Pat, thanks for the opportunity to share a bit about my debut thriller with your readers.
Set in Washington, D.C. during a wave of vigilante killings, HUNTER: A Thriller is the tale of two strong, idealistic loners. Dylan Hunter is a crusading journalist with a mysterious past, working to expose outrageous leniency in the criminal justice system. Annie Woods is a beautiful security officer at the CIA, sworn to track down the unknown assassin of an Agency traitor. They meet after a brutal criminal act of violence against mutual friends.
While the parallel investigations by the CIA and the police begin to intersect in surprising ways, Dylan and Annie fall passionately in love. But they don’t realize that the secrets they’re hiding from each other are propelling them headlong toward shattering personal conflicts—or that a terrifying predator is targeting them both.
HUNTER was described by one reviewer as “a parable of justice.” That theme is conveyed in a genre-bending story—part spy mystery, part crime thriller, and part steamy romance. So, other reviewers find in it echoes of such films as “Batman Begins,” “Death Wish,” “Dirty Harry,” “The Bourne Identity,” and “The Thomas Crown Affair.”
How has your background influenced your writing this particular story?
I’ve always written nonfiction, Pat, but since my youth I’ve had an unquenchable desire to write fiction, as well. However, fear and the distractions of life always got in the way. As I passed my 60th birthday, I still had “write a novel” at the top of my Bucket List. So I vowed to finish my first novel before my 62nd birthday, on June 5 of this year. I achieved that goal with just one hour to spare! I guess that just shows it’s never too late to pursue your dream.
HUNTER draws upon my past experiences as an investigative journalist writing true-crime books and articles. The biggest influence on this novel was meeting so many crime victims while researching articles for Reader’s Digest over twenty years ago. In other words, this story has been gestating for over two decades.
What do you want people to take with them after they finish reading the story?
Well, of course I want them to be highly entertained. But the book has a serious purpose, too. I dedicated HUNTER to crime victims. I want the novel to make vividly real the horrific impact of predatory crimes on innocent people, and also to expose the toothless response of our criminal justice system to these horrors. Millions of innocent people been hurt terribly by criminals; but many of them also have been served poorly by a legal system that is supposed to be their route to securing justice. So, in fiction, HUNTER raises a voice on their behalf—and it also gives them a colorful, heroic champion.
What challenges did you face as you wrote this book?
I just mentioned the two faced by all writers: fear and distractions. With a first novel, you face doubts about being able to write a truly good story. Meanwhile, life has a habit of filling your days with constant interruptions and diversions—if you allow that to happen.
You defeat both of those adversaries, fear and distractions, with the same method. First, you break down the intimidating project of writing a book into a series of small, non-threatening tasks: Do this bit of research; write this one scene; etc. Then, you discipline yourself to push aside all distractions for some defined period each day when you tackle one of those small tasks. As days pass, more and more of the tasks get done; finished pages begin to pile up; and one day you wake up and find yourself staring at an Everest of paper as you add the last page to the top. And you feel as if you have indeed conquered a mountain.
How much of yourself is hidden in the characters in the book?
Well, it’s hardly hidden, Pat! The story’s hero, Dylan Hunter, is a freelance journalist, just as I have been. He’s also an idealist, a crusader with strong convictions, just as I have been. So, Dylan’s mind and soul are my own.
However, he is also my fantasy projection. In terms of his activities, Dylan Hunter is who I would be if I could get away with it. He’s also better-looking than I am, and he has remarkable abilities, skills, and resources that I don’t—alas.
The most important, beside Dylan, is Annie Woods, a beautiful security officer who works for the CIA. She’s not just Dylan’s girlfriend; she’s his soul mate. I’ve found that in most thrillers written by men, it’s rare for them to portray the hero’s girlfriend and their relationship with as much depth and passion as I’ve tried to do. But their love story is the emotional glue that binds the plot elements of HUNTER, and their conflict-riddled relationship will remain central to the sequels, as well.
Other characters who will be “regulars” in the series are Grant Garrett, the flinty, veteran CIA spymaster; Danika Cheyenne Brown, the flirty receptionist at Dylan’s D.C. office; straight-arrow police detective Ed Cronin; and Luna, Dylan’s quirky pet cat.
However, the most unusual character is Dylan’s hired researcher: an obese genius with the excruciating name of Freddie Diffendorfer and the endearing nickname of “Wonk.” Wonk seemed to write himself onto my pages, and I loved him the moment he showed up. So have readers, if my mail is any gauge.
Did you do any research for the book?
Lots of research, about subjects I knew little about. I read many books and online material, and consulted experts, about the CIA and spycraft, guns and ammunition, surveillance and lock-picking devices, and similarly exotic topics. I used to work in downtown Washington, D.C., and I know the surrounding area pretty well; but I used Google Maps and its “street view” to “virtually visit” many sites for descriptive detail. I also drew upon my past experiences in journalism and investigations of the criminal justice system to provide realistic background about legal and prison matters.
What is the most difficult part of the whole writing process, and what’s the easiest?
I have a methodical mind, Pat, so I figured that plotting would be my strong suit. And, in truth, I think the plot of HUNTER is really good. But it proved to be the hardest element to work out, because it’s so devious and complex. I spent a long time fleshing out its substantial cast of characters, their back stories and tangled relationships, and creating the dramatic story arc and timeline. I actually filled several notebooks with all that information, then transferred it into a terrific creative-writing software program, “WriteItNow,” which helped me organize and manage everything.
The easiest part—also to my surprise—was dialogue. I had worried ahead of time if I could craft realistic dialogue. Another worry was whether I could credibly render the love scenes. Thankfully, readers tell me they love the verbal banter in the book and also the romance.
The key to doing both of those things well is to really get inside the heads of your characters in each scene. If you are truly standing in their shoes, you’ll automatically sense what they’ll do and say, and it will ring true.
Who gave you the best writing advice you ever received, and what was it?
Lee Child. When I interviewed Lee a few years ago, he said the best advice he could give any writer is: “Ignore all advice.”
Every author is unique, he pointed out. Each must write a novel that’s a 100 percent pure reflection of its author, if it is to have any integrity, cohesiveness, and credibility. So, you can’t blindly follow anybody else’s formulas or systems or work habits: A good novel can’t be a committee product; it’s the product of a single unique vision. You must find the specific techniques that allow you to best express your values, priorities, and worldview.
Lee was right, Pat. I’ve read many books and articles about the craft of writing, and I learned important things from each of them—especially about plotting and dramatic structure. But ultimately, when I sat down to begin actually writing, I had to just forget all “the rules” and just trust my subconscious to direct me through the scenes. I listened to my inner “ear” for pacing, dialogue, and word choices, and I paid attention when my “gut” told me that something was off. I think my ear and my gut served me far better than any list of “rules.”
You’re so right. We each have to write the story only we can write. What are you working on right now?
Plotting the sequel. I had worked extensively on another Dylan Hunter thriller before I decided instead to write and publish HUNTER first. However, a few months ago, a famous thriller author published a story containing many of the same elements that I had planned to use. There’s no way I could publish the story I’d begun without it seeming to be plagiarism. So, I had to come up with something fresh. Fortunately, I think I have.
How have you marketed and promoted your work?
First and foremost, “quality control”—making sure that the book itself was the best work I could do, that it was well-edited and proofread, with a striking cover and great promotional copy on its sales sites. After that, contacting my many past friends, family, and associates with news about the book. Next, establishing an online presence with my own blog and Facebook page. And defining and going after my book’s target readership, by means of reviews and interviews on sites and publications that those readers patronize.
One key thing I did was try to get lots of positive “reader reviews” posted on Amazon. I did not want to leave to blind chance what browsing customers would read when they went to my product page. So, I ask readers who like the book to leave reader reviews on Amazon and/or Barnes & Noble. Let me emphasize: This is not “sock puppetry,” using phony names or soliciting family members. These are honest, sincere reviews by serious, independent readers, which I solicit only after they’ve read the book and comment to me about it. Their praise and high ratings have given HUNTER a huge marketing boost. And I’m happy to say that, to date, it has gotten only three negative reviews, while attracting 82 “5-star” raves plus two more “4-star” reviews.
Where can people learn more about you and your book?
First, they can go to my blog, “The Vigilante Author,” at: http://www.bidinotto.com. They also should visit the Amazon product page, where HUNTER is available both as an ebook and as a trade paperback: http://amzn.to/nocDiX.