Sunday, June 21, 2015

Sneak Peek: ARCHANGEL FALLEN - Prologue

We're just a few short weeks away from the release of ARCHANGEL FALLEN, the third book in the SPECTRE SERIES. Here's a sneak peek of my latest book. I hope you enjoy it!


Tampa, FL

 should be home by midnight, sweetie. Kiss the girls for me and tell them I love them. Love you,” he said before hanging up as he pulled into the crowded parking lot.
It was a weeknight, but The Silver Fox Gentleman’s Club was always busy, pulling in crowds from the base just a few miles away. Transient aircrew flying into MacDill for the night loved blowing their hard-earned per diem on girls working their way through college.  It was easy to get lost among the close-cropped GI haircuts filing in and out of the place at all hours of the night.

Blending in was exactly why Charles “Ironman” Steele had chosen this meeting location. As the director of a highly classified covert unit, he spent a lot of time trying to blend in. Although for the 5’9” 200 lb. Steele, blending in wasn’t always easy. His bald head and general lack of neck seemingly made him stand out in even the most military looking of establishments.

Ironman checked his watch as he flashed his retired military ID at the burly bouncer. He was fifteen minutes early. The bouncer pretended to study the ID for a moment and then waved him through the mirrored glass door. The relative silence of the lobby gave way to a blaring rock song as a girl made her best effort at flailing around the pole on stage. The banner above her proudly announced “Amateur Night” as the younger airmen waved singles at her and cat called from the base of the stage.

Ironman chuckled to himself as the girl struggled with her top. He found a table in the corner of the dark room away from the stage and sat down. His white t-shirt and faded jeans glowed under the neon lights. He had changed out of his Desert ACUs that he usually wore just before driving out of the secure facility nestled in the center of MacDill Air Force Base near United States Central Command Headquarters. As his wife would tell anyone, Ironman was not known for his fashion sense.

As a former F/A-18 pilot and Joint Terminal Attack Controller that had been embedded with Navy SEALS in Afghanistan, Ironman preferred a uniform to anything else. The only variation he had ever needed was the change from summer whites to dress blues for which the Navy was famous. Otherwise, he preferred a flight suit or fatigues.

A scantily clad waitress shuffled up in her high heels to Ironman’s table. He ordered an ale and asked for the $5.99 steak special – the rarer the better. As the petite young blonde finished taking his order, he slipped her a twenty and sent her on her way.

Ironman scanned the room as he leaned back into the plush booth. He hadn’t chosen the location by accident. He had a complete scan of the entire room and its rowdy occupants, including the most important part – the door. As he continued the scan, he found the man he was looking for. The tall, slender Asian stood out in the homogenous crowd of military aviators, but given what Ironman knew about the man, he wondered if the guy even cared. Ruthless was the only word he could come up with to describe him.

Ironman checked his watch again as the pretty little waitress delivered his beer. It was 1900. His Breitling was still set on GMT from his recent trip to the sandbox. He never bothered changing it to local. It was always easier to just do the quick math to remind him where he was.  As the Director of Project Archangel, he was almost always living out of his go-bag in some third world country. The world was full of hotspots, and although the current administration was nearing the end of its second term, the business of covert war had never been better.

Covert war. He had always thought it was a cute saying, but that was his job. He had been hand-picked by the previous administration to develop a team of special operators and aviators that could be deployed anywhere in the world at a moment’s notice with a minimal footprint while being self-sustaining. With its fleet of advanced Close Air Support fixed wing aircraft and helicopters, they could fight their way into any hot spot in the world and fight their way out without the US Government getting their hands dirty.

It had been the perfect retirement job for Ironman. He still got to see his wife and two girls most of the time while making money hand over fist as a high-level contractor and still being at the tip of the spear. It was a spear that, for the most part, even the most high level Pentagon officials didn’t  know had been thrown until they read about it on the Internet days – and sometimes even weeks — later.
But despite the nice scenery as another sorority girl clumsily tried her luck on stage, his presence in the booth represented a part of the job he hated. His group was full of high-level operators and fighter pilots. They were all Type A personalities that worked hard and played hard. Most of the people he recruited had been screened extensively, but every now and then one guy would slip through the cracks. And then he would have to do damage control.

Sometimes it was simple — the former SEAL who just couldn’t turn it off after spending three months being shot at and ended up putting five people in the hospital during a bar fight. Or one of his pilots who wound up in jail after leading police on a high-speed chase at speeds over 170 mph in a Corvette ZR1 while wearing Night Vision Goggles at three a. m. Those were easy, and often pretty funny. But Cal “Spectre” Martin was different.

Spectre had been a problem child from the start. Ironman had been reluctant to even hire him. It had been his boss, then Secretary of Defense (SECDEF) and current Vice Presidential Candidate Kerry Johnson who had pushed the issue.

Ironman unwrapped his silverware from the paper napkin as the petite blonde returned with his steak. She walked off, he checked his watch one more time. 1915. Spectre was late. He looked back over at the Asian man he had picked out earlier. They made eye contact briefly as Ironman shrugged it off and returned to his steak.

It didn’t surprise him. Nothing in the file that Johnson’s aide had dropped on his desk screamed reliability. In fact, other than graduating at the top of his pilot training class, Spectre’s flying career had been less than impressive. Spectre hadn’t even upgraded to Instructor Pilot before being grounded after a deployment in Iraq.

In doing his due diligence, Ironman had pulled the mission report from Spectre’s last flight. Spectre had shown a reckless disregard for the current rules of engagement by employing ordnance while his flight lead was refueling at the tanker. He had even continued to prosecute the attack after the only qualified controller on the scene had been disabled. Although Ironman admitted that Spectre had probably saved more than a few lives that night, the action was evidence of a general lack of flight discipline.

Ironman had warned the SECDEF that Spectre wasn’t a good fit for the team. Spectre just didn’t meet the standard that had been set for Project Archangel’s pilots. On top of that, Spectre hadn’t flown in over five years. He had been working at a gun supply store in South Florida. Ironman initially resisted based on Spectre’s resume alone. When SECDEF effectively directed him to shut up and color, Ironman saluted smartly, said “Aye, Aye” and drove down to Homestead, Florida to recruit Spectre. His first opportunity had been at the funeral of Spectre’s fiancĂ©e.

 Ironman had never read the official report on the mishap involving Chloe Moss, but he knew there was more to her death than he had access to. The initial reports and eventual Air Force Accident Investigation Board investigation all said that Chloe Moss had fallen victim to spatial disorientation. Controlled flight into terrain, the reports said. But in his circle, the rumor mill had been running wild. The possible theories ran the gauntlet from defection to Cuba to a covert counter-intelligence mission against the Chinese. Despite his high-level clearance, he didn’t have a need to know for a lot of programs, but Ironman knew that the truth was somewhere in the middle while still being very far from the official cover story.

Spectre had seemed pretty shaken up at the funeral, and Ironman wasn’t even sure Spectre would return his phone call. He was hoping Spectre would just throw the card away and go on about his life. As he finished the last few bites of his steak and checked his watch again, he wished Spectre had. He would have much preferred to be spending his evening with his two daughters.

At first it appeared that Spectre was just as high level as any of the other members of the team.  When Spectre made it through every level of the intense physical training, as well as the flight training, Ironman thought his initial assessments had been proven wrong. Spectre performed as well as any pilot he had put through the course, and almost as well as some of the Special Operators through the hand-to-hand combat and weapons phases. Ironman had been cautiously hopeful that Spectre had become the one-in-a-million undrafted free agent that football teams salivate for.

But a tiger can’t change his stripes, and when Ironman received the phone call that Spectre’s aircraft had been downed in Iraq, he kicked himself for letting his guard down. Spectre had failed to abort a mission when a pair of Syrian fighters scrambled to intercept his team. And when he finally did make the abort call, he managed to get himself shot down in the process. They were lucky Spectre’s aircraft had been the only one lost, but the team lost nearly three days in trying to recover Spectre from bad guy land — time that could’ve been spent keeping chemical weapons out of the hands of terrorists in Syria.

Even more surprising to Ironman was the SECDEF’s reaction to the initial news. Although Ironman was not a huge fan of the man’s politics, he’d always thought Johnson to be a fair and compassionate person. He had been taken aback when the SECDEF outright refused to authorize an immediate Combat Search and Rescue Operation to find and retrieve Spectre. It was one of very few times Ironman had clashed with his boss. Johnson’s concern for creating an even bigger international incident had become more important than not leaving a man behind. Despite his reservations about Spectre, he was still a member of the team and deserved to go home to whatever family he had. It was simply unacceptable to Ironman.

Making matters worse, Spectre’s tag along had been very vocal in launching a rescue mission. To Ironman, Joe Carpenter was perhaps the closest thing to the magical free agent in the deal. Carpenter had been an Army Ranger and Air Force TAC/P. He was squared away and highly motivated. His record spoke for itself, and when Spectre asked to bring Carpenter along as part of the deal, it was a no brainer. Ironman wished he had stayed on the team after Spectre had been let go.

Let go. It was a polite way of saying fired. After being shot down in Syria, there was simply no way to justify Spectre’s presence on the team. As with his hiring, the SECDEF led the charge with his firing. There was no valid argument against it. Spectre had saved the other aircraft he had been escorting, but the entire incident could have been avoided if he had stuck to protocols and aborted. He was just too much of a wild card. Ironman had been disappointed that Carpenter quit in protest, but given their long-standing history together, he wasn’t surprised. It was a shame Carpenter had been killed a few days later.

Ironman checked his watch one more time as the Asian man stood from his table and approached. It was almost eight p. m. and it had become quite apparent that Spectre was a no show. At least he had gotten a cheap steak and free entertainment out of the deal.

The man walked up to Ironman’s booth and took his place across from Ironman. He was wearing a dark button down shirt and slacks. His dark goatee gave way to a sinister smile as he watched Ironman push aside his plate.

“Are you enjoying yourself, Mr. Steele?” he asked.

“I can think of better ways to spend my evening,” Ironman replied. “But not many.”

“I’m sure your two daughters would much rather have you home,” the man said flatly.

Ironman’s brow furrowed. He never discussed his family outside of the people he trusted on his team, and the man across from him was neither on his team nor particularly trusted. He tried to hide his anger.

“Did I hit a nerve?” the man said. He spoke with a slight Chinese accent, but his English was flawless.

“What do you want?” Ironman asked impatiently.

“You said he would be here. He is not. Why?” The man’s voice was almost robotic to Ironman. Beyond the forced grin, he seemed to exude no emotion whatsoever.

“I don’t know. I guess he had a change of heart,” Ironman replied with a shrug. “He wasn’t exactly thrilled with me at the funeral.” Ironman had attended Carpenter’s funeral, but despite Ironman’s offer to get to the bottom of Carpenter’s mysterious death, Spectre had been nothing but flippant during their brief encounter after the service.

“Do you know where he went?”

“Look, Xin, or Jiang, or whatever it is you go by,” Ironman said as he slid out of the booth and put another twenty on the table. “I did what I was told to do. He didn’t show up. There’s nothing else I can do at this point.”

Xin stood to meet Ironman. He was nearly the same height, but much smaller in stature than the much bulkier man.

“You are right,” Xin replied calmly.

Ironman waited for him to say something else as he stood within feet of the man. Ironman was used to dealing with angry special operations operators all the time, but Xin was downright scary. There was just something about him that creeped Ironman out.

“Let me know if I can do anything else for you,” Ironman finally said, breaking the awkward silence.

“I will,” Xin replied.

Ironman nodded and then turned to walk out, passing the stage as a wet t-shirt contest was just beginning. He shrugged off the feeling of terror he felt deep within his gut. He had landed on aircraft carriers at night in rough seas and bad weather, but nothing compared to the pit that had formed in his stomach.

“What have I gotten myself into?” he mumbled to himself as he stepped out into the humid night air in the parking lot. 

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Where'd Who Go? - Adventures in Publishing

It's been just over a year since AVOID. NEGOTIATE. KILL. hit the market, and since its release, the most common question or comment I've seen is, "Wait, where's the next one? When does the next book come out?"

The reason for that is that ANK, by design, was never meant to be a stand alone novel. I wrote it to shift the SPECTRE Series from the introduction (SPECTRE RISING) to a more complex political thriller. My intent was to end the major conflict created in the beginning (The mysterious assassins) and use that book to open the door for something on a much bigger scale.

Unfortunately, I did a poor job initially of conveying that to the readers, and some of the reviews reflected that disappointment. For that, I apologize. It was never my intent to leave readers hanging.

To make matters worse, I got caught up in the lure of traditional publishing, which is what I will discuss today. It will hopefully explain where I've been and why I had seemingly gone off the grid.

In late June of 2014, I signed with an agent to represent the subsidiary rights of the Spectre series. Since the two books out at the time already had ISBNs and were therefore undesirable by traditional publishers, he was only interested in the possibility of movie/film, TV, graphic novel adaptations.

Excited to finally have an agent, I let him go to work as I went back to doing what I felt most comfortable - writing. I started writing ARCHANGEL FALLEN at the beginning of August and had the first draft completed by November. After my awesome editor went through it, I sent it to my agent on the off chance that he might want to shop it around since it didn't have the ISBN problem that the other two books had and could be published as an original.

A week later, I received a phone call from my agent. "Did you really write this?" he asked excitedly.

"Umm.. yeah?" I replied. Seriously? I knew what he was getting at, but I was a little insulted.

"This is great! The writing is tight. The plot is great. This is a great book!" he said.

"So do you think it has a chance to get picked up by the major publishers?" I asked, trying to contain my excitement. It was what I had always hoped for - to be a real, published author.

"Absolutely, I'll start working on putting together a pitch sheet," he said.

And with that, ARCHANGEL FALLEN was frozen in time. It was ready for release, but I was so excited by the idea of having a real marketing force behind me that I wanted to see what happened. I wanted to see it through.

At first, we were receiving winning comm. The first major publisher requested a full manuscript shortly before Christmas. I was antsy, willing them to make a quick decision. I hated the idea of sitting on a good book when my readers were wondering what the hell had happened to me. I was afraid to announce that everything was on hold while I pitched it to publishers, for fear of what I'd say if they said no. I just let everything sit.

After Christmas, nine more publishers requested full manuscripts. It was starting to get expensive and eat into my limited self-publishing marketing budget. The contract I had with my agent stated that I would bear the cost of mailing manuscripts. The 400+ page (double spaced) work became a $50 charge every time he sent it out. Gotta spend money to make money, right? I remained hopeful.

My agent told me each editor would take 4-6 weeks to make a decision. I hated the waiting. Why did it take so long? I felt like all the work I had done was going to waste. As I waited, I started writing the fourth book in the series, EXECUTIVE REACTION. In February, I finished that manuscript as well.

The days clicked by. I checked in weekly with my agent, hoping he had some news. When the answer was no, I went back to writing. At the end of April, my agent said we should have news soon. Book Expo America 2015 was scheduled for the end of May, and he'd have a chance to talk to each editor that had requested manuscripts.

The week prior to BEA 2015, my agent and I were in constant communication. We created a pitch sheet for him to hand out, I tallied my sales figures from the first year and a half of publishing, and we discussed the options. I was excited.  SPECTRE RISING had just gotten a sales boost from a BookBub ad, and was sitting at #1 in three different Amazon categories. I thought for sure at least one out of ten would say yes. I had made it so far.

On the first day of BEA 2015, I received an e-mail. A major distributor was interested in picking up the entire series. I was a bit confused, but still excited. If they were interested, surely a publisher would be too.

It wasn't until around noon on day two of BEA2015 that my hopes were finally dashed. My agent called, spinning it in a positive light. There was interest. Ingram Spark was the distributor that had been interested - a self publishing tool to get print books into stores.

I asked what the editors had said. He said they all loved the book, but the business side of things had forced them to decline. My books were all selling well enough that they didn't think they could help, but not enough that they were interested in buying the rights to the entire series. Strictly a business decision.

I was confused. If they knew this ahead of time, why bother asking for a manuscript? My agent tried to explain that it wasn't the writing, but simply that they were tightening their belts and didn't think they could make enough money. Regardless of whether that particular book had been published, it was still part of a greater series that they couldn't pick up. Sorry, thanks but no thanks.

I was crushed. I had wasted six months waiting for a response only to be told that it never could have worked. I considered throwing in the towel completely, embarrassed for even trying.

Despite the trend toward eBooks and the relatively bad deals publishers are throwing at authors these days, I had always considered traditional publishing to be a sort of validation. You're not really an author until you're "published" and self publishing doesn't count, right?

I am a fighter pilot, a writer, and a cop. I am not a publisher. I am not a marketing guru. I will never have the tools available to me that a traditional publisher will in terms of getting reviews, getting the book in the hands of the New York Times, scheduling book tours, and telling people about myself and my work. It's just not me.

But after a bit of thought, I decided I'm also not a quitter. I enjoy writing, and I enjoy interacting with readers. Books 3 and 4 are already written, and I'm working on a spinoff novel as we speak. I get just as engrossed with the characters as some readers do, and I'm not quite ready to say goodbye.

So I will keep writing, and promoting these books the best way I know how. They may not make it to airport book stores or USA Today, but they will be available through every online retailer, and they will be affordable for readers.

ARCHANGEL FALLEN will be released July 14, 2015.

I haven't decided an exact date yet, but EXECUTIVE REACTION will hit stores sometime this fall.

The current book I'm working on has a working title of SHEPHERD'S RAGE. It's a bit of a departure from what I'm used to writing - a first person novel. It is about an ISIS attack on American soil, and a local police officer's response to losing everything. It's very much "ripped from the headlines" and will have a tie in to the Spectre universe. I hope to have it finished by the fall as well for release sometime late this year or early next year.

Bottom line - I'm back. Expect more information on the books as time goes on. The next few weeks should be pretty exciting with the release of sample chapters, a cover reveal, and preorder information. It's time to start moving forward again.

As always, thanks for reading. Without you, none of this would be possible. Also, if you haven't checked it out yet, you can see more of my work on where I'm now a contributing writer.

Spectre Series

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