Thursday, January 12, 2017

My leap into the film industry!

I wrote a screenplay. Then I re-wrote the screenplay. Then I re-wrote the re-write. When I finally got it where I wanted it, I began to send it off to film industry managers, agents and producers. I got a few bites. A lot of reads. But no offers. I even split it in half and made it into a pilot TV episode and a second episode. Any takers?


You would think that after eight successfully published books, someone would be interested in my screenplay, which was based on my most successful book.

Nope again.

Two years and over a hundred emails later, I said the heck with it. I'll write another screenplay, this one with a lower budget in mind, and get it made myself.

Fast forward to SKINWALKER, my latest movie project. 

SKINWALKER is based on the true story of a young woman who was murdered here in Elizabeth City back in 1901. Although her boyfriend was tried and convicted of the crime, it was on circumstantial evidence, and the case has been considered unsolved ever since. It has been said that her ghost haunts the house where she last lived. My screenplay is based on those two plot points - how did Nell really die, and is her ghost still in that house, unable to move on because of unanswered questions?

The answer I give in my screenplay is quite terrifying and based upon an actual legend. Which I think is totally awesome! But of course I would think that, because it's my screenplay.

So here I was with a screenplay and...well, what now? Since I was going the indie route, that meant I would have to do everything myself. 


Well, I managed to get all my books published, so I figured what the heck, maybe I can find a production company that would be willing to take this baby on.

That was when I discovered Billy Lewis and Orange St. Films. Billy is an amazing dude - screenwriter, producer, cinematographer, director - he does it all. He already has two movies in the can, the first one with actor C. Thomas Howell (THE JAILHOUSE) and the second one (THE TERRIBLE TWO) in the process of getting distribution.

So far, the process has been an amazing learning experience. Getting people interested in helping out is easy. Getting people to give up their hard-earned money to help fund the movie? Not so much.

If you would like to help make this dream a reality, support indie filmmaking and also get some great perks like  DVD with behind the scenes documentary, a signed copy of the screenplay, or even a part in the movie, please support our Indiegogo page!

Monday, May 9, 2016

Kindle Scout vs. traditional publishing

I am a traditionally published author taking my first dive into Amazon's Kindle Scout pond, and even though the water was cold at first, I'm slowly acclimating.

For those of you not familiar with Kindle Scout, here's a little blurb about the program from "Kindle Scout is reader-powered publishing for new, never-before-published books. It’s a place where readers help decide if a book gets published. Selected books will be published by Kindle Press and receive 5-year renewable terms, a $1,500 advance, 50% eBook royalty rate, easy rights reversions and featured Amazon marketing."

Just for added incentive, anyone who votes for a book that is selected gets a free copy upon publication. Pretty sweet!

So it's pretty cut and dried. The contract is simple enough that even a non-business-minded lunkhead like me can understand it. It was suggested to me by an author friend of mine who also took the plunge, and it paid off for him in a big way. I'm hoping some of that success is still floating around in the water like an amoeba  waiting to attach itself to my brain stem. 

The authors that I have met on Kindle Boards who are treading water with me have been pretty amazing in supporting me and each other so we all don't drown like a bunch of...uh...drowning people. From what I can gather, the majority are previously self-published. I tried that once, with bad results. I felt like a fish flopping around on a hot sidewalk. I decided not to do that again. So every book I have in my back-catalogue is traditionally published by small to medium-sized presses. I'm not a best-seller by any stretch, but I could definitely be considered a mid-lister. 

So, with my latest book, RED RABBIT, I changed direction slightly. Most of my books are sci-fi/horror/military thrillers usually with some type of supernatural overtones. Think James Rollins meets Dean Koontz. RED RABBIT has been labeled an occult detective thriller, more along the lines of James Patterson meets Dean Koontz. So see, Koontz is still there, but Rollins has been replaced by Patterson. Get it? It's still thrilling and it still has horror, but the sci-fi aspect is pretty much non-existent.

So that led to a lot of head-scratching on the part of publishers. "Um, yeah, the writing is great and everything but...well...huh?"

I actually did land a publisher for it, but the book was too much for them to handle and they decided to go out of business. (Okay, it wasn't because of my book, but it felt like it.) So it was back to sending the manuscript to publishers. Then, my agent decided my book was too much for her, and she decided to change professions altogether. (Okay, it wasn't because of my book, but...well, you get it.)

So here I was with no agent, no publisher, and a brand new book with no home. So my friend says, "Hey, Toby, why not submit to Kindle Scout and become fabulously wealthy and famous like me?" So I said, "I never heard of Kindle Scout." 

I looked it up and liked what I saw. It seemed like a boon for unknown authors and people like me who are traditionally published but who have a book that hasn't found a home.

Of course, there are ground rules for submitting which, if you don't follow, pretty much dooms your chances from the beginning.  You have to provide your own cover, which should be professional-grade. Nobody is going to pick up a book with a crappy cover. They ask that it be professionally edited, which means I was already ahead of the game since I went through extensive edits with my first agent. Once all that is done, you submit your book and wait for approval, which in my case took only a few hours. 

Once your book and the related info is posted on their site, the waiting begins. The campaign lasts for 30 days, during which it's up to the author to get as much traffic to the site as possible and rack up nominations. If you're lucky enough to hit the "Hot and Trending" list, which I did the first two days, then you will hopefully get noticed by the people at Kindle Press.

My friend suggested making a few posts on Facebook and leaving it at that. Well, I believe in the old saying, "Anything worth doing is worth overdoing," so I bought a Facebook ad and ran a HeadTalker campaign. The page is getting pretty steady views and my other books have even started selling again. I'm getting a ton of hits on Facebook, too, so it's all working for the best. Even if I don't get picked for publication, I'll have all those new fans from the campaign. It's a win-win in my view.

So, if the book doesn't get picked, I may either shelve it or let my agency try to sell it again. I'm already working on the sequel, plus another book in another series, so I've got some things lined up. I will keep you posted on how it all turns out.

The campaign runs until May 21, so if you feel so inclined, you can vote here:

If you want to be part of my Headtalker campaign, just sign up here:

Remember, if you vote and my book gets chosen for publication, you get a free copy! What could better than that? Okay, free money might be better. But then you would just use it to buy my book, right? Right!

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Interview with Associate Literary Agent Tara Carberry of Trident Media Group

Update 4/1/16: Tara has taken a non-agent job and will be leaving TMG. I'm sorry to see her go - she did a great job for me! And no, this is not an April Fool's joke!  

I've only worked with Tara a short time (my former agent, MacKenzie Fraser-Bub, left to start her own agency), and I feel very fortunate. She's a real go-getter and a pleasure to work with. Also, being a newer agent, Tara is currently building her client list, so this is a great time to query!

Q: What led you to become an agent at Trident Media Group?

A: I earned a Masters degree in English at Columbia University, and then completed internships at Norton and Perseus Books Group before landing at Trident as a literary assistant. Having the internship experience at two very different publishers has proven incredibly valuable, but I quickly realized that being on the agency side ignited more passion and excitement for me. I was promoted to Associate Agent last year and am now enjoying the constant challenges, rewards, and surprises of growing my own client list.

Q: What are some of your favorite things about being an agent?

A: My favorite thing about being an agent is the thrill of discovering new talent. The moment when I’m reading a submission and realize, “Okay, this person can really write,” is one that makes everything worthwhile. As a new agent, I’m working with many new authors, and the shared excitement of pursing new opportunities and reaching new goals or milestones for my clients is very rewarding for me.
Q: Is it all about the writing, or do you feel that agents and writers should connect personally, as well?

A: I think it is mostly about the writing, but I wouldn’t totally discount a personal connection. As anyone with an agent can tell you, it is a very close working relationship. I’m typically in contact with my clients on a weekly if not daily basis, so at the very least it’s good to have compatible communication and general working styles.

Q: What do you like to see in a query letter? What do you not like to see?

A: Likes: A strong hook; clear, concise writing; understanding of where the book will fit in the marketplace and who the reader is; demonstrated commitment to overcoming hurdles and building a presence as an author (for example, you might be part of a writing group, have won writing awards, have an active social media account dedicated to your writing, or all of the above).

Dislikes: Queries that are too long; overconfidence (ie “This will be a #1 bestseller and a blockbuster film and you’d be a fool not to give this book a chance.”); leading with personal information and not the story synopsis; books that have already been self-published – unfortunately, unless you have massive sales numbers, the odds of a traditional publisher picking up a self-published book these days are very, very slim.

Q: How do you get most of your clients—slush pile, referrals or writers conferences?

A: All of the above plus I will sometimes approach writers myself if they are unagented or, in the case of non-fiction, seem like they have a great story to tell. 

Q: Describe some of the more outrageous things authors have done to get your attention. 

A: This happened when I was still an assistant, so it was for my boss at the time and not me, but we once had someone FedEx a hand-drawn map of their fictional world to accompany their query. It was complete with burned edges and artful rips and crinkling to make it look aged. A for effort!

Q: Are you open for submissions?

A: Absolutely!

Q: Is one time of year better than another for sending queries? 

A: No. There are times when my inbox is overflowing and it may take me longer than usual to get to each query (sorry queriers!) but I do read each one and I am grateful to receive them at all times of the year.

Q: What genres are you currently seeking?

A: I am looking for women’s fiction, thrillers, romance, horror, literary fiction and lifestyle nonfiction.

Q: Why do you feel it’s important for an author to have an agent? 

A: The publishing world requires a lot of authors today: they not only must write great books but they must understand how to connect with their audiences. It is a challenging and evolving business and, in my opinion, it is more important than ever for an author to have a knowledgeable, trustworthy agent in his or her corner. A dedicated agent allows them to not only focus on what is most important (ie, writing and growing an author platform) but also provides strategy for developing an author brand that can sustain a long career. Agents often wear many hats and, I believe, have a lot to offer authors at all stages of their careers.
Q: Where should writers send queries?

A: Submissions should go through the Trident website:

Thanks Toby!

Friday, November 6, 2015

Putting Ordinary Characters into Extraordinary Circumstances

Let’s face it—everyone knows that wizards and superheroes have an advantage when fighting the forces of evil—the advantage of supernatural powers. But what about us mere mortals? What chance do we have? Admittedly, not a very good one. But isn’t that a great way to ramp up a story’s excitement factor?

Take F. Paul Wilson’s Repairman Jack series. As a college student, Jack’s mother is murdered by a vandal and Jack commits his first act of vigilantism by giving the vandal his “just desserts.” He begins to do various “fix-its” for people who have problems the police can’t seem to solve. This often leads to confrontations with supernatural creatures which he faces using nothing more than his human wits.

Jonathan Maberry's Joe Ledger series is another great example of a mortal caught up in a bizarre, chaotic world—a world of zombies created through bio-terrorism. As a former police detective and U.S. Army Ranger, Ledger has skills, but no magic bullets or supercharged reflexes. He’s just a dude with human strengths and weaknesses. And that’s what makes it interesting.
There are other examples of the normal vs. the paranormal in shows I grew up with as a kid, The Night Stalker being one—Darren McGavin as Carl Kolchek, a rumpled mess of a news reporter who always seemed to end up fighting supernatural creatures, including vampires and werewolves. Somehow, Carl always came out on top, albeit a little worse for the wear.

As a reader, I have an easier time identifying with characters like that than I do with, say, Thor or Captain America. Nothing against those guys—I’m a huge fan of Marvel—but I love to see normal people kicking paranormal ass. I guess that’s what led me to write a book like THE CAIN PROPHECY (yeah, you saw that coming, didn’t you).

 CIA operative Gabrielle “Gabe” Lincoln and her partner, Gordon Powers, must find and destroy a ruthless, superhuman assassin known only as Cain. Although Gabe is intelligent and lethal, she is no match for Cain, who belongs to a race of beings that populated the earth long before humans came along. Let me just give an example of how brutal Cain is—in one part of the story, he kills a Saudi special ops guy by ripping out his spine. Not someone you want to screw with.

Gabe and Gordon, along with a team of former special ops soldiers, are forced into a showdown with Cain amidst a sea of sand dunes, beneath a blinding sun in the blast furnace known as the United Arab Emirates. Human against superhuman, natural versus supernatural. Even with all their technology, Gabe and Gordon and their team are barely a match for Cain. Who will be the victor? Buy my book and find out! Available Nov. 10 wherever books are sold! (Got another plug in there! Woohoo!)

I’ll probably always use characters like Gabe and Gordon. I like writing stories that show the strength of the human spirit and our ability to persevere against seemingly insurmountable odds. Like a quasar in a black hole, we are at our brightest when the pressure is at its most intense.

For more info on me and my writing, check out my website at or follow me on Facebook and Twitter.  THE CAIN PROPHECY is endorsed by Bestselling Authors Jonathan Maberry, Steve Berry and A.J. Tata. Look for it on Nov. 10!

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Thrillerfest X and What I Learned from Clive Cussler, Lee Child and Nelson DeMille – Keep the Love Alive!!

One of the first authors I saw last weekend while in Manhattan for Thrillerfest X was Clive Cussler. He looked older and frailer than I had imagined, but his spirit and wit was that of 30-year-old. He regaled the audience with his many stories and had me laughing until I cried. It was awesome. But one thing I noticed right away was the fire in his eyes, the look of a man who thoroughly enjoys his work.

Although I was only at the festival for one day, it was an experience of a lifetime. To be in the same building (the Grand Hyatt on 42nd) let alone the same room with authors of Mr. Cussler’s caliber was beyond amazing. I listened with rapt attention as he told of book signings gone wrong, writing and selling his very first novel, and working as a marine archeologist. It was a serious fanboy moment.

Nelson DeMille’s interview in the ballroom, which could easily seat three hundred people, was standing-room only. Listening to his stories about serving in Viet Nam and later becoming a novelist and creating the cynical hero John Corey, was a blast. I have read every John Corey book and thoroughly enjoy every word.

Lee Child, creator of the Jack Reacher series, was quite the suave and well-spoken Brit, yet very down to earth and personable. I always laugh when I think of books like THE KILLING FLOOR or ONE SHOT and consider the differences between Mr. Child’s personality and Jack Reacher’s. It’s like James Bond vs. Rambo.

But that’s the thing—authors don’t always put themselves in their books. We’re like actors. We write about characters we would like to be, or aspects of our personality that would never see daylight except in the world of fiction. We breath life into the characters and send them out into the world, entities unto themselves. Or so we hope.

There were many other authors—Jeffrey Deaver, Sandra Brown, Catherine Coulter, Scott Turow, R.L. Stine, David Morrell, Patrick Lee—just to name a few, all in one building. Unbelievable. There were several workshops, after parties and things I was unable to attend, but in the short time I was there, I learned so much. But something I noticed was this: With every author that spoke, there was one recurring theme—a love for storytelling.

I think that was the main thing I took away from the conference—true writers always have a love for the craft. Marketing, networking, understanding the business, all of that is important. But having a love for what you do translates to the writing itself and gives life to our stories and our characters. Without that, we're just wannabes and hacks.

Part of what drives that love is curiosity—curiosity about the world and about what goes on around us. About what makes people tick, why we do the things we do. Curiosity is part of what keeps us young and keeps things interesting. It may kill cats, but for a writer it means life.

I believe that for those at the top or those who would like to be there, that is the key to success—truly loving what you do, stirring the pot, maintaining that curiosity, and keeping that love alive. If you can manage that first, then everything else will follow.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Mythological monsters wreak havoc in the modern world!

Learning about new things is one of the perks of being an author. I was never much on following the rule of “write what you know,” because for one thing I don’t know much, and for another, that’s just boring.

For my latest book I’m doing research on monsters from Greek mythology. I took Greek mythology in grammar school and in college, but those classes didn’t really focus on what I was interested in—those fantastic creatures banished to the underworld by Zeus. And there is a butt-ton of them.

Cerberus is a three-headed, sometimes two-headed, sometimes multi-headed dog (depending on who’s telling the mean tale). In my story he ends up in Egypt, where he literally emerges from inside the Great Sphinx. His day job is to guard the entrance to Hades, keeping the dead in and the living out. He’s big and mean with snapping jaws full of teeth and huge, blood-dripping claws. He’s also known as the Hellhound, so what’s not to like? 

Medusa, one of the three Gorgon sisters, is disturbing to even think about. If you’ve ever seen the movie “Clash of the Titans,” you know what I mean. Her face is one that not even a mother could love, and instead of hair, she has a head full of live, poisonous snakes. What’s cool about her is that any human or beast that gazes into her eyes turns to stone. Well, it’s not cool for the victims, but you know what I mean.

Imagine the Minotaur, with the head of a bull and the body of a man, coming for you in the middle of the night. He didn’t really have a specific job in Greek literature, but hey, he looks cool, so who cares, right? He fits right in with my battalion of havoc-wreaking monsters.

There’s also the Cyclops, who is the first to appear in my new book to a couple of hikers in the Blue Ridge Mountains of all places. He’s got one eye, a giant horn on his head and speaks ancient Greek, but with a loud, booming, animalistic growl. There were supposedly three of these guys, but I’m only using one in my story. He wears a robe, knows how to hunt and build a fire and as I said, how to speak ancient Greek. Oh, and did I mention he’s twenty feet tall?

All the monsters in my story (tentative title: ORACLE OF THE DEAD) also have supernatural powers given to them by...well, you’ll have to read the book, which is still in its early stages, to find out.

I have used mythological monsters in pretty much all of my books to date. The reason for that is I like to draw from actual mythology and add a layer of realism to an otherwise fantastical story. I love reading stories like that myself—Edgar Rice Burroughs, Jules Verne, Ray Bradbury, even Homer—all mixed fantasy with reality and created imaginative stories that still resonate decades or centuries later. Hopefully, my books will do the same.

Find out what I'm up to by connecting with me on my website at and don't forget to sign up for my email newsblast while you're there!

Thursday, October 9, 2014

What exactly is an MTA, and why do you need one?

by James Jackson

Mr. Jackson is a former US Navy Chief Petty Officer. He has spent almost two decades in military service with a large portion of that as a tactical instructor.

During his years in service, he has been part of fielding teams, mobile training teams and interacted with other branches of the US Military as well as foreign military units.

Since leaving the Navy, he has served as an advisor for diplomatic security and as a private military contractor.

He is an author, an outdoor survival instructor, serves as a disaster mitigation consultant, and is a Military Technical Advisor for several published authors.

For every author there is, or should be, a requirement that they conduct due diligence research. That way they will be to provide enough details that the reader is immersed within the story they tell and not taken out by something that just doesn’t sound right. Research is extremely important.

Due diligence would require that the author be able to describe the locale that their story takes place in in intricate detail. How many times have you read something where the story fails to cover some basics and just plain falls short? The concept is simple to understand.  If a story is set in Washington D.C., there are a lot of locations that are known to the locals that won’t be something that Google maps will show. Case in point, there is a museum close to the Smithsonian Complex that is not part of that complex, that contains medical oddities. It’s often mistaken as being part of that complex yet has no association with it. Some of the locals know of it, but tourists would be hard pressed to find it.

While that is one example of something that could be added in to a novel to increase the details, another example was a novel I read many years ago that was a spy thriller set in that same city. The details were so intense that years later, a tourist that had read that same book, traveled to D.C and was amazed that the location was just as true to life as depicted within the book. He visited the Lincoln Memorial and went downstairs to see if there really was a drinking fountain right outside the door to the restroom. It was exactly as described. When the tourist reached under the fountain to see if there was space for a magnetic holder, a key element within the book as it was used as a message for the main character, he was amazed to find one. Inside, there was a simple note, “Good book, wasn’t it?”

That is the level of detail that every author should strive for. That brings us to technical assistance. What is technical assistance? For some, that might mean the tech guy you call when your computer goes down. Technical Assistance or Military Technical Assistance for authors is a service that can provide a level of detail to authors that is unprecedented. While MTA is not for computer technical issues or in-depth knowledge of locations, it is for basic technical assistance that can flesh out a character, the actions of that character and/or character background. 

Military Technical Assistance does that same thing only for the thematic elements within a book. Military Technical Advisors are a resource that all authors should have on speed dial or bookmarked on their favorites. 

Why, you may ask, when Google can provide “everything” you need? 

Google can only provide so much. Without someone who has actually been in the military, used the equipment, been on a deployment, or used that particular weapon system, how accurate can an author really be if they only rely solely on Google? 

Military Technical Advisors are commonly found in Hollywood working within the film and television industry. While those companies, extremely prevalent and numerous in and around Los Angeles, provide their services to directors, actors, and screenwriters, there are very few that provide any kind of service to authors. The world of writing is overlooked for the most part, by the MTA industry. Apparently, it just isn’t worth their time and effort to work with authors as all the ’big money’ is in the film industry.

That’s where The Ward Room comes into play.

The Ward Room

What, pray tell, is this Ward Room? The Ward Room is a site where authors can go for information about weapon systems, uniforms, rank structure, and even some general information about locations around the world. There is even a page for Writer Resources that breaks down ‘basic’ information and covers some of the most common mistakes. If the information an author seeks is not listed on that page, then they can contact the site and request that someone review their work. There are two free services offered that any author can take advantage of. If they want a more thorough insight, there is also a listing for premium services.

Why is this even important if the book is fictional? In every fictional work, there is something based in the real world.

Let’s put that into perspective. There are millions of fictional works out there that could use the services of a MTA. Several particular issues come to mind. In a book I recently read, a supernatural thriller about a reporter investigating a cult, there was one scene where the main character was handed a Gloch handgun. I’m sure the author meant Glock but that slipped past not only the author but the editor as well. In another novel, a character popped open a revolver and spun the cylinders before engaging the safety. How is that even possible? A revolver has one cylinder with chambers. The way it was described was that the revolver had multiple cylinders. Revolvers, for the most part, do not have a safety like other conventional handguns.

Even big name authors, New York Times bestselling writers could use the services of a MTA. In a novel by a well known military suspense author, he placed the 3/75th Ranger Battalion at Fort Lewis, Washington. At the time that the novel was written, Fort Lewis had already been combined with neighboring McChord Air Force Base to become Joint Base Lewis/McChord, a joining that had taken place several years prior. While that’s a minor issue, one that Google might have shown, the major issue was that 3/75th Ranger Battalion is stationed at Fort Benning, Georgia and not JBLM. That is another case where a simple email to a MTA that specializes in assisting authors would have prevented this error and the many others that the novel was riddled with.

Consider other fictional books with a real world setting. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read a book that contained characters that were part of the US Armed forces and the rank structure was way off. Sergeants, Majors, and Colonels in the US Navy? Not going to happen. One book that stands out, I won’t name the title or author, depicted a lieutenant general attempting to evacuate his unit out of Egypt while under siege from an army of the undead. I had to pause several times and ask myself just what size unit was this general in command of? He apparently had no staff, no logistics unit, no air support, no artillery, no headquarters section and he micromanaged what was described as a company sized unit that apparently had no other officers at all. 

That is micromanaging to the Nth degree. Imagine a general officer directing privates, corporals and sergeants. Not something that normally happens. Later in that same book, the general was able to squeeze his entire unit onto an Arleigh Burke class naval vessel. In the real world, that general would be in charge of a division sized unit or larger. A division is approximately 10-15k troops. He would have a command staff made up of other officers from colonels on down to lieutenants, and a senior enlisted staff. That staff would have told him that there is no way a division would fit on an Arleigh Burke class vessel; there ‘s barely room for the crew.

As you can see by the example provided, Google can show some results, very generic results, but falls short when in comes to specific details. To get the real deal, the inside scoop as it were, authors should consider the use of a Military Technical Advisor. The Ward Room offers such a service. There are several free services available that can readily answer questions and address issues. There are also premium services for authors and publishers that want more.
The Ward Room is a resource that enables authors to enhance their work. Take advantage of it.

Check out the Ward Room at

Look for these James Jackson books coming from Permuted Press:

Up From The Depths 1: Denial Measures 9/8/2015
Up From The Depths 2: Acceptable Losses 10/6/2015

Up From The Depths 3: Collateral Damage 11/10/2015

Up From The Depths 4: Movement to Contact 12/8/2015

Up From The Depths 5: Defilade 1/5/2016

Up From The Depths 6: Secondary Objectives 2/9/2016