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.

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