Join me welcoming thriller author James Houston Turner to the 2010 writer interrogation series!
Before you start, I feel it’s necessary to run through an earthquake drill; In the event of an earthquake – Drop, cover, and hold. Remember: You are now on the bottom of the world – please use guide ropes provided. *Hands Turner a Glock 17* just in case a gnome suddenly appears – you’ll need to defend yourself. You can’t be too complacent with gnomes about. Right, we should be all set now.
Cat: What’s your favorite type of takeaway? (Yes, that means take-out in NZ speak)
JHT: I don’t do takeaway. I’d rather cook my faves at home. I make better pizza. I make better enchiladas. Okay, so maybe I have an unsophisticated palate, but we much prefer our own cooking. Besides, I’m a 21st century bloke, and what do 21st century blokes do at the end of a hard day of writing espionage, wrestling crocodiles, or practicing words with more than one syllable? We cook. I don’t, however, do very good chups (that’s chips in non-NZ speak).
Cat: Describe your current mental status.
JHT: Which one?
Cat: How exhausting is it being the thriller king?
JHT: Thriller king? Whoa, there, Nellie; don’t get carried away. Although that’s exactly what I hope my stories do: carry people away into an entertaining and at times exhausting world packed with action, surprises, exotic locations and provocative personalities. I like to provoke and inspire, and I design my stories to do just that. Those values are important to me. They separate forgettable stories from memorable ones. Also, because I’m asking people to pay hard-earned money for my books, my focus (and commitment) is to make sure they get top value. For example: I like a great finale, and I’m basically a happy-ending kind-of guy (although happy endings are sometimes costly for the hero or someone close to him or her). I don’t like depressing endings, either; there’s enough of that in everyday life. I also don’t like endings that fade out with a whimper and leave me unsatisfied, like a mediocre dinner without dessert. So I spend a lot of time on the ending, and the whole story builds toward that climax. So, yes, the burden of making sure I give my readers a riveting good read is exhausting. It’s work. And taxing. But exhilarating when it all comes together.
Cat: Do you have a favorite coffee?
JHT: I rarely drink cawfee -- and there’s an art to sayin’ the word right. I’ve often thought of sponsoring a cawfee pronunciation contest. Even more fun would be a “pie” sayin’ contest. I’ve yet to hear someone get that word right. Easterners certainly can’t. It’s supposed to be “p’ie.” Think Kevin Spacey’s accent in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, with a touch of Georgia Peach and a bit of Texan with a hint of French New Orleans. It’s a seductive word, almost two syllables, as it slides up and out with a warm, lazy smile before softly evaporating. It has a breathless, almost elegant, but slightly wicked quality to it. Incidentally, a slice of my homemade apple p’ie goes extremely well with cawfee. Or a dark roast double-shot latte. Oh, yeah.
Cat: I am almost afraid to ask – where do your novel ideas come from? Forget that – where did Alex Talanov come from?
JHT: Talanov is an amalgamation of some incredible people I met during my years as a smuggler behind the old Iron Curtain. He is a highly-trained, intelligent, middle-age operative who is somewhat out of date. This is both his strength and his vulnerability. His age and vast experience will provide the thriller series some great opportunities to clash values, physical abilities, cultures, methods, and relationships, thus setting up both amusing and life-threatening situations.
Cat: Walk us through a typical day. (Do you make sure you’re wearing your lucky underpants before you sit down to write, or perhaps you prefer commando? While we’re discussing your underpants, boxers, briefs, or budgie smugglers…inquiring minds want to know. Okay so it was friend Dionne who wanted to know.)
JHT: Me in budgie smugglers? Not a pretty sight. Typical day: up before dawn, hit the gym for a quick workout, take a shower, get dressed, gulp down an Isagenix power shake before a 6-8 hour writing day. I then sign off mid-afternoon to do chores and help fix dinner. Evenings before bed are unstructured. Sometimes we watch TV, sometimes we sit and chat, sometimes we read or catch up on emails.
Cat: Do you ever see yourself writing a vampire story? (Team Edward or Team Jacob… or are you more likely to join me by stuffing your head into a gas oven than ever going to the Edward or Jacob place?)
JHT: Not into writing vampire stories, although I did see the films. I’m still perplexed why those vampire and werewolf clans -- who seemed like fairly intelligent creatures -- fussed and fought over that sulky, morose, whiney twig, Bella.
Cat: Who would you turn gay for?
JHT: And miss out on even a single minute with my gorgeous, spunky wife? Never gonna happen.
Cat: Who are your favorite writers?
JHT: To me, the king of thrillers will always be Robert Ludlum. He set the benchmark in so many ways. Buzzing about him are John Grisham, James Patterson, David Morrell, Michael Connelly, Mark Giminez, Lee Child -- my list could go on and on. David Morrell, as I’m sure you know, was the creator of Rambo, from which the Sylvester Stallone franchise of films were made. Fredrick, a neighbor of mine in San Diego, badgered me into seeing Rambo 3 with him back in 1988. I declined, but he insisted and persisted to the point that I finally gave in. Afterwards, he offered to buy me a beer. I declined, but he again insisted and persisted to the point that I gave in. We went to a Mexican cantina called The Crazy Burro. That was where I met this hot young chick named Wendy, who a year later to the day became my wife. I am forever indebted to Fredrick and David Morrell for one of the greatest gifts in life I have ever received. David recently sent me a nice email, saying, “Glad I could help!”
Cat: Who inspires you to do better?
JHT: My readers. The gracious comments and reviews I’ve received make me want to keep giving people better and better stories. I appreciate my readers. A lot.
Cat: Do you ever put pants on your dog, cat or budgie?
JHT: Pants on a budgie? No wonder your bird turned murderous, Connor! It wasn’t the millet!!! It was you trying to put frilly pants on the thing!
Cat: Describe your ultimate day?
JHT: Up before dawn for a hike in the Adelaide Hills to watch the sun rise, then hit the Central Market to buy some fresh food, then zip home and get in the kitchen with Wendy, pour a stiff tequila and cook our favorite meal. We then grab our packed suitcases, head to the airport and fly Qantas Business Class to Los Angeles for the premier of one of my films, which of course means I arrive the same day (Int’l Date Line), which means it is still my ultimate day! Bwahahaha. We then go to this little Mexican cafe in San Clemente, have carnitas and frijoles for lunch, then check into our luxury hotel room, have an afternoon nap, awaken refreshed, pop open the bottle of Dom Perignon that was sent up by John Travolta, then walk the red carpet to the premier. Then I wake up.
Cat: Who is your favorite fictitious villain? Or are you all about the hero? Who do you love to hate?
JHT: Thus far it has been Abu Nazer, the terrorist in my novel, The Identity Factor. Abu Fayed (played to perfection by Adoni Maropis) was likewise a pretty frightening villain in season 6 of the hit TV series, 24. A great villain demands a great hero, and vice versa.
Cat: Do you have any quirks?
JHT: I eat ten apricot pips every day.
Cat: All-time favorite movie and why?
JHT: Cinderella Man. I’ve had to fight the odds most of my adulthood, with cancer almost taking my life back in 1991, so I admire stories of triumph against the odds, even when the cost of victory is high. That’s why I also like Gladiator, Rocky, and Seabisciuit. Of course, the Bourne trilogy of films ranks pretty high, too, as does a zany little action-packed thriller called Cellular.
Cat: What’s your preferred medium when it comes to writing – pen and paper, computer, typewriter.
JHT: Have laptop will travel. I’m a “Control X/Control V” freak.
Cat: Do you enjoy the editing process?
JHT: Very much so. My first draft comes out rough! Like a wild animal that needs to be tamed. But with each successive edit -- and there are many -- the story begins to shine. The editing process is what allows me to see the beauty of what I’ve created. The challenge, of course, is to preserve the raw energy of that first draft without losing any of the electricity. I’ve done that before: revised and edited a story so much that it becomes lifeless and brittle. That is why I hire a freelance editor to critique and edit the manuscript after I have made several passes. Fresh eyes bring fresh perspectives.
Cat: If you could live anywhere in the world where would it be and why? (I still can’t believe you moved TO Australia!)
JHT: I love Adelaide. The al fresco culture. The cacophony of voices and languages at the Central Market. The international cuisine. Swaying palm trees and changing seasons. The hills and orchards and vineyards. The beach. The city. But I also miss America. The go-for-it attitude. The open road. The abundance of natural beauty. The diversity. The eccentricities. The opportunity. The buzz. And my family. So regardless of where I am, I’m both at home and away from home.
Cat: What is one thing you know about New Zealand? (Do not mention LOTR. I hates it… I hates it my precious.)
JHT: You mean aside from it being home to the kakapo? Well, NZ developed the world’s first commercialized infant formula made from goat’s milk. It’s also home to a murderous budgie you once tried putting pants onto.
Cat: Favorite Pizza topping?
JHT: It’s hard to beat a good margherita with Danish feta or Chevre, fresh basil and dressed rocket. Be sure to marinade the diced tomato in extra virgin olive oil and two cloves of crushed garlic for a couple of hours. Then bake on a stone at full blast for six minutes before adding the fresh basil and rocket.
Cat: What’s the worst book you have ever read?
JHT: I usually stick to thrillers/suspense/mysteries, and come across a boring one every now and then. When I do, I make myself read a few chapters to try and identify what it is I don’t like about the book. Tedium and an overuse of adjectives are what put me off the most.
Cat: Name a book you wish you had written.
JHT: The DaVinci Code, but not for the obvious reason. I studied religion in university and knew most of the myths, legends, and obscure facts that Dan Brown used to weave into his blockbuster novel. He beat me to the punch. And he did a terrific job.
Cat: How many novels/screenplays have you written, both published and unpublished? (See how I tossed screenplays in there, all nonchalant?)
JHT: My professional writing career has been varied. After penning a book of free-verse poetry, I self-published a potato cookbook, which landed me a handsome contract with St Martin’s Press (New York), who went on to republish the book. That landed me a job as “Spudman,” which saw me cooking potatoes for television audiences across America. After that, I worked as a smuggler behind the old Iron Curtain, after which I wrote three novels inspired by those experiences: The Search for the Sword of St Peter, The Second Thirteen, and The Identity Factor (which was a finalist in four international book competitions, including the 2008 Best Books Awards). I’ve also written three film scripts -- The Identity Factor
(co-written with Los Angeles film producer, Kristin Overn), Crystal of Fire, and Big John (which I am helping produce). Big John tells the 1920s true story of Big John Levi and the Native American football/gridiron team from tiny Haskell Institute, in Kansas, when they committed the unpardonable sin of winning. In addition to Big John, I am also writing a sequel to my espionage novel, The Second Thirteen.
Cat: What were you before you became a writer?
JHT: I wrote my first book at age ten, so before that I was a fat, nine year-old kid with a wild imagination and a thirst for adventure.
Cat: What can we expect from you next?
JHT: I’m really enjoying this sequel, which pushes Talanov to new limits of endurance. I didn’t anticipate the direction this story would take; it just sort of happened. It’s magic when a story takes on its own life.
Cat: Do you carry a notebook or keep one by the bed for those sudden brilliant ideas?
JHT: I always jot down ideas, so when one strikes -- which is often the middle of the night (when my mind is uncluttered by the white noise of the day) -- I write it down. Then I can relax and go back to sleep. I’ve been caught in an ideas blizzard before without anything to write on, and some great little thoughts got lost. Not all ideas are robust and meaty. Some are delicate and fleeting, like garnish. I don’t like losing even one of them. So I write them down.
Cat: What is the most random thing you have ever written with and on?
JHT: Nothing that unusual, although if I’m caught without anything to write on, I will often pick up something bizarre and put it in a weird place to later rekindle a thought. We were staying with friends in Europe some years back, and I had left my notebook downstairs. It was the middle of the night when a great idea came. So I threw my wife’s bra up over the bedroom chandelier to remind me to write the idea down the next morning. It worked.
Cat: If you’re not writing, what are you most likely to be doing?
JHT: Thinking about what to write (even when I’m cooking, cleaning, mowing, changing the oil in the car, repairing whatever needs fixing). I like to think, plot, plan, and scheme. That’s why I don’t listen to music very often. I love to think and stay focused and positive. Remember: a positive attitude may not solve all of your problems, but it will annoy enough people to make it worth the effort.
And that folks was James Houston Turner! Thank you Turner, for coming by and taking part in the interrogation series… you thoroughly deserve a few tequila shots!
I’m sorry about the drool on the screen – Tony got a bit close.