1. Colin, your first book was originally published in 1995 by St. Martin’s Press, a novel called Soul Catcher. You have recently re-released it and have a new book out, Swimming With The Angels. Why did it take over 25 years in between books?
Just lazy, I guess. Seriously, the disorder caused by two failed marriages, four job changes and four moves, the deaths of everyone in my family, and being diagnosed with cancer definitely took a toll on my writing aspirations. While the first act of my life may have suffered from a lack of coherent plotting and direction, however, all was not wasted.
Even as the businesses I worked for were either failing or being sold, my career in marketing was actually flourishing. I was traveling at least one week a month and was “literally” flying by the seat of my pants. None of those lifestyle events were very conducive to writing a novel. But as I dealt with loss, grief, and other changes, I was also growing and maturing personally through sometimes painful lessons.
2. What’s Soul Catcher about?
An elderly Inuit shaman from the Canadian sub-arctic, the last of his tribe, has a vision of a final journey to Seattle to find a long-lost daughter. Before he can locate her, he is assaulted by street thugs. Black Wolf is too proud to hand over his small amount of money which results in his being murdered. Before he dies, he calls on the spirit wind Williwaw to avenge his death. The sudden arrival of a highly targeted wind results in a capsized sailboat, panels being blown off skyscrapers, and several deaths. In the midst of the chaos, a 13-year-old deaf boy is singled out by the wind to be a sacrifice. Only Evan can hear the wind speak, but because he’s deaf, his mother thinks he’s crazy. It takes a Native American lawyer who befriends him to figure out that there’s more to the story than just atmospheric anomalies as the news media is reporting. The boy and his mother, the lawyer, a newspaperman, and a few victims must band together to try to stop the wind before it destroys the city and sacrifices the boy.
3. Soul Catcher earned critical praise from Publishers Weekly, The Washington Post, Kirkus Reviews, and Library Journal. Did you think that was going to be a movie and your writing career would take off?
Ah yes. I was such a naive young man. My literary agent at the time informed me that the novel had “somehow” been leaked to the movie industry and I was now a hot property. After a lifetime of anonymity, I was thrilled to think that Soul Catcher would become a hit as a movie, sell gazillions of books, and I could quit my day job, and devote my energy to full-time writing. Unfortunately, while I did receive interest from a couple dozen production companies, a sale never happened.
4. Interestingly, one of your main characters in that book is a deaf boy. In your latest book, you feature a blind woman. Why was it important to include handicapped characters?
First of all, I am so impressed by handicapped people. I admire their bravery and their ability to use all their senses to overcome obstacles that would defeat most people. To me, they are heroes for just getting up in the morning. As a writer, I find it incredibly challenging to write from their viewpoints, but also very fulfilling.
5. Just how hard is it to pursue a dream – and keep yourself grounded in a reality that forces you to keep the day job?
As most creative people can testify, it’s fantastically difficult which is why less than 5% -- perhaps as few as 1% -- of writers, artists, and musicians are successful financially. The hackneyed truth is that the act of creating has to be at least partially its own reward. It’s also why you need a partner, spouse, child, close friends, support group, or patient kitty to keep on keeping on, rain or shine, in sickness or health until death do you part.
6. Soul Catcher touches upon ecology, the supernatural, and Indigenous People. What is it about those who came before us, who really were one with their land, that fascinates us?
The wisdom about how to use the land and its resources, their spirituality, and their pride are certainly impressive. I also admire their refusal to accept what our society handed them. While taking a class in journalism at the University of Washington, I interviewed Robert Satiacum, perhaps the best-known activist in the state, and the mother of a teenage boy taking part in the netting of salmon in Puget Sound. Each night, their people faced off in small boats against angry whites as they fought to restore their historic tribal fishing rights. And each night, that mother wondered if her son would come back alive. As a teenager growing up near a reservation, I also experienced the dark side of poverty and alcoholism. I played in a rock band for tribal dances that started at midnight and ended at four in the morning in drunken brawls. We were forced to bar the doors and wait until things quieted down before we could pack up our gear and leave.
7. You were mentored by New York Times and international best-selling author Elizabeth George. What was that experience like?
The experience of knowing Elizabeth was incredibly helpful. She took me under her wing by helping me join Fictionaires, a group of professional writers in Orange County, and also her own private writing group. On the other hand, it was a little intimidating. As I told her once, her novels are written with such craft and precision that you feel you could almost read them back to front. I would go bat-shit crazy if I tried to write like her.
8. What is the maturation process for a writer like?
It can be quite frustrating to say the least. Personally, I find the process very uneven with incredible leaps in productivity and learning followed by lengthy periods of plodding aimlessly through frozen tundra. Attending the Squaw Valley Writers Conference gave me a huge boost when I was just getting started with my first novel. More recently, the Online Novel Writing Certificate Program at Stanford University was both supportive and extremely helpful in teaching me the finer points of writing fiction. Everyone thinks they can write a book, but few have the talent or craft and even fewer have the determination to finish what they start.
9. What is Swimming With The Angels about?
The son of Indian immigrants marries a woman employed as a wire transfer expert at a hedge fund in Southern California. Unknown to him, her colleague in the information technology department has convinced his wife that they can steal 100 million with no chance of being caught or the money being traced. Unfortunately, the money they manage to hack was being laundered by a Mexican drug cartel. The very next day, everyone on a speedboat is murdered except for the protagonist who is wounded. The FBI agent who interviews him in the hospital informs him that his only chance of staying alive is to disappear completely. With only a few bills in his wallet, he is forced to adopt a new name and flee in the dilapidated pickup truck of a neighborhood gardener. Under enormous duress, Gray manages to locate a trout fishing farm in the North Cascades of Washington State. At first, he thinks he has found the perfect refuge. As it turns out, the family farm is hiding more secrets than just his identity. His arrival causes secret jealousies to explode. And the cartel may have discovered a way to find him.
10. Are you surprised to see it praised profusely by critics at Kirkus Reviews and Publishers Weekly’s Book Life?
Not surprised, just very, very grateful. The Stanford novel writing certificate program gave me tools and confidence. I just needed to find a publisher who believed in the book and an editor to offer a few words of advice about what scene to add and what scene to leave out.
11. Your book has elements of love, survival, and fortitude – mixed in with suspense, the supernatural, and thrills. How do you manage to invest the reader into this world that you created out of thin air?
Some of the story development in my novels is due to research and some of it is pure imagination based on personal observations. The trick for me in building a good story that resonates with readers is to blend the thematic ingredients with authentic narrative description and dialogue that grounds the reader as concretely as possible so that they can see, hear, smell, taste, and feel the action and fully identify with the characters’ feelings. A teacher at Stanford once referred to my writing as ultra-realism.
12. Does your thriller show how a person can make one bad decision that unleashes unimagined consequences?
If you’ve ever been betrayed by a colleague, friend, or family member, you will identify with the characters in Swimming. Hopefully nothing as bad will happen to you as happens to my character Gray who, while innocent, is being hunted by a drug cartel notorious for cutting off the heads of their enemies
13. How would you define your writing style?
How do neo-romantic thrillers sound? If you’ve never heard that term, neither have I. I love many music styles, but when I write I’m aiming for a glass of Claude Debussy over ice with a shot of Hans Zimmer.
14. Who are some of your favorite authors?
Like most writers my age, I was raised on Hemingway and Steinbeck, whose writing I admire but is anchored in the past. The modern writer I respect most is Mark Helprin, who combines romanticism with the fantastic in gorgeous writing that leaves me breathless as a reader. A few of my favorites include Winter’s Tale, A Soldier of the Great War, and Paris in the Present Tense.
15. How did your extensive travels – globally and internationally – inform or inspire your writings?
I am an explorer at heart. I love watching people and have been fortunate to travel for business as well as pleasure. I have walked extensively in cities large and small in Europe, North America and elsewhere. Exploring cities on foot inspires me and helps me understand a little about the residents who live there as well as appreciate the beauty and history of the architecture.
16. What was it like growing up in a small town outside of Seattle, the son of the town’s three-time mayor?
In a word, stultifying. Being raised in a small town like Auburn was frustrating due to its limitations for creative outlets. On the plus side, I had loving grandparents who taught me reading, writing and math before I turned five and started first grade. But there were also gangs and a high rate of alcoholism and suicide. By the time I was thirty, I knew over two dozen people – friends, neighbors, classmates, and their parents – who had committed suicide. It made me both wary of people and also curious about what was perhaps going on beneath the surface. You can see some of that reflected
in the character Valerie in Swimming with the Angels.
17. I understand you once climbed Mt. Rainier, and in the process, some of the skin came off of your face. Is there a daring and competitive side to you?
I was definitely disposed to physical danger when I was younger. My uncles on my mother’s side were loggers who lived and played hard. They became my early role models. Perhaps that is why I nearly drowned three times before I was thirty and why I climbed Mt. Rainier on a sprained ankle with nine other young men. Unlike my uncles whom I admired for their robust physicality, my father was a tall, skinny accountant before eventually becoming mayor. It was only after his death that I realized what a wise and talented man he was.
18. You have spent nearly a half-century in the advertising and marketing industry, at times representing iconic brands such as McDonald’s and IBM. Which is easier – writing an ad for a Fortune 500 company or penning an engaging thriller?
Writing an ad under deadline can be tough, but writing a novel is the hardest thing I know. To write a 100,000-word novel requires at least one million decisions. Perhaps many times that number. And the hardest part is not knowing when you’re done if anyone will actually buy it.
19. What advice do you have for a fellow writer hoping to become a successfully published author?
It’s not easy so don’t be an idiot by thinking you can fake it. Learn the craft, read a lot, write more. Be dedicated to your goal and be ready to sacrifice. Sorry, but you will probably need to give up watching sports or playing golf. Find a school, writing group, or workshop for support. And don’t quit. I know it sounds like trite advice, but it’s true. If you persist, it will all be worth it, because writing is the most fulfilling activity there is, bar none.
20. What challenges did you overcome to pen your books?
I can’t begin to tell you how many people told me I couldn’t publish, that I couldn’t write, and that I should quit. An ex-wife even hired a psychologist who informed me there wasn’t a chance I would ever be published. In addition to all of the challenges, problems, and surprises that life offers everyone, there’s also the criticism and self-doubt that plagues all creative people. With about a million books published each year, the odds against success are phenomenal. Without faith in yourself or God, you can’t do this, so, have faith. What have you got to lose? Oh wait, there’s your job, your marriage, and your sanity, but who’s counting?