Monday, May 30, 2011

Favorite Words

Life has a way of identifying favorite words. They may be favorites for a short period of time, or they may be permanent favorites. A feeling of piling on led to this round of favorite words.

I generally don't read the sappy, inspirational forwards that flood our email inboxes. One came last week that struck a chord. Why? Because I was in the midst of a similar thought pattern. The message was about separating the important things from the chaff in your life. I realized a few weeks back I mislaid my Zen calmness. I missed it. I've let too much small stuff get in the way of the truly important things. Clutter in parts of my house represented clutter in my brain. I decided it was time to declutter and focus on the big stuff, stuff important to me and my family. Blow away, rest of the chaff, thank you very much.

So, my first favorite word right now is an old favorite: sabbatical. For me, a sabbatical is part of the decluttering of my life. I decided which important things I will focus on for the next period of time: my husband, my children, my adorable new grandson (all grandchildren are adorable in the eyes of the grandparents), making my home a place of peace and harmony, and rewriting my first Mad Max manuscript.

You wouldn't think that rewriting a manuscript would be part of the important stuff. I've worked on Mad Max 1 for a long time. My agent has been shopping it about for several months. Last week, three editors from top six publishers pointed out the same flaw in the novel. After a long conversation with my agent, we plotted how I can fix it. Two editors left the door open for a requery; one didn't. That one didn't like the murderer; thought the novel was too dark. We won't query that editor again.

To achieve the sabbatical, my second favorite word comes into play. I often have this word as a favorite. Just as often, I forget why it helps simplify my life. That word is "no." Powerful. Might mean, No, never. Might mean, No, not right now. Might mean, No, I have to take a break from this activity until the rewrite is back in my agent's hands.

Expect me to say No a lot in the next few weeks. Expect that you are not alone when I say No. Expect that I will qualify that No with not now/not never/maybe in the future.

I'm not sorry, because the important stuff has to come first. That's the only way I'll regain my Zen balance and stop the piling on of the small stuff. And that's just the way it has to be for a while.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Author Interview: Austin Camacho, Russian Roulette

I have the pleasure of serving with Austin on the board of the Virginia Writers Club. I picked up one of his novels at the November meeting. The result is an interview with him about Russian Roulette.

1. I picked up Russian Roulette at a Virginia Writers Club meeting late last year. When I turned the book over, I saw "Hannibal's Back!" How many other Hannibal Jones books are there?
First, thank you for offering me this chance to talk about my work. There are five novels in the Hannibal Jones series. In the order I wrote the stories: The Troubleshooter, Blood and Bone, Collateral Damage, Damaged Goods and Russian Roulette.

2. How did you come up with his character? I know you live near the District, so the location makes sense. But Hannibal is rather unique. Is he part you? Part Alex Cross? All imagination?
Hannibal Jones started as an effort to grab the moralistic hard boiled detective of the 1940s and drag that character into the 21st century. I like a character with his own moral code and the character to stick to it. There’s no Alex Cross in Hannibal, but if you look close you’ll see echoes of Simon Templar, Sam Spade, Travis McGee and maybe John Shaft. People often tell me that they see me in the character, but I only see my son Adam who, like Hannibal, is mixed race.

3. Your story is timely, what with the mystery around the Algerian. What made you decide to use this type of character?
Have you read The Maltese Falcon? Mysterious foreigners are such fun characters to play with. And since Hannibal Jones is such an outsider himself - straddling that line between White and African American cultures – he is uniquely suited to deal with other outsiders.

4. I particularly liked your use of Roosevelt Island for the climactic scene. Why did you choose that place?
That’s an interesting observation, and thank you for asking. In this novel I tried to evoke the fatalistic feel of the classic Russian novels. I looked around the DC area for a location that was remote, bleak, emotionally cold and yet had a personality of its own. A place where you could feel lost just 20 yards from the marked trail. Roosevelt Island just had the right feel. Then when I did the research and found the Russian historical connection, it just had to be the site of the final showdown.

5. I had never heard of Intrigue Publishing. When I visited the web site, it appears to be a self-publishing company. Have you published other books through Intrigue?
Yes, Intrigue Publishing is my lovely wife Denise’s company and she has published only one other author.

6. Why did you choose to use a self-publishing company rather than a tradition publisher?
Originally I published through a Print On Demand company, because I lacked the patience to wait for a traditional publisher to realize I had a marketable product. I soon learned that I could do everything they did for me as well or better than they did, without handing someone else a pile of money. Subsequently I did place one of my novels with a small press but again, it turns out that I can do what needs to be done better and the finances work out a lot more in my favor.

7. I see Russian Roulette is available on Kindle. Are you satisfied with your sales through Kindle? Are you available for the Nook, too?
All of my books are available for all the popular ereaders. I know several writers who are doing much better than I in Kindle sales, but on the other hand I move a lot more books thru the Kindle than I ever thought I would so I guess I’m satisfied… for now.

8. Do you have any other Hannibal Jones books in the works? I'm interested in what happens to the romance with Cindy.
The next Hannibal Jones mystery is about half written, and the personal storyline comes to the foreground in that story. Cindy got little screen time in Russian Roulette but she will featured prominently in the next novel. However you’ll have to wait until next week to see that one, because first I’m pushing the next book in my adventure thriller series starring Morgan Stark and Felicity O’Brien.

9. What were the last three books you read? And why?
I’ve been fortunate to work myself into the position of writing book reviews for the American Independent Writers and the International Thriller Writers’ newsletter, The Big Thrill. So now people send me new mysteries and thrillers! Most recently I’ve had the opportunity to read Anna DeStefano’s psychic thriller Secret Legacy, a cool murder mystery called Killer Routine by my pal Alan Orloff, and Neil S. Plakcy’s latest Hawaiian police procedural, Mahu Blood. Great reads all!

10. Please feel free to add anything I might not have covered.
Is it too early for people to start looking for my next international thriller, The Piranha Assignment? Maybe they should read the first two books in the series, The Payback Assignment and The Orion Assignment first…

Thanks to Austin for his answers to my inteview questions. I know I'm going to look for more Hannibal Jones books. And the international thriller series sounds like a good set of reads, too.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Russian Roulette by Austin Camacho

I have been very careful about reviewing self-published works. For a long time, I believed self-publishing was one step above vanity publishing. I now know better.

Why? Because I've been making an effort to read more self-published books and have found many to be as good as debut novels published by traditional publishers.

Recently, I read Russian Roulette by Austin Camacho. I picked up the book at a writers conference, flipped over to read the back blurbs and saw"Hannibal's Back." Back? I didn't know there was a Hannibal Jones, a private investigator in the D.C. area who gets involved in crimes. What else? This is billed as a thriller.

Camacho weaves a good tale, well written, with solid characters and a killer that, while not impossible to identify early, has enough duplicity to trick the casual reader.

The plot is straightforward. Hannibal Jones is "hired" by a Russian thug to help him get the woman he loves back. The thug threatens Hannibal's own girlfriend to put leverage on the investigator. Russian mobsters, multiple identities, changing loyalties, male dupes, strong female characters and building tension lead to a confrontation on Roosevelt Island. I'll leave most of the plot for the next reader to enjoy, so don't expect me to tell you how the book ends. It ends with a bang. Enough said.

Camacho turns many of his phrases in such a way that you want to stop and enjoy the images. "Hannibal wondered what the job description looked like for the position of thug. Did they have a union, have to update their resumes, hassle about their benefits?" Interesting thought, a thug union.

Like many self-published works, Russian Roulette could have benefited from tighter writing, but not by much. A strong editor would have removed extraneous words and made the story flow even faster.

Regardless of how this was published, it's a damned good read.