Interview with author Oliver Chase

Welcome to another #fridayguestinterview here on TWP. Today’s guest is author extrodanaire Oliver Chase. Hey Oliver, why don’t you kick things off by telling us all a little about yourself.

author picture of oliver chaseHi Kara. I grew up on military bases throughout the country. Like all boys, I played good guys and bad, although I like playing the good guy best. Coaxing me into an afternoon of baseball or hiking the Southern California hills didn’t take much unless homework or a book got in the way.

I joined a Marine Corps college program with my best friend Herb while we were in our senior year of high school. He decided to leave college early, even though those were the days of limited options. Not long after, I stepped onto the airport tarmac not far from where Herb had died.

I flew helicopters in a small unit with thirty-one other pilots. These were gunships and even though another fifty or so supported the unit, only the pilots flew in the two man helicopters. We spent days and nights over the mountains and towns trying to keep the world safe for … well, that’s not really true, is it? The real reason any of us ever went into those mountains at night was to provide protection for injured buddies.

After those formative years, I traveled on to grad school and spent a while wandering. Lots of vets seem to do that. Some find their way back, others do not. During that period of my life, I became more serious about writing. A nice, electric model typewriter replaced my old Smith Corona portable. If you read the short story Synonymy in a Stellar Collection published in 2013, you caught me experimenting with stories of the darker variety.

I spent a year teaching on the reservation in New Mexico, a few more as a cop, then joined the feds. I even flew commercially for a time, yet the writing never stopped. The Smith was traded for a Zenith and a Mac, and then a PC that still travels at the bottom of my duffel.

The Writing Piazza:
Can you tell my readers a bit about the book(s) you have written?

Levant Mirage is a departure from my usual fare of suspense novels. One of my early readers thought LM just might be a mystery. Certainly, a plot twist should engage and surprise the reader, but the book is a thriller.

After fifteen centuries of religious conflict, the world faces a grave choice–submit to the demands of terrorists or face mass obliteration. America declassifies a top secret PhD dissertation and a disgraced soldier becomes hated and feared by both friends and enemies. As society crumbles under the weight of hateful demands, a handful of world citizens gamble their lives and their treasure in a last, desperate attempt to save civilization from an act threatening to reset the clock by a thousand years.

Marsh Island’s detective mystery billing might conflict a bit with the thriller genre too I suppose.  Phil Pfeiffer returns from the Gulf War with a broken back and a bad taste in his mouth. Out of rehab and uniform, he tries to live the quiet life of a private detective tracking wayward husbands and skip tracing for a local bail bondsman. When a widow hires him to investigate the death of her husband in Mexico, people start dying.

Officials declare the man dead, but the widow is not convinced. When she later finds her husband’s photo in a celebrity magazine, Phil is pressed into service. The trail fizzles, yet people continue to die. When the celebrity is suddenly lost at sea, Phil tracks the disappearance to a Bahamian island. Awaiting him there are ravenous sharks, and the authorities with a charge of murder. The widow is no closer to finding her husband.

Blind Marsh concludes the series when a lovely Las Vegas lounge singer, afraid of her ex-boyfriend, hires Phil for protection. The PI uncovers an intricate plot to steal a billion dollar industry intertwined with the widowed husband’s disappearance. Phil survives a Wild West shootout to become, once again, the guest of local authorities. The singer is lost in the Kansas winds leaving him to wonder if he was the dupe, or if she had become an unwitting victim in a game of high stakes and international intrigue.

Marsh Island and Blind Marsh were published in 2013 and 2014 by the late and great folks of AEC Stellar, New Orleans. Pearl River Publishing replaced them for Levant Mirage and later will host Joshua Tree. The first draft of Bequeathed is done, and Tin Soldiers are electrons zipping around inside my laptop.

The Writing Piazza:
Phew! Sounds like you’ve been busy! You mentioned some publishers, what was it like for you, trying to get your work published?

Buried in a history of rejection slips, a Random House representative told me once I had a fine hook, but I wasn’t smooth like Grisham. She wasn’t talking about boxing. I thought her remark interesting because I always favored Elmore Leonard and his punchy style. When I took AEC Stellar’s offer, I signed a five year contract for both Marsh Island and Blind Marsh. That’s tough giving over all your rights in an intimate relationship like an author and his book.

AEC Stellar however had a different idea about publishing. A new model. The fact they closed their door a few years later was more a reflection of the tough time any start up business faces than a questionable business model. In fact, Pearl River Publishing is based on that same model, but with significant changes. Pearl River is supported by authors who recognize that writing a book simply isn’t enough. The difference here is that one author is prepared and promoted at a time. All effort and attention is centered on a single writer by the group for a fixed period of time. Only after that person is on their way, is another author taken on. Interesting concept. I’m pretty excited to be that first author.

Every writer unwilling or unable to sign with one of the major or the vast number of smaller, independent houses must become a marketer, promoter, advertiser, speaker, traveling salesman, hand shaker, and baby kisser … well, maybe not a kisser, but close to it.

Even if you sign with a major and become like some say, their indentured servant, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. One of my heroes, Craig Johnson visited a local-to-me brick and mortar bookstore in a relatively little city to give a talk, and of course sign books. Why would I think readers should flock to my doorstep just because I wrote a good book? If they don’t find out about it, they won’t read it. There is no magic to selling books, just hard work and a willingness to get your hands dirty.

All authors must consider self publishing and small house publishing. If you’re going to be an expert, you must know your tools and the rules of the game. In this respect, Pearl River Publishing does not differ greatly from others in the trade. The industry and the national reviewers shun both however, and push us into the vanity publishing pod. They could not be more wrong or more behind the times.

A groundswell of brilliant authors are producing books that would have never seen the light of day except for the 800 pound gorilla named Amazon. When a big company fails to see a pre-set bottom line profit potential, they pass and look for someone else that will keep stockholders happy, and their paycheck coming. They don’t look twice at authors like me. Where’s their profit with nearly eight million books in print and more coming to market every day? I can tell you where I find my profit – in the little tomes from a local bookstore, from an unknown author with a wonderful story to tell.

Hey, it only has to be one story for me to get gooseflesh and never forget their tagline. Literature is a wonderful breath of life, especially if you don’t intend to live solely on its fruits.

The Writing Piazza:
That’s all great advice for new authors (and some veteran authors as well). If you want your books to be read, you must also be willing to deal with the business side of publishing and book marketing. Even with the larger publishers, you will be doing a lot of work to get your books sold. I know it’s not really what we, as artists, want to hear, but it’s true.

Let’s move back to the artistic side of writing though. Can you tell us a bit about your writing process?

Input, input, and more input. Our world is full of so much stimulus, I find it impossible not to see a storyline in every blog, article, news show, barbershop tale, or private longing of my own. I keep a twenty two cent spiral pad somewhere close to me to record the jolts that spark between my ears.

I keep my expenses in the same little book, so I never lose it, and never stop reviewing it. Sometimes I meet a guy behind a lunch counter, see-through earlobes, and eyebrow piercings and try to strike up a conversation. I look like a cop, have always looked like a cop, and will until the day I die. Can’t be helped. I enjoy chipping away at someone’s reluctance to engage me, and frankly, the guy behind the counter has a story that I want to hear.

When enough ideas fill my head, I try to find a three sided plot. It’s in there somewhere but never stays hidden for long. The idea always grows and a story bubbles to move the triangle along. (There are a dozen internet teachers that will give you this formula.)

Each story has a cast of characters, main characters only, please, and they all have their own story. Just like the Earring Guy, I need to get to know them. The plot, the big plot stays constant, but not the little ones, the three sides of the triangle ones.

The main characters reveal themselves on long runs, walks, or laps in the swimming pool. No distractions, ‘cause they deserve my full attention. More minor, though no less important characters introduce themselves, too. Oh, but they are so much fun.

Pretty soon a rough outline line forms and my wall, notebooks, tiny pads, and .Doc scribblings are overflowing. In fact, they create so much racket, I’m up at four in the morning with a hot tea and an itchy trigger finger. Six months later, I’m whipped and then, I’ll start the real work.

Thank God, for the first six months because the next six have me cursing the day Adam, Scott, Miranda, Big Jim, and Andrea ever introduced themselves. And of course, I grab lunch somewhere else-no more Earring Guys.

The Writing Piazza:
That was a colorful explanation, thanks for sharing your process with us! Writing can be a lot of work, are you currently writing full-time or do you also have a “day job?”

Full time writer, fun time farm hand, all the time husband and dad, part time investigator, and reluctant reminiscer.

The Writing Piazza:
How do you find time to write in addition to everything else you have going on?

Writing suffers when the decision is made to have a career that pays instead of a fuzzy future promise. That may be cowardice or a lack of chutzpah but I’ve read enough mediocre books to realize that success is equal parts hard work, lucky breaks, and other hungry people.

I spent many years getting up at three or four in the morning to write before holding down a job that required a fifty hour work week and twenty four hour a day standby. Those sort of commitments pale in comparison to the responsibility of three kids and pulling my weight at home. I’ll readily admit that writing slid back on my personal priority list while the kids were young, but that didn’t prevent me from enjoying a long line at DMV with my little spiral notebook in hand. The guy behind me usually had to tell me to put away the yellow number two or give me a shove to move it along.

The Writing Piazza:
What advice do you have for your fellow authors?

After this many years, books, and stories, I’m always astounded, and humbled when someone asks my advice. Good grief, I’m still learning myself. The industry isn’t changing week by week. Every day there’s something new, innovative, and hot off the presses. Writers need to stay in touch, not be a hermit on a mountain top. Creative people no longer have to wait on someone else to appreciate their ideas. If they’re stonewalled, they can still give it to the world – great or not so great. I love today’s literature and read more in a day now than I ever did growing up, flashlight under the covers thrilled by Herman Wouk, riding the tracks with Dick Francis, and deep in the mysticism with Tony Hillerman.

Of course with every wonderful improvement comes a dark side. Instead of a thousand wonderful authors publishing in the big houses, every writer faces five hundred thousand other writers. The competition is fierce to be noticed, no less read. But I take heart, keep my eyes focused on the future-hazy or otherwise, and still get up at four. And I love reading the unknown authors … I learn so much.

The Writing Piazza:
That’s true, the market has been inundated with new writers. Hard work is absolutely necessary. Not just working hard on your writing but also what you do after you finish writing your book.

It’s all such a learning curve, that’s why I love helping other authors by sharing with them tips and strategies. There’s so much we can learn from each other even if that’s what not to do. What we learn along the way can be shared to help save others time and effort. That’s why I started this blog and that’s what I love about these interviews.

Speaking of helping authors learn from our own ghosts of writing past, what is one thing you know now, that you wish you’d known before you published your very first book?

I’ve discovered that trust is a bigger issue than contracts and promises. When I signed with AEC Stellar (New Orleans), I got to know both company officers pretty well. We had the opportunity to establish a relationship, something not always available in the “bottom line,” corporate world. When we renegotiated the contract for a follow on book, I didn’t have an issue with my decreased royalties, largely because my stake in their success was as great as their own. Naturally, I was disheartened when they finally closed their doors.

When I began a search for another publisher, I expected the same treatment. I quickly came to realize that the major publishers didn’t offer this relationship, and understandably so. They’re not only profit based, but answer to stockholders who’ve invested money to make money. I understand and appreciate the system. I made my living in the system. Most of the time, if my hook didn’t “hook’m,” their reps didn’t even bother replying with an email. With a single exception, the more modest sized companies did answer. And I answered back, especially if I was rejected.

Building a future relationship doesn’t always have to be built from something positive, but it does require honesty and sincerity. Integrity has been a strong motivator for me. I only wish I’d learned earlier, that most others consider it just as important as I do. Besides, at the end of the day, I want to be proud and pleased with the person in the mirror. Nothing is worth sacrificing that moment.

The Writing Piazza:
I think this world could do with more people of integrity. I’m so glad we’ve had the chance to have you here on TWP. Your story and your insight is greatly appreciated.

Any last advice for authors hoping to get their own work published?

Did I mention an author needs to write? Write all the time. Read when you’re not writing.

Secure good, professional (not necessarily high priced) editing. Don’t rely on Aunt Louisa just because she taught English. Compare samples and prices using your own work and see what suggestions each editor makes. Choose a list of editors based on their past performances, and use a contract to establish mutual expectation. Know the difference in line, copy, and proof editing and each editor’s interpretations. They differ person to person. A glossary that you mutually agree upon will make the experience more pleasant.

Consider using a small to medium size publisher for your first book. I appreciated the interest in my development as an author especially when another willingly gives of their time. Stick with a publisher well established in your genre. Little outfits with multiple genres likely have a lessened chance to focus on you, the specifics of promoting your genre, and offering you a relationship in which you both learn, build, and find success. Plan on being your own marketer, no ifs, ands or buts. You must work as hard promoting as you did writing.

If a big house is going to find you, you need to write. Don’t worry about sacrificing a book into the volcano of a small house. There’s more where that one came from.  Write all the time. If you have to force yourself to make writing a priority, consider another endeavor for a while. Life’s too short. Have fun and meet people. You’ll come back to writing, and I’ll be here waiting on you. I can’t wait to read what you’ve written.

The Writing Piazza:
That’s all amazing advice! Thank you for sharing. For anyone who isn’t sure the differences between the types of editing available, there’s a great article about it in our resources section here on TWP. You can read it HERE.

Before I let you go, can you tell us a bit more about your upcoming book Joshua Tree?

Certainly! Joshua Tree, an election year novel of political obsession and personal failure is scheduled to be released in time for the first of the Presidential primaries, the Iowa Caucus.

A meteoric political rise awaits the dynamic son of a California field laborer and a two fisted iron worker. Winning election after election, the timing is right, the sky is the limit, and the talk is about the nation’s first Latino presidency. The national media announces the birth of a new Camelot, casting both a young senator and his alluring wife in the image of the bygone Kennedy era.

Just when life seems the most promising, a lovely senate aide goes missing. Both husband and wife fight rumors, but far more is at stake than a simple political career. The mystery and the publicity ebb until an unwitting fisherman stumbles upon the decomposed corpse of the aide in San Francisco Bay. An autopsy reveals she died four months pregnant swirling the uproar to fever pitch as suspicion and doubt darken the couple’s dreams.

The Writing Piazza:
Any other books in the works?

Bequeathed will come later next year. An unlikely group of six young treasure hunters find the sins of youth will follow beyond the grave.

The Writing Piazza:
For those who would like more information on you and your books where can they visit?

The trailer:  Levant Mirage 2015

Website for various short stories and a fun place for my uttering. I do this to relieve the pressure, often between novels or to have fun with an old friend.

The Writing Piazza:
Oliver, thank you so much for your time and for being a guest here on TWP!  And a huge thank you to those of you who have joined us for this interview. We hope you had as much fun reading it as we had getting it all together for you. One of the lovely staff writers here on TWP has written a review of Oliver’s book Levant Mirage you can read it HERE.

That does it for our interview this week. Hope you’ll take some time to wonder around the site. There are some amazing resources for authors and lots of fun stuff so take your time and make yourself at home.

Until we meet again.