When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I read a lot as a kid. I thought I could tell stories too. Except for rare occasions, I put off storytelling for a long time, though (life’s responsibilities got in the way), but I really got into it after 9/11, even while still at my old day job. For me, it beats playing golf because it keeps my mind young!
How did you decide how to publish your books?
I’ve experimented a lot. I’ve probed the entire publishing spectrum, from almost 100% DIY to traditional publishing. When I started, ebooks were a novelty. Now they’re not, and aggregators like Smashwords and Draft2Digital make it easy to publish and distribute one’s books (they recently merged). I’ll admit I received some valuable TLC from my traditional publishers, but I don’t think it was enough to justify the cut they take in the royalties (no marketing help there, for example).
How do you market or promote your books and what strategies (e.g. social media, email, blog tours, etc.) have demonstrated the most success for you?
I use mostly the internet universe now because “live” events went on hiatus with the Covid pandemic. Because you didn’t mention reviews, let me state here that they’re overrated. I don’t consider them when I buy books (and I read a lot), and I don’t think other avid readers do either. (I use blurbs and the “peek inside,” whether online or in a bookstore.) And let me also state that if those so-called “book-marketing gurus” really thought their techniques were so good, they’d offer pro-bono options, like a lawyer (a share in the royalties for the marketing help provided).
Can you share with readers a little bit about your latest book?
I’d be happy to do that. The Klimt Connection is #8 in the Esther Brookstone Art Detective series. (The first two novels are from Penmore Press; the third from Carrick Publishing—there’s a link to a promo video on my website’s home page; the fourth, fifth, and eighth are from Draft2Digital; and #6 and #7 are free PDF downloads, available at my website.) This new book is dedicated to the brave Ukrainian freedom fighters and all those who battle in favor of democracy over autocracy. The latter is the general theme of the novel, but, from the series’ title, you’ll always find artwork involved. (The painting in #1, Rembrandt’s Angel, is a real painting, by the way; it was stolen by the Nazis in World War II for Hitler’s museum and has never been found.)
What made you decide to sit down and actually start writing this book?
There was unfinished business for Esther and hubby Bastiann van Coevorden leftover from novel #7, which gave me a good start (that wasn’t a cliffhanger, by the way—I never have those in a novel that’s in a series). As I got into the book, national and world events started influencing my storytelling by providing motivation.
Tell us more about your main character. What inspired you to develop this character?
There are a lot of characters, as there are in most of my novels, but the entire series is about Esther Brookstone, an older woman some people might call a “cougar” (Bastiann is husband number four). She was an MI6 spy in East Germany during the Cold War, an ex-Scotland Yard detective from the Art and Antiques Division, and a current London gallery owner. Both Esther and hubby Bastiann go way back, though; they had cameos in several of the “Detectives Chen & Castilblanco” novels. I gave them principal roles in Rembrandt’s Angel and in subsequent novels of the series. When I was a kid reading Dame Agatha’s novels, I always wondered why she didn’t put Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot together to create a powerful crime-fighting duo. Esther and Bastiann are twenty-first-century versions of Christie’s famous sleuths.
What role does research play in your writing?
Okay, the ex-scientist in me forces me to say, “Please don’t call it research.” What authors do is look for background material to make their plots, characters, settings, and so forth come alive and seem real (a necessary characteristic of good fiction, according to Tom Clancy). That’s more akin to what we used to have to do when writing our school reports long ago: a visit to the library now is probably reduced to trolling the internet, using Google Maps, etc. That’s not research because it doesn’t create new knowledge; one is only finding information “out there” previously not known to them. (Like Isaac Asimov, I also use ‘zines like Science News and so forth as source material. For example, the desalination platforms in The Last Humans came from there.)
Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
I’m a minimalist writer (i.e. I give readers only enough information so they can participate in the creative process by developing their own perceptions about characters, settings, and so forth). So, my most challenging problem is when an editor tells me he wants at least 80 words in a novel! I don’t like editorial constraints! (Dependence on that Chicago manual is another annoyance. Who has the money for that? I use the NY Times style manual, which is a lot more up-to-date!)
What do you do to get book reviews?
I’ve tried just about everything there is to try, even though I think reviews are overrated (especially on Amazon, where the Bezos bots only care about the ratings, not the quality of a review). I’ll probably be considered a rebel: I don’t mind paying for a review if I know it will be an honest and complete one (unlike most on Amazon that are two- or three-line reviews plus a rating, even those from the trolls!).
How successful has your quest for reviews been so far?
I’ll hedge my answer: Most avid readers don’t take the time to write reviews, so I think the whole emphasis on book reviews is of doubtful value. Those who review often carry a bias with them, or are posting out of some kind of obligation. Volunteers are an endangered species. (Same goes for other products and restaurant and movie reviews.)
Who are some of your favorite authors that you feel were influential in your work?
I’ve mentioned Christie for mystery. Add Haggard for thrillers (adventures) and Asimov for sci-fi and mystery. Those are the oldies. Add Huxley and Orwell for dystopian and post-apocalyptic. P. D. James, Ian Rankin, Dean Koontz, Harlan Coben…the list is long. Any good book I read and like (and that includes many that aren’t so famous) influences me in some way. (Your readers can get a better idea by perusing the book reviews found on my website.)
What is one thing you hate about being a writer?
The commercial end of the business. That’s why I say that each story is a success if at least one reader enjoys it. I only count royalties at tax time! (Because I have to do so.)
If you couldn’t be an author, what would your ideal career be?
A bookstore owner, maybe specializing in old and used books? (I have several cameos in my books where I am one. Yeah, I know, maybe not a profitable career these days.)