Tell us about your background. You’re a lawyer and used to be a government agent, correct?
Yes, that’s true. I’m both an attorney and a former military agent. Before law school, I was an Air Force officer. My time in the military was spent as a special agent for the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, or OSI, as it’s commonly known.
That sounds incredibly interesting. What was your time as an agent like?
It certainly had its moments. The OSI is responsible for conducting major criminal and counterintelligence investigations for the Air Force and Department of Defense, so as a young lieutenant I had a tremendous amount of responsibility. I sometimes take it for granted, but I know while I was still in my early twenties I had the opportunity to do and see things that most people never do, to learn about all kinds of military operations, from both a law enforcement and counterintelligence perspective. I even occasionally got to indulge in one of my discreet passions, UFO investigations. I actually got to dig into things ranging from satanic cults suspected of cattle mutilations on government property to allegations that alien spacecraft were being stored on base.
I did not, unfortunately, receive any bionic enhancements. But I did get to meet the man who played Oscar Goldman.
When did you know you wanted to become a writer?
I had the first inkling when I was very young and I realized my teachers were treating me differently when it came to writing assignments. Sometimes it was a good thing, like when they acted like I was a prodigy and praised my work. Sometimes it wasn’t, as when one of my grade school teachers decided to be rather nasty to me on a number of occasions, ostensibly because she refused to believe I wrote what I turned in. I think it was more of a case that she knew I was the author and knew I did it all on my own, but she simply didn’t like that I could. As if I were too smart for my own good. It was a young age to learn there were people like that out there, but it was a valuable lesson.
But as for becoming a professional writer, I don’t think I actually knew until I was in college.
Yet, you didn’t become a writer for many years after that, first joining the military, then going to law school and practicing law. Why?
What I discovered when I took advanced creative writing classes was that there were a lot of kids like me, students with a knack for turning a clever phrase or painting an interesting image with words, but who didn’t understand terribly much about how the world really works. It didn’t take long for me to realize I was no different, or at least not all that different. So I decided to take some advice that I’d read, wisdom directed toward aspiring writers, that said the best thing you can do is to become a good writer is live an interesting life.
And so all the things you’ve done in life were to help you be a better writer?
I wouldn’t quite put it that way. As much as I knew I wanted to write, the thought of being a starving artist didn’t appeal to me. I also knew that to write with a firm grasp of how the world worked, I needed to go experience life, take a big bite out of it, and to be successful at some of the types of things I would write about. At the same time, life has a way of imposing itself, intruding on your plans. So a ten-year plan stretches into a fifteen-year plan as you move from being a captain in the Air Force to a student in law school with a young family, then to a new lawyer at a large downtown firm in Houston with billable hour requirements and a new career to learn the ropes of that bears little more than a passing resemblance to what you were exposed to in law school. But I kept working at writing, reading fiction avidly, collecting books on the writing craft, and never gave up on the goal. I kept refining my skills, wrote some short stories, got some attention and positive feedback, and set out to write books.
Tell us about your first novel, Damnable.
It’s a supernatural thriller about a disgraced special forces operator who uncovers a dark set of actors determined to fulfill an ancient prophecy that would carry grave consequences for every living soul, and some not living. Ultimately, he realizes he’s got to figure out a way to stop them, because it becomes obvious no one else will.
I’m sure you’ve been asked this before, but where do you find your ideas?
Creativity is a process. You find something to work with, then you tease it and shape it and flesh it out. For Damnable, I started with the idea of a scene where someone is killed by a dead person while trying to rescue someone else, and imagined where such a story could go. Once you have a premise like that, it really becomes a matter of character creation more than anything else, because your characters are what drive the plot, or what should drive the plot.
And what was the inspiration for your main character Jake Hatcher?
The notion of a reluctant or unlikely hero has always intrigued me. The thought of someone having responsibility beyond anything he or she could anticipate, a charge he didn’t ask for or want, goes back to Moses, and it’s made for compelling fiction throughout the modern era. So I had the idea of a military asset who had been cast off by the government, a combat expert skilled in extracting information whose existence was now a source of embarrassment due to the ebb and flow of the political zeitgeist. Someone who had done things the chattering class finds unacceptable, and who was now a convenient scapegoat. I imagined what it would be like for a man who was already damned in such a way to then become the one chance for the society that damned him to avoid damnation. From there, it was simply a matter of surrounding him with other interesting characters and allowing the inevitable plot to unfold in my mind, and transfer it to paper.
I’m told you’re an avid reader. What are some of your favorite books?
That’s a much tougher question than you’d think. I’d have to say Moby Dick is one. Orwell’s 1984 had a profound effect on me and I’m convinced is probably one of the most insightful, prescient works ever. Atlas Shrugged I think probably gets less credit than it deserves, even if it has maintained a somewhat consistent cultish following over the years. Jaws deserves a mention because it was the first novel I ever read-and I was way too young when I swiped it from my parents’ nightstand. Sara Gran’s Dope is one I always recommend to fans of mystery and noir. Stephen King’s From A Buick 8 is underrated, in my opinion. Two recent reads, Beat the Reaper and The Whiskey Rebels, have jumped high on my list.
I feel like I’m betraying some implicit obligation to a number of great writers for not mentioning their books, but there’s only so much space.
In no particular order, Jeepers Creepers, The Usual Suspects, The Ring, The Faculty, LA Confidential, Sin City, Memento, Brick, Hostel, Frailty, Vertigo, Psycho, Session 9, Unforgiven, Body Heat, Body Double, Consenting Adults, and too many others to begin to name.
Anything you can tell your readers about yourself that they might find surprising?
There’s probably a lot I could tell people about myself that they’d find surprising, but that doesn’t mean I’m willing to.
Seriously, here’s one that will likely destroy whatever macho image I might have managed to convey through my writing: I have a soft spot for romantic comedies; at least, those made after around 1997. About that time, they changed from light-hearted movies focusing on what I considered to be unrealistic female fantasies about relationships to more intelligent and entertaining battle-of-the-sexes fare. Two examples that come to mind are Win A Date With Tad Hamilton and How To Lose A Guy In Ten Days. I confess I enjoyed both those movies and will sometimes watch them again despite having seen them several times, along with a few others like them, if I’m flipping the channels late at night and see one is playing.