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Different Roads to Reach Debut Novels

Writers travel different roads to achieve their first publishing deal. Entering competitions, agent submissions, and going straight to small publishing houses can all work. Jon James Miller and Mike Houtz both won awards for their unpublished work, while KP Kyle went with a small press. Read about their adventures in this week’s author interviews. Curious about the journeys of other debut writers? Don’t forget to scroll through my other posts. You can visit the homepage for my blog by clicking here.

The Author

After Jon James Miller earned his degree in cinematography, he moved to Los Angeles to work on cable documentaries. In 2008, he won the Grand Prize of the AAA Screenplay Contest sponsored by Creative Screenwriting Magazine for Garbo’s Last Stand and went on to win the 2009 Golden Brad for Drama for the same script.

But advice Jon received from legendary screenwriter and novelist William Goldman proved most valuable. After reading Jon’s screenplay, Mr. Goldman said, “This is a great story, now go write the novel.”

Looking for Garbo is that novel.

Jon lives in Northern California, where his day job is as a health and science writer.

To learn more about Jon, click on his photo or follow him on Facebook or Twitter

The Book

In 1939, Greta Garbo is the greatest movie star in the world when she receives several fan letters from her self-proclaimed biggest fan – Adolf Hitler. He invites her to come to Nazi Germany and Garbo hatches a secret plot to assassinate him before WWII can break out.

But her clandestine journey is under jeopardy when Seth Moseley, a New York City tabloid reporter boards the same ocean liner she is traveling incognito on in pursuit of the scoop of the century.

To learn more about the book, click here.

To buy the book, click on any of the following links: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, IndieBound, and Bokus

The Interview

Describe your publishing journey:

I’ve always been interested in writing and originally wanted to be a screenwriter. But after years of trying to break into the movie industry, veteran screenwriter William Goldman (Butch Cassidy and The Sundance KidAll The President’s Men) told me to try my hand at novel writing.

Thank god Bill did because my very first novel based on an original screenplay, Looking For Garbo got the attention of Jill Marr at Sandra Dijkstra Literary in San Diego. Jill is a fantastic agent and signed me right away. She was there for me when my first publisher went out of business, and the second turned out to be a bad fit.

I actually ended up buying back the rights to my novel and it wasn’t until four years later that Amphorae Publishing Group bought it. It’s been a long haul to publication but the folks at Amphorae have been just great and I have no regrets!

“If my mom were still alive today, I think she would have loved to read that kind of story.”

What inspired you to write this novel?

My mother was a voracious reader and huge classic movie fan. She turned me on to all the stars of the golden age of Hollywood, including Garbo. I always thought it would be fun to cast Garbo in a film noir thriller. That’s when I read about the very real plan she cooked up with British Secret Intelligence and called “The Big One” to assassinate her biggest fan – Adolf Hitler.

Hitler was obsessed with the movie star, and had his own print of Garbo’s Camille that he would watch over and over again. He used to write Garbo fan letters, inviting her to come to Nazi Germany. And Garbo is quoted as saying, “if the war didn’t start when it did, I would have gone, pulled out a gun and shot him because I would never have been searched.”

So, Looking For Garbo starts with her aboard an ocean liner bound for Nazi Germany…not knowing the war is about to begin at any minute. If my mom were still alive today, I think she would have loved to read that kind of story.

What are you working on now?

My second novel, Spycraft: A Redacted Love Story, is another historical thriller set during WWII but this time takes place in Washington, D.C., where President Franklin Delano Roosevelt orders a tiny band of spies to defy J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI and infiltrate the Vichy-French Embassy in order to steal Nazi naval codes.

The codes are critical to the liberation of Casablanca, which figures prominently in the story because the movie Casablanca is being shot at the exact same moment on the Warner Bros. studio lot in Los Angeles.

I’m having a blast writing the thriller, based on real events and my own original research into espionage and film history.

Congratulations on your debut.

Looking forward to having you back on my blog when your next book comes out!

The Author

After a career in medicine, Mike Houtz succumbed to the call to hang up his stethoscope and pursue his other passion as a writer of fast-paced thrillers.

A rabid fan of authors such as Clancy, Mark Greaney, Vince Flynn, and Brad Thor, Mike loves series writing with strong characters, fast pacing and international locations, all of which explode into action in his debut novel, a Zebulon Award winner.

When not at the keyboard, he can be found on the firing range, traveling for research across the globe, or trying out the latest dry-fly pattern on a Gold Medal trout stream. He lives at the foothills of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado.

To learn more about Mike, click on his photo or any of the following links: Twitter, Facebook, Instagram.

The Book

When his brother disappears on a Delta Force mission, an MMA fighter must return to their childhood home in China, where he finds humanity racing the American Delta Force and North Korean special forces to recover a device that will either provide unlimited clean energy or destroy the world.

To buy the book click on the link here.

The Interview

Describe your publishing journey:

Like most writers, I can trace my interest in story-telling as far back as high school. I remember finishing reading Stephen King’s, The Stand, and then jumping on a REAL typewriter and pumping out my take on an end-of-world story. I dabbled well into my twenties before the career monster dragged my body away from writing fiction.

While I was still practicing medicine, I was deep into writing my first full-length manuscript on a medical thriller. I’ve always been a huge admirer of Michael Crichton and Robin Cook. But I was mostly inspired by Tom Clancy to actually sit down and type. About 60K words into the project, I had a change of plan and began the process of finishing my new book, Dark Spiral Down.

This is my first completed effort, and I feel truly fortunate that my first go-around met with some success. I decided that without any real platform or industry knowledge, the best thing I could do was enter a book contest and pay for a review to get needed feedback.

Months later, I received an unexpected call from a young woman informing me I’d won the Zebulon Award for the Suspense/Thriller/Mystery category. I thought it was a prank call. I was invited to their Spring conference and accepted my award in front of hundred of writers, including Tess Gerritsen, who pulled me aside and chatted with me about medicine and my novel.

Tess, I promise I haven’t forgotten your command to submit that medical thriller ASAP! Bolstered, I went to the Colorado Gold conference where I pitched my manuscript to Rhonda Penders, President of Wild Rose Press. Very quickly, I was put in touch with senior editing and an offer for my book came shortly after that.

I’ve worked closely with senior editor, Leanne Morgena, to turn my rubble into a polished piece. The whole process from writing the manuscript to release took around 2 years.

What inspired you to write this novel?

While working on my medical thriller, I kept having this nagging idea interrupting my thoughts. I have always harbored a deep soft-spot for children’s causes, and the news at the time followed a case where a father had his son taken from him by his newly-divorced wife, who fled to South America with their child.

I have two boys, and I truly felt his pain when I imagined being in his shoes. The farther I moved along on my writing the more I thought about this guy’s situation—to the point where I wasn’t finishing my first project.

One day I sat down at the computer and stared at a blank screen for a good hour. I knew, at that moment, I wasn’t going to rest until I wrote, what is now, my first completed manuscript, Dark Spiral Down.

With barely an outline, the rough draft poured out of me. My actual plan for a series starts with book two, something I’m working on now. I hedged my bet a little with this being both the first of the series and my very first effort. I knew I had a lot to learn and felt I needed some seasoning before I got to the heart of what is driving me to continue with my storyline.

Dark Spiral Down introduces future characters and establishes the motivations driving them in future releases. Because I have a strong visceral response to children abducted by a parent to a foreign country where their laws don’t recognize parental rights given in the U.S., I wanted to write compelling stories with incredible motivations driving their behavior, and I want to shine a light on the horrific situations parents with rightful custody and their exploited children face.

This kidnapping happens hundreds of times every year in this country. When legal recourse fails, my characters step in to deliver their brand of justice. But first, my protagonist cut his teeth on saving the world from certain destruction.

“When Tess Gerritsen demands you finish something immediately, you better listen.”

What are you working on now?

Currently, I’m working on two projects at once. The follow-up to Dark Spiral Down is underway. I also feel a compelling drive to finish my earlier WIP, the medical thriller that started it all.

I know, deep down, the storyline is strong. Having received a real education on writing from Leanne this past year, I’m hoping to deliver a project that’s a cross between Robin Cook and Brad Thor—my two favorite genres.

When Tess Gerritsen demands you finish something immediately, you better listen.

You’ve got great writers in your corner! Congrats on your award and your debut novel!

The Author

K. P. Kyle was born and raised in Richmond, Virginia, where her mother was the founder and owner of the much-beloved independent bookstore Narnia Children’s Books. She received her BA from the University of Chicago and her DVM from Cornell University.

She has lived in South Boston, Massachusetts since 2002, with the exception of two years spent in Senegal. She works as a veterinarian and shares her home with a bush dog and a black dog. Sync is her debut novel.

To learn more about K.P. click on her photo or follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram

The Book

On a cold and rainy night in New England, the paths of two strangers collide: a young man, gifted with the ability to shift between alternate realities and fleeing from a shadowy organization looking to exploit him, and an older woman searching for meaning in a life that seems to be progressively devoid of it.

When his past catches up to him, the two of them embark on a journey of danger, adventure, and self-discovery.

To buy the book, click on the following links: Amazon and Kobo 

The Interview

Describe your publishing journey:

Sync was my first attempt at writing a full length novel.  I had precisely zero idea what I was doing beyond actually putting the words on paper, so after I was happy with the final draft, I had to search the internet for what to do next.  Maybe I should be ashamed to admit it, but I looked it up on wikihow.

I didn’t actually look for an agent.  I decided I would rather try my luck with open submissions to small/independent presses, so I sent a query to any publisher with an open submission window that seemed like a good match.  Interestingly enough, it turns out that Allium was the first publisher to which I submitted, out of something like 30 or so.

“I decided to write a novel, frankly, to see if I could.”

What inspired you to write this novel?

I decided to write a novel, frankly, to see if I could.  As to why I chose to write a thriller—well, I like thrillers.  Beyond that, I wanted to create a story containing certain elements that seem to be somewhat lacking in the genre: especially and specifically, “Ordinary Middle-Aged Woman Saves the World.”

There are far too few books in the “Middle-Aged Woman Saves the World” pantheon.  Where are all our middle-aged women role models?  Who will young middle-aged women have to look up to?

So I wrote a story about an ordinary middle-aged woman who—albeit maybe reluctantly and grumpily—kicks all of the ass and saves all of the worlds, with the help of her younger male sidekick. (Spoiler.)

What are you working on now?

I’m actually pretty superstitious about talking about what I’m working on—in fact, I didn’t tell anyone at all that I was writing Sync until after it had been accepted for publication.  So all I’ll say for right now is: we all have our little projects.

This ordinary middle-aged woman thanks you!! Looking forward to reading your book.

Header photo: by ElyPenner on Pixabay. Click the link here for more information.

Elena Hartwell

Author and developmental editor.

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