Monday, December 7, 2015

Interview with Stephen Mertz

I am very happy to present to you an interview with Stephen Mertz, probably one of the best action/adventure writers working the beat.

Stephen recently released a book of his short fiction, The King of Horror and Other Stories, and you need to get this one. Short punchy fiction is an art form; Mertz shines from beginning to end, and includes a personal essay where he retraces his career and provides insight into his fast-paced writing world. You may know him from his work on Mack Bolan, MIA Hunter, and a whole bunch of other books, including the new Blaze! western series from Rough Edges Press.

However, he can talk about all this better than I can, so. . . 

Brian Drake: Please tell us about your new story collection.

Stephen Mertz: This past year has been a busy and fun one for me. I wrote three novels and, including reprints, had six books published. The crown jewel is The King of Horror & Other Stories, a complete collection of my published short fiction. I’m proud of these stories. The collection is a distillation of my work in terms of genres and themes.
BD: When did you start writing, and when did you decide to make that a career?

Stephen Mertz
SM: Wrote my first story at age thirteen. Decided to make writing a career as soon as I found out that one could make it a career.
BD: What is something, other than reading great books, that fuels your imagination for your own stories?

SM: Women!
BD: Ha! The good ones and bad ones, right? Especially the bad. . . 

After being in the business for so long, do you find your level of enthusiasm has increased, or remained the same, from when you started? Did you ever consider an easier line of work, such as a high-wire act?

SM: Man, in this business if you ain’t enthused, don’t even bother showing up. From the writer’s perspective, there’s much to be enthused about. New markets opening up, avenues for getting our work to the audience, it’s like the dawn of television or the paperback original. Anything goes, and I work well under those conditions. I haven’t self-published yet but I certainly wouldn’t rule it out. The opportunities for writers, thanks to our digital age, are more abundant than any I’ve known since I broke in.

BD: When I was avidly reading The Executioner series in high school, I'd always look forward to a book with your name on the copyright page. Did you enjoy working on Mack Bolan? How did you come to write what many fans consider classics of the series, such as Day of Mourning and Dead Man Running?

SM: Thank you for the kind words. I had an edge in that Don Pendleton and I were personal friends, so I went into the Gold Eagle program with a solid knowledge of the character and series up to that point. I enjoyed writing a dozen titles about Mack Bolan but remember, that’s when I was just getting started. I felt like I was traveling on borrowed gas. I have my own stories to tell.

BD: Other Bolan titles, such as Beirut Payback and Save the Children, are terrific titles that elevated The Executioner above many action series of the day. Did you have a free hand with content, or did Gold Eagle force you into the formula that a lot of what you might have wanted to do got left out?

SM: I had a free hand. Again, my friendship with Don carried clout. None of the GE editors understood jack about what Don had created and sold to them. They were corporate suits filling slots in a publishing schedule. It was funny. When they flew me up to their HQ in Toronto for story conferences, all I needed to say was, “Well, Don always said…” and they’d all shush and start scribbling in their notebooks.

BD: Your MIA Hunter series is back in e-book form...are you surprised at the fan enthusiasm that still exists for this series? How do you see it fitting into the times we live in now?

SM: Not surprised in the least. With the current state of the thriller being primarily over-written, padded, top-heavy “doorstop books,” I’m happy to say that readers are embracing these shorter, faster, rough-and-tumble stories. As for the times we’re living through now, well, Mark Stone & Co. are alive and well and not just in reprint. I’m presently in the final revision phase of a new M.I.A. Hunter novel.
BD: What drew you to action/adventure? Or is that where the money was? If you weren't writing series books, would you have done your own action thrillers along the lines of Ludlum or Clancy?

SM: I’ve never made a career decision based on money. For me, it’s always about what I want to write. The same things drew me to the action/adventure genre as a writer that attracted you as a reader. Beyond my series work, I have written the standalone type of thriller you cite, starting with Blood Red Sun. These are available in e-book format. My complete bibliography can be found at James Patterson isn’t exactly looking over his shoulder yet, but reviews and sales have been favorable enough for me to continue in that direction.

BD: Other than Don Pendleton, which author taught you the most about the writing life?

SM: I’ve always enjoyed reading articles, biographies and interviews with writers even if I’ll never read their work. The process of writing interests me as much as the writing itself. Everyone and everything I’ve ever read has taught me something.

BD: Can you tell us a little about your relationship with Don?

SM: It started with a fan letter (from me to him, I hasten to add!), which led to me becoming his assistant while he was still being published by Pinnacle. Don recommended me to Gold Eagle when they took over the franchise, and we remained friends until his passing. Don’s widow, Linda, is one of my favorite people.

BD: Tell us about your western series, Blaze!, and where the idea for the series came from. What gave you the idea to bring in other writers rather than doing it all yourself?

SM: These are edgy, sexy, fast-action westerns. Try as I might I couldn’t think of any married, husband-wife gunfighter teams so I decided to give the genre a new wrinkle. The series is a ton of fun to write, and reader response has been enthusiastic. Rough Edges Press went with a bi-monthly release schedule. Since I cannot produce that fast, I was lucky in that some friends who also happen to be damn good writers agreed to contribute to the series.

BD: What are you working on next?

SM: A novel about Jimi Hendrix.

BD: Certainly sounds intriguing! Can't wait to see what you do. Thanks for stopping by, Stephen, and best of luck with The King of Horror and Other Stories.

1 comment:

  1. Great to read anything by (or, as here, about) Stephen Mertz. I'm looking forward to the short stories.