No wonder he looks so damned pleased in that picture. Blogging has afforded me the opportunity top get to know and interact with a lot of great people. The talented, the funny, and the successful. Mark just happens to be all three. And graciously he was kind enough to answer a few of my questions so I could post them here for y'alls enjoyment.
And yeah, Mark is way ahead of my in the writing game, but at least I can take heart that I'm far better at growing hair that he is. One of these days I'll challenge him to a goatee growing contest though given his background he probably has some evil chemical compound that grows hair faster than you can say Homeland Security.
A bit about The Fallen before I ask my questions.
When twenty of the world's most powerful leaders meet at the G8 Summit, the fate of the world will rest on one man's shoulders.
Twenty world leaders meet for the G8 Summit at the beautiful Cheyenne Resort in Colorado Springs. But an ugly plot lurks beneath the surface: a terrorist group, The Fallen Angels, plans to wreak havoc on the summit.
With the Secret Service, the FBI, Homeland Security, the military, and security from twenty different governments on hand, shouldn't the resort be the safest place in the world?
It seems impossible that a terrorist group could infiltrate the summit. And yet they do. Within minutes, twenty world leaders are taken hostage, and Richard Coffee, the group's leader, makes his first demand: release twenty detainees from Guantanamo Bay, or he'll execute one leader each hour until his demands are met.
Only one man can disrupt this plot. Derek Stillwater is that man.
Not the easiest question, actually. The prologue to The Devil's Pitchfork has Derek Stillwater and Richard Coffee as Special Forces operators in Desert Storm, way up on the front lines setting up a laser finder so bombers can destroy an Iraqi weapons depot. (The technology has changed to some extent and they use GPS now, although apparently lasers work for some situations). This was actually a scene I had written as an introduction to a tech thriller about two soldier-scientists who became bioprospectors and an adventure they had, but my agent didn't like what I'd written, so I abandoned it (twice, actually). But that prologue hung with me and Derek came out of it. But I had the idea that I really wanted to write about a genetically engineered virus being on the loose and I didn't specifically have Derek in mind, but he grew out of that prologue and that idea.I'm not really sure. I didn't necessarily think I'd keep coming back to him, but at the end of The Devil's Pitchfork I started working on The Serpent's Kiss, partially because I thought I had this really cool idea for him. I'd learned the hard way in the past that if you can't sell a novel with a character, it's not a good idea to continue writing books about that character. I'd started Serpent before we sold The Devil's Pitchfork, somewhat against my better judgment. But I told myself the idea was too good to resist, plus I promised myself that if those two didn't sell I was done with Derek. Well, The Devil's Pitchfork got picked up and the contract negotiations went on for a month or two and during the process I finished The Serpent's Kiss, which we then used as a negotiating tool and got a two-book contract. That gave me a chance to work on #3--The Fallen--which we turned into another 2-book contract. Unfortunately, Midnight Ink dropped my contracts after the publication of The Serpent's Kiss, which left me with two completed Derek Stillwater novels and no publisher and a mid-stream series. It took us some time to find a publisher interested in picking up The Fallen, and they picked up #4 as well, although we waited a while before we negotiated a contract for it. Why, exactly, is one of those mysteries only known to my publisher and my agent.
My suspicion is that the primary reason to stay with a single character is that in theory you build an audience faster. Readers--and I'm definitely like this--like to hang out with the same characters over and over again, if they like them. For years I always wanted to have a long-running series, something like Robert B. Parker's Spenser that ran for 50 years. Now, I increasingly think that most series have a finite life. I don't know how many books I'll have with Derek, and I'm not always sure it's a matter of me growing tired of him; he may be growing tired of me and just want to retire and take it easy. But not for a while yet. I also have a problem with a suspension-of-disbelief issue. How many times can Derek get into these messes? It's like, how many really bad days can Jack Bauer have? How many murders can Jessica Fletcher solve in Cabot Cove? Readers and viewers might be able to suspend their disbelief and go along for the ride, but the writer needs to, too, and sometimes that can be a problem. And I do find that there's a freshness and energy that comes to starting a new book with a new character that's different than working on with a repeating main character. Granted, there are pluses with revisiting a main character, because you know how they'll behave and know at least some of their backstory. But you need to dig each time to add depth and that can be hard work. Strictly from a writer's perspective, I increasingly see the value of writing stand-alone novels, each one a unique character, unique self-contained world and idea and character arc. One of the problems with a series is generally speaking the character doesn't change much book to book. They change some, they grow and develop, but it's a much slower process than in a stand-alone, where the novelist can really show a character's growth and response to events.
I'm reasonably certain my Internet searches have caught the attention of the FBI etc. Here's an example: over the last several weeks I've been researching chemical weapons that come out of Russia and domestic terrorism in Russia. Then, two or three weeks of that, there's a Moscow subway bombing by domestic terrorists. If my name doesn't come up on some sort of list somewhere at the Federal level, then someone's really not doing their job. Particularly in that some of my searches are for things that are a little bit more esoteric than, say, VX gas or Sarin. I mean, how many people have even heard of Soman?
At my last house my next-door neighbor put up this huge satellite dish (this was before the small dishes) that looked like something you could contact Mars with, and then--weirdly--built an addition onto the house so the satellite pole came up out of the roof. For a while there we swore Juan must have been working for the NSA. And once I had a private investigator come to the house, flash his credentials and ask if he could use our driveway for surveillance purposes. Not to be paranoid, but you do start to wonder. I haven't noticed anything in my current neighborhood, although there's this one neighbor...
I'm pleased with them, because those are very successful, well-liked and memorable characters. It's a kind of shortcut for readers who aren't familiar with Derek. If you like Bourne and "24" there's a good chance you'll like Derek Stillwater. But that goes for a lot of other characters, too, like Lee Child's Jack Reacher and others. One obvious difference is Derek's subspecialty, which is biological and chemical terrorism. Another, I think, is he's a little more quirky and neurotic than Bourne and Bauer. He's sort of superstitious, he has panic attacks, he gets in these odd moods where he sort of withdraws from what he's doing to listen to music and let his subconscious take over. His background is different, too, not just the Special Forces training, and the doctorate in microbiology and biochemistry, but being raised by missionary physicians all over the world. It hasn't played a direct role in the books yet, but it's an odd influence that helps explain some of his quirkiness, I think.
At the moment I'm promoting The Fallen a lot. The 4th Derek Stillwater novel is written and edited and scheduled for September 2011. It's title at the moment is THE VALLEY OF SHADOWS. My agent is shopping around some other work, some of it a little different than Stillwater, one a thriller that takes place in Beijing. I've started working on the fifth Derek Stillwater novel, tentatively titled THE SINS OF THE FATHER. I've got a pet project I've been working on for about half a year, a science fiction novel that takes place on a different planet a couple hundred years in the future. I also have hopes of writing a Derek Stillwater novella and possibly publishing it as an e-book, but we'll see if I have time for it. If that sounds like too many projects at once, you're right. It probably is, but it's sort of reflexive. I just write.
"I just write." Mark that's a great way to wrap up. Too many of would-be writers fail at that simple task all too often. myself included. thanks again for taking the time to join me here on the blog.
For those who've never had the pleasure of reading Mark's work, be sure and pick up a copy of The Fallen at your local book store or online by clicking on the links provided. And of course check out his blog as well.