Interview with Andrew G. Nelson

Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?
The first 'fiction' story I ever wrote was the treatise for Perfect Pawn. It actually started out as a dare from my wife. Both of us are avid readers. One evening she commented that writing a book must be very hard. Silly me responded that I didn't believe it was. My reason for this position was that I'd just spent the last decade writing investigatory reports on criminal investigations. After the first dozen or so you looked for ways to keep the readers attention. The thesaurus and I became quick friends. You also have to recall a lot of details from the scene. Writing for me is like watching a movie in my mind. I see the scene play out and then I write it.
What is your writing process?
When I first wrote my debut novel it started out with a simple premise: retired NYPD detective learns that his former HS sweetheart is missing from a mysterious one car accident. Then I began to fill in the blanks as I went along. What I learned was that the idea rarely survives the final cut. When I began work on the second book I realized that I needed to have a rough outline of where I wanted to go, but, more importantly, how I planned on getting there. It has helped reduce the time it takes to write the overall story. Generally I do my writing in the evening. It's a nice relaxing time and it is when I get the most done. Of course that's the rule and there are many exceptions, like getting up up in the middle of the night to brainstorm a plot twist.
How do you approach cover design?
I'm a hands on author, and that includes the cover design. During my career with the NYPD, I began designing unit insignia. In fact, my wife started her own business doing that in 2002. So I came into this with a design background. I had the 'vision' for what I wanted based on the elements of the book. Perfect Pawn was always about this game between my protagonist and antagonist and thee elements are the focal point in the cover design: Chessboard and Pawn (signifying the game being played), NYPD Detective shield (signifying the main character), and the blood splatter (which is the antagonists ultimate goal). I wanted something stark as well as foreboding, that caught the potential readers attention.
Do you remember the first story you ever read, and the impact it had on you?
The first book I ever read was probably a James Blish 'Star Trek' novel back in elementary school. I'm a sci-fi nerd at heart, so I grew up reading him, Alan Dean Foster and others. But the book that had the deepest impact on me was Frank Herbert's, DUNE. I had never experienced a book that provide such a depth and breadth in terms of character and societal development. Imagine my utter dismay when the movie came out and I was left broken and dejected (laugh). While I always enjoyed reading, this was the first time I developed an affinity with the characters in a book and could mentally 'see' the world they lived in. When I wrote Perfect Pawn I had this same vision in mind.
What are your five favorite books, and why?
Five ? Wow, that is really tough. Primarily because I am a very eclectic reader and I cover a wide variety of genres. But I will give it a whirl.

1. DUNE (Frank Herbert) - This is probably the book that most affected me, both as a reader and now as a writer. The amount of detail that Herbert went into, both in the character development and the storyline, is incredible. I know some people have complained about it being a hard read, but for me, it is a seminal work.

2. WITHOUT REMORSE (Tom Clancy) - Again, another author who creates a 'world' that a reader can get lost in. Isn't that what we, as readers, want? A lot of people complain about the amount of technical writing he does, but that is something I appreciate. I enjoy reading, but I enjoy it even more when I can learn something. I also appreciate the twists and turns that Clancy scripted as he took characters from point 'a' to point 'b', especially in the overall Jack Ryan series.

3. MURDER AT THE HARLEM MOSQUE (Sonny Grosso) - Probably the epitome of political correctness gone awry. This book is about the 1972 murder of a New York City Police Officer and the ensuing investigation, that was thwarted at every opportunity by the hierarchy of the NYPD and the NYC Mayor, who had aspirations for higher office. The author was one of the lead detectives on the case. You cannot read this book without being physically affected by it. It would be unbelievable as a fictional work, and yet it is a factual account of what happened that tragic day.

4. NIGHT PASSAGE (Robert Parker) - For me, this is just a great story about a damaged character trying to resurrect himself. The issue of cops is a complex one. Society wants to envision them all as white knights, but the reality is that you cannot be a cop without sacrificing a part of your humanity. You cannot deal in death, depravity, and inhumanity without losing apart of yourself. If you're lucky, you figure out the magic of being able to compartmentalize it. More often then not, you may just drink it away. If you struggle to find the answers, you may not walk away at all. I like the idea of portraying cops as they are - real people, with real issues.

5. ROGUE WARRIOR (Richard Marcinko) - I struggled with this last one, because I could come up with a dozen more books I would want to include. That being said, I have to give the nod to Rogue Warrior. I think it was the first autobiographical military work that I read that didn't put me to sleep. Some have accused Marcinko of being a chest thumper, but if you look at the man's resume, you would be hard pressed to argue for why he shouldn't. The man had a helluva career, including being awarded the Silver Star, the nation's third highest award for military valor. Also, as an author, you have to be able to self promote. I think he shows how successful someone can be if they put their mind to it and that should be something all authors embrace.
What's the story behind your latest book?
My latest book, Queen's Gambit, is the sequel to my debut novel, Perfect Pawn. It starts roughly where the last one ended, with Maguire having to deal with his elusive antagonist. However, things quickly change after Maguire's old friend, former US Secret Service agent, Rich Stargold, is appointed as the new NYPD police commissioner. Now Maguire is forced to contend with, not only the issues of the past, but new threats which potentially put the entire city at risk. The storyline is a timely one, especially considering how we, as a nation, are trying to turn our focus away from the global threats, that are only increasing.
What motivated you to become an indie author?
I guess in the beginning I was like most authors. Dreaming of that six figure advance, agents and publishing houses fighting over my epic tome, and waiting to hear that Oprah had selected me for her book club. Then the reality set in as I began to research how to become published. I can understand why, at this point, a lot of authors see their dreams raked over the rocky shores of reality. As I delved into the labyrinthian ways of getting traditionally published, I realized it wasn't for me. Not that I didn't believe I could, but, more importantly to me, I didn't want to surrender control of my story. Perfect Pawn was already over 110k words, and it was a story I believed readers should be entitled to read, in its entirety. I guess at the end of the day I am just a storyteller and self-publishing gave me the ability to tell that story exactly as I intended it. I also didn't want to wait the 12-18+ months, hoping that the stars would align and the heavens would open, only to have my book sit on some publishers shelf, waiting to be released. If I had that much luck I'd have played lotto decades ago.
How did you come up with your protagonist?
James Maguire is a composite character, based partially on my career and experiences. They always say: write about what you know. This has been something I wish a lot of folks would take to heart. I've always been annoyed to read a story, especially ones centered around NYC / NYPD, and toss the book to the side in disgust, because the author created something that simply doesn't exist in the real world. Detectives don't tell sergeants what to do, detectives in Manhattan don't go looking for busy work in Queens, and you don't get to Central Park by traveling south on 5th Avenue from 42nd Street. These are simple things, and yet they get repeated time and again. When I wrote Perfect Pawn I wanted to invite the reader into a world I knew intimately for twenty years. I wanted you to 'see' things that you would never be able to in real life. That starts with creating a realistic character.
What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
Writing! Sounds kind of simplistic, but I actually enjoy the process of writing. Whether it is doing an plot outline, rough draft, character bio, or the actual story, it is fun for me. It's something I think you fundamentally have to enjoy or you will crash and burn. Authors who write for fame, glory, and money are in for a rude awakening. Not that I am against such things, but you better have a plan 'b' when all that doesn't come to fruition. For me, the greatest joy is the act of writing. I enjoy it and I enjoy knowing that someone will pickup a book or e-book and get a chance to read what I have written.
What do your fans mean to you?
Everything! Let's be honest, without readers you're going to be a lonely author. It's a symbiotic relationship. I can write a hundred books, but without readers all that I have effectively done is to prematurely end the life of several innocent trees. I don't take fans for granted and I enjoy hearing from them. Getting feedback is how you hone your craft. I remember attending a book club meeting and listening to the responses on some of the characters in the book. Who they liked, disliked and why. When you have a sweet, innocent, grandma telling you how that antagonist needs to be 'strung up by the.......' well, you get the point. For me, that is a very important connection. Hate a character? Love a character? OK, why? If I can get my readers to have that type of emotional connection then I have done my job as an author.
What are you working on next?
First and foremost is my James Maguire series. I originally envisioned the character to have tremendous mobility and I plan to explore a variety of situations and possibilities. So the series will continue with Queen's Gambit and a third novel is slated for release in the fall.

However, I just finished the rough manuscript for a quasi-standalone book. It was originally intended to be a short story / novella, but when my wife (my #1 fan) read it, she beat me up, convincing me that the main character was just too good to be relegated to such a short treatise. Readers will get introduced to this new character when the book, Small Town Secrets, comes out around summer 2014.
Published 2014-03-22.
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