Your main character, Kevin Easter, had a full-blooded Seneca Indian father and an Irish Catholic mother. How did you come up with such a unique protagonist?
Answer: I suspect the seeds to the Kevin Easter character were planted in the 4th Grade when my family lived in East Aurora, NY. A new kid, John, who had grown up on the Cattaraugus Indian Reservation in Western New York, moved in with a foster family during the middle of the year, and we became friends. Even though I was really young, an ugly incident at recess opened my eyes to cruelty and redemption—all in twenty-four hour period of time.
Can you share that experience?
John’s foster parents bought him this brightly colored jacket that no doubt celebrated his Native American heritage. There was a big eagle and feathers in the design. And John was so proud of this coat. Can a kid glow in the 4th Grade? You bet. But at recess a few bullies from the 5th Grade tormented John, roughed him up and ripped his jacket off. And none of us in the 4th grade, including me, did a damn thing to help him. It’s still one of those regrettable moments in my life. John was a big kid and he didn’t even fight back. None of us did.
But you mentioned redemption?
Yep, the other shoe dropped the following day. John went home after school and his foster parents must have given him the green light to make things right. And so he did. Big time. It was glorious. John’s coat was washed, the rips were repaired, and he was one happy camper that day. He wore that jacket like it was a coat of armor, found the biggest 5th Grader who’d tormented him the day before, and picked a fight. One on one. I’m not an advocate of violence, yet this bully had his head handed to him at recess, and John became a hero. I think Kevin Easter was also born that day, although I didn’t know it at the time.
Is starting a new book difficult?
Yes. And no. I don’t outline like many authors but research is a very, very important part of the process. I’m a huge fan of thriller author James Rollins, who enjoys the research part of his books. Not me. I begin to stray while researching a certain project. But once I actually start to write the book, the characters actually drive the story. I know this may sound crazy, but in the three books I’ve written, with Kevin Easter as my main character, I really didn’t have a clue how any of them would end. If it’s exciting for me, hopefully the readers will feel the same.
Can you describe you typical writing day?
Three hours minimum. No exceptions. I could have the bubonic plague and an amputated arm and I’d force myself to write at least three hours. Good days could go eight to ten hours. Word count is also a barometer. Two thousand word per day. Again, no exceptions.
How do you handle writer’s block?
I haven’t run into that problem yet, although some days come easier than others.
How do you approach a new novel?
I’ve been told that my books are character driven. THE SAMARITAN, which debuted Kevin Easter and Gray Taylor, explained how these two met. Putting them in a bad situation and seeing how they get out of that situation is the fun part for me. But I also like to use current events as a backdrop to the story or stories. I also run two story lines concurrently, especially in the sequel, EXECUTIVE POWER. Kevin Easter has to deal with a personal issue (protecting his new girlfriend) while his career at CIA also plays a huge part.
How do you use sympathy builders?
With Kevin Easter it comes easy. Here’s a young man, who has a Seneca Indian father and an Irish Catholic mother. Easter’s father grew up on the Cattaraugus Indian Reservation, while his mom lived in South Buffalo most of her life. Fate brought Kevin Easter’s parents together, and we’ve only had a quick glimpse of their tragic demise. Yet Kevin is a child of two worlds and he’s never truly accepted as a kid by his peers. Syracuse University gives him a full ride scholarship and it is there he begins to feel part of something important. Being recruited by the CIA brings Easter purpose and inclusion, yet there are many obstacles along his path— professionally as well as personally. He’s a “leap before you look” type guy which also gets him into trouble.
How do you choose name?
Not well. Anthony DiFilippo IV is actually my cousin’s name. In THE SAMARITAN the DiFilippo character is a very sophisticated (Harvard educated) mob boss in NYC. The real “Tony D” is a lawyer in East Aurora, NY. Many of the other names I’ve used come from strolls through a nearby cemetery. I pluck a first name here and a last name there, and hopefully it works.
What character stays with you the most?
Kevin “Hatch” Easter. Hands down. Crazy as it may sound, I feel his pain. Many of my own experiences are put on Easter’s shoulders. Poor guy.
How long does it take for you to write a novel?
My thrillers seem to run between 110k to 120k words, which is close to 400 pages. With the research included, it takes about eight to nine months.
Where do you write?
Some authors can write just about anywhere. Coffee shops, the local library, some beach house. Not me. I have a small office that resembles a cave. Cool, dark and quiet. I’ve heard that Stephen King writes with music playing in the background. Again, not me. I’d be humming along to some tune and nothing would get accomplished.
Is it easy writing a series?
Cliché as it may sound, it feels like many of my characters—Kevin Easter, Gray Taylor, Low Dog, Jack Slattery, Father Benedict Kilcoyne, Annie McCall—have numerous layers to peel back. Think onion. So looking at their lives and each of their back stories interests me, and if I’m lucky, the readers will feel the same. What makes these characters tick? I like that I’m on solid footing—a nice foundation was poured in THE SAMARITAN—makes writing a long-running series appealing.
Who inspired you?
Stephen King. “The man in black crossed the desert and the gunslinger followed.” That line— the first sentence in THE GUNSLINGER—is from King’s epic DARK TOWER series. He started writing the first book in 1970 and ended the seventh book in 1998. I get dizzy just thinking about Mr. King’s dedication to his craft. And to this day, that single line of text enchants and haunts me. Can’t say why. Maybe it’s not the literary thing to admit but Stephen King is my hero. I wrote Mr. King when I was in high school, and he wrote back. Three times. I still have the handwritten letters. Bill Thompson, who edited King’s books—CARRIE, SALEM’S LOT, THE SHINING, etc.—while he was under contract at Doubleday also inspired me. Mr. Thompson was the first person in the publishing industry to open that all-important first door. He also kicked my ass, forcing me to do better.
Any recommendation for new authors?
Again, it’s old advice: read, read and read some more. Listen to books on tape, and don’t be limited to one genre. Frank Muller was the absolute best in the audio business when it came to breathing life into an author’s character. Hundreds of books under his belt. He’s another hero of mine in the publishing world. Sadly, Mr. Muller was seriously injured in a motorcycle accident about a decade ago, then passed away from those injuries a few years later. Join a local writer’s group, write every single day, and find people (not friends or relatives) who will read your work and give an honest opinion.