Today I welcome author Mark Terry to my blog.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
I’m a full-time freelance writer, editor, author and ghostwriter. I just turned 50, and am married with two sons, and a dog named Frodo. I’ve written about 20 books—I guess I should count them up, huh?—and probably about 700 magazine articles. When I’m not writing I study Sanchin-Ryu karate (I’m a black belt). I also work out at the gym, bike, and play guitar a bit. I live in Michigan.
Have you started your next project? If so, can you share a little bit about your next book?
The next book is a Derek Stillwater thriller. Its working title is VENGEANCE. I can tell you it starts in Syria, moves to Baltimore and Washington, DC, then to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, which is where I am at the moment. It’s like the typical Stillwater novel in that it has a lot of action and suspense, that it deals at least on one level with terrorism—Derek is an expert on biological and chemical terrorism—and Syria’s chemical weapons, but on other levels I’m peeling back Derek’s personal life a bit more, letting him face a possible career change, maybe developing a romantic life. I expect he’ll travel to Russia, Israel, and Egypt, and possibly to Switzerland in this book.
Do you write full-time? If so, what is your work day like? If not, what do you do other than write and how do you find time to write?
I do. I’m usually at my desk by 7:30 or 8:00 each morning. I work until 10:00 or 10:30, then workout and have lunch. Then I’ll typically work until 5:30 or 6:00. Each day is different. Last year (2013) I spent a huge chunk of my time on a ghostwriting project, an historical novel I’m collaborating on, as well as my own novels. I’m the editor of a technical journal and I also write a lot about healthcare, so the rollout of Obamacare kept me busy. I also spent more time last year doing editing work on other novelists’ work.
What is the best and worst advice you ever received? (regarding writing or publishing)
Write what you know, is probably the worst advice, although it’s not really bad. I would argue the better version of it is, Write what you’re interested in and research it. A lot of times people know a lot, but they’re not terribly interested in it or the subject itself might be a little boring or drama-free for a typical novel. (Write what you know, on the other hand, is excellent advice for nonfiction short-form writing, which is where most of my income comes from).
Best advice was actually from a former agent, which was: Think more, write less. I think it’s great advice. Because although there’s a lot of good that can come from going with your gut instincts, it can waste a lot of time, too. And sometimes the first thing that pops into your head is not actually the best way to go.
Please tell us about your current release.
The most recent book is CHINA FIRE. It’s a thriller, as most of my novels are, but this one introduced a new character, Monaco Grace. Monaco is a Chinese-American who works for a Special Projects division of the CIA. You could think of her as James Bond with ovaries. She’s not exactly an assassin, but you might say that’s in her job description. In CHINA FIRE a CIA undercover agent in Beijing disappears and she is sent in to find him. Pretty soon she’s on the run with an American college professor, trying to stay ahead of an Chinese organized crime group, Chinese military intelligence, all while trying to figure out what happened to the missing agent. Lots of action, lots of intrigue, plenty of exotic locales and a tiny bit of romance, or at least sex.
What inspired you to write this book?
This book does have a bit of a troubled history. I wanted to write an espionage novel with a female main character. I came up with the character of Monaco and started work on it, but got bogged down on the research. Almost the entire book takes place in Beijing and that’s a big and complicated place. So I gave up on it, although I really liked the character and the idea. At one point I sent it off to a friend of mine, Natasha Fondren, who is really into spy fiction, plus she does all the layout for my books through her company, eBookArtisans. She read it and begged me to finish it. Well, I ignored her for a year or two, although I’d go back and nibble away at it. Finally I just got to a point where I said, You know what? The character’s good. The story’s good. Get over your insecurities and finish the damned thing. And I’m glad I did. I really like it.
Which of your characters is your favorite? Do you dislike any of them?
I’m not sure I have a favorite, although I would say my favorites are Derek Stillwater, Monaco Grace and Austin Davis. Austin Davis, to-date, has only appeared in one book, HOT MONEY, but he’s definitely one of my favorites. Although Derek and Monaco are very smart, they’re also action heroes in a lot of ways. Austin, who has a physical side, is quite the reverse. He is a political consultant in Washington, DC, but his real job is to solve problems for politicians. He’s sort of a private eye whose clients are all politicians. As he says, he knows where the bodies are buried, often because he’s the one who buried them. I’m slowly working on a second book featuring him and enjoying it. Lots of witty dialogue, plenty of action and intrigue, but more about figuring out a complicated political mystery. In some ways he’s the character that’s least like me, and in some ways he’s the most like me. And yes, I do plan on writing another Monaco Grace book.
Did the story turn out the way you planned from the beginning? If not, what change happened that you didn’t expect?
Let’s talk about CHINA FIRE for this one. I would say yes and no. I wanted it to be more straightaway espionage than the typical Derek Stillwater novel, which tends to be more action-adventure-ish. And it is, but what I didn’t really expect with CHINA FIRE was that a big part of the book revolves around determining the reliability of the classified information acquired. That is to say, Monaco Grace, while investigating what happened to Peter Lee, acquires coded information on a flash drive that Peter had. Once she gets hold of it and has the time to look at it, she and everyone else in the CIA and State Department has to decide whether it’s reliable. And Monaco knows she didn’t lie about the information, but she doesn’t know if Peter Lee did, or if the person who gave it to her did, or if someone else in government did. And the CIA people don’t completely trust that Monaco might have planted the information—it’s that explosive. I struggled with this a lot, partly because I had to make up my mind whether the information was accurate and who was behind it, which had a significant impact on the plot. So it was a lot like playing chess, thinking 5 or 6 or 7 moves ahead and seeing the ramifications of each move and where it would take the story.
If you could be one of the characters from any of your books, who would it be and why?
Ha! Well, probably not Derek Stillwater. He gets beat up, blown up, shot, poisoned, tortured and generally put through the wringer every book. Maybe Austin Davis. He makes a lot of money, lives in a penthouse apartment, eats out at fabulous restaurants, and is typically the smartest guy in the room. He also has a perverse sense of humor, which I happen to share. I think Austin has more fun than Derek—Derek’s trying to save the world, but Austin’s more interested in solving people’s problems for a high price. Austin is doing exactly what he wants to be doing and is enjoying the hell out of doing it. Derek in particular, but Monaco as well, often have a lot of issues with what they do for a living. My wife pointed out to me that Derek’s seen too much and as a result is pretty neurotic. He often wishes he weren’t fighting terrorists, but was living the quiet life of an academic with a house in the suburbs and a wife and children.
If you could jump in to any book, and live in that world, which would it be?
Oh, I think I would fit right into Harry Potter’s world if only I had a little magical ability. Alas, I’m a Muggle.
Monaco Grace is the CIA’s top troubleshooter for all matters Asian. When an undercover agent, Peter Lee, goes missing in Beijing, her job is to find him. But almost as soon as she walks off the plane she finds herself on the run with American professor Alan Richter as members of the military, a Chinese organized crime group, and China’s intelligence agencies pursue her and the information Peter Lee left on a flash drive — information that could topple governments and change the balance of power in the world.
About the Author
Mark Terry is the author of the Derek Stillwater thrillers, THE DEVIL’S PITCHFORK, THE SERPENT’S KISS, and THE FALLEN, as well as several standalone thrillers, including DIRTY DEEDS, CATFISH GURU, and DANCING IN THE DARK. Born in Flint, Michigan in 1964, he graduated from Michigan State University with a degree in microbiology and public health, which has informed his Derek Stillwater thrillers and other fiction. After spending 18 years working in clinical genetics, he turned to writing full time. When not writing or reading, Mark Terry is a gym rat, lifting weights, biking, running, kayaking, studying Sanchin-Ryu karate, and playing the guitar. Otherwise he spends his time with his wife and two sons in Michigan.
You can find out more about Mark on his website.
You can purchase China Fire on Amazon.