Tell us about yourself and what inspired you to start writing.
For as long as I can remember I have been fascinated by fiction, whether having stories read to me over-and-over again as a kid to one day picking up a copy of “Robin Hood” and realizing the ability of written words to transport you to wonderful places and onto wild adventures. While I started my career as a journalist, writing about sports, news, and entertainment for a variety of newspapers and magazines, I always dreamed of one day becoming a novelist.
First, though, I decided I needed to see the world. Now, for the past 23 years, I have worked in international relations and foreign affairs, serving as a diplomat with the State Department and before that as a peace and conflict resolution adviser to former President Jimmy Carter.
These jobs have taken me around the world, including to some of our hottest hotspots: Afghanistan, Bosnia, East Timor, and much of Africa and the Middle East, to name a few. These experiences have provided me with many great tales to tell, and now I’m looking forward to finding the time to tell them!
Tell us about your books.
The international thriller “A Simple Game” is my first published book. The inspiration for my novel came from two ideas converging on each other: What if you woke one day to find three of the world’s top athletes had been murdered on three different continents on the same night? Now, what if you could do something about it?
Thus my protagonist, Rory Crandall, was created. A celebrated if egotistical peace and conflict resolution expert, Crandall joins a global manhunt to capture the perpetrators behind the media-dubbed “Sporting Murders.” He also hopes to cash in on a $20 million reward being offered for the killers, who keep raising the stakes in a bold effort to hold the world hostage to their demands.
A thriller at heart, my novel also asks some key questions during this time of terror: How far is too far when trying to change the world? And is it possible the end to this bloody game somehow justifies the means?
With “A Simple Game,” I also was looking for a way to write about some of my own adventures (admittedly, with a large dose of creative license). It’s no surprise, then, that Rory spends much of his time in places I have lived or worked, whether in the power centers of Europe and America, or deep within an African jungle, or on an Asian island on the brink of civil war.
Finally, I wanted to tell a story about some of the things I know a little bit about — terrorism, sports, international affairs — in an entertaining way that leaves the reader thinking at the end. I’ll let you be the judge on whether I succeeded!
How did you go about getting published?
When I first wrote “A Simple Game,” I really didn’t know what I was doing. The initial draft topped out at more than 850 pages (and wasn’t very good!). No big surprise that after countless submissions to publishing houses and agents I couldn’t find a single one interested in taking a chance on my tome.
One agent did give me some good advice: Make it shorter…much shorter! After nursing my wounded ego, I tore into my baby and, several drafts later, I had it down to a much more manageable size and a far better quality. Meanwhile, during this time, the publishing world also went through a massive metamorphosis, with self-publishing now being a viable and fairly easy option.
After trying once more to find an agent (as publishing houses are hardly even looking at unknown authors these days), I decided to self-publish through Amazon. So far, I have been quite pleased by the process, even for someone like me who is not much of a do-it-yourself person. Best part is you get to control and keep far more of your royalties than through the traditional publishing method. Most challenging part is you must do all of your own marketing, which I’m learning to do as I go, and always welcome any good tips!
What is your writing process? Do you have a time, day or place you like to write?
Due to the nature of my day job as a diplomat, which often entails 60-plus-hour weeks, I tend to write very early in the morning and on weekends, stealing away whatever time I can find. Since I enjoy writing complex plots, I also do a fair amount of outlining by freehand before settling in front of my laptop.
I think the most unusual thing I do is “write” while I run. For some reason, I find ideas flow out of me whenever I strap on my Nikes and hit the road. They were probably in there all along; I just need to take my mind off the daily grind to pry them free. Hiking and biking work, too, but not as well as a heart-pounding, mind-clearing run.
The trick, then, is getting all these unexpected ideas down on paper. This usually takes place immediately after my run, with sweat drops splattering my notebook as I madly scribble out plot points or lines of dialogue that have just come to me. Later, I will transfer my handwritten notes onto my laptop, inserting them into the draft I am working on, if they fit, or stowing them away for potential use in a future novel, if they don’t.
I consider all these ideas, no matter how crazy they might later turn out to be, as priceless gifts from my subconscious. So, I do my best to capture them as soon as they come to me, not willing to risk forgetting them if I wait.
One advantage to this process, I’ve found, is I rarely sit down to an empty screen, for I have my notes from my last run to get me started. And, should I encounter writer’s block and need to go on another run, well, at least I’m getting in shape!
What do you like to do when you’re not writing? Full-time job, pets, hobbies?
When I’m not writing or busy working full-time as a Foreign Service Officer — currently I’m leading a field team from Istanbul providing assistance to the Syrian opposition — I enjoy traveling, reading, running, and playing, watching, and talking about soccer (ideally over a pint of craft beer or glass of fine wine!). I’m also married to an international lawyer and we have two well-traveled, intrepid cats.
Any advice for authors about book covers?
I was able to find an artist through a friend of mine who was willing to work closely with me on design options, letting me bounce several ideas off her before selecting the cover we both felt worked best for my book. By having her invested in and even excited about the work, it turned out to be a very enjoyable experience for both of us.
Any marketing tips you’d like to share with other authors?
Reach out to everyone you know to have them help you market your book. Especially in today’s online world, you never know whose contacts might start a “snowball effect” for your book.
I’ve also found doing book give-aways gets your book noticed. The two I’ve done so through Goodreads both resulted in more than 1,000 people entering the contest for a free, signed copy of “A Simple Game,” with about half of the entrants adding my novel on their reading lists (although I’m still waiting for most of them to actually purchase the book!).
What’s your favorite book?
It’s a tie between Paul Bowles’ “The Sheltering Sky” and George Orwell’s “1984.”
What are you reading now?
“The Last Days of Night” by Graham Moore, an historical novel about the battle to spread electricity across America.
What’s your next book project?
I’m a couple hundred pages into another international thriller, this one about Carlton “Cal” Evergreen. He’s a charming, single, independently wealthy, young jet setter who loves fine food and drink, fast cars, beautiful, strong-willed women, and traveling to some of the world’s most amazing places. He’s got to keep moving, too, because, by the way, he’s a serial killer!