Saturday, December 22, 2012

LILITH: A character study of Lisa Singleton

An aircraft carrier is like a floating city—when fully loaded for battle, it can carry over 6,000 people, and with a story setting like that, it’s easy for characters to get lost in the shuffle. That’s why they have to have strong personalities.

Enter Lisa Singleton—wife, police officer, mother to be, and as strong-willed and tough as they come.

In my latest thriller, LILITH, I wanted to bring back two favorite characters from my first novel, Hunter and Lisa. Though they had some marital issues, and in fact were on the verge of divorce because of the emotional stress from Lisa’s miscarriage, they patched things up and are now ready to face the world together.

I thought it would be unique to have two main characters who kind of share the spotlight, instead of one guy or one woman. I always liked the couple in the Mummy movie franchise, the O’Donnells, because when one got in trouble, the other one would bail them out. Same principal here.

Lisa, like her husband, is bi-racial—African-American and Chinese. She is short and has frizzy, black hair, which Hunter finds very sexy. She has dark, Asian eyes and pouty lips and likes to work out, so she is muscular, but also very feminine.

Her father is a Chinese immigrant who came to America and became a police officer. He married the daughter of the chief of police, which was frowned on at first by family members on both sides, but was eventually accepted. Lisa was raised in the small town in North Carolina where she met Hunter.

After high school, Lisa’s love of animals and nature coupled with the admiration she had for her father, led her to become a park ranger. She covers the several-thousand-acre Dismal Swamp State Park on the North Carolina side of the border, just miles from where she was raised in River City.

Not only is Lisa a trained law-enforcement officer, she is a third-degree black belt in a type of Kung Fu known as Wing Chun. She also taught Hunter, who managed to earn his own black belt.

Something else Lisa learned as a park ranger was photography. She loves photographing the wild flowers and trees that grow throughout the park, as well as the bears, wildcats, deer and rabbits that inhabit it. Her proficiency with the camera was the reason Hunter was able to convince his editor at the newspaper to send her along, since their regular photographer had come down with the flu.

Hunter and Lisa go through hell in LILITH, literally, as they help the Navy fight a power that is not even supposed to exist. Lisa rides an emotional roller coaster throughout the story and must draw on the strength of her faith in God, in her husband, and in herself. She’s sly, smart and quick-witted, but far from perfect. Her flaws become apparent in LILITH, but I think you’ll find that her humanity outweighs her flaws.

Next time, we’ll take a look at the main protagonist herself: LILITH. Thanks and happy reading!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

LILITH: A character study of Hunter Singleton

Since most of the advance word about my new supernatural thriller, LILITH, is kind of a general overview of the book’s storyline, I thought it would be cool to talk about some of the characters in the story. There are actually a number of important people in there, but the main protagonist is a guy named Hunter Singleton.

Hunter is half Cherokee Indian, half white, and was adopted as a baby near a Cherokee reservation by two very special people in a small town called Tahlequah, Oklahoma. They raised him as their own and taught him the ways of the Cherokee so that he could stay in touch with his own heritage, his own roots.

Hunter grew up and joined the Navy to get away from the small town life (much as I did) and hopefully have some adventures. After that, he went back to school and got his degree in journalism, then interned at some small newspapers before getting on as a reporter in River City, North Carolina (yeah, that’s me, too!)

Hunter met his wife, Lisa, while interviewing her for a story. Hunter forgot to tape the interview, which Lisa found quite funny, and they decided to start dating and eventually ended up getting married. What happened between then and LILITH can be found in my first novel, (shameless promotion alert) DIABLERO. I can assure you, it’s quite terrifying and not for the faint of heart. But they made it through reasonably unscathed.

Hunter is thirty-ish and in good physical shape, but not very tall. However, due to his Native American heritage, he is dark-skinned, dark-haired and dark-eyed, which most women seem to find attractive. He also has a dry, acerbic wit, which gets him into trouble.

He is not musically inclined, though he loves good rock and roll and some classical music, and generally likes doing outdoorsy stuff like hiking and camping. Hunter is a black belt in Wing Chun Kung Fu, which he learned from his wife. He believes in self-sufficiency and dislikes taking handouts from anyone. He loves his wife and will probably make a great father when their new baby is delivered.

Hunter and Lisa did have some marriage problems due to a miscarriage by Lisa, which you can read about in DIABLERO, but things have been patched up and they are going full-throttle in dealing with this new danger in LILITH.

There are some introspective moments in LILITH where you will discover more about Hunter and his past, about his shortcomings and failures, what makes him tick, and also about why Lisa finds him so irresistible. He gets into quite a jam in LILITH – one which, at first, seems impossible to overcome. Does he make it out, or not? Find out when LILITH is released in January!

Next time, I’ll talk about Hunter’s cohort in all of this, his wife, Lisa, who I think you will find a very interesting character in her own right. Ciao!

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Writing the supernatural action-thriller

I have always loved reading horror—Stephen King, Dean Koontz, Bentley Little, Edward Lee—I can’t explain it. It just appeals to me. I guess the thought of flawed humans overcoming insurmountable odds and saving the world from some inhuman beast or life-threatening super-organism is just, well…cool. Sure, sometimes the good guy or woman dies at the end, but that’s life. Heroes are willing to pay the ultimate price so that others may live.

One of my other loves in fiction is the thriller, whether it’s politics, crime, military, whatever. Brad Thor, Vince Flynn, Nelson DeMille, Lee Child, James Patterson, Clive Cussler—I love ‘em all.

But for a long time, there seemed to be a lack of novels that really mixed action/adventure and supernatural horror into one story. I wanted something that was creepy, but that also moved along at a good clip and had memorable characters. There were very few novelists that were doing that kind of thing—Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, John Saul, William Meikle and Jeremy Robinson are some names that come to mind.

So I decided that I would try to create stories I would like to read, something that incorporated both supernatural horror and action/adventure. I had written some short stories, but I wanted something that would keep readers enthralled for a few days. My first undertaking was DIABLERO, a story about modern-day voodoo and the resurrection of a three-hundred year old pirate, Blackbeard. 

I got some good reviews for that book, sold a few hundred copies with Nightbird Publishing and Crossroad Press. But for my next story, I wanted something even bigger involving the CIA, the military, the supernatural, and some human drama. So I took characters from my first novel, Hunter and Lisa Singleton, and put them into my new book.

LILITH is a supernatural creature who takes possession of the crew of a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier, and is then set free in the streets of Manhattan after it gets demolished by a huge storm. It was a very fun book to write.

My next novel, tentatively titled PRIMORDIAL, will be on an even bigger scale, believe it or not. Did I tell you I want my stakes to be high? Even the young adult sci-fi novel I’m working on is high-octane. Can I help it if I like things to move along at a good clip? And guns? And explosions? And…and…oh, sorry. I get carried away. But you get the picture.

I tried writing “literary” horror. Yeah, that didn’t work out. I kept falling asleep and drooling on the keyboard. Shorted out a lot of PCs. Don’t get me wrong, I love the classics—Frankenstein, Dracula, The Invisible Man, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow—and I owe my career to them. But modern times demand that we stretch our writing chops to mix genres that may not have been previously incorporated, e.g., the vampire western, the zombie literary classic, the sci-fi detective, and so on.

So now, I present to you the supernatural action-thriller. I hope you like it.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

How I got two book deals without an agent

I’ve been at the publishing game since I first started writing for local magazines and newspapers way back in the 90s, and I know how tough it is to find a good agent. As a matter of fact, I still haven’t found one. But I have managed to get my last two novels published. Here’s how I did it.

Perseverance. I kept at it and kept at it until finally, someone said “yes!”

I tried breaking in by way of the literary magazine world. I read all the writer’s magazines and books and found the names of literary magazines that published in my genre. Pretty much all of my short stories were rejected, except for one—THE MUFFIN MAN, a story about a crooked lawyer who gets his just desserts, published by The Pedestal Magazine. So, I put all my stories into a book, SHADOWLAND, and published myself. It’s selling modestly well.

But the storyline of DIABLERO was burning a hole in my skull and I had to write it. So I did. Then, I found the names of all the agents that worked in my genre and fired off a great query letter and story synopsis.

After approximately 85 rejections, I decided I would try submitting to smaller publishers, ones that accepted submissions directly from authors.

More rejection. I rewrote and resubmitted. Lo and behold, just as I was about to throw in the towel, I got two manuscript requests from two different publishers, one of whom made an offer to publish. I did the obligatory happy dance and accepted. 

Six months later, another publisher offered to put out the e-book version. Cha-ching! Things were looking good.

Fast forward to one year later. I had just finished my second novel, a sequel to the first. Alas, my current print publisher wasn’t interested in sequels and my e-book publisher wasn’t dealing with the “big box” distributors. I wanted to keep my characters and I wanted a bigger audience. So, off to agent land again.

Another cyberwall full of rejection letters later, I decided to try some large indie publishers. More rejection. I was about to throw in the towel again when lo and behold, DarkFuse makes an offer on my second book. Hallelujah!  Now my book would not only be available in paperback and e-book, but also in hardcover. And they deal with all the major distributors! 

And I did it all without an agent.

Don’t get me wrong. I would love to have an agent. Any that are interested, have your people contact mine and we’ll do lunch. Until then, I’ll stick with perserverance.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Why my publishers rock!

Some authors are putting up blog posts about why they like their particular publishers, and since I’ve had such a great experience with mine, I thought I would chime in.

My first book, DIABLERO, was actually published by two different presses in two different formats: in paperback with Nightbird Publishing and in e-book with Crossroad Press.

I’m not going to say DIABLERO was a huge selling book. It wasn’t. But it is a great novel. The editors at both presses did a phenomenal job of taking a book written by a novice (me) and turning it into something palatable for the average reader. I did a lot of telling instead of showing and made a lot of newby mistakes, and they made it better, stronger, faster, like the bionic man. 

The release of the book was awesome because Nightbird had a release party at the biggest indie bookstore in Atlanta – Eagle Eye Book Shop. I signed books for fans at the same table where authors like F. Paul Wilson and Brad Thor signed books. I even signed the table! It was the most fun I ever had working. My publisher showed up with his staff and we had a great time. The bookstore even treated us to dinner!

Nightbird is small, but their books are high quality, which is what attracted me to them.

Same with Crossroad Press. They release novels from some of the top names in the field – Steven Savile, Ed Gorman, Jack Ketcham, Tom Piccirilli and others. And they took a chance on me, a new author, even creating a new book cover for DIABLERO. They probably have the highest royalty payments in the business for e-books, something like 80 percent, and they always pay on time. You gotta love that.

For my next book, LILITH, I really wanted to stay small but I also wanted to get more mainstream distribution, which is where DarkFuse came in. They are indie, but they do hardcover as well as paperback and e-book through Ingram and Baker & Taylor and regularly get their authors reviewed in places like Publishers Weekly and Kirkus, something I could never do on my own without paying big bucks.

But best of all, DarkFuse has that personal touch. Even with experienced, multi-published authors like Greg Gifune and William Meikle on the roster, I’m still treated like one of the guys, and not the greenhorn that I am.

Their books have some of the best cover art in the business and the editing process is rigorous to say the least. I believe LILITH is the best it can be and I feel confident that it will blow people’s socks off when we release it to the world next January. 

I’ve heard some horror stories from a lot of authors about their experiences in the publishing industry. All my publishers have treated me with respect and have never lied to me or tried to rip me off, so I guess I can say I’ve been pretty blessed in that regard. So to my former and current publishers, I just want to say—thanks for making this trip a good one!