Thursday, June 23, 2011

Interview: Novelist James Scott Bell

Bestselling Author’s Tips 
On eBook Self-Publishing
By Mark Young
Bestselling novelist James Scott Bell likes to take chances. This year—after successfully writing novels for traditional publishers for two decades—Jim entered the relatively new era of eBook publishing with a bang. Since last February, he has released three eBooks under the Compendium Press banner. Here is the lineup:

Watch Your Back, a suspense novella and three short stories, released on February 9th in Jim’s first self-publishing venture. This novella is a story about a brash IT guy who has it all—a secure job, a loving fiancĂ©e, and a financial future that looked very bright. Everything begins to change when he is attracted to a new woman at work. Casting everything aside, main character Cameron Cates jumps aboard a fast moving train wreck of lust and greed that ends in an unexpected manner.

After the novella, Jim added three short stories at part of the same eBook, just in case you did not get enough suspense. Fore Play is the story of a married golfer who likes to play on and off the gold course, a lifestyle that may change his game for good. In Rage Road, a young man takes his girl out for a ride and finds out the hard way why it is best to control ones anger. One thing just leads to another. Finally, in Heed The Wife,  married man Frank Dabney always listens to his wife in order to keep the peace and to make sure his wife sticks around. This time, however, listening to his wife might be the worst thing he could ever do.

Less than a month later, Jim released his latest nonfiction book on writing, titled Writing Fiction For All Your Worth. (Jim already has several writing books published through Writers Digest).The goal of this book is to help writers develop “strategies and techniques for getting your fiction to the next level.” The book contains the best of Jim’s articles and blog posts on writing.

Finally, Jim released a third eBook on May 4, a short story titled No Laughing Matter. The expression you’re killing me comes to mind as I read Jim’s short story about a comedian who is deadly serious about making it to the big time. He has one last gig that may send him to the top—or will it prove deadly?

Jim has dazzled suspense lovers over the years with a number of published novels, primarily legal thrillers set in his hometown of Los Angeles. Many tags can be pinned to Jim’s coattails—novelist, screenwriter, trial lawyer, writing mentor, and adjunct professor. And now, one more tag: a self-published eBook author.

MARK: It is always a pleasure to learn from a writer of your stature, Jim. Thanks for joining us here on Hook’em and Book’em once again. Let’s start with the most obvious question. Why did you decide to venture into the eBook business?

JIM: It's sort of like, why wouldn't you? Why wouldn't a writer who loves to write, has many stories to tell, has readers who ask for more stuff, and who now has the means to deliver it to them—why wouldn't he?

It's a great time to be a writer. If you can deliver the goods, I say deliver them.

This is especially true for short form fiction. There's really no print market for novellas and short stories. In the glory days of Chandler and Hammett, there was. Now, once again, it's possible for writer to turn out stories and get paid for them. I always wanted to be able to do that, so I am.

MARK:  What are some of the things you have learned about eBooks since you launch Watch Your Back last February?

JIM: I've learned that the fundamentals are very clear. First, you have a write a really good book. That doesn't change. Then you have to have it vetted by those who can be objective about your work. I use beta readers, take their feedback, and tweak. Then I need to hire a copy editor to catch the mistakes.

Good cover design is, of course, important. It also helps to have some copywriting skill and marketing sense. It's really like running a small business, which I've done. So if you are intentional and have a plan, and can write, you can actually do pretty well for yourself.

MARK: How did you go about putting together your first self-published eBook?

JIM: I was between print projects. To fill the gap I started writing a short story. I wanted to write it in the style of James M. Cain (The Postman Always Rings Twice) and it just took off. It soon became apparent it would be longer than a short story, probably novella length. At the same time I'd been writing short stories with twist endings. My wife got me a Kindle for Christmas, and that was the impetus to me to get this material out there.  Thus, Watch Your Back.

I also blog at The Kill Zone and write articles on the craft of fiction. I put together some of the best of those for Writing Fiction for All You're Worth.

Both books took only a few weeks to get ready and online. This is an amazing and wonderful thing.

MARK: Is Compendium Press an entity for only James Scott Bell books or are you open for new business from other writers?

JIM: Compendium Press publishes print law books. It's a small company I've run for over twenty years. It became the natural entity for publishing my e-books, too. I'm not looking to acquire books by other authors.

MARK: Stepping back and looking at the eBook industry as a whole, what do you see happening in this field as it pertains to both self-published authors and those within the traditional publishing industry?  What are some of the advantages and disadvantages for writers? For readers?

JIM: The industry is in such flux now. Especially for the last six months. Traditional publishers have been taking it on the chin. Some of them will evolve and survive and continue to serve authors and readers. Let's remember there still is a print world, and it is still the major part of the pie. That will probably change in the next several years, but traditional companies can get lean and mean and find a way to stick around.

For writers this is, as I said, a new golden era. Advantages abound if –– and I stress this above all –– the writer knows how to tell stories. Which leads to the primary disadvantage: it's so easy to put stuff out there. It doesn't do the writer any good to throw up junk. Readers may take an initial chance on you, but if you don't deliver you don't get repeat business. As Mickey Spillane put it, "Your first chapter sells your book. Your last chapter sells your next book."

At the same time, I don't go in for trashing the traditional publishing industry. It still does many things well. But right now it's all about the terms of the deal. Each writer will have to be wise and assess what's being offered to them (if indeed they get to that stage). And traditional publishers will have to be flexible like never before.

MARK: What advice would you give unpublished authors who has not yet found a niche for their works within traditional publishing? Are eBook or POD (Publishing On Demand) formats a viable option for these writers?

JIM: Let's face the fact that most writers are not ready to be published right out of the gate. It takes a long time to learn the craft. Amanda Hocking wrote five or six full length novels in one year, then studied the market and wrote more, better books. You still have to pay some dues in this game.

As for POD, I'm not sure that's going to be a great benefit for the writer. It is certainly becoming easier, as with Amazon's CreateSpace program. But the real gain is going to be in going into e-pubbing with stories that sell, or getting the right deal from a print publisher, or some combination of both.

MARK: I know you are a firm believer that a person can learn to be a bestselling author or screenwriter. On your web site, I noticed that you offer a two-day seminar that helps writers achieve these goals. Tell us a little more about this project and where they might be able attend these teaching seminars.

JIM: I've always loved helping writers. When I was trying to figure out how to write, I benefited from things like Lawrence Block's fiction column in Writer's Digest and excellent books, like Dwight Swain's. At the same time, I was doing my own trial and error. I'd get jazzed when I figured out ways to make my fiction work better, and I wanted to teach others what I'd learned. So I did. After over a decade of doing so, and seeing students go on to publication, I've pulled together the most powerful things I know for a two day intensive seminar. We held the first one in LA in June, and had a great group that included a #1 New York Times bestselling writer. The response was so good I am going to take it on the road in 2012. Plans are being made now, so watch my website for updates.

MARK: What surprises to you have in store for suspense readers like myself that are addicted to James Scott Bell stories?

JIM: Thanks, Mark. There are definitely surprises in store, and soon, but what kind of suspense writer would I be if I told? Suffice to say I am having more fun than ever as a writer and there is much more to come. I'll never stop.
More information about Jim may be found at the James Scott Bell web site. Jim also is part of a group of suspense writers on the highly visited blog site The Kill  Zone, where writers learn more about the business of writing and publishing.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Interview: Authors Robert Cornuke and Alton Gansky

The Bell Messenger
The Pravda Messenger

By Mark Young
Robert (Bob) Cornuke
Authors Robert Cornuke and Alton Gansky—at first blush—appear to be an unlikely pair. They teamed up to write two fiction thrillers The Bell Messenger (2008) and The Pravda Messenger (2009), each novel centered around a mysterious Bible handed down from one generation to the next. The series begins on a battlefield when a dying Confederate soldier gives this worn Bible to a Union soldier. This gift has a profound effect on successive generations.

Robert (Bob) Cornuke, a former FBI-trained police investigator and SWAT leader, comes across like the National Treasure character Benjamin Franklin Gates played by Nicholas Cage. Both men are globetrotting, go-anywhere archeologists searching for ancient treasures. Unlike Gates, Bob seeks treasures and artifacts revealed in the Bible. His own web site lists himself as an “adventure archeologist, traveling to some of the hottest places in the world—physically and figuratively. Egypt. Saudi Arabia. Turkey. He has even explored under the blue seas of the Mediterranean off the Island of Malta.

Alton Gansky
Alton Gansky, on the other hand, seems more suited for academic and scholarly pursuits. He has authored more than forty books, served as a pastor for over twenty years, and served as a Dean Of Students for a small Bible college. While a full-time writer, he created his own company, Gansky Communications, providing writing services for publishers, agents, businesses and other authors.

Looking more carefully into their backgrounds, however, I began to see similarities between these two men. Both men have a passion for the Bible. Bob holds a Ph/D in Bible and theology. Alton holds a B.A. and M.A in biblical studies. And for those of us interested in emergency services, both men come from that arena—Alton as a firefighter, Bob as a police officer.

Together, they have written these two novels about a subject they both know well—the Bible.

The Bell Messenger begins on the civil war battlefield when a Union officer severely wounds a young Confederate soldier. The dying soldier hands a worn Bible to the Union officer, saying “Be God’s messengers as I have been.” This begins a journey through time, winding up at the doorstep of protagonist Gary Brandon, who receives this same mysterious gift as a graduation gift in 1980. His alcoholic uncle—who claims to have discovered the Bible as he dug for valuable artifacts in a Saudi Arabian cave—wants Brandon to have it and other items, including a bit of gold found at the same site. Skeptical, Brandon begins to search the history of this mysterious gift, only to learn of the fascinating connection others have had to this book over the last one-hundred and fifteen years.

In a way, The Pravda Messenger picks up where The Bell Messenger leaves off. Tonya Novak—the girl with “the gift of the Pravda legend”— fled from the KGB in 1975, leaving her wounded father behind and a mystery inexplicably tied to the coffin of Feodor Huzmick sitting beneath a Russian monastery were her father lay wounded. Seven years later, the worn Bible reappears. Attorney Shannon Reed and an ailing billionaire’s personal secretary briefly retrieve this precious book, only to lose it when the secretary dies in plane crash while carrying it back to their benefactor.  The Bible disappears once again. In Reed’s pursuit of it—still sought by the ailing billionaire—she links up with Novak as they encounter a number of odd characters who all have hidden agendas. The two seekers must learn whom they can trust and what is the meaning of a mysterious gift that set Novak apart since her birth in Russia.

MARK: This is the first time on Hook’em and Book’em that I’ve tried to interview two authors at the same time. However, it is hard to examine these novels—written by both of you— without having both authors available for comment. So … here we are. First, tell us a little bit about how the two of you met, and how the concept for these two novels came to be.

BOB: Met via my agent Lee Hough.

ALTON: As I recall, Bob’s agent Lee Hough contacted me with the project. I knew of Bob from his many radio appearances and his nonfiction work, so I was quick to say yes.

MARK:  I tried to summarize a little bit about each novel. What did I leave out that our reader should know about The Bell Messenger? The Pravda Messenger?

BOB:  It is a story that seemed to spring-forth easily like my mind was flickering forth images before I had even offered an outline. The organic nature of the process was very enjoyable and Alton made it shine

ALTON: I think your summary is good. Bob has created a complex set of characters, settings, and plot lines, so the books are difficult to reduce to a few paragraphs.

MARK: As I read both of the novels, I tried to place these stories into definable genres for the readers. I considered defining terms such as mystery, historical, and thriller, but none seems to adequately describe what you have written. How would you characterize these novels?

BOB:  Adventure for sure with a strong historical basis.

ALTON: They’re action-adventure stories with a biblical hook. They incorporate in fiction similar adventures that Bob has experienced.

MARK:  As I began reading The Bell Messenger, I began to feel like the protagonist in H.G.Well’s novel, The Time Machine as you take the reader from the battlefields of the civil war in the first chapter to a rundown motel room in Phoenix Arizona in 1980 by the second chapter. By the end of the book, the reader has traveled back and forth through time, and across the globe, finally winding up in the deserts of Saudi Arabia. In spite of these time switches and geographical changes, I found myself following the story quite easily. How were you able to handle these major shifts in time and geography without losing your readers along the journey? What techniques can you share with other writers?

BOB:  I like the reader knowing beforehand how things will turn out from past historical events and sort of root-on the contemporary characters to solve the mystery.

ALTON: It’s a balancing act. When I teach fiction, I describe this kind of plot line a DNA structure. Like DNA it consists of two strands of plot twisted around each other and connected by a series of events that link the two strands. The key to making this work is having a strong protagonist in each timeline. Generalities won’t work. The reader has to connect the Civil War character and also to the 1980’s college grad. Bob has a great sense of story and character. The protagonists, although separated by more than a century, are similar in their determination and resourcefulness while remaining very different in other areas of personality. The case of Bob’s books, the primary connection is a very unique Bible.

MARK:  Bob, I noticed that you have had several interesting encounters while pursuing your archeological pursuits. In The Pravda Messenger, the country of Saudi Arabia plays a prominent role. I understand in one of your trips to that country you faced a harrowing situation. Can you tell us a little about that incident?

BOB:  I was arrested in Saudi Arabia and sort of escaped the peril of that situation. I have been in many deserts and exploratory situations so I had a lot to draw from.

MARK: How did the two of you manage to work together on these two projects? Bob, you seem to be constantly on the move following your archeological interests and conducting tour guides to some very remote sites. In fact, you were traveling when I tried to catch up to you about this interview. And, Alton, you maintain a very demanding writing and teaching schedule while also managing your Gansky Communications company. Tell us how the two of you managed to coordinate these writing projects.

BOB: I had the basic story in my mind and Alton breathed life into the story. It was easy by phone and email that we did all this. Alton is really a pro.

ALTON: In most collaborative writing projects, I do all the writing, but no so with Bob. He had the story largely written so that made things easier. We communicated a lot by phone and by e-mail.

MARK:  Bob—since this is a blog about mystery, crime, and cops—tells us a little about your days in law enforcement. Where did you serve and what duties and assignments were you involved with?

BOB:  I was a Costa Mesa police officer for almost a decade and in that line of duty you find so many personalities that are both good and very evil. Life lessons are a daily encounter so it make for a good rolodex of experiences.

MARK: Do you mind telling us why you left law enforcement and began this very drastic career change?

BOB:  I left the PD shortly after a shooting situation. A man died and I felt it was time to go and see the world before I was the one dead.

MARK: Alton, I noted in your bibliography that you were a firefighter at one point in your life. Emergency services issues—as they relate to mystery writers and readers—often crop up here on this blog. Writers enjoy learning from those who have provided these services in the past, so that authors might make their fiction writing even more credible. In fact, we’ve had another firefighter-turn-novelist here last July when Shawn Grady visited us from Reno, California. Would you share a little information about your fire-fighting experiences? Where? How Long? Any stories you can share?

ALTON: I was a firefighter with one of the smaller agencies in San Diego county. I attended Heartland fire academy then served for a couple of years. I was part of a CETA program, a government effort that provided money to civil service agency under the Ford administration. When the money ran out, the department had to cut back on payroll. I was laid off and went into architecture where I drew plans for houses, condos, and offices. I did that for about a decade. While on the fire department I did both engine company work and ambulance/rescue work.

MARK: Alton, you must have a very busy writing schedule. You have authored over forty books—garnering recognition such as a Christy Awards finalist for A Ship Possessed, and an Angel Award winner for Terminal Justice—while teaching and managing your own company. What does a normal writing day look like to you, or is normal not the best word to describe your schedule?

ALTON: I also direct three writing conferences. I’m not sure I know what normal is. My days are full. Through Gansky.Communications I’ve been doing a lot of collaborative writing which has been fun and given me the opportunity to connect with fascinating people like Bob. While I still write my own books, I enjoy working with others. I’ve learned a lot from prophecy experts, financial guru’s and military heros. It’s the best of both worlds.

MARK: What does the writing future hold for the two of you? Have you considered working together on other projects? What writing projects—together or separately—do you have in the making?

BOB:  Alton is a good man with a good heart, so any book with him will be good as well.

ALTON: I continue to write, collaborate, and teach. I have a fractured, er, faceted personality so I need to be involved with several things at a time. I complain about it, but I’d be bored otherwise.  At the moment, Bob and I do not have another project in the hopper.

MARK:  Gentleman, thank you for taking the time to visit us.

More information about author Bob Cornuke can be found at his Bible Archeology Search and Exploration Institute (BASE) web site.

More information about author Alton Gansky can be found at his author site—Alton Gansky—and at his business site, Gansky Communications.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Interview: Novelist Davis Bunn

Lion of Babylon
 By Mark Young
Author Davis Bunn has written another edge-of-your-seat thriller guaranteed to make readers lose sleep. In this unique page-turner, Bunn’s well-written and fast-paced Lion Of Babylon novel takes readers by the scruff of the neck, never letting go until the last chapter. (Release date: July 2011 by Bethany House Publishers).

Ex-intelligence officer Marc Royce’s life—once filled with excitement and adrenaline—drifted into sadness, lethargy and boredom since his wife passed away at the age of twenty-nine. Grieving over her death, he prays life might change. Royce soon finds out that one must be careful about what one prays for.

His former boss, an ambassador living in the shadows of powerful government, emerges to report that Marc’s best friend—an assistant chief of security in Baghdad’s Green Zone—has disappeared along with two young women. The ambassador wants Marc to ferret out the truth. Were these disappearances just part of a romantic tryst at a Red Sea resort for a few days, or did this CIA operative and two women get caught up in political espionage, kidnapping, or are they lying in a sandy grave?

Thrust into a war-torn country, Marc joins forces with Sameh el-Jacobi, a lawyer and member of an Iraqi Christian Church, who specializes in returning kidnapped children to their families. Cultural and religious conflict makes the job harder to find Marc’s friend and to learn of the real reasons behind the disappearance of these three Americans. As the plot deepens, nothing can be accepted at face value. Everything has consequences. Religion. Politics. Even the release of nearly 100,000 criminals by Saddam Hussein prior to liberation may play into the problems Marc and Sameh face regarding the ugly trade in human bodies.

This novel explores some of the contemporary issues inside Iraq today, including the persecution and kidnapping of Christians and others in that country.  In a recent article posted in American, the national catholic weekly, figures show that of all the persecuted Christian communities in the Middle East, those in Iraq have suffered the worst. At beginning of the occupation there were more than 800,000 Christians in Iraq, now there are about 450,000.

It is within this political and cultural backdrop that the Lion Of Babylon is born.

Davis Bunn is a superb writer, whose many novels continue to intrigue, entertain and inspire readers. This author is a Writer in Residence at Regent’s Park College, Oxford University in England, while managing to migrate back to Florida for part of each year where he undertakes another one of his passions—surfing.

MARK:  Thanks again for joining us to discuss your latest novel, Lion of Babylon. As I read this novel, I became fascinated with the amount of detail you folded into the story. I came away feeling like I had received a deeper understanding about this troubled country and some of the issues it faces. Which sources did you draw your information from to write this novel?

DAVIS:  I worked for a number of years with a Swiss-Arab consortium, first as Assistant to the Chairman and then as Marketing Manager for one main division.  I was the only non-Muslim in the management structure.  I was twenty-five years old when I started there.   To say the least, this was a real eye-opener.  I lived about six months of each year at our headquarters in Switzerland, and the rest of the time in Africa and the Middle East. 

I left that job to become a consultant based in Germany, and it was here I came to faith, and then began writing two weeks later.  Since then I have been back a number of times to the Middle East and Africa, and have long wanted to base a story there.  This was my first real foray, however, and I am thrilled with how the story has turned out.

MARK: As I mentioned above, the level of kidnappings seems to have escalated in Iraq since Saddam Hussein was removed from power. As you point out in this novel, one of the last acts Hussein did before the occupation was the release of over 100,000 criminals. Can you share with our readers about the scope of this problem based upon your research and contacts? Does this account for a significant number of kidnappings, or are there other considerations at play?

DAVIS: The crime situation in Iraq is often masked by the overall violence and bombings.  This is only natural, since the terrorist bombings are what most affect the American service personnel still based in the region.  But for the average Iraqi, the problems of crime and lawlessness are equally vital.  I used the kidnapping issue, which is a very grave threat to all families with children, as a means of showing what life was like there for the average citizen.

MARK:  In your novel, one of the main characters is Sameh el-Jacobi, a lawyer and a member of the Syrian Christian Church, which you mention is the majority church for Iraqi Christians. Can you tell us a little about the history of this church and whether it has any influence on the current situation in Iraq?

DAVIS:  This was one of the great delights of this book, learning about the Christian churches of Iraq and the surrounding countries.  The Syrian Christian Church has its roots in some of the very earliest missionary journeys.  Some say it was one of Christ’s own disciples who founded the church.  Whatever the actual beginning, there are churches still intact today that are built upon foundations laid in the third century—around 225AD. 

MARK:  From your research and contact, can you tell us a little more about any positive alliances or progress being made in that country today? In your novel, there is a hint of optimism, of a hope that divergent groups might be able to come together in that country working toward peace. Is this possible, or are the cultural and religious differences so vast that there is little hope?

DAVIS:  The optimism is real, just as the hope that Jesus brings.  These peace initiatives are a strong and vibrant part of our heritage of believers.  They are often referred to as faith-based peace initiatives, and are usually headed by a former member of Congress or a senior White House official.  Chuck Colson, head of Prison Fellowship and former aide to President Nixon, is heavily involved in a number of these issues, mostly related to the treatment of prisoners and their families.

MARK: Your novel is titled Lion Of Babylon. This symbol of the lion is repeatedly used in Babylonian history and carried forward into today’s Iraqi culture. Even an Iraqi-built version of a Soviet battle tank was dubbed the Lion of Babylon. How did you settle on this name? What significance does it play in your novel or is this something the readers should find out for themselves?

DAVIS:  Because of the crucial role this plays in how Marc is perceived, and really who he grows into as a man applying his faith to his world, I would rather leave this for the readers to discover in the book. 

MARK: Your main protagonist, Marc Royce, came from an intelligence background with the U.S. State Department. Last year on this blog, we interviewed former anti-terrorism agent Fred Burton, (author of  Ghost: Confessions of a Counterterrorism Agent and his forthcoming book. Chasing Shadows), who served for sixteen years with the Counterterrorism Division of the State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service. Is this the branch of service your main character emerged from or was he from another division within State? Did you have your own contact inside DSS or gain your information from other sources?

DAVIS:  Yes.  The State Department Intelligence operation is the smallest of the American intelligence groups.  Their primary remit, or main task, is to protect all non-military American operations – like embassies and safe houses – outside the US borders.   I had actually started this story planning to use the CIA, but this had already been used so successfully by other authors whose work I admire, and State intel was relatively unknown.  Then I was introduced to a wonderful woman who has served both as a senior operative and then as assistant to the director – the role Marc Royce plays – within the organization.  This was a genuine prize.  She is a fan of my work, and was happy to take me into their HQ and walk me through their operation.  Such opportunities are one of the greatest joys of researching a new story.

MARK: I highly recommend to those who enjoy a real page-turner to pick up a copy of the Lion of Babylon. They are in for a real treat. What does the future hold for you now that this novel is about to be released? Can we be look forward to any more stories like this in the near future?

DAVIS:  I am currently busy with the sequel to Lion.  The title is Rare Earth, and it is due for release in May of next year. 

MARK: Again, thanks for joining us. We wish you well upon the release of this novel.

For more information on Davis and his writing career, visiting his website at