Friday, June 21, 2013

Nobody Dies For Free

I once commented that being a writer is like having a big box of action figures and getting paid to play with them. It's also a profession that makes dreams come true, in the sense that we can "do" all the things we've wanted, in our imaginations, to do by living through the characters we put onto the page. In the years since I began writing, I've had many opportunities to write things that relate to ideas and concepts that have been very important to the development of my imagination. I've written, and seen published, stories featuring some of my favorite fictional characters, like Sherlock Holmes and Allan Quatermain. I've also had chances to create my own characters and throw them headfirst into interesting situations in books and stories in various genres. I've had the chance to play with vampires and detectives and zombies.

Today, I'm happy to announce that another writing dream has come true. I am now officially the author of a published spy novel, Nobody Dies for Free, just released by Pro Se Productions. Nobody Dies for Free is the story of Richard Monroe, a former CIA operative pulled back into the world of espionage and intrigue following a personal tragedy. I'll let the back cover copy speak for itself:

And I'll give everyone a good look at the front cover too:

So now that the book has officially been thrust out into public availability, maybe I should talk a bit about how it came to be that I'd write a book in that particular genre.

I first became aware of the spy genre, as I suspect many people did, through the James Bond movies. I must have been six or seven when I saw my first one. I became a big fan of those movies and eventually of Ian Fleming's Bond novels too. As the years went on, I came to enjoy other spy fiction as well, some as fun and occasionally over-the-top as Bond or Mission: Impossible, some much more serious, like the novels of John Le Carre, and some in-between the two extremes, stuff like the Jason Bourne movies. Having long had an interest in that type of story, I suppose it was inevitable that I'd eventually write my own. The several stories I've written featuring my pulp hero, Hound-Dog Harker, are sort of in the spy genre, but are period pieces with elements of horror and science-fiction thrown in too, so I'm not sure if they really count. As far as a contemporary spy story, which is what Nobody Dies for Free is, it was the accidental creation of the book's title that finally set things in motion.   

My wife and I were in the car one evening--I don't remember what the topic of conversation was--when I spoke that phrase for the first time: "nobody dies for free." My wife's immediate reaction was to point out that it sounds like it could be one of Ian Fleming's titles. Of course, Fleming is long gone and so he'll never use it, but I decided then and there to jot it down for future use of my own. Then I forgot about it for a while.

At some point after that, I got a great deal on DVDs of the James Bond movie series, everything from DR. NO to DIE ANOTHER DAY for under a hundred dollars. I watched them all in order for the first time (I'd seen them all before, some many times, but never in order of production). I had a blast revisiting the early installments with Sean Connery and George Lazenby, but then I got into the Roger Moore years and thought it would be a bit of a chore getting through that era, as the 1970s and early 80s Bond strayed far from Fleming's serious spy fiction and went too far with its gadgets and jokes. But as I got into those films, I began to notice something. While those movies are quite silly much of the time, there are moments scattered in there where Roger Moore plays Bond straight and is, for brief scenes, as ruthless and deadly as the Connery and Dalton versions. In The Man with the Golden Gun, he very brutally interrogates the character played by Maud Adams. In For Your Eyes Only, he kicks a car off a cliff with people inside it!

Seeing those scenes for the first time in years, my mind began to wander and I started to think what it might have been like if Roger Moore had been in darker, more serious Bond movies. That was the beginning of Nobody Dies for Free. 

Now that's not to suggest that Richard Monroe is directly based on Roger Moore and this hypothetical Bond he perhaps could have played. That meandering of my mind was just the first little seed of Monroe. My character quickly grew into someone else as I started to write the book.

He has certain similarities to James Bond and many other fictional spies: he's handsome, brave, sneaky, ruthless, and enjoys the company of beautiful women. But he's his own person too. He rarely uses clever gadgets and is more likely to rely on just his wits, his gun, his car, and a cell phone. He's American, though his personality has also been shaped by the time he's spent in many parts of the world. He doesn't work for a large organization like the CIA or FBI, although he used to. Now he's much more a solo agent, taking on missions too secret or sensitive for the more official agencies.

It wasn't just Bond and the other fictional spy worlds I mentioned earlier that had an impact on my writing the book. I wrote Nobody Dies for Free at roughly the same time as I was discovering what quickly became one of my favorite TV series of all-time, the British spy drama Spooks (retitled MI-5 when shown in the United States, presumably because while "spook" is slang for spy in the UK, it has, unfortunately, been used as a racial slur in the US). If you happen to be a fan of spy series, you must check out Spooks. But be warned: this is serious stuff and no one is safe! Characters die, brutally and often. It's a wild ride. 86 episodes of edge of your seat entertainment.

Anyway, back to Richard Monroe. I wrote the novel, was very happy with the result, and submitted it to a publisher I've worked with many times before, Pro Se Productions. They accepted it and here we are about a year later with the book now available to readers, and I'm thrilled!

As with any book, an author can't do it alone. I want to sincerely thank everyone involved in this book's birth: Tommy Hancock and Morgan Minor of Pro Se, Perry Constantine, who did the brilliant editing, and Ariane Soares, who created a cover that is exactly what I wanted for this book!

And, speaking of that cover, if Richard Monroe looks slightly familiar to anyone, his face is loosely based on that (in a younger version) of actor Iain Glen of Game of Thrones. The first time I saw Iain Glen on screen, he reminded me of a rougher, tougher Roger Moore, so a face somewhat modeled on his fits Monroe quite well, I think.

So that's how Nobody Dies for Free came into existence. I hope everyone has as much fun reading it as I did writing it. I look forward to hearing what readers have to say once they've met Richard Monroe!

Nobody Dies for Free is now available at Amazon in a print edition or as an e-book.      

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Into the Jungle Again

Today, I'm absolutely thrilled to announce the release of a book that includes my latest story. QUATERMAIN: THE NEW ADVENTURES includes a pair of novellas featuring one of the most famous adventure characters of the 19th century, H. Rider Haggard's Allan Quatermain!

Here's the official press release and the book's gorgeous cover.


Airship 27 Productions is extremely thrilled to announce the release of our newest pulp collection starring a classic adventure hero loved by millions.

British adventure writer H. Rider Haggard’s most popular fictional character was Allan Quatermain, the irascible African big game hunter.  As the hero of the classic KING SOLOMON’S MINES, Quatermain immediately fired up the imagination of readers across the world and created an instant demand for more of his adventures.

Now Airship 27 Productions answers that on-going demand by presenting two brand new Allan Quatermain novellas, each filled with plenty of suspense, action and exotic African locales.  When a French river boat pilot discovers elephant ivory suffused with gold, it sends the expert guide on a quest to find a fabled elephant’s graveyard to learn answer to the “GOLDEN IVORY” by Alan J. Porter.  

Next a na├»ve American lad follows Quatermain deep into the jungle to find eight missing English women only to uncover an ancient evil capable of possessing the bodies of its victims in Aaron Smith’s chilling “TEMPLE OF LOST SOULS.”

“We couldn’t ask for more fast paced, exciting yarns these two these,” beams Airship 27 Productions’ Managing Editor, Ron Fortier.  “The affection our writers hold for this character was obvious throughout their stories and we fully expect Quatermain fans to agree.  This is really old fashioned pulp fun.”

Here two are complete tales that will thrill veteran fans and introduce a whole new generation to one of the most famous adventure heroes of all time; H. Rider Haggard’s Allan Quatermain.

AIRSHIP 27 PRODUCTIONS – Pulps for a New Generation!

Now available from Amazon as a hard copy and soon on Kindle.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

7 Books That Changed My Life

Early this morning, on my way to sit down and check my e-mail, I caught a glimpse of my bookshelves and something made me stop for a minute and look. Hundreds of books stared back at me, many I've read at least once, some I've read many times, and quite a few I just haven't gotten around to yet. But among those many volumes are a handful that, for one reason or another, had such an impact on my mind (and heart too, in some cases) that they literally changed who I am to one degree or another, either by introducing me to a new genre or interest or doing something to inspire my writing or maybe even changing the way I think about the world we live in, or the worlds we could live in if things were just different enough to shift reality into something other than our familiar realm of existence. In appreciation of those personally important works, here is a list of seven books that really had an impact on me. There are others too, but these are the ones that jumped out at me today.

I first "met" Sherlock Holmes when I was about 8, via the British TV series starring Jeremy Brett as the Great Detective. I was fascinated by everything: Holmes' brilliance and eccentricities, his colorful adversaries, his loyal companion Watson, and all the details that go to make up a mystery. My grandfather, noticing my interest in one of his favorite fictional characters, found his own copy of the complete Holmes canon, the one he'd owned since his boyhood in the 1930s, and gave it to me for Christmas. I still have it today and still refer to it anytime I need to double check something for the new Holmes stories that I've had the privilege to be allowed to write for Airship 27 Productions for the past few years. My love of detective stories began with Holmes, but certainly didn't end there. If not for Doyle's work, I wonder if I ever would have followed that fascination and found Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot or Peter Falk's brilliant portrayal of Lt. Columbo or countless other literary or film detectives.

CASINO ROYALE by Ian Fleming
The aforementioned Sherlock Holmes is probably my favorite fictional character, but also pretty high up on that list is James Bond. Like with Holmes, I knew Bond on screen before I ever met the literary version. To me, in my early childhood, Bond looked like Sean Connery or Roger Moore or Timothy Dalton or George Lazenby. When I did finally get to read Fleming's books, I began with the first one, Casino Royale. I'm glad that was the first one he wrote and the first one I read, because it had not, at the time, been made into a movie yet. Had I read, say, Goldfinger, first, I probably would have had images of Sean Connery and Gert Frobe running through my head the whole time. But because the first 007 story I read was not a movie yet, Fleming's words had their effect on me without cinematic memories getting in the way. Because of this, the Bond I see when I read Fleming is different than the guy in the movies, and hopefully closer to what Fleming intended. I like both Bonds now, the movie version and the one that comes in words on the page. My own first spy novel, coming soon, was inspired by both versions of Bond, as well as by all the spy fiction I read later after first discovering the genre because of Ian Fleming.

DRACULA by Bram Stoker
Forget every movie version of the famous vampire count. Forget the handsome face of Christopher Lee. Forget the romantic baggage added on to the character in Francis Ford Coppola's adaptation. Let all that slide out of your mind and lose yourself in the novel upon which all those movies were not-quite-based. Don't get me wrong, I love some of those movies, especially the Hammer ones, but this is the real Dracula, and one of the best (worst?) villains in literature. Stoker's choice in telling the story as a series of letters and journal entries was particularly inspired, as it allows the story to unfold as the characters experience it, letting the reader know just slightly more than any individual character does at any given moment. Of course, the two characters who actually have a firm understanding of just how dangerous things are getting, Dracula himself, and Van Helsing, aren't included in the narration (except for one section by Van Helsing toward the very end). Dracula is a slow, chilling, crawling, deepening nightmare of a book that will drag you in and not let go until you've made it to the end. It reaches a point where you must know what will happen next. That's the book that really cemented my love of vampire fiction and what eventually led to my writing 100,000 Midnights, the first of my own vampire series.

 When I was a kid, reading books meant for kids, a story was often just a story and the words were just there to move it along from one event to the next and eventually to its conclusion. I knew that things had to happen in stories, but I don't recall, at a young age, giving much thought to how important it was for some writers (the best writers, maybe) to choose which words served the story best. And then I discovered Ray Bradbury. Words never looked quite the same to me after that. Bradbury used them to build atmosphere, alter mood, make a story so much more than just a series of words describing events. I don't know if I can explain it any better than that, but I do know that The October Country  is my favorite of Bradbury's books, a wonderful collection of short stories, including such classics of horror and speculative fiction as "The Watchful Poker Chip of H. Matisse," "Skeleton," "The Man Upstairs," and many more.

THE BEST OF H.P. LOVECRAFT: Bloodcurdling Tales of Horror and the Macabre
I've since read almost all of Lovecraft's fiction and own many editions holding various stories in various orders under various groupings, but this sampler was my first taste of the absolutely unique sort of storytelling that we now call "Lovecraftian."
Lovecraft's work, so I've heard people say, isn't for everybody. Some people find it too thick with extravagant adjectives and antiquated phraseology and cyclopian....see? It's contagious!
But seriously, there's nothing else in the world like Lovecraft. Whether it's his Cthulhu stories or the Dream Cycle or anything in between, it's a unique, thrilling, often horrifying blend of myth, horror, and science fiction, a genre unto itself.

HYPERSPACE by Michio Kaku
As much as I love science-fiction, I'm also very interested in science fact. One of my favorite subjects is quantum physics. Although I'm fascinated by the concepts and theories, I'll come right out and honestly admit that I don't understand the complicated mathematics behind them. Dr. Kaku's book explains the amazing ideas of modern physics in an entertaining way that makes them clear, and even more interesting, to a mathematically-inept reader like me. You won't see your "reality" in the same way after reading this or any of his other books.

This is my favorite novel in the world. A mind-altering blend of Egyptian mythology and science-fantasy told in a way that I don't think any other writer can ever replicate, I was never quite the same after reading this for the first time and, strangely and wonderfully, it seems just slightly different with each subsequent reading, as if there are always nuances that remain hidden until I'm ready to discover them.
It starts out with a unique present-tense third person narrative, drifts into poetry in unexpected places, and ends as a play! Zelazny, it seems, was willing to break any rule, stretch any boundary, and do anything to get this story told, and it works perfectly.
As I've been writing this blog entry, I've realized something. Perhaps the reason I love this novel so much is that it really includes, in some way or another, all the qualities that make the other books on this list so special to me. "Creatures" gives the reader the intellectual exercise of a Sherlock Holmes mystery, the suspense of Bond, villains as terrifying as Dracula, epic events as cosmic in scope as anything Lovecraft ever imagined, exquisitely crafted prose worthy of Bradbury, and mind-bending concepts that could very well have come from (or might even go beyond) the things discussed in Hyperspace.
"Creatures" is a short book. The edition I have here is only 190 pages, but it packs more punch than any other book I've ever read. I can't really say it's influenced my writing, because I could never be as bold as Roger Zelazny when it comes to finding a truly new way to tell a story, but it's certainly influenced my imagination, and I think that's even more important.