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...


J. Carson Black said...

Gary, I want George Clooney and Brad Pitt for my novels! We'll have to fight for it.

I love what you said about the novel versus the short story. Never thought of it in that way, but I know all about needing therapy. Novels put you through a lot. It's a long-term relationship, and sometimes you get pushed off the bed and onto the cold floor. Plus, sometimes, your novel snores.

Unknown said...

Hey Gary,

I enjoyed your replies to what I thought were some very well constructed questions. I too loved the comaparison between novels and short stories. I also liked your recap of the psychological thriller you have in the works. I’m looking forward to reading it. Lastly, thanks for the plug. I was humbled to read it. I hope you enjoy “A Solitary Tear” as much as I enjoy the “Touch” series.

Kind Regards,

Michael P. McShane

CJ West said...

If a short story is a romp, and a novel is a long term relationship, is a series marriage?

Really enjoyed your interview and I'm looking forward to your work!

Unknown said...

Hi Gary,

I'm halfway through your first Bracco book and I'm having a hard time putting it down, even during March Madness. Your Interviewer in this blog is very talented - well done, Allan. Your responses were equally thoughtful, Gary. You described the difference between your works and Mac's (Michael P. McShane) right on. Two totally different styles, yet both grab you.

If Clooney's not available, Gary, feel free to give me a call.

All the best,


Gary Ponzo said...

Thanks, J. Carson, but George and Brad can only work on my projects. It's in the contract.

Thanks, Mike, C.J, and Shakey as well. And thanks to Allan for doing a great job with this blog.