Austin S. Camacho is the author of five novels in the Hannibal Jones Mystery Series, four in the Stark and O’Brien adventure series, and the detective novel, Beyond Blue. Austin is deeply involved with the writing community. He is a past president of the Maryland Writers Association, past Vice President of the Virginia Writers Club, and is an active member of Mystery Writers of America, International Thriller Writers and Sisters in Crime. He is part owner of Intrigue Publishing, and was the chief organizer for the annual Creatures, Crimes, and Creativity (C3) Conference near Baltimore.
I had the pleasure of meeting Austin two years ago at the C3 conference, as well as working with him on his story “One of Us” for the Insidious Assassins anthology, published by Smart Rhino Publications. I recently managed to catch up with Austin and used the opportunity to talk with him about latest projects.
Weldon Burge (WB): You’ve written a good many suspense/thriller novels, including the Hannibal Jones mystery series, the Stark and O’Brien adventure series, and most recently a detective novel, Beyond Blue. Let’s start with the series. What do you find most appealing about writing series? Do you find the series easier to market than stand-alone novels?
Austin Camacho (AC): The most important point about character development is that people are changed by the events they experience. So the most appealing part of writing a series is that I get to follow up on those changes. I’ve followed the rising and advancing of Hannibal Jones’ spirit, and the rocky path along which Stark (a mercenary) and O’Brien (a thief) are following toward becoming actual heroes, in part due to their friendship. And I think series are easier to market because readers get caught up in characters more than in plots.
WB: Your latest novel, Beyond Blue, is about a team of detectives whose only purpose is to help police officers in trouble. What sparked the idea for this novel? How much research was involved in pulling the book together?
AC: My friend & fellow writer Warren Murphy came up with the idea. I was immediately captivated for two reasons. First, I think a high-profile handful of dirty cops give all cops a bad name. These guys put their lives on the line every day and get little support from the community. Also, the book has a unifying theme. The Beyond Blue agency is financed by a wealthy Muslim whose son was in the Towers on 9/11 and saved by a NY cop.
My research involved talking to a lot of policemen who gave examples of good cops being hung out to dry.
WB: You’ve also written many short stories for anthologies and other publications. What do you find appealing about writing short stories, as opposed to longer fiction?
AC: Truth is, I’m not much of a short story writer because I never know what to write about. But for some reason, when an editor gives me a theme to write to, I can do it. For example, it never occurred to me to write a story from a professional killer’s point of view until I was invited to submit to Insidious Assassins. Faced with that specific challenge, a very cool idea came to me.
WB: What is your most vexing problem when writing?
AC: I develop character histories and backstory to a very deep degree… and then it is difficult for me not to dump all that info on the reader. Usually I end up writing in way too much, then having to go back and cut it all out.
WB: If you could start your writing career over, what would you do differently?
AC: I’d have done more research into the business of writing before I submitted anything to anyone. Early on I accepted a lot about small presses that isn’t true of most of them.
WB: What’s next on your writing agenda?
AC: It’s a cycle: I’m rewriting and editing the most recent Hannibal Jones, writing the next Stark & O’Brien, and beginning the complex plotting challenge of the next Beyond Blue.
WB: Let’s switch gears and turn to your role as a publisher. You’re part owner of an indie publishing company, Intrigue Publishing, which specializes in thrillers and mysteries. What was your biggest challenge in starting the company?
AC: Our business model calls for us to behave as much as possible like a major publisher, which means we spend more time getting a book out than most small presses. The challenge was and is dealing with authors who think we should get the book out faster, who don’t want the level of editing we do, or who want the kind of control over the project you only get when you self-publish.
WB: What do you find most rewarding as a publisher?
AC: Sitting at the Love is Murder Con in Chicago this year and watching two of our authors win awards (Best Thriller for Death and White Diamonds by Jeff Markowitz and Best Police Procedural for Retribution by Annie Rose Alexander)—seeing those authors’ faces light up when they heard their names—I remember thinking, “Yeah, THIS is why we do it!”
WB: Wearing your editor’s hat, what is your primary advice to writers for submitting work?
AC: Pay attention to detail and give us your best. We’re not just buying your book, we’re buying YOU. If I think you’re the kind of writer who doesn’t care about spelling and punctuation, or won’t fact check his work, or will resist editorial guidance, we’ll say no thank you even if your writing and story are superior.
WB: Now, switching to your marketing hat, what should writers do to promote their own work, especially when working with an indie publisher?
AC: No. 1: Build a platform. The more people who know you, the better, so find your natural audience. Who should want to read your book? Find them.
No. 2: Buzz your book. A Facebook post per day is good, but you can’t tweet too much. Keep your name and title out there.
No. 3: Establish a relationship with bookstores in your area. It’s not just social media.
I got this email from Jeff Markowitz, author of the aforementioned Death and White Diamonds: “I learned today that at least four Barnes & Noble stores in central Jersey have Death and White Diamonds in stock, in the store, on the shelf. Actually, I learned of the first store by accident and then spent the remainder of the day driving to various B & N stores to see for myself. At three of the four stores, I autographed the store's book stock while I was there. And two of the four seemed receptive to arranging an in-store event.”
What publisher wouldn’t throw their efforts behind this guy? We’re calling the stores and sending them posters and bookmarks.
WB: Let’s talk about the Creatures, Crimes, and Creativity conference for a minute. Can you give us your quick, down-and-dirty promotional pitch for the conference? What do you hope attendees will get out of it?
AC: The C3 Con gathers readers and writers of mystery, suspense, thriller, horror, sci-fi, fantasy, and paranormal fiction. The registration fee includes five meals: Friday’s dinner, 3 meals Saturday and Sunday breakfast, so readers and writers dine side-by-side. It also includes a video interview authors can use on their own websites after the con. Published authors get to spend time with their fans, and to expose new readers to their writing by presenting on panels. Their books will be available in our on-site bookstore and there will be dedicated book-signing times. Each author’s name and a link will be posted on the C3 website. They will be pictured in the C3 program book and invited to contribute to the C3 blog.
WB: What prompted you to take on such a Herculean task to organize the event?
AC: I’ve had so much fun at the smaller genre cons around the country— Magna Cum Murder, Killer Nashville, Love is Murder—but none of them is in the mid-Atlantic area. I wanted the same thing closer to home. And there were a few things at each that I thought could be done better, as if the people putting them on didn’t attend each others’ event. So I wanted to take the best bits of each, and I think we have.
WB: What can we expect from this year’s conference?
AC: A great time! The Creatures, Crimes & Creativity (C3) con in Hunt Valley MD takes place September 25-27 this year. Heather Graham and F. Paul Wilson will be keynote speakers, but that’s only the beginning. Readers and fans will enjoy panels and presentations from favorite authors, including those I just mentioned, both of whom have written best-sellers in the paranormal, suspense, mystery, thriller, fantasy, and horror genres. Local guest authors include mystery and sci-fi author Andy Straka and thriller writer S.D. Skye, both award winners in their own rights.
Each attendee will receive a goodie-bag filled with cool stuff, including our exclusive anthology filled with stories written by attending authors. Plus fun events like book signings, a Twitter contest, and a scavenger hunt, with lots of valuable prizes. You can see all the details and register at http://creaturescrimesandcreativity.com.
WB: One last question, just for fun. You’re planning an outdoor barbecue on July 4th, and you can invite four special guests—authors or fictional characters, contemporary or from the past. Who do you invite? And what conversation would you hope to initiate?
AC: Wow! I get the time machine and the fictional universe? Well then, it’s a mob scene with Sherlock Holmes, Tarzan, Professor Challenger, Scarlet Pimpernel, Dupin, Raffles, Doc Savage, Monk Mayfair, Nero Wolfe, Lord Peter Whimsey, Dennis Nayland Smith, The Shadow, The Spider, Bulldog Drummond, James Bond, and Travis McGee. They’re all related, you know. Almost all have gray eyes, a recessive trait that gives them away.
All the people I wanted to be when I was younger, and I get to really get to know them! I’d see the world’s greatest chess game round-robin—and secretly hope a fight would break out.
WB: Now wouldn’t that be something! Thanks, Austin!
For more on Austin Camacho, visit his website at http://www.ascamacho.com and his blog at http://ascamacho.blogspot.com. Intrigue Publishing’s website is http://intriguepublishing.com. If you’re interested in the C3 conference, check out the website at http://creaturescrimesandcreativity.com.
(A version of this interview was also published in the March 2015 issue of Suspense Magazine.)