The following is a random sample of typical questions I get from readers.
What kind of books do you write?
I write fast paced thriller novels with character arcs that extend through multiple novels. The main characters have a strong goal or need that they are chasing over a multi-novel series. Each individual novel is a self-supporting story, usually with international and political issues at stake. The stories are suspenseful and contain unique twists that keep things interesting. There are some violence and action, but I try to balance that with multi-dimensional lead characters.
Think Mitch Rapp mixed with a shot of John Milton and a dash of Jet. Shaken, of course. Not stirred.
My novels are full length and run between 80,000 and 100,000 words. My novellas usually run between 10,000 and 20,000 words.
The Russian Assassin series seems well-timed. Did you plan that?
No, I didn’t.
I grew up in the 1980s a child of the cold war fascinated by the tensions between the East and West. I studied political science for a time and remember distinctly where I was when the Berlin Wall came down and Ronald Regan gave his famous speech. Years later, when I was looking for themes for my stories and everyone was writing about terrorism, Ukraine was going through the Euromaidan demonstrations and there were conspiracy rumors that the Obama administration was behind the uprisings. Later, Putin invaded Crimea and waged an undeclared war in eastern Ukraine that still goes on today.
I thought I could explore the resurgence of Russia and the Russian president’s desire to reclaim the Soviet Union’s lost glory. That led to the creation of the Mikhail Asimov / Max Austin character among a backdrop of resurgent Russian nationalism. This was long before the 2016 US presidential election.
At the time The Russian Assassin was published, I could not foresee the world events that led to the very serious yet circus-like atmosphere surrounding the current US President and what either happened or did not happen between him and the Russians. I’m confident, however, that where there is smoke, there is fire, and as usual, the general public is subjected to conflicting media accounts, well-timed spin, and propaganda that obscures the truth. Perhaps I’m a conspiracy theorist, but history shows there is usually more to public events than meets the eye. At its best, this makes for fertile ground for fiction.
Do I need to read The Russian Assassin series in order?
The short answer is yes.
Here is the long answer as to why.
I conceived of the series as sort of a trilogy, similar to what you might find in the fantasy genre, like the Lord of the Rings, where the main story arc carries through multiple novels. The Frodo and the ring storyline starts in The Fellowship of the Ring (some may argue it starts in the Hobbit) and doesn’t culminate until The Return of the King. I’m also influenced by television installment series – Black List, Breaking Bad, etc – where a major story arc continues across episodes and sometimes across multiple seasons. I mean, do we ever get to find out whether Red is Lizzie’s father?
I’m striving hard to make each novel as stand-alone as possible and for there to be resolution at the end of each. I may or may not have accomplished that based on feedback from some readers; it depends on your personal view of what resolution means.
Originally, I meant for the series to be three novels. As these things happen, Max’s battle with the consortium took on a life of its own, and before I knew it, the story expanded to six novels. I promise it stops there.
I’m aware that not all thriller readers appreciate multiple-novel story arcs. I’ve been accused of bait-and-switch, of leaving cliffhangers in order to sell more novels, and other heinous crimes. I can assure there is no nefarious intent. If this isn’t your cup of tea, I completely understand and can recommend other great thriller writers such as Mark Dawson and Russell Blake. Or I’m happy to issue you a refund or send you a free book or three. Please email me and let me know.
What’s the reading order of The Russian Assassin series?
The series is best read in this order:
- The Russian Assassin, published June 11, 2016 (the working title is The Escape)
- The Pursuit, published November 5, 2016
- The Attack, published November 6, 2017
- The Hunt, published April 29, 2019
- The Abyss, published November 8, 2020
- Endgame (coming in late-2021)
What happens to Max after the sixth novel?
Assuming he makes it through Endgame alive, I suppose future adventures will depend on reader demand.
That said, I aspire to write a new series. There is a character in The Russian Assassin series who I’d like to spin off into a separate, stand-alone series, albeit in the same ‘world’ as Max. Any guesses who that character might be?
I’d also like to write a completely distinct modern whodunnit story, sort of Nero Wolf meets Sherlock Holmes in the 21st century coupled with the pacing of a Dan Brown thriller. I’ve got the two main characters defined (e.g. Holmes and Watson, Wolf and Archie) along with the milieu and the sketch of a mystery, but it will take me a while to get it done. It is a passion project for my passion project if you know what I mean.
Who will play Max in the movie version?
Ha. This is a fun question. When I started the series, I had Mark Wahlberg in mind, but that quickly changed. I’m a huge fan of Jason Statham’s work in The Italian Job and The Mechanic, but he’s too obvious. Right now I like Liam Neeson. Despite Liam being older than Max by two decades, he’s got that brooding demeanor that might do justice to Max’s internal struggles.
Drop me a line and let me know who you think should play Max.
I like your books, except for all the F-bombs.
Is that a question? Just kidding.
This is probably the number one critique I get from readers, and to some extent, I understand why. One reader literally sent me an email full of F-words, and at the end, asked how I liked reading the email. Gave me a good laugh.
One the one hand, if you’ve ever met anyone from the Russian underground, you know they are some of the most artful and prolific cursers alive. My original intent was to honor this and also write hard-charging, fast-paced, take-no-prisoners-style stories. Quentin Tarantino is a favorite filmmaker. I also believe that curse words are just words, to a large degree.
That said, I know that not everyone holds the same beliefs I do. There are some words that hurt more than others, and there are certain words I will never use in private or public, and will never use in my writing, even in an effort to be authentic. If the amount of cursing is the only thing preventing my stories from reaching a wider audience, I want to honor that.
As of spring 2019, I’m re-editing The Russian Assassin and The Pursuit in part to tone back the cussing. If you read through to The Attack and beyond, I think you’ll notice a marked reduction in the F-word.
As always, feel free to email me and let me know your opinion on this or anything else you want to tell me.
When will your next book be available?
While my life passion is writing, I also have an amazing wife, a fun career as a technology executive, and a love of fitness. I completed the Arizona Ironman in 2019, took a pandemic pause in 2020, and I’m currently training for Ironman Mont Tremblant in August 2021.
Great storytelling takes time, and I’m not willing to sacrifice quality just to pump out books. I’m fortunate to have a day job that I like, which affords me the luxury of appreciating the craft of storytelling. Most nights and weekends are dedicated to the next Max Austin novel, as are the long stretches of time while running and biking on the Rio Grande Trail. Some of my best story ideas come while descending the Maroon Bells at 30 MPH on two millimeters of rubber.
All that said, I won’t stop writing until I die. So, the next book is coming soon. 🙂
Unless, of course, I’m dead.
Who publishes your books?
I started a small publishing imprint called High Caliber Books. High Caliber Books publishes one author: Jack Arbor.
Are your books available through Apple ibooks, Kobo, or Nook? What about audio?
They are not, as of now.
My choice to publish exclusively through Amazon is based solely on an evaluation of the highest and best use of my time. Despite advertisements to the contrary, independent publishing on multiple platforms and in various formats (including audio) requires a great deal of author time and investment. I’d rather be writing the next novel, going on a date with my wife, or training for a triathlon.
When I leave my day job to write full time, I’ll evaluate publishing on additional platforms.
Why do you publish independently?
I chose independent publishing for a few reasons. I enjoy marketing and find it a challenge. I have an entrepreneur streak in me. I’m a technologist at heart and I like utilizing the advances in technology that allow me to publish directly to readers. I also want as much control as I can over the rights, the branding, the stories, and the timing. I appreciate getting paid a fair wage for my work and I am willing to take the time to build direct relationships with my readers.
Are independently published books the same quality as traditionally published books?”
Only you, gentle reader, can answer that question. I’ll let you be the judge.
That said, I strive for high quality. I work very hard to write stories that are interesting, compelling, multi-dimensional, fresh, and suspenseful. I invest heavily in editing, cover design, formatting, and proofreading. I have a world-class editor and cover designer, both of whom have worked in traditional publishing. As an entrepreneur, I live and die by the quality of my work.
If you think the writing is sub-par, you should give the story a low-star review and send me an email explaining why you think the story sucks. That’s the beauty of the independent publishing movement; I get both positive and constructive feedback direct from readers.
Would you turn down a traditional publishing deal if it came knocking?
I never say never.
I’m always willing to have a business conversation. I’ve been approached by several agents and one filmmaker regarding various ideas and these conversations ebb and flow. If I pursue a deal, it will be something that works for me and for Max, and for my readers.
Right now I’m 100% focused on writing engaging stories and publishing independently.
I’m a writer. Which is better, traditional publishing or independent publishing?
The short answer is it depends entirely on your goals. Some writers dream of landing a publishing contract and want validation from the publishing industry. Some writers yearn to see their physical book on a shelf in a bookstore. Some writers want to focus on writing and not on marketing.
Other writers want control over the entire process, a different wage structure, and more immediate results. They embrace the technology and enjoy the direct relationship with readers.
No one goal is better than the other. Evaluate both options, be true to yourself, and go for it. Remember to focus first on writing a great story. Nothing matters until that happens.
Who are some writers that influence your writing?
As a boy I read every Encyclopedia Brown, Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew mystery I could find. In grade school, I graduated to Agatha Christie, Rex Stout, and Sherlock Holmes (and some fantasy like Lord of the Rings and Sword of Shannara). As I got older, I read every Stephen King and John Grisham book published. Then, I found spy and thriller authors like John le Carré and Ken Follett. I read Follett’s Eye of the Needle and fell in love with thrillers, and read every Follett book I could find. I read a few Tom Clancy novels, especially the Jack Ryan stuff.
When I first started writing, I read a lot of Russell Blake, Mark Dawson, and JF Penn to gauge how prolific and successful independent authors write. I read a few Vince Flynn (may he rest in peace). I binge-read Lee Child for a while, but I think Lee should come up with some new characters and branch out a bit. Dan Brown is also a favorite, and I strive to match his pacing.
I’m also influenced by television series. Breaking Bad, Homeland, and The Black List have all held my interest. Especially Breaking Bad, which is the best story ever written. In my humble opinion.
Now I’m reading Daniel Silva’s Gabriel Allon series, although I wish he’d pick up the pacing a bit. I started watching the new Jack Ryan series on Amazon, but the jury is still out. It’s hard for me to take John Krasinski seriously after The Office.
What’s your favorite book of all time?
That’s easy, but oddly it’s not a thriller. Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett. It’s an epic treatise on cathedral building in the twelfth century.
What are you reading these days?
When I’m writing hot and heavy, I don’t read thrillers.
These days, I’m mostly listening to history books on the CIA, both World Wars, and the Russian Revolution. The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, Stalin Volume I; Paradoxes of Power, and Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001, are all in my Audible library. I spend a lot of time in the car so this way I get a lot of research done.
I also love love love Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History podcast series. Blueprint for Armageddon was amazing as was Wrath of the Khans. I’m waiting with baited breath for part five of Supernova in the East. Come on Dan!
Are you looking for beta readers?
Yes! I have a small group of readers called the Advance Reading Team (ART). Please click here if you’re interested in joining my Advance Reader Team.
What are beta readers?
Beta readers are part of my manuscript review team. It’s pretty cool, actually. You sign up to be added to my Advance Reading Team email list. When I have a new manuscript, you get an email with a free advance copy of the book. You read the book and email me feedback on what worked, what didn’t work, what you liked, and what you didn’t. Once the book is published, you agree to provide an honest Amazon review of the story. That’s it.
The advanced-copy reading process is a tried-and-true process in the traditional publishing world, so extending this idea to independent publishing makes a lot of sense.
It’s simple. You get a free book. I get honest feedback on the story.
If you want to be added to my Advanced Reading Team, please click here to sign up.