 rejection letters from publishers big and small for my three short stories about a young guy fresh out of the Marine Corps who moves to the Florida Keys. Disheartened, I set them aside and went on with life.

My wife found a handwritten portion of one of those stories and asked me about it. Then she urged me to try again. That’s when I discovered the world of self-publishing. I took the storyline from those shorts, brought them into the 21st century, made the main character a wiser, 37-year-old, retired Marine, and completely rewrote them as novels, which became Fallen Palm and Fallen Hunter. Like a comet coming around every 26 years.

My latest novel, Fallen Mangrove, picks up the storyline of the main character Jesse McDermitt a few months after the end of Fallen Pride. In Mangrove, Jesse is reunited with his youngest daughter, Kim, who he hasn’t seen since she was a baby. She’s a 17-year-old minor character in this book, but returns with a more prominent role in Fallen King, early next year. Fallen Mangrove revolves around the search for a long-lost buried treasure in the Bahamas.

The Vigilante Author: How would you describe these novels, by genre, themes, or subject matter?

Wayne Stinnett: In the Marine Corps, we had a word for outlandish stories that got better and better with each retelling. A “sea story” is the Marine equivalent of a tall tale. I served in the Corps in the Seventies and Eighties, then went home to Florida. I’d visited the Florida Keys since I was a kid, and after a divorce, I moved there. For a while, I lived on a 1926 Alden 42-foot sloop, anchored in Boot Key Harbor, Marathon. Although I haven’t been to the Keys in many years now, I can visit easily in my mind.

My writing is influenced by several south Florida writers: James W. Hall, Carl Hiaasen, Randy Wayne White, and of course, the late John D. MacDonald. My main character, Jesse, is sort of a compilation of White’s Doc Ford character and MacDonald’s Travis McGee, but with the training and discipline of a Marine.

The Vigilante Author: What do you think is unique about Jesse McDermitt that distinguishes him from other thriller heroes? Where did he come from? Real life, or totally from imagination?

Fallen_Out_thumbnailWayne Stinnett: Jesse is my moral compass. He’s the reluctant hero. He lost his parents at an early age and was raised by his grandparents. His pap was a WWII Marine and his dad was killed in Vietnam, so it was natural that Jesse follow in their footsteps. He was an infantryman, a sniper. He did his job well, serving in the Middle East among other places. He’s a quiet man and wanted nothing more than to relax and enjoy the island lifestyle in peace and solitude, just scuba diving and fishing.

Pap had been a successful man and Jesse was his only heir, so he really didn’t need a job and lived for some time on his boat, a 45-foot Rampage sports fisherman. The death of a close friend, and later his new wife, at the hands of greedy and evil people changed all that. He reluctantly partners with the son of his friend who was killed; the son is a former SEAL and now working clandestinely for the federal government. Jesse needs revenge, and the government agency his new friend works for needs a way to move men and equipment around the Caribbean. No better cover than a high-speed, long-range fishing boat.

The Vigilante Author: How would you compare or contrast your writing with that of other authors we might know about?

Wayne Stinnett: I mentioned a few influences earlier. More recently, I’ve become friends with another Florida Keys, action/adventure, indie author by the name of Michael Reisig. Our writing is eerily similar, to the point that when we exchanged our most recent books, before publishing, they appear to have been written at adjoining desks. We have several characters that are not only similar to each other, but some even have the same name. We chalked it up to our both having lived in the Keys during the same time frame. We probably even knocked back a few beers together all those years ago.

The Vigilante Author: That’s uncanny. Of course, we writers experience lots of weird coincidences and events in our lives. If we wrote them into a story, readers would reject them as unbelievable.

Tell me, do your stories have any political of philosophical point of view?

Wayne Stinnett: I think all writers let their political and philosophical views come out in their writing to one degree or another. I’m a conservative Democrat. Never heard of that? Well, I’m old, things have changed, but I stayed the same. My characters share a lot of my own thoughts on politics, the environment, and aspirations.

The Vigilante Author: Let’s go back to your youth a bit. Where were you born and raised? What was early life like?

Wayne Stinnett: I was born in St. Albans, West Virginia, but moved to Melbourne, Florida as a young boy. The Sixties and Seventies were a lot different from today. For instance, as a twelve-year-old Florida boy with my own boat, my parents thought nothing of allowing me to explore the vast Indian River Lagoon and all of its creeks and rivers. My friends and I, along with my two younger brothers, would camp over the weekends on “spoil islands,” created from the dredging of the Intracoastal Waterway, completely cut off from civilization. No phones, no lights, no motorcars — as Jesse often quotes the theme from Gilligan’s Island. I was a strong swimmer, a good fisherman, could handle either a powerboat or sailboat, and knew all the waterways around my hometown like the back of my hand. All well before I could legally drive a car. Dad would take us twenty miles offshore to the Gulf Stream and back, using only a compass and a wristwatch, finding Sebastian Inlet with no problem. I surfed, learned to scuba dive, and later, when I got my first car, explored all of central and south Florida.

The Vigilante Author: That is so cool! Did you have any writing yearnings back then? Did you study anything in school that would prepare you for your current writing career?

Fallen_Palm_thumbnailWayne Stinnett: I always liked to tell stories and wrote quite a bit of them down. I had a Creative Writing teacher in junior high school who said I had talent, but I never thought of actually being an author until many years later and never pursued it. In fact, I was pretty much a D student in language arts all through junior high and high school.

The Vigilante Author: You joined the Marines. Thank you for your service, Wayne. When and where did you serve?

Wayne Stinnett: Thanks, Robert. It was an honor to serve our great nation. Jesse is what we called a “high speed, low drag” Marine. My service was nothing like that. I had a natural affinity for cars and trucks and was assigned a Motor Transport job in the Corps. Nothing flashy — just load, transport, and unload high explosive projectiles for an artillery unit in a five-ton truck. During my time in the Corps, I visited Cuba, most of the NATO countries, and the Middle East. I loved visiting different places ever since I was a kid, and that opened up my understanding of the world as a whole.

The Vigilante Author: You’ve since held a lot of interesting jobs. Could you list some of them, and perhaps describe a few of the more unique ones?

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Interview with Fantasy Authors Katherine and Rose Robbins

 

Until now, every author I’ve interviewed on “The Vigilante Author” has worked alone. I’ve always wondered about collaborative writing partnerships and how they work. I found a most unusual one in the mother-and-daughter team of Rose and Katherine Robbins.

Katherine Robbins is a novelist currently entering her freshman year of high school. She lives in the northwestern United States with her mother and four siblings. The Accidental Dragon, a fantasy tale co-written with her mom, is her first novel. Katherine is creative in other ways, too. She enjoys weaving, working with leather, carving, and cooking. Her long-term plan is to live in Scotland and to continue writing books there, “where it is cool and misty and I can smell the ocean.”

Rose and Katherine RobbinsRose Robbins, Katherine’s mother, is an accomplished songwriter, singer, and musician. She also is the author of nine books, six of them novels that she wrote and published within the past two years. Her “Carlin series” consists of five romantic suspense novels set in the same town. They all explore domestic abuse and its effects on the many people it touches. Rose also heads a mentoring program for former abuse victims and hosts a website that offers resources for victims and mentors alike.

After reading and thoroughly enjoying The Accidental Dragon [which is available as a free ebook download through October 31, 2014], I invited this unusual writing team to be interviewed, and they graciously accepted. I think you’ll be charmed by what they have to say.

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THE VIGILANTE AUTHOR: Welcome, ladies. Well, this interview breaks with established tradition here on “The Vigilante Author.” It’s the first time I’ve jointly interviewed two writers; the first time I’ve interviewed authors of a book that is not in the “thriller” genre; the first time I’ve ever interviewed any author under the age of twenty; and the only time I expect to ever interview a mother-and-daughter writing team!

Before we get into your writing backgrounds, let me start by chatting with both of you about your jointly written children’s fantasy novel, The Accidental Dragon—which I thoroughly enjoyed. (Note: For details about the story, see my Amazon review here.) Why don’t you briefly summarize the story?

KATHERINE ROBBINS: Basically, Kit Markham, the main character, sees a dragon, which accidentally pops through the veil of energy between our world and his. She discovers his world with the help of her friend Merlin, and they go on a wonderful adventure there.

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000032_00021]THE VIGILANTE AUTHOR: Which one of you first came up with the idea for the story? And what inspired it?

KATHERINE ROBBINS: I actually thought I saw a dragon when we were driving home from school one day. But it turned out to be an airplane.

ROSE ROBBINS: So disappointing!

KATHERINE ROBBINS: Yes. But then we thought, wouldn’t it be cool if it really had been one!

ROSE ROBBINS: So we decided to write it.

THE VIGILANTE AUTHOR: Without giving away secrets, what are your favorite parts of the story? And who is your favorite character?

KATHERINE ROBBINS: My favorite character is Kit, and my favorite part of the story is the part with Septimus the Serpent. He was so fun to write!

ROSE ROBBINS: I love the part where Artemis [the goddess of the Outer World] is telling Kit that she should give up, and Kit suddenly has this great moment of maturity . . .

THE VIGILANTE AUTHOR: I have to ask this, Katherine: Based on the similarity of your names and ages, how much of Kit Markham is based on you?

KATHERINE ROBBINS: Um . . . a lot. She is pretty much me, based on personality. Although, sadly, I have never seen a real dragon.

THE VIGILANTE AUTHOR: Both you and your mom are extremely talented, so I imagine each of you brought your own individual creative contributions and strengths to the story. Who invented which characters, and who came up with some of the plot ideas?

KATHERINE ROBBINS: I invented Endymion [a faun]. Oh, and Drudd [a cyclops], and he was pretty fun. Also Septimus. And although Artemis already existed in mythology, it was my idea to use her. And I invented Gol the Gryphon. As far as plot, most of the action parts of the story, the fights and battles, those were all me!

ROSE ROBBINS: Yes, Katherine has such a great touch with the action that I really let her make all those scenes happen. I tried to flesh out the meanings behind things, the reasons why. That sort of thing. I also put in touches of humor, like the baby gryphon trying to sneak into the battle.

THE VIGILANTE AUTHOR: I noticed a number of funny references to C.S. Lewis’s “Narnia” stories in the book. Katherine, was that because you’re a big fan of those tales?

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THE ACCIDENTAL DRAGON — An Enchanting New World for Kids

I’ve just posted an Amazon review of a delightful children’s fantasy adventure, in the tradition of C.S. Lewis’s “Narnia” stories: THE ACCIDENTAL DRAGON, co-authored by prolific romantic suspense author Rose Robbins and her young daughter, Katherine Robbins.

Accidental DragonThe ebook may be downloaded for FREE during the week of October 27. So please do these talented writers a huge favor: Check out my review, then DOWNLOAD the book on your Kindle, tablet, or smartphone. Those downloads will help to boost the book’s visibility on Amazon, and encourage the mom-and-daughter duo to continue writing these charming tales.

Also, please note that the ebook and the inexpensive paperback edition will be perfect birthday and holiday gifts for your kids, grandkids, nieces, and nephews.

So, give them a gift of creative imagination: a wholesome tale of adventure, featuring a heroic young girl and boy who are great role models. And these days, our kids need such models more than ever.

 

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Interview with Tim Stevens — Master of Action Thrillers

 

British novelist Tim Stevens is described in reviews as “one of the best writers of thrillers working today” and “the new master of the genre.” Even though he began publishing only about four years ago, Tim already is the author of eleven action and espionage novels, including RATCATCHER, SEVERANCE KILL, OMEGA DOG, and the forthcoming CRONOS RISING. Incredibly, he’s managed to do this while being a fulltime practicing physician. Tim is also a family man who lives near London with his wife and daughters.

Somehow, I managed to catch this busy man’s attention recently and invited him to participate in an interview, to which he graciously agreed. I don’t know how he found the time, but here’s our recent email exchange. You thriller fans and aspiring authors are going to love this.

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THE VIGILANTE AUTHOR: Congratulations on your success, Tim. Your books have attracted a lot of fans and great reviews. Why don’t you tell us a bit about them.

TIM STEVENS: Thanks, Robert, and first of all may I say what a privilege it is to be interviewed on your site. I’m an enormous fan of your thriller HUNTER.

My books can broadly be classed in the action thriller genre, though most of them have elements of espionage. I have ten novels currently published in three series, with the eleventh book due for release in early November.

THE VIGILANTE AUTHOR: That’s impressive. Looks like I have a lot of catching up to do, both in reading your work and in my own writing. So, give us some details about these series.

Tim Stevens Photo 1TIM STEVENS: The flagship series chronicles the exploits of John Purkiss, a former MI6 operative who now works as the so-called RATCATCHER, which is the title of the first in the series. Purkiss’s job is to track down and bring to justice rogue elements within MI6, whether outright traitors, abusers of power, or simply criminals.

My second series features Joe Venn, a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps and former Chicago detective who finds himself in New York City, initially as a down-at-heel private eye, and in the subsequent three books (so far) as a reinstated detective lieutenant—this time with the NYPD, heading up a special unit dedicated to the investigation of politically sensitive crimes.

Finally, series three, which so far consists of two novels, belongs to Martin Calvary, a disgraced British Army rifleman turned assassin for a black-ops division of MI6, who’s had enough of the killing and goes on the run from his employers.

My newest book is SIGMA CURSE, in the Joe Venn series, and is about a serial killer stalking victims in New York in a seemingly random way. It’s a bit of a departure for me, being more of a police procedural than an outright action thriller, but it’s proving highly popular judging by its sales. Next month sees the release of the fifth John Purkiss novel, CRONOS RISING, in which the origins of the whole “Ratcatcher” program are explored. And in December, the Martin Calvary trilogy will be completed.

THE VIGILANTE AUTHOR: That’s incredibly ambitious, Tim, and my Indiana Jones hat is off to you. You say “action thrillers” with spy elements. Would you elaborate a bit?

TIM STEVENS: Rather than fitting into the categories of traditional espionage stories and police procedurals, my novels are first and foremost unashamed action thrillers. I love the slow-burn styles of John Le Carre and Charles McCarry, to name two classic spy authors, and also the intricate and clever plotting of mystery writers like P.D. James and Michael Connelly. But whenever I try to write something more sedately paced, all hell breaks loose and a chase or a fight scene erupts. I can’t help it. Most of my novels contain a whodunnit aspect, but in the setting of a breakneck-paced thriller. So I suppose my books can be summed up broadly as Agatha Christie with added firepower.

THE VIGILANTE AUTHOR: Now that sounds like a newly minted niche. So, you have these three series protagonists. What do you think is unique about these characters that distinguishes them from other thriller heroes? Where did John Purkiss, for example, come from? Drawn in part from real life? Totally your imagination?

TIM STEVENS: I’m nobody’s idea of an action hero, and I suppose my characters represent to some extent wish-fulfillment fantasies on my part, something I suspect is true for many authors even if they’re reluctant to admit it.

THE VIGILANTE AUTHOR: I plead guilty—as if those who know me couldn’t tell.

TIM STEVENS: So I write protagonists who embody a lot of the traits I’d like to have myself. Physical courage and prowess, unflappability, the ability to think quickly and creatively in a crisis. That said, there’s a ruthlessness about all three of my main characters—Purkiss, Venn, and Calvary—which I’m in many ways glad I don’t possess. It would make me damned hard to live with.

THE VIGILANTE AUTHOR: Most fictional heroes would be hard to live with in real life. I wonder if female readers fully realize that? But it’s still inspiring for us to create and for readers to contemplate larger-than-life heroes.

Annihilation Myths Cover MEDIUMTIM STEVENS: I’ve always been drawn to larger-than-life, over-the-top characters, rather than Everymen who discover courage and resources within them they never suspected they had. Some of the negative comments about my heroes is that they come across as cartoonish at times, but I don’t mind that. I want my characters to be able to achieve things the average person can’t. Nonetheless, my protagonists are vulnerable: They don’t always win their fights; they bleed; they hurt.

THE VIGILANTE AUTHOR: Why don’t you tell us something of your background, Tim, and how you arrived where you are now.

TIM STEVENS: I was born in England but moved to South Africa with my parents in the mid-1970s when I was five years old. It was supposed to be a holiday of a few months, before my brother and I were old enough to start school, but for various reasons we ended up staying for almost twenty years. So although I regard myself as British, a big part of me is still South African.

At the age of twelve I decided I was going to be a doctor. I made my way through medical school in Johannesburg and spent my year as a junior intern at the largest hospital in the Southern Hemisphere in Soweto, the township outside Jo’burg. It was a formative experience, to say the least. This was at the beginning of the 1990s, and the apartheid system was on its way out, thankfully; but the country was in an unofficial state of civil war, with various factions including the ANC [African National Congress] and its rivals, the Inkatha Freedom Party and the Pan-Africanist Congress (or PAC), vying for political dominance. The violence I witnessed was extreme, and it’s affected my writing, in the sense that I tend to portray violence quite graphically in my novels, because it feels dishonest not to.

After returning to Britain in the mid-90s, I took an interest in psychiatry and did my postgraduate training in this field. For the past thirteen years I’ve worked as a hospital consultant—that’s “attending physician” in the U.S.—in the specialty of old age psychiatry, working mainly with people suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias and neurodegenerative disorders.

The fiction writing, at least for publication, has been a recent development over the last three or four years. I still work full-time as a hospital doctor, fitting in the writing around work and family commitments.

THE VIGILANTE AUTHOR: All of this writing in just four years, while holding down a full-time position as a physician? You’re making me feel like a real slacker, you know. Anyway, what experiences or influences in your early life do you think drew you to writing action thrillers?

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