I write for myself, observing, of course, the rules of spelling and grammar. But I imagine the person who might read The Killing Ploy and/or Murder Without Pity, my murder mystery, wouldn’t necessarily have to be of a certain economic class. But he would have to be grounded, to live on this planet, not in some fantasy. As such, he’d be curious about life beyond his/her immediate surroundings. Have some interest in, say, current events, history.
Steve Haberman 24 July 2012
The Back Flap
The Killing Ploy features Pablo de Silva, a respected tracker and shooter in the CIA’s Eyes and Ears Unit. The Unit’s territory is Europe. Their tasks include surveillance and if necessary, killing. On one such mission, this one in Berlin, de Silva loses his nerve and fails to save a fellow agent, also his lover.
Tormented by this, held now in low regard by many colleagues, he gets transferred to a cushy job in Guatemala City to recuperate. Then his former mentor/head of the Unit calls him home with a new assignment. Liaise with the San Diego FBI and see why two top Defense Department military contractors, headquartered in that city, were murdered abroad. Are terrorists behind the deaths? If so, inform the Unit’s head, and his crew will take over.
To de Silva, the task seems simple and non-threatening. Off to San Diego and beyond he goes, not realizing he’s slipped again into a dangerous world. Who are his real allies? Should he watch his back, as well as his front? Not until the conclusion of his mission one dismal, lonely morning does he find out. And not until that morning do his allies discover Pablo de Silva is much more than he seems.
About the book
When did you start writing the book?
Oh brother, I started writing The Killing Ploy eons ago. I then sent it off, got a little interest, but nothing firm. I wrote Murder Without Pity, then returned to work on The Killing Ploy, leaving intact the basic idea, yet doing almost a complete rewrite
How long did it take you to write it?
I originally thought I could rewrite The Killing Ploy in one year. Boy, was I wrong! I needed several years to get everything in place.
Where did you get the idea from?
I got the idea years ago, after reading A Short Course in the Secret War by Christopher Felix. Mr. Felix was, besides being a career diplomat, a former American spy. In one of his chapters he wrote, “I once sent a man wandering aimlessly about Europe for just the right place to live, so that his final choice—a particular house in a particular city—would not seem prearranged.”
My spy thriller novel, The Killing Ploy, plays off that idea of wandering, though in the story the protagonist’s goal isn’t house hunting. It’s hunting someone evil and deadly.
Were there any parts of the book where you struggled?
Unfortunately yes, the latter part of the story. I thought I had finished writing and was about to send it off for formatting, when I did a last read. I don’t want to give away part of the story, but let’s just say I discovered I hadn’t made clear certain forces that come into play. To clarify, I needed several more weeks of writing.
What came easily?
The locales were relatively easy since I was there. I didn’t rely on the internet to get the feel of the locales. I visited them, noted the bustle, took photos, absorbed the atmosphere.
Are your characters entirely fictitious or have you borrowed from real world people you know?
In the early stages of my writing, to make my protagonist interesting, to be with him for umpteen rewrites, I had to make him worldly, to have been around, to have mixed with all sorts of people. Added to that my travels abroad where I visited several grand Old World hotels. The result was Pablo de Silva, The Killing Ploy’s central character. As the younger son of a Swiss hotelier, he speaks several languages and mixes with all types at his father’s hotel. The hotel goes bankrupt, Pablo’s parents die, he decides to use his language skills and knowledge of Europe to work for the CIA.
Now some years later, when I was in a Paris bookstore, I came upon an autobiography of a man, whose father owned a hotel and that young man had in fact joined the CIA. So evidently with the creation of Pablo de Silva, I pretty much hit the mark.
As for another character, Claire Johnson, an executive secretary, I had the misfortune to work for someone like that years ago, though it was, thank goodness, only temporary. She was a bit of a bully, and I used that trait in Claire Johnson.
Another character also appears in The Killing Ploy. I don’t want to say more because that’d reveal part of the plot. I’ll only say I based part of this person, a traitor, on an actual betrayer.
We all know how important it is for writers to read. Are there any particular authors that have influenced how you write and, if so, how have they influenced you?
There are writers who I respect and enjoy—John Le Carre, Graham Greene, Martin Cruz Smith, Alan Furst—but I’m not aware any of them have influenced me to write like them. I don’t begrudge them, have no deep desire to rank with them. However, I have learned from them how to structure a story, and as inadvertent instructors, what they write is certainly more appealing than how-to-write mysteries/thrillers, which I find as interesting as reading a manual on how to repair a refrigerator. The aforementioned writers have been there. They’ve written. They’ve sold. They have credibility.
Do you have a target reader?
I don’t have a target reader; I write for myself, observing, of course, the rules of spelling and grammar. But I imagine the person who might read The Killing Ploy and/or Murder Without Pity, my murder mystery, wouldn’t necessarily have to be of a certain economic class. But he would have to be grounded, to live on this planet, not in some fantasy. As such, he’d be curious about life beyond his/her immediate surroundings. Have some interest in, say, current events, history. Perhaps have traveled abroad or read John Le Carre, Alan Furst, or Martin Cruz Smith, though I don’t want to imply I’m as good as they are.
Do you have a writing process? If so can you please describe it?
My process starts by feeding my imagination. I do that through reading fiction and non-fiction books, sometimes articles, and when possible traveling to Europe. Sometime during this process, I began to hear bits of dialogue or came upon sights that might make good locales. I note these things. My note taking is nothing formal, nothing typed up and organized. Only jotted down. Then at some point, when I have enough notes, I’ll spread them out and see how I can organize them into scenes or maybe chapters. If the writing gods are with me, as they were in Darkness and Blood, the thriller I’m presently working on, I can get the first chapter, the middle chapters, and the climax quickly. In Darkness and Blood, I had pretty much everything in place in one month, though I still have much writing to do. If I’m unlucky, however, as I was with The Killing Ploy, the process clarifying the story can take much, much longer.
Do you outline? If so, do you do so extensively or just chapter headings and a couple of sentences?
It just depends. For my first novel, a murder mystery, Murder Without Pity, I used an outline, though it was nothing formal. It was mostly chapter headings. For my second novel, a spy thriller, The Killing Ploy, I might or might not have used an outline. I really can’t recall since I began it so long ago. However, with my third novel, Darkness and Blood, I haven’t used an outline. I simply spread out the scraps of paper with my notes on them and arranged them into a beginning, middle, and end. I pretty much had the story written in about three months or so, though I still have much work to do.
Do you edit as you go or wait until you’ve finished?
I know you’re supposed to go with the heat of the writing moment and save your editing till you’re finished. At least, some so-called authorities have stated that. I edit as I go along, even checking on spelling, though it’s not an extensive check with Spell Check. Then once I’m through with the final draft, I may print it out or change how the story appears on the computer screen, say, to an e-book format. Re-configuring the story’s appearance jiggers the brain. After looking at the story on a full size screen for ages, you process the same sentences the same way. But reconfiguring the story’s appearance jiggers the brain to see the story anew, and that way you might catch errors previously missed.
Did you hire a professional editor?
I’ve used two professional editors. One, I found on the internet and will use again. The other didn’t impress me. Granted, this person made some valid points. Yet this person was also off base. Example, this person criticized me for having too many character names in the first part of one story, a big no no for many writing teachers as well. However, in The Information Officer, Mark Mills, the author, evidently transgressed because he too used many characters in the story…fourteen in the first twenty pages. Nevertheless, the New York Times Book Review, the Guardian, the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Times, all praised it.
In addition, this professional editor suggested a marquee writer, who I should study. This marquee writer, according to this professional editor, was a “Master.” Well, according to comments on Amazon, nearly fifty percent of those commenting gave a less than stellar review to one of the “Master’s” novels.
I cite this tale to illustrate a larger point: It’s hard to find credible people out there. Which is why I read those who’ve proven themselves as writers, some of whom I’ve mentioned.
Do you listen to music while you write? If yes, what gets the fingers tapping?
What gets my fingers tapping? Why European travel, of course. Once my ride to the airport arrives, I feel I start to live at a higher level. I’m off on another adventure. Granted, it’s not to Africa or Southeast Asia or the Middle East. But for me, seeing important battlefields, like Waterloo or the Battle of the Somme site ( an important locale in Sebastian Faulk’s Birdsong) or the D-Day Normandy beaches, or visiting museums or airports like Heathrow fires the imagination and gets me taking notes.
Did you submit your work to Agents?
No, I didn’t. I have no desire to have an agent. I have to be my own man, write my own way at my own pace on subjects that interest me, regardless of what’s selling, and sell the finished story in venues of my choosing.
What made you decide to go Indie? Was it a particular event or a gradual process?
For some years, I had a growing unease with some, not all, but a few high profile individuals in the local writing community. I discovered from experience that some local notables were out to lunch. They either didn’t understand what I wrote, due to a careless reading, or they saw religious implications in what I’d submitted, when there were none, or they misspelled a few words when they gave written feedback, or they showed disrespect to some students in classes conducted. I knew I would feel uncomfortable being around these notables, which might happen if I had a traditional publisher, who might insist I become active in the local writing community.
Additionally, I read an article about an unpleasant individual in publishing. The article was either in The York Times or The New York Times Magazine and concerned some East Coast writing conference. In walked some big shot publisher. As he made his way down the conference hall, he said something like, “I remember you; I fired you. I remember you over there; I fired you.”
I knew I didn’t want to be around unpleasant or unprofessional people like those mentioned, but was unsure what to do. Along came the internet, and everything changed, everything expanded. There were teachers and editors beyond the confines of San Diego. There were opportunities beyond traditional publishing, that is, POD, and now ebooks. You could be your own boss. You could decide how to write, when to write, what to write. You could choose your editor, your book designer, decide how to market your stories, decide who you wanted to associate with. So for me, the decision to go indie took about two seconds. It was a no brainer.
One last point, if I tried to publish with a traditional publisher, I might have to concern myself with, and I hate this word, “branding.” I’ve never been that concerned about my image, and I have no plans to do so. I am what I am. This attitude, I can only keep by being an indie.
Did you get your book cover professionally done or did it you do it yourself?
Some things I can do…type, dance, speak some French. Other things I could never do because I lack the patience and knowledge. In this latter category falls book cover design. For my three covers, I went to digitaldonna.com. I gave her my ideas, and she went to work. She was quick, easy to work with, down-to-earth, quick, and reasonable priced. The results were the three covers you can see on my website.
Do you have a marketing plan for the book or are you just winging it?
My marketing plan was this: over the years, as I wrote, I accumulated URLs’s of bloggers, interviewers, sites that would let you upload your website link for a small fee, etc. Then once I had finished my murder mystery and my spy thriller, I went to those notes and began contacting them with pertinent information about my stories. I also Googled ebook reviewers and reactivated Murder Must Advertise.
I have no typical marketing day. I might first do a Q/A or send out book review requests, go through my notes to check on other things to do, check the emails at Murder Must Advertise.
Any advice that you would like to give to other newbies considering becoming Indie authors?
- The journey to publishing is long, so make it enjoyable and write what interests you, not what’s selling. If your heart’s not in the writing, that will show.
- As soon as you’re close to your last draft, start looking around for reviewers. They’re swamped with requests, so the sooner you get yours in, the better.
- Be careful with any Read/Critique class you take. Some are good; some aren’t. Check the credentials of the teacher. What has he/she had published? About how many copies has that person sold? What do the reviewers say? And what do former students of this teacher say?
Where did you grow up?
I was born in San Antonio and grew up in McAllen, at that time a town of 25,000 in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas. Years later, I attended the University of Texas in Austin, where I earned a B. A. Degree.
Where do you live now?
Now I live in San Diego and travel abroad as much as I can.
What would you like readers to know about you?
I take writing seriously, but only up to a point. I’ll use Spell Check and edit my writing. When I go to Europe, I take notes and photos with the goal to be as accurate as possible about locales. So I take my writing seriously, but I know at best I’m a commercial writer, not a literary one, and I don’t take myself as a writer seriously (thanks to my down-to-earth parents), and I try to avoid those who do.
What are you working on now?
I’m working on a sequel to one of my two novels, and that’s all I want to say. If I say more, I might reveal how one of my two stories, already out there, turns out.
End of Interview:
For more from Steve, including excerpts from all his novels, visit his website.