Friday, March 17, 2017

Get Carter: The Original Brit Grit

Oh, man, Get Carter is a book I really, really wanted to like, but I really, really had a hard time with it.

I wondered why. Here we have one of the seminal works of 1970s crime fiction (originally entitled Jack's Return Home) that takes place in an industrial town in Britain. We have great local color, terrific descriptions of the hard life of the town, gritty descriptions of the criminal element that hides just beneath the surface, and a terrific anti-hero who returns to his hometown to right a wrong and doesn’t care if he has to blow away his old buddies to do it.
From Soho Press

What was the problem? It took until the middle of the book for me to figure it out.

Too many imitations.

In the years since Get Carter, a gazillion writers took what Ted Lewis did and populated book shelves with so many copies that they ruined the original in the process. It took a long time for me to read Get Carter because it was out of print, but I knew all about it. I’d seen the movie, of course--loved it. I’d read all the praise about it--is there a bad review? Thanks to Soho Press and its recent reprint (they did all three Jack Carter books), with a fine introduction by Mike Hodges, who directed Michael Caine in the movie (the remake? fuhgeddaboutit!), I finally snagged a copy. Didn’t think twice. I was going to finally read this classic piece of crime fiction that had eluded me for so long, yet found it disappointing.

Once I realized what had happened, I took action. I went back to page one. I put out of my mind all of the copycats (even Spillane used the same plot and same general story devices in The Deep, though that book pre-dates Lewis) and started over.

And … wow. Anybody who writes or wants to write should memorize the opening chapter, which establishes such a sense of urban decay you wonder if Jack is taking a train into Hell.
Go home, Stallone, you're drunk!

All I can say is that Get Carter deserves its reputation, and going into too much of the book’s plot shouldn’t be what we focus on. What should be highlighted is the writing style of Lewis and the intensity of the place he creates. This isn’t swanky, swinging London he’s writing about. This is a town with industrial smokestacks scraping the sky. The pubs are dirty. The people in them are dirty. The streets are dirty. The gangsters fight dirty. There’s no trick shots or fancy gunfights. When guys get hit, they hurt. They spit blood. They got knocked down, and before they can get up, somebody grabs them by the hair and smashes their face into the muddy asphalt. You feel it, man. You feel every hit. You can taste the grit.
Michael Caine IS Jack Carter

Get Carter isn’t so much a book about a man returning to the home he left behind to avenge his brother’s murder, even though it is. It’s more about a man coming to terms with his past, his mistakes, and how he has to live with those mistakes. Jack Carter is really avenging himself, his brother is just a cipher, a catalyst for Jack’s existence. He’s a tough man who once thought he had all the answers and soon discovers he doesn’t know the answers after all; in fact, he’s changed so much, become so soft, relying on his former reputation, the bad guys get the edge. And that gives us one of the biggest sucker-punch endings in crime fiction. It’ll make your eyes bleed, because you want Jack to win, and then you realize Jack is you. We all grow and change and sometimes we go back where we came from thinking we know everything and then life smacks us across the face with the fact that we don’t know anything at all. We just fooled ourselves into thinking we did.

That’s what the other guys missed. The imitators could do the action, sure, but they couldn’t get the feeling. They couldn’t put you in that place. That’s the wonder of the late Ted Lewis, who left us way too soon, and why Get Carter is so revered and deserves to be discovered by a new generation of crime readers. The best crime fiction teaches us about our world and a little about ourselves; Get Carter does that, and belongs among the best.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Stiletto #1: The Termination Protocol

It's launch day for Stiletto #1: The Termination Protocol, and I do hope you take a moment to check it out.

Some of you longtime readers may remember a couple of years ago when I did TPP as a stand-alone Stiletto story. Well, I decided to make some changes and use it as the start of a series when (a) I needed a break from The Rogue Gentleman but wasn't sure what to write and (b) a friend said he really like Stiletto and would like to see more. So a little updating here and there and we have a new version of an old book.

It's confusing, I know.

If you bought the old book and don't want to buy it again, email me using the form on the left side of the page. You'll have to answer some questions about the old version, though, before I send you the new one, but I'm happy to send it along as a thank-you for your past support.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Andrew Warren Returns with RED PHOENIX

It's my pleasure to bring back Andrew Warren, who has been doing a bang-up job of bringing the action and thrills with his Thomas Caine books, the latest of which, RED PHOENIX, is out today. I invited him back for a follow-up after our last chat.

Brian Drake: Tell us about the new Thomas Caine adventure.

Andrew Warren: Thanks for having me back Brian!  In Red Phoenix, we learn a little bit more about Thomas Caine’s enigmatic past, and the mission that got his partner killed.  Flash forward a few years, and Tom is still on the hunt for the corrupt CIA Director who betrayed him.  When he finally catches up to his prey, he discovers that his partner’s son, now a young man named Sean, is being held in China on espionage charges. 

Caine must make a choice:  Does he pursue the man who betrayed him, and finally take his revenge?  Or will he abandon his hunt, and travel to Beijing to save Sean from a deadly web of conspiracies and killers?  He is forced to confront the anger and rage that drives him, and begins to questions himself, and his motives.  He has the opportunity to kill the man who ruined his life, but at what cost? 

Along the way, Caine must also deal with a double agent in the Chinese Ministry of State Security, who has their own reasons for wanting Sean dead, as well as a triad gangster with some deep-seated rage and anger issues of his own!

It’s a stand-alone spy thriller, and it definitely tells its own complete story.  But if you’ve read Devil’s Due and Tokyo Black, there are plenty of callbacks, character developments, and Easter eggs that will bring a smile to your face.

BD: After three books under your belt, what have you learned about yourself as a writer?

AW: Honestly, I still have a hard time thinking of myself as an author.  The first two books have done well, but sometimes I have a hard time trusting my instincts and abilities.  There was one scene in the new book, I won’t say which one… I don’t know why, but for some reason, I was convinced that there was no way I could pull it off, and do the scene justice.  I was terrified to write this scene!  I kept putting it off, and putting it off, and it ended up being the very last thing I wrote in the first draft.  And now, it’s actually one of my favorite scenes in the book!  So I think I’m still learning to trust myself, and just dive in and give things a shot – if they don’t work out, I know I can always change it later.

BD: What has reader reaction been like?

AW: Man, I have to say, I love my readers.  They are awesome.  Their reaction has been so positive and supportive; it’s surpassed my wildest dreams.  After Tokyo Black launched, one reader emailed me and said that she was a world traveler, but had never been to Japan.  After she finished my book, she began planning a trip to Tokyo.  That meant so much to me. As I mentioned in my last interview, after I visited Japan, I felt a special connection to the place.  It was so important to me to convey that excitement and fascination I felt to my readers.  When I got that email, I knew that at least for that one person, I had succeeded.

I was also contacted by fifteen-year old girl in India who loved Devil’s Due!  She said she admired Naiyana, the female lead, because she was strong, brave, and she did not abandon Caine in his time of need.  Of course I was incredibly proud and touched, but I was also a bit concerned.  I certainly did not intend for that character to be a role model for teenage girls!  But I remember being that age, and getting pleasantly lost in books that I loved.  The idea that I could have that kind of affect on someone so different from me, so far away… it’s incredible, isn’t it?

I’ve had a few advance reviews come in for Red Phoenix recently, and for the most part, they’ve been incredibly positive as well.  I am very grateful, and lucky, to have such a good connection with my readers.  Hearing from them always makes my day!

BD: Are you able to find a balance between writing and marketing?  If so, how?  If not, how are you trying to do that?

AW: Marketing seems to be an area that many authors struggle with, and I am certainly no exception.  I’ve run some Facebook ads, and I run a promo from time to time, but I could definitely focus on this more. 

A lot of my readers have found me through groups on Goodreads, and I am making an effort to be more involved there, and not just to promote my own books.  Some of my most rewarding experiences in self-publishing have come from talking with other authors like yourself, sharing tips and ideas, and helping each other out.  A rising tide lifts all ships, as they say! 

But overall, I do believe that the single most important thing I can do is to write more books for readers to enjoy.  So while I do plan to increase my marketing efforts, I still want to focus most of my energy into creating more exciting stories.

BD: Have you started pricing Ferraris?  If so, are you going hybrid or traditional?

AW: I’d rather price the black GTR from Tokyo Black!  But seriously, I’m a long way from that.  I look at being a self-published author as running a small business.  The first year was just seeing if things could be profitable, and they were.  Now, it’s time to see if I can scale, and grow.  Write more books, explore some more genres… but for now I’m not even pricing Toyota Corollas!

I have nothing against working with a major publisher, but I see no reason not to go hybrid, and keep self-publishing things on my own as well.  Why give up ownership of something I created if I don’t have to?  Even if someone swooped in and handed me a mountain of cash for the rights to one character or series, why not create something new on my own? 

Self-publishing is an incredible opportunity for authors.  The technology we have at our disposal is mind blowing when you compare it to the traditional publishing business.  We can press a button and reach hundreds of thousands of readers instantly.  Why would we ever give that up?

BD: Will we get more Caine adventures in the future, or are you looking to try another character or even another genre next?

AW: The short answer is “Yes!”  It’s funny – the whole time I was writing Red Phoenix, I kept telling myself, “I can’t wait to finish this book so I can try something different, something like sci-fi or fantasy.”  But then, as soon as I finished, I began getting more ideas for new Caine books. 

Either way, Thomas Caine will return… it says so right at the end of the book!  But I would also like to try my hand at some other genres as well.  I’ve had some ideas bubbling for a sci-fi space opera series.  But as long as Caine keeps whispering in my ear, I’m happy to keep having adventures with him across the world.

Thanks again for having me on your site Brian!  I really appreciate it, and I hope your readers enjoy hearing about the Thomas Caine series.



Red Phoenix launches on Amazon Feb 7th.  You can also check out Devil’s Due, and Tokyo Black, out now!  If you want to know more about my books and what I’m working on, you can visit my website at www.andrewwarrenbooks.com.  You can also drop me a line on Facebook: @andrewarrenbooks, or Twitter: @aawarren71.


And if anyone has any questions about Thomas Caine, self-publishing, or writing in general, please don’t hesitate to contact me… I’ll do my best to answer!

Monday, February 6, 2017

Free Scott Stiletto Preview

We're about a month away from the official launch of my new Stiletto series and I wanted to give you a sneak-peak.

Basically what I'd like to do is build a "street team" of readers who can leave some Amazon reviews on launch day or a few days after, or, worse case, tell this emperor that he has no clothes before he makes a fool of himself. I'm thinking the second week of March would be a good time to release the book unless you tell me it would be better to delete the damn thing.

I've set up a download page at Book Funnel for free downloads of Stiletto #1: The Termination Protocol. If you'd like to read it, please email me at briandrake88 at yahoo dot com and I'll provide you with a link.

Those of you who read an earlier version of this book in 2014 will for sure want the free download because I don't want you to buy it twice. There have been extensive revisions to make this the start of a series, so it's not entirely the same book.

Here's the description:

The Termination Protocol

A deadly nerve agent . . . one man standing between peace and Armageddon . . .
CIA agent Scott Stiletto is one of the best. When a derivative of sarin gas thought destroyed shows up on the open market, Scott races to keep the chemical weapon out of enemy hands. The Agency's only lead is a terrorist named Liam Miller, and Stiletto plans a simple snatch-and-grab that quickly lands Miller in U.S. custody. The rendition soon turns into disaster.
Another terrorist group snatches Miller in a blinding fast raid that leaves four agents dead and Stiletto wounded. Worse, the new players—calling themselves the New World Revolutionary Front—are the ones planning to buy the sarin. They use Miller to plant a false trail for the CIA to follow while their deadly plan comes to fruition.
The NWRF doesn't count on Miller having a few tricks up his sleeve, or Stiletto's relentless determination to complete his mission. And once Miller gets away and the two team-up to fight their common enemy, the NWRF faces the wrath of two men who are deadlier together than they are separately.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

There's Something About de Villiers ... Or, I Really Need to Learn French

Black Lizard is out with its latest Gerard de Villiers Malko novel, Surface to Air, and as always it's a grabber from page one. I suppose, however, that the chosen format for this edition hints that it is the last of the U.S. translations, because instead of a glossy trade paperback, we get a traditional mass market printing, which means my set won't match. Dammit, Black Lizard!

It also means I have to learn French if I want to read the rest of the de Villiers canon.

When you read the back cover about a terrorist plan to shoot down Air Force One, you might think, meh; when the opening chapters are of said terrorists repeating durka durka jihad over and over, you might also think, meh; but when you get into the guts of the story, de Villiers has a way of making this tired terrorist-of-the-week plot seem fresh. If I can figure out how, I'll make a million bucks on my own terrorist-of-the-week books.

Anyway it's sad to see what looks like the last of the U.S. editions, unless I want to pay an arm and a leg for the '70s Pinnacle paperbacks, and I might just do that. As flawed as he can be, de Villiers knows how to tell a story, and that's always a good thing.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Ed Gorman--A Few Thoughts

My thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends of Ed Gorman tonight. I returned from the memorial service of my girlfriend's grandfather today to learn of Mr. Gorman's passing, so it's been a long day.

I only knew Mr. Gorman through his writing, and while he didn't necessarily help shape my voice, he contributed to the development of it, and exposed me to other writers whom I may not have discovered myself.

My initial exposure to Mr. Gorman's work came through the first Black Lizard short story anthology, which had been a Christmas gift one year. I must have read his introduction a thousand times, because he talked about the pulp writers of yesteryear with such enthusiasm and awe that it was contagious. I went hunting for every author he named--Vin Packer. Peter Rabe. Lionel White. Many others. If I found a Gold Medal book in a used bookshop, I grabbed it, because he spoke of Gold Medal as if it were the Bible, and everything within was sacred writing.

He was right, most of the time. He said those authors wrote more about life than plot, and those authors showed me there was a lot more one could put into a story than blondes, bombs, and quasi-Bonds. Black hats weren't necessarily bad, and the white hats weren't always good; the gray hats were the ones you could trust.

He wrote so lovingly of John D. McDonald that I built a small collection of John D.'s work, and when Mr. Gorman said that writers should memorize Dead Low Tied, I went out and bought it. I read that book cover-to-cover on a flight to Montana once. He was right again. Wonderful book.

Mr. Gorman wrote of the pulps with such affection and you could tell he wanted to show us the best of the best, and any anthology that had his name on it, I grabbed. I'm sure I'm missing a few, and it might be nice to find a complete bibliography (I'm sure one exists) for the books I'm missing. His introductions to each story were also well thought out and gave you an insight into the author presented, and I may not have liked every story, but I read every word just to see if he was right.

And then there was his own work. I didn't read all of his books, but I read enough of them. He showed me a western could be as modern as anything Hammett or Parker put down, and made me want to write one someday (which I have, for the Blaze! series; more to come on that in the future).

Mr. Gorman is responsible for one of the most moving, chilling, and, I think, best short stories ever written with "The Long Silence After". I dare anybody to read that and not still be thinking about it ten years later, and after only one read too. That story sits with Block's Eight Million Ways to Die and Goodis' "Black Pudding" and Reasoner's "Graveyard Shift" as stories you can never forget even if you try, and why would you want to? Mr. Gorman's stories had heart. They were real. He believed what he was writing and it showed. No shortcuts or gimmicks.

I owe Mr. Gorman a lot for exposing me to the kind of power storytelling can have, and inspiring me to want to create that kind of power myself.

His path to publication was also inspiring. When, as a 20-something, I read that he hadn't published until he was in his 40s, I decided that I could take my time and not feel the need to rush. Oddly, I'm now in my 40s, and there is so much to talk about outside my independent publishing efforts that I don't know where to start. More to come as deals develop. Ludlum and Fleming didn't publish until their 40s as well. Maybe there's something about one's life experience that makes that age the combustion point for a writing career. We'll see.

Ed Gorman is gone but his legacy remains; he touched a lot of lives, and probably never knew just how many. But we are out there, and we will carry on writing about this crazy mixed up world so future generations can, maybe, make sense of it.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Interview with Andrew Warren, Author of Tokyo Black

Andrew Warren is a new kid on the block that y'all better look over your shoulder for. His series character, Thomas Caine, might seem like just another Jack Bauer, and maybe that's a good thing, but what Warren brings to the table is a pair of books set in the Far East, rendered in terrific detail. Almost as if he's been there. It's nice to see a protagonist working a different beat than Europe, New York, and Los Angeles. I was very impressed with Warren's first effort, Devil's Due, and signed up for his email list to get a free copy of his newest, Tokyo Black, which I reviewed on Amazon. I also contacted him for a chat.

Brian Drake: Tell us about Thomas Caine and how he came to be. Why did you choose the Far East as his stomping ground?
 
Andrew Warren: I think most authors have a hard time describing exactly where their ideas really come from.  I had tried starting a few novels in the past, but I lacked the motivation to complete them, or I just wasn’t secure enough in my writing. 

Then, after years of unsuccessful starts and stops with writing, I guess I had a “get busy living or get busy dying” moment, to quote Shawshank Redemption.  I had some personal ups and downs, and I was working in a job I really didn’t enjoy.  I decided I would use my writing as an escape. 

I was suddenly really driven and passionate about it, and I wanted to get started quickly.  I figured if I went with a mystery / thriller story, I could sort out some of the plot elements out as I went along.  Caine just popped into my head as the perfect protagonist for that kind of story.  Sort of an “anti-James Bond”, a shadowy figure who didn’t know exactly what he was getting himself into, or who he could trust.  Someone scarred and left bitter by betrayal and guilt.  I think I, like a lot of people, can relate to those feelings, although obviously on a much smaller scale than Caine!  I named him after Michael Caine, one of favorite actors.

I chose Japan as the setting because I had visited there in the past, and the place made a huge impression on me.  I absolutely loved it… the food, the culture, everything.  A good friend of mine thinks I must have been a samurai in a past life or something.  Tokyo is such an amazing city, and Kyoto is probably my favorite spot on the planet.  I figured that if I was going to give myself a fighting chance of finishing a novel, I had better set it somewhere I loved writing about.  Japan was that place for me.  Once I made that decision, the other Far East locations, like Thailand, just kind of fell into place. 

BD: How did you start writing?

AW: As a child, I was a huge comic book fan. What I really wanted to be was a comic book artist.  But the fact was, I couldn’t draw.  So I started writing little stories about superheroes, secret agents, talking animals… All the stuff I loved.  I didn’t really think of it as “fiction writing” at that age.  I was just describing the things I wished I could draw. 

As I got older, I discovered the short stories of Robert E. Howard and H.P. Lovecraft.  A light switch flipped in my brain.  I knew I didn’t have the patience to finish a novel at that age.  But a short story seemed manageable.  I began writing these stories about a red-haired barbarian called “Hiatus” (I have no idea why I chose that word for his name.)  I would turn them in as free-writing assignments in my high school English class.  Eventually, my teacher started asking about them.  “Hey, when do I get the next Hiatus story?”

From that point on, I never really stopped writing.  I studied film at the University of Miami, and immediately gravitated towards screenwriting.  But I also double-majored in English, and kept writing short stories and things on the side.

BD: What is something, other than reading great books, that fuels your imagination for your own stories?


AW: Well, one obvious influence is travel.  My trip to Japan was a huge source of inspiration for me.  There are some locations and characters that I pulled directly from my experiences there.  In Tokyo Black, Caine interacts with some yakuza gangsters that use a koi farm as their base of operations.  I wandered into that location one night, just walking around the city.  It was exactly as I described it in the book, right down to the old man singing to the koi.  I didn’t really see any yakuza there, but just the image of those plastic kiddie pools filled with beautiful fish stuck with me over the years.

Another source of inspiration that might sound a bit strange is playing video games.  I’m just a casual gamer, but I do enjoy them.  Games these days are incredible… they can provide full-blown narrative experiences, filled with immersive action, drama, and excitement (plus a lot of frustration if you’re as bad at them as I sometimes am!)  Every now and then, I’ll be playing an action-packed game, and it just hits me.  “Hey, Caine could use a move like this!” or “I could use a location like this in a Caine story!” The scene in Devil’s Due, where Caine crawls under the jungle cabin, was inspired by playing one of the Far Cry games.

BD: Writing for the Kindle and e-reader audience can be pretty daunting. How do you keep up on the demands of both writing and promotion and chasing the constant carrot that is ebook success? What has worked for you so far?

AW: I’m only two books in, so I’m still a newbie at this!  But I will say the number one thing that held me back from doing this sooner was lack of confidence.  And in retrospect, it was pretty silly of me.  I was writing first drafts, they’re not supposed to be perfect!  I knew that intellectually, but somehow I would still read my rough drafts and think, “This isn’t good enough.”  What I should have said was “OK, here’s something rough.  Now, how do I make it better?”

I also think it’s important not to get too hung up on any one step.  There are a lot of moving parts in self-publishing.  I try to keep it simple.  Write, edit, publish, promote.  Then, do it again.  If it doesn’t go perfectly… welcome to the human race!  Nothing is ever perfect.  I’ll improve on the next one. Then something else will go wrong, and I’ll fix it on the next one, etc.

I think it’s incredibly important not to fall into “Lottery thinking.”  That’s the classic dream that one book, or one screenplay, will hit it big.  You’ll be a huge star, make millions of dollars, and retire to a beach somewhere.  Hey, it could happen, but I think being able to make a living writing – that’s the real reward.  You have to work towards that, and whatever else comes is a nice extra.

I try to remind myself of the line from Creed, when Rocky trains his young protégé.  “One step, one round, one punch, one fight.”  Right now, I’ve just published my second book.  A few years ago, that was inconceivable to me.  People have bought it, and they’ve actually read it.  And based on the reviews, they really like it!  That’s my dream, right there! We’ll just have to see what comes next.     
  
BD: What drew you to espionage? If you weren't writing espionage, which subject matter do you think you'd tackle?

AW: Growing up, my hero was James Bond.  Arnold and Stallone were the big action stars then, but I was just a little scrawny kid.  I knew I could never be a huge, muscle bound avenger like those guys.  But Bond got by on his wits, charm, and an arsenal of super-spy gadgets.  That was something I could aspire to!

Then, as I got older, I discovered other great action characters, like Mark Hardin, Jason Bourne, and John Rain… I think there’s something about the lone hero with a gun, up against a dark, corrupt world, that really appeals to me.  When you strip away all the action and politics, spy thrillers are very personal stories… At least, the ones I like are.  How far will you go, where do you draw the line, how do navigate the grey space between black and white?  What is honor in today’s world?  It’s almost a modern evolution of film noir, and the classic private eye stories of Chandler, Hammet, and others. 

Before Caine, most of my writing was in the horror genre.  Recently, I was one of the lead writers for the YouTube Red series Fight of the Living Dead.  It premieres in August, and features a bunch of YouTube stars trapped in a simulated zombie apocalypse.   It’s really wild… a hybrid of narrative and reality TV. 
  
BD: What's next for you and Thomas Caine?

AW: Well, Tokyo Black just launched… so I’m hoping it will sell millions and I can go retire on a beach somewhere.  Ha!  Just kidding.

I’m about a third of the way through the next Caine thriller. This one is set in China, another place I really loved visiting.  Now that promotions are just about over for Tokyo Black, I’m looking forward to getting back to writing.  I also have the first couple chapters of another Caine novella started.  I really enjoyed working on Devil’s Due, and I’d love to space out the novels with some shorter works featuring Caine and his friends.

I also have some ideas brewing for a kind of noir-ish take on a space opera series.  That’s pretty far down the road through.  I want to get through at least two more Caine books first.

Thank you for having me on your site Brian, I really appreciate it!  It was fun taking a look back at the creation of Caine.

Please check out Devil’s Due, and Tokyo Black, out now on Amazon!  If you want to know more about my books and what I’m working on, you can visit my website at www.andrewwarrenbooks.com.  Or look for me on Facebook, @andrewwarrenbooks


I’d also like to add that the self-publishing community is incredibly supportive and helpful, and I’d like to do my part.  If anyone has any questions about writing or self-publishing, please don’t hesitate to drop me a line through my website.  I’ll do my best to answer!