AWD Spotlight: Jon F. Merz - Writer, Producer, Ninja, Renaissance Man
Jon F. Merz is not only an author but he is also a jack of all trades: writing, producing and even honing his own skills in the ninja martial arts which he uses in many of his own books. As readers here will remember, my first taste of Jon's books was when I read his standalone sci-fi/thriller/suspense novel Parallax (after enjoying his short story Rip) which has become a keeper on my shelf of favorites. Since then I have become hooked on Jon's Lawson Vampire books (a.k.a. The Fixer Files series) and on a day's worth of book glomming, grabbed up half his books available at Smashwords. Jon has since become one of my favorite authors and I am honored to have him stop by here at A Writer's Dream for his January blog tour to celebrate his current release, The Kensei: A Vampire Lawson Novel, available now from St. Martin's Press.
Check out the Q&A after the jump!
Q: Thanks so much for stopping by AWD, Jon! As my readers may know, I’m a huge fan of your work and I am always looking out to share the recs. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about your Vampire Lawson series leading up to your newest release The Kensei?
Lawson was born out of a short story I wrote back in about 2000 called "Past Imperfect." It was a blend of my two loves: espionage thrillers and short horror stories. At the time, I was a member of the Zoetrope.com writing site and a lot of folks over there said it ought to be a novel. I took a year to flesh it out and then in early 2001, finally got an agent and had the first novel, The Fixer, and its sequel, The Invoker, sold by May to Kensington Publications in New York. Kensington would later buy two more installments, The Destructor and The Syndicate, but then they dropped the series. I never stopped believing in it, however, and began trying to find another house to set Lawson up at. It's obviously taken a long time, but my editor at St. Martin's is fantastic.
The Kensei is the 5th novel in the series, but each novel is a standalone - meaning that readers new to the series don't have to worry about reading books 1-4 before The Kensei. Daniela, my editor, and I worked very hard to make sure that The Kensei could be read and massively enjoyed by anyone regardless of their exposure to Lawson.
In this book, Lawson's pretty burned out and heads to Japan for some much needed rest and advanced ninjutsu training. But he soon finds himself mired in a Yakuza turf war orchestrated by a shadowy figure known as the Kensei. Together with his human lover and ex-KGB assassin Talya, Lawson has to put a stop to the Kensei's plans for world domination.
Q: How did the idea for the series come about?
After I realized "Past Imperfect" was going to be a novel - and a vampire novel at that - I knew I needed to figure out how to make it more unique than the standard undead immortal vamps that so often populate fiction. So I decided that vampires in Lawson's world had evolved in secret alongside humanity. Where other tribes of early man feasted on the blood of mighty animals they'd killed believing it imbued them with the animal's strength, Lawson's ancestors hunted other humans and drank their blood. Over time, they began to extract the life force energy from the blood - much along the lines of what would be called ki in Japanese or chi in Chinese. This ingestion of life force energy dramatically lengthens their life span and gives them better strength and night vision. They can be killed with wood or wood by-products and I based that on the five-elemental cycle of destruction in Asian philosophy.
The other aspects of Lawson's world - his Fixer Service and various espionage elements are drawn from a lot of my own experiences in the military and private sector security work. Needless to say, I have a hellishly fun time putting it all in there!
Q: You write thrillers really well and I notice you tend to add a little something extra in your stories; like for instance the sci-fi connection with Parallax. Do you have any favorite themes you like to explore in your writing? Do you have any you would like to tackle in any future works?
Yeah, I don't seem to be able to write a straight thriller, lol...I did write two espionage novels way back when, one of which - Shadow Chaser - is actually out on Amazon for the Kindle. My way of letting people see where I came from.
Parallax, for example, came about as a result of me thinking about the fact that there have surely been times when two professional assassin would have killed at the exact same moment in time - regardless of location - would something happen to them? Would they develop some sort of bond? That's how Parallax came about. I had a basic plotline: two assassins make a kill. But then I took it a step further, by wondering about what the ramifications of those kills would be...beyond reality, so to speak.
I enjoy it. There's a real freedom in doing that.
Q: Now, the question all writers get. What made you pick up a pencil/pen/keyboard and start writing?
A love of reading was first and foremost what eventually made me want to create my own worlds and characters. They can't be overstated enough.
Along the way to when I eventually started, there were instances when I thought about doing it. I recall writing a creative-type paper in high school that wowed a teacher. And my girlfriend-now-wife had an assignment one time in college that I did for her: writing a short story. I wrote something up about a group of people trapped on an elevator and the professor gave my wife an A+ and wrote on her paper that she ought to be a writer. That was pretty cool.
When I left the Air Force and had more time during my stint in protection work, I figured it would be a good time to try it out. So, that's what I did. And I've never looked back.
Q: What have been your biggest challenges in writing?
The changing industry is pretty damned challenging, let me tell you. It's a long way ago when editors used to hold the power and have the ability to pluck young writers out of the chaff, groom them for bestsellerdom, and eventually break them out. Nowadays, it's more of a business than ever before and the higher-ups want big numbers in terms of sales. That's why it's so important for anyone wanting to get into publishing to realize that it's not just enough to write a great book. You have to hustle. Pimp. Remember the bards from long ago? The court jester singing for his supper? That's all the more what happens these days. Authors need a fan base, a platform, and a willingness to embrace social media if they hope to impress a New York house into taking a chance on them. I know a lot of writers hate that aspect of the business, but it's simply a fact nowadays. if you don't have a Twitter account or a Facebook page, then you need to get one. It's never too early. Establish a brand and then work it. It will yield benefits, regardless of whether you go the traditional publishing route or the indie route.
Q: Can we look forward to any more stories in the Vampire Lawson series?
Tons. Seriously. I have short stories, more novels planned out, and I want to get books 1-4 back into print. But to do that, I need to have really strong sales for The Kensei. Additionally, we're developing the series for television and we're in pre-production on the pilot right now. Lawson is going to be all over the place, so I urge everyone to get on-board right now and enjoy the ride!
Q: What do you have in the works for your readers?
Finishing up revisions on a middle grade/YA boys adventure series that I hope to see placed very soon. More Lawson books and stories, and a fantasy series with a far eastern flavor to it. I also have a few more Rogue Angel novels to write for Harlequin/Gold Eagle and they should be out over the next few years. In other words - quite a lot! Plus, a lot of my other stories and novels are for sale on Amazon for the Kindle.
Q: What would you say has been your most significant achievement as a writer?
Getting dropped by Kensington and hanging in there long enough to see Lawson find a new home at a better house - St. Martin's Press. You don't often hear about an established series getting the boot and then getting a second chance at life in a new publishing house. But I believed enough to make it happen. And I was lucky enough to find a fantastic editor and a wonderful agent, both of whom really believe in Lawson. And now I get to reach out to tens of thousands of new fans and introduce them to Lawson and his world. My fans mean everything to me. So, just knowing that I'll be meeting new ones is really very special to me.
Q: How did you get there?
Perseverance. Discipline. And a stubborn refusal to accept someone telling me that it couldn't be done. If I put my mind to accomplishing something - despite any obstacle - I will eventually get there. It might take a while, lol, but I will reach my goals. I owe that to my military and martial arts background. I simply refuse to stop or quit, even in the face of overwhelming challenge. My father passed when he was 48 and I'm 41 now. He had a lot of personal dreams he didn't get a chance to see come to pass. I'm determined to make sure I see all mine come true - for both me and my father.
Thanks very much for having me on your blog, Rae! :)
Thanks for stopping by Jon! Best wishes on all your endeavors. We look forward to seeing your work in print and on the screen!
For folks looking for a little something different in their vampire reading, check out Jon F. Merz's Vampire Lawson Books and his standalone espionage thrillers. You won't be disappointed!
The Kensei is available now wherever books are sold.
To learn more about Jon F. Merz, check him out on the web!
Official Site - http://jonfmerz.net/
Blog - http://jonfmerz.net/blog/
Twitter - http://twitter.com/jonfmerz
Facebook - http://www.facebook.com/jonfmerzfans