Joe Klingler sat down with Deborah of eBooks Unlimited to discuss inspiration in general, and how he comes up with characters, for each of his novels.
What inspired you to write this Missing Mona?
The author Robert Crais, while speaking at the Mystery Writers Conference hosted by The Book Passage bookstore in Corte Madera, CA. Mr. Crais was talking about his detective character Elvis Cole, who he has been writing about since The Monkey’s Raincoat, and how readers repeatedly ask: why doesn’t Elvis have a cell phone? The talk was about setting, and how characters are “of their time.” And how times change. He also talked about how not having a phone created the opportunity to use phone booths and set the scene for interesting interactions with characters on the street.
Naturally, Elvis has no cell phone because the technology didn’t exist back in 1989 when The Monkey’s Raincoat was originally published. Sitting in the audience listening, I thought about how young people have become immersed in communication technology, so much so that they can’t really escape it without their friends wondering what’s wrong with them. Or maybe being left out of activities because they’re not willing to invest time in online social networks. So I asked myself what would happen if a young guy said enough is enough, and rejected the emerging lifestyle being enabled by the disruptive technology emerging from Silicon Valley?
In that moment, Tommy Cuda was born.
Thank you, Mr. Crais.
How did you come up with the characters?
To me, the needs of the story and the personalities of the characters are a two-way street. I look carefully at the direction of the plot, and consider what characters would make a scene most interesting, believable, compelling. Your protagonist can walk into a bar at noon and see an old man drinking beer. Or she can walk into a dark bar smelling of stale beer and sweat, peanut shells crunching under her feet, and see an old man with a black beret with a golden emblem in front drooping over white hair. He sips whiskey straight; his cane leans against the bar in front of him. It takes her a moment to realize only one foot reaches the bar stool, because the other is missing below the knee.
Ensure not only that every character wants something, but also that every character IS something. Each has a past, and is making his or her way toward an uncertain future. Even if that character shows up for only one scene, they are much more engaging if they are from somewhere, and going somewhere, even (maybe especially) if that somewhere is toward the darkness.
What inspired you to write your thriller Mash Up?
A T-shirt. I was working as a software executive and a colleague wore a black shirt with a white Napster logo on the front into the office one day. It didn’t take much discussion for us to realize that if people could copy music files for their own use, they could trade them across the Internet, and all hell would break loose in the music industry. We discussed the ramifications of mass violation of the copyrights of artists, and how the world might evolve, a world that is still evolving with subscription services, congressional investigations, and criminal proceedings against site operators. That shirt started me thinking about the entire ecology of music making, how artists are compensated, how intellectual property is protected, and how the powers and fantastic gadgets of Silicon Valley sometimes work in one direction, and the rights of individuals in another. Mash Up is, indeed, a mash up of a start-up business with engineers and funding partners on the one hand, and a group of college musicians studying to make the best music they can make on the other. Naturally, much goes awry.
How did you come up with all those the characters?
I’ve studied music formally, and know many people who live to play. Music is why they get up in the morning. I have also co-founded a startup, sold it, merged businesses, and been shut down. The hard knocks leave lots of memories…so the characters essentially found me.
I also asked myself the question: who are the players in this drama of the music world? The musicians for sure. But also, the engineers who develop disruptive technology, the business people who strive to profit from it, and of course, the listeners who consume in a myriad of ways the sounds the musicians create. It makes for a messy ball of wax, and some readers definitely disagree with the perspective of some of the characters, and consider those characters preachy.
But above this background of art versus technology, real crimes are committed in the name of the things crimes are often committed for. And Qigiq and Kandy are on the case.
What inspired you to write your techno-thriller RATS?
A true story about a young boy in South Vietnam who found a piece of leftover war ordnance, decades after the end of the conflict. He was very young, six or so, but somehow knew that what he found could explode. And he wanted to see it. So he leaned a board against a building, stood back, and started tossing the chunk of metal against the board, over and over. Eventually, he got his wish, it exploded and sent shrapnel throughout his body, ripping through his lungs and spleen. Doctors saved him, but he was very near death.
This got me thinking about the millions of land mines and unexploded shells that hide in the ground after a war. Especially after Vietnam, which was heavily bombed, and land mines that could be deployed from aircraft were first used. Who is responsible for clearing these deadly machines? What motivation did they have to clear them? And mostly, about the fate of thousands of farmers and children who hadn’t even been alive during the conflict, yet are now paying the price for it.
What, or who, inspired the characters in RATS?
I wanted to create a character who was connected both to the reality of the original conflict, and to the aftermath still doing damage today. And he needed a solution, rather than to simply be trapped by the situation. So he had to have acquired certain skills during his lifetime. He develops a method that the U.S. government isn’t happy with, so they go after him in a clandestine way that creates its own set of problems.
But how do they go after him? With an age-old technique: a sniper. But in today’s Army, that sniper is a woman. This combination provides a volatile mix when plans go wrong and everyone starts improvising to survive their piece of a complex encounter.
Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?
I was at the Squaw Valley Writers conference years ago and an author speaking on the writing life said, “No matter what, write every day.” I took him literally and have focused on writing something each day, even if it’s only a single page that I end up throwing away. It’s almost like Newton’s First Law of Motion recast for authors: Writers at rest will remain at rest, and writers in motion will remain in motion. I have had so much trouble getting restarted on Monday morning after a weekend off from writing that I now try to write seven days a week. Six minimum. Not three or four. I first learned of this seven day approach in a book by Wallace Stegner <book title>. He was right. Isaac Asimov also wrote that if you want to be prolific, write from 9 to 5, seven days a week. And he was certainly prolific at more than 400 books, including those he edited.
Do you have any advice for authors deciding on being part of KDP Select?
KDP Select offers an entire ecosystem for marketing your work. The benefits include 70% royalty on discounted books during a Countdown deal, the ability to run free offers, and enrollment in the Kindle Unlimited subscription program, which pays per page read, representing significant value if readers finish your books.
Consider the benefits of Unlimited. These subscribers can essentially try your work for free, lowering the barrier for readers to test out new authors, without your having to run free promotions.
When comparing this world to broader, non-exclusive distribution, you certainly get wider reach using Apple, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Smashwords etc. The key question to my mind is whether or not you also have more visibility and discoverability. That would depend on your social media presence, social media advertising, your own website and blog etc.
Amazon is making this trade-off a difficult decision for authors on purpose. They want exclusive distribution of your work for their Kindle platform, and they’re willing to give you some unique marketing assistance in exchange. Each author must decide what they believe will produce the best results for their particular books. At the very least, experiment with KDP Select with one or more of your books, and see what kind of results you are able to generate before dismissing KDP Select as an option.