What comes first, the plot or characters?
I start with the characters. You can have a neat plot, but if readers don’t identify or like your characters, your story can be dead on arrival. I come up with short and long term character arcs, how they will grow and change over time. The story becomes the things that drives those changes.
Describe a typical writing day?
I go to the gym and work out. Since I had an online stalker threaten my life, I thought it prudent to get into shape. I come home and write anywhere from three to ten hours a day, depending on what his happening in the rest of my life.
How many books have you written? Which is your favorite?
I have written or contributed to around a hundred books. I lost track several years ago. My favorite depends on genre. For true crime, I would have to say The Murder of Maggie Hume. For military history, Lost Eagles. For political thrillers, Blue Dawn. For military sci-fi, most likely Storm Surge.
How do you do research for your books?
When I’m working out I’m reading the close captioning on CNN to get what they believe the news is. Often times this is a substantial source of inspiration for my political thriller series, Blue Dawn. For other works, I use the National Archives, local historical societies, and interviews.
When did you start writing?
In college, at Central Michigan University, I wrote for the school paper and for the campus radio program, writing commercials. I wrote for three years on the school newspaper and no one figured out that I had never taken a journalism class until my senior year…I was a business major.
You’ve written in the true crime, political thriller, military history, and military science fiction. Do you have a preference?
I alternate what I write depending on my mood. With true crime, it is emotionally draining to do, so I need a break of a few years between those projects. I tend to flip flop between military sci fi and political thrillers since both have a great deal of action in them.
Do you have a favorite character that you have written? If so, who? And what makes them so special?
In the Blue Dawn series it is Caylee Leatrom. She is a former operative that has changed sides and fights for the restoration of the United States. What I like about her is that she is trained killer, but there’s a polite side about her, an almost formal professional edge to her. Writing her is a lot of fun because I let her softer side creep out every now and then; that, and I love writing about strong female characters.
What is the future for the characters? Will there be a sequel?
Blue Dawn is already four books and another three to five are planned. The next one, Patrons of Terror, is done in first draft form.
Are you working on anything at the present you would like to share with your readers about?
Patrons of Terror will close out one big arc in the Blue Dawn series, which I am excited about. My military sci fi series, Land&Sea, is doing well and I am almost done with book seven of that series.
Favorite book when you were a kid
The Lord of the Rings. I still remember reading about the charge of the Riders of Rohan and drinking in every perfect word.
Excerpt From Confederacy of Fear
Dana met with Travis and Andy as their ambulance pulled up, both perfectly attired in their EMS uniforms. They unloaded a rolling gurney and followed her lead. She took them out of the main facility and into the open yard where the wind had picked up. The air made her eyes ache, but Dana ignored it, leading them down the shoveled sidewalks, around Unit B, then out toward Unit J.
She badged them in, whispering in a low tone. “So far the guards are incapacitated,” she said. Leading them into the unit, they carried the gurney up the steel staircase and led them to a cell. She manually overrode the lock with Harrison’s badge. It opened and a young man stood back from the cell door as if he were nervous and stunned by their appearance.
“Raul Lopez,” she stated.
“We’re here to get you out.”
He eyed them suspiciously, not moving. Andy spoke up. “We’re friends of Caylee’s.”
Just mentioning her name made him smile.
Dana turned to her counterparts. “I have to clear the roof. Get him ready to move.” She bolted out of the cell. Her next mission was to clear the roof of antennae so that the helicopter could land.
She had given herself access to the system and swiped her card and entered her PIN. She used her pocket note pad of paper to wedge the door open. Dana then went up the last utility set of stairs to the roof. Taking the stairs three at a time, she reached the roof door in less than a half-minute. It was difficult to force open, but she managed and was hit instantly with a gust of icy wind. Stepping out onto the small landing, she saw the slightly sloped roof and the antenna.
She reached into her coat and pulled out the det cord that Travis had procured. Travis had given her a simple detonator. All she had to do was remove one of the rooftop emergency light bulbs and jam it in the socket. Uncoiling the material, she realized that Travis had given her far too much cord, but she was thankful. She removed the light bulb that flashed on and off, and started to step out on the landing to wrap the cord around the base of each antenna.
Four minutes later . . .
Andy watched the big, open bay of Unit J as Travis tried to explain the basics of their plan to Raul. He was talking about someone named Ted; Andy only caught bits and pieces of their conversation as he spotted another guard moving to the door of the access staircase. It was a stocky female, more muscles than anything else. Her uniform shirt was wet and stained, no doubt from vomit and a vain attempt to clean it. She was focused, not on them, but on Dana.
Oh shit . . .
It had to be one of the operatives. During all of their late night planning sessions, the rule Caylee had made clear was that someone had to be with Raul at all times. Period. No exceptions. He was tempted to point out to Travis what was happening, but there simply wasn’t time.
Andy took off, heading for the staircase himself.
Two minutes later . . .
Dana had just finished wrapping the last antenna with the det cord and was about to plug in the detonator when the door flew open, and she saw Rita Zhang holding a pistol on her. “Hold it right there,” she called out as the wind tore at her. Rita took a step forward while Dana slowly and carefully rose to her feet.
Dana backed away from where she had been kneeling, and Rita moved into the same spot, just past the excess coils of the det cord that lay on the snow-blown gravel of the roof landing. “You—this is all you!” Rita said. “What are you doing up here?
“Redecorating,” Dana replied, stepping back.
“You’re working with Leatrom,” she said. Her face was turning beet red either from the frigid blowing air or from the poison in her system. Either way, Dana didn’t care.
“Where’s your partner?”
“Don’t you worry about him,” Rita said, wincing in agony. She started to double over, but caught herself before Dana could make a move.
“Lay flat on the ground and I won’t put a bullet in your head.”
It was then that Dana evaporated in the wind—replaced by Charli Kasinski. The change was caused by Andy stepping slowly and quietly through the door to the stairs on the landing. He didn’t have a gun and so far, Rita hadn’t noticed him. No doubt the wind was masking any noise he made. She wanted to wave him off, to say something, but to do so would only alert the operative that stood between them.
He’s going to get both of us killed!
Ten seconds later . . .
Oh shit! Andy saw Charli with her hands in the air, and the operative with her back to him, gun aimed at the woman he loved. This is an operative—just like Caylee. If I screw this up, I’m as good as dead, and so is Charli. That knowledge allowed him to summon the calm he needed to act.
At his feet were several loops of det cord. If I can get this around her neck, it might just give us a chance. Bending down slowly, he picked it up. Charli was looking at the operative, deliberately not at him.
He lifted the loops of explosive cable and then brought them down around the neck of the operative, twisting them tight.
For an instant, he thought it might work, that he might choke her. The gun lowered and Charli darted toward the two of them as he started to ride the operative like a wild bucking bronco. The guard turned hard one way, then snapped back throwing him off his balance. He held on, hoping that Chari would spring at her, but he couldn’t see her in the commotion.
Twisting the det cord tighter, the operative grabbed the cord with one hand; with the other, she aimed the gun over her shoulder and fired. The explosive crack of the gun so close to his own head panicked Andy. The bullet just missed his leg. His footing slipped, and he dropped down onto the gravel roof landing.
She whipped around to see who had dared attack her, leveling the pistol right between his eyes. Oh fuck!
Out of the corner of his eyes he saw Charli jam the detonator into the light socket. There was a bang from the blasting cap, enough to make the operative start to turn, unsure of the new threat. A millisecond later, just as she started her turn, the det chord erupted with the sound of a shotgun going off. The shockwave hit him hard, knocking him back slightly and making his chest throb.
The cable had been around the throat of the operative. Her neck was gone with the blast. The concussion threw her body down to the ground and sent her head onto the small pad on the roof where Andy stood. A mist of blood splattered his pants and coat. The antennae were gone as well, toppled over in the wind. For a moment, Andy simply stood there as the wind whipped the smoke off of the roof.
Then he saw Charli. She came over to him and hugged him. Andy was so stunned, he could barely move, but he slowly returned the gesture. “That was brilliant,” she said.
Andy nodded back nervously. “I had no idea it would be so loud,” he said, noticing for the first time that he was shaking.
Charli kissed him quickly. “Come on tiger. We’ve got to secure the package. Our ride is on the way.”