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  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!

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Interview with Lisa Hughey, Author of the Black Cipher Files

When I got the idea for a romantic suspense story (Bulletproof Hearts, which languishes because I'm too busy to schedule promotions), I decided to take a whirlwind tour through the genre in its current form. My search led me to, among others, Lisa Hughey, and her Black Cipher Files trilogy, which grabbed my attention because the books were very similar to what I had in mind. So I bought the box set, and started reading, and didn't come up for air for about a week.

It's been a long time since a spy story really kept me guessing. Thrillers are such a staple of my reading diet that it's easy to become jaded with the formula, and if you're in the same frame of mind, these are the books you need to remind you how exciting thrillers can be. It's a linked trilogy of different protagonists solving the same mystery. That's all I can say without giving too much away, but if you think that's a tough way to tell a story, think the exact opposite instead. Lisa pulls it off with great skill. And the good news is, there will be books in the series (so we can look forward to the fourth and fifth books in the trilogy, hahaha).

I invited Lisa for a chat about the Black Cipher books, her current projects, and more about her career.

Brian Drake: The Black Cipher Files felt like a modern interpretation of a Robert Ludlum book, with the wide scope and roller-coaster ride of "who can you trust?" moments. Have you read a lot of espionage novels, or did you take the plunge following your best judgement?

Lisa Hughey: Brian, first of all, thank you so much for having me here, and comparing (even in just the slightest manner) my work to Ludlum! A long time ago, before I was writing, I read Le Carré and other thriller writers. I love movie thrillers, and the Bourne trilogy is a personal favorite. However, I didn’t really study them, I mostly started with a “what if?” and went from there. I read a fascinating book on the National Security Agency, and besides all the research details, when I read about TICOM (a joint task force between the US and Britain from WWII) and the fact that information about what happened to the code-breakers captured in Germany in 1945 is STILL classified, I was hooked. What happened to all those people captured?

BD: The idea of telling one long story over three books with three separate protagonists is very intriguing. I had to buy the box set to see how you pulled it off, and it was very impressive. Did you chose that avenue because of the expectation that romance novels will have a definitive end? Was it hard to write the books that way?

LH: In romance novels, typically (though not always) there are one set of main characters per full-length book, so I started out with the idea that I would write an over-arching plot through three books. I knew who my main characters were for the first two, and I knew Zeke would be the third hero but I didn’t really start thinking about Sunshine until I was part way through Betrayals. Was it hard? YES! I did know who the villain was at the beginning of Blowback but making sure I tied up all the loose ends and that I continued to weave plot through all three books without irritating readers and leaving too many open-ended questions at the end of Blowback and Betrayals was tough. There were a few points while writing Burned that I wanted to tear my hair out.

BD: You have the first three big Black Cipher novels where we learn the mystery of Department 5491, and now there is a Black Cipher #4 available. Will there be more such adventures or have we reached the end?

LH: So the most current Black Cipher book, featuring Barb the scientist who appears in all three original series books, actually has to do with a mystery from South Korea in 1980. I wanted to continue in the vein of using historical events that impact the future but the Dept 5491 storyline was definitely played out. I absolutely love this story, but it is a little different from the first three. Sort of a Die Hard meets the Black Cipher Files.  We haven’t reached the end. My plan is for a book featuring Bella (who we meet in Blowback), Kat (who we meet in Betrayals), and one with Carson and his wife Antoinette. These will be shorter works, more along the lines of Dangerous Game (#4). I’m still working on story lines for these. I expect Carson’s story will be out in 2017. Bella and Kat are yet to be decided!

BD: You have, of course, written other books. Can you tell us more about Family Stone and the Archangel stories? Of your body of work, so far, which are you most happy with?

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LH: The Family Stone series is a romantic suspense series about a blended family of siblings who all have the same father but different mothers. I wanted to explore family dynamics as well as love stories against a backdrop of danger. These stories are much shorter and less complex plot wise with another over-arching thread that runs through all of the books. The oldest brother, Jack, forms a humanitarian aid company that goes all over the world and does good works but the company is also a cover for their more covert endeavors. I had a lot of fun creating the family and finding just the right love interests for each sibling. The final book in that series, Cold As Stone, came out last October but I am currently working on a spin off series, ALIAS, that features secondary characters we met in the Family Stone series.

The Archangel stories are a bit of a departure from my regular thriller/suspense work. These are paranormal stories about the seven archangels who inhabit the Angelic Realm and are tasked as guardians to earth and the Human Realm. Each archangel falls in love with a human which is strictly forbidden. There is a suspense plot in each one (of course!) that drives the romantic relationship but these books too deal a little bit more with family dynamics and there is an over-arching enemy because I seem to be incapable of writing books that are not interconnected.

BD: How did you start writing?

LH: I started writing while I rode to work on the train into San Francisco. I had read a few books in a row where I was dissatisfied with the endings and I found myself re-writing the ending in my head. I thought, I can do better than that! Of course, that was just the beginning because writing is hard work. It took a long time to learn my craft and let my voice come out instead of trying to sound like someone else.

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

LH: I absolutely LOVE research. I read a lot of nonfiction espionage books. I’ve read books on the CIA, the NSA, the FBI HRT guys, snipers, former SEALs, former case officers, old US/Russian espionage lines. I read papers by research institutes and think tanks. I try not to get super technical but if I have an interesting plot device or trick or trap in my stories, typically it is something I found in my research and is based on something that really happened. Most of my plots and story lines spring from “what if?” scenarios that pop into my head while I’m reading the research.

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?

LH: Promotion is my nemesis. I would rather write ten books than promote but it is necessary in our current climate. I’m still searching for ways to market and promote that I’m comfortable with and that won’t take up too much time. Writing is my happy place so I try to spend the bulk of my time playing around with plot and characters. The positive of the explosion of ebooks is that it has allowed more writers a voice for their work, especially if you write books that straddle more than one genre. And because we have cut out middlemen we can give the reader a less expensive book. The negative is that there are so many voices out there. I do believe that if you put your head down and stay true to your process and to your stories that eventually your audience will find you. This isn’t to say that you can sit back and do no promotion, but I also think that it’s a slow build so I advertise my free books, I do Facebook parties (I love interacting with readers), I network with other writers and cross promote their work, and I keep writing.

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BD: What drew you to romance and romantic suspense in particular? Was that what you liked to read or is that where the money was? If you weren't writing romance, which subject matter do you think you'd tackle?

LH: I started reading romance when I was a teenager. Mary Stewart, Elizabeth Peters/Barbara Michaels, Nora Roberts were and are some of my all-time favorite writers. I also read thrillers and some science fiction but my favorite books are ones that have a central romance. I love the double satisfaction of the triumph of good over evil and the girl gets the boy.

I think if you write for the money, it shows. Writing is intensely personal, and if you are following a trend that’s when readers can sense that your heart isn’t really in it.

If I wasn’t writing romance, I think I’d write in a futuristic post-apocalyptic world after a massive disaster resets the human race. I have no plans to write in that world right now but I do play around with ideas every now and again.

BD: What upcoming books can you tell us about?

LH: The current series I’ve been working on is The Nostradamus Prophecies based on the premise that Nostradamus really was able to see the future, but that it isn’t set in stone. He creates a family book of companion quatrains that is passed down from generation to generation. The current descendant has to decipher the quatrains and stop them from coming true to prevent WWIII. While she is crucial to the stories, she is not the heroine in the first two books. The series features a group of psychic warriors in the CIA’s Project Specter. They use remote viewing for surveillance and intelligence gathering. This is based on a program that actually existed in the CIA in the 1970s. This series combines espionage and paranormal elements. The second book in the series, Never Say Never, released on July 14th. Here’s the blurb:

A very special team of operatives goes deep into Mexican cartel territory … but their point man would rather go deep with the cartel boss's daughter.

This hero doesn't do guns, gangs or crying women … Kelvin Jackson has had a lifetime's worth of all three.  But thanks to his remote viewing of the inside of a remote cartel compound in Mexico, he's in for a lot more. He spots the Russian-made weapons his team is after, and a beautiful woman in mortal danger. His mission--stop the weapons from being distributed by the cartel. Can he do this and save the woman?

She needs a man who'll stop at nothing to save her … Eva Pacheco has watched her father kill everyone who mattered--except her younger brother. Now he uses her bruja powers for profit. She's getting ready to flee with her brother. But the huge, battle-scarred American her father just hired steps square in the middle of her escape route.

If they don't work together, the next deaths will be their own … Eva is irresistibly drawn to the warrior who saves her from a brutal attack, and shields her from her father. But she can't let their sizzling attraction interfere with the plan she's already put in play. Kel soon realizes a different woman lives under her glamorous façade. But her explosive secrets place his entire op in danger--because someone else has a deadly plan for the cache of weapons, and for Eva.

Also, if your readers are interested, the first book, View To A Kill is on sale for $0.99 right now.

BD: I better get out the credit card!

LH: Thank you so much!