Friday, July 3, 2015

Interview with Steven Hildreth, Jr., Author of The Sovereigns

It's been a while since I've posted so I thought I'd get back in action with a chat with my Facebook pal Steven Hildreth, Jr., who has two top-notch thriller already under his belt and more to come, including an intriguing crime series we'll get more details on shortly. . . .

Steven is not only a combat vet of the Iraq war but also the author of The First Bayonet and his new book, The Sovereigns, which feature the exploits of Ben Williams, but don't think that he's just the latest macho he-man to grace the thriller genre. Steven has a way of making Williams a little bit different than your average touch guy.

Here's Steven:

1) Tell us about your new book.

The Sovereigns takes place a little over a year before my first book, The First Bayonet. Ben Williams has walked away from government service and has gone into the freight industry. It just so happens
that his delivery destination has been targeted by anarcho-capitalist terrorists. He can't walk away from something like that, so he takes action and gets more than he bargained for.

2) How would you best describe Ben Williams?

Williams is a real no-nonsense kind of guy. His sense of patriotism has been damaged because he's been screwed by the government more than once, but it's still there. Cynical and world weary, definitely. He still has a bit of a sense of humor and a very strong sense of justice.

3) As a combat vet, how does your experience affect what you write?

Being a vet gives me two advantages in this genre. First, I know generally how someone like Williams thinks as far as how he approaches situations. It gives me a technical knowledge that isn't as prevalent in the genre outside of the veteran author community.

The second is that I have an understanding of the psychology of violence. I think that's not delved into too often in this genre. Cops, soldiers, operators, paramilitary officers...these people aren't robots. There's a certain mindset that goes into the application of violence and I think discussing it humanizes these seemingly superhuman characters.

4) Who are your writing influences?

Steven Hildreth, Jr.
Doug Wojtowicz is a guy who ghost writes for the Mack Bolan series. He took me under his wing when I was about 14. I get my action scene descriptions from him. David Mamet is a huge dialogue influence. I love Mametian dialogue. Tom Clancy, Vince Flynn, Robert Ludlum, and Andrew Britton are all late authors that I definitely admire and sought to emulate.

5) If your series gets picked up by Hollywood, who is your choice to play Ben Williams?

Hands down, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson. No question about it.

6) Will Ben Williams continue to be your primary effort, or do you have plans for another series or maybe stand-alone stories?

I'm actually working on making Williams my co-primary effort. I do want to work on developing a short story series that will revolve less around Williams and more around his mates to better characterize them.

7) What's next for you?

Here in the fall, I'm going to start developing a crime thriller series for Amazon Kindle revolving around the Cleveland Police Homicide Squad. I'm aiming for six 15-20K word episodes (in comparison, The Sovereigns is almost 114,000 words) with a planned release date of January 2016. Then, I want to work on an immediate sequel to The Sovereigns for release in Summer 2016. If the crime series sells well, that will become my writing rotation.

Thanks for stopping by, Steven! Best of luck with the new book!

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Phasing Out of Self-Publishing to Try the Old Way

Nobody owes us anything; we have to make our own luck. But sometimes even working your tail off is no guarantee of success, and for the five years I've been self-publishing, about all I have to show for it is a slew of contacts--other writers, trad and indie, who have become people I look forward to corresponding with. I've also improved as a writer, thanks to reader feedback and my amazing editor. I'm trying not to sound like I'm complaining. I'm merely continuing the update on my efforts which began on this blog back in 2010 when I thought I would give self-publishing a try. Seven books later....well, I'm still waiting to be discovered.

It works for some. Those writer pals I mentioned? Some of them do very well. Me and a few others scratch our heads about why we can't gain traction. Self-publishing is becoming more and more expensive as services rise up to cater to writers--editing, covers, ads, etc.--and I can tell you that my editor and cover artists have done very well because of me. But there's been no return on investment.

Perhaps I don't write fast enough; I don't write mommy porn; I don't do a Harry Potter pastiche or write stories about teen vampires. Perhaps I should, but I've not been able to wrap my head around that kind of subject matter, and I don't know how to spell vagina. If that's what it takes to make a living as an indie, I'll pass. It's not that I have standards, it's that I want to write something else. I like thrillers and mysteries and, apparently, so do many others, but with the tidal wave of indie projects assaulting the citadel, I can't find a way to break through. Others have been more fortunate.

So I'm giving up the Kool-Aid to try the traditional approach. I may not have any better luck there, but with all the thrillers I see on the shelves at B&N, somebody is reading that kind of book, and maybe I can find them better there.

I still have The Rogue Gentleman #4 to finish, since I already bought the cover, but I've set it aside unfinished for now. I'll do Scott Steletto #2 as well, since that's already written. Meanwhile, Steve Dane is going through a bit of a reboot and that's the book I'll shop traditionally. I have a pile of professional credits on my side (short story sales and anthology appearances) so I'm going in with a healthy output already. Yes, I know the pros and cons, please don't repeat them, but it can't be any worse than right now, and what I'm doing right now is absolutely not working at all.

Friday, March 13, 2015

The Rogue Gentleman #3 Now Available....

My new Steve Dane book is out. It's called Another Way to Die and I think you'll like it.

Monaco was a nice vacation--until Steve Dane and Nina Talikova witness a secret agent’s murder. Now they’re loose ends in a Russian conspiracy to steal a direct-energy weapon from the U.S. 

But the assassins pursuing them have made a grave miscalculation. Dane and Nina are former spies who know all the tricks and invented a few themselves. Their trail of vengeance leads from Monaco to Texas to a showdown in the Gulf of Mexico, where Dane is taken prisoner by an opponent who intends to settle old hatreds long thought buried. Outgunned and alone, the Rogue Gentleman doesn't soft-sell his brand of payback. He negotiates the only terms the enemy understand: certain death.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Interview with Matt Hilton, Author of the Joe Hunter Thrillers

You may have heard of Matt Hilton; if not, you should check him out. He's written, as of this interview, nine thrillers featuring action hero Joe Hunter with another on the way. I know Matt through Facebook; he accepted a short story of mine for his anthology Action: Pulse Pounding Tales Vol. 2, which I wrote under my Dean Breckenridge pen name. I've followed his work ever since, and now a U.S. publisher is bringing his work to the colonies.

I've sampled two of the Hunter stories so far, and Hilton reminds me of an early Jack Higgins in that the storytelling is crisp and to the point and carries you along all the way to the end. He's been compared to Lee Child, but don't let that dissuade you. Better to take the recommendation from Top Gear presenter Richard Hammond, who read one of Hilton's books while having his teeth whitened. He said of Dead Men's Dust: "Taut, thrilling, tense and sometimes scary - it's hard to talk about Dead Men's Dust without sounding like a caricature. But it delivers all those things. And clearly was written with passion and backed up by real experience of some of the darker sides of life. Loved it."

But enough of that....

Brian Drake: Hi, Matt, thanks for taking the time.

Matt Hilton: Thanks for having me and allowing me to talk a bit about my writing.

BD: Tell us about Joe Hunter.

MH: Joe Hunter is the lead character in a series of thrillers I’ve written, and to date nine of his adventures have been published in all formats, as well as a collection of short stories, and two standalone short stories available in ebook. The tenth in the series is already written and due to be published in June this year. Hunter is British, an ex spec ops soldier, once part of an experimental assassination squad codenamed ‘Arrowsake’ who targeted terrorist groups and organised crime gangs etc. Now retired from the military he makes his way in the world by trying to help out others caught in a tight pinch. He works for his pal, Rink (Jared Rington) from their office based in Tampa, Florida, but his adventures tend to take him all over the USA and sometimes further afield. Although he works as a private investigator, his skills tend to lean more to that of a protector, and he’s more inclined to take jobs where he must protect a person in danger, or to find missing people and such. Because of his background he has a high skill set, but also a lot of baggage, so in some respects he’s a damaged individual who is trying to atone for what he has done in the past. He can be violent, and sometimes to an uncompromising level, but at heart he is a good, loyal man who sees himself as standing up for the downtrodden. He is sometimes called a vigilante – and I guess he is – but Hunter doesn’t describe himself as one. I tend to think of Hunter as being a man out of his time: he should have been born in a previous century where he would have been a knight errant riding off on dangerous quests, or a Wild West marshal bringing law and order to a violent town at the end of his six-guns. The books are fast-moving action thrillers, slightly different to what you’d expect from crime fiction novels.

BD: Since you've spent your career in law enforcement, how much of that gets into the Hunter books and how much is made up? Do you mix people you've worked with into your characters?

MH: Yeah, I worked in private security then in the police force in the UK for more than 22 years. But I can’t really say that my careers influenced my writing in the way you might assume. I don’t write police procedurals, preferring instead to write action thrillers as I said, so I don’t use much from my law enforcement background to flavour my books. Saying that, I’ve experienced some pretty scary situations and have been caught up in violent conflict on a number of occasions and do use the heightened emotions and reactions of those situations when putting myself into the mind of a victim, or in Hunter’s head during stressful of violent encounters. I also use some of the grim humour that I experienced over the years to add comedy to lighten the darker moments – as a cop I was often laughing, but that was to stop myself resorting to anger or violence, or from crumbling in the face of horrible situations. For as many years I was involved in the martial arts, and I probably use more from my MA background in the books than I do my law enforcement one.

BD: Many series authors seem to plateau at some point. They write the same books over and over and really don't improve their style or technique much from Book One. After ten Hunter novels and a now-familiar formula, how do you keep improving yourself? Do editorial guidelines keep you from experimenting?

MH: I just try to write a story that’s thrilling and engaging, and hopefully one that will please Hunter’s readers. There is a formula I suppose, but it’s also about reader expectation. My readers want a fast, action-filled adventure, so that’s what I try to deliver. Editorial guidelines do get in the way at times, but only with my imagination. I kind of know now what my publishers expect so avoid going too crazy with my writing. I tend to leave my wilder ideas to other standalone books and short stories I write. But, saying that, I have tried to stretch my books at times, and I don’t think the Hunter books are too typical of the genre. In the UK my books tend to be found on the crime fiction shelves (and I’m happy with that) but I tend to think of them more as action thrillers, so don’t usually stay within the normal parameters of crime novels. I wasn’t inspired to write by crime novelists, but by pulp horror and sword and sorcery writers, (HP Lovecraft, Robert E Howard, Edgar Allan Poe to name a few), by ‘Men’s Adventure’ writers (Don Pendleton, Warren Murphy, Richard Sapir, David Morrell) and by the British western writer George G Gilman (AKA Terry Harknett), so my ‘crime’ novels tend to be slightly different than those from my peers. I’m not sure that Hunter (or I) would get away with doing the stuff Hunter does if I was writing regular crime fiction books.

BD: Which writers, and not necessarily thriller writers, do you follow and what are one or two things you like about them?

MH: I read a lot, and sometimes across various genres, but like most people I do have my favourite authors, and I usually grab their latest offerings as soon as they come available. In this ‘must have immediately’ group I’d include John Connolly (his spooky Charlie Parker detective/supernatural novels are terrific), J.A. (Jack) Kerley (Carson Ryder novels), Robert Crais (Elvis Cole and Joe Pike novels), Stephen Leather (Jack Nightingale novels), Tom Wood (Victor the assassin), Sean Black (Ryan Lock thrillers), Adrian Magson (Marc Portman thrillers, and Harry Tate thrillers), and Dean Koontz. There’s a bunch of other writers that I follow and enjoy very much, but the authors and their books that I’ve mentioned are the ones that get my pulse up when I see a new offering is available. I think that says all that needs to be said about why I just have to pick them up.

BD: You've also done some one-off books. Would you prefer to do a mix of Hunter and other stories, or just stick with Hunter and do a one-off when the mood strikes? Have readers expressed a preference?

MH: You’ve pretty much hit it on the head. My preference would be to do a Hunter then a standalone or second series, then back to Hunter again. You’ve probably spotted that my favourite reads tend to be between thriller and horror books, and I also enjoy writing in both those genres. What I tend to do is write a Hunter book, then on my downtime between contracts, I’ll exercise my other creative cells with something outside that action thriller genre, and the books I’ve published have tended along the lines of ghost, horror and supernatural. I’ve offered these books to my publishers in the past, but they’ve always been reticent to publish them under my name for fear of causing some sort of reader confusion. Their words not mine. I’m certain that my readers are intelligent enough to form a considered opinion on whether or not they’d read them with my name attached to them, but apparently that’s not how marketing works. I’ve self-published those books under my own imprint name, and generally they’ve been well received. In fact I’ve readers in the horror genre now who might not otherwise have picked up a Joe Hunter book, but have ‘found’ them after reading my other works, and are now fans. My out and out Hunter fans prefer Hunter, but in general they all also enjoy my other weirder stuff too. I’ve been getting some rave reviews for my latest ghost novel, ‘The Shadows Call’, from readers who would not normally have picked up a ghost story, so it goes both ways I’m happy to say.

BD: How has your publisher reacted to that? Have they tried to dissuade you or give you a sense that they don't want you eliminating the middle-man?
MH: They haven't really expressed an opinion one way or another. Once over that might have been different, but publishing as a whole is very different these days, and there are a lot of authors who follow the traditional publishing route who are also self-publishing their other works, sometimes their own back-lists or stand-alones. It has become very common to write 'taster' short stories to publish in ebook format alongside the books, used as hooks to grab readers who might not take a punt on a full novel. As most traditionally published authors do, I have a non-competitive clause in my contracts, so it stops me from self-publishing any Hunter books, or even books that might be described as 'Hunter-in-disguise' so I do steer well clear of doing anything like that. The books I've self-published have been primarily horror novels, so these don't directly compete with my action thrillers. Saying that - and maybe sounding a bit of a rebel - I've offered the horror novels to my publisher and they've passed on them, so does that mean I should simply put them away in a drawer someplace? Though I haven't sold massive numbers of my self-pubs, they've done okay, meaning that there is a readership for them, and it would be probably much higher if they were traditionally published and had a marketing budget behind them (or maybe not), but at least all my hard work is being partly repaid when I hear that my readers have enjoyed the books.

BD: I have noticed many UK thriller writers write in first-person; Doyle, Household, etc. Lee Child's first trio of Reacher books were first-person before he switched and his brother Andrew Grant writes in first-person. (Of course Forsyth and Rimmington do not so it doesn't apply to all.) Is first-person some sort of a tradition with UK thrillers? You don't see a lot of first-person thrillers in the States unless it's a mystery or crime story, and you might be surprised that quite a few "smart people" tell newbie writers not to do that. (By the way, I wrote a lot of first-person stories--until I needed glasses. I have since learned my lesson.)

MH: Funny you should say that, because most of the books I was reading and enjoying were from American writers, and a good number of those were written in first person, so when I set out to write the first Joe Hunter book I thought I was following a tried and tested formula. Some people say I have a distinct writing style, where the Hunter chapters are told in first person, while alternating chapters from other characters' point of view have been shown in third person. I had come across this style on a number of occasions before, but some people still find it odd. Interestingly, I did decide to write the fifth book - Blood and Ashes - in third person, but when I submitted it to my publisher was asked to revert the Hunter chapters back to first person, because it was what my readers recognised and expected as my style or voice. I like the urgency of first person, but it does have its drawbacks in that it is sometimes difficult to convey emotion, and can sometimes be misconstrued. I write Hunter with a kind of rueful or self-deprecating humour, but some readers interpret it as self-conceit or arrogance, but I guess that's the downfall with too many me, myself and I's that pepper a first person narrative. Another problem with first person perspective is in that you can only report on incidents your character has witnessed, and it doesn't work well when trying to show rather than tell, so I do find that switching to third person is a great help when Joe Hunter isn't in the scene. In regard first person being a tradition with UK thrillers I'd say no. To be honest I thought it was an American thing. (This is where you insert one of those smiley faces things if you didn't get that I was trying to be humorous in a self-deprecating way). I am self-taught as a writer. I've learned my craft through reading and writing, and when it came to the first Hunter book, the style just felt right to me, so I think the real message here is to trust your gut and go with what feels/sounds right as there really is no right and wrong when it comes to writing in your unique voice.

BD: What is one interview question you wish you would be asked, and what's the answer?

MH: Is it true that you were John Candy’s stunt double in Planes, Trains and Automobiles? Sadly, the answer is ‘no’, but I’d have loved to have gone along on that road trip with him and Steve Martin.

BD: What's coming up next that you'd like to mention?

MH: I’ve two or three little projects in the pipeline. Hodder and Stoughton will publish the next – and tenth – Joe Hunter book on 4th June 2015. It’s called ‘The Devil’s Anvil’ and see’s Hunter taking on a job to protect a grieving mother from some bad guys seeking her husband, and willing to do her harm to get to him. In the USA, Down and Out Books has just published book 7 – No Going Back – where Hunter goes into the Arizona badlands in search of some missing girls and runs foul of a group of crazy rednecks. Down and Out Books will also publish books 8 and 9 later this year (‘Rules of Honor’ and ‘The Lawless Kind’ respectively), so there’s plenty for US Hunter fans to look forward to. I’ve just placed another book with my agent, who is hopefully in the process of securing a publisher for it. This book is a mystery thriller, featuring new characters, but at this time I must keep a few things secret until we see if it’s a viable goer or not. Independent movie makers Third Act Montage are currently filming a movie based on one of my short stories: called ‘The Day’ it is an apocalyptic end of the world tale. I’ve seen some of the footage and it looks terrific, and I even had my own little Hitchcock/Stan Lee moment where I do my own little walk-on part. Actually I don’t do much walking, I end up as a corpse, but I guess you get what I mean. Right now, aside from answering your questions, I’m just setting out on writing Joe Hunter 11. Fingers crossed, Hunter will be around for years to come.

BD: As noted above, Richard Hammond of BBC's Top Gear (one of my favorite shows!) had some kind words for your books. Does he really whiten his teeth, and, if so, are you willing to expose the truth?

MH: You’ve heard of the Watergate scandal, right? Well if I told you the truth, then it would be the ‘Colgate’ scandal.

BD: We'll solve the mystery of Hammond's teeth another time! Thank you for a delightful interview.

You can reach Matt at a variety of places: @MHiltonauthor

The Lawless Kind - Joe Hunter 9 - available now.

The Devil's Anvil - Joe Hunter 10 - available from June 2015

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Ask Not

I first wondered if Max Allan Collins, in his Nate Heller books, would ever take on the JFK assassination after reading a short story of his called "Scrap," sometime back in the '90s, I think, where there appeared a character named Jake Rubenstein who, Heller says, later started going by "Jack" and changed his last name to Ruby.

Well, we finally have that book with Ask Not, which is actually the third in his "JFK Trilogy" starting with Bye, Bye, Baby and Target Lancer. I knew we were in for a whopper with the revelations in Target Lancer, and Ask Not delivers a cracking follow-up that I can't really talk about less I spoil things. Just read it. You don't need to have read the others.

What I like about the Heller books is that Collins, I think, gets the truth behind some of the greatest mysteries of the 20th century correct despite the fictional license he admits taking. Most of the solutions are simple, devoid of the tinfoil hat crowd's preferred boogeymen, and that gives the stories a credibility the other theories lack.

Collins' take on the JFK killing gives a nice twist on the usual suspects and makes one realize that the answers have always been in front of us but too much clutter hid the killers in plain sight. Wonderful book. If the Heller series ends here, it's been a heck of a run, but in the back of the book Collins suggests there may be a few more adventures ahead. Please, Max, don't make us wait nine years for the next one!

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Gerard de Villiers Comes to America

I first discovered Gerard de Villiers' Malko Linge series in the '90s when I found a Pinnacle paperback of West of Jerusalem at the library that had been printed in the late '70s. Here we have a French author writing about an Austrian freelancer for the CIA. It was a quick read, little of it remains in my memory, and I never found another one. Flash forward many years later, and Vintage Crime is bringing out new translations of de Villiers' work, starting with The Madmen of Benghazi and Chaos in Kabul. As of this writing, three more will follow. With over 200 titles in the Malko series, there are certainly many more they can translate should the market

De Villiers' appearance in the U.S. back in the '70s reprinted around a dozen Malko books, which you can find used at a variety of high prices.

I hope there is a demand for more, because The Madmen of Benghazi, if the translation is true, shows de Villiers as a crisp writer, who plots tight and keeps the pace moving without a lot of description to slow you down. The scenes feel a little hollow because of that. It would be nice to know what kind of room two characters are talking in. You'll read that Malko enters an office to pow-wow with a CIA honcho, but that's about it. The rest of the scene is all dialogue. It works. The pages keep moving. De Villiers loved to throw in a lot of graphic sex that would certainly bring his books an XXX rating were they subject to the same scrutiny as films, but, after all, he is French. . . .

De Villiers is said to have had so many close contacts in the intelligence community that his books are full of inside information. I suppose that's true. Unless somebody points out those details, though, they fit so seamlessly into the narrative that it might as well be hyperbole. His book don't read any better than any American or British author; if it wasn't for the fact that he wrote 200 Malko episodes, had an amazingly long career with quite a legend behind him, the books would be just OK also-rans. Malko was never going to take over for James Bond, no matter how much de Villiers hoped his character would.

But you should still give de Villiers a chance. The Malko books are quite fun, and I'm about to dig into Chaos in Kabul and eagerly await Revenge of the Kremlin, coming later this year. I'm also going to start looking for the Pinnacle reprints and add those to the collection.

Monday, December 29, 2014

2014 Year in Review

So how was your 2014? Mine was excellent. I not only met my future wife but also managed to not get hit by a falling piano.

I'm very pleased with my writing accomplishments, too. 2014 has been my most profitable year since 2010--$300 whole dollars in royalties! Yes, we're slugging it out in the rear, but I do better with each book. This year I did the Wolf series under the name Dean Breckenridge, which have run their course and we shan't be seeing Mr. Wolf again, but maybe Dean will come back with something or other.I started a new spy series, and sales of the Steve Dane series have improved.

We had our challenges, and still do. My ebooks never seem to be "good enough" and I'm always finding issues despite hiring professional help but I think we're on the way to finally nailing down the outstanding problems.

What's most encouraging for me is that I finally figured out a formula for producing a 60-to-80,000 word manuscript, which, finally, after too many years, frankly, gets me away from struggling just to reach 50,000 words.

And while some are already looking at me as if I've kicked a baby, in 2015 I'm going to write a new book with plans to sell it traditionally. That's right, I'm gong to try the hybrid method while still self-publishing and try to leverage one to promote the other. If it doesn't work, no harm done--I can run the new book myself. But this experiment in indie publishing has made me a better writer than when I started out, and I want to try the old way. I may regret it, I may not, but it has to be done.

I know, I know, I've broken the indie code or some such crap. Self-publishers really have a cult mentality, I have no time for that, and I've never been much of a joiner, so maybe that's my motivation. We can dig up Freud and see what he thinks; meanwhile, I have work to do.

Happy new year!