Friday, August 29, 2014

Interview With Thomas Pluck

Today we talk to Thomas Pluck, a writer who knows how to tell a ripping thrill-ride of a tale. If you're looking for non-stop action, check out his Blade of Dishonor.


What's the book about? Ninjas, and guns, and swords, and fights, and assassins, and a storyline that encompasses a time from World War II to the present.
Hooked yet? You should be, if you like action, because this book is jam-packed with flying fists and feet, bullets, and badmen.

He writes other stuff, too, but mostly likes it gritty and tough. He's doing Noir at the Bar these days in New York. After I met him at Bouchercon, I discovered we'd already appeared together in the same anthology, Nightfalls -- a collection of stories to help a children's charity.
You know-- tough guy with a heart of gold.
So let's get to know him a bit more...


Q: So how did this novel come to be? Was it envisioned from the start as a bigger canvas, or did it expand organically out of an idea? Please tell us a bit about the origin.

A: I was toying with the idea of a Rambo style story where a drifter veteran gets arrested because he can find a place to let him use their rest room, when David Cranmer of Beat to a Pulp Press approached me with the idea of an MMA fighter named Reeves battling a ninja clan over a treasured Japanese sword. Blade of Dishonor exploded from there. 

Q: Did you start with the germ of an idea and start writing to see where it went, or did you map a good deal out in your head (or even outline) before crafting?

A: I didn't outline at first, but once I knew where I wanted to go, with several set pieces, I put marks on the roadmap and figured out how to get there as I went. The story had a lot of steam, so it was easy to connect the dots.

Q: What do you feel is the main theme(s)?

A: That we all think we are heroes of our own story, and it comes down to how you comport yourself that decides what you are, in the end. Reeves, his grandpa Butch, the ninja clan, and others all want the sword for different reasons, but in the end, only one side is acting with honor.

Q: Why do you feel this is important, and what would you want a reader to take away from reading this book?

A: I love pulp adventures and thrillers, but I like complicated heroes and villains. I want the reader to know you can have a thrilling story and sympathetic villains who you still root against, who you want to see justice meted out upon. And from the reviews, I think I've accomplished that.

Q: What makes a good book or engaging story?

A: Ideas or locations that pique my curiosity, an interesting character with a good voice, that follows a plot where the ending or origin is in constant question. I love plenty of books where the story itself, the whodunnit, is already known. And let's face it, most of the time you know the protagonist will triumph. So where is the suspense? In the character. You want to see this particular person solve it, or work their way out of the problem.

Q: Are there writers with similar themes to yours? Who are your influences (can be writers, or even artists, musicians, or others) and what is it about their work that attracts you?

A: I consider my primary influences to be Andrew Vachss, James Lee Burke, Lawrence Block, and Joe R. Lansdale. The world is a dark place, but worth fighting for. Sometimes all a hero is, is someone who does right by the people most dear to him. His "family of choice," as Vachss would say. Musically, Bon Scott-era AC/DC, Warren Zevon, and the Pogues. With a little of Frank Zappa's sardonic satire. I love Daniel Woodrell's sense of place and how effortlessly he puts you into the minds of his characters. Robert Crais, the early Elvis Cole stuff and the Two Minute Rule are big favorites. Christa Faust, in how she focuses on the gladiators who sacrifice their bodies for our amusement, Josh Stallings and the way he digs up the filth we tolerate in our midst, and the rage he distills into every word. I also love Christopher Moore's insane sense of humor.

Q: Is storytelling mostly entertainment, or does it serve other functions? Do you have particular goals other than telling a good story?

A: In Blade of Dishonor, I wanted to tell the story of my uncles who fought in World War II, but also brush aside the mythology we've built around the war, to show the real people who fought it, without flinching from the brutal reality of war. I am a big fan of lesser-known history, the forgotten heroes and forgiven monsters, and I shined light on a few of them in between blistering action sequences.

Q: Any other goals you've set for yourself, professionally or personally?

A: As long as I can write the stories I want to write and find readers who enjoy them, I'm happy.

Q: Some writers write fast and claim not to rewrite much. Do you do this, or painstakingly revise? When you send the book off to the publisher, are you happy with it, or just tired of it?

A: I polish as I go, but I also revise several times afterward. I can always find something to change if I let myself keep picking at it. I'm happy when I finish, but also relieved.

Q: Do you have good editors, and if so, how do they help you? Do they look for particular things? Do you have different people for different editing levels?

A: I have a trio of crime writer friends that get the book first, because they have the most experience with the genre and books under their belt. Josh Stallings, Holly West, Neliza Drew, and Chad Eagleton. My friend and writer Lynn Beighley gets it next, because she's more of a literary writer and reader, and offers a different perspective.

Q: If a writer came to you for advice, how would you help?

A: It depends on what they're asking. I always preface advice with "this is what worked for me." Because we are all different, and there are no set rules. Write every day? Yes, works for some of us. Others do well writing on weekends, and holding down a day job. To quote my friend Wayne Dundee--author of the Joe Hannibal PI novels, and the creator of Hardboiled magazine--the one thing writers must do is "Persevere." A book has to be finished; craft must be honed; and as I'm sure you know, the road to publication is rockier than the road to Dublin.

Q: Stories can be told by using a different medium. Can you see your book as a film, audio, etc.? How would that alter the telling?

A: I'd love to see Blade of Dishonor as an action flick. I write visually, picturing scenes in my head. The cover artist based Reeves on Bradley Cooper. If he trains in MMA, he could play the part. I was raised on movies, so I imagine most of my work that way.

Q: What's the next step in your writing world?

A: I'm querying a crime thriller and revenge story titled Bury the Hatchet- here's the pitch:
When Jay Desmarteaux walks out of prison after serving 25 years for murdering a vicious school bully, he does his best to follow the advice of his convict mentor: the best revenge is living well. But his family has gone missing, and the favors he's owed from criminal cohorts have been flipped into debts. Old friends want him to disappear and new enemies want him dead. With his wits and his fists, Jay unravels a twisted tale of small town secrets and good old New Jersey corruption. He wanted to bury the hatchet… but someone's trying to bury him instead.
And I'm currently writing a comedic mystery about two guys who inherit a pub that becomes infested by hipsters, and someone is killing them off.

Q: Tell us a fun fact about yourself.

A: I can deadlift 555lbs and I also know how to crochet.

Q: Any other information you'd like to impart?

A: Write the stories you want to read.

---
Web page: http://www.thomaspluck.com

Where to buy: BookPeople, Barnes & Noble, Amazon

Monday, August 25, 2014

Middletown CT Fair

Yesterday I drove down to CT to sign books at the Open Air Market in Middletown at the Wadsworth Mansion. I'd like to thank the weather gods for an absolutely beautiful day.


We had a brisk day of selling books with Jason Harris and Stacey Longo, along with Joe Ross of Rosstrum Publishing. A good time with good people, including someone with news from my alternate life.

Even had a surprise drop-in visit from G. Elmer Munson, a fellow horror writer.

This was a repeat of the event from last year, where we had a bigger gang under the tent.

 




Going fierce to sell books!

 

Monday, August 18, 2014

Interview with Ray Daniel

A short time ago, I attended the book launch for Terminated, the debut novel by Ray Daniel. I read it and was so impressed, I figured everyone should know more about Ray and his work. So we asked him some questions, and here's what he had to say.

Q: So how did this novel come to be? Was it envisioned from the start as a bigger canvas, or did it expand organically out of an idea? Please tell us a bit about the origin.

A: In 2005, a company named Avant! plead no-contest to having stolen computer code from the industry leader, a company named Cadence. It turned out that Avant!’s main product was nothing but Cadence’s product repackaged.

That got me thinking that high tech could be a great backdrop for a mystery. My first image of the book, one that never made it in, was an opening scene where a drop of blood traveled along a computer’s case and dripped into a pool on the floor. I thought I’d tie that to stolen software. The image never made it into the book, but stolen software did.

Q: Did you start with the germ of an idea and start writing to see where it went, or did you map a good deal out in your head (or even outline) before crafting?

A: I start all my books with the tag line. If I can’t figure out the tag line then I know I’m not ready to write the book. For example the tag line for Tucker’s second book Corrupted Memory is “Tucker didn’t know he had a brother until the man was found murdered in front of Tucker’s house.”

Once I have the tag line I follow the three-act structure from movies. In fact, I want my stories to be like those movies that you can watch over and over even though you know the ending, such as The Matrix, Star Wars, Chinatown.

I use a structuring system called a “Beat Sheet” that I got from a fantastic book named Save the Cat by Blake Snyder. The system is simple and helps you figure out your story’s plot points. Once I have the beat sheet figured out I start writifng and make it up as I go from point to point.

Q: What do you feel is the main theme(s)?

A: Marriage is hard.

Q: Why do you feel this is important, and what would you want a reader to take away from reading this book?

A: In this case the theme rises organically out of the story, that is, I didn’t have it in mind when I wrote the book. I think the primary effect of a book’s theme is to increase the reader’s enjoyment. Themes give a novel an overarching coherence that feels satisfying when you reach the end of the story.

I don’t enjoy novels where an author with an axe to grind wrote a novel as a way to grind it. Isaac Asimov told of his editor who said, “If you want to give the reader a message, write a telegram.” I agree with that.

Q: What makes a good book or engaging story?

A: A great novel has multiple story lines that start out loosely connected but then collide and tangle and twist until they squeeze all the options out of the story, forcing the hero into an impossible situation.

Q: Are there writers with similar themes to yours? Who are your influences (can be writers, or even artists, musicians, or others) and what is it about their work that attracts you?

A: I became a mystery writer because of Robert B. Parker. Today I tell people that I write “first-person, wise-cracking, Boston-based mysteries.” Before I was a writer I told people that I liked to read “first-person, wise-cracking, Boston-based mysteries” and what I was essentially saying was that I liked to read more work like the Spenser books.

I’m also influenced by popular music, not so much by any particular artist, but by the process of invoking strong feelings in the audience quickly. Our first job as artists is to make the audience feel emotions. Pop music does that well.

Q: Is storytelling mostly entertainment, or does it serve other functions? Do you have particular goals other than telling a good story?

A: I imagine my reader buying a copy of Terminated in Logan Airport, flying to California while reading it, and not realizing that six hours has passed. Creating an experience in which the reader gets lost in the story, drawn along by the emotions and curiosity that it evokes, is my most important job.
That said, I think novels serve a vital role in society by increasing the empathy we feel for each other’s situations in life. But that empathy has to be the byproduct of a great story; it cannot be the novel’s primary thrust.

Q: Any other goals you’ve set for yourself, professionally or personally?

A: In my perfect world I live a life of writing novels, attending conferences, and teaching the occasional writing class. I’ll either start living that life when I retire from engineering at a typical retirement age or when the books can replace my engineering income.

Q: Some writers write fast and claim not to rewrite much. Do you do this, or painstakingly revise? When you send the book off to the publisher, are you happy with it, or just tired of it?

A: I follow an approach I learned from the book The Weekend Novelist by Robert J. Ray (1993 first edition). That book recommended writing a discovery draft to learn the story, a meditation draft to highlight the themes and cut extraneous material, and a final draft to clean up the language.

I use the Book Architecture Method outlined in Blueprint your Bestseller by Stuart Horowitz to go from the discovery draft to the meditation draft.

I always send the publisher the best possible manuscript. I get back very few notes.

Q: Do you have good editors, and if so, how do they help you? Do they look for particular things? Do you have different people for different editing levels?

A: I have an excellent story editor who takes my final draft, helps me find plot holes, and fixes quirks in my language. She basically tightens the whole thing up. Then I have two readers who are amazing copy editors. They clean up missing words, punctuation errors, and the like.
The manuscript I send to Midnight Ink is as clean as possible.

Q: If a writer came to you for advice, how would you help?

A: I would advise the person to write every single day. There is nothing more important to one’s writing than to put words on pages. I’ve written pretty much every morning since I started writing in 2002. I don’t think I got good at it until I’d written over 500,000 words.

Also, anyone who wants to write mysteries should join Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime. Writing is a tough path and it’s more fun when you follow it with friends.

Q: Stories can be told by using a different medium. Can you see your book as a film, audio, etc.? How would that alter the telling?

A: I absolutely see Terminated as a movie (Could someone get a copy of Terminated to Ben Affleck, please?) because it follows the screenwriter’s three act structure. I could also see a Tucker television series.

In both cases the biggest difference would be that we wouldn’t have Tucker’s unique voice describing Boston. Instead the movie makers would have to get the sense of the scenes across visually (I’m not a big fan of voice-overs in movies.)

Q: What’s the next step in your writing world?

A: I’m working on the fourth Tucker novel: Hacked. Its tag line is “A serial killer is killing hackers, including students that Tucker has been mentoring. Now Tucker is in the crosshairs.”
I’m still doing research but I’m already excited to tell that story.

Q: Tell us a fun fact about yourself.

A: Back in high school I was fired from a volunteer job at the Museum of Science because I was absolutely terrible at cleaning animal cages. It didn’t seem funny at the time, but it’s pretty funny now.

Q: Any other information you’d like to impart?

A: I will be talking about high tech crime and Terminated at Brookline Booksmith on Wednesday, September 3rd at 7PM. It’s going to be fun!



*****
Thank you, Ray, and best of luck with your new book series!


 

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Haverhill Library Author Fair

Had a great day at the Haverhill, MA Library Author Fair today. Saw old friends, and some new ones, raised some books and money for the library, and had fun with a few nice people.
Thanks to Sarah Moser from the library for making this happen. And for the goodies!

And thanks to Chris Obert of Pear Tree Publishing, who came to support us. Chris has set up a series of author events in Haverhill, at the Buttonwoods Museum.
I'll be appearing there Friday, Sept. 5th, and Friday, Oct. 3rd.

 
 
And in the big room

 
Displaying the wares

 
Ursula's debut novel, Purple Trees

 
Rich Feitelberg braved traffic to attend

 
The gang, including Barbara Kent Lawrence, Myfanwy Collins, Rory O'Brien, Dale T. Phillips, Holly Robinson, Ursula Wong,Connie Johnson Hambley, and Kristin Bair O'Keeffe

 
And the lovely poster done by the library for promotion!
This is the signed one-

 
And this is the official one

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Haverhill Library Author Fair

Hello again. Just a note to let folks know of this Saturday's event- the Haverhill, MA Library Author Fair. On the 16th, we'll be there from 1-3, talking about writing, reading excerpts, and signing books.

Appearing with me are fellow authors Barbara Kent Lawrence, Myfanwy Collins, Rory O'Brien, Holly Robinson, Ursula Wong, Connie Johnson Hambley, and Kristin Bair O'Keeffe.

Come on down and meet some local authors!

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Ray Daniel Launches Terminated

I had the pleasure of attending the launch for Terminated, the debut novel of Ray Daniel.  It was held at the New England Mobile Bookfair, a great place we have here in Mass for bookbuyers.

First, Dave from the bookstore introduced Ray and his Special Guest Interviewer, noted investigative reporter Hank Phillippi Ryan.


 
She gave him quite a grilling, on his writing methods, how he gets his ideas, his name, his secrets, everything. You can tell she's done this before. We knew him and his book by the time she was finished.
Great night, and I'm looking forward to a great read.

 
Huge crowd for a weeknight. Ray is a popular guy, active in the local chapters of both Sisters in Crime and the Mystery Writers of America.

 
Fellow mystery writers supporting their local guy. Pictured are Judy Copek, Connie Johnson Hambley, Hans Copek, and Vincent O'Neil. Connie has her own launch at this same place coming up in just a few weeks (Sept 20th), so she got to see how it's done!

 
Writers Steve Ulfelder, Dale T. Phillips, Connie again, and Ursula Wong

 
And then the signing of the books!


 
That's Ray's brother Tom (the taller one)

 
And Ray's supportive wife Karen with writer Mo Walsh

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Writing Talk With Hank Phillippi Ryan and Tilia Klebenov Jacobs

I had a chance to see these two literary lights, the well-known Hank Philippi Ryan and Tilia Klebenov Jacobs, both Sisters in Crime,  They were there to talk about their lives and careers, and writing- how they do it, from selecting titles to coming up with stories.
Here they are with recent books they wrote: Hank's The Wrong Girl and Tilia's Wrong Place, Wrong Time.

 
We were hosted by the Randall Public Library in Stow, MA. A big thank-you to the staff who made it all possible.

 
They decided to make it an informal chat than a lecture- more personal and more fun.

 
And afterward, they were able to meet with the crowd and sign books




 
And every successful writer needs a support crew- so their husbands were there, shown here bookending Ray Daniel, who also happens to have a book coming out, Terminated. That book launches at the New England Mobile Bookfair on Wed night, Aug 6th.

 
A great event, showing what a treat it is to meet the top mystery writers and find out more about how it all happens.