What have you written so far?
So far, I’ve completed and published one novel: The Brotherhood of the Black Flag, a historical thriller set in the Golden Age of Piracy. I also write a movie review blog called the INCspotlight (a pun on my initials), formerly for the website Channel Awesome. As of March 2018, I’ve left Channel Awesome and the INCspotlight is now hosted on my own website. In addition to that, in 2010, I had an essay published in an academic journal about the evolution of Japanese characters in Chinese and Hong Kong martial arts cinema.
Do you work to an outline or plot sketch, or do you prefer to let a general idea guide your writing?
Mostly a general idea. I can see most of the way a plot and character arc plays out in my head as if it was a movie, but I rarely jot down the sequence, and I typically write on the fly. The one and only time I ever wrote out an outline was to get feedback from a beta reader about an upcoming project, just to make sure the plot made sense and I wasn’t missing anything.
Can you share with readers a little bit about your latest book?
The Brotherhood of the Black Flag pays tribute to the classic Hollywood swashbucklers I grew up on as a kid, as well as the literature that inspired them. Michael McNamara, a disgraced former officer of the British Royal Navy, has left the newly-United Kingdom for Jamaica in hopes of finding a new life. He ends up signing on with Captain Stephen Reynard, a notorious pirate turned pirate hunter to win a pardon and the hand of Dona Catalina, a lovely young widow. McNamara’s adventures pit him against treacherous seas, battle-hardened buccaneers, and an international conspiracy that threatens thousands of lives – including his and Catalina’s. Much sword fighting ensues.
Tell us more about your main character. What makes him or her unique?
Michael McNamara is someone I think a lot of people will be able to relate to. Being an officer in the Royal Navy was a childhood dream of his, and he served for thirteen years before he was unjustly expelled. Then he got a gig as a fencing instructor for a year, which worked out for him, but a bad economy and various social trends put an end to that. So he finds himself wondering “well…now what?” I think many readers, for one reason or another, will be able to empathize with his feeling lost, his uncertainty of not knowing what to do with the rest of his life.
If your book was made into a movie, who would you cast?
I’ve cast pretty much every character in the book, although I changed my mind about casting certain roles after publication. For the sake of conciseness, I’ll just list the three characters I’ve already mentioned earlier in this interview:
Michael McNamara – James McAvoy (Atonement, The Last King of Scotland)
Dona Catalina – Morena Baccarin (Firefly, Deadpool)
Captain Stephen Reynard – Christian Bale (The Prestige, The Fighter)
What was the hardest thing about writing your latest book?
Coming up with what was driving McNamara was unquestionably the toughest. The villains and supporting characters were all easy, but figuring out who McNamara was and what he wanted took forever to figure out. Heck, he wasn’t even Michael McNamara until I became a James McAvoy fan and “cast” him as my protagonist. Before that, the protagonist’s race, gender, ethnicity, and nationality were all up for grabs. Putting a face to the name made it a little easier to have something to build on, but it was a long time before I had an arc for the character I was happy with. I didn’t want him to be driven by revenge or a past trauma, because I feel that’s been done to death. Another character had already been assigned a redemption arc, so that was out for McNamara.
Then I somehow stumbled onto the idea of him not knowing what he wanted or what he wanted to achieve. I worked backwards from there, giving him a backstory that would justify that attitude and what would drive him to seek a new future on another continent altogether.
What did you enjoy most about writing this book?
In addition to paying homage to my favorite film and literary genre and slipping as many references to swashbuckling fiction across all mediums (enough to have their own page on TV Tropes – literally), I loved getting to work with some lesser known aspects of a somewhat well-known period of time. History’s cooperated with me so perfectly when building backstories and assembling a sinister international conspiracy for our heroes to thwart. The Acts of Union, The War of the Spanish Succession, the War of the Quadruple Alliance, the Jacobite rebellions, even an economic crisis and various social trends – building a mosaic out of all of these different elements and fitting them all coherently into a single story was a heck of a lot of fun to assemble.
What is your next project?
I’ve got a bunch of other projects in the works in various states of progress, and I keep coming up with ideas for new ones all the time. The next one most likely will be The Sherwood Caper, another historical thriller starring Robin Hood. Rather than doing another origin story (although his origin will be told via a few flashback scenes), the bulk of the story involves Robin and his outlaw horde trying to steal a fortune in silver from Nottingham Castle in order to prevent a war. The villains call in Sir Guy of Gisbourne, former crusader, experienced outlaw hunter, and old enemy of Robin, to prevent the theft, setting up a clash of titans as Robin and Gisbourne attempt to outsmart each other. (And outfence each other, naturally.)
What role does research play in your writing?
Oh, it’s absolutely essential. The more in-depth the research is, the more ideas I come up with for interesting plot twists or characters, and the more little details I can slip in to make the setting feel like a fully-realized setting and not just a shallow backdrop. I’ve also learned never to underestimate the importance of minor details. A single stray line in a book or a cautionary FYI from a source can – and has – shaped entire plot trajectories and character arcs. A “by the way” caution from someone on a message board inspired Michael McNamara’s entire character arc in The Brotherhood of the Black Flag, and a single line in a book about Sir William Marshall gave me the idea for what Robin would be stealing and why for The Sherwood Caper – as well as what was at stake if he failed.
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