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Friday, July 21, 2017

THE BLAZING KEYBOARD OF BILL CRAIG

  
THE BLAZING KEYBOARD OF BILL CRAIG

Bill Craig taught himself to read by age four. By age six, he had started writing his own stories. He published his first novel at age forty, claiming, it only took me 34 years to become an overnight success. Eighteen years later, including anthologies in which he has participated, he has over eighty novels published and counting. According to Bill, his ultimate goal is to break the record held by pulp author and creator of The Shadow, Walter B. Gibson, for most written works in a year. Clearly, he is taking the challenge seriously.

Bill has written in numerous genres including mystery, western, science fiction, and pulp adventure. It was his work is the latter, in particular his series featuring the Indiana Jones-style adventures of Hardluck Hannigan. I soon discovered there were many more series flowing from Bill’s blazing keyboard: Hardboiled private eye, Sam Decker—Retired Naval Intelligence officer turned San Diego security consultant, Mitch Cooper—The espionage tales of Caribe—The adventures of Jack Riley—ex-Chicago cop turned Indianapolis private eye, Philip Chandler—Private eye Rebekah McCabe—and many more. Currently, his most popular titles are part of his Key West Mysteries, which chronicle the cases of Rick Marlow, ex-NYPD cop turned chief investigator for powerful attorney Walter Loomis.

Like the pulp writers of old, Bill is constantly putting words on paper—every day without fail. However, from his home in New Castle, Indiana, I managed to get him to slow down for a quick visit to the bright lights of my virtual interrogation room...
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If the FBI had you on their Ten Most Wanted list, what details about you would they include when issuing their All-Points Bulletin?
 
57 year old father of nine, with eleven grandkids, tattoo on left shoulder, walks with a cane and moves slow! Armed and can be dangerous.
 
What were your earliest reading and writing influences?
 
Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew were early favorites. Then I got into Doc Savage, The Shadow, and The Phantom. I followed these a couple of years later with The Executioner and The Destroyer. I like adventure and mysteries from the get go, and these books combined them to a large degree. I tried writing my own Doc styled character on a toy typewriter while in fourth grade.
 
What motivated you to write your first novel and how many false starts did you have?
 
Oh, I had a number of false starts over the years. It was only after I met Jerry Ahern and corresponded with Don Pendleton, who both encouraged me to keep at writing, that I sold my first short story to Gold Eagle Books/aka Harlequin and editor Mark Howell. It appeared at the end of the Phoenix Force novel Viper’s Game. It took me another 8 years before I finally published the first Jack Riley adventure, Valley of Death. I was 40 years old at the time. I had written approximately six Riley novels. In the final one, The Mummy’s Tomb, I introduced a much older Michael Hardluck Hannigan. I liked him so much I went back and began chronicling his early adventures. But what I really wanted to write was a mystery novel. So, somewhere around the 6th or 7th Hannigan book, I introduced the world to former DEA agent turned private eye Sam Decker. The mysteries kind of took off from there.
 
What motivates you to keep writing?
 
For me, writing is something of an addiction. I can’t not write. Believe me, I have tried to take a day off when I was so sick I could barely get out of bed or get too far from the bathroom. I couldn’t do it. I would sit and scribble a paragraph and then I could rest. I write because the people in my head still have stories to tell—plus writing keeps a roof over my head and food on the table.
 
You’ve had a number of personal responsibilities from caring for your elderly father to currently raising your twelve year old son, Jack, as a single parent. How hard is it to keep putting words on paper when these things consume large chucks of attention, emotion, and time?
 
The writing actually allowed me to escape from the responsibilities of the real world for a couple of hours every night. Writing allowed me to decompress and get away to a calming mental place. I normally write after I get my son put to bed of a night. While taking care of my Dad before he passed, I would get him settled and work until he needed something, get it for him, and then back to work until my writing time was done for the night.
 
What can you tell us about some of your more popular series characters, and how are they different?
 
Rick Marlow is probably the youngest, being somewhere in his mid-thirties. He’s a former NYPD patrol officer who was shot by his partner while standing over the body of a dead Undercover narcotics officer. He’s been through a lot, and sometimes PTSD colors his view of the world. 
 
Sam Decker is in his mid forties, former DEA who got tired of the corruption and walked away to start his own business on the island of Scorpion Cay.
 
Mitch Cooper is an ex-Seal and former Naval Intelligence officer who set up shop in San Diego after mustering out of the navy. He’s a little more tech-savvy than the others and he often buts heads with an NCIS agent with whom he has history.
 
Rebekah McCabe is one of my favorites, because it was fun getting into the female mind. After 3 ex-wives, it’s not entirely uncharted territory! She’s nearing thirty and works in Tampa. She’s a Texas gal who moved to Florida for College and fell in love with it. She hails from a long line of Texas Rangers, and it shows in her attitude. Her first case, Night Shadows, has her tracking down an unseen killer who murdered her client and nearly got her at the same time.
 
What factors need to be aligned in your thought process before starting a new novel?
 
Usually, I have to have some idea where I want the character to go. How can I make them change or grow while working this particular case? I usually get an idea of what the case will be from watching the news. I am considering basing the next Marlow title on an actual murder that took place in Indiana this past March, but I’ll transplanted it to Key West.

You are very prolific. Do you work on more than one book at a time? How long after you finish one book before you start another?
 
Well, I have always said it helps to be ADHD when you are a writer. I literally have notes everywhere with snippets of plot or dialog scribbled on them I thought of at a time when I couldn’t necessarily get to my computer. At any given time, I am probably working on six different novels at once. When the boy is in school, I can sometimes get some writing done during the day on the other projects. I am one of those writers who as soon as I write the last word of one novel, I immediately start on the next.
 
What factors did you consider before deciding to self-publish and/or work with small boutique publishers?
 
The big factor is how can I get this in front of the biggest reading audience. With some of the smaller presses, they tend to publish in a certain niche—such as adventure or weird westerns. My main publisher in Key West, which publishes, Marlow, Chandler, Joe Collins, and Mitch Cooper aim at the e-book audience mostly. I self-published the Hannigan Books and most of the Riley books and all of the Decker books. Rebekah McCabe and the Moseby and French book Speaking for the Dead are also self-published titles.
 
How important do you consider your book covers, and what goes into the process of completing them?
 
I put a lot of thought into the covers. I usually give my cover-lady, Judy Bullard a rough idea of what I want. Then she puts things together, and we go back and forth until we have something we both like. She’s also been a patient teacher and has been showing me how to do my own covers. The covers are what makes somebody want to stop and see what the book is about, so they have to catch the eye!
 
What can you tell us about your publishing and self-publishing experiences?
 
I have been writing since I was six years old. I worked on polishing my writing for 34 years, and I still continue polishing it to this day. However, I did publish my first novel, Valley of Death, in 2000. Print On Demand publishing was still in its infancy back then. The original edition of Valley of Death was published by a company called xlibris. I still have that on my book shelf. It was the first book to star my action adventure character Jack Riley. 
 
Once it was off to the publisher, I started writing Mayan Gold, though I started writing that book under the working title of Mexican Stand-off. It was the second book to feature Jack Riley and his partner Ken Alston. It was published first through iUniverse and I was so blown away by their cover that I moved Valley of Death over to them.
 
Now at the time, xlibris and iUniverse were considered vanity presses because the author paid a fee. Sure you could buy them on BarnesandNoble.com and Amazon.com, but they wouldn’t carry them in the stores. 
 
The third book in the series was published through a POD company actually run through Amazon with a lower price. I don’t remember the name. I jumped ship and published the next two books through Publish America. It didn’t take long for me to realize PA really was a vanity press because they would publish without charging, but then wanted the author to pay extensive fees to get copies, buy marketing packages, and a number of other things designed to drain the author dry.
 
Then while looking through a copy of The Writer, I discovered two new publishers. Lulu.com and Createspace.com. I was trying to expand out of action adventure at the time and had written the first Decker P.I. book, Scorpion Cay. I bought a cover from a cheap service and published it originally through Lulu.com/
 
About that time, along with Sean Ellis and a few others who belonged to my now defunct Yahoo writers group, we discussed creating a whole new pulp universe of characters and Age of Adventure magazine was born. I really didn’t make much from those, but it was through the effort Hardluck Hannigan came into being. Emerald Death and The Sky Masters were originally produced as e-books through Lost Continent Library and publisher Walter Bosley. My character, Paul Sabre, came to life in Lost Continent Library E-Zine.
 
By this time, I was going through a really nasty divorce and wrote the first of my mysteries featuring Police Detective Joe Collins titled The Butterfly Tattoo, followed by Paradise Lost. The Butterfly Tattoo began to sell well on Amazon as both a Kindle e-book and as a POD title through CreateSpace. My Decker P.I. books had also started selling well. I was making money doing something I loved, but still had to work a day job. I was also taking care of an aging and ailing father and raising an energetic young son of whom I taken sole custody of after the divorce.
 
The Decker books were looking good with fantastic covers by Colorado artist Laura Givens. The covers were eye-catching and made people give the title a look. The same with the covers she was doing for the Hardluck Hannigan books. Did I mention I write a lot?
 
Anyway, I reconnected with an old friend named Mark Howell who was formerly a managing editor at Gold Eagle Books. He was then working for the Key West Citizen. Mark introduced my writing to Shirrel Rhoades, the publisher of Absolutely Amazing E-Books in Key West. Shirrel took over publication of the first two Joe Collins books. About that time, my father’s health took a turn for the worse and he went into the nursing home for the first time.
 
In the month that followed, I wrote Marlow: Indigo Tide, the first of my Key West mysteries featuring Rick Marlow, a former NYPD cop shot in the line of duty by his partner right after finding the dead body of an undercover Narcotics officer. Here was a character I could really sink my teeth into. He had flaws. He smoked too much, drank too much, was fighting post-traumatic stress syndrome and had lost half a lung from the wounds he had suffered. Indigo Tide went on to become my first Amazon.com best seller, breaking into the top 100 in the hard-boiled mystery category. 
 
I was starting to move away from the pulp adventure genre and devoting more time to my mystery writing. As I got older, mysteries had more of an appeal to me. I’ve always enjoyed puzzles, plus I could say I killed people for a living when people ask what I do. I usually make it clear I only do it in fiction.
 
As I look back at the past seventeen years, I realize how much how much I’ve changed as a person and how much my writing has changed along with me. I like to think I have grown as a writer as well as a human being. The first seven of my Marlow Key West mysteries have gone into the top 100 on Amazon along with two Decker P.I. titles. Since Dad passed away two years ago, I write full time and continue as an active full time parent.
 
Two years ago, I set a goal for myself to publish a novel a month. This included a visit to Key West for the inaugural Key West Mystery Writers Weekend. I was working on my fifth Key West mystery before I ever set foot on the island. I not only met my goal, but surpassed it, churning out twenty-one titles in twelve months.
 
When people ask me how I do it, my only answer is I write. I write every day. I make enough money to live on without having to hold down an outside job, but I am always trying to put out new content and give readers something to enjoy.
 
My two mentors over the years taught me a lot. Don Pendleton taught me to not be afraid to break the rules and to let the characters tell the story. Jerry Ahern taught me to show what’s happening and to have the manuscripts as camera-ready (an obsolete term in this digital age) before it goes to press.
 
However, I measure my success by the fact readers keep buying my books.
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My thanks to Bill for taking the time to chat as I know his fingers are itching to get back to the keyboard and tap out yet another chapter in one of his fast moving mysteries...
 
FOR MORE ON BILL CRAIG AND HIS BOOKS CLICK HERE

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