Are you a full-time or part-time writer and how does that affect your writing?
I retired at the beginning of 2019, so technically I am now a full-time writer. Prior to that, I was only part time. However, when I retired, I started a freelance book editing service—M. R. Hill Publishing—which keeps me busy. I also occasionally teach classes at a place called San Diego Writer’s Ink. I’ve also taught a couple online courses for Romance Writers of America and the Guppies Chapter of Sisters in Crime. So, everything I do now is focused around writing, even if I’m not actually sitting at the desk writing.
The way it affects my writing is this: I don’t feel rushed anymore. When I was working full time, I only had an hour or so a day to write. Now I can write as long as I need to get the day’s writing finished. That can be an hour or it can be several hours.
What are some day jobs you have held?
I spent more than twenty years in journalism as a crime reporter for a daily newspaper, a national award-winning investigative journalist for a magazine, and editor of a business newspaper. Then I switched careers and spent sixteen years working as a U.S. Navy analyst in combat casualty care. I know, that seems like an unlikely switch, but I also spent more than twenty years in three branches of the military reserves, much of that time doing some form of medical response. I was also a medic with our local sheriff’s wilderness search and rescue team, and a medic and security specialist with a federal disaster medical assistance team.
Do you have a special time to write, or how is your day structured to accommodate your writing?
I’m a morning writer. I aim for at least five hundred words a day. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but it’s five hundred edited words per day. Each morning before I write, I rework the previous day’s work. At the end of a chapter, I rework the entire chapter again.
I have always felt that most people today don’t realize how great a threat Nazism/fascism was in the 1930s and 1940s
When I finish a manuscript, I set it aside and work on something else for a couple of weeks. Then I tackle the manuscript again and rework the entire thing. I do at least two complete rewrites of the manuscript before I send it on to my editors.
As I said, I write in the morning. After that, I work on any editing assignment I may have or any other work I need to do related to my books, such as promotion. Around early afternoon I break off and take care of any errands I need to do or any work around the house. By late afternoon, I usually take an hour or so to just play guitar.
What have you written so far?
I have eight books on the market right now, with my ninth—The Fourth Rising—coming out in May. They include Duty, a short story collection, my Linus Schag, NCIS, mystery thrillers (the latest of which, The Butcher’s Bill, garnered four national writing awards), my Peter Brandt mystery thrillers, two stand-alone sci-fi thrillers—Eden and Polar Melt—and a nonfiction book on military history called War Stories. The Fourth Rising will be the third entry in my Peter Brandt series. Several of my books have been made into audio books, too.
Do you work to an outline or plot sketch, or do you prefer to let a general idea guide your writing?
I’m a plotter. I usually research and outline my books because I want to know for sure I have a story before I start writing. However, The Fourth Rising was an exception. I was working on a new Linus Schag novel, but got bogged down. I switched over to The Fourth Rising before I had it fully planned out. So, I was definitely was “pantsing” that one.
How do you feel about indie/alternative vs. conventional publishing?
Well, I am an indie author and I teach a course on indie publishing. I compare what’s happening in the book publishing industry to what happened in the movie and recording industries. Independent film makers have largely replaced the big movie studios, and independent recording studios and artists have replaced the large record labels.
The traditional publishing industry has been contracting for years. In the 1980s, there were dozens of large, mainstream book publishers; today there are only five. That means fewer markets available to sell your book to. Even if you get picked up by one of the Big Five, they can drop you instantly. Not too long ago at a writer’s conference, best-seller Lee Child said he didn’t think he could make it in traditional publishing if he was starting out today. When he started writing his Jack Reacher books, they didn’t sell well, but Child said his publisher stuck with him. Publishers don’t do that anymore. If you’re not a best seller right off the mark, he said, they drop you.
Think about this: Something like ninety percent of Big Five publishers’ authors make no profit for the company, while ninety percent of their profits come from just ten percent of their writers. So, like any business, the publishers dump the deadwood. Big Five publishers have been dropping long-time and well-known mid-list authors, replacing them with new blood. But if those new authors don’t sell, they get dumped, too.
Sure, there are small publishing houses, but dozens of them have gone out of business, too.
As an independent author, I not only have to write my books, I have to market them as well. It is, after all, a business. But guess what? Writers published by the Big Five have to market their own books, too. Publishers don’t do that anymore. No marketing, no big book tours. Those days are gone. But, unlike traditionally published authors, I get to keep all my royalties.
Can you share with readers a little bit about your latest book?
The plot for The Fourth Rising was inspired by the controversial work of a few researchers who maintain that while Germany surrendered in 1945, the Nazi Party did not. The party leadership scattered to the four winds with a long-term plan to resurrect the party and its plan for world conquest, though now through economic means rather than war.
Watching the rise of fascism and rightwing extremism again across the world was the key motivator for me to sit down and start writing The Fourth Rising.
I know that sounds fantastic, but there are actual Allied intelligence documents from the time indicating that was exactly what the Nazis were planning. They had the wealth—stolen from the countries they invaded—and they had business contacts throughout the world with corporations who secretly supported them, including many U.S. companies.
In The Fourth Rising, the murder of an old flame’s husband sets former war correspondent Peter Brandt on the hunt for hidden Nazi gold. The search leads him down a bloody trail leading from the drug cartels of Mexico to a neo-Nazi training camp in the Southern California mountains. Along the way, he unearths a decades-long Nazi conspiracy to create a new Fourth Reich and continue the Nazi Party’s plan for world domination.
What made you decide to sit down and actually start writing this book?
I have always felt that most people today don’t realize how great a threat Nazism/fascism was in the 1930s and 1940s, or how popular it was among the wealthy and even the not so wealthy people in Europe and the United States. Jack-booted Nazis marched down streets and even held a rally at Madison Square Garden in the 1930s. Those are facts. I’ve had a few short stories with this theme published in magazines over the years, but I wanted to write something larger. Watching the rise of fascism and rightwing extremism again across the world was the key motivator for me to sit down and start writing The Fourth Rising.
Tell us more about your main character. What makes him or her unique?
Peter Brandt is a former war correspondent who is physically and emotionally scarred by the violence he’s witnessed. He’s haunted by the death he’s seen and the guilt he feels for survived it.
Peter made his first appearance in my novel Empty Places, in which he returns to the States to attend his ex-wife’s funeral. When he learns she was murdered and the local cops are not pursuing the case, he sets out on his own to find her killers. Peter reappeared in The Last Refuge, in which he settles down in San Diego after having covered the first Iraq War—Operation Desert Storm. In The Last Refuge, Peter’s investigation into a deadly friendly fire incident during that war leads him to uncover corruption and murder in the American defense industry.
Needless to say, there is a bit of me in Peter Brandt, having been a journalist myself and, in that and my other capacities, a witness to a great amount of death, violence, and corruption.
What role does research play in your writing?
All my novels are inspired by true incidents, and I do a great amount of research to ensure the historical facts are correct. As a former investigative journalist, research comes easy to me. I want my stories to be as true to life as possible without bogging down the reader. As a result, many reviewers often remark on how realistic my books are.