Monday, May 26, 2014

Being a cross-genre writer

Categorizing my writing style has always been a somewhat difficult thing. Edgar Rice Burroughs, Edgar Allen Poe, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Ray Bradbury, Robert Heinlein, H.P. Lovecraft, C.S. Lewis, Stephen King—these are all authors that have had a profound impact on my writing.

I also loved reading comic books as a child, everything from Tales from the Crypt and Boris Karloff’s Tales of Mystery to Shazam, The Spirit, Marvel and DC comics and everything in between. I never missed an issue of Famous Monsters of Filmland. If I wasn’t reading, I was either writing or playing music.
I read a lot of classics—To Kill a Mockingbird, Lord of the Flies, Frankenstein, Animal Farm, A Brave New World, Atlas Shrugged—but I always seemed to have a predilection toward the macabre and the unusual. Working in a bookstore eventually brought me in contact with a lot of newer authors and I began to read different genres. But the ones that really kept me glued to the page were the adventure and thriller novels—Clive Cussler, Nelson DeMille, James Patterson, John Grisham, Brad Thor, Vince Flynn—the high-octane stuff.

Around 2003, when I began writing my first complete novel, I decided that I was going to blend all my favorite genres into my writing. Horror, fantasy, science fiction and adventure would all have a place in my book. I loved the life-like characters Stephen King created in his books, but I wanted more action. Clive Cussler’s adventures were captivating, but I wanted something darker, more ominous and creepy. James Rollins’ creatures were frightening, but I wanted a touch of the supernatural, creatures not bound by the laws of physics.

So I created DIABLERO, and brought a demon-possessed Blackbeard the pirate back to life in modern times. It was a character everyone knew, but he wouldn’t be just a pirate—he would have powers to raise an army of the dead and open a gateway to another dimension. The adventure begins in North Carolina, but ends on an island in the Bahamas. Creepy and dark, with lots of action and great characters. It was the kind of book I always wanted to read.

I continued my foray into action/thriller/sci-fi/horror madness with a book called LILITH, another myth that was familiar to people, yet enough of a mystery that I could add some embellishment and still make it believable. It’s my biggest selling book to date.

I figured that the problem with blending all these genres together would be finding an audience. For some readers, a book that incorporates all those styles can be somewhat confusing. “I thought this was supposed to be a thriller? What’s with the supernatural stuff?” “This horror novel sucks—it’s nothing but action!” People who read thrillers don’t necessarily like horror, and people who read horror don’t necessarily like action/thrillers. Some people don’t like the supernatural aspect, while others are offended by the military/black ops aspect of some of my stories. This has been made evident by some not-so-favorable reviews. But the good reviews far outweigh the bad ones on all my books—so far.

I don’t really target audiences, or take polls, or check out the latest trends—I write what I would like to read. I feel like I’m filling a niche, here, because there aren’t many writers that do what I do. Authors who love horror read and write horror books; authors who love adventure/thrillers do the same. I’m not a purist—I happen to get an equal thrill from reading a good sci-fi book, a creepy horror novel or an engaging military adventure. But bringing it all together on the page and making it work is the biggest thrill of all.

For more info on me and my work, check out my website, or follow me on Facebook or Twitter.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Interview with literary agent MacKenzie Fraser-Bub of the Trident Media Group

*NOTE - Since this interview, MacKenzie has formed her own agency, Fraser-Bub Literary.

I recently had the privilege of interviewing the talented MacKenzie Fraser-Bub of the Trident Media Group. MacKenzie agreed to become my agent, and I must say I was impressed with her enthusiasm, professionalism, knowledge of the industry, and the connection she made with my material and with me as a person. I think the following interview will be of immense help to writers who want to understand what goes on in the mind of a literary agent, especially for those who are thinking of querying MacKenzie.

From the Trident Media Group website:

Before embarking on her career as a publishing agent, MacKenzie wanted to experience working inside a major publisher, and gain valuable insights on marketing, which she could use later to her clients’ advantage. She became Publishing Manager at Touchstone Books (a division of Simon & Schuster). She worked closely with the sales and marketing departments for a wide-array of bestselling authors, such as Philippa Gregory, Lisa Unger, Bethenny Frankel, J.A. Jance, and R.L. Stine.

  1. What were your feelings when you first moved to New York City to become an agent at Trident?

I started at Trident as an assistant to Scott Miller and Kimberly Whalen.  They were the BEST bosses – they are the toughest, most talented agents, and I learned so much from them, and from their clients.  I felt immensely lucky riding the elevator up to the 36th floor in this fancy NYC building every single day (even though at that time I was spending my days in a tiny cubicle).  Being back at Trident as an agent is a dream – my colleagues are all incredibly smart and talented.  And now I have an office and a view of Madison Square Park!

  1. Describe a typical day in your life as an agent.

I’m an early riser, so I’ve checked my email most days before 6am, but nothing significant is possible until I’ve had a venti dark roast from Starbucks.  I read on my commute into the office – The New York Times first, and then submission material. I have a Samsung tablet and it makes it super easy to have tons of material at my fingertips.  

The first thing I do when I get to the office is… check Facebook.  I promise it’s not about seeing baby pictures and Buzzfeed articles – it’s about getting a taste of what people are generally talking about.  I follow a lot of media bloggers, publishing trades, book clubs, publishers, and writers, and I like seeing what they’re putting out, and how people are responding.

After I look at the new deals on Publishers’ Marketplace, I spend the morning responding to emails and returning calls.  If I’m lucky I can squeeze in reading time.

Lunching with editors is a super fun part of the job.  I love hearing about what’s going on in the publishing houses, what people are reading, what they’re on to and what they’re over – and book people are always just generally super interesting!      

I’m constantly on email and it’s important to me to always be very responsive and available, but I try to devote much of my afternoon to really focusing on reading and editing.  As a millennial I’m an EXCELLENT multi-tasker. 

Sometimes on the way home I read submission material, but if it’s been a long day, I decompress with Spotify. 

(Skip ahead many hours and I’ve also been known to fall asleep with my tablet open to a manuscript…)

  1. What are some of your favorite things about being an agent?

Working with creative people.  Collaborating with fabulous clients, brilliant editors, and energetic publishing teams is such a dream.  It’s immensely satisfying to work with debut authors from the ground up – to see their dreams realized in the publishing process. 

  1. What do you look for in potential clients? Is it all about the writing, or do you feel that agents and writers should connect personally, as well?

A connection to the writing is just step one.  I’m not looking to be besties with my clients, but as we’re going to need to have very open and honest conversations about a very wide variety of issues, some of them personal, throughout our relationship, some level of personal connection is essential.   

  1. Tell us about a couple of your clients (if you want to. If not, no biggie). How many clients do agents typically work with at one time?

My clients are fabulous.  I’ve been very selective with who I take on because I want to give each and every client my 100%, and I can only do that if I love your work.  The balance of the actual workload is always in flux based on who’s where in the submission / editing / publishing process, but I’m a good multi-tasker, and if you need my time, it’s important to me that you get it.     

  1. What do you like to see in a query letter? What do you not like to see?

Voice, personality, and creativity.  I like it when authors comp their book to another book I’ve read and liked – ideally not Harry Potter or 50 Shades – I can connect with this better if your comp is more of a deep cut.  I like when your pitch to me is personal – why you think we specifically are a good fit.  I don’t like ideas that feel overly familiar and formulaic – it’s a tough market, so freshness and innovation is essential.  And please, check your grammar!  A couple of misplaced commas or blatant misspellings in a query letter is a non-starter. 

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

I’ve gotten a lot of clients through referrals – other agents, clients, people in the industry.  I reach out to writers I see on Goodreads or Amazon.  I just recently found a fabulous client at a writers’ conference.  A few from the slush pile. 

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

I’ve been pitched in the bathroom and in the elevator. Sometimes one person will literally call me half a dozen times over 2 or 3 days. Once at a conference I looked down and someone had drawn a big heart around my picture in the conference program (to be fair, I don’t think the person intended for me to see that).   I stopped using twitter because queriers would email me commenting on tweets I’d sent out, which really freaked me out. 

  1. Are you open for submissions? Is one time of year better than another for sending queries?  What genres are you currently seeking?

I am always open to submissions, any time of year.  I personally read every single query that comes in.  My main areas of interest are women’s fiction and romance, but it’s always all in the read for me and I obviously sometimes come across Sci Fi or Fantasy projects I love (hi, Toby! :)

  1. Who are some of your favorite authors and/or books and why?

Most recently some of my favorite reads have been The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty, The Good House by Ann Leary, Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell, and Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan. I think Maggie Shipshead is an amazing new talent. I am obsessed with Jonathan Franzen, I love Pat Conroy, and I’m fairly certain I’ve read every Phyllis Whitney book ever written.  All of these writers have really distinctive voices, and the ability to create layered, realistic, complex characters in tightly woven stories.

  1. How long can someone expect to wait for an answer to a query? For a partial or full manuscript?

I respond to queries very quickly – always within a week.   I try very hard to respond to submissions within 6 weeks (emphasis on try).

  1. What would you tell a new writer trying to break into the world of publishing? Why do you feel it’s important for an author to have an agent?

Writers should write. They should join critique groups or use beta readers.  Going to conferences can be a great way to connect with other writers, meet industry professionals, and work on your craft. 

Authors who want to be traditionally published need agents.  Agents edit pre-submission; we put your work in the hands of the right editors at the right houses.  We negotiate and vet your contract, collaborate on marketing strategies, cover design, and publicity plans.  In short, we’re your advocate to your editor and your publisher.     

I’m a proponent of the hybrid model – a mix of indie and traditional – and an agent is an integral part of that plan, not just in terms of getting your book in front of the right editor, but also in terms of shaping your career and advancing your brand.  An agent helps design your publishing plan in all respects – what to write, when to publish, how to reach new readers.  It’s a tricky business, and you need a professional partner to help you navigate the process. 

Thanks MacKenzie for this awesome interview!

Published or unpublished authors who wish to submit to any of the agents at TMG, please send a query letter using their online form to one literary agent only at Your query should include only a paragraph about yourself, a brief plot synopsis and your contact information; it should not include a manuscript, a proposal, or any writing samples.

For more info on me and my latest books, go to, Facebook and Twitter.