Author’s Bio: I’ve written six novels about Washington DC-based private eye Hannibal Jones, five in the Stark and O’Brien international adventure-thriller series, and the detective novel, Beyond Blue. My short stories have been featured in several anthologies including Dying in a Winter Wonderland – an Independent Mystery Booksellers Association Top Ten Bestseller for 2008 - and I’m proud to be featured in the Edgar nominated African American Mystery Writers: A Historical and Thematic Study by Frankie Y. Bailey.
I’m also the editorial director for Intrigue Publishing, a Maryland small press, so I work with our authors to improve their manuscripts. And I’m deeply involved with the writing community. I’m a past president of the Maryland Writers’ Association, past Vice President of the Virginia Writers Club, and I’m still an active member of Mystery Writers of America, International Thriller Writers and Sisters in Crime.
What inspired you to write your book?
My most recent novel, The Lost Art Assignment, grew out of my fascination with today’s gangs. Outfits like MS-13 are transnational criminal organizations that are evidently replacing the Mafia. How can they be so big and so successful if they’re run by uneducated kids? I wondered, what if in fact the leaders in such gangs are ambitious geniuses? With an impressive villain in place, the story just grew from there.
Is there any particular author or book that influenced you in any way either growing up or as an adult?
Many authors influenced me. I learned all I know about creating suspense from Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan books. Ross McDonald’s Archer novels inspired my plotting. Elmore Leonard inspired my characters. But it was Raymond Chandler’s perfect prose that made me decide I wanted to be a writer.
How long did it take to start and finish your book?
I’m usually a pretty consistent writer once I have the story idea firmly established. It takes me just about a year from working the original idea to the end of the third rewrite.
Do you write with an outline, or just let it flow organically?
I always outline, and sometimes that can be 15 pages of bullet points. I just try to get the events clearly stated in the right order before I start actually writing. Not that those things always go according to the plan, but at least I always know where I’m trying to go next.
Do you listen to music when you write? If yes, is there a theme song for this book?
I’m not sure there’s a theme song for this book, but I did stay in the mood listening to a lot of Ludacris, TI and old standby Nas.
What are the keys to success in getting your book out to the public?
The secret is, there is no secret. I’ve had good luck contacting bookstores and setting up signing events. I think a consistent social media presence is important. I speak at writer events and attend conferences to keep my name and face in front of readers. But mostly, it’s all about building a platform – having fans who are waiting for your next book to come out. If I ever discover a foolproof way of doing that I’ll let you know.
What advice would you give to new authors?
Write every day, and know who your readers are. Try to picture the person reading your book, and it will come out more personal and more honest. Then go back and rewrite to make it the best book you can write.
How about sharing an excerpt from The Lost Art Assignment?
While Morgan chewed a kosher Sabaret frankfurter, J.J. Slash visited a small candy store on a cross street off Amsterdam Avenue, just a few blocks from the projects. The Towers, Morgan corrected himself. Times change. At midday, this street, lined with five and six story flat roofed tenements, was alive with small black kids with runny noses and women with mules on their feet, curlers in their hair, and nowhere to go.
Morgan assumed Slash was on a business call. He had watched Slash visit several small operators. He assumed his purpose was to bring them onto his team. Morgan knew a numbers runner when he saw one, and this candy store was probably the neighborhood three digit gambling palace. The boy was ambitious, no doubt about it. He worked a long day, networking and moving money.
Since Morgan planned to make contact that day he hoped he didn’t look too intimidating. He was black leather from boots to cap, wearing mirror shades with his jacket collar turned up. He hadn’t shaved in three days, giving him a short brush of a beard and a mustache hanging over his lip.
He turned when, across the street, Slash's massive driver stepped out of the building. Slash followed, reminding Morgan of the cartoon version of Bill Cosby as a kid. The tall, light skinned guard followed him. Morgan wondered why the security men always wore dark colored business suits, while Slash looked like he was going to the studio to film a hip hop video. Today he wore the silly trousers with the crotch hanging almost to knee level. Oh well, Morgan thought, even in this game image was important, and you can't knock success.
Morgan straightened and turned to step into the narrow street. He had the bodyguards' attention right away. No harm there. He would simply cross the street slowly with his hands in plain sight. He knew what to say to worm his way onto the team.
Scraping noises drew his eyes left. Two Puerto Rican teens on skateboards were weaving back and forth down the center of the asphalt. They had their white iPod speaker wires running up to their ears and wore identical denim jackets. Morgan stopped to let them pass. Then he saw the nearest one reach to his side and pull out a small object.
A gun. Both kids had guns, and their bodies hid them from Slash's side of the street. They planned a quick hit, smooth and neat. With luck they would kill Slash and disappear before anyone knew what was happening. At worst they would eliminate one or two of his close guards.
“Down!” Morgan shouted before he even realized he would. He dived forward into the oncoming skaters' path. One boy collided with him, his board continuing on under Morgan, his gun flying over, as he folded across Morgan's body. The other managed to weave around Morgan's outstretched arms, but it cost him a precious second. He had time for one shot, and took it.
When Morgan yelled, the giant stepped in front of Slash. The thin guard leaped into the air. Morgan heard the crack of pistol fire and looked up in time to see the big man absorb the shot. The thinner man hit the limousine's roof with one foot and continued forward. His other heel thumped into the side of the gunman's head. The skateboarder dropped to the street, rolled, and sprawled still on the black surface. His attacker landed on his feet in a relaxed tae kwon do ready stance.
Morgan lay sandwiched between a teenager's upper and lower body. A car, at first headed into the block, was cautiously backing out. The gunshot had emptied the sidewalks, but cautious faces began to appear in windows and doorways. Morgan had just gotten to his hands and knees when a fist as big as a twelve pound ham wrapped around his left arm and he was yanked to his feet. With no words exchanged, Morgan was flipped into the white limo's front seat. The giant squeezed in behind the wheel, pushing Morgan against his thinner counterpart. Morgan turned just enough to see Slash in the back seat before the car roared to life and surged forward with a squeal of tortured tires.
What’s next for you?
After putting together the Creatures, Crimes & Creativity Con in September 2016, I’ll get back to work on the next Hannibal Jones novel. I have the outline, just need to sit down and put the words together.
Where can readers find out more about you and your book(s)?
Web site - http://www.ascamacho.co
It’s been a pleasure having you here with us today. I know my readers will enjoy getting to know you and your work.