Monday, September 9

Guest Interview & Giveaway: Carlyle Clark, author of The Black Song Inside

Tuesday 10 September 2013 has a little red circle on my calendar. That’s the day that my #1 Amazon bestselling medieval thriller, The Fifth Knight, is released on Audio. (You can find it here!) That’s very exciting for me. But another Thomas & Mercer thriller writer, the wonderful Carlyle Clark, is having his debut on the same day. I asked him to stop by so we could celebrate our red letter day together. Oh- and there’s a giveaway: check the end of this post!
Fellow Thomas & Mercer author, Carlyle Clark

E.M. Powell: Welcome, Carlyle! Tell us all about your debut, The Black Song Inside

Carlyle Clark: The Black Song Inside features Atticus Wynn and Rosemary Sanchez, a pair of newly engaged PIs who find themselves ensnared in the violent border drug war in San Diego shortly after Atticus’s ex-lover blackmails him with a secret about Rosemary that even Rosemary doesn’t know. The story is filled with action and dark humor and hopefully some very memorable and compelling characters.
EMP: That’s an intriguing pitch and promises a heck of a story. Love the cover, too. What first attracted you the thriller/crime/mystery genre? Have you written in other genres? 

CC: What turned me on to the genre must have been that as a kid I stumbled onto thirty-odd stories from the series The Three Investigators YA books. I read and reread them constantly. My loyalty to them even had me sneering dismissively at the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew mysteries with such certainty that I never even bothered to read them to see what I was dismissing. I showed ‘em!

EMP: Another Three Investigators fan! It’s been years since I heard anyone mention that series. I absolutely loved it. I did venture into Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew territory, but they could never hold a candle to Jupiter Jones, Pete Crenshaw and Bob Andrews.
The Three Investigators- we're both fans!

EMP: But I’m interrupting (as usual)- other genres?    

CC: Yes, I have co-written YA Sci-Fi dystopia and Fantasy. In fact this dovetails nicely into your next question!

EMP: Yup, the inevitable co-writing question! I’ve heard you co-write with your wife, Suki Michelle Clark. How does that work? Do you ever have disagreements about a novel? If so, who has the last word? 

CC: Although it seems, at times, the word “work” is a wildly optimistic description, it’s worth it because the end product is always better than either of us could have done on our own. We often have disagreements, and we don’t really have any set pattern on how they’re resolved other than who is the most passionate about the issue. Our mutual respect as writers greatly helps in the process.

EMP: Have you any advice for authors who might be considering co-writing?

CC: Think it through multiple times and try to talk yourself out of it. If that doesn’t work, both of you have to understand that there is major compromise involved. If possible, work out a synopsis or, even better, an outline. Discuss in-depth where you want the novel to go, what you want it to evoke, and what “tone” you want to have. Ideally, you’ve read something by your co-author that shows she or he can write in the tone you’re both looking for. The more of a stylist either of you is, the harder it might be to match tone. Lastly, have a “pre-nuptial.” What are you going to do if you each work six months and have irreconcilable differences, but one or both of you want to finish the project on your own?

EMP: That’s really good advice about a writing pre-nup. I would think that would help to keep things above board and save a load of potential conflict. And of course it’s not needed when things have gone as well as they have for you and Suki.

CC: Co-writing can be TREMENDOUSLY rewarding and exciting when it goes well, at least it was for me. I have a talented and dynamic co-writer, my wife Suki Michelle, who focuses on making as strong a story as possible. No matter how experienced you are, sometimes you just can’t see issues with your own story. Each of us has another set of eyes and a somewhat objective perspective on the other’s ideas and drafts, which can save a lot of time killing unworkable plot points, character developments, and ideas. Each writer has their own strengths and weaknesses. The benefit is that often the other writer’s strength is your weakness. That allows for the novel to be much stronger overall, which is the case with Suki and me.

EMP: And how strong it is! You create intriguing characters like ‘The Priest’, a former child soldier for a Colombian rebel group. How do you make these characters so believable? Do you do a lot of research? 

CC: I do a lot of research to get the general details of the character’s life correct, but I’ve found is that the thing that makes a character believable is the richness of their inner world. For that, I focus on the tapping into what makes them human and relatable, so no matter how twisted they are like the Priest, or wild they are like Tornancy, you can understand them and “feel” them. For instance, in Silence of the Lambs you may not approve of Hannibal Lecter’s plans to have his sadistic former “warden” for dinner, but you understand his motivation and would have wanted some revenge yourself (though hopefully not topped by cannibalism).
One Revenge Option (though not for Carlyle!)
EMP: Every writer has one thing they find the most difficult when writing a novel. What’s yours?

CC: For me the most difficult thing is the first revision where I may still make major changes. I know I should take copious notes, and storyboard, and use index cards like other authors do, but I’m sporadic at best when it comes to that. I have to old the entire novel in my head and it’s nerve wracking making a change and then mentally working the change through the book, only to discover that the whole book now doesn’t work because of that change. However, after I’ve waded through the wreckage, what I’ve pieced together has always been much stronger than what was there before, so I never “leave well enough alone.”

EMP: “Wading through the wreckage”: that’s one of the best descriptions I’ve heard about revision! Do you enjoy getting feedback from readers through reviews etc.? Do you have a favorite review that you received? 

CC: I love getting reviews because it’s such an honor that someone took the time to share their experience (hopefully positive) with my story. At the On the Lam Conference, Thomas and Mercer author Gregory Widen who is also a screenwriter (Backdraft) and director (The Prophecy starring Christopher Walken) talked about how great it was to go to the theater just to watch the audiences react to his work in real time. As a novelist you don’t get that, so reviews are as close as I can come. I value them immensely.

I do have a favorite review from ABDbalou on Amazon because the reader really got the nature of the humor and noticed that there was character development with the villains as well as the heroes.

However, I am always immensely tickled by my beta readers and critiquers who—some with very diplomatic sidling and others just flat out—ask if I meant X, Y, or Z scene to be funny because they found it hilarious. Fortunately, so far the humor has always turned out to be intentional.

EMP: I’m sure it has. Anyone who can write such a funny bio must surely translate that to fiction! Carlyle, best of luck with The Black Song Inside. I’m sure it’ll be a great success. Thank you so much for joining me.


Atticus Wynn and Rosemary Sanchez, newly engaged private investigators, have seen the dark and violent side of life. Nothing, though, has prepared them for an explosive murder investigation that threatens to tear their relationship apart as they struggle to solve a case that could leave them in prison or dead.
Atticus’s manipulative ex-girlfriend bursts back into their lives wielding a secret about Rosemary’s family that she exploits to force the couple into investigating the execution-style slaying of her lover. The case thrusts Atticus and Rosemary headlong into the world of human trafficking and drug smuggling, while rendering them pawns in Tijuana Cartel captain Armando Villanueva’s bloody bid to take over the cartel.
The Black Song Inside is a vivid crime thriller rife with murder and madness, melded with gallows humor and the heroism of two flawed and compelling protagonists who, if they can save themselves, may learn the nature of redemption and the ability to forgive.

Carlyle Clark was raised in Poway, a city just north of San Diego, but is now a proud Chicagolander working in the field of Corporate Security and writing crime and fantasy fiction. He has flailed ineffectually at performing the writer's requisite myriad of random jobs: pizza deliverer, curb address painter, sweatshop laborer, day laborer, night laborer, security guard, campus police, Gallup pollster, medical courier, vehicle procurer, and signature-for-petitions-getter.
He is a married man with two cats and a dog. He is also a martial arts enthusiast and a CrossFit endurer who enjoys fishing, sports, movies, TV series with continuing storylines, and of course, reading. Most inconsequentially, he holds the unrecognized distinction of being one of the few people in the world who have been paid to watch concrete dry in the dark. Tragically, that is a true statement.


Twitter Handle: @Carlyle_Clark
Carlyle is offering a free Kindle copy of The Black Song Inside. To enter, leave a comment on this post. He will choose a comment at random. Comments posted by Tuesday 17 September 2013 will be eligible. 

Thursday, September 5

On the Lam with Thomas & Mercer

You know when you get an e-mail that seems too good to be true? Well, in the true genre of Nigerian princes, permanent tumescence and unexpected lottery wins, I received one on 26 April 2013. The subject line was 'You’re Invited – Thomas & Mercer’s On the Lam 2013'. It was an invite from my publishers, Thomas & Mercer to a weekend conference in their home town of Seattle from 22 to 25 August. And they were picking up the tab. The entire tab. I read through the whole e-mail, waiting for the line where I just had to provide them with my bank details and they would be able to book a place for my Esteemed And Valuable And Notable Customer Thank You. But it never came. The e-mail was from Jacque Ben-Zekry, in her role as Author Relations Manager. It was legit. 22 to 25 August has come and gone. I have indeed been On the Lam. Authors more organised than I such as Jo Chumas and Lee Goldberg have already done great posts. I'm not as organised or as articulate as them. I think in Top Tens. So here's mine: my Top Ten On the Lam.

1. Where's My Sodding Phone! (Or,The Flight to Seattle from Amsterdam):
Damn, I should have pictures. It was a day flight- with no clouds. I saw Greenland (Oh my God! It really is green! But with glaciers! Huge ones!). Newfoundland & Quebec, all exposed brown rock and deep, deep blue ocean and lakes, looking just like the map in my school atlas. The Rockies. More ice and snow and remote lakes that would shame a sapphire. Mount Rainier in the afternoon sun as we flew in. But my phone was stranded in an inaccessible bag and I would have had to climb over at least two sleeping strangers to get it. I'm not that brave. Sigh. 

2. Be Careful When Mentioning Nuns (Or, Starbucks Coffee):
Given the city I was staying in, it was hardly a surprise that the hotel room coffee machine was provided by Them. 
Unsurprising (But Nice) Coffee
But I did learn over the weekend (on a nifty boat cruise put on by T&M) that Starbucks was not the original name choice. No. To my quiet joy, it was Pequods. On such decisions  fortunes are made and lost. Going for a Pequods (for me) implies a) Tentacles b) A certain fishiness. And I should know about the delicacy of this naming business. It was suggested to me at one point pre-publication that my medieval thriller, The Fifth Knight, should be called The Nun's Tale. I still feel chilly when I think about that. Readers would've been expecting Audrey Hepburn or, at a push, Julie Andrews. I think I might have lost them by page 38. Skull-shattering belongs in a different genre.

3. Amazon Publishers are Real People! (1)
Yes, they actually are! Trouble is, when you are several thousand miles away and communication is by e-mail, it can sometimes feel a bit like having imaginary friends. But no: they really exist and I finally got to say hi in person, which was wonderful. Here I am with Jacque Ben-Zekry, sender of that auspicious e-mail and erstwhile Author Liaison manager- and responsible for making the incredible On the Lam weekend happen.
In person, Jacque is very (very) petite but with energy you could run batteries off. For shorthand, think Turbo-Charged Tinkerbell and you might be partly there.

4. Amazon Publishers are Real People! (2)
Cue Andy Bartlett, the then editor at Thomas & Mercer who said, yes, he'd like to buy The Fifth Knight. 
Andy Bartlett- Has a Great Taste in Books

If Jacque is Tinkerbell, the Andy is surely the Fairy Godmother (if you/he will pardon the metaphor). Even when I said hi for the first time, he produced a goody bag containing nice things. A granola bar, bottles of water, a T&M notebook...oh, and a sparkly new Kindle Paperwhite with T&M leather cover. See what I mean? But without him, The Fifth Knight might never have made it to publication. Being able to say thank you in person was wonderful. I think once I'd said it for the 402nd time, he got the message. I hope.

5. The Space Needle
Iconic, of course, but so cool, whether you're up it, beside it, or (as I was one evening) underneath it.
The Space Needle at Night
6. Meeting Other Kindle Serials Authors (Or: I Was Such a Fan Girl):
My path to publication was through the Kindle serials route. Many Serials authors are T&M authors. I'd seen their book covers along with The Fifth Knight's many times. (This wasn't because I was checking my Amazon ranking or anything but out of passing interest.) So to meet so many of them in person was amazing. Andrew Peterson (creator of the hugely successful Nathan McBride series) was one, and Daniel Judson was another. Daniel is the author of the Serial The Betrayer. More importantly, he is the rescuer of a handbag (Trans: purse) when my exit from the town car was less elegant than I had hoped.
Daniel Judson- off of Kindle Serials
7. Teaching Ex-CIA How To Swear Correctly:
I don't think this was on the official itinerary but it happened anyway. Suffice to say Barry Eisler now knows how to pronounce a word with the correct Hibernian cadence. The word rhymes with 'kite'. That is all that needs to be said.
Barry Eisler- Learned a New Skill
8. Visiting Chief Seattle's Statue:
At university in Cork in the 1980s, I joined a tiny organisation called the Ecology Party. Some people thought was hilarious that there was an organisation that was concerned about the environment. Most thought we were eejits (Trans: bonkers). My late father was convinced they were ill-disguised Communists. The prevailing view was that the environment was just fine. It clearly was and is not. But of course Chief Seattle was someone who was referenced by our small group. How wonderful that I got to see his statue in Tilikum Place in person. And even more lovely that someone had left him flowers. Seattle is so great.
Chief Seattle
And as coincidences go, this pleased me: I found out on my return that his statue was unveiled on 13 November 1912. The Fifth Knight was released on 13 November 2012. I like when things connect.

9. Taking Part in a Panel (Or, Oh My God, I Hope I Don't Mess this Up):
I had the huge privilege of being asked to take part in a panel, 'Setting: Time & Place Boundaries in Fiction.' Chaired by T&M editor Alison Dasho, the rest of the line up was Charlotte Elkins, Dan Mayland, Jim Fusilli, Audrey Braun and John Enright. No pressure then. As it turned out, it was fine. Erin Havel did a great write up for the Huff Post too, which was such a lovely added bonus. But the credit for holding it together can't be all mine. As well as Alison's effortless chairing, it always helps if there's a friendly face in the room. One that I remember, with his great smile and loads of encouraging nods, was the charming William Lashner.
Weekend's Best Smile- from William Lashner
As well as being a New York Times bestselling author, Bill had a previous life as a prosecutor with the Department of Justice in Washington. When I asked him for the highlight of his previous career, I was told: 'Prosecuting a Nazi.' I think was can all agree that Bill is an all-round Good Egg.

10. Why An Umbrella Is Essential Kit:
I've already mentioned the T&M goody bag. IMHO, the best thing in there was a customised T&M umbrella. It was a nice touch, given Seattle's reputation for rain. I live in Manchester in the UK, which is also wet through most of the time. I expect to be reminded of my Seattle trip frequently when walking the dog.
Poppy Tests Out the T&M Umbrella
I would say one thing about the weather claims. Yes, Seattle, you might beat Manchester on rainfall, with your 38.6 inches a year to our 31.76. But I'm from Cork in Ireland, where we are unfazed by a whopping 47.5 inches a year. (And yes, that is indeed why it's so green).
So what can I say? 'Goodnight Seattle, we love you.'? Trouble is, i think someone's said that before. Just can't think who.
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