Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Should Authors Use Booktrack: My Opinion

Several months ago, I decided to put my noir collection, 8 Tales of Noir, into the Booktrack program after hearing an interview with CEO and co-founder of Booktrack, Paul Cameron, conducted by Joanna Penn of the Creative Penn. The thing Paul said that closed the deal for me was that as a fairly new platform, new authors could gain traction by being one of the few options available on the site. Those weren’t his exact words, but that was the gist I took from it.

For the uninitiated, Booktrack is a website and app that allows readers to listen to a soundtrack which is partly synced to their reading rate. Thematic music is a part of the experience, but there are also sound effects. The music and ambient noises begin when the reader enters a scene, and once the program learns your reading speed, it times sound effects to coincide with when the reader reaches a specific event. 

So I spent about a week late at nights creating a Booktrack version of my book. All tolled, it probably consisted of about a 20-hour investment of my time. I found the interface easy to learn and apply, and the process was actually kind of fun – once. If I had to do it for all of my books, I’m certain the process would quickly become a chore. And luckily, Booktrack offers professional services for those who do not wish to compile their own, or be bothered learning the process.

So I worked diligently until I was satisfied that my book was as good as I could make it. I chose the music carefully; I found fitting sound effects for almost every grunt and door slam; and when I was stumped, I found suitable alternatives. For example, one of my stories features a fly flitting about from scene to scene, but there was no buzzing fly sound effect available. However there was a mosquito and other insect noises which to anyone other than a trained entomologist will suffice quite nicely.

When it was all said and done, on Valentine's Day I pressed publish, and … nothing.

Turns out, my paid version does not even show up as a purchasable option on the app store. I queried about this, and learned that the app servicers (android and Apple) take too big a slice. So the book is ONLY available for purchase on the website, and then only after a direct search for my author name. It doesn't even come up doing a title search for crying out loud. Oh, I suppose if one wades through the hundreds and hundreds of FREE options (which for some reason get all the prime real estate), one might eventually stumble on my cover, but I’m not holding my breath for that.

So how many copies have I sold? That’s another great question. I assume zero, but for all I know there have been a few sales. I mean, somebody gave it a 4-star rating after all. (Possibly somebody who clicked over from my mailing list or Facebook page.) But there’s no dashboard, no sales ranking, no downloadable sales history … no nothing. I have received one lone email telling me I haven’t earned the sales threshold for a royalty payment yet. Other than that, I have no idea what the heck is going on.

Of course there's always the possibility that my book isn't selling because it's not enticing enough. That's a possibility, but not a certainty. However, one certain thing is that it can't sell if it's utterly undiscoverable. 

So I’m afraid I can’t recommend Booktrack for authors. At least not until they address these issues. Sorry.

It's a shame too. The Booktrack version of my book is pretty dang cool. You should check it out

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Author Spotlight: Renée Pawlish, Author of It Doesn't Happen in the Movies

Editor's Note:
Renée Pawlish is the mastermind behind the monthly Team Mystery Thriller promos. She doesn't even have a dog in the race this month, but she generously coordinates and hosts the promo anyway. 

Renée Pawlish is the award-winning author of the bestselling Reed Ferguson mystery series, the Dewey Webb mystery series, horror bestseller Nephilim Genesis of Evil, The Noah Winters YA Adventure series, middle-grade historical novel This War We're In, Take Five, a short story collection, and The Sallie House: Exposing the Beast Within, a nonfiction account of a haunted house investigation.

Renée has been called "a promising new voice to the comic murder mystery genre" and "a powerful storyteller". Nephilim Genesis of Evil has been compared to Stephen King and Frank Peretti.

Renée was born in California, but has lived most of her life in Colorado.

This Doesn't Happen in the Movies
A wannabe private eye with a love of film noir and detective fiction. 
A rich, attractive femme fatale. 
A missing husband. 
A rollicking ride to a dark and daring ending 
Reed Ferguson’s first case is a daring adventure, complete with a dose of film noir, and a lot of humor. With a great supporting cast of the Goofball Brothers, Reed’s not too bright neighbors, and Cal, Reed’s computer geek friend, This Doesn’t Happen In The Movies is detective noir at its best. Follow Reed as he solves crime akin to his cinematic hero, Humphrey Bogart.

“I want you to find my dead husband.”
“Excuse me?” That was my first reaction.
“I want you to find my husband. He’s dead, and I need to know where he is.” She spoke in a voice one sexy note below middle C.
“Uh-huh.” That was my second reaction. Really slick.
Moments before, when I saw her standing in the outer room, waiting to come into my office, I had the feeling she’d be trouble. And now, with that intro, I knew it.
“He’s dead, and I need you to find him.” If she wasn’t tired of the repetition, I was, but I couldn’t seem to get my mouth working. She sat in the cushy black leather chair on the other side of my desk, exhaling money with every sultry breath. She had beautiful blond hair with just a hint of darker color at the roots, blue eyes like a cold mountain lake, and a smile that would slay Adonis. I’d like to say that a beautiful woman couldn’t influence me by her beauty alone. I’d like to say it, but I can’t.
“Why didn’t you come see me yesterday?” I asked. Her eyes widened in surprise. This detective misses nothing, I thought, mentally patting myself on the back. She didn’t know that I’d definitely noticed her yesterday eating at a deli across the street. I had been staring out the window, and there she was.
The shoulders of her red designer jacket went up a half-inch and back down, then her full lips curled into the trace of a smile. “I came here to see you, but you were leaving for lunch. I followed you, and then I lost my nerve.”
“I see you’ve regained it.” I’ve never been one to place too much importance on my looks, but I suddenly wished I could run a comb through my hair, put on a nicer shirt, and splash on a little cologne. And change my eye color – hazel – boring. It sounded like someone’s old, spinster aunt, not an eye color.
She nodded. “Yes. I have to find out about my husband. He’s dead, I know it. I just know it.” Her tone swayed as if in a cool breeze, with no hint of the desperation that should’ve been carried in the words.
“But he’s also missing,” I said in a tone bordering on flippant, as I leaned forward to unlock the desk drawer where I kept spare change, paper clips, and my favorite gold pen. Maybe writing things down would help me concentrate. But I caught a whiff of something elegant coming from her direction, and the key I was holding missed the lock by a good two inches. I hoped she didn’t see my blunder. I felt my face getting warm and assumed my cheeks were turning crimson. I hoped she didn’t see that either.
Perhaps I was being too glib because she glanced back toward the door as if she had mistaken my office for another. “This is the Ferguson Detective Agency? You are Reed Ferguson?”
“It is and I am.” I smiled in my most assured manner, then immediately questioned what I was doing. This woman was making no sense and here I was, flirting with her like a high-school jock. I glanced behind her at the framed movie poster from the The Big Sleep, starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. It was one of my favorites, and I hung the poster in my office as a sort of inspiration. I wanted to be as cool as Bogie. I wondered what he would do right now.
She puckered pink lips at me. “I need your help.”
“That’s what I’m here for.” Now I sounded cocky.
The pucker turned into a fully developed frown. “I’m very serious, Mr. Ferguson.”
“Reed.” I furrowed my brow and looked at my potential first client with as serious an expression as I could muster. I noticed for the first time that she applied her makeup a bit heavy, in an attempt to cover blemishes.
“Reed,” she said. “Let me explain.” Now we were getting somewhere. I found the gold pen, popped the top off it and scrounged around another drawer for a notepad. “My name is Amanda Ghering.” She spoke in an even tone, bland, like she was reading a grocery list. “My husband, Peter, left on a business trip three weeks ago yesterday. He was supposed to return on Monday, but he didn’t.”

If you'd like to check out Renée's books, her links are just below. Or to check out the promo, go to Renée Pawlish's website where all of the books in this giveaway are available.

You can also find It Doesn't Happen in the Movies at the following links:

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Author Spotlight: M. W. Griffith, Author of The Cold Bending Light

Editor's Note
The Team Mystery/Thriller promo returns this month with another round of free titles on the 20th and 21st of August. I do not have a pony in the race this go around, but I still plan to do my part to pay-it-forward and promote those who do. With that in mind, this weekend I will be spotlighting two of the books and their authors. Today, we're spotlighting author M.W. Griffith.

Michael Griffith was born in Carthage, Tennessee, and now lives in Murfreesboro TN after marrying his best friend.  He is the author of several bestselling mysteries, including The Truth About Alex and Monsoon Morning.  He is currently studying history at Middle Tennessee State University.  Always a storyteller at heart, Michael enjoys nothing more than sharing his tales with the world.

There's nothing worse than not knowing...
 On a hot summer evening, a young woman’s body is discovered in a small Tennessee town. When another girl vanishes on her way home from work, Special Agent Selena Marrenger takes on the case. All signs point to a terrifying serial killer with a unique modus operandi: a chemical used in state executions that isn’t found in Tennessee.
 As Selena inches closer to the unnerving truth, she starts to believe that something much larger - and sinister - is at play. Probing local law enforcement for answers unearths a well-hidden secret woven into the fabric of truth, justice, and madness…
 In this fast paced novel where nothing is quite what it seems, M.W. Griffith leads readers on a dangerous, twisting quest to bring justice to families whose lives have been changed forever by tragedy.

It had been another sweltering day in Middle Tennessee. Kristi Gillings’ mother told her it was too hot for kids to be running around and driving her crazy. A broken air conditioner meant they were all sweating in the late afternoon.
It was time to play outside.
Nobody had to tell Charlie, Kristi’s older brother, twice. He ran into the front yard with their younger sister, Elissa, carrying icy cold push pops and holding them up in the air just out of both girls reach. When Elissa began to cry, Kristi kicked her brother hard in the shin. He toppled over in the grass, and she snatched up her sister’s frozen treat.
“I’m telling!” Charlie’s voice squeaked. He scrambled to his feet, red-faced. “You’re going to be in big trouble. Mom already told you, remember? One strike left. You are so dead!”
Kristi bent down and handed the push pop to her sister. “Go on and do it then.” She directed a glare at Charlie. “You’re just a tattle-tail. Momma ain’t always gonna be there for you to run to!”
When her brother stomped up the steps and through the screen door, Kristi panicked.
She grabbed her bike from the garage and sped off down the road, leaving Elissa bewildered in the yard.
Kristi just needed to cool down. There was no way she would be able to face a third strike from her mother. Summer wouldn’t last forever, and she didn’t want to spend the rest of it grounded to her room. She was eleven years old, for crying out loud! When was she going to be treated like it? Just because Charlie was thirteen didn’t mean their mother always had to take his side.
Her bicycle tires crunched through the dirt along an uphill path less than a mile away from home. Thunder rolled faintly in the distant west. It was just after five, and the sun was drifting down in the late summer sky. The clouds became tinged with orange and red.
Kristi had to turn around. She knew the distance. She could make it back before the first droplets fell if she hurried.
The road was still, quiet. It cut a gash through the woods and wound like a snake across the hills. A cool evening wind pushed against the trees, lifting her corkscrew pigtails, and the sound reminded her of the ocean in Florida. They had vacationed there with relatives when school first let out. Silently, she smiled at the gentle waves crashing against the shore of memory.
Fireflies danced between the trunks. She watched them streak by as she peddled up the hill. Her legs burned from the effort, but when the road leveled out, she glided along and enjoyed the air on her freckled cheeks.
Lightning pulsed between heavy clouds. The storm was getting closer. Thunder cracked above, making her heart leap. Ahead, there was a turnoff leading back to her neighborhood. Almost there, she thought. Time to deal with that third strike.
* * *
Julia Fowler and Dylan Farrow sat on a grassy outcropping overlooking the carnival lights below. The two teenagers had just finished taking a dip in the creek behind her house. They snuck a six pack of beer from the refrigerator in his dad’s garage earlier; a locally brewed pale ale that was stronger than what they were used to, but they planned on celebrating before school started back.
“It’s beautiful,” she whispered, the lights sparkling in her eyes.
“I’ll say,” he breathed, sliding a hand along her lightly browned skin.
Julia pulled her chocolate brown hair back into a loose ponytail. She wore the green two piece bathing suit especially for him. “Not what I meant, but okay.”
Lightning lanced across the sky, followed by a deep concussion of thunder.
“Shit,” she said, leaning into his gentle nibbles along her neck. “Maybe we should head back.”
“Are you kidding me? That storm’s at least five miles away. We can hang out here for a little bit longer.” He moved his hand to her thigh. “You’re so hot.”
Julia let him kiss her ear, down to her bare shoulders, savoring each movement. All the while, her eyes remained locked on the lights from the summer carnival below. It was a tradition in Cedar Brook that had spanned almost fifty years. She remembered riding the Ferris wheel when she was little, and the sinking feeling in her gut when it rose to the highest point and the entire town sprawled out before her.
Dylan abruptly rose. “Sorry.” He laughed, covering the erection in his swim trunks with both hands. “I really gotta piss. Been holding it and I didn’t want to ruin the mood.”
Julia rolled her eyes. “Fine,” she said before putting earbuds in and switching on her iPod. “Make it quick, Romeo. That storm is moving in pretty fast.”
* * *
Dylan Farrow stepped into the surrounding woods and glanced over his shoulder at his girlfriend. She arched her back, both eyes closed, and lit only by the town beneath the outcropping. He could imagine that she was a dream, and that any moment he would wake up to the boring life he’d had before she came along. There was a gentleness to her, a classic sort of beauty he didn’t find in other girls.
Finally, he turned around and moved an appropriate distance away. There was a large tree with a hole in the trunk, split open by lightning long ago. He stepped forward and placed a hand on its ancient bark. Sometimes, he wondered what sort of things trees have seen in their lifetime. The comings and goings of nature, and people like himself sneaking off into the woods to get it on.
When he was finished, he made his way back. The wind had picked up, brushing coldly over his bare skin. More lightning bloomed above the little town.
Julia wasn’t there.
“Jules? Hey, Jules where’d you go?”
He stepped closer to where they had been sitting only moments before. The half empty six pack was sill where he remembered next to her open purse. The headphones and iPod lay in the grass a short distance away. He looked east and then west, peering in the near dark with squinted eyes. Finally, he stepped towards the outcropping and looked down.
The lights from the carnival rides were turning off one after the other.
“Jules?” Where was she?
Instinctively, he pulled his phone out and dialed her number. Julia’s phone lit up and buzzed inside her purse. He hit the end button and then dialed 911.
“911, what’s your emergency?”
“My girlfriend’s gone,” the words shot out of his mouth.
“Your girlfriend left you?” The operator sounded like she had heard the same thing a million times that day.
“No, I mean she was here one minute and the next she’s just gone.”
“Did you and your girlfriend have an argument?”
“No!” He ran a hand over his shaved head. “Even if we did, she wouldn’t just up and leave without her cellphone or her purse. That’s not like her.”
“I can send a patrol car. What’s your location?”
“122 Hillcrest. It’s her parents’ house.”
“Are her parents home now?”
“Okay, I’m sending an officer out there. Are you inside the house?”
“No. We cooled off in the creek around back. There’s a clearing in the woods on the other side.”
“Stay where you are, okay? An officer will be there shortly.”
“Thanks.” He stuffed the phone into his pocket just as the first cold drops of rain began to fall. It would be completely dark soon. When he turned to face the woods, Dylan couldn’t help but to wonder what the trees saw.

If you'd like to check out MW's books, his links are just below. Or to check out the promo, go to Renée Pawlish's website where all of the books in this giveaway are available.

Twitter:   @emberian
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Amazon Kindle Bestselling Books By M.W. Griffith
The Runaway Train - Buy At Amazon
The Truth About Alex - Buy At Amazon
Monsoon Morning - Buy At Amazon
Tanglewood - Buy At Amazon

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Guest Post: The Influences behind Rebirth of the Gangster by CJ Standal

Author Bio

CJ Standal is an author and owner of his own publishing company, CJ Standal Productions.  For the last six months he has been writing his self-published comic Rebirth of the Gangster--illustrated by the great Juan Romera--and he has had some journalistic work published in the now defunct Slant.  He is obsessed with entertainment in any type of media and genre and has been reading comics since he was eight years old.
When he’s not writing, CJ Standal can be found teaching high school English.  In order to keep his teaching and writing worlds separate, he uses the pseudonym CJ Standal.  As a teacher and author he hopes to spark the same love of reading and stories in the next generation.


“The Seeds of Rebirth of the Gangster:
Pruning the Comic’s ‘Family Tree’ of Influences

the-godfather-marlon-brando-19721.png My brothers and I huddled in front of the TV, our dad sitting on the couch to save his already deteriorating eyesight the strain; but no matter where we were, all our eyes were glued on the Don.

We were in our early to mid-teens, and we were watching that great American classic, The Godfather.  And whether I knew it or not, this movie would have a profound effect on me in the coming days, months and years.   It’s not just that the movie walks a delicate tightrope between light and darkness, family and self-determination, sympathy and apathy, restraint and violence.  And it’s not just that this was one of the few moments where my dad tossed his work obligations out of sight for a rare moment of bonding with his sons.  No, it wasn’t any of those things that forged this into that nugget of gold shining in the murk of memory. What gave this movie its luster was that it sparked a desire that would never be satisfied, that could never find enough fuel for its flame: a desire that eventually launched me onto the path of writing Rebirth of the Gangster, my gangster greed so great that I wasn’t going to be satisfied until I was able navigate those dark waters myself.

rog cover 2.jpg Aside from the obvious debt, Rebirth of the Gangster owes much more to gangster classics new and old than I’m willing to admit, classics like The Godfather, The Big Sleep, 100 Bullets, Breaking Bad, and The Wire.  But--history student that I am--I realize that sometimes the only way to move forward is to look back.  

And speaking of looking back: that struggle between tradition and innovation--between loyalty and independence--is probably the biggest thread I pulled out of The Godfather when I was weaving the tapestry of Rebirth of the Gangster.  In The Godfather, Michael Corleone returns home after trying to escape his family’s hold, and reluctantly grabs the reins of The Family, hoping to steer it into a new world of light instead of darkness, of legitimacy instead of lawlessness.  This same struggle opens Rebirth of the Gangster and frames Marcus’s whole journey throughout the comic.
rog page 1.jpg

Can Marcus escape the death surrounding his family’s past?  Will he give in to his dad’s obsession with image and responsibility, an obsession born out of his dad’s desire to hide the shadows of the past?  Or will he repeat the same mistakes of his dad, backsliding into darkness, ironically because of his father’s impulse to keep him in the dark?  Replace Marcus with Michael in those previous questions, and I could just as easily be describing Coppola’s masterpiece.

Rog page 15-page-001.jpg

Shortly after my visit with the Don, I set off into new gangster territory: noir fiction.  While I loved it all, The Big Sleep most dramatically latched its hooks into me, pulling me out of one world into the next.  It awoke in me an awareness of how class and money can influence other people’s stories, and most importantly, my own.  Rebirth of the Gangster is just as concerned as Chandler was with exploring how money pulls our strings.  Hunter’s story is one of desperation borne out of the puppet master that is American capitalism, a desperation that sets all the crime and violence of this story in motion, which in turn intensifies the family struggles Marcus wades through.

Rog issue 2 p 08-page-001.jpg
But this clash between rich and poor doesn’t have to clutch onto the coattails of a private eye, and that’s where 100 Bullets came crashing in.  100 Bullets is one of the finest examples of neo-noir, of fiction that updates those same concerns of corruption, wealth, family, and deceit.  It pays homage to the crime fiction of the past--most notably in “The Counterfifth Detective”--but it doesn’t shackle itself just to what’s been done before.  Similarly, Rebirth of the Gangster hopes to explore the same issues that Chandler and other greats did, but with a tip of the hat instead of wrapping itself in the same trenchcoat of noir past.  And just as importantly, 100 Bullets showed me how to take these stories and move them to a new medium, one where images and words are puzzle pieces that need to fit together to create the whole picture and where dialogue often has multiple meanings, especially when placed against an ironic or reinforcing image.

rog-page-03 cropped.jpg
Recently we’ve been living in the Golden Age of TV, and nowhere is that truer than in the genre-defining and genre-busting recent greats like Breaking Bad and The Wire.  Breaking Bad showed how an audience can love even the worst character, a character who’s sunk so low that killing children and bringing shame on his family are just means to an end.  Now, Walter White didn’t start that way.  Vince Gilligan and company showed how a slower pace and a relatable motivation can make the audience root for a character past the point when they’re likeable (sorry Heisenberg fans, but by the end of the show we definitely shouldn’t be rooting for Walt with all he’s done--if you’re mad, though, you’re proving my point about the power of the show).  

And that tactic is exactly what I hope to use in Rebirth of the Gangster--that doesn’t mean Marcus will commit as extreme acts of violence and deceit as Walt does, just that he’s going to follow a similar path of corruption away from model behavior.  Plus, similar to Breaking Bad, Marcus has a Jesse to show him the road leading to the kingdom of gangsters. Hunter is this Jesse character, but never to be one without multiple influences, I’ve written him with a hint of an Iago-esque motivation.  The comic title Rebirth of the Gangster highlights Marcus’s “birth” as a gangster and descent into darkness; the “Rebirth” part is meant to also emphasize the cyclical nature of this action, hinting at the shadow family legacies throws on Marcus, Hunter and the other characters of this comic.

Rog issue 2 p 01-page-001.jpg

And speaking of other characters, while Rebirth of the Gangster focuses on Marcus at first, its scope has already widened to capture Hunter in the all-seeing camera that is the “narrator” of the comic.  Like The Wire, this story tries to capture everybody’s stories (in The Wire Freeman said it best: “All the pieces matter”).  And that camera will only continue to rove in future issues--tailing other characters like Detective Lorena Sanchez, Marcus’s mom Linda, Hunter’s mom Andrea, and Dennis, a released inmate trying to walk the straight and narrow.  Dennis owes the biggest debt to The Wire, serving as a direct homage to one of my favorite characters, the great Cutty-from-the-Cut, another inmate trying to see where he fits in the game that got him into prison in the first place (and before I get Omar haters on my back, I just want to say that Omar is my favorite character, especially his line “A man got to have a code”, a line that also showcases the idea my comic follows: that everybody is the hero of their own story, guided by their own code.).
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Ultimately, by widening the scope of this comic, not only am I able to create something closer to The Wire, I am able to tie these distinct threads of gangsterdom into a new whole.  Without these influences I never would’ve been able to create a comic that’s truly Shakespearean in its depth; Godfatherian in its emphasis on the ties of family; noiresque in its focus on rich and poor in a new light; Heisenbergian in its descent into darkness; and realistic in a scope similar to The Wire.  This is a true Rebirth of the Gangster, giving new life to a genre full of classics.

If you’re interested in finding out more about Rebirth of the Gangster,
check out these links:

The second issue for $1.99

NOTE: From now until August 8 The first issue is FREE for KDP members and there is specal bundle pricing available as well.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Author Interview: E. W. Sullivan (Sully) Author of Swarm Theory

Award winning author E. W. Sullivan (Sully) was born in Jacksonville, Florida. He worked as an architect and contractor, taught computer networking, and owned a financial services company before becoming an author.  Sheaves of Zion was Sullivan's first novel and Readers' Favorite 2013 bronze medal winner for fiction-mystery-sleuth. His second novel, Swarm Theory, is the second book in the Thelonious Zones crime series.   He credits his high school English teacher, Mr. Smith, for planting the seed for his love of writing, his late father for how to tell a great story and his late mother for how to curse properly.   E.W. Sullivan lives, works and writes in Atlanta, Georgia with his wife Anita and daughter Paris.

Swarm Theory: A Murder Mystery-Thriller
Criminal profiler Dr. Thelonious Zones wants to believe his father didn’t kill his mother. What stops him from believing is the twenty-five years to life he received for her murder. Zones’ avuncular employer and father’s best friend, Sam Drake, defends his innocence. Zones sets out to find the truth to this twenty-four year old question, but his search is interrupted when he is forced to investigate the death of a young Arab college student and the series of bombings engulfing a small southern town. Zones’ theory and profile of the perpetrator(s) are questioned by law enforcement when events change and new suspects emerge. The trail to the truth will lead Zones through a thicket of well-guarded secrets and childhood memories that cause him to question what he believes about how the world truly works.
Who are your influences?
My literary influences are many and they span both time and genre. Richard Wright and James Baldwin first showed me the impact a good story could have. JD Salinger brought out the rebel in my writing. More contemporary are Walter Mosley and George Pelecanos whose crime fiction is some of the best I’ve ever read.   
When did you begin writing?
I became serious about a writing career ten years ago. It was either stay in corporate America and eat steak or pursue my passion to write and eat bad Chinese takeout. The former won out for another seven years (the heart was willing, but the stomach staged a coup d’etat). I’ve been seriously writing for the last three years.
How do you come up with your stories, characters, character names, POV, etc?
As a crime mystery writer, coming up with the stories is easy – death and destruction are all around. The trick is making it seem fresh. For example, my newest novel, Swarm Theory, deals with bombs and terrorist – nothing new, right. But then throw in cutting edge science and corrupt institutions and you got a story with some interesting angles. As for my characters, I draw on a wealth of both street and classroom knowledge. A minor character from the novel whose nickname is “Car Wreck” comes from someone I knew as a child. Professor Landrosky, a character also from the book, has mannerisms of my college professor. So, for me, real life experiences play a major role in story and character development.
Do you work from an outline?
Yes! And the more detailed the better. I’ve tried the pantser route with little success. I like the structure an outline gives me. It allows me to think ahead as to how a chapter, plot, character, etc. will be developed. It also keeps me from writing myself into a hole. The outline, for me, is a road map (or GPS) that keeps me from getting lost.       

Tell me about your favorite scene in your novel.
No self-respecting novelist would have just one. But if I must, I’ll have to say that my favorite scene in the book is “The Hack”, Chapter Forty-nine. It has all the elements of a great scene: action, tension, dialogue, foreshadowing, etc. The strange thing is that there’re no fight scenes, no car chases, and no gun fights. Yet, the scene is weighty. The dialogue between Zones and Stats is some of the best in the book. There are other scenes with better elements, but as a representative of the whole, “The Hack” is perhaps the best.       

Can you tell us a little about your writing philosophy?
Soapbox time! I have the same philosophy about writing as I do about music. If a song doesn’t edify the listener – provoke thought, action or emotion – then it is noise. One of my favorite Bible verses is I Corinthians 13:1 which says, “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.” Let’s be clear, I write murder-mystery thrillers. The genre doesn’t lend itself to producing a, To Kill a Mockingbird. But that doesn’t mean it should be devoid of thought-provoking subject matter. Early Rap music was a social commentary on the plight and struggles of a people that raised the art form from an underground lyrical competition to that of a musical vehicle to air grievances and bring about societal change. In the wrong hands, as we now see, it has, “…become as…a tinkling cymbal”. Whether you are a poor writer or a great one, edify the reader. If at the end of reading my latest novel (Swarm Theory) the reader goes, “Hmmmmm?”, them I’ve done my job.
Have you ever tried writing in any other genres?
Yes. In fact, I’m reworking an early novella titled The Red Heifer.  I’ll describe it as an adventure story with religious overtones. It is, to me, some of my best writing and storytelling. I hope to finish the revisions soon. Stay tuned. I’m also in the idea stage of a contemporary piece that revolves around the life of a young, black man from a North Carolina sharecropping family during reconstruction. It’ll be loosely based on stories my father told me about his early life growing up in the Jim Crow South.   

Do you have any interesting writing-related anecdotes to share?
It was my freshman year of Humanities 101 at a small community college (they were called junior colleges back then). The professor, a diminutive, bespectacled older woman, assigned the class to write a one page report on a contemporary topic of our choosing. My subject matter escapes me, but what I do remember is that I labored over the assignment for many days, to make sure everything was perfect – it was. Days later, after grading the papers, the professor held me after class. “Mr. Sullivan,” she said, holding the folded paper in her hand, “this paper is perfect, no spelling or grammatical errors.” I recall feeling a slight smile spread across my face. She looked up at me from behind her glasses. Although I had no proof of it, something told me she had once been a nun, despite the wedding band around her ring finger. “Are you sure you wrote this?” She squinted her eyes like my mother when she didn’t believe the lie I had just told her. My mother, however, knew me like she knew the lyrics to her favorite gospel hymn, the one she sang every morning around the house. This woman knew nothing about me. I was just one of many faces passing before her every day. In that one instant, the smile my face donned had been wiped away. I remember being puzzled. I did write this paper. I have the crumpled drafts littering my bedroom floor to prove it. I stood there, towering over her, but she held the high ground. “That’s my work. I wrote it,” I said through a nervous smile. She shoved the paper at me. “It’s boring though. You have a good day, Mr. Sullivan.” She returned to her work and I turned tail, bolting for the door. Outside the classroom, I unfolded the paper. Marked in red at the top of it was a big, fat ‘A-’. An ‘A’ minus for a perfect paper, I thought. I also thought, bitch (sorry ladies, I was young at the time). I left school that day feeling that my integrity had been assailed. It was not a good feeling. I finished her class doing well but feeling untrustworthy. 

I learned a few things from that experience that stay with me to this day. People don’t trust perfection because they know that there is no such thing. So, when they see it, there’s an automatic distrust of it. It’s why we like our protagonist flawed. We love flawed characters. Saints rarely make a second book. Another thing I learned from this experience is that your readers must trust you as an author. Better yet, they must trust your work. Imperfection is okay (that’s what editors are for). I write imperfectly to this day. I make my editor earn his or her money. You want to deliver a polished product to the reader, but they expect some imperfection, just not the glaring subject-verb not in agreement type.  Finally, a perfectly written, boring story in publishing is called an abstract. So, unless it’s written for an academic journal and the like, readers expect to be entertained. I wasn’t sure if the half point deduction I received from my professor was for her believing that I had plagiarized the paper or for its lack of entertainment value. Either way, I had failed in gaining her trust and in keeping her interest.   

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