Jon F. Merz is the author of the Lawson Vampire series for Pinnacle Books. His first novel The Fixer was released in May 2002 and he's written four books in the series. His mystery novel Danger Close will be published by Five Star Books.
1. How does your background fit into the job requirements of being a fiction writer?
Merz: I see my entire life thus far and that which I have yet to live as being necessary for the job of a fiction writer. The old caveat of "write what you know" is good advice in that it actually propelled me to go out and live the things I wanted to write about. It's the life experiences that give you the fodder and ideas to weave into stories. If you're not out there living, you won't be able to write.
I hear stories all the time of writers who coop themselves up in some lonely tower and just stare at the keyboard all day long. And while I am a bit of a workaholic in that regard, I always strive for some sort of balance in my routine. If I'm going balls-to-the-wall to finish a manuscript, that has to be counter-weighted with some intense exercise, a night out with my wife, a serious veg session in front of the TV, or just enjoying a good meal.
As far as my personal background, I've found a lot of my life manages to wind up in my fiction. Martial arts, military and government service, a keen interest in the supernatural, a love of music and reading, art, history - it's all there. It's almost impossible to point to one thing and say that it above all else really factored into my writing - it's a pretty even amount of everything.
2. You Vampire Lawson series puts a new spin on vampires and is labeled horror, but is action-oriented. What sort of audience do you think will enjoy the book?
Merz: I'm hoping a wide variety of folks get a real kick out of it. The vampire slant to the series is honestly more incidental than primary. At the very core, these books are about the struggle between good and evil, and the numerous insidious ways evil manifests itself in society. Lawson, the protagonist in the books, comes up against evil machinations, traitors, and some very sublime foes. He's got a serious moral code, a sort-of divine calling and occupation, and an honor code that is extremely unrelenting. Somehow, the poor guy has to balance that all. Combined with the fact that he doesn't exactly enjoy having to drink blood, it makes him a bit of walking contradiction - which I love exploring.
For action fans, the pace is pretty much non-stop. For lovers of espionage tales, I sprinkle enough covert ops and specops terminology in to please. Mystery lovers might enjoy the whodunnit-whogonnadoit slants. And horror fans might really like the various supernatural elements that somehow manage to work themselves into each book. Sometimes I don't even know where they come from!
3. What about Planet Pulp? How did that get started?
Merz: When I was starting to write seriously, I found there was a definite caste system in place. Successful writers, for the most part, had turned their backs on those of us still in the trenches. I despise that sort of attitude. Writers - and anyone who is enjoying some degree of success in any field in life - should be reaching back and helping other people as much as possible. Sure, I'm an idealist - I know that about myself, but if more people tried to help, there'd be a lot less time for hurting.
Planet Pulp was one way to try to help others on the path. By digging up interviews with top industry pros, we're (Joe Nassise and myself) hoping to help other writers build their own careers. Future ideas include possibly matching some of our subscribers with the pros we interview, hopefully stimulating some sort of business relationships.
4. Whats the schedule for the Lawson novels, and in what directions might readers see the storyline expand?
Merz: I've got four books under contract thus far by Kensington. Book 1, The Fixer, debuts in May 2002. Book 2, The Invoker, comes out in October 2002. Book 3, The Destructor, will be out in May 2003, and Book 4, tentatively called The Syndicate will be out in October 2003.
As far as directions go, I like taking a character trait of Lawson's and subtly working on it in each book. In book 1, he's got a bit of an anti-woman attitude he's got to get over. Forcing him to work with a top-notch female assassin is one of the ways I force some sort of change in his character. Book 2 involves Lawson working closely with a child he's charged to protect. Lawson's not much of a kid person when he starts out that jaunt.
Story-line wise, I'll be tossing Lawson into every situation you can think of. So far he's seen action in Boston, Nepal, Japan, New York City, Mount Desert Island, and a bunch of other locations. He'll be facing lycanthropes, humans, spirits, ancient artifacts, conspiracies, traitors, and every other nasty no-goodnik you can imagine. Every day is a Monday for Lawson.
5. Youve come up with some promotional ideas that are unusual for a novelist. How much of the selling do you see as part of your job as writer?
Merz: I'm a newbie novelist. Very few people know me. I'd begun selling short stories back in 1996 and if I'd stayed with shorts, I might have more name recognition now, but I also might not have novels coming out. It was a trade-off for me. I chose to concentrate on novel writing. I know plenty of writers who developed along both lines simultaneously. I'm not that type. For me I had to learn the structure of a novel, get that right, and then maybe go back and do shorts. Doing so probably cost me some degree of recognition so I view the selling as vital to my role as a writer.
It's my job to get my name out there as much as possible. In as many ways as possible. Short of standing on the street corner in thigh highs and a mini skirt hawking my novel, there isn't much I won't do (primarily because I don't look good in thigh highs and mini skirts and I refuse to shave my legs). I know a lot of writers think that marketing is some sort of evil thing writers shouldn't do. That's fine for them. If they're willing to gamble their career on that principle, that's their business. I want people to know my name and my work. And I want them going into a store specifically to buy my books, not necessarily be browsing and stumble upon them. That means a lot of work.
Marketing has been likened to pushing a snowball up a very large mountain. Only after you get to the top and let it begin to roll downhill can you really see the results of your efforts. I'm not at the top of the mountain yet. I'll continue pushing as long as I have to.
6. What other projects do you have floating around?
Merz: I have a supernatural thriller titled Vicarious that I wrote last summer. It's with several editors in NYC right now, thanks to my new agent. I had to let my previous agent go since she only seemed interested in the Lawson books. Vicarious is also being considered by Dimension Films/Miramax for movie development. I'm sketching a brief idea for a sequel right now. My agent is also shopping around Danger-Close, a hard-boiled private eye novel starring wheelchair bound ex-USAF special ops womanizer Jake Thunder. It was a lot of fun to write that one and I hope to do some more as well. And I'll be finishing up Parallax soon, more of a psychic espionage thriller that should be something special. I've got various short stories floating around and I hope to see a collection come out one day soon.
7. If you could plan your dream career right now, what would it include?
Merz: Writing best-selling novels. I have a grand plan to write an epic series of novels based around the martial art I study. It would be ten books in total, covering the fictionalized history and training of each of the Japanese families that compose the ancient system, followed by a sort of climactic tenth novel. But that's a few years off in the future yet. I'd love to see Lawson be the character that helps reinvigorate the vampire sub-genre - God knows it could use some new life. And I'd love to have all the time I want for writing, spending time with my family (my son was just born on March 22), and studying martial arts. I'm a serious martial arts junkie so I need to get my face pounded in at least twice a week, heh heh.
Visit the Jon F. Merz website
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