Brian January, Thriller Author

Monday, April 15, 2013

Random Musings from a Thriller Author (Sapphire and Platinum, Naming Characters, Research, Plotting, Reviews, Thanks)

Update on Sapphire and Platinum

Many thanks to all who have asked about the publication date of Sapphire and Platinum, the next two Park Skarda-April Force adventure thrillers! I’m happy to announce that (at last!) I’ve completed the final edits and the books will be out very soon, bundled together into a single volume.

Naming Characters

A number of fans have asked how I came up with the names Park Skarda and April Force. As for Skarda, I’ve always liked the name Parker and Skarda is a surname I think I saw on a sign somewhere (?) many years ago when our family would take car trips. I filed the name away in my head and decided it would fit Park’s character because he is, in many ways, scarred by his past, by the murder of his wife. As for April, I’ve been accused of resorting to a kitschy, Pussy Galore-type moniker, but (while I do admit to a little bit of that!), in truth I see her as a force of nature, an independent, strong woman, utterly in tune with herself and her environment (which is one of the reasons she’s so popular with female readers). So “April” for her congruence with nature and “Force” for her strength, courage, and lethal skills at defeating her enemies. And, “Force” is an actual French surname with historical antecedents prior to the 7th century (she is, of course, half French and half Native American).

Research and Plotting

I’m also asked quite often about how much research I do for each book I write. The answer is: a lot! Usually I wind up with 50-100 pages of notes (even for novellas). And the research usually sparks new plot ideas. I work very hard at coming up with fresh plots, usually based on real-world discoveries or anomalies from the historical record, so the need for research is apparent. The plot of Sapphire, for example, revolves around laser weapons (currently being developed and tested by the U.S. Navy) and Platinum has to do with cloaking technology, very much an astounding real-world scientific breakthrough in the field of nanotechnology. Emerald concerns the fabled Emerald Tablet of Thoth, a mythological artifact supposedly inscribed by Thoth, a god-king of Atlantis (there does exist, however, an Arabic alchemical text called the Emerald Tablet or Tabula Smaragdina, written between the sixth and eighth centuries CE). As always, above all, I want to entertain my readers—I feel that this is the ultimate job of the author. I do, of course, at times bend the facts a bit to fit the plot, but then, after all, that’s why they call it fiction!

Reviews: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Every author loves good reviews—they’re a gratifying pat on the back, an affirmation that you’re doing something that people like. And they’re very much appreciated. But—sadly—bad reviews happen also. This is only to be expected: not everyone is going to like what you do (all my favorite authors [James Rollins, Andy McDermott, Clive Cussler, Matthew Reilly, Boyd Morrison, Jack Dubrul] get tons of 1-star reviews—and these are all excellent authors who in no way deserve anything less than a 4!). Even The Great Gatsby—truly a great American novel—has well over 100 1-star reviews! You just can’t please everybody!

But malicious or irresponsible negative reviews are a different story. Recently I had a conversation with a thriller author friend who was angered and appalled about a number of 1-star reviews that have been popping up on his book pages. Some are obviously from competitors, trying to destroy his sales (his books are popular). But one is from a reader who expected one of his novels to be an historical thriller (even though the book description makes it quite clear that the story is set in present day and 10% of the book is available to be read before purchase); another is from someone who got not only the names of the characters wrong, but even the main thrust of the plot (meaning that the person probably just scanned the book description and trashed it without reading the text); and still another is by a reader who complained that the author had described a doorknob as located on the wrong side of the door (it turns out that the author was right), etc. I tried to console him, saying that bad and malicious reviews are just part of the game. But that doesn’t make them conscionable. It takes an enormous amount of time and passion and energy to write a novel, and I personally would never give a book a 1-star rating, unless it was overtly racist or otherwise in some way egregiously objectionable. Granted, intelligent readers will read between the lines and take negative reviews for what they are, but 1-star ratings can hurt an author’s sales and overall ranking, which further causes sales to plummet. So I told him, I think all of us should start asking people to remove their 1-star reviews or at least re-evaluate them and upgrade them to a more realistic rating. I also encourage readers who enjoy an author’s work to take the time to post great reviews (it really does make a difference).

A Word of Thanks

I truly appreciate all the accolades from fans of Skarda and April on Twitter and in private e-mail messages, etc. As I said above, my goal is truly to entertain and your praise makes me realize that that’s what I’m doing!