James has agreed to a giveaway, yaaaay
Enjoy the interview, what an inspiring author that I enjoy liaising with, very personable.
James......... Talanov is an amazing character, I found myself chanting his name while reading Department Thirteen and after when remembering the story, Talanov, Talanov….. What inspired his character?
I laughed when I read your quip about chanting his name, but it made me ask a couple of other readers what they liked best about the guy, and basically they all said, "I hurt when he hurts -- and you do make him hurt, Jim -- which in turn makes me really cheer when he kicks ass." But I wanted to know more and so I pressed further. "It's his struggle that draws me in," most of them said. "He just seems so . . . real."
I was honored, but I can't take all of the credit here, because Talanov is based on a real KGB agent. Yes, I had to bring that character to life, first in Department Thirteen (his award-winning debut thriller) and now in Greco's Game (where his life takes a tragic and unexpected turn). What helped me accomplish this were my experiences as a smuggler behind the old Iron Curtain, which gave me a unique look into that secret world.
I've crossed dozens of borders driving vehicles with secret compartments. I even traveled under a different name, and remember sitting at a table in Berlin drinking coffee with half a dozen other smugglers. It was a sunny afternoon and I recall looking around the table at all the smiling faces and realizing that none of us knew one another, not really. Wow, what a revelation, and that moment is what inspired Talanov as a double agent, as well as my international thriller, The Identity Factor, which is all about secret identities.
But my smuggling activities, unbeknownst to me, had attracted the attention of the KGB, who as we know was the Russian secret police. My photo and name were actually on a KGB watchlist, and I was being followed in San Diego, where I was living at the time. I discovered this only because an agent deep within the KGB alerted me through an underground network of contacts. He took an enormous risk doing that for someone he'd never met. But that single heroic act is what gave me the idea of a fictional good-guy KGB agent working for the West, and Aleksandr Talanov is my dedication to that man. And so, drawing on the struggles faced by people living under Communism (I've stood for hours in a bread line, since before dawn, for a single loaf of bread), I created a character who emerged from that tyrannical system to become a champion. But champions are not born, they are forged, and as we all know, forging something takes heat and lots of it. So I put Talanov through the wringer, and in that, try and show the kind of vulnerable, capable individual of integrity that he is. A man who will fight for what is right.
I had always wanted to write -- I wrote my first book when I was age ten -- but my first professional writing assignment was the age of twenty-two, for the Dr Pepper soft drink company, in Dallas, Texas. My big break, however, came when St Martin's Press in New York bought the rights to my potato cookbook, The Spud Book. Yes, I got my start as "Spudman," which saw me cooking potatoes for television audiences across America, including Regis Philbin and Pat Boone. However, I found fiction to be far less fattening, and wrote my first novel in 1996. It was a self-published archaeological thriller, entitled, The Search for the Sword of St Peter. I made a lot of mistakes writing that book which, mercifully, is now out of print.
As far as my ever being at risk, the answer is probably not. In that line of work, you learn to keep secrets -- especially names and locations -- and my smuggling activities and secret meetings took place back in the 1980s. Plus, the Australian edition of Department Thirteen wasn't published until 1999, with the American edition appearing last year, in 2011. So that's a long time. Even so, I've been careful not to reveal any information that could put anyone in jeopardy, including current information from unnamed sources.
You have been traveling due to all the excitement of winning awards, attending book events, etc. Tell us some of the emotions you have been through during this amazing time.
I've been writing fiction since the 1980s. And there have been more ups and downs than I can count. I've also received my fair share of rejection letters and non-replies. You get hopeful, again and again, only to have your hopes dashed. Like most writers, I've been told to "get a real job," to give up on this silly notion of thinking I can make any kind of a living as a writer. But I was convinced I had something to say -- as well as something worth saying -- and so I pressed on doing odd jobs (like hammering nails, shoveling snow, washing windows and cars, cleaning houses and scrubbing toilets), while at the same time writing and editing and sending in my submissions. So you can imagine the exhilaration I felt when, after thirty years of struggle, my manuscripts were accepted by Comfort Publishing, with one of my books going on to win three awards. The icing on the proverbial cake was getting to fly to New York to attend the awards ceremonies. That book was my debut Talanov thriller, Department Thirteen, which was voted the "Best Thriller of 2011" by USA Book News, after which it went on to win gold medals in the 2012 Independent Publisher ("IPPY") Book Awards (thriller/suspense) and the 2012 Next Generation Indie Book Awards (action/adventure). Plus, it was my first trip to New York, which I would not have been able to manage without the generous assistance of Qantas Airways, David and Pamela Baker, and artist extraordinaire Tom Miles. They sponsored my trip because they wanted me to enjoy that special moment. All of them know hard I have worked. All of them know the sacrifices my wife and I have made to reach this point. All of them thought my writing was worthy of their support. So along with a joyful sense of accomplishment comes a deep sense of appreciation. Success for any writer does not happen in a vacuum, and every writer should be thankful he has readers willing to take a chance on someone whose work they have never read. Every writer should also appreciate reviewers like you, Marce. With all the reading demands you have, you took a chance on my book. So it's a real privilege to be here, as a guest on your blog, to publicly say THANK YOU for giving me this wonderful opportunity. You rock, you really do.
Almost any endeavor today demands not only education and skill, but perseverance. A favorite quote of mine is from the 30th President of the United States, Calvin Coolidge, who once said, "Nothing in the world can take the place of Persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent." I have found this to be one of the most profound quotes I have ever read, and it has inspired me onward more than once. I would not have been able to endure the rejection and rudeness of agents and publishers -- and life in general (it's tough out there) -- if it weren't for persistence and conviction. Let me give you an example.
A few years back, my writing career seemed to be going nowhere fast, and I was on the verge of quitting. I was discouraged, we needed money, and so I applied for a customer service job with a large company. I was refused, not because I lacked skills, but because I was too ugly (a reference to the facial scars I still carry from my successful 1991 battle against cancer). At the time, this was a real kick in the guts. But sometimes the hard knocks of life are blessings in disguise, for if I had been hired, I may well not have persevered with my writing to become the published author I am today.
Perseverance. That is probably the #1 lesson I have learned.
An author I've really enjoyed is Mark Giminez. He's a Texas lawyer who writes legal thrillers, and his first book, The Color of Law, is a real blockbuster.
I don't do much blogging these days, mainly because it takes time away from my real purpose and love -- writing books -- but I do love Facebook because it's where I get to enjoy personal interaction with my friends. And I don't use the term loosely, either. So many of my Facebook "friends" have become genuine friends . . . to the point of hosting me in their homes during my 2011 "Too Ugly Tour," where I drove 4500 miles across America attending book signings and speaking in schools about not letting the hard knocks of life defeat you. Hearing from readers who enjoy my books is a real treat. It seems people always want to let you know what they don't like, so I appreciate it when someone takes time to write a compliment or ask a question, and already I've had several people write about Greco's Game. Some liked the raw emotion expressed by Talanov, adding how it made him much more than a two-dimensional action hero. Some remarked about the issue of black market human trafficking (which is more profitable for organized crime than the trafficking of weapons, if you can believe that). Talanov (via his Facebook page) even heard from a woman in Russia, asking "Sasha" if he remembered her.
Meeting people, whether via the internet or in person during a bookstore signing, is what makes this work so interesting and worthwhile. I love it. So I hope to hear from some of your followers through Twitter and Facebook. BTW, clicking the "Like" button on Talanov's Facebook page will keep readers abreast of the latest Talanov news, as well as earn chances for free books and other prizes. Here is the link: https://www.facebook.com/aleksandr.talanov.
I think every author, and I am no exception, would like to be recognized for his or her own uniqueness. But your question made me pause and ask, "Who would I like to be compared with?" So far, I've been called "Ludlumesque" (by The Dallas Morning News), after Robert Ludlum, the author of the Jason Bourne series of novels. So if people want to keep making that comparison, I'll be dancing in the street. Talanov himself has been described as "Bond meets Bourne" (by one of my 2011 tour supporters, Chopin Vodka), so I'll happily take those comparisons as well, because I don't see James Bond or Jason Bourne going out of style anytime soon, and I like Talanov's mix of style and steel. And of course, I would like to people say my style is as smooth and conversational as John Grisham's, or Dan Brown's, with maybe a dose of the lean machine himself, Lee Child, thrown in.
Give us the goods on LL Cool J, is there possibility of Talanov coming to life on film? I think both you and LL should come to Bermuda, I will treat you to dinner J
LL Cool J is one of the most dynamic individuals you will ever meet. On stage, his music rocks the planet and lifts the sky for millions of fans around the world. He is power and rhythm. Truly awesome. Seated across from you at dinner, however, he is warm and gracious, and interested in you as a person. Completely genuine.
A passion we share is helping kids achieve their dreams, and we talked about this in Los Angeles toward the end of my 2011 tour. One outcome of that conversation was my "Team Talanov" creative writing project, where I invited interested teenagers to name and profile their own characters for one or more of my upcoming books. A shortlist of finalists from hundreds of entries was selected by a panel of judges, with those finalists earning the right to have their character profiles used in my upcoming books. In return, each of those finalists will be acknowledged by name for their contribution, as will the overall winner of the very best profile. Plus, three of the finalists will forever be credited as having actually named the teenage orphans who make an appearance in my next Talanov thriller, Dragon Head. Believe me when I say, Talanov has his work cut out for him with those three teenage characters, who were homeless orphans living on the streets of Philadelphia when kidnapped by human traffickers. So if you thought Greco's Game took Talanov in a completely new direction, stay tuned for Dragon Head! Regular updates will be posted on Talanov's Facebook page, so be sure and "Like" his page and keep watching that space!
As for dinner in Bermuda -- now THAT is a temptation!!!
I love traveling to faraway places, photography, pumping iron and being outdoors. One day I want to take a bicycle/cooking trip across Southern Europe. As many of you know, I love cooking from scratch, and each weekend, you'll find my wife and me in our little "shoebox" kitchen (which is not much larger than a shoebox), bumping hips, drinking naked margaritas and listening to loud music while we dream up recipes. I'm a self-confessed pizza nut who is working to develop a grain-free pizza dough. My specialty, however, is a double-crust "tamale pie" with picadillo filling (sweet, heat, meat), topped with sour cream, salsa fresca, chopped avocado, and fresh cilantro/coriander. Oh, yeah!
In addition to my blog tour, my wife and I will be taking to the Interstate for a seven week promotional/fact-finding tour across the American Southwest, where I will do some research, participate in a few bookstore signings (details are available at www.toouglytour.com), attend a family wedding in San Francisco, sit for some video interviews, and visit with my son in San Diego, who is a decorated sergeant in the United States Marines (and a true hero in my books). I am also finishing Dragon Head (book #3 in my Talanov thriller series), plus writing a Talanov short story, plus outlining a Talanov prequel, as well as outlining book #4 in the series (yes, I actually work this far ahead). I am also trying to fit in a research trip to Hong Kong while still puzzling over that mystery of all mysteries (lol): a grain-free pizza dough that behaves and tastes like bread.
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Ends September 21, day after my review of Greco's Game
Summary of my review - So amazing, what a thrilling rush, non stop action, thought provoking and brilliant characters. I love how this story was so intricate, an onion, peeling away each clue, development, the past, who else will die and when, intense brilliance. If you enjoy movies like Mission Impossible, you will love this one. Need a recommendation for the men in your life, this is it.