Friday, April 26, 2013

Interview: NYT bestselling author Dean Koontz

By Mark Young
Novelist Dean Koontz’s novels have become my own personal addiction. All I have to do is pull out one of Dean’s many novels every time I need inspiration for one of my own manuscripts. His words flow like butter on hotcakes, and his imagery and character development entice readers like Homer’s enchanting Sirens to seafarers.

Dean remains one of the hottest writers on the block. Don’t take my biased account, however, look at the numbers. The New York Times Bestselling list is no stranger to his novels. And, according to writing about Dean, they wrote “… his more than 100 suspense-filled novels in various genres have sold 450 million copies (about the same as J.K. Rowling).” Move over Harry Potter!

If you’d like to sample Dean’s writing, here is an excerpt taken from the opening of his upcoming Deeply Odd novel:

Before dawn, I woke in darkness to the ringing of a tiny bell, the thimble size bell I wore on a chain around my neck: three bursts of silvery sound, a brief silence after each. I was lying on my back in bed, utterly motionless, yet the bell rang three times again. The vibrations that shivered through my bare chest seemed much too strong to have been produced by such a tiny clapper. A third set of three rings followed, and then only silence. I waited and wondered until dawn crept down from the sky and across the bedroom windows.

      Later that morning in early March, when I walked downtown to buy blue jeans and a few pairs of socks, I met a guy who had a .45 pistol and a desire to commit a few murders. From that encounter, the day grew uglier as surely as the sun moves from east to west.

  My name is Odd Thomas. I have accepted my oddness. I am no longer surprised that I am drawn to trouble as reliably as iron to 
a magnet. (Opening lines to Deeply Odd, due to be released May
    28, 2013).

It is an honor to have Dean re-join us here on Hook’em and Book’em. (His last visit two years ago can be seen on this link).

MARK: Dean, I look forward to the release of Deeply Odd. What
kind of trouble confronts your lovable fry cook Brother Odd in this next adventure?

DEAN: DEEPLY ODD is the sixth in a 7-book life arc for Odd. ODD INTERLUDE was a sidestep, having nothing to do with lingering spirits of the dead. Odd is now back on his road to redemption, learning by going where he has to go, in his way doing penance for his inability to save Stormy. He encounters a psychopathic trucker dressed like a rhinestone cowboy, and thereafter it becomes a road novel. As a reader, I've always enjoyed novels in which characters are on the move a lot. There's a sense of freedom in them, a constant freshening of the narrative. I've written a few of them myself--DARK RIVERS OF THE HEART, RELENTLESS, BY THE LIGHT OF THE MOON to name a few--but this is the only one in the Odd series.

MARK: In your dedication of the Deeply Odd novel to Stephen Sommers, an American screen writer and film director, you wrote: “This novel is dedicated to Stephen…who kept his promises in a world in which almost no one does.” Very high praise! Is this in connection to the production and expected release of the Brother Odd movie later this year?

DEAN:  Steve is a smart, talented, and incredibly charming guy. He is also honorable and modest and honest in an industry where those virtues are seldom encountered. He made an excellent adaptation of ODD THOMAS that scores high with test audiences, and he deferred his compensation to the back end in order to put every dollar he could into the production. It's about a 25-million-dollar film that looks like an 80-million-dollar film. He got brilliant performances out of Anton Yelchin and Addison Timlin.

MARK: When is the movie expected to be released? What can you tell us about the production process?

DEAN: It now looks as if the movie will never hit theaters, maybe not even DVD. I would love to vent about this. Someday I might. Suffice it to say that, if my life hung in the balance and my survival depended upon the competence and honor of my rescuer, then of the principles involved in this, the only one I would trust with my life is Steven Sommers.

MARK: In other movie and television news, I understand that TNT is developing a drama series based on your Frankenstein series. What progress has been made on this project? When might it be aired?

DEAN: TNT will make the decision to proceed or not with the pilot episode in June. The script is quite good, and with the right cast and show runner, it could be quality TV with great energy. But I can only wait and hope.

MARK: How much do you have to do with these scripts and film projects?

DEAN: I usually have the right to delete half the names on a short list of writers that the studio or network want to use, and the same with directors. I give notes. And then I wait for everything to blow up--which it seems to do sooner or later. Throughout the development of any film or TV project, it's wise to dress from head to foot in Kevlar.

MARK: Please bear with me on this question—it is long-winded. A couple months ago, you released, Odd Interlude, the continued pilgrimage of Brother Odd. I enjoyed this story and gathered more insight into your main character’s mindset. In the book, Odd tells the reader:

“…When triumph at last comes, our efforts alone could not have won the day without that grace which surpasses all understanding and which will, if we allow it, imbue our lives with meaning.”

Later in the book, through the thoughts of a young girl befriended by Brother Odd, you write:

“…But God is good—right?—and to be really good you’ve got to have humility, we all know that, so then if God is best of the best, then He’s also the humblest of the humble. Right?...God is too humble to sit around all day listening to us praise Him and beg Him, the funny thing is, I’m praying like crazy for Oddie. I guess I’m hopeless.”

Between these two characters, I find a theme that runs—not only through this novel, but through many of your other writings—that there are universal truths concerning our existence here on earth. That God intends deeper purposes—peace, grace, humble adoration— for all people, even more than the need to survive, to exist. Above, you used the phrase “surpasses all understanding” which reminded me of the verse from Philippians 4:7 where the Apostle Paul writes, “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding…” Brother Odd faces a dark and foreboding world, walking between the living and the dead, with brief moments of humor and tranquility. But yet he pushes on, waiting for that time when he will be re-united with his girlfriend, Stormy Llewellyn, in the next life. What spiritual truths does Brother Odd grasp as he journeys through these strange encounters between good and evil? What enables him to carry on and persevere?

DEAN: Odd carries on and perseveres for the same reasons that I do: He sees everywhere deep mystery in the world, and a sense of the unseen in all things seen. He has that card given to him and Stormy by the Gypsy Mummy fortunetelling machine at the carnival--YOU ARE  DESTINED TO BE TOGETHER FOREVER--and that promise will be kept in SAINT ODD, though in a way that I doubt any reader will anticipate.

I've been a lifelong enthusiastic reader of science--in particular quantum mechanics, molecular biology, genetics--and I've lived long enough to see that the more we discover about any subject, the more complex it proves to be. A hundred fifty years ago, human cells were thought to be blobs of "carbonized albumin." We now know that the human cell contains thousands of incredibly long protein chains without any one of which it can't function. A cell is more complex than a 747 and a cruise ship combined! The more you study these things, the more you see that the easy answers to the problems of life and the world--ideologies, scientism--are inadequate.
MARK: It is inspiring to read about your successful writing career. I particularly enjoyed reading the story about how your wife, Gerda, suggested that you follow your writing dream for five years. She offered to support you during that time, and that if it did not pan out it would be clear that you were not going to make it. Before the five years was up, she had to quit her job to run your writing business. Did you ever consider what would have happened if it took longer? Would you have continued writing or just given up?

DEAN: We had no books in our house when I was a kid, and yet I was writing stories and illustrating them by the age of eight. I think it would be easier to give up breathing than to give up writing. In fact, one inevitable day, it will be easy to give up breathing, but I'll probably still be trying desperately to finish writing a scene as I leave the world.

MARK: What would be your advice to unknown writers just starting out based upon the changing face of publishing?

DEAN: Write what you're passionate about, not what's currently hot. Tastes change, these days more rapidly than ever, but what does not change is the intelligent reader's recognition of the passion that a writer brings to his or her work. In this rotten economy--which has affected sales far more profoundly than has the rise of the ebook--the reader needs to sense your commitment to your work and feel that you would have written it even with no hope of publication.

MARK: What does the future hold for you, Dean? What stories and projects are you working on?

DEAN: I've written a novel titled INNOCENCE, which is very different and which I was not sure would be understood and welcomed. But my publishers worldwide have reacted to it at least as strongly--and generally with more enthusiasm--than anything I've done. It hits stores on January 8, 2014. Recently I signed a new six-book contract, and I'm now writing the first in a trilogy with a strange mythology that makes me grin just to think about it, and the lead character of those three books is Ivy Elgin, who was just a supporting character in VELOCITY. After I finish book one of the trilogy, I'll write SAINT ODD. That's about as far forward as it's ever wise to plan.

MARK: What is your greatest joy about writing? What inspires you?

DEAN: The beauty and suppleness of the English language. And the challenge of writing about meaning in a nihilistic age. I get a great deal of mail, and while I always enjoy hearing how much pleasure and entertainment a reader got from a book, I am most encouraged by those frequent letters from readers who tell me my books gave them hope and inspired them to struggle through hard times. And not having to wear a tie. How fabulous it is to have a job for which I can always wear jeans and Hawaiian shirts!

MARK: We look forward to many years of great stories coming from your creative mind, Dean. Thank you for joining us today.
Dean Koontz's novels have been published in 38 languages and have sold over 450 million copies worldwide. He lives in southern California with his wife, Gerda, their golden-retriever, Anna, and the enduring spirit of their golden, Trixie.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Interview: Bestselling novelist James Scott Bell

By Mark Young
Whether his character is a butt-kicking nun or zombie attorney, novelist James Scott Bell’s active imagination always manages to create vivid characters that come alive on the page. And when it comes to humor, Jim can make the grim reaper crack a smile.

You want examples? Try this—opening lines to Jim’s bestselling novel, Try Darkness:

The nun hit me in the mouth and said, “Get out of my house.”

Jaw throbbing, I said, “I can’t believe you just did that.”

“This is my house,” she said. “You want more? Come on back in.”

Sister Mary Veritas is a shade over five and half feet. She was playing in gray sweats, of course. Most of the time she wears the full habit. Her pixie face is usually a picture of innocence. She has short chestnut hair and blue eyes. I had just discovered those eyes hid an animal ruthlessness.

See what I mean? Can you picture Sister Veritas? If you have not experienced this author’s writing style, you’re in for a treat. Sometimes Jim writes funny stuff. Sometimes, he can explore the darkness, looking for the redeeming light.

James Scott Bell is a busy man—writer, lawyer, teacher, mentor, a man of many talents—and willing to take a risk. Legal thrillers. Historical suspense. Even writing zombie attorney legal thrillers under the pen name K. Bennett. Jim practices what he preaches, publishing with some of the top publishing houses in the business while also venturing out into the self-publishing venue himself. Most recently, he earned an Thriller Writers Award finalist spot for his self-published novella, One  More Lie. He is a regular contributor to Writer’s Digest Magazine, where he served as a fiction columnist. WD  has published a number of Jim’s books on writing. Walking with a foot planted in both publishing worlds, Jim is able to provide a unique perspective on this ever-changing game of publishing.

MARK: Welcome back to Hook’em & Book’em, Jim. First, give us a synopsis of your current writing life. What is happening in the fast-paced world of James Scott Bell?

JIM: He's yelling out the window of the runaway train, "Slow down!" The reason is that I've got more

projects on my writing board than I'll ever get to. But, honestly, I like it that way. With the current self-publishing boom, you just never run out of things to write. I'm having more fun than ever, which I think the writing life should be.

MARK: How are your teaching seminars going? Who do you co-teach with and what topic do your students seem most interested in?

JIM: I love teaching workshops around the country. When I have the chance to teach over two or three days, I like to include interactive exercises along with the tools and techniques. I want to get writers deeper into their own work, and come up with gold. In November of each year I get together with Donald Maass (Writing the Breakout Novel) and Christopher Vogler (The Writer's Journey) for a big, 3-day conference. We each take a whole day, and find that our approaches complement each other nicely.

MARK: What do you try to focus on in these seminars?

JIM: My focus is on techniques that work. I've never stopped studying the writing craft, even after I was making a living at it. It fascinates me, why things work, how writers can get better at what they do. When I teach I'm trying to give extremely practical advice any writer can use to improve their work.

MARK: I am an avid follower of THE KILL ZONE, a blog where you and your co-writers share information and advise about all aspects of writing and the publishing world. One particular article you wrote a few weeks ago, titled Field Report From the eBook Revolution #3: The New Equilibrium, brought attention to such controversial topics as digital only contracts from traditional publishers, the continuing decline of physical shelf space in books stores, and the disappearance of the midlist authors. Where do you see the publishing industry headed in the next few years?

JIM: We all know things are changing, but no one knows the rate or content of the changes to come. No one. It's all up in the air. Which makes it exciting for the fast movers—which include authors who like to write—and challenging for big publishers who are like huge zeppelins propelling through storm clouds. I find the landscape fascinating.

Surely more and more people will read on tablets and e-readers. Print will still be around, but limited. One interesting development is the survival and even the rise of independent bookstores. They are like flowers that have grown up through the asphalt. They are small but pretty, and people appreciate them. Tight communities of print book lovers will congregate here.

It's all good for writers, who have options and opportunities.

MARK: What are some of the obstacles that traditional publishers face?

JIM: The same obstacles typewriter manufacturers faced when the PC caught on. There are still typewriter specialty shops that repair old machines. But these are boutiques for lovers of the old things. Some typewriter companies and shops saw what was coming, and moved into the computer age, and have managed to survive and, sometimes, thrive. But they did have to change.

Major publishing today faces a tsunami that few people saw coming back in late 2007. That was when the Kindle was introduced.  Can you believe it cost $399? Virtually no one anticipated the speed of change that happened next.

The rapidity of it all put pressure on every part of the industry. It's what led to Borders going into bankruptcy in 2011. The big publishers took that like a blow to the sola plexus, and they've been staggering around since. But in a
blog post I likened the industry to Jake LaMotta, the "Raging Bull." It refuses to go down.

But with physical shelf space disappearing, their main mode of operation and distribution is fading away. That was their main advantage. Now they've got to find ways to make themselves advantageous again.

MARK: What are some of the obstacles indie authors/publishers face?

JIM: There are two main obstacles: quality and discoverability. The former is about having the discipline and drive and work ethic to make yourself better and better, all the time, not giving up, producing the words. This is always job one for a writer. All the digital savvy in the world isn't going to help you if your writing is subpar.

The second aspect, discoverability, is an ongoing process. In one sense, taking care of the quality also takes care of the discovery. Word of mouth works. Great writing catches on. The depth and degree of discovery is always going to vary. But it will happen for the writer who is doing excellent work. Then come various tools one can use to try to get leg up. Like the Kindle Select program which you, Mark, have used very successfully. There are others. The self-publishing writer should set aside a certain amount of time each week, even if it's just an hour, to study what's possible in terms of marketing.

There's also social media, but writers can misuse it. I've seen it over and over. Variations on "buy my book" don't work. You have to engage and be real. But also, don't put so much time into it that you're taking away from your most important job—writing.

MARK: Your latest novel, Don’t Leave Me, released last January, seems to be doing quite well in the rankings. Tell us about this suspense novel.

JIM: It's the story of two brothers. The older, Chuck Samson, is a chaplain who served with a Marine unit in Afghanistan. He was captured, rescued, and came home with a rare form of PTSD. And he needs to take care of his autistic brother, Stan. In Chapter One, an unseen enemy, for some reason, takes aim at Chuck. And things just get worse from there. Chuck has to run for his life, and from the cops, who think he's a murderer. There's a secret buried deep in Chuck’s psyche that is the one thing that could save him and his brother. But can he ever get to it?

I wanted to write a thriller with a lot of twists and turns, but the crux of it is the love and loyalty of two brothers.

MARK: I know you’re hesitant to discuss future writing projects until they’re hatched. However, I noticed on your web site you shared that you are  “currently at work on two series: pulp style stories featuring Irish Jimmy Gallagher and the vigilante nun series Force of Habit. What can you tell us about these writing projects? Trying to bring back pulp fiction?

JIM: I think pulp fiction is already back. It's a great time to be a productive
writer! Just like in those days, a writer who knows how to tell stories can carve out a decent wage. I love the fact that short form (stories, novelettes, novellas) have a place now.

I wanted to write boxing stories set in Los Angeles in the 1950s. So I did, and that series is up and running. So is Force of Habit, which started as a joke my son told me. He thought a nun who can do martial arts, and fights for justice, could have that title. Ha ha, right? But I liked it! I told him I was going to write it. I wrote it as a novelette and it caught on with a lot of readers. So I wrote a sequel,  Force of Habit 2: And Then There were Nuns. I keep getting emails wanting to know when the next one's coming. I'm working on it! It's called Force of Habit 3: Nun the Wiser.  

MARK: Where can writers go to learn about your teaching seminars? Where are these going to be held? What other events are you going to be involved with this year?

JIM: Simply go to my News and Appearances page.

MARK: Thank you for your time, Jim. Look forward to reading your next work.

JIM: Thanks, Mark. It was great to be Hooked and Booked today.


JAMES SCOTT BELL is the author of the #1 bestseller for writers, Plot & Structure, and numerous thrillers, including Don't LeaveMe, Try Dying and Watch Your Back. His novella One More Lie was the first self-published work to be nominated for an International Thriller Writers Award. Under the pen name K. Bennett, he is also the author of the Mallory Caine zombie legal thriller series, which begins with Pay Me in Flesh. He served as the fiction columnist for Writer's Digest magazine and has written highly popular craft books for Writer’s Digest Books, including: Revision & Self-Editing for Publication, The Art of War for Writers and Conflict & Suspense