Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Twenty Questions With Austin Camacho

Austin Camacho gets around, to put it mildly. He’s the author of five novels in the Hannibal Jones Mystery Series (including The Troubleshooter, Blood and Bone, Collateral Damage, Damaged Goods and Russian Roulette) and four in the Stark and O’Brien adventure series (The Payback Assignment, The Orion Assignment, The Piranha Assignment, and this year’s The Ice Woman Assignment. His short stories have been featured in four anthologies from Wolfmont Press, including Dying in a Winter Wonderland – an Independent Mystery Booksellers Association Top Ten Bestseller for 2008 - and he is featured in the Edgar-nominated African American Mystery Writers: A Historical and Thematic Study by Frankie Y. Bailey. He is also a media specialist for the Department of Defense. America's military people know him because for more than a decade his radio and television news reports were transmitted to them daily on the American Forces Network.

In his copious free time he is the Editorial Director of Intrigue Publishing, and is among the principal organizers of the Creatures, Crime, and Creativity Conference, to be held October 10 – 12 in Hunt Valley MD.

Austin’s newest book is Beyond Blue, which features a team of unique and intriguing detectives whose only purpose is to help police officers in trouble. He (somehow) found time to not only answer Twenty Questions, but answer them well. Enjoy.

One Bite at a Time: Tell us about Beyond Blue.
Austin Camacho: Beyond Blue is about a privately funded detective agency whose only purpose is to help police officers who are in trouble.  The novel follows four of the agency’s cases, which overlap and intersect: An undercover officer is in danger of really being drawn into a life of crime, a crooked lawyer is destroying police careers by making arresting officers appear to have violated criminals’ rights, a cop’s wife accuses him of abusing their daughter, and a retired police detective in charge of airport security could lose his job because of drugs being smuggled in through JFK International.

OBAAT: Where did you get this idea, and what made it worth developing for you? (Notice I didn’t ask “Where do you get your ideas?” I was careful to ask where you got this idea.)
AC: The idea actually came from one of my writing heroes, Warren Murphy (creator of The Destroyer series in the 1970s). He asked me to co-write the novel with him, planning a series, but his failing health prevented him from continuing.  Ultimately he asked me to write the novel solo, although I did have input from him and am happy to share the credit.

OBAAT: How long did it take to write Beyond Blue, start to finish?
AC: Writing the draft, and three strong re-writes required a little over a year.  You can add a couple months for the work with the editor and proofreader.

OBAAT: What’s the back story on the main character or characters?
AC: Without sharing any spoilers, a wealthy secret benefactor asked Paul Gorman to establish the Beyond Blue agency.  After a brilliant Army career in the Military Police, Gorman retired and created a second brilliant career in civilian law enforcement. He ran three major metropolitan police forces and was consulted by just about every police chief or commissioner in the country thanks to his gift for observation and deduction.  He recruited a quirky collection of investigators to his team, including an ex-Marine Corps South Pacific Islander who could have been a sumo wrestler; a smart-mouthed, Black/Puerto Rican beauty who left the FBI with a bullet lodged near her spine, a lovely Eurasian charmer who believes she is James Bond’s daughter, and two ex-New York City police detectives: a sophisticated black man and his country-music-loving white partner.

OBAAT: In what time and place is Beyond Blue set? How important is the setting to the book as a whole?
AC: Beyond Blue takes place today in New York City.  It’s a wonderful chance to explore the neighborhoods and culture of my home town.  The NYPD is wonderfully diverse, allowing my detective team to help a wide variety of law enforcement officers.

OBAAT: How did Beyond Blue come to be published?
AC: The manuscript sat on the shelf for a couple years because I so wanted Mr. Murphy’s total involvement.  Ultimately he asked me to proceed so we placed the novel on Intrigue Publishing’s schedule. It was just too good an idea not to get out there.

OBAAT: What kinds of stories do you like to read? Who are your favorite authors, in or out of that area?
AC: I love mysteries (except the really cozy stuff) and thrillers. My favorite authors focus on great prose as much as, or maybe more than, great stories.  There are a lot of authors whose work I love. My current favorites would be Dennis Lehane, and Jeffrey Deaver for mystery, and John Gilstrap and Jon Land for thrillers

OBAAT: Who are your greatest influences?
AC: I guess I’m most influenced by the classics.  In my humble opinion the perfect mystery would be written in Raymond Chandler’s prose, with a Ross MacDonald plot and Elmore Leonard characters.  I can only hope readers see those influences in my work.

OBAAT: Do you outline or fly by the seat of you pants? Do you even wear pants when you write?
AC: I wear them, but don’t fly by them.  I am a detailed and dedicated outliner.  I admire those who can simply sit down and write and actually get somewhere.  For me to create anything worth reading I have to know the order of the important events from beginning to end.

OBAAT: Give us an idea of your process. Do you edit as you go? Throw anything into a first draft knowing the hard work is in the revisions? Something in between?
AC: Once my outline is complete I write a draft from start to finish. I never look back or edit on the go.  I simply write one scene, and then move to the next. When I reach the end I check the word count. If the manuscript is way long or short I cut or add new scenes. Then I rest the manuscript for a day or two.  When I go back I rewrite, again from the beginning straight thru to the end.  Depending on the book I may repeat this process 3 or 4 times.  On the last pass I try to challenge every verb (is there a better one for that sentence?) eliminate as many adverbs as possible and generally tighten the prose.

OBAAT: If you could give a novice writer a single piece of advice, what would it be?
AC:  Only one?  Okay, “write every day.” But if I got to offer a second bit of advice it would be to read widely, and learn to read like a writer.

OBAAT: Favorite activity when you’re not reading or writing.
AC: I love to shoot. Whether poking holes in paper or making bottles and milk jugs explode, putting steel on target is a big kick.

OBAAT: Which do you take to bed at night, the money earned or the good review?
AC:  The money may be the steak and potatoes, but the good reviews are the dessert. The real reward for my work is not that someone bought my book, but that someone loved my book.

OBAAT: Would you stop writing if someone paid you enough money so you’d never have to work again, on the condition you could also never write again?
AC: I don’t think I could successfully make that deal even if I wanted to. Never write again? I don’t think I could do that, and even if I did, that wouldn’t be living.

OBAAT: If you were just starting out, which would you prefer: 1. Form your own indie publishing house and put your work out in paper and e-book yourself? 2. Go with a small or medium traditional house that offers very little or no advance, a royalty that is only a fraction of what you'd get on your own, and also makes no promise of any type of publicity push, keeping in mind that you also will lose the publishing rights for a period, sometimes indefinitely? 3. Go with a Big Six or legacy publisher that offers a larger advance, legitimate review possibilities, entrance to industry literary awards, and exposure on the shelves of brick and mortar stores. Pick one and say why.
AC: In a perfect universe I would choose Option Three. Not so much for the advance, but mostly because I have always wanted to at least be in the running for an Edgar award. Of course, this isn’t a perfect world and you can’t choose a Big Six publisher; they have to choose you.

OBAAT: Beer, mixed drinks, or hard liquor?
AC: Mixed. Gin and tonic is my go-to drink, but Malibu rum with pineapple juice is the summer fave.

OBAAT: Baseball or football?
AC: Baseball is a game.  Football is a sport.  And the Cowboys are the family team.

OBAAT: What question have you always wanted an interviewer to ask, but they never do?
AC: Who should be reading your books?

OBAAT: What’s the answer?
AC: If you love the Spencer novels, or enjoy books about Alex Cross you’ll want to read my Hannibal Jones novels.  If you follow the adventures of Dirk Pitt or Jack Reacher, you will really love the stories starring Morgan Stark & Felicity O’Brien.

OBAAT: What are you working on now?

AC: I’ve been asked to supply a short story for an anthology called “Insidious Assassins.” But when that’s completed I’m back to plotting the second Beyond Blue novel.  

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