While the historical beginning of this story piques the reader's interest—personally, why did you choose 1050 AD? Why King of Aragon and Alexander the Great? Thanks for choosing to interview me about VanOps: The Lost Power, the first book in the VanOps thriller series. To answer your question, while plotting out the story, I needed an incredibly successful warrior, and one of the most powerful men in history. Alexander the Great is famous for conquering the known world and was an obvious choice. I wanted to give my readers chills when they imagined his weapon unleashed in their communities. A weapon like that, in the wrong hands, could alter the balance of world power with disastrous effects. Regarding 1050 AD, it was a tumultuous time when the East and West clashed constantly. Maddy Marshall and Will Argones, the estranged twins who must keep Alexander’s fictional weapon from being used by Russian enemies, needed to descend from a royal line. The King of Aragon, often considered the first king of Spain, fit the story perfectly as their ancestor.
Is this part of the world your favorite area to research? I've traveled extensively through western Europe, and it is indeed one of my favorite areas to write about. It’s rich in history, myth, mystery, and intrigue – perfect for my style of work. The second book in the series, Solstice Shadows, also has some scenes around the Mediterranean, as well as settings in the jungled ruins of Central America. The pyramids of Guatemala were awe-inspiring in person.
Do you travel for your research? When I can, I do. I often use locations that I've had the pleasure of visiting. Many of my readers comment on the authentic, you-are-there aspect of my writing, which I appreciate.
After the very historical first chapter, the scene set in the present day sets a high-speed blast off to an adventurous pace. So how do you plot your books to keep the pace at such a page-turning speed? I spend months outlining my thrillers. That time allows my subconscious to come up with devilish twists, unusual red herrings, and complex action-oriented scenes. I have genetically low blood pressure and love character-driven action that gets my heart rate up. It makes me feel alive.
Do you plot before writing your first draft or after? Definitely ahead of even writing the first sentence. So much changes along the way. I like to be efficient, avoid rework, and always start with the end in mind.
The characters at the very beginning also allow for intensity: a twin brother and sister who have not kept in good communication, a young boy. Why start with these characters, and how did they help define your protagonists? Maddy and Will are the two key protagonists, so I wanted the readers to start getting to know them right away. When the story opens, they're like most people in that they have day jobs, struggling relationships, and good days and bad. AJ, the boy from Maddy’s martial arts studio, brightens Maddy’s heart. Later, when his life is threatened, we understand the lengths she'll go to in order to save him. As an intelligent, independent truth-seeker with special martial arts abilities, she’s a fascinating character. Suddenly, she's thrust into a dangerous world where her non-violent martial arts skills aren't enough to save herself, AJ, or her country. Will Argones, Maddy's twin brother, is a skeptic who has made his living as a successful test engineer. Always on the lookout for danger, he can't keep his hands still - his fingers drum on his long legs or twirl his ever-ready-for-trouble flashlight. When his father and wife are murdered, he's forced out of his comfort zone and into a deadly, international game of cat and mouse, where his worst fears might come true. Maddy and Will share a simmering distrust of each other, which makes for page-turning conflict.
I like "Bear" as a character. He doesn't appear until the quest's beginning but becomes an integral part. He helps explain to the reader some of the historical aspects of the story. How did you decide his character was necessary to the overall plot? Bear added several things to the story. Besides being a history buff, he's a bristly-haired marine who has always wanted to be a covert operative. He jumps at the chance to join VanOps, an ultra-black organization with the duty to stop extreme threats, adding an element of international intrigue to the twin’s quest. His unrequited high-school crush on Maddy keeps us guessing about if she can ever return his feelings. He’s also the only one of the three with any experience with violence. As the group is chased by Russian assassins around the world, it felt important to not leave the innocent twins completely unprotected.
This brings me to the amount of research you needed to complete this project. How do you determine what you need so you don't get buried with all the exciting information you find or bury your reader with too much research? That's tricky because it is a blast to learn about ancient heroes and modern threats. I typically feel my way through the story and deliver the drier bits in spicy dialogue to keep the story fresh. Editors also provide perspective to keep the story moving.
What applications do you use to keep yourself organized? Do you use Scrivener? Pottr? Any other software apps? Organization is paramount in writing something as detailed as your book. So please give us your secrets for keeping things straight and plot-timely. I've played around with different tools, everything from note cards to Scrivener, and for me it's about getting the ideas into a detailed outline, keeping character bios in there too, and just getting to work. I don’t use tools for that, just Microsoft Word. My only writing secret is knowing how to tease words out of my subconscious. To plumb my creative juices, I’ll meditate, jot down notes from dreams, and I walk a lot with my phone at the ready to capture ideas.
You are writing two thrillers at the moment. The VanOps Triller series and a Stryker (I assume) series. How do you find time to breathe? Give us an idea of what your writing schedule is like. My writing goes in fits and starts. Right now, I'm remodeling a new home, so the writing is on the back burner, but I’m still coming up with ideas that I'm jotting down and will circle back to when things calm down. I tend to either be outlining, writing, or releasing a new book. It's hard for me to do more than one of those things at once, so I've learned to go with it. Like the seasons, it'll all circle back around. When I’m in full writing mode, I’ll write a chapter or two a day, and then will start my next session by editing what I wrote last.
Do you think there is a difference in reading a thriller written by a man compared to a woman? Are themes handled differently? I think every author is different, whether male or female, but I can talk about genres and their target audience. I think that military action thrillers, usually written for a male audience, typically don’t have much character development and seem to be thematically targeted toward honor, justice, or good vs evil. On the other end of the thriller spectrum, you might have romantic suspense, written for a female audience, with a different set of themes, such as revenge or betrayal. My thrillers are written for both male and female audiences. The men tend to like the action, and the women, the characters and their struggles, but that’s an overgeneralization. A well-written book will appeal to both sexes.
What is your favorite present-day thriller author? Or, if you don't want to single someone out, who are the contemporary authors you pick up? Or do you stay away from reading thrillers and pick up other genres? I do gravitate toward thrillers. Steve Berry is producing high quality international action thrillers, as is James Rollins. On the domestic side, I think Gregg Hurwitz has found a solid niche writing character-driven action.
The author that influenced your work the most? Perhaps fantasy author Robert Jordan. His Wheel of Time series is epic in many ways. On top of the extensive world building, the characters feel like real people who struggle to accomplish their hopes and dreams, just like the rest of us.