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?

Continue reading

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My Post at The Kill Zone: Presenting Controversial Ideas in Fiction

 

Jodie Renner — a respected editor, and author of several great how-to books on writing — is a regular contributor to the prestigious group blog “The Kill Zone,” an online hangout for prominent mystery and thriller writers (and readers). Recently, Jodie invited me to submit a guest post.

Titled “‘Preachiness’ in Novels: How to Present Controversial Ideas in Fiction,” I challenge the conventional advice (spread by many genre gurus) that writers should avoid discussing politics, religion, or other “divisive” topics in popular fiction. And I use my own thrillers as examples of how a writer might approach the presentation of controversial ideas in popular genres. Enjoy.

 

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Best Book Video Trailer Ever?

 

I want to share with you a brand-new video “book trailer,” promoting the “Emily Stone” thriller series by my criminologist-friend and author, Jennifer Chase. Actually a mini-movie clip, it is THE most sophisticated, gripping, and exciting book trailer I’ve ever seen, bar none. Jennifer wrote the script; the acting, direction, and editing is first-rate.

Sit back and enjoy; it’ll take about 5 minutes. Comments welcome!

After you do, you might also enjoy my interview with Jennifer.

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Interview with Thriller Writer Ian Graham

 

Ian Graham is the third generation in his family to be born on the Fourth of July. Perhaps it’s no surprise, then, that he writes thrillers rooted in the historic intersections of politics and religion. And perhaps that also explains why his thrilling tales dramatize themes of patriotism, revolution, the struggle for liberty, and the clashing loyalties of violent partisans.

A self-employed entrepreneur in his mid-thirties, Ian has been writing since his teens. To date he has published two short-story collections—Signs of Violence and Patriots & Tyrants—and his first novel, Veil of Civility. Along with their first-rate literary qualities, what distinguishes Ian’s thrillers is their protagonist, Declan McIver: a former terrorist in the “Black Shuck” unit of the Irish Republican Army, now trying to make a new life in America. (Of course, things never stay that simple for thriller heroes.)

Ian had just published Veil of Civility in April 2013 when he was touched by one of the serendipities that occur frequently in the lives of authors. The tale was inspired by a real-life incident a decade earlier, when 25 Chechens were smuggled into the United States and disappeared, never to be found. In Ian’s telling, the 25 Chechens were terrorists smuggled here to wreak chaos. Declan McIver, hiding out in America to escape his own terrorist past in Ireland, is roused to action when the Chechens assassinate one of his friends.

Just two weeks after the book’s publication, Ian was parked by the side of the road near Roanoke, Virginia when news came over the radio that the Boston Marathon bombings were committed by two immigrants from Chechnya. “For several minutes I was speechless,” he told the Roanoke Star. “I knew it was possible . . . Still, it blows you away.”

Ian’s stories have appeared in Action Pulse Pounding Tales Volume 1  and Volume 2, alongside stories by best-selling thriller authors Matt Hilton, Stephen Leather, Adrian Magson, and Zoe Sharpe. He lives in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia with his wife and two daughters, where he is at work on Rules for Revenge, the second full-length novel in the Black Shuck / Declan McIver thriller series.

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Ian Graham larger b&WThe Vigilante Author: Congratulations on your books, Ian. They’re getting stellar reviews from readers. Why don’t you tell us about them.

Ian Graham: First off, thank you for having me as a guest here at The Vigilante Author. It’s an honor to talk with you and the many fans of your thriller hero, Dylan Hunter.

In addition to my two short-story collections—Signs of Violence and Patriots & Tyrants—my first novel is titled Veil of Civility. It’s the debut novel in the “Black Shuck” thriller series, which follows a former Irish Republican Army volunteer named Declan McIver who has left his former life behind and moved to America to begin again. Events in the story kick off with a small group of Chechen Islamists crossing the US / Mexican border in September 2004—which isn’t fiction, it actually happened.

Earlier that same month, Chechen Islamists had taken a school full of children hostage in North Ossetia, a sub-region of Russia. Many in the American law enforcement and intelligence communities feared the covert nature of their entry meant they were here to perpetrate the same type of attack against Americans. Fortunately, that never came to pass, but the Chechens were never found either, so we really don’t know what they were up to. Veil of Civility explores the possible explanations, in the setting of a globetrotting political thriller.

As far as the reviews are concerned, to borrow a phrase from one of my British characters, I’m chuffed to bits. To have received so many positive comments from both readers and book bloggers is a high mark I hadn’t expected to experience on my first novel.

The Vigilante Author: Wow. You’ve covered quite a bit of ground there. You have the Irish Republican Army, Chechen Islamists, American law enforcement and intelligence . . .

Ian Graham: (laughs) Yeah. It probably sounds a little ambitious for one book, but the whole thing actually came together in a very organic way. As I researched the various backgrounds and situations around the world that gave birth to groups like the IRA and other terrorist organizations, I was struck by how, in a six-degrees-of-Kevin-Bacon kind of way, they all seemed interconnected.

Being non-professional civilian fighting forces, without the backing of legitimate governments, these organizations were always trying to stay one step ahead of the state authorities who were trying to stop them. That led them to reach out to many of history’s greatest villains—including the Nazis, the Soviets, and the early predecessors of today’s Islamic hordes, such as Yasser Arafat and Moammar Qaddafi—for funding, training, and weaponry.

So in a sense you had on one side this sort of unholy alliance between communist and fascist states and loose-knit terror organizations; and on the other side you had America, Great Britain, Israel, and their allies. The states played ball because the terror organizations had “boots on the ground” behind enemy lines, and the terror organizations desperately needed the support even though they didn’t always agree politically with their benefactors.

When you really step back and look at all the lines that can be drawn, the phrase “It’s a small world” takes on a whole new meaning.

The Vigilante Author: How would you describe or characterize your fiction, either by genre, by themes, and/or by subject matter?

Ian Graham: It’s hard to nail down one specific genre, but in a broad sense my stories can all be considered thrillers. The Black Shuck series contains elements that are popular in political fiction—John Le Carré or Frederick Forsyth; in military fiction—Tom Clancy or Vince Flynn; and in action-adventure fiction—Brad Thor or Clive Cussler. The pace speeds up and slows down throughout, and I love blending in history, both factual and speculative.

Veil of Civility coverThere are several themes in Veil of Civility that will run throughout the series: the exploration of the effect someone’s past has on their present and future; an exploration of the circumstances and attitudes in the various cultural and religious hot spots that give birth to or play an integral role in the larger picture of a world at war—which you could say we have been in since World War II; and the role of America and her allies in deterring and combating that epidemic while still providing their citizens with freedom and liberty.

Ultimately though, what I really hope people come away with is a feeling of having been entertained, first and foremost, and secondly, with a feeling of having learned something they didn’t know about the world and the people around them.

The Vigilante Author: As a thriller writer, I second those priorities. So, where did your hero, Declan McIver, come from? Real life? Totally from your imagination?

Ian Graham: The idea for Declan McIver came to me several years ago—’05 to ’06—while I was listening to a popular radio show host talk to a woman whose husband had moved to America from Eastern Europe. He had built his own business—something he was unable to do in his home country—and was now very prosperous. I didn’t have a name for Declan or any kind of a background yet, but I thought it would be really cool and unique to build a story around a man who had come to America from somewhere else; who appreciated everything born Americans tend to take for granted; and who chose to fight and defend the country, as well as himself, when confronted with a terrible problem. And that is in a nutshell what Declan does in Veil of Civility.

The Vigilante Author: What is unique about Declan that distinguishes him from other thriller heroes?

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Thoughts About Book Piracy

 

As some readers know, various online “pirate” sites electronically duplicate thousands of popular ebooks from legitimate sales sites, then make them available to readers — either free or at a nominal charge — without paying their authors for each downloaded copy.

Now, there is considerable debate among authors and publishers about whether ebook piracy is really harmful. A number of prominent indie authors argue that ebook pirates are actually beneficial: They increase the audience for an author’s work, providing him or her with readers who wouldn’t have bought the book otherwise.  Some even come close to glorifying and encouraging piracy of their works. They draw the analogy to the popular practice of running “free” ebook promotions: If free downloads are beneficial for an author, they argue, then why object to a pirate doing essentially the same thing?

Well, there is an essential difference. An author chooses if, when, and how to run a “free” promotion, and with what title; a pirate deprives the author of any of those choices about his own work, forcing him to participate in a free distribution scheme, whether he wants to or not, and whether he benefits or not.

As an author who has had both of his books pirated, I have a dog in this race. Here is what I think:

All property, including even what we tend to think of as mere “physical property,” is in reality rooted in the concept ofintellectual property. Someone had to apply a level of intelligence to transform those physical things for human benefit, or else they would have remained just worthless “stuff.”

piracyIt’s that intellectual element — the value added by somebody’s creative human intelligence — that creators expect to be paid for when they offer products of their intellectual efforts for sale in the marketplace. The moral-legal principle of property rights, including “intellectual property” (IP) rights, is intended to benefit those who take the initiative to create and market products that benefit others. Property rights recognize, protect, and reward creative causal responsibility, in the form of ownership rights. And our laws codify property ownership regarding creative works in the form of patents (for inventions) and copyrights (for literary and other intellectual works).

Now, whenever we sell something that we’ve created to a willing buyer, that relationship is trade. And trade is “win/win.” A reader benefits from what he gains from an author’s creative efforts; the author gains from the reader’s payment for the work.

By contrast, pirates are thieves — period. Instead of trading for the benefits that creators have to offer, they simply take them. Instead of “win/win” relationships, in which readers and authors mutually benefit, they impose “win/lose” relationships on authors, in which pirates and their reading clientele simply appropriate the benefits provided by authors without compensating them. They win — authors lose. That is especially of concern to authors like me, who aren’t simply seeking readers, but who are trying to make a living by publishing and selling our intellectual property.

Book piracy is analogous to counterfeiting. Pirates, by flooding the marketplace with free, “counterfeit” copies of a book, undermine the paying market for the book. And if book piracy becomes rampant, it can threaten an author’s livelihood every bit as much as rampant shoplifting threatens a store owner. The argument that “A pirated author hasn’t lost a paying customer, because that reader wouldn’t have bought your book, anyway” is akin to saying, “Don’t fret about the guy who stole the merchandise in your store, because he wouldn’t have bought it, anyway.” And while it is true that the loss of an ebook is unlike the loss of physical merchandise, since the ebook can be instantly duplicated and replaced, the loss of financial compensation is real.

All that said, what to do about piracy is a trickier question.

In principle, I believe that enforcing serious legal penalties against the hackers/sellers of pirated works can help somewhat.  But of course that becomes problematic when the pirates are located in other countries and are using the internet to distribute across borders. DRM (digital rights management protection) and similar software measures against piracy are usually counterproductive, because they impose inconveniences on paying customers while failing to stop determined hackers.

For now, as long as piracy theft remains at the margins of the book marketplace, authors and publishers probably have to resign ourselves to accepting it as an unavoidable business loss — just as store owners and their insurers have to “write off” a certain percentage of losses due to pilfering and shoplifting.

But morally condoning piracy is another matter.

If you as an author wish to give away your books, that’s fine, as long as it’s your voluntary choice. And if you don’t mind having pirates simply take your work without compensating you, that’s your choice, too.

But for those of us struggling to make a living from our work, having the products of our long, grueling hours of creative effort stolen from us without compensation is no cause for celebration. No, we don’t have to like piracy — let alone rationalize or even glorify it.

I hope readers tempted to download from a pirate site will pause to realize what will happen if your favorite writers finally give up, because piracy no longer makes it possible for them to write for a living. Ebooks aren’t expensive; in fact, they provide more value for their price tags than any other form of entertainment and information. Please remember that, and honor the authors who work so hard to provide you those values by purchasing their works only from authorized sites.

Posted in BAD DEEDS: A Dylan Hunter Thriller, Book business, HUNTER: A Thriller, Self-Publishing, Traditional publishing | Tagged , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

A New Interview of Me by Lisette Brodey

 

Author Lisette Brodey has conducted a long, expansive interview of me on her site, “Lisette’s Writers’ Chateau.”

Lisette Brodey

Lisette Brodey

Our far-ranging conversation explores more than I’ve previously revealed to any interviewer about my writing methods, the merits of self-publishing, the challenges authors face in marketing and promotion, as well as some personal revelations.

I hope you enjoy it. You will find it here.

 

 

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One Word You Won’t Find in My Novels

 

Okay. Call it a symbolic, personal protest thing.

Those who know me well know that I’m anything but a prude. They also know that my private language can get salty, from time to time.

But when I read fiction, I like a respite from the gutter language and crudeness that bombard us constantly.

So, I’ve declared private war on the “F-bomb” in my thrillers.

F-Bomb imageNow, I don’t claim that my characters don’t curse at all; they do. Many are rough, hard people in rough, hard lines of work; so it would seem oddly, even distractingly, out of character if they all spoke like ministers, rather than like rough, hard people.

But by today’s “standards” (yes, the word is in quotations, for irony), my characters’ language is fairly tame. I’ve found that a little swearing goes a long way in defining a character or their moods. Incessant “eff this” and “effing that” is not characterization; it just drags the dispiriting crassness that we must endure every day in real life into fiction, where I think many people go seeking something better.

Banning the F-bomb from my novels may seem a small and silly form of protest. But it’s something. Readers who have romantic, idealistic, or just plain civilized preferences and expectations in their reading can open a Dylan Hunter novel without fear of such bombardments.

Similarly, despite the fact that there is romance and violence in my thrillers, I try to avoid the gratuitous, the graphic, and the gory. Anyone with a working knowledge of sex acts knows the physical details. I think they will find my love scenes steamy enough, but in a romantic-sexy way, without fixating on an avalanche of anatomical detail and wince-inducing metaphors for the same. The same can be said of scenes of violence. Some of mine are brutal; but again, I try to hold back a bit on the descriptive details.

It’s not just that I have a desire for tasteful restraint. I have another, more literary reason. To me, scenes of sex and violence should focus primarily on the inner experience of the characters, and not on the external specifics of what is happening to their bodies. The former focus individuates characters and makes them uniquely memorable; the latter focus dwells on physical details that are generic to everyone in such circumstances. As a novelist, I think it is foolish to reduce characters to the status of interchangeable pieces of meat in the readers’ minds.

No book is for everyone, and some people may find mine to be too “tame” for their taste. Which is fine. However, I bet that millions of fiction readers share my own preferences regarding language, sex, and violence in novels. At least, many have already told me that they appreciate the way I handle these matters in mine.

Posted in BAD DEEDS: A Dylan Hunter Thriller, Essays, HUNTER: A Thriller, Writing Advice | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Authors Behaving Badly

 

In an excellent blog post, bestselling author and writing teacher David Farland takes on purveyors of plagiarism, fake reviews, purchased reviews, review-swapping schemes, attack reviews, etc. [Correction: The post was penned not by Farland, but by an associate, Kami M. McArthur.]

Reader reviews are enormously helpful to authors. Honest reviews often encourage browsing buyers to take a chance on a book they may have otherwise overlooked. Large numbers of positive reviews also open the doors to important marketing opportunities.

[Kami McArthur's] comments have prompted me to declare my own policies about writing book reviews or “blurbs” for other authors, and seeking them for my own books:

Book reviews

1. I am proud that my books have received a large number of glowing reviews from readers. But I do not seek or want “puff” reviews that inflate the merits of my works, just because you may be my friend or a fellow author. If your positive review isn’t honest, then it’s worthless to me and deceptive to book buyers. Like Dylan Hunter, the hero of my thrillers, I champion justice. So, please give my books the reviews and ratings that you think they deserve — nothing more, nothing less.

2. Likewise, I won’t hype a book that I didn’t like, just to do a fellow author a favor. My credibility means a lot to me. If I explicitly, specifically praise a book, it means I honestly think it has a lot of merit. If I merely mention a book’s availability and say it looks interesting, it’s because I think it does, in fact, appear to be promising, even if I haven’t yet read it.

3. If you are a fellow author and want me to review or “blurb” your book, please understand that I have limited time to do so. Hounding me is pointless and counter-productive. And I won’t blurb a book that I haven’t read.

4. Writing a good book is exceedingly hard work, and I hate to discourage authors with criticism. For that reason, if I have read your book, but can’t give it a ringing endorsement, you may never even know that I’ve read it. Amazon one starMy general policy is: If I can’t give a book (especially one by an author-friend) a glowing review and rating, I prefer to leave no review at all, rather than pan it publicly. So, if you want me to review your book or give you an endorsement blurb, but I haven’t, it may be that I did read it, but can’t in good conscience offer a 4- or 5-star review — in which case, you should be relieved that I haven’t reviewed it publicly.

5. While I may privately share with friends my opinions of the works of various authors (including prominent ones), I generally don’t believe in publicly criticizing their books.* It lacks class and dignity; and targeting books by prominent, successful authors also gives the appearance of envious motives. Again, writing good books and becoming a successful author are extraordinarily difficult achievements; they require talent, drive, and an enormous amount of hard work. Those who “make it” deserve respect, even if some of their work may be sub-par.

6. For all the preceding reasons, I won’t engage in any “review-swapping” schemes with fellow writers. If you’re an author, don’t even bother to ask. Nor will I ever ask anyone to give one of my books a “blurb” or a positive review before they’ve even read the book. Nor will I ever buy reviews — whether from Kirkus and other supposedly “reputable” review sources, or from any for-hire scam shops that create fake, “sock puppet” reviews to hype books. All of that is dishonest, unjust, and ultimately counter-productive, too. I’ll never be that desperate or lacking in self-respect.

7. Here is what I will do: If someone tells me that he or she has already read and enjoyed one of my books, I will thank the person, then ask him or her to consider leaving a review on Amazon or Goodreads. I’m comfortable doing this, because it involves no deception: no inducements, machinations, or pressure (such as trading on friendship) in order to generate a phony-but-positive review.

Again, I am proud of the hundreds of reviews garnered for HUNTER and BAD DEEDS. To the best of my knowledge, all of them — positive or negative — represent the honest opinions of the readers. I always learn a great deal from their comments, including areas where I can improve as a writer. The fact that the overwhelming majority of their reviews have praised my books also delights and encourages me.

That’s why I’m grateful to all the many readers who have taken the time not only to buy and read my books, but also to leave their candid opinions about them on Amazon and Goodreads. To all of you, my sincere thanks.

 

* NOTE: I once wrote a scathing review of a novel by the late William F. Buckley, Jr., and published it while he was still alive. The reason is that it purported to deal with real people and events, but presented them in a demonstrably dishonest and slanderous way. In addition, the individuals were dead and couldn’t defend themselves. Finally, the writing itself was simply execrable: Whatever his talents with language, Buckley couldn’t plot, characterize, or write decent dialogue to save his soul. However, had he written the book as complete fiction, with imaginary characters, I would have ignored it rather than pan it for his appallingly poor writing.

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