Saturday, March 24, 2012

The coolest gift ever

I'm a writer groupie, okay? I admit it. There's something about owning a book signed by the guy or gal who wrote it that appeals to me, especially now that I understand how much blood, sweat and tears go into producing a book, having written a few myself.

The first signed book I got was also probably the coolest. This is the story:

It's the mid-1980's and my wife and I are living in Bangor, Maine. I had gotten hired by the FAA as an air traffic controller following the disastrous PATCO strike of 1981, when President Reagan fired all the illegally striking controllers (And before you email me about being a scab, save your energy. The strike was illegal and the strikers had 72 hours to go back to work, no questions asked, before losing their jobs. I don't feel guilty and you're not going to change my mind, so get over it already, it's been thirty years), and in the early years of my career I moved around a lot.

So anyway, it's 1986 and we're living in our first house, in Hampden, Maine, one town south of Bangor on I-95. My wife is working as a bank teller in Bangor, and if you know anything about modern genre fiction, even if you don't read horror, you know who Bangor's most famous native son is: Stephen King.

Well, it just so happens that one of the young women working in the bank with my wife is the sister of Stephen King's secretary, or personal assistant, or something. This is the woman who in the days before PC's and the Internet did the typing of King's manuscripts.

Now, Bangor, Maine is not a huge town. Back in the 1980's, when we lived there - and probably even now - if you spent enough time in Bangor you would eventually see Stephen King around town; we certainly did. But of course I never had the nerve to simply approach him and bother him by telling him how much of a fan I was, that's just not my way.

But unbeknownst to me, my wife grabs one of my many Stephen King books over the summer, a short story collection titled SKELETON CREW, and brings it into work with her. She gives it to her friend at the bank, along with a nicely typed card asking Mr. King if he might consider inscribing the book. Her friend passes it along to her sister. I'm completely unaware, my default setting even back then.

Fast-forward to Christmas, 1986. We won't have any kids for another year-and-a-half yet, so it's a pretty small, intimate Christmas morning. My wife is beside herself about one present in particular she wants me to open. It's obviously a hardcover book, which makes a lot of sense since she knows how much I love to read.

But still, it's a book. Why all the excitement?

I open it up and see SKELETON CREW, which, of course, I already own. My wife, who knows me pretty well by now even though we've only been married three years, patiently instructs me to open it up and look inside. This is what I find:

Just in case you can't make it out, here it is:

"For Allan -
with best wishes from
Susan - and me -
Stephen King

I have to tell you, I about shit myself. Sorry for the graphic depiction of surprise, but there it is. For a genre fan like me it's hard to imagine a better present, and in fact I honestly don't believe I've ever received a cooler or more thoughtful Christmas present.

The funniest part? Between Christmas 1986 and October 1990, when we bought the house in New Hampshire we still live in, my wife and I (and our growing family) lived in four different places, and somewhere along the line, with all that moving, I misplaced that copy of SKELETON CREW.

I was heartbroken. I knew the book was still around somewhere, tucked away inside a box, but I just couldn't find it. A couple of weeks ago I was cleaning some stuff out of our cluttered attic, rummaging through a cardboard box, and there it was!

I was so excited, it was almost like opening that Christmas present again. I mean, that signed book had been lost for over twenty years. I guarantee you, it won't get lost again.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Available FREE for just two days - Paskagankee

After the almost unimaginable (by me, at least) success of THE LONELY MILE in the Kindle Select Program - somewhere in the neighborhood of 14,000 sales after giving away over 46,000 downloads, I was chomping at the bit to enroll my new supernatural suspense novel, PASKAGANKEE, in the program as well.

No offense to all you Nook owners out there, but Amazon knows how to sell books, and for me to achieve 14,000 sales of THE LONELY MILE outside of the Kindle Select Program would have taken...well, let's just say I'm pretty sure I won't live that long, and neither will my children or my children's children.

So I approached StoneHouse CEO Aaron Patterson with the genius idea he had probably already thought of weeks ago, and he enrolled PASKAGANKEE in the program, setting up today and tomorrow, March 10 and 11, as Free days for PASKAGANKEE in the Kindle Store.

I have no idea what to expect. I know it's unlikely we will match the results of February 4, 5 and 6, when THE LONELY MILE spent the better part of two full days as the #1 Free download in the Kindle Store, and then tore up the Paid charts when we began charging for it again, but you never know unless you try, right?

Anyway, I would love to see everyone who has supported me get the chance to download this book for free. I'm proud of it, it was a long time in the making, and I think it tells a pretty cool story.

But you gotta hurry. I can't say it won't eventually be free again, but why take the chance? Download it now at the Kindle Store, and if you don't own a Kindle, don't worry, Amazon has free Kindle Apps for every conceivable device, and probably a few that haven't been invented yet. Like I said, Amazon knows how to sell books.

Thanks again for your support and I hope you enjoy PASKAGANKEE...

Friday, March 9, 2012

Interview with thriller author Gary Ponzo

I often talk about how difficult it is for a more or less unknown author to gain traction in the marketplace, simply because there are so many great writers out there putting out so much oustanding work.

Gary Ponzo's a perfect illustration of my theory. His name isn't as well known as, say, a Lee Child or a Harlan Coben or a Lisa Gardner, and yet if you love thrillers he's one name you absolutely must know.

Why do I say that? Everyone knows you can't please all the readers out there. My taste may not be the same as yours, and vice-versa. And we both might be right, even if we both love thrillers.

But check this out. Gary Ponzo has released three thrillers, A TOUCH OF DECEIT, A TOUCH OF REVENGE (featuring one of the coolest covers ever) and the brand new one, A TOUCH OF GREED. These three novels have received a total of 133 reviews at Amazon, compiling an average of 4.7 stars.

You know how hard that is to do? It means the writing is consistently high quality, not to mention interesting and exciting. But enough of my semi-coherent babble. Let's get started...thanks to Gary Ponzo for stopping by to discuss...well...writing and stuff:

You’re the author of the very highly regarded Nick Bracco thriller series, A TOUCH OF DECEIT, A TOUCH OF REVENGE and the brand-new one, A TOUCH OF GREED. When you wrote DECEIT, did you envision Nick as a series character from the get-go?

Yeah, I think deep down I always knew Nick was a keeper. At its core, the series is really a modern day Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kidd. Only they carry credentials. I've never really said this out loud before and never heard anyone ever make the connection, but that's really the truth. I don't even think Nick throws a punch until the third book. His partner Matt McColm is the FBI's sharpshooting champion 3 years running, so he's the one doing all the damage. Nick is the brains and Matt is the enforcer. Not that Matt is dense, he's just quick with a pistol.

Do you ever get tired of writing about the same character, and what steps do you a take to keep Nick fresh?

Well, Nick Bracco has PTSD, a cousin in the mafia, and a wife who wants him to leave the Bureau. That right there is enough material to keep me going for the rest of my life. I don't think I'll ever run out different ways to keep him in trouble. The only thing I'll ever run out of is time to write the next thriller.

In your author bio, you talk about the five year period it took to write A TOUCH OF DECEIT. What’s your writing process, and how have you refined it as you’ve moved forward?

Well, I've always worked with a writers critique group where we exchange each other's chapters and line edit our work. Once the novel is complete, I send it out to my beta readers who give me their input, then it's off to my editor who goes through it word-for-word to eliminate any grammatical errors. At the end of the day, it's about the quality of the writing. No one cares how clever your plot is if you can't keep the scene interesting and the five senses involved with every page. The reader needs to smell and hear and feel the emotion of the characters or everything else is nonsense.

Have you considered writing a stand-alone or starting a second series as you continue forward with Nick Bracco?

Yes, I'm already halfway done with a psychological thriller about a clairvoyant teenage girl who can truly read peoples mind. When she claims to hear invisible aliens thinking about the destruction of the planet, she becomes somewhat of a celebrity. A psychiatrist believes she's having auditory hallucinations. An FBI agent believes these aliens are real and are on the verge of exterminating the human race. A priest believes she's an angel sent down from Heaven to save our souls. The problem? One of them is right.

As far as another series, I haven't really given that any thought. I've had several people suggest a separate series starring Nick Bracco's cousin Tommy as the protagonist. It's a good suggestion, but the reason Tommy is so popular is that he's the comic relief for the Bracco series and I need to dose him out appropriately or he could become overexposed. But I could be wrong about that.

A major motion picture studio approaches you with an offer to start a Nick Bracco film franchise. The budget is no factor. Who plays Nick Bracco?

George Clooney, of course. And Brad Pitt would play Nick's partner Matt McColm. Hey, you're the one who brought up the fantasy, why not dream big?

You’ve had considerable critical success writing short stories in addition to novels. Do you prefer one over the other, and if so, why?

Short stories are one night stands; a romp in the sack with a woman you met at a wedding when you were twenty-five. It's quick and over fast. Instant gratification. A novel is a long-term relationship, sometimes involving therapy. It's messy and intimate and ultimately more rewarding. But every now and then I'll write a short story just to keep my libido working properly.

You got into the writing game relatively late in life (we’re almost exactly the same age, so I’m allowed to say that). How long have you known you wanted to write books, and what took you so long?

Ever since grade school it was obvious I had a knack for the written word. It seemed like every English project involving creative writing always ended with the teacher handing out my story as an example for the rest of the class. It wasn't until I turned 40 that I realized the clock was ticking and if I was ever going to leave some good fiction behind, I'd better get serious about it.

Is there any one author or group of authors most influential in convincing you to write thrillers? Who do you look at for inspiration?

My first introduction into genre fiction was Raymond Chandler. He opened my eyes to the art of outlandish metaphors. But Elmore Leonard is probably my favorite author. His dialogue is spot on. It's so casual. He makes it seem so easy, yet as a writer, you know it isn't. Also, Nelson Demille and Lee Child. Those are probably my top four.

What are you reading right now? What’s next on your “To Be Read” list?

It's sad, but it's so hard to find time to read anymore. Once the family is asleep, I'm in my office writing. But I'll still get in four or five books a year. Right now I'm reading a book a buddy of mine, Michael McShane, wrote titled, A Solitary Tear. It's terrific. He really knows how to keep your interest without the need for bullets flying or bombs ticking. He's a really talented writer.

Hypothetical situation #1: You’re marooned on a desert island, but before fleeing your sinking ship, have the opportunity to grab one book. What do you choose?

The Lion's Game, by Nelson Demille. It's over 900 pages long. And it ended too soon.

Hypothetical situation #2: You are given a choice by the Gods of Publishing. Your books can either bring you tremendous monetary wealth or they can be universally acclaimed as outstanding by the critics. Which do you choose, and why?

That's a tough one. Why would so many people buy the book if it were lousy? Oh, okay, I'll take the critical acclaim and work until I'm eighty. There, are you happy now?

Thanks for taking the time to visit A Thrill a Minute. Any last words of wisdom you’d like to share with my thousands hundreds dozens handful of readers?

Just that you asked some great questions, Allan, and I appreciate the time you took to put this together. I wish you all the best in your writing career, there are plenty of readers out there for all of us.


If you'd like to check out Gary Ponzo's work, this is the perfect time to do it. His brand-new Nick Bracco thriller, A TOUCH OF GREED, is available FREE for the Kindle today and tomorrow...

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Review: THE HUNTED, by Dave Zeltserman

When Dan Willis finds himself out of work, his sales job eliminated, he's like millions of other Americans - a decent person victimized by the country's steadily-rising unemployment rate.

But Dan Willis has skills unlike most other Americans. A veteran of three tours of duty in Iraq during the first Gulf War, Dan jumps at the opportunity for steady employment when offered a position within the brand-new, highly secretive Homeland Protection department.

Dan learns America is locked in a war against an insurgency unlike any other in history, a life-and-death struggle being fought daily against literally thousands of enemy combatants right here in the USA. After undergoing intensive training, Dan is unleashed into the fray, receiving his assignments from an anonymous Internet bulletin board and terminating enemy combatants.

But along the way, Dan begins to get the uneasy feeling that perhaps something is not quite right. He begins researching these enemies before eliminating them, discovering that in virtually every case, they seem just like him - normal, everyday people with little or no evidence of being enemy combatants in some shadowy insurgency.

Dan confronts his bosses, discovering a horrifying conspiracy on a massive scale. He knows his life will never be the same, but knows also he can't simply turn and walk away. Something must be done. And he's going to do it.

THE HUNTED is a quick read, the first in a planned series of HUNTED novellas serializing Dan Willis's quest. Will he be able to get to the bottom of this conspiracy? I have no idea, but I hope it takes him a while - I want to follow along.

By the way, if you hurry, you can get this first installment - currently the #1 Hardboiled Mystery in the Free Kindle Store, #43 overall, FREE for your Kindle...