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Weldon Writes ... Almost a Blog

Graham Masterton: Horror and Suspense Master Extraordinaire

Graham Masterton is something of a literary chameleon. A prolific author, his 100+ books run the gamut from horror to thrillers to historical fiction to sex “how-to” manuals to his current series of Katie Maquire crime fiction. His debut as a horror writer began with the immensely popular novel, The Manitou, in 1975, which was also made into a movie starring Tony Curtis and Susan Strasberg. Several of his short stories have been adapted for television, including three for Tony Scott’s Hunger series. The man has been around the block a few times.

Graham is magnanimous and more than willing to talk about writing and publishing, and has long been a supporter of other writers in the field. In fact, he will talk your ear off given half the chance. I was thrilled that he was willing to take some time out of his busy day to answer a few questions for Suspense Magazine.

So, where did it all start?

I was writing fiction from an early age. I loved the novels of Jules Verne like Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea and H.G. Wells like The War of the Worlds, and wrote my own adventure novels and bound them in cardboard. At the age of 10 or 11, I discovered Edgar Allan Poe and loved the stories of “The Pit and the Pendulum” and blazing dwarves. I started writing my own short horror stories to read to my friends during break time at school. Some of my friends met me years later and told me that I had given them nightmares. I wrote a 250-page novel (by hand) about giant supernatural crabs when I was 12 (which I still have). When I was 14, I wrote a 400-page vampire novel that has been lost.

I was expelled from school was I was 17. Expulsion was the making of me, though,  Read More 

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Meet Thriller Writer John Gilstrap

Most people know bestselling author John Gilstrap for his thrillers, especially his Jonathan Grave novels (No Mercy, Hostage Zero, High Treason, Damage Control, End Game, Threat Warning). But fewer know that he is also an accomplished screenwriter, writing screen adaptations of novels by Nelson DeMille, Thomas Harris, Norman McLean, and of course his own work. Outside of his writing, John has an extensive background in hazardous waste management, fire behavior, and explosives—knowledge that he has incorporated at times in his fiction.

John welcomed an interview for Suspense Magazine, and I thoroughly enjoyed our Q&A session!

Let’s start with your screenwriting. Your first screenplay was an adaptation of your own novel, Nathan’s Run. Apparently you knew nothing about screenwriting before taking on the job. Yet you wrote the screenplay in, what, less than a week? What did you do to get up-to-speed on that project?

Two years after I’d sold the movie rights to Nathan’s Run, my film agent at CAA called with the bad news that Warner Bros was putting Nathan’s Run in turn-around—the first in a complex series of steps that generally lead to a movie’s death. All because of script problems. I told my agent that the previous script writers were missing the point of the story; that I could do better, if only given the chance. Important Hollywood Lesson: Be careful what you say.

“Hmm,” my agent said. “Do you think you could do it by next week?” The word “sure” escaped my lips before the filter in my brain had a chance to stop it. Sure I could write a screenplay in a week. Why should I let a little detail like never having seen a screenplay—let alone write one—stand in my way? Bravado, baby.

So, with so little time to deal with the deadline, what did you do?

I dashed out to my local bookstore and picked up a copy of William Goldman’s book, Adventures in the Screen Trade, and read it cover to cover in a day. In it, he’s got the complete script for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and when I finished it, I thought I had a handle on this screenwriting thing, so I started writing. Three days later, I had a completed script for Nathan’s Run.

Wow, three days? How did it go over?

 

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Meet Horror/Suspense Writer W.D. Gagliani

W.D. Gagliani is the author of many novels, including Savage Nights, Wolf’s Trap, Wolf’s Gambit, Wolf’s Bluff, Wolf’s Edge, and more. Wolf’s Trap was a finalist for the Bram Stoker Award in 2004. Bill has published fiction and nonfiction in numerous anthologies and publications. He is a member of the Horror Writers Association (HWA), the International Thriller Writers (ITW), and the Authors Guild. Raised in Genova, Italy, as well as Kenosha, Wisconsin, he now lives and writes in Milwaukee.

Bill, with his co-writer David Benton, wrote the story "Piper at the Gates," published in the Smart Rhino anthology Zippered Flesh 2: More Tales of Body Enhancements Gone Bad! We had fun in the following interview!

You tend to write a hybridization of horror and crime fiction/suspense. Do you find this combination easy to write, and why?

I do find it easier (no writing is truly easy, as you know). But not because there’s something magical about the mix that I’m tapping into. I find it easier because I grew up loving thrillers (and mystery and other genres, but thrillers were big), and later fell under the spell of one S. King, who blew my mind and sent it reeling into that black hole of terror I’d always been circling anyway. I had enjoyed horror before, such as James Herbert’s The Rats and The Fog, but when King came along with ‘Salem’s Lot, I truly was lost. I went all in on horror then. I took a break for my first couple years of college, then jumped back in. It became my favorite genre to read.

But, in any case,  Read More 

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Meet Suspense/Horror Writer Billie Sue Mosiman

Billie Sue Mosiman’s NIGHT CRUISE was nominated for the Edgar Award and her novel, WIDOW, was nominated for the Bram Stoker Award for Superior Novel. She’s a prolific writer, one of our favorites here at Smart Rhino Publications, appearing in several of our anthologies. A suspense thriller novelist, she often writes horror short stories. Billie has also been a columnist, reviewer, and writing instructor. She lives in Texas where the sun is too hot for humankind. We are grateful that she took some time from her busy schedule to answer a few questions for us.

You're a powerhouse short fiction writer, with stories in a great many anthologies and collections. Do you get more satisfaction out of writing short fiction than writing novels? If so, why?

I enjoy both forms of fiction writing. What do I find easiest to write, though? Short stories. One idea, a couple of characters, one forward plot. Novels are Olympic where stories are like college sports. I very much enjoy finishing a novel. I know I've run the marathon and made it.

Your latest novel, THE GREY MATTER, received a nomination for the Kindle Book Award. Your work often bridges the gap between horror and suspense. How much of this is intentional, and how much is simply "I write what I enjoy reading"? Do you think of marketing at all when you're in the "creation mode"?

Two of my suspense novels employed more than suspense. BAD TRIP SOUTH has a little girl who can read minds. It was the first time I mixed genres and I really liked how it came out. You're following a crime drama and meanwhile the girl knows exactly what's going on in the minds of the adults. I employed speculative fiction in THE GREY MATTER, which is essentially a crime suspense novel. The world goes dark due to EMPs and there's a serial killer in it. Otherwise, most of my books are straight suspense novels. I figured if whatever I write is something I like, others will like it too. Now I'm writing a new novel, THE BLACKEST PLACE, and it will be noir suspense. I do write what I enjoy reading.  Read More 

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Meet Suspense/Thriller Writer and Publisher Austin S. Camacho

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?
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Meet Debut Thriller Writer D.B. Corey

D.B. Corey’s first novel, “Chain of Evidence”, a police procedural/thriller, was published by Intrigue Publishing this past summer. In the story, Moby Truax, an aging detective who is nearing retirement, must investigate a serial killer stalking the streets of Baltimore—and Truax suspects the murders are that of a copycat killer, and that he actually faces two serial killers.

After a stint in college, Corey joined the USNR flying aircrew aboard a Navy P-3 Orion chasing down Russian subs. During his time there, he began a career in IT. He didn’t begin writing until his mid-50s, and had to pay some dues before landing his contract with Intrigue and the subsequent publication of his first novel.

I asked D.B. to talk with us about his experiences during the creation, editing, and publication of Chain of Evidence, among other things. He kindly agreed to the following interview.

Weldon Burge (WB): Your novel, Chain of Evidence, was published by a new independent publisher, Intrigue Publishing. What have you learned from that partnership?

D.B. Corey (DB): I signed with Intrigue in July of 2012. The novel was released in August of 2013. Had I not missed my first deadline, it would have come out four months earlier. So the first thing I learned was not to miss deadlines. Once the book did come out, I discovered I had a second job—marketing myself; something I was unprepared to do. I found that writing the book was the easy part, there were not enough weekends in the month, and the publisher designs the cover. He may even want to change the title, but that was OK with me. My title was terrible.

WB: The hero in your novel is Moby Truax, an aging detective nearing retirement. The villain, Harvey Morral, is a serial killer who also happens to be a medical examiner who is into necrophilia. How did you research to develop these two characters?

DB: With all respect, I consider our military men and women and our first responders to be heroes, so I would never refer to one of my fictional characters a hero. Heroes are flesh and blood people who can be hurt, so my good guy is “the protagonist.”

WB: Couldn’t agree more. Sometimes we forget who the true heroes are!
DB: I didn’t want Moby to be a super-cop—some guy who stood six-six, weighed in at two-hundred-and-fifty pounds, was solid muscle, played in the NFL, and had bullets bounce off his chest. Everybody writes those kind of main characters and the movies are full of them. To research Truax, I only had to look at myself. I wanted him to have the same problems I found myself facing; age related problems: diminishing faculties such as memory and eyesight, weight gain, resistance to and resentful of the changing world around him. I used those things as a starting point. As he developed, he had to deal with younger peers with entitlement expectations and a boss who regarded him as taking up space. Moby became cynical, suspicious, arrogant, condescending and proud—lots and lots of flaws; a good main character.

Harvey Morral, on the other hand, is hateable. He is wanting in every social aspect of his life to the point he’s willing to kill to attain the women he covets. He employs a tried and true template of many literary bad guys, but to put just a bit of a spin on him, I made him a coward, who only finds strength when he hides in the shadow of a legitimate killer.

WB: Is Moby going to be a series character?

DB: God I hope so. If the novel is well received, I have the second in the series in mind. He’ll be retired, and broke, and maybe I’ll bring back Vecchio (Moby’s female foil in the book) just to drive him nuts. I think that’s as good a place to start as any.

WB: What’s been your most pleasant surprise as a debut novelist?

DB: I must admit, I am very pleased with the reception the novel has received to date. And if I may share an anecdote; my son mentioned to his neighbor that I wrote a book. She downloaded it and read it in two days; said she couldn’t put it down. She asked my son how she could get a signed copy, so he and I went to visit with a paperback. That’s when I realized how it must be for celebrities, because that’s how she treated me. I felt a bit awkward in that particular role, but she was, and I’m loathed to use this term as applied to me, “star struck.” We sat and talked in her kitchen for thirty minutes or so, I signed the book, and left. Later, I read her Facebook post. I had no idea that small gesture could mean so much to someone.

WB: Least pleasant surprise?

DB: If I may, I’d like to do what politicians do—change the question. My least pleasant occurrence came before the book published. I corresponded with a writing friend online. We critiqued each other’s work. One day, she was especially harsh on a scene I wrote. I went back to look, and it was obvious she hadn’t read what she critiqued. I commented on her error and suggested that maybe she read too fast. She became belligerent and said that she always skipped over the things I wrote, and maybe I should just give up. That was a bit hard to take, and I actually considered her terse advice. But, the longer I thought about it, the more I was determined to prove her wrong, if only to myself.

WB: You’ve mentioned that you read “10 or 20” how-to books before tackling the novel. Which ones were the most helpful, that you’d recommend to other first-time novelists?

DB: I may have exaggerated just a tiny bit. But, of the starter books I read, I found several to be beneficial: The First Five Pages by Noah Lukeman, Hooked by Les Edgerton, Goal Motivation & Conflict by Debra Dixon, and On Writing by Stephen King. King’s book is probably the most intuitive of the lot. Those are my four favorites, the books I recommend. Of course, there are many others on query writing, synopsis writing … you get the picture. The point is, if you want to become a writer and if your name isn’t Hemingway of Twain, you might want to take a few pointers from those who have gone before you.

WB: Do you work from an outline, or just wing it?

DB: Actually, I’ve tried both. I wrote from the seat on my pants (known as a pantser in the trade) to begin with, but then I read Outlining Your Novel by K.M. Weiland, another how-to book. It was good and made many points, but every time I tried to outline, I found myself writing entire scenes within the outline. No self-restraint.

I met Jeffery Deaver (The Bone Collector) at a conference earlier this year. Nice guy. We had a few drinks and he told me he spends eight months writing an outline to a novel. James Patterson said in an interview that he does the same, and writes 60 to 80 pages of outline for his. To be honest, I don’t see how they do it. I have to sink my teeth into the story. I can’t do that several weeks down the road, so I employ a combination of outline and writing. I use bullets for notes I want in each scene, and then write it. Maybe not right then, but I don’t wait months either. E.L. Doctorow described novel writing as driving a car at night. You know where it starts and you know where it ends, in between, you can only see as far as your headlights. I tend to agree.

WB: You spent 12 years in the U.S. Naval Air Reserves, and flew as aircrew on a Navy P-3 Orion submarine hunter during the Cold War. How did those experiences help you in your writing career?

DB: Well, I wasn’t aboard the P-3 the whole twelve years. They did let me out on occasion. But kidding aside, I did many cool things in the Navy, from tracking Russian subs to orbiting a pod of playful whales in the North Atlantic, and from each sea experience, came a sea story. If you ever meet a sailor in a bar, ask them. They’ll keep you enthralled for hours over a couple beers and a bowl of peanuts. I learned how to transform the mundane into the exciting, because after you’ve told the same story half-a-dozen times, you need a twist, if only to keep it fresh for yourself. That’s what fiction writers do, if you think about it.

WB: If you could go back in time to start your writing career all over again, what would you do differently?

DB: Absolutely nothing. I couldn’t have done this were I any younger. I didn’t have what it takes.

WB: What's next on your writing agenda?

DB: I am working on another thriller, this one with a vigilante theme. A woman is brutally murdered and the killer gets off on a technicality. The sister is not happy about it and … well, hopefully, it should be out next year.

After that, I’m going to see what I can do about disassembling the government in a YA thriller.

WB: The ultimate villain—Professor Moriarty or Hannibal Lecter?

DB: Although I like Moriarty, I just wrote a novel with a very sick antag. Hannibal Lecter—no question.

WB: One last question, just for fun. Who is your favorite superhero, and why?

DB: I grew up with Superman, The Flash, Batman, Green Lantern, X-Men … but I’d have to flip a coin between Spidey and Iron Man—Spidey because he had true super powers but was damaged, and Iron Man because of his technology, originally purposed just to keep him alive.

WB: Well, D.B., thanks for spending a few minutes with us!

DB: Weldon, thank you for the opportunity! I enjoyed your thought-provoking questions, as I’m sure you can tell by my rather lengthy answers.

For more on D.B. Corey, visit his Web site at www.dbcorey.com.

(A version of this review was also published in the Jan/Feb. 2014 issue of Suspense Magazine.)
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Meet Bram Stoker Winner Lisa Mannetti

Lisa Mannetti’s debut novel, The Gentling Box, garnered a Bram Stoker Award, and she was nominated in 2010 both for her novella “Dissolution” and a short story, “1925: A Fall River Halloween.” She has also authored The New Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn; Deathwatch, a compilation of novellas—including the story “Dissolution”; a macabre gag book, 51 Fiendish Ways to Leave Your Lover; two nonfiction books; and numerous articles and short stories in newspapers, magazines, and anthologies. Her story “Everybody Wins” was produced as a short film by director Paul Leyden, starring Malin Ackerman and released under the title “Bye-Bye Sally”.

As an editor, I’ve worked with Lisa several times over the past year or so. She kindly agreed to the following interview.

Weldon Burge (WB): Your debut novel, The Gentling Box, won the Bram Stoker Award for Best First Novel in 2008. That’s like strapping on a jetpack and blasting off into a writing career. How has the award helped your career?

Lisa Mannetti (LM): Winning was the single most gratifying event of my life. Years earlier, when I began writing horror, I placed second in a contest at one of the World Horror conventions and when the publisher mentioned my story would probably “garner a lot of interest for a Stoker recommendation,” I practically passed out in front of the mailbox onto my front lawn. So winning such a prestigious award was beyond my wildest dreams. I always try to write my best, but I thought of the Stoker as a true pinnacle that might be always beyond my reach—so it wasn’t on my mind at all during the writing. My goal was getting the book published. Winning for The Gentling Box actually meant even more because two major agents could not sell it to any of the houses in New York. When it received acclaim, it signaled to me that my belief in the novel wasn’t misplaced after all. That’s really huge.

In terms of my day-to-day career, it’s helped smooth the way for subsequent books and projects, a new agent, and the publication of my work in general. In the old days, I’d write a story and sit down with lists of places that seemed like a “fit” with the piece, then start making the manuscript rounds. Now I’m asked to contribute to magazines and anthologies, so my stories are essentially sold before I write them. I’ve never felt like the prescribed theme was any kind of creative impediment--most editors have given me tons of latitude. Those invitations to contribute have been terrific. One of my stories, “1925: A Fall River Halloween” which features Lizzie Borden as a character, was nominated for the Stoker in 2010.

It’s also helped in subtler, but no less important ways, and a few examples come to mind. I’m now an active member of the Horror Writers Association (a long-term goal I finally met) and a new edition of the book will be coming out from Nightscape Press (I couldn’t be more delighted!). Most of all, it makes me very conscious when I sit down to write that it’s critical—imperative—to set high standards and (whether the result can be deemed successful or not) to strive to produce the very best work I can—or die trying.

 

WB: Much of your work might be considered historical horror. Do you enjoy doing the research required for these books?

 

LM: Oh my God, don’t get me started!  Read More 

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An Interview With Horror/Suspense Writer Charles Colyott

Charles Colyott lives on a farm in the middle of nowhere (Southern Illinois) with his wife, daughters, cats, and a herd of llamas and alpacas. He is surrounded by so much cuteness, it's difficult for him to develop any street cred as a dark and gritty horror writer. Nevertheless, he has appeared in Read by Dawn II; Withersin magazine; Terrible Beauty Fearful Symmetry; Horror Library Volumes III, IV, and V; and the Zippered Flesh and Uncommon Assassins anthologies from Smart Rhino Publications. His mystery novels, Changes and Pressure Point, focus on Colyott's acupuncturist, martial-arts-savvy protagonist, Randall Lee.

Colyott took some time away from his busy schedule to answer a few questions for us.

Weldon Burge (WB): Let's get the geek question out of the way first. Zombie or robot apocalypse?

Charles Colyott (CC): Zombies, of course! I feel like we'd have a better chance against them ... unless we're talking the almost indestructible ones from Return of the Living Dead, or the really awful ones from Brian Keene's The Rising. Then we're just screwed.

WB: And one other nagging question: Why llamas and alpacas instead of cows and goats? Can you even milk a llama? And why would you want to? (OK, that was three questions.)

CC: My wife and I just sort of fell in love with alpacas before we even knew what they were. I liked the fact that we didn't have to use them in any way ... no killing, no milking, etc. We just cut their hair once a year (something which must be done anyway). I imagine it is possible to milk one ... but I can't fathom why anyone would want to. Our llamas act as guards for our alpacas, and they take their job pretty seriously.

WB: Chinese culture, especially martial arts, flavors the Randall Lee novels. How much of this is pulled from your past experience, how much from research? Read More 

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An Interview With Horror Writer Kealan Patrick Burke

Kealan Patrick Burke is a man of many talents—a skilled and promising horror writer, editor, artist, and actor. Born and raised in Dungarvan, Ireland, he came to the United States in 2001 to find his fortune in writing. During the intervening years, his work has garnered critical acclaim and awards, and he has been called “a newcomer worth watching” by Publishers Weekly and “one of the most original authors in contemporary horror” by Booklist.

Kealan’s stories have appeared in many publications, including Cemetery Dance, Corpse Blossoms, Horror World, Grave Tales, and a number of anthologies. His work also includes novels (KIN, Currency of Souls, Master of the Moors, The Hides), novellas (The Turtle Boy, Vessels, Midlisters, Thirty Miles South of Dry County), and collections (Ravenous Ghosts, Theater Macabre, The Number 121 to Pennsylvania).

The man truly is busy! Yet, when I asked Kealan to talk with us concerning his experiences, he kindly agreed to the following interview.

Weldon Burge (WB): Born in Ireland, coming to America--what was the hardest part, as a writer, of acclimating to the U.S.?

Kealan Patrick Burke (KPB): The hardest part of coming here, as a person, not solely as a writer, was leaving everything I knew behind: family, friends, the culture, and basically starting from scratch in a place I’d never seen outside of TV. It was a daunting task, and pretty terrifying for a guy who had scarcely been outside of his own country for twenty one years. But that same task provided ample fodder for my writing, broadening my horizons and widening my perspective to an infinite degree. More importantly, relocating here afforded me the opportunity to write uninterrupted for two years, an opportunity I hadn’t had up to that point, and in that space of time, I wrote and sold my fiction like a madman. So if I hadn’t made the move, it’s quite likely I’d never have seen my work in print, or have ended up pursuing writing as a full-time career.

WB: Do you work from an outline, or do you pretty much improvise?

 


KPB: Generally I don’t work from an outline because I like to be surprised by where a story takes me, and plotting out every detail, every twist and turn, seems to suck all the fun out of it and runs the risk of sapping my enthusiasm for the project. Instead I’ll keep a notebook by the computer into which I’ll scribble plot points, twists and revelations, character traits and phrases I like as they come to me. The current novel, Nemesis, for example, while not fully outlined, has roughly fifty pages of notes that wouldn’t make much sense to anyone else if they looked at them. To me, those notes are like an extended movie trailer. There’s just enough to know what the story’s about, but not enough to spoil it. If I ever tackle a book as big as Lonesome Dove, or The Stand, however, it may become necessary to outline just to keep things on track. We’ll see.

WB: What is your biggest challenge when writing a novel?

 

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An Interview with Thriller Novelist Stephen England

When you think of counterterrorism political thrillers, perhaps Tom Clancy, Brad Thor, and Brad Meltzer come to mind. Soon, you may be adding Stephen England to that venerable list. His new novel, Pandora’s Grave, the debut novel of his Shadow Warriors series, is an action-filled espionage/military thriller sure to impress many readers and rightfully garner him many fans. (Read my review!) And, at the age of 21, he has many years of writing ahead of him!

I asked Stephen to talk with us about his experiences during the creation, editing, and self-publication of Pandora’s Grave, among other things. He kindly agreed to the following interview.

Weldon Burge (WB): Pandora’s Grave includes many Christian, Jewish, and Muslim characters. Did you write character profiles before starting the novel, to keep things straight?

Stephen England (SE): Not really. I learned so many things about my characters through the course of the novel—I’m afraid it would have been a very boring book if I had attempted to lock them away at the start. To give an example—about half-way through Pandora’s Grave I realized that the character of Bernard Kranemeyer, the Director of the Clandestine Service, was really little more than another faceless bureaucrat. A major problem considering the major role he plays in the story. But then it occurred to me one day—what if? What if he was a retired Delta Force operative, an amputee who had lost his leg in an IED attack? It was quite literally as though someone had turned a light on for me—it’s those type of revelations that make writing so rewarding for me—those moments when you turn a corner and something fits so perfectly—I can’t imagine Kranemeyer any other way now. That’s who he is.

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