Featured Author – Matt Johnson

matt johnsonHi Matt, Thanks for taking the time to pop in and answer some of my questions. Before we talk shop I’d like to offer the readers an insight into the psyche of the author by posing some personal questions. Is that okay?

I know you’ve had a bit of an adventurous life in your uniform days, without going into detail, can you tell us what shocked you the most?

The evening in 1984, when I switched on the television after coming home from the Libyan Peoples Bureau attack. I had escorted an injured officer to hospital. It was only when I got home that I found out that it was a personal friend of mine, Yvonne Fletcher.

That affected me emotionally. I witnessed very unpleasant scenes at bombings, car accident etc, but that was the one and only time that I lost a friend.

Which uniform suited you best? Police or soldier?

Police. According to my mum, I look better in blue. Besides, have you any idea how much effort goes into keeping No.1 Army dress looking tip-top?

Hahaha, no I don’t but I can imagine it requires a lot of polishing and ironing, not really my cuppa. 🙂 Would things have been less stressful could you have seen yourself serving until your pensioners date, or would you picked up writing anyway?

I’m not really sure. What I can say is that joining the police was something of an accident. After I left the Army, I met up for lunch with a mate who had just joined the Met after being in the Marines. He showed me his pay chit. Three times as much as we had been earning as 2Lts. I thought, ‘why not’ and decided to sign up until I could think of something more interesting. Leaving early did present me with an opportunity and a stimulus to write when I started doing notes to describe symptoms of stress I was experiencing, incidents that caused me discomfort and flashbacks and other things that was receiving counseling for. Becoming a writer was also something of an accident, as it was my counselor that prompted me to start a book and my brother who pushed me into independent publishing. So, to answer the question, I doubt if I would have started writing, as it took a particular combination of circumstances to create the stimulus and opportunity for it to happen.

Was it hard to adjust to ‘normal’ life after being in the service? What is ‘normal’ life according to you?

The longer you are in the services, the harder it is to adjust. Much has been written about it but suffice to say, the change in attitude to work, discipline and many other factors is very different in civilian life. Personally, I was a bit of a ‘square peg’ in the services and never really abandoned my civilian view of life so, for me, the adjustment wasn’t too hard. But, ask others, and they may say different. They may say that I changed and I couldn’t see it myself. As to ‘what is normal’ well, that’s very hard to define. There are so many parameters within the range of normality that is acceptable to people but suffice to say, I still put on my shoes one at a time, still like to walk my dogs and find that I need more time every day than I ever seem to find. I work hard at not having a ‘normal’ life. I like to push boundaries, try things, pursue hobbies and interests and get as much from life as I can. Old cliché I know, but I do plan to arrive in heaven on my Harley with a glass of wine in one hand and a bar of chocolate in the other screaming ‘wow, what a ride.’

Now that’s a goal I can relate to. Stick to this and you can’t go wrong. Can you ever see yourself free of the live you’ve lived, or will that always play a major part in all your future projects?

My histotory is, and always will be, a major part of my life and has left me with old mates, memories and experiences that will always be with me. The services moulded me, made me what I am and, for better or worse, set me on a path that I now follow.

Enough with the chit-chat, because you’ve come to talk about writing and your work. So,what is the title of the book you would like to talk about, and can you give us a small taster of it?

The book is called ‘Wicked Game’.

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AMAZON | iTUNES | KOBO 

It fits loosely into the genre of crime thriller. It’s set in 2001 and is centred on a police inspector called Robert Finlay.

Age is catching up with Finlay. As a police officer on the Royalty Protection team based in London he is looking forward to returning to uniform policing and a less stressful life with his new family.

But fate has plans for Finlay. His past is about to come back to haunt him.

When a fellow policeman is killed in a bomb explosion and a second is gunned down on his own driveway, Finlay discovers that both of the murdered policemen are former Army colleagues from the SAS Regiment. His family learn that he is not the ordinary man they once thought.

Finlay isn’t hero, just a survivor. He isn’t a ‘Jack Reacher’ just an ordinary bloke, of the kind that might live next door to you. The story is of how an ordinary man deals with an extra-ordinary threat from his past

Did you have difficulty coming up with the title?

Yes… and No. Wicked Game is the third title. Although I started with a working title, the new one came about from the dialogue between characters. I liked the title, and at the time there was no other book in the genre with it. Since WG has done so well, I have noticed several independent authors have also used the title. Imitation is a form of flattery, I suppose, but it’s not something I would personally choose to do. Indeed, I think it is incumbent on an author to check their title and not to imitate others to try and bring search results to themselves

If you would have to change the genre in order to be able to publish it, what would it be then? i.e. would you conform your work to suit the market?

No, I wouldn’t change it to suit another market. My writing comes from me, if people like it, that’s great. If not, then I am not destined to be an author. The reviews and feedback have both astounded and humbled me. It’s really quite surreal to think that so many people have gained so much enjoyment from my work. To realise that people have given up several days of their lives to read my work, and have kept reading as they have enjoyed it is an absolute treasure of an experience to me. That said, WG is more than simply a thriller. It is a story about friendship, family, betrayal and loyalty, as well as being a thriller involving life-threatening adventure and a plot that should, hopefully keep you guessing until the end.

Can you tell me how you celebrate finally getting that tricky chapter (or para) right?

No celebration, but a feeling that it is right. Often, I write and re-write, work and re-work. I read back aloud, and only then do I get a sense of whether it works. I find I know when it doesn’t and, when I think its right, I just keep my fingers crossed that others will agree.

What do you do marketing wise and what do you think generates the most attention to your books?

Without any doubt, twitter has been a Godsend to independent authors. But the advent of the e-book has created the opportunity to get your work into the public eye. I’m no marketing expert, I simply used the kindle direct programme to start with and then switched to smashwords after a few months. I think that it is important for a new face to build up a readership and to be patient. If your product is good, word will spread, albeit slowly. You can help this along using twitter but you cannot force people to read your offerings and, if they do, they had better not be disappointed. People prepared to give new indie authors time and to read their work are few and far between as they expect the best to come through the mainstream channels. Now you and I may know that there is some fantastic indie talent out there, but the public want be in a position that they are not going to wasting their time when they open up a new book. For me, I think that the Amazon review system has paid immense dividends. The system has it’s flaws but it does provide a means for the public to guage whether a book is worth their precious time. The cover needs to be attractive, the synopsis exciting and the reviews encouraging. Given all three, people don’t mind reaching into their pockets to give you a try.

What is the most disgusting thing you’ve ever come across in your writing career?

I think it was when I was dragged from the naive view of an amateur writer into the commercial world of writing. At that point I learned about authors who manipulate the review systems by using ‘sock puppets’, fake profiles, and how it is possible to buy 5* reviews through a couple of companies operating outside of the UK. Like most starters, my indie publication was followed by a few reviews written by friends and family. That said, my family are pretty straight and made it clear to me that they wouldn’t positively review the book if they didn’t like it. After that, I was in the hands of the public. As the book started to gain reviews I then found myself being approached by ‘authors’ who would ask for a ‘quid pro quo’ review exchange if I would give them a great review, they would do the same for me. I always decline. Just lately, maintaining that position has resulted in some unpleasant reviews from people. I do wonder what motivates people to be so unpleasant, but when I read articles where some of our best known and most successful authors have admitted to creating ‘sock puppet’ profiles to rubbish the work of other authors, then I learned that it it more widespread than you might think. 

It does disgust me that people would stoop so low, but human nature being as it is, it shouldn’t really surprise me.

Is there any food or beverage that is a constant factor in either your books or life?

Tea…. On the hour, every hour. Well, maybe not so much now, when it dawned on me how much I was drinking. I also adore cider.

Yes, since coming to the UK I have discovered the pleasure of drinking cider too. What is your favourite dish and can you give me the recipe?

Hmmm…. Very eclectic taste and not much of a cook. My curries seem to go down well, though. I like to use natural ingredients rather than packeted, and yes, you can have the recipe… one day.

Okay, thank you. I’ll have to come up with my own curry recipe then.

Now that we have the mandatory questions out of the way, shoot your mouth off. Tell me whatever you want the blab about. But please no cat’s, dogs, or children. Make me laugh, or cry, or even envious. Tell me something none has ever heard before from you. hehehe, love those little dirty secrets, real or make believe. 🙂

That will happen over a cider, not before. But one thing I do hope for is to make enough of a name for myself that I can help to do something about the state of PTSD treatment in the UK. There are so many little groups doing there bit but no umbrella organization and no concerted, centralized, consistent system in place to do our level best to help the very large numbers of people, from all walks of life, that suffer without receiving appropriate help.

I’ve been very fortunate with my book, but must recognize that if it didn’t cut the mustard, it wouldn’t have had the reception it has. It was read by a couple of well-known authors (no name drops here) who out me onto their agent. I’ve now signed with him, done some additional work on the MS, worked with him on a biography and synopsis and now he has just started to pitch it to the publishers. It’s an exciting time, but there are still no guarantees, it could all fall at the last hurdle. We will see…

Thank you Matt for answering all these questions. I hope you will succeed, and when you do please come back to me and let me do another round of grilling on you. 🙂

For now I would like to present the readers with a sample of the book. (Thank you for the signed paperback, I will cherish that and of course read it. At the moment it’s at the top of the stack. i.e. next to be read.)

Right, for those who are curious and would like to read more, there’s a whole excerpt below.

British Airways Flight BA 783 taxied slowly to a stop. As the passengers started to gather their hand luggage, the stewardesses released the safety catches to open the airplane to the world outside. Bright sunlight blazed in through the door. The cool, artificially chilled air inside was quickly replaced by heat and humidity.
This was Kalikata, India, at the start of the monsoon season. On the runway it was over a hundred degrees. Inside the plane the temperature quickly climbed.
Jed Garrett and Mac Blackwood were amongst the first passengers to start the sweaty journey down the steps to the waiting airport bus. Both men wore jackets and ties. They looked uncomfortable.
“Fucking hell Jed, what is that smell?”
Garrett had smelled Kalikata before. Sweat, exhaust fumes and local spices combined to produce an aroma that was particular to India. It was a pungent, musty smell that some loved but many found hard to bear.
“That’s the smell of India, Mac. Get used to it, we’re gonna be here a while.” Jed was American. His companion was a Scot.
The men boarded the airport bus. Garrett could see that his friend was getting impatient. He was anxious to get to their hotel and get their business underway. Garrett smiled. His friend was just going to have to adjust to the slower pace of life here. The heat was the problem. That, and the humidity. Put the two factors together and you soon stopped any ideas of hard work or doing things quickly. Mac Blackwood was used to the windswept, chilly streets of Glasgow. Garrett was from Florida. He was used to humidity and he had been to India many times before. This was Mac’s first trip.
The two men were instructors, brought in to teach their specialist subjects. They had been hired at rates many teachers could only dream of. But then not many teachers could teach the subjects that these men were experts in. Inside a week they would be in the mountains of Kashmir showing their students how to plant mines, lay booby traps, destroy tanks and, of course, the many other uses that plastic explosive could be put to. Garrett and Blackwood were soldiers of fortune, mercenaries. Former Special Forces soldiers from differing parts of the globe, united through the use of their life skills to make a buck.
The bus returned them to the air-conditioned atmosphere of the arrivals hall. Mac stared through the windows whilst they waited for their luggage.
“No wonder they call this the black hole of Calcutta.” Blackwood pointed through the window to the crowds of poverty stricken who stood waiting to try and beg from, or sell to, the arriving travellers. There were hundreds of them. Men, women and children of all ages. Kids with filthy hands, blackened nails and faces with puppy-dog eyes chased around begging small change from the tourists.
“I fuckin’ hate this place already.” Blackwood turned away from the window. “Ach, fer Christ sake. Look at the state of that kit.” Blackwood pointed to the uniforms of the soldiers who milled around the airport concourse trying to look efficient.
Garrett was starting to get tired of his friend’s constant moaning. He hailed a taxi. As the driver quickly took their bags, children surrounded them. Tiny open hands were extended in hope.
“Gimme dollar, gimme dollar.”
One youngster held up a tatty, soiled copy of Penthouse. “You buy, you buy,” he called.
Mac Blackwood reached for his pocket. His travelling companion was wiser and more cynical. Giving just one some cash would mean another fifty blocking your way. They had a meeting to get to and they needed to get away from the airport. Garret shook his head as he grabbed Blackwood’s arm.
“Oberoi Hotel.” Garrett gave their destination to the driver. Blackwood had to prise children’s fingers from the door handle before he could join Garrett in the back. As they accelerated away, stained and grimy hands smacked incessantly on the windows of the car.
In the relative privacy of the taxi the noise and bustle of the airport faded away behind them.
“Over three million of those kids die ever year in this country from diseases caused by poverty. Help one, they’ll all want a piece of you,” said Garret.
Blackwood simply nodded. Not helping a needy kid didn’t sit comfortably with him.
They had been travelling for only a moment when the taxi started to slow.
“What now?” Blackwood turned to ask. The taxi was stopping to let a cow cross the road.
“Cows are sacred here Mac. Just be patient.” Garrett did his best to calm his excitable friend.
At that moment the front passenger door swung open. A filthy teenager in a simple shirt and trousers had jumped in for a ride. The first thing Blackwood noticed was the smell. Garrett noticed the holdall the kid carried.
“American?” The kid smiled as he turned to ask them the question.
“Canadian,” Garrett lied. Canadians were popular everywhere.
“Have a nice day.”
The last thing Jed Garrett saw was two wires that stuck out from the side of the bag the kid was carrying. As the boy pressed the wires together the car was torn apart by the resulting explosion.
Debris rained down. Even before the smoke began to clear, barefooted men clawed and fought over the Westerners’ luggage. Some gawped at the scorched and mutilated figures that hung from the wrecked car.Nobody tried to help them.

If that has tickled your reading muscle, you can get your copy at:

AMAZON KINDLE AND PAPERBACK | iTUNES | KOBO 

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If you want to follow Matt on his journey you can find him online at his website.

Review Full Marks by Neal James

cover Full Marks

AMAZON

This is a crime novel and a very good police investigation story. I loved the way the author shows us a couple of murder investigations by using them in an internal affairs inquiry concerning the main character. But it’s not only police work, there’s human interest thrown in the mix, we get to feel for the characters as their lives, loves, and other personal affairs are shown as backdrop to the police work.

The author uses detailed knowledge on a multitude of topics, and incorporates them into the story in a way that gives the whole a ‘real’ feel. But every now and then he does misses the mark a bit. For example when he mentions going to Belgium and visiting Roermond. Which is a city in The Netherlands, close to the Belgium and German border but still a Dutch city. Another thing that tripped me up was the mentioning of Dick Whittington as if everyone is supposed to know who that is. I don’t and I had to google the man to understand the referral to him. Then there was the meerschaum. The what? That’s exactly what I mean, how is the non pipe smoking reader to know that a meerschaum is a pipe? The thing is a crucial instrument to show a character’s mannerism, but only after a few times being mentioned as the meerschaum, the author remembers it might be handy to convey that it is a pipe.

Apart from these little slip-ups this is a way of showing the life and adventures of a policeman and how things work behind the scenes of the force. I enjoyed the alternating of present time internal affairs investigation, case-notes, and past actual case investigations.

Would I recommend it? If you like watching CSI, inspector Morse, and the likes, you’ll love reading this book.

Featured Author Wayne Zurl

And today I feature the policeman turned writer Wayne Zurl.

WZ photo- Deadwood, SD

Hi Wayne, thanks for allowing me to ask you a few questions. Let’s not waste time and get a move on with it.

Can you give me your best Whoop? Unless you have another one which works better for you?

How about, “Hoo-ah!” That’s a contraction of the more familiar, hurrah.

Okay, sounds like a winner that one, but does it work all the time, even those times when the muse has gone and done a runner on you? And when did you first start with it?

It’s a universal cry understood by old soldiers, indicating extreme happiness. Not too many G.I.s admit to having muses, but the statement itself is inspirational. I first heard it (and used it myself) when, as a twenty-one year old Army recruit, I stood on a field with more than two-hundred other young soldiers and tried to sound enthusiastic about physical training at 5:30 in the morning.

Right, sounds like you are on the right track there. Let’s do a few of the yada yada questions before we move on to the fun.

What is the title of the book you would like to talk about?

My third full-length novel in the Sam Jenkins Smoky Mountain police mystery series, HEROES & LOVERS.

HEROES final cover

Oh, sounds exciting, but did you have difficulty coming up with the title?

Yes. I started off with the terribly “blah” title of CHRISTMAS IN THE SMOKIES. Somewhere along the line, I dreamt up the equally stupid: A KIDNAPPING IN THE SMOKIES. Then I came to my senses and HEROES & LOVERS flashed before my eyes.

If you would have to change the genre, what would it be then?

I could turn this into a western quicker than a gunslinger can draw his long-barreled .45 caliber peacemaker.

Just to confuse you we’ll take the alternative route now.

What don’t you like about writing, or whatever you need to do marketing wise?

Writing is fun. Post-publication marketing and promotion is too much like work. Actually, it stinks. I hate it. I had envisioned writing a book, (or books) going to traditional book signings and smiling for all my adoring fans, and then going home and writing more. I have a couple of traditional publishers, but I do most of the publicity myself. It takes up too much of my time.

Tell me, when your muse is visiting and you’re on a roll, what would seriously drive her/him away?

I can lose interest at the drop of a hat and anyone with me would flee from my workplace. All the little necessities of life get in the way—a clogged toilet, bird feeders that need filling, vegetables from the garden that need to be processed and frozen, automobiles that need to be washed—you get the idea.

What does your muse look like?

I’ve given up trying to figure out what or who brings me the inspiration for a new book or story. Sometimes, I wake up at three o’clock in the morning with an idea. Or, I might be driving at 75 MPH on the Interstate and something reminds me of an old case or funny occurrence from my working days and I see a story in it. But if I had to put a face on the one who can help me through writer’s block best, it would be my wife’s. I’m lucky. She’s quite beautiful.

Do you ever speak to your characters and do you get along all the time?

Being a writer would be no fun without having imaginary friends to socialize with. I like the regular female characters from my books best. We get along famously.

Can you name the food and drink that will surely get you started?

I like to cook and food may do more to stop my writing process than spur it forward. I love all kinds of ethnic food—Chinese, Korean, Thai, Mexican, Middle Eastern, you name it. But if I had to zero in on only one type, I’d pick Mediterranean, specifically, Italian or Greek. I’m pretty good making either.

If I’m writing in the afternoon, I generally have a drink sitting on the lamp table next to the wingback chair where I do my writing—with a pad and pen. In the summer, I like a cold gin and tonic, in the winter, a smoky, peaty-flavored single-malt whisky from Scotland’s western isles. Beer is always good. I like dark beer.

Would you be able to come up with an excuse on why you haven’t written a whole day, and have me believe it too?

For a guy who’s spent much of his adult life working in military or para-military organizations, I’m a pretty lax and undisciplined writer. I can be persuaded to abandon the pen and pad easily. Conversely, if the spirit moves me, I can scribble away incessantly. At my age, that may be necessary so I get all my thoughts on paper before I forget them forever. Having said that, if someone calls and tells me the fish are biting in the river or a nearby lake, I’d be out of the house like a shot. The taste of fresh caught trout or walleye is a powerful deterrent to meaningful work.

And finally why would you ever want to live life behind a keyboard, slaving over a manuscript?

I’ve always needed a creative outlet and writing has, so far, been good to me. But if I never published another piece and I only continued to write for my own enjoyment, manuscripts would be easier to store than oil paintings or model airplanes.

Okay, now that we have the mandatory questions out of the way, shoot your mouth off. Tell me whatever you want to blab about. But please, no cats, dogs, or children. Make me laugh, or cry, or even be envious. Tell me something no one has ever heard from you before. He, he, he. I love those little dirty secrets, real or make believe. 🙂

I spent five years on active duty in the Army and sixteen years in the Reserves. Since serving in Vietnam, I can count the good night’s sleep I’ve had on my fingers and toes. After separating from active duty, it took me more than a year to find a job. The New York State Employment Service said I had no marketable civilian skills. So, I became a cop and the job wasn’t too different from that of a soldier. After twenty years on that job, I retried. But I still don’t sleep very well. The dreams I write about and assign to my protagonist, Sam Jenkins, are mine—and maybe his, since we share a similar background. Often, they recur, sometimes in variants, but always with the same theme. I’ve given up trying to analyze them, it no longer matters.

If you read my books or stories, you’ll learn about real police work and what happens to those who protect and serve.

Wayne, I am duly impressed by both your work, your personality and the way you know how to present yourself.

Thank you, Lucy, for inviting me to your blog and allowing me to meet your fans and followers. When I write something new, I’ll name a character after you.

Wayne! You honour me, I’ll be looking forward to that. It must be a character with a smile not far away though. 🙂 But now that we know all this about you, where can your fans find you? You know to follow/stalk ? (erm, I mean find out more about you and keep track of what you’re up to.)

For more information on Wayne’s Sam Jenkins mystery series see www.waynezurlbooks.net. You can read excerpts, reviews and endorsements, interviews, coming events, and see photos of the area where the stories take place.

Okay, and do you have any links that lead to you?

Author website Wayne Zurl 

Twitter

Facebook

Goodreads

Amazon author page

B&N author page

And where can we find your book?

Amazon direct link

Barnes & Noble direct link

Mind Wings Audio author page