Sunday, November 16, 2014


Back in 1963 there was a movie called The Running Man, starring Lawrence Harvey (just one year after he played The Manchurian Candidate). I never saw it, or the 1987 flick of the same name (this one with Arnold Schwarzenegger and based on a 1982 Stephen King book). But I salted away the title, as I did the premise of John Gilstrap’s terrific 1997 thriller, Nathan’s Run, about a 12-year-old boy fleeing just everybody.

Years later that old movie title came to mind when I set out to write my own chase thriller. I had completely forgotten Gilstrap’s plot by then, but the idea of a boy-on-the-run story had been germinating since my early teens when I’d first read Stevenson’s Kidnapped. I can still recall the tummy-churning excitement of 17-year-old Davie Balfour’s prolonged flight across the Scottish Highlands alongside his brave companion, Alan Breck Stewart, as both were relentlessly pursued by the soldiery of the Clan Campbell.

Over the decades since, other “hunted man” adventures fueled my creative urges. Among them I recollect John Buchan’s 1915 classic, The Thirty-Nine Steps (filmed in 1925 by Hitchcock with Robert Donat and Madeleine Carroll) and Geoffrey Household’s 1939 cult thriller, Rogue Male (retitled Man Hunt in a 1941 Hollywood version).

But for nonstop, full-throttle cinematic excitement, my favorite chase thriller is The Fugitive, Andrew Davis’ terrific 1993 remake of the old TV series, with Harrison Ford and Tommie Lee Jones on a moral collision course à la Jean Valjean and Inspector Javert.

The additional idea of prolonging and permuting a chase/race with multiple means of conveyance, a hallmark of The Running Boy, clearly traces to Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days (unless you count all those Tom and Jerry cartoons I absorbed as a kid). And I suspect that Jerry Zucker’s hilarious Rat Race (2001) and John Hughes’ Planes, Trains and Automobiles (1987) also helped me contrive wacky ways for my fictional heroes to elude their lethal pursuers.

A further resolve in regard to The Running Boy was to keep the chapters short—I mean James Patterson short—and to end each with a certifiable cliffhanger. It was the same template used by Lucas and Spielberg with Raiders of the Lost Ark and its sequels, their homage to those old Saturday-afternoon movie serials of my own boyhood.

I tried to make The Running Boy reflect all these nifty influences and adhere faithfully to these tried-and-true genre formulas. The end result is, I daresay, a terrific read. Happily my opinion has been validated by almost all the book’s Amazon reviewers (39 and counting).

So, without having told you a darned thing about the actual plot or the characters, let me encourage you to read Chapter One of The Running Boy.

Sunday, October 19, 2014


When it comes to my taste in books and music and art, I am, I confess, a contrarian. If I’m reading a best-selling novel, it’s far more likely to be from the 1950s than the current “hot” title by Donna Tartt or Ian McEwan or [insert name of currently incandescent author here].

Perhaps you, too, might have the makings of a curmuedgeon or anti-trendarian. Try this experiment. Google up a best-selling fiction list from the ‘50s or earlier decades and sample an offering or two. Check them out at your library or “Look Inside,” if the titles in question are available on Amazon, and see how long it takes for you to be seduced by the narrative charm of an earlier generation of storytellers.


Today’s example, Edison Marshall, was a perennial on U.S. best-seller lists from the '20s through the '50s. Forty years is a pretty good run at the top of the literary heap for any writer, and Marshall, who specialized in adventure and historical fiction, worked hard to get there and stay there.

But let him tell it:

“Living in Augusta, Georgia, not only out of the world but out of my times, avoiding New York, Hollywood, and all contacts and pressures that could breach my dreams (a social delinquent if one ever was), reading poetry and biography but no novels but my own, fishing or shooting three days a week with a soft-voiced, dark-skinned attendant-companion, I hope to write vigorously for two more decades. If so, I will have made something like a record—more than fifty years of good living from my pen alone, and a long lifetime spent at absolutely no other (except a year's soldiering) gainful occupation.”

Despite avoiding Hollywood, Marshall enjoyed some major book-to-movie sales. Benjamin Blake, a historical romance set in 18th century England, was twice made into films—in 1941 by Fox as “Son of Fury” starring Tyrone Power; and in 1952 with Cornel Wilde as “Treasure of the Golden Condor.” Jeff Chandler starred in 1954’s “Yankee Pasha” about America’s war with the Barbary Pirates, and “The Vikings” was a 1958 box-office smash pairing Kirk Douglas and Tony Curtis.

Clearly Marshall liked his heroes larger than life. Other swaggering, swashbuckling epics dealt with Alexander the Great (The Conqueror), Sir Richard Francis Burton (Gypsy Sixpence), Marco Polo (Caravan to Xanadu) and even Hercules (Earth Giant)

There’s an interesting parallel between the solid financial success achieved by Marshall over his long career and that of Dickens. As boys, both endured episodes of grinding poverty due to their fathers’ financial reverses, and both vowed, like Scarlett, never to be hungry, or poor, again when they came of age.

Again, to quote Marshall, “…the cold wind of poverty rattled the windows and gave us the scare of our lives. I resolved that whatever I did in life, first and foremost it must make us a bountiful living… I went after the two big prizes, fame and fortune, and I got them both.”

Edison Tesla Marshall (named after the two feuding giants of electricity)—well worth rekindling.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014


Homer Invoking the Muse
In an earlier post (“The Way We Were” -- April 7, 2013), I mentioned two historical novelists of an earlier era, Joan Grant and Taylor Caldwell, both of whom seriously asserted that they got their ideas from their own past lives. Barbara Cartland, one of the all-time best-selling authors (a billion books, according to Guinness), used to recline on a chaise lounge in her darkened study and dictate by the hour to a
Barbara & Georgette
silent amanuensis. From these productive séances, swoon-and-swashbuckling novels issued forth at the rate of one every fortnight. (Ms. Cartland, however, was at one point accused by novelist Georgett Heyer of plagiarizing her own historical romances, including actual character names and traits).

Seances and past lives aside, we’re all novelists in our dreams, weaving disparate elements together in fantastical ways. Writers are well advised to keep a bedside pad and pencil for use in retrieving their fast-fading subconscious memories upon first awakening. Such scribblings often prove worthless, true; but many thorny plot problems have been solved thus; indeed whole sagas have been sketched out. Robert Louis Stevenson famously awoke with Jekyll and Hyde complete in his mind and proceeded to transcribe it as swiftly as he could.

John D. MacDonald’s son recalled a family member once asked his Dad if, having written so many books and so many stories, he would have enough material to keep going. MacDonald replied that when he lay down at night “the stuff just spilled out of his ears.” (From JDM Bibliophile, Issue 54, p.2)

In another interview, MacDonald explained his story-formation process: “You’ve got a big cauldron in the back of your head, like a big bubbling stew, and everything that’s ever happened to you is in there, everything you’ve read, seen, touched or believed—everything is in that cauldron. When two things can be related, then they sort of, let’s say, agglutinate and float up to the top of the stew where you can skim them off, and wow, there’s an idea.” (Interview in Family Weekly, May 5, 1985, about a year and a half before he died.)
C.S. Forester
Twenty years earlier novelist and screenwriter C.S. Forester described his own story gestation process in almost identical terms. This lengthy quote is taken from The Hornblower Companion, which is one of the best extended essays on the writing and the creative process I’ve ever come across:
“There are jellyfish that drift about in the ocean. They do nothing to seek out their daily food; chance carries them hither and thither, and chance brings them nourishment. Small living things come into contact with their tentacles, and are seized, devoured, and digested. Think of me as the jellyfish, and the captured victims become the plots, the stories, the outlines, the motifs—use whatever term you may consider best to describe the framework of a novel. In the ocean there are much higher forms of life than the jellyfish, and every human being in the ocean of humanity has much the same experience as every other human being, but some human beings are jellyfish and some are sharks. The tiny little food particles, the minute suggestive experiences, are recognized and seized by the jellyfish writer and are employed by him for his own specialized use.
“We can go on with the analogy; once the captured victim is inside the jellyfish’s stomach the digestive juices start pouring out and the material ins transformed into a different protoplasm, without the jellyfish consciously doing anything about it until his existence ends with an abrupt change of analogy.
“In my own case it happens that, generally speaking, the initial stimulus is recognized for what it is. The casual phrase dropped by a friend in conversation, the paragraph in a book, the incident observed by the roadside, has some special quality, and is accorded a special welcome. But having been welcomed, it is forgotten, or at least ignored. It sinks into the horrid depths of my subconscious like a waterlogged timber into the slime at the bottom of the harbor, where it lies alongside others which have preceded it.
"Then, periodically—but by no means systematically—it is hauled up for examination along with its fellows, and, sooner or later, some timber is found with barnacles growing on it. Some morning when I am shaving, some evening when I am wondering whether my dinner calls for white wine or red, the original immature idea reappears in my mind, and it has grown. Nearly always it has something to do with what eventually will be the mid-point of a novel or a short story, and sometimes the growth is towards the end and sometimes toward the beginning. The casualty rate is high—some timbers grown no barnacles at all—but enough of them have progressed to keep my actively employed for more than forty years.
“Examination completed, the timber is dropped back again into the slime, to be fished out every now and then until the barnacles are found to be quite numerous. That is when the plot is really beginning to take shape; that is when the ideas relating to it recur to me more and more often, so that they demand a greater and greater proportion of my attention as the days go by, until, in the end, the story might almost be described as an obsession, coloring my thoughts and influencing my actions and my behavior. Generally some real work is called for at this stage, to clear up some mechanical difficulty. At some point in the plot it may be essential for the Lydia and the Natividad to be at the same place at the same time—what forces (other than pure coincidence) can bring this about? What has happened earlier that makes it quite inevitable? A different kind of inventiveness has to be employed here.
“This sort of difficulty is sometimes cleared up in a peculiar and often gratifying fashion—I have known it to happen half a dozen times. I have been developing two different plots, both of them vaguely unsatisfactory, and then suddenly they have dovetailed together, like two separate halves of a jigsaw puzzle—the difficulties have vanished, the story is complete, and I am experiencing a special, intense pleasure, a glow of satisfaction—entirely undeserved—which is perhaps the greatest reward known to my profession." (Hornblower Companion, pp. 95-96)
Some years ago, in preparing to teach a 10-week course on Thriller Writing at UCLA Extension, I exhumed these two treasured quotes on story formation to share with my students. Then, casting about for supporting ideas, I came upon this uncannily similar one from horror maestro Stephen King:

“I don’t feel like a novelist or a creative writer as much as I feel like an archaeologist who is digging things up and brushing them off and looking at the carvings on them. Sometimes you get a little pot out of the ground, and that’s a short story. Sometimes you get a bigger pot, which is a novella. Sometimes you get a building, which is like a novel. When I feel like I’m ‘creating,’ I’m usually doing bad work.” (Writer’s Digest, March, 1992, p. 24)
Tom Clancy, the creator of the techno-thriller, frames the same creative process in explosive terms: “It just happens. Sometimes I’m walking to the mailbox, taking a shower, driving my car—and kaboom! I get an idea." (Washingtonian, January 1989)
Another plotmeister, Frederick Faust (who cranked out westerns under the pen name Max Brand), passed along one of the little tricks he used to hatch a “new” plot: “When you read a story, pause when you are halfway through; finish the story in detail out of your imagination; write it down in brief notes. Then read the story through to the end. Often you find that you have a totally new final half of a story. Fit in a new beginning and there you are." (Robert Easton’s biography, Max Brand: The Big Westerner,  p. 219-20)

And elsewhere in Easton’s biography (p. 219): “[Faust] recalled that when he started doing stories each seemed the last he could find. But then by degrees his story-finding faculty had increased. ‘You spot stories in the air, flying out of conversations, out of books.’ Stories also arise, he said, out of the inversions of things as you find them. ‘You sit at the rich man’s table; well, what if he were broke and this were the last time he could entertain? Or suppose the beggar suddenly inherits wealth? Or what is it that the Texan finds most non-Texan?’”

Tuesday, June 10, 2014


On his website, T.S. O’Neil reprints a review that describes his “action-packed crime novels” Tampa Star  and Starfish Prime as artful blends of “Fifties detective noir with modern-day high-tech suspense.” I agree, but when I speed-read the opening chapters of Tampa Star, I was reminded as well of Elmore Leonard—that is, I was hearing the unique voices, not of a writer, but of unforgettable characters. I was thus pleased to discover, as you will see, that O’Neil lists Leonard as one of the writers who have most influenced him.

Author T.S. O'Neil
Pollock: So what do I call you? T.S.?
O’Neil: Please call me Tim.
Pollock: Okay, Tim, let me start with a compliment. I was carried away by the unique narrative power in Tampa Star—the first book of the Blackfox Chroncles. It didn’t feel like reading so much as leaning back in a patio chair with a Corona or a Dos Equis in hand while listening to hilarious war stories told. In appropriate social circumstances, are you a natural raconteur?
O’Neil: First of all, I don’t know what that means. Just kidding—and I sincerely appreciate the compliment. I’m an introvert with extroverted tendencies that are normally fueled by alcohol. They had guys in Ranger School they called “Spotlight Rangers” who were candidates who only performed while in the spotlight; otherwise they hung back and marshaled their resources. I guess you could call me a spotlight raconteur. In social situations, I try a few trial balloons to see if anyone gets my humor and take it from there. As for the humor in both books, I think that the military is full of frustrated comedians. If you think about it, they are often deployed to austere locations among a group of like-minded individuals and are often stymied by circumstances. Their frustrations are caused or fueled by the stupidity of the officers or NCOs above them, and because they are thrust into a truly shitty situation. Relief comes either from laughter or craziness. I have to say, though, that of all the services, I think the Marines are the funniest and usually the most politically incorrect as the ratio of men to women is the highest of all the services.  
Pollock: To capture that conversational style, have you ever thought of just talking your story into a microphone, then transcribing and editing later?
O’Neil: No, but I may give it a try.
Pollock: Do you keep a file of choice and colorful anecdotes from your years in the military?
O’Neil: No, I wish I had, but there are lots of stories out there. The anecdotes about snipers and Explosive Ordinance Disposal are the funniest as they are darkest. Sayings like: “Never start a fight with a man who can end it from another ZIP code,” referring to a sniper with a 50-caliber sniper rifle. Or, referring to an EOD technician failing to defuse a bomb: “If you see me running, try to keep up.” are just a couple of offhand
So all of these amateur comedians in uniform have a lot of material to work with, based mostly on the stupefying ridiculousness of the huge bureaucracy that is the U.S. military. They are given lots of material, but little freedom to use it; hence the frustration. I try and imagine what would accurately be said in humor to mask the occurrence of a bad event.
Someone once said that war is interminable boredom punctuated by moments of terror. An active imagination is what keeps you in good spirits and helps you fill the void or salve your fear. I bet King Leonidas was an especially funny guy to be able to crack wise when confronted by hundreds of thousands of Persian soldiers. His “Come and get them!” [in reply to the Persian ultimatum to lay down his weapons] is, if not the first badass line in history, maybe the best known.
Pollock: Your impressive military and law enforcement background obviously makes you a natural for the techno-thriller genre. Who are your favorite thriller writers?
O’Neil: I really can’t agree on the impressiveness of my military background. As a careerist, I was an abject failure as I was always in the wrong place at the wrong time. Meaning wherever I happened to be, peace was breaking out like mad. I was supposed to jump into Omar Torrijos Airport with the Rangers during Operation Just Cause, but instead I went on to the MP Officer Advance Course. The invasion took place in December of ’89; as I drove home to Connecticut for Christmas break, members of my former unit parachuted into glory. Later, as I sat in Panama enjoying the new era of peace and prosperity, Operation Desert Storm took place. My luck finally caught up with me and I spent part of a tour in Iraq. Other than a couple of nights of rocket fire, the period in Iraq was relatively peaceful. Additionally, I’m a freedom-loving individual and although servicemen defend freedom, they have very little of it inside their ranks. And as you probably noticed by know, I pretty much say what’s on my mind, which is not particularly career-enhancing. The bottom-line is that I was just a guy wanting to see the world on the cheap, but… what was your question again? Oh, yes, favorite thriller writers.  
Well, you’re certainly a favorite author as of late. I loved The Running Boy and thought Duel of Assassins was particularly well done. But having said that, I have some pretty esoteric tastes when it comes to thrillers. Laurence Shames is a favorite, because he has quirky characters and writes in the Florida Glare genre. I can forgive him for being a bit of a liberal because I like his writing. Elmore Leonard, may he rest in peace, is a personal favorite. His writing and success taught me to believe that you can and should try to write the way people speak. People are funny and they say lots of humorous things, even in tense situations. He famously said, “Try to write what people want to read and leave the rest out.” Leonard labored in relative obscurity for most of his career and finally found some level of acclaim after Hollywood discovered him by basing movies on Get Shorty, 3:10 to Yuma and Jackie Brown.
Another great author I admire is Norman Mailer, but for different reasons. He managed to write a really twisted thriller called Tough Guys Don’t Dance and also wrote the script for the movie of the same name. The protagonist, played by Ryan O’Neal, is watching his world crumble all around him—his wife leaves him, he can’t stop drinking and lastly, there are two heads in a bag in the basement and he is left trying to figure out how they got there. I used to watch the movie when my life was at a low point and it would allow me to think, well, at least I don’t have it as bad as that guy. I believe the movie bombed, but the script closely followed the book and I liked that. 
Pollock: You’re quoted as saying you “write about heroes with a few chinks in their armor.” In fact, your father-and-son duo, ex-Green Beret Char Blackfox and his Recon Marine son, Michael Blackfox, seem to function best just a half-step ahead of the law. Can you tell us a little about how you fleshed them out?
O’Neil: Inspiration for the character of Char Blackfox, the main protagonist in Tampa Star and Starfish Prime, came from various places. I was looking for someone memorable and at the time I attended a Battlefield Walk on the Loxahatchee River in South Florida. In 1838, the Seminoles fought two pitched battles against the U.S. Army. By all accounts, the first battle was a rout of the federal troops, as the indigenous people occupied the high ground—including having talented sharpshooters among the branches of ancient cypress trees. The Seminole were also experienced warriors with access to comparable weaponry as their foes, who were the usual mix of conscripts and seasoned veterans. More importantly, the federal troops were exhausted after having spent months on the trail in a forced march from Georgia. So, after hearing about the fierce Seminole warriors, I decided to make them the inspiration for Char Blackfox.
However, the incident that caused Char’s leg injury was based on a real event that happened to an old buddy of mine, a Korean American platoon sergeant I served with while assigned to a Military Police Company in the Republic of Korea. In Tampa Star, Char was wounded by a dead enemy soldier in Vietnam. This actually happened to the platoon sergeant in almost exactly the same fashion while he was serving in the 101st Airborne deployed to Vietnam. The platoon sergeant nearly lost a leg because he shot and killed the enemy soldier, who was trying to infiltrate the company’s defensive perimeter. My buddy then pulled the rifle away from the dead man while his lifeless but still flexed finger still enveloped the trigger. The platoon sergeant was shot in the leg and had to be reclassified as an MP because he was no longer fit enough to serve in the infantry.
So—Char Blackfox is a composite character based on a lot of old soldiers and Marines I knew when I was first finding my footing in the military. His son Michael was introduced as a way to bring the novel into present time. I wanted them to play off each other—the old guy versus the young buck. I thought the unique father-son Semper Fi bond was a rich area to mine.
Pollock: Among your many 5-star Amazon reviews there’s one 3-star that faults your heroes for stereotypical macho behavior and attitudes toward women. So—are you planning to send the Blackfox boys to politically correct reeducation camps and neuter them into Low-T metrosexuals?
O'Neil: I think General James N. Mattis, former Commandant of the Marine Corps, said it best: “When you men get home and face an anti-war protester, look him in the eyes and shake his hand. Then, wink at his girlfriend, because she knows she's dating a pussy.”
If that particular reviewer wants to live in that politically correct world, she should go find that war protestor, as I heard he’s looking for a girlfriend. To quote someone else, “Life is hard and it’s harder if you’re stupid.” I believe that’s from The Friends of Eddie Coyle, but I digress. The most important thing to me is that I write realistically—if that makes some people, especially those on the left of the political spectrum queasy, that’s a bonus.
Pollock: Glad to hear it! One of the things that makes your books so much fun is that they’re almost P.C.-free. In fact, Char and Michael Blackfox take me back to the door-busting pulp heroes of my youth—hard-drinking, skirt-chasing private eyes like Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer or Richard Prather’s Shell Scott, and Donald Hamilton’s randy superspy, Matt Helm. Nowadays, no doubt, Ian Fleming’s “M” would be pressured to send 007 to the first available sexual harassment workshop.
O’Neil: Yeah, all of those authors and characters have been an inspiration to me, whether I knew it or not. I’m so sick of the new metrosexual action heroes and apparently so are a lot of other folks, as evidenced by the success of certain characters in film and literature. I mean Adrien Brody as the star of the last Predator film? John Wayne must be turning over in his grave.

The first James Bond played by Sean Connery was a case study in political incorrectness, and the character went downhill after he left, until Daniel Craig managed to redeem him somewhat. Another character that probably would not be such a success today is John McLane, the hero played by Bruce Willis in the Diehard series.
Michael Blackfox does get a serious love interest in Mudd’s Luck, but he’ll stay largely the same as in past books. Char can’t change as he’s a dinosaur and necessary at certain junctures to shake up the narrative. I’m in the process of bringing back other characters because after I finish ML, Michael and Char deserve a little respite.
Pollock: I like to ask techno-thriller writers how they stay current on military hardware and geopolitics. Do you have any favorite online sources you can share (without betraying too many trade secrets)?
O’Neil: My final deployment allowed me to become current on lots of new weaponry and other hardware, and I included some of it in both books. I’ve also rubbed shoulders with lots of special ops types and actually served in a unit within that command for a while, although I’ve never claimed to be a true “snake eater.” During my time in the Marines and in Special Operations, I learned enough about how certain special ops units like the SEALs, Force Recon, Army Rangers and Special Forces operate and researched a lot more to write accurately and realistically about that particular subgroup. You can pretty much Google anything. As far as approaching special ops types, you really have to be careful. If they are still on active duty, you might as well forget talking to them, and the guys who have been out for a while may not be as in the loop as they claim. I look to websites and boards from time to time. There are lots of unofficial special ops bulletin boards that you can find through various search engines, such as Level Zero Heroes, which is about a Marine Special Operations Team.
Pollock: What about experts you call on? Tom Clancy cultivated a grapevine that linked him to what he called the “Great Chain,” a network of military types, government employees and intelligence officers who fed him information. Do you have a similar brain trust of ex-military you check with?
O’Neil: I have no grapevine at the moment, but then Clancy didn’t have the benefit of serving on active duty for a decade and another thirteen years in the reserves. I think that as my books gain in popularity, I’ll have service members contact me to tell me if I got something right, but more importantly, if I got something wrong. My next book will have very little military content, so it should not be a problem.
Pollock: One of the pitfalls of writing a timely or even futuristic thriller is that the plot can be overtaken or invalidated by tomorrow’s headlines. Which means that, as far as world events, you need to stay not only current, but ahead of the curve. Is that something you think about?
O’Neil: I used to. I was writing a book about a plan to blow up the Panama Canal, and I finished it, but it was never published. I’m sure it’s kicking around here someplace. I felt part of the problem was that it was overtaken by the handover of the canal to the Republic of Panama. Now, I just write a book and hope for the best.
Pollock: Do you write from a plot outline or do you prefer to let your characters lead you?
O’Neil: I have a rough idea in my head and constantly develop it as I write. For instance, Starfish was all about building a plot around the ability to hack into an insulin meter to control a pump. I built out from there. The McGuffin had to be important enough for them to want to parachute into the jungle to get it. I selected Venezuela because it’s currently operating under a despotic dictator, I’ve been there several times before and wanted legitimate bad guys to play off the good guys—in this case, the Colombians and Americans. I selected Colombians because I was impressed by their armed forces and police and thought I would pay them homage. Short war story: In a past life I worked as a trademark investigator and I was working with their federal police, roughly the equivalent of our FBI, set to bust several counterfeit apparel factories. A truck bomb went off at one of their offices in another city while we were planning the raid and scores of their officers were killed. I offered a few words of condolences in Spanish, and their commander basically thanked me, but suggested that we get back to work as they had a job to do. I thought that was a superlative example of their professionalism.
Pollock: Do you have a set time to write each day? And an office?
O’Neil: I have an office in a loft outside my bedroom; it’s a home office that I use for business purposes during the day and writing on the weekend. I have three or four computers; two laptops, a PC and a tablet scattered about and all my military memorabilia on the walls. I have not been writing every day, but I am looking for that to change, if and when we decide whether we are moving. We currently live in a three-level townhouse in a complex and life should be bliss, if not for the condo commandos that run the condo board. The kindest thing I can say about them is that any one of them could have served as a model for the Jack Clumpis character on Seinfeld, Marty Seinfeld’s rival on their condo board.
Pollock: Do you give yourself deadlines? Do you meet them?
O’Neil: I give myself a rough deadline. Right now, because I have a civilian job, so I like to keep it to one book a year.
Pollock: How much time do you allot to marketing? What are your favorite tools?
O’Neil: I don’t devote enough. Normally, I spend a few hours here and there doing marketing. I think the book giveaways on Goodreads are a great tool for getting reviews, however, since it’s owned by Amazon, they are book-ending authors by incentivizing them to hold giveaways and then selling them the books. I also participated in a review circle, where you review four books and others review your work. It’s not frowned upon as you are not doing reciprocal reviews, but I probably won’t do it again as other authors are not legitimate fans and can be very negative for silly reasons, i.e. the women who didn’t like that Starfish didn’t have strong female characters was from a review circle.
I’m also a paid member on Authors Marketing Club, but the jury is still out on whether I would renew. You and I both use Twitter and tweet about our books, but I’m not really sure how effective that is. I’ve used Fiverr to do audio and video shorts. I think the value with that site is that it’s so darned cheap for the quality of what they offer. I’ve used Kindle Direct / Amazon for countdown pricing and free giveaways and I think they have been very effective in promoting new authors.
Pollock: Do you write on more than one (fiction) project at a time? Can you juggle?
O’Neil: Not at the moment. If I ever take up writing full time, I can probably handle that.
Pollock: Do you jump around in your narrative or write straight through?
O’Neil: I normally write straight through, then my wife and I revise at night and I move on. I’m a very linear writer.
Pollock: You’ve done two volumes in the Blackfox Chronicles. How many more up your sleeve? And what’s the next one?
O’Neil: The book I just started writing is book three, the final volume of the Blackfox Chronicles. It’s called Mudd’s Luck and it finds Char and Michael sailing to Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas on their way back to Tampa Bay. The title refers to the doctor who was a co-conspirator of John Wilkes Booth. Dr. Mudd was imprisoned at the fort after being sentenced to a lift term.  
Pollock: Are there other genres you’d like to explore?
O’Neil: I was thinking of an apocalyptic novel along the lines of The Road but with a military protagonist, but we’ll see what happens.
Pollock: Thanks so much, Tim, for stopping by.
O’Neil: My pleasure, Dan.

TAMPA STAR: I974, Char Blackfox heads to Florida in to rebuild a life shattered by the war in Viet Nam. He’s a Seminole Indian and former Green Beret who leaves the army and moves to Tampa Bay with the vain hope of a new beginning. He gets a job, meets a beautiful woman and life seems to finally be going his way; until reality smacks him in the face.   He throws in with the wrong crowd; a small time Irish-American hoodlum, a corrupt cop and an exiled Mafia Capo and his life spirals out of control. In 2004, a combat hardened Force Recon Marine is released from active duty and returns to Florida to find his estranged father; a guy no one can find but everyone is looking for.


STARFISH PRIME: Book 2 of the Blackfox Chronicles. Marine Corps Special Operations needed Michael Blackfox for one more mission.  Do it and the government will go easy on his old man for a horrendous crime he committed a long time ago.  Fail and he would allow an apocalyptic disaster to befall the United States.  The risk is high, but the payoff is huge. Now available on Amazon.

Twitter: @tselliot3

About T.S. O’Neil: T.S. O'Neil graduated with Honors from Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts with a Degree in Criminal Justice and graduated with High Honors from the University of Phoenix with a Master's in Business Administration in Technology Management. He served as a Rifleman with the Marine Corps Reserve, an Officer in the Military Police Corps of the United States Army, and retired from the Army of the United States (AUS) as a Lieutenant Colonel in 2012. He is a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom. T.S. is currently employed as an IT Architect and lives in Seminole, FL with his beautiful fiancée Suzanne.