Bob Mayer Interview: “writing is a very personal experience”

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Bestselling author Bob Mayer talks to me about his writing and the experiences that led him to writing such incredible work.

Tell me about how you came to define your writing style. What drew you towards writing?

I’ve been writing for a living for 30 years. My style has evolved over time. Initially I was very plot oriented and outlined quite a bit. The last couple of years I’ve shifted more to what I call streaming—which is setting up my characters in a setting and throwing obstacles in their path and just writing. I feel I’ve written enough that I can do it more ‘on the fly’ although that requires more rewriting and thinking than outlining does.

I started writing just to write. I didn’t think about getting published. I’d read so much it just seemed a natural outgrowth of that.

What is your career background and how did you get into writing novels?

I served in the Army for a number of years in the Infantry and Special Forces. After I resigned my active duty commission and was in the Reserves, I moved to Asia to study martial arts. I had some time on my hand, the original 512k Mac, and just started writing. I finished two manuscripts without thinking about selling them. Then someone read one and said, “This is like a real book!” And then I went through the long, arduous process of getting published.

Please tell me about your books and why readers enjoy them.

I write across a range of genres so some of my books should appeal to everyone. I’ve hit bestseller lists in thriller, romance, historical fiction, nonfiction, suspense and science fiction. My bestselling series are The Green Berets (military thriller) and Area 51 (science fiction). I’ve tended to write in areas that interest me. A lot of my focus is on history, psychology and the evolution of the mind. I also enjoy delving into myths and legends, which I did in the Area 51 and Atlantis series. I plumbed history with the Time Patrol books.

Are there any particular mediums or narrative troupes you like to use in your writing and why?

Not particularly. Point of view has been a struggle but I’ve settled in omniscient voice. My latest manuscript, which I just completed, is omniscient voice but following one character for the entire book which is something new for me.

I do like to move in time and place. For example, each Time Patrol book features six missions on the same day, such as Independence Day, but in six different years. So each book is essentially six short stories inside of an overall novel, which was hard but great fun to research the history and ask “what if?”

What do you enjoy reading and how does this influence your writing?

I enjoy reading writers better than me. Some favourite of my authors are Kate Atkinson, Richard Russo, Michael Connolly, Larry McMurtry, and Pat Conroy. I read a lot of nonfiction because history fascinates me. Also, I lean toward reading books for research rather than the Internet. With the Internet you have to know what questions to ask. With books you find the questions (and answers) you never thought to ask.

If you could collaborate with anyone, living or dead, on a writing project, who would it be and why?

I have collaborated and it is an interesting experience. Jenny Crusie and I wrote three books together with our best being Agnes and the Hitman. I learned a tremendous amount about writing from her. Much of which I put into this most recent book, New York Minute.

Ultimately, writing is a very personal experience. What I focus on these days is a writer’s process. I study other authors for how they create. Not just authors, but screenwriters—in essence storytellers. That’s our job. The oldest profession.

Have you got any exciting new plans or projects coming up that you’d like to share with me?

New York Minute launches a new series for me featuring a special character, William Kane. I’m pitching it as First Blood meets Breaking Bad. The first book is set in New York City in the summer of 1977, during the long hot summer of Son of Sam and the blackout. I grew up in the Bronx during that period. My character is also a graduate of West Point and Special Forces veteran (both of which I’ve done). So it’s rather personal.

This is a breakout book as I have a unique cast of characters inhabiting the world. I’m at work on the second book, Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door. My agent will be marketing New York Minute when I send it to her and I’m very excited about it.

Are there any new books or writers that you are looking forward to going forward?

Kate Atkinson has a new book out, Transcription, I will read as soon as I finish this biography of William Tecumseh Sherman.

Anything you’d like to add?

Thanks for giving me this opportunity. I’ve been doing this for 30 years and am more enthused about writing today than I have ever been. I’ve been compiling experience, craft and expertise and continue to strive to become a better storyteller.

Thanks for taking the time Bob- you can find out more about Bob and his work on his website HERE.

 

 

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In Her Shadow Review: Another Insightful Thriller From Mark Edwards

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Having loved The Retreat earlier this year, I was keen to see how Mark Edwards’ latest novel would turn out, and if it could live up to his previous success.

Spoiler alert: it did.

For the blog tour to celebrate the book’s release, I took a look and have concluded that this latest outing is every bit as good as his previous novel.

With its innovative take on the perfect life that’s not all it seems to be, In Her Shadow explores the complexities of human relationships and the issue of whether or not you can really know and trust anyone.

Protagonist Jessica is still coming to terms with the death of her seemingly perfect sister Isabel, even after several years. Then, when Jessica’s young daughter starts offering up details about her aunt’s life that she could not possibly know, Jessica becomes suspicious that her death was more than just a tragic accident.

As she delves into her sister’s seemingly idyllic life, Jessica finds herself uncovering secrets she never even dreamed of, as she comes to terms with the fact that her young daughter is intrinsically linked to the tragedy. With members of her family called into question, the protagonist sets out on a harrowing journey to uncover the truth.

Integrating the vulnerability of a child and the intense emotions of adults, the novel crafts a rich narrative that is both compelling and engaging. The characters are relatable and their responses to the tragic plot is relatable and understandable, something that is often lost in thrillers where characters behave in implausible ways and react uncharacteristically to tragedy.

In all, with its gripping plot and strong characterisation, In Her Shadow is a cracking thriller that stays with you long after you put the book down, which, in my humble opinion, is more than enough reason to pick the book up in the first place.

Super Thursday: It’s Been A Great Week For Readers

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This past week readers have been treated to an array of new releases which will give us many new books to devour over the coming weeks.

This past Thursday, October the 4th is known as Super Thursday, a term coined by the Bookseller Magazine for the day every year when publishers gear up for the Christmas rush by releasing a flurry of exciting new books.

This year more than 500 new releases were on offer on Super Thursday, a figure that trumps last year’s total. There’s something for everyone among the haul, including the latest release by renowned children’s author Jacqueline Wilson, whose novel My Mum Tracy Beaker marks the return of her beloved character.

For crime fiction fans there’s a plethora of new tomes out there to choose from, including the new one from this blog’s old pals Peter James and Hugh Fraser, whose latest Stealth looks set to be another triumph in the Rina Walker series. There’s also the latest offering from Rebus creator Ian Rankin, promising readers a great chance to immerse themselves in death and despair in time for Halloween.

Over the coming weeks they’ll be many more exciting releases in the run-up to Christmas, including the long anticipated autobiography of Michelle Obama, Becoming, Stay Hungry, the story of Boxer Anthony Joshua’s rise to stardom and Guy Martin’s latest offering.

In other genres there are some particularly hyped releases, including the latest in George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones series Fire And Blood, and the screenplay for the upcoming film Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindlewald by Harry Potter creator J.K. Rowling.

All of this and more means that the festive season looks set to be a corker for readers and booklovers as they buy themselves a little treat to mark the end of a good year, to get themselves through the long slog home for the festivities or as a gift for a loved one.

Lethal White Review: The Best Of A Not-So-Brilliant Bunch

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The forth instalment of the Cormoran Strike novels is excessively long- but don’t let that put you off, this is actually the best of the lot. Not that that’s saying a great deal.

Picking up directly from where Career of Evil left off, the novel shows Strike and his former assistant turned salaried partner Robin falling into an uneasy rhythm following her marriage. This is abruptly interrupted by the arrival of Billy, a highly disturbed young man who comes bearing tales of child murder, before leaving as quickly and loudly as he came.

With Billy now disappeared, and no real motive to investigate his claims, Strike takes the case of the foppish politician Jasper Chiswell, nicknamed ‘Chizzle’, who is being blackmailed. Keen to avoid divulging what he is being blackmailed about, the Minister commissions Strike and his agency, which now includes several employees, to obtain information he can use against his blackmailers, who, incidentally, include Billy’s older brother Jimmy.

While the 2012 Olympics takes London by storm, the case quickly descends into almost comical absurdity, with Strike and Robin pursuing multiple lines of enquiry, many of which revolve around Chiswell and his laughably posh family. One of the problems I find with Rowling’s Strike series is that I am always unsure if she realises that she crossed the invisible line between light-hearted satire and full-on ridiculousness which is present in all crime fiction.

After all, her protagonist does, on several occasions, mention how posh and out-of-touch his client and his family are, even at one point referring to them as teletubbies, but the reader remains baffled throughout by the intensity of their otherness and the fact that none of them seem to realise how incredibly self-incriminating they are being.

In this latest outing as in all the previous, Strike remains a mess of contradictions. Although Rowling goes to great pains to make him out to be a mess of a man who she describes on numerous occasions as ‘classless’, he also shown to be more at home in a swanky pub in Mayfair than among normal people. He is often slovenly and unkempt himself, yet he judges a young woman for having painted eyeliner over a piece of sleep in the corner of her eye.

The character also mentally derides his latest temporary secretary for not remembering that he detests milky tea despite the fact that he himself is completely incapable of thinking of the feelings of others, even crashing his colleague’s wedding and taking out her flowers in the prologue. Rowling either drastically underestimates the intelligence of her readers or she is unaware of how characterisation works, but either way, the result is the same; a protagonist with all of the sincerity of a Tory election promise.

Then, of course, there is the question of length. I don’t know if you’ve been to Waterstones lately to check it out, but this book is HUGE. In hardback it is over 600 pages long, although a good 300 of these are completely unnecessary. Rowling gets so bogged-down in the minutiae of surveillance and the day-to-day running of a detective agency that she lets her narrative run away from her, and spends fruitless chapters describing the perfectly mundane. There are also far too many needless characters, leaving the reader struggling to keep up with who’s who and what’s what.

Named after the colloquial term for a horse that is doomed to die due to a genetic condition, the one thing that Lethal White does have going for it is its foreshadowing. Rowling is able to skilfully direct her readers where she wants them to, and at times it is intriguing to realise where a certain detail came into play previously. Each chapter begins with a line from Rosmersholm, a play by Henrik Ibsen, which focuses on a time of political change and the emergence of a new order, a metaphor for the downfall of the Chiswells, whose gilded life is quickly disintegrating as the case develops.

There is also some great skill shown in Rowling’s depictions of her disgustingly upper class characters, particularly Jasper Chiswell. There is one scene, in which he is chewing with his mouth open, and he spits a piece of potato at Strike, which is so vivid that I physically reacted (the poor chap on the train next to me thought I was mental, but there you have it).

These brilliant, emotive stretches of text are interspersed with a lot of waffle, but there is some narrative excellence. Robin and Strike’s relationship is brilliantly handled, and it is great that their strange passion for each other does not overwhelm the main plot.

All in all, Lethal White remains by far the best of the Strike novels, although it is, fundamentally, too bloody long and at times completely absurd. Hard-core Rowling fans will love it; anyone else is better off elsewhere.