Saturday, June 28, 2014


One of the perks of being a writer is getting to meet some of the most interesting people. Whether it is at conventions, store signings, through the Earth Station One podcast, writer’s groups, on social media, and sometimes just from people I run into on when I venture out of the cave I call my office, and they have questions. Sometimes they are about writing or what I’m working on. Other times they’re out of left field. I thought it would be interesting to share some of them along with a few answers. Regardless of where they come from, here’s a few of the latest.

You can check out all of the past installments of Sometimes I Get Asked Stuff... here.

Filed inside my brain.
Q: Where do you keep your secret writing? Those stories you don't tell people about yet? Stories and books in different genres than you usually write? Ideas that feel so crazy you're not really sure you want to move ahead with them? Are they hidden in your brain, your files, or on that laptop lurking under the bed?

Mostly, I keep stories in my head until they are ready to be written. I do occasionally make notes though.

Q: What was the last thing you read or wrote that made you laugh out loud?

That’s a tough one. I actually don’t know. It takes a lot to make me laugh out loud. Even most comedies only elicit a small chuckle. I'm sure I wrote a line of dialogue that made me chuckle a time or two.

Q: When would you say you were given the gift of writing?

I’m not sure. When I was a kid I had the urge to write, but I didn’t start taking it seriously until my 20’s.

Q: Why write Thrillers? What’s the appeal? You seem fond of the government agencies as well. Why is that?

I write them because I enjoy them. I’d love to say there’s more to it than that, but not really. I love reading a good thriller and when the idea to create my own thriller came to me, I jumped at the chance.

As far as the appeal, it allows me to write in a modern setting, which I don’t get to do as often as you might think with some of my workload. The Pulp stories I write, for instance, all either seem to be set in the past or the distant future. Writing books like Evil Ways and Deadly Games! allows me to explore now.

I don’t have a real affinity for writing government agencies per se, but I do find myself writing law enforcement officers and reporters often. It’s not something I do consciously. When I start writing certain types of stories I wonder what type of character would be the focal point and that type of character often fits the plot.

Q: If you want to branch into a different, non-sci-fi, genre, would you use a different pen name? Do you lose credibility in sci-fi if you pick another genre--horror, fantasy, romance, mystery, espionage thrillers, etc.? Or would you use a different nom de plume for each one. And would one lost respect for a sci-fi author who wrote, say, legal thrillers or romance? Or would you just not care as long as the books were interesting?

Personally, I use my name on everything I write no matter what genre. I’ve written in different genres without any issues so far. Granted, most of my work is at small and medium sized publishers. Once you get up into the Big 5 is where it gets tricky. At the end of the day, it all depends on what you want to do, I think. If writing it under a different name feels better for you, then that’s the way to go. If not, write each genre under your own name.

Q: Do you read your own books once they come out?

"Who writes this stuff?"
I don't really re-read my work that much, especially the novels. Mostly for time reasons, but also because I will tend to notice what’s wrong more than I would enjoy the story. The comic books, on the other hand, I can flip through every now and again. I do, however, have to revisit previous work when writing new stories. I'm working on Snow Storm at the moment and had to do some rereading on Snow Falls to make sure I was consistent with details.

Q: How long do you spend on research for each book, and do you visit places if you set stories in certain towns or cities?

Great question. The amount of time spend on research varies from project to project, of course. I try to be as accurate as possible with real world things as I can. I have spent time talking with FBI Agents, Secret Service Agents, police officers, lawyers, and on and on to try and get a handle on their professions and see how they actually do their work. There are others still on my list to observe. I’d like to meet a medical examiner and get better acquainted with autopsy procedures and that sort of thing.

So much of the pulp stories I write (The Ruby Files, Lance Star: Sky Ranger) take place in the past so I spent a decent amount of time researching when things were created. When were seaplanes created? When were binoculars created? When were they available for civilian use? When did payphone come into use and where? How much did a pack of smokes cost in 1936? Things like that.

I also research characters when I take on work for hire gigs where I’m using pre-existing characters. I like to do my due diligence and get to know the character so he or she will feel right to fans of those characters.

On the other end of things, there are also revisions, new drafts, and rewrites. Just like with movies, there are segments from books that end up on the cutting room floor.

Q: How much writing do you get done when your internet is down?

What? You mean you try to work without the net?  :)

I’m actually a bit more productive without the siren call of the internet constantly calling to me. Of course, it never fails that when the internet goes down is always when I need to look something up. Go figure.

Q: Fill in the blank: “If I won the lottery, one of the first things I’d do is _____.”

I could write/live here.
Pay off my debts and buy a write shack on the beach.

Q: What's the most annoying trend in New Pulp?

Feeling that we need to treat existing pulp characters as period pieces. Pulp is not a period piece. Pulp can be now. It doesn’t just work in the 30’s, 40’s, etc… Secret Agent X, for example, is a character that I think could absolutely work in a modern day setting. The character does not need to be set in the 1930’s only. I know many will disagree, but this is one that bugs me a bit.

Q: Two questions: 1: What is New Pulp doing right? 2: What is New Pulp doing wrong?

What does New Pulp get right? Obviously, I’ve not read everything, but I think the stories being told are good and really fun in most cases. I think New Pulp has also put some older, obscure characters back in the spotlight, which is nice. There are some great characters out there that have gotten a new lease on life thanks to the New Pulp revival.

What does New Pulp do wrong? It’s all subjective, but in some cases (not all, mind you) I feel like we’re just treading water, writing stories to fit that mold, but rarely trying to break that mold. Again, these are all generalities.

Another thing I see being done right is the mutual respect the New Pulp creators show one another. Not only is this a very welcoming and supportive group, it's also a group that is happy to spread the word, not only about their own work, but the work of other New Pulp authors. I find that fascinating and amazing. It is certainly not typical of all entertainment industries.

Q: What is currently your focus as a writer?

Catching up on deadlines? Doesn’t sound very deep, I know, but I’m enjoying telling stories and I don’t want to keep the publishers waiting.

Q: How much do the politics/personal life of a creative artist (and I'm talking actor, comedian, comic book writer/artist, musician, etc.) influence you?

Great question. I am not a fan of talking politics or religion. Those conversations almost always end up with someone made and someone else hurt. A shame, really, but those topics seem to bring out the worst in people. I know some very nice people who say the most vile, hateful things when talking politics. It's sad because they aren't like that the rest of the time.

I try not to let the political, religious, or personal beliefs of actors, writers, artists, directors, etc. (let’s just call them creators for simplicity's sake here) color my appreciation for their work. Some are able to separate the work from the personal and that’s fine. There are some actors who I see on social media saying things I don’t agree with, but yet it doesn’t stop my enjoyment of their acting work. I’ve never “banned” anyone that way.

On the flip side, I have personally interacted with creators that has had more of an impact on coloring their work, both in good and bad ways. I met a creator whose work I enjoyed and that person turned out to be a total jerk and that did tarnish my appreciation for that creator’s work. On the other hand, I have met creators whose work had not impressed me or I was just ho-hum on, but then I met him or her and they were so nice that their work was elevated for me.

This is why I’m always careful in my public interactions. As a creator, you are not just selling your product (books, movies, DVDs, music, whatever) you are also selling yourself, or at least your public persona.

Q: Where does your creative "magic" come from? Dreams? Sudden ah-hah! moments? Music? Meditation? Inspirations overheard in conversations? What kick starts your creative magic and starts your fingers typing? This is a question about the writing process BEYOND discipline.

All of the above. I know that sounds like a canned answer, but it’s the truth. I have dreamed stories and had them simply pop into my head in a flash of inspiration. Other times, it’s like mining for gold as I dig and dig to find the story. The brain is a tricky thing and I usually start working out story ideas, plots, dialogue, etc. there before I sit down to write.

Q: Do you write on a traditional workweek schedule or does creativity strike after midnight or on the weekends?

A little of both. I have work times throughout the day, but sometimes inspiration strikes and you just have to dive in.

Q: What do you think of invitation-only anthologies? How about those that accept the writer before the story's even in?

I’ve been fortunate enough to be tapped to participate in invitation only anthologies. It is certainly an honor to be invited to join the party. It doesn’t necessarily mean they will just take any ol’ story you send. I wrote a story for an upcoming anthology I was invited to participate in and my story was rejected. I was still invited so I was asked to write another story. There is still an editing process and the story has to be approved. The only difference is you were asked to write the story for the book instead of writing it and sending it in cold. At least that has been my experience so far.

Q: Your favorite Jessica Alba movie?

Either Sin City or Into The Blue.

Q: How many books have you written? 

I’d have to count to get an accurate number, but I am nearing somewhere in the neighborhood on 100 stories, some short, some novels, some comic books.

Q: How many books have you started but never completed?

There is a handful of manuscripts in my files that have been started that I’ve not gotten back to as yet. I plan to finish them all though. We'll see if that happens.

Q: Favorite movie monster --old or new?

JAWS. That shark still scares the hell out of me.
On the fictional side, Aliens. They’re creepy.

Q: I kind of hate writing fight scenes. Sometimes I just can't seem to come up with a new way to punch a dude. How do you deal with fight scenes?

Writing fight scenes can be tricky because it's so easy to fall into the same basic fight descriptions. If I get stuck and know the artist working on the script, I ask for input that way and we choreograph the fight together.

Q: How do you manage your energy while writing? Frequent breaks to explore the internet? Coffee and snacks? Step away and take a walk?

Caffeine helps. I also take breaks, move around, that sort of thing. Sometimes just getting up out of the chair and walking around a couple of minutes is all it takes to refresh me.

Q: What's your favorite way to approach editing? We all have to do it, what makes it easier for you?

I actually prefer to do my pass of edits on paper. I print out the pages and read them that way, making notes right on the pages. I think I see things a bit differently reading them on paper than the computer screen and that helps with the editing process.

Q: Describe the last character you wrote that you personally don’t like. Not necessarily a bad guy, just someone you wouldn’t like to know in reality.

In a recent work for hire project, one of the characters in the story I was adapting was a complete asshole and just not fun to write for me personally.

Q: Characters or plot first?

It varies for me. Sometimes I have characters and I put them in a situation and see where we go. Other times, I have a plot and determine which character serves that story best.

Q: Do you prefer ebook? Paperback? Or hardback? I'm old school, hardback looks best on my shelf.

I still prefer to read a good hardback novel, but I’ve read books in all of these formats.

Q: When you publish through your own imprint what program do you use for formatting and such?do you always run a print copy first?

When I publish something through BEN Books, I lay everything out in Microsoft Word, save as a PDF and upload that. Always order a proof copy first. It's the only way to be sure what it's going to look like.

Q: Do you "cast" your characters from actors or even people you know?

Oh, sure. I sometimes take personalities of people I know, occasionally actors, but usually people I know personally, and share those with characters to help me find their voice. I started this practice on Evil Ways when I gave the protagonists, two brothers, the personalities of my brother and myself. It really made the character interactions come alive in real ways that worked well in the book.

Q: What is the most wonderful compliment you ever received for your writing?

After my first novel came out, a coworker called my desk at the day job one morning and said, “You bastard! I’m tired and it’s your fault! I didn’t get any sleep last night because I sat up all night reading your book!” That made my day.

Q: What inspired your current project?

The publisher asking for more stories featuring the character.

Q: I know lots of folks who are self-professed DC nuts or Marvel zombies. But why? What is it that drew you to the stories of one company over the other?

A small sampling of my comic collection
I like good stories. I don't really care which company publishes them. If they're good and I enjoy them, I'll read them.

Q: What are you reading?

At the moment, I am reading Van Allen Plexico's Legion 1: Lords of Fire, the first novel in his new The Shattering series. It’s good stuff. You should give it a look.

And I think that is a good place to finish this round of Sometimes I Get Asked Stuff… Do you have any questions you’d like me to answer? Post them here as a comment or send them along to and I’ll answer them in a future installment of Sometimes I Get Asked Stuff...

Also, please sign up for my mailing list. Drop me an email at and I'll happily add you to the list.

If you’d like to check out my work, you can find my books at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Goodreads, Smashwords, and more.

Thanks for listening to me ramble.
Let’s do this again soon.

Happy Reading.


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