Interview with R.E. McDermott — Author of Nautical Thrillers

 

Robert E. “Bob” McDermott has been around ships and the sea since childhood. He grew up on the Texas Gulf Coast and later graduated from the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy. He’s had a long career working in positions from ship’s officer to shipping company management, traveling widely and living and working in a number of countries. These days he splits his time between the United States and Singapore, where he operates a marine consultancy, advising clients on ship construction and operations.

But Bob McDermott has always had the writing bug. During “down time” after a particularly grueling work project, he finally completed his first thriller, Deadly Straits. It has gone on to sell over 130,000 copies, garnering an incredible 800 customer reviews on Amazon — 750 of them four- or five-star raves. Since then, he’s released two other high-rated bestsellers in the Tom Dugan thriller series, Deadly Coast and Deadly Crossing.

From now until February 24, 2015, Bob’s second thriller, Deadly Coast, is available as a free ebook download from Amazon, while the debut in the series, Deadly Straits, and the most recent entry, Deadly Crossing, are both on sale for only 99 cents. Once you’ve finished reading this captivating interview, I’m sure you will want to scoop them up. (By the way, click the images below for larger views.)

~~~

The Vigilante Author: Bob, congratulations on your Tom Dugan series and its impressive success.

RE McDermott: Well Robert, first of all I’d like to thank you for inviting me to be part of your interview series. I’ve been a fan of yours since I first read HUNTER shortly after you released it, and it’s an honor to be interviewed on your site.

Author RE McDermott with one of his ships in dry dock

Author RE McDermott with one of his ships in dry dock

The Vigilante Author: Thanks for that. But let’s get right down to it. You’ve been writing an unusual series of thrillers, each with “Deadly” in its title. Tell us about them.

RE McDermott: The Dugan books all feature Tom Dugan as the protagonist, a late-middle-aged marine-surveyor-turned-shipowner, through a partnership with his former client and best friend Alex Kairouz, a self-made Anglo-Lebanese shipping tycoon. Dugan has a somewhat tenuous part-time relationship with the CIA, which in the past convinced him to gather intelligence using his regular employment as a globe-trotting marine trouble-shooter as a natural cover. And while Dugan is the protagonist, there are a lot of equally strong supporting characters of various nationalities and genders.

The Vigilante Author: Does a reader have to start at the beginning, with Deadly Straits? Or are these stand-alone tales?

RE McDermott: The books are a “series,” to the extent they feature the same characters and do occur in chronological order; but each book is a stand-alone story and — hopefully — provides a satisfying read regardless of the order in which the books are read. I also try to address a topical issue in each story.

For example, Deadly Straits addressed the threat of loaded tankers as weapons of mass destruction, Deadly Coast focused on piracy off the Somali coast, and the latest book, Deadly Crossing, addressed the very serious problem of human trafficking.

The Vigilante Author: Given the range of topics and the nautical setting of your books, how would you categorize them by genre?

RE McDermott: That’s actually something I struggle with a bit. I suppose it would be espionage, action-adventure, or some combination, but none of them are an exact fit. Given my background, I try to make things technically accurate, so to that extent my stuff might be best described as Clancy-like technothrillers. I guess in the end, I’m content to let the readers figure it out, and that seems to vary a lot depending on the reader. How’s that for being vague?

The Vigilante Author: Well, like Clancy, you may be carving out a unique sub-genre of your own. “Nautical thrillers”? Or maybe there’s a clue in the character of Dugan. What do you think is unique about him that makes him stand out from the rest of the thriller-hero pack? And also, how much do you draw the origins of your characters from real life, as opposed to your imagination?

PrintRE McDermott: I have no problem with strong, capable central characters — I’m a huge [Jack] Reacher fan, for example. But the heroes’ actions and abilities have to be at least somewhat grounded in reality.

For example, I have a real aversion to larger-than-life superheroes that seem to be brain surgeons, nuclear physicists, ace helicopter pilots, black belts in a dozen martial arts, and capable of getting shot ten times and still saving the day. Dugan screws up regularly, and when someone sucker punches him, he goes down. A big part of the tension in the story is anticipation of how he extricates himself from the latest screw-up or setback.

As far as origins, I’d say most of my characters begin as combinations of people I’ve known in real life, augmented by a healthy dose of imagination. The real-life part is background, setting, dialogue, etc. I use all those to build the character, and only then do I insert them into extreme situations. At that point, they pretty much have a life of their own.

So while I don’t actually know people who’ve done the things the characters do in my stories, I have known people I think could and would do those things if placed in the same circumstances. Of course, we’re all masters of our own daydreams, and I think that’s one of the rewarding things about being an author. You can share and entertain other people with your daydreams, and even get paid for it. That’s cool on a lot of levels.

The Vigilante Author: Yep. People actually pay us to fantasize for them. What a job, huh?

Bob, you’ve had a colorful career — or series of careers. I’d be interested to hear more about your background, and I’m sure our readers would, too.

RE McDermott: I was born on the Texas Gulf Coast and grew up working in several small family businesses, including a beach-front motel and fishing pier, so I had a natural affinity for the sea. I was lucky enough to get an appointment to the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, and upon graduation sailed merchant ships for several years before coming ashore to work in ship management.

That was a winding path: a year working for the Navy in the nuke sub program, several years as ship superintendent for a couple of major oil companies, and then starting my own marine surveying/consulting business. Early in the process I married my wonderful and patient wife of 39 years, who gave me two great sons. I traveled worldwide and lived for extended periods in three different countries, and managed several major shipbuilding projects in the U.S., Japan, Singapore, and China. Along the way, I met a lot of great, and some not-so-great, people. I started scaling back on the marine work to try my hand at writing in 2007.

The Vigilante Author: With such an interesting, active, and outdoorsy background, what prompted you to settle down to a new career so sedate and indoorsy as writing?

Continue reading

Posted in Audiobooks, Author profiles, Biographical, Book business, HUNTER: A Thriller, Interviews, Publishing Advice, Self-Publishing, Traditional publishing, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

My Upcoming Workshops on Writing and Marketing Books

I want to give you a heads’ up on my upcoming public workshop presentations about writing and marketing books.

* On Saturday February 28, I’ll be giving a workshop on thriller writing at the annual Bay To Ocean Writers Conference, Chesapeake College, in Wye, Maryland. Details at this link.

* And on May 16th, I’ll present three different craft and marketing workshops at “The Writer’s Pen,” a conference of the Harford Writers’ School, at Harford Community College, Bel Air, Maryland. My three workshops are:

- “BRANDING: How to Distinguish Your Work in an Overcrowded Marketplace”

- “Implementing Your Marketing Plan with Online & Digital Tools”

- “Successfully Outlining Your Novel”

I’ll share further information and links about the latter conference when they become available.

UPDATE

* I’ve just been confirmed as a speaker at the Mid-Atlantic Fiction Writers Institute (formerly the Nora Roberts Writing Institute) at the Hagerstown, Maryland, Community College, on August 7-9. I’ll be conducting a workshop, “So, You Want to Write a Thriller,” about the craft of writing suspense novels. I’ll also be participating in a panel discussion on “Marketing, Branding, and Social Media.” I’ll provide more details as they become available.

Posted in Announcements, Book business, Events, Marketing Advice, Personal Appearances, Publishing Advice, Self-Publishing, Vigilante fiction, Writing Advice | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

New Data Demolish Key Claims by Big Publishers

 

Indie author icon and champion Hugh Howey and his anonymous “Data Guy” friend have just released their latest “Author Earnings” statistical report analyzing book sales on Amazon. Using a “spider” data-mining program, they’ve been crawling over and collecting statistics from the Amazon and Barnes & Noble bestseller lists to determine the truth about such things as: Are print or ebook sales dominant? Which authors — traditional or self-published — are making the lion’s share of earnings? What are the trends in the book business?

Their past reports have shaken the publishing industry, indicating that indie authors are faring much, much better than the industry spokespersons have claimed. But their latest, January 2015 report skewers some of Big Publishing’s biggest myths. Data-mining the top 120,000 bestselling titles on Amazon — which controls 67% of the U.S. ebook market –  Howey and “Data Guy” discovered that . . .

* 30% of the ebooks being purchased in the United States do not use ISBN numbers, and are thus invisible to the industry’s official market surveys and reports. This means that all the ISBN-based estimates of “market share” — reported by Bowker, AAP, BISG, and Nielsen, and constantly cited by the publishing industry — “are wildly wrong.”

* At least 33% of all paid ebook unit sales on Amazon.com are indie self-published ebooks. That percentage has been growing consistently.

* Most significantly for authors, an astonishing 40% of all dollars earned by authors from ebooks on Amazon.com are earned by indie self-published ebooks. Authors published by all of the Big Five publishers combined (i.e., by all the many imprints of Penguin Random House, HarperCollins, Hachette, Macmillan, and Simon & Schuster) have slipped into second place at 35%.

The "Shadow Market" of ebook sales that Big Publishing doesn't see

Big Publishing doesn’t see this ebook “Shadow Market”

This is big news, because Big Publishing sources like “Publishers Lunch” and much-cited industry consultants like Michael Shatzkin have been relying on woefully incomplete data to make unsupportable claims. Because they are counting only those ebooks that have ISBNs, they fail to count the whopping 30% that do not – books that are produced almost entirely by self-publishing authors. And this skews all their conclusions about the book marketplace, such as the “stalling” of the ebook market, its size relative to print books, and the earnings of self-publishing authors relative to those of traditionally published authors.

This and previous “Author Earnings” reports demonstrate conclusively that total book sales are much higher than the publishing industry reports, and that claims that ebook sales have stalled or are headed downward cannot be supported by the data. Likewise, ebook sales are much bigger, both numerically and as a share of overall book sales, than Big Publishing either realizes or reports. Moreover, indie authors, as a group, have surpassed in earnings published Big Five authors, as a group — which demolishes one of the biggest “talking points” of Big Publishing.

If you are a writer who wants to make truly informed publishing decisions, you’ll want to read this latest report – then take the time to study the other eye-opening reports on the Author Earnings website.

Posted in Book business, Publishing Advice, Self-Publishing, Traditional publishing | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Authors — Is It the Best of Times, or the Worst of Times?

 

Among many ongoing debates about the health of and prospects for the book business, few arouse the passions of authors (or divide them) more than perceptions of their prospects for success in today’s marketplace.

Most recently we’ve seen moves in the industry toward “subscription models,” where, for a modest monthly fee, readers can subscribe to buy or borrow a large number of books. Pioneered by companies such as Oyster and Scribd, and recently joined by Amazon with their “Kindle Unlimited” program, subscription services have thrown the industry into turmoil. Some established, strong-selling authors report declining income, because high-volume readers are switching to monthly ebook subscriptions, which compensate writers much less per “borrow” than do outright sales of a given book. Others, however, report that subscription services are expanding their base of readers and, on balance, increasing their income.

So which is it? Are writers in the best of times, or the worst of times?

Well, it depends — says my talented author friend Allan Leverone in this fine, brief overview of the book marketplace. It’s filled with sound perspective and wisdom for writers and prospective authors.

Loyal readers of this blog may recall my interview with Allan, whose wide-ranging thrillers have attracted an enthusiastic following. Allan also served as one of my technical advisers (he’s a veteran air traffic controller) for BAD DEEDS.

Check out his article, his interview, and then his books. (My favorites are his Tracie Tanner thrillers.) I guarantee that you will be glad you did!

Posted in Author profiles, BAD DEEDS: A Dylan Hunter Thriller, Book business, Essays, Inspirational, Interviews, Marketing Advice, Publishing Advice, Self-Publishing, Traditional publishing, Writing Advice | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Candid Explanation of An Author’s Motive

 

“I want to write about people I love, and put them into a fictional world spun out of my own mind, not the world we actually have, because the world we actually have does not meet my standards.”

– Philip K. Dick

(Quoted by “The Passive Voice” blog)

Posted in Biographical, Inspirational, Quotations | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

A Special Holiday Message

 

I want to thank all of you — Dylan Hunter fans, author friends, and visitors to this site — for your participation, support, and encouragement throughout 2014.

I wish you a joyous Christmas/Hanukkah/holiday season and New Year’s celebration, hoping that in 2015 all your dreams come true! I’ll be back with you again in the new year.

All best,

Signature

Posted in Announcements | Leave a comment

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.

MWPA shot

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.

~~~

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?

Continue reading

Posted in Author profiles, Biographical, Book business, HUNTER: A Thriller, Inspirational, Interviews, Publishing Advice, Self-Publishing, Traditional publishing, Uncategorized, Writing Advice | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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.

BARD photo crop

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.

~~~

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?

Continue reading

Posted in Author profiles, Biographical, Book business, HUNTER: A Thriller, Inspirational, Interviews, Marketing Advice, Publishing Advice, Self-Publishing, Traditional publishing, Writing Advice | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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.

~~~

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?

Continue reading

Posted in Author profiles, BAD DEEDS: A Dylan Hunter Thriller, Biographical, HUNTER: A Thriller, Interviews, Self-Publishing, Uncategorized, Writing Advice | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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?

~~~

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 . . .

Continue reading

Posted in Author profiles, Biographical, Interviews, Self-Publishing, Traditional publishing, Uncategorized, Writing Advice | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment