Sunday, 2 October 2011

Interview with thriller writer Sean Sweeney

My interview with writer Sean Sweeney.  His book Model Agent is the first of a series, with Rogue Agent also out
on Amazon.  He's currently working on book 3.  Enjoy!

1. The entire time I was reading Model Agent I was flashing back to all the Bond movies I've seen over the years. How did you come up with the character of Jaclyn Johnson, and how did you manage to develop such cool and original crime fighting gadgets?

Jaclyn came to me in a dream that I had about two years ago. I had just finished writing the first draft to the short novel Zombie Showdown. I was in bed and it was about 3:30 in the morning, which is, for some strange reason, the time I always dream about characters, or potential characters. Seriously, it's like clockwork. You can set your watch by it; Model Agent’s concept came to me at 3:30 in the morning in August 2010, the concept of Jaclyn came to me at 3:30 in the morning in November 2009. You can wake up at 3:30 in the morning, look at the clock and say to yourself, ‘Sweeney’s dreaming about characters right now.’ But seriously… the dream I had was of a leggy blonde walking down the street, and she proceeded to blow up a building before she drove off to a modeling job; as I remember the dream, she whipped off her jacket as soon as she walked in the door and said, "Alright, let's get this show on the road." How she did it all is a story I'll have to tell in the future. Jaclyn was originally conceived/designed as an antagonist and was unnamed until I had a conversation with a woman I went to high school with; she's now a police officer in Walpole, MA. We were talking and I told her about this potential character, and I said, "Tell me about what type of character you would want to play in one of my books." As it turned out, Jaclyn was the right fit; I made her a protagonist. I think that was a smart move on my part. The character evolved from there, and she continues to evolve, just like normal every day human beings evolve.

As for the gadgets... that's my imagination run amok. And you're right, there's a little bit of Bond in there, as well as some Mitch Rapp, Mara Jade, Sydney Bristow, and Max Guevara (Jessica Alba's character in Dark Angel). But there's also some Batman in there, as well. It's a mix and match hodgepodge of fiction where I put Jaclyn into insanity and try to get her out unscathed. I created the gadgets and the souped up cars -- Bond had them, why not an American secret agent that Bond would try to take to bed? -- as an extension of Jaclyn. They are always close by, kind of like a security blanket for her. The grappling crossbow, that's a mix of Batman and the Jedi of Star Wars (they use the grappling hooks), but the electrical charge is something I added to it so as not to leave a sign of her presence. The smaller gadgets, like the darkness bombs and the ether balls, those were things that my imagination came up with; these were things Jaclyn created, proving she is a smart cookie.

2. Why/how did you decide to give your lead character a handicap? Do you find that this makes her an original kick-ass agent or someone that the audience will have sympathy for?

The handicap came into play during email sessions with British author Steven Savile. Steve and I met about five years ago, back when MySpace was the hip social media platform. I had just released my first book under my old pseudonym, and Steve had just released the first book in his Vampire Wars trilogy for Black Library, I believe. We've been practically joined at the hip ever since. We email back and forth constantly, whether it be about football (the world version of football, not the American throwball version) or about writing or about anything that tickles the fancy. Steve is probably my best friend in the publishing biz. But anyway, enough ass kissing. Steve was the driving force behind me getting Jaclyn onto the page. He was in the process of releasing Silver, and I told him about Jaclyn. He encouraged me to write about her from the start; this was in January 2010, and we hemmed and hawed over a potential storyline for her. I decided to go with the 2012 Summer Olympics, which is the basis for book two in the series, Rogue Agent (yes, I wrote the second book first; I just blogged about this earlier this week). He said, "Give her something she needs to overcome." He meant it in an Indiana Jones way; what's Indy's biggest fear? Snakes. "Why does it have to be snakes?" Everyone has a fear. You have a fear, I have a fear. We have to overcome our fears. In order to flesh the character out, I looked at a phobia list ( and decided to pick out glaring lights (Photoaugliaphobia, for anyone who's interested). A memory triggered from 20 years ago: I was 14 and working as a dishwasher in a local breakfast place, and a customer wore sunglasses inside. He had an eye condition that made him susceptible to light. I decided that Jaclyn would have something like this; without getting too technical, I had to do a little bit of research into eye diseases so I could get it right.

As for sympathy, Jaclyn wants no one to give her sympathy just because she's not 100 percent "whole" like you, me or your next door neighbor. No one with a handicap wants sympathy in reality. They only want acceptance from what has turned into an unforgiving society. And this isn't for awareness of eye disorders, either. The handicap is a literary tool which I used to tell an interesting story. She uses it as a tool against her enemies, as well: There are people who would see a blind person as no threat whatsoever. Instead, she's their worst nightmare come true, a scorching blonde in black Lycra.

3. "They" say that every character in fiction really reflects some part of the writer. Would you say that's true of your writing? If so, what part of Jaclyn reflects you?

Oh without a doubt that's true. I think there's a little bit of little ol' me in every character I come up with; yes, even the antagonists. Everyone has a devil inside of them. I think that's true with many authors, especially with the whole "Write what you know" mantra. What, or who, do you know better than yourself? With Jaclyn, the hero -- in her case, heroine -- angle comes into play. I've done this with a few of my male characters in previous works; they're the characters that save the day and fight the bad guy without giving up, even though the odds are stacked slightly against them. When I was younger, I was never the popular kid, never the star football player. I didn't have the best luck with the girls. So to be honest, writing fiction is a way for me to live the life I would have loved to have growing up, and even today, too. I channel the energies built up inside of me and put them on the page to create what I hope is an endearing character to the reader.

4. As writers we are so close to the worlds and characters we create. How do you not hold on so tight to a piece of writing that isn't working and let go in order to discover what will work?

That's a fight that you don't want to lose, and I certainly don't want to lose it, either! Sometimes it's about taking a break from that particular piece and going back to it later with fresh eyes and less distractions, i.e. turning the TV off, telling the cat/dog to go lay down, turning Facebook off, etc. For me and my earlier works, I didn't worry about whether or not it worked right away. That's what readings and revisions were for. During the first draft, I was more interested in getting the story out on the screen first. The more mature writer in me is concerned about that right away. Sometimes it takes some thought, or another writer's insight. I have a few people that I bounce sections of prose off of to see if I'm getting it right. I agonize over it sometimes. I will always do my best to make it work.

5. Jaclyn is a great character. Where did you go and what experiences did you use to achieve writing a woman so well? Does Jaclyn mirror someone in your life?

Tough question. Being a male author, I would say that you can't write about a female character that just happens to be your protagonist without thinking about it first. The reason being you don't want to be patronizing, and you don't want to get her wrong. I’ve written about women that are weak, fawning secondary characters, I’ve written about a woman who was a main character who left halfway through the book. Jaclyn was going to stay the entire time. I didn’t want her to be weak. I needed her to be strong, but I needed her to be soft – and that does not mean weak – when the scene called for it. For example, there is a scene in Rogue Agent where Jaclyn’s heart breaks for the man who is in the car with her. She reaches out to console him. A few pages later, she’s back to being the kick ass, take no prisoners, shoot first and ask questions later Jaclyn. I had to make her as realistic as possible without going over the line. Of course, she’s the stereotypical blonde hair, blue eyes (technically) hottie. I give her a personality that some girls would giggle about – such as wanting the pink assault rifle – and then she has the mouth of a sailor. I have, so far, not brought up feminine health issues, so I’m good there. I don’t know if I will, either, because I don’t know if I would do them justice, or portray it accurately.

Were there any experiences that brought Jaclyn to life more than others? No. At least I don’t think so. I’ll get back to you on that.

6. What was your initial success?

Model Agent has been rather well received by those who have read it so far. There are some people who don’t care for the book, and that’s to be expected; I know I’m not going to please everyone.

7. Have you written any other books that are available?

I’ve written nearly 14 novels, and 11 of them are available right now. I’ve touched several genres, so there’s a little something for everyone. I have five fantasy novels, a sci-fi epic, a historical fiction, as well as a few thrillers. My latest release, Zombie Showdown, is set in the Old West with a 2011 feel.

8. Do you have plans for any different books outside the "Agent" series?

My project list is a mile long. I’m currently writing the third Agent novel, with at least one more in the works before I use Jaclyn and her friends in a new series, the Angel series. I still have two books in my Obloeron fantasy prequel series to release. The next book I’m going to write is set in 1950s/1960s Boston, which should be interesting, and I have a few others that I’m itching to write. It may be awhile, but rest assured, I’m not going away any time soon.

9. Which authors influence you the most, and why?

We’ve already mentioned Steve. R.A. Salvatore, one of the great authors in this business. Bob and I live a city apart here in the NoWoCo, and he’s been a fantastic resource. We met about a decade ago when I worked in the mall at WaldenBooks. Of course, Professor Tolkien is an influence to anyone who has written fantasy. I don’t think I need to explain that one.

10. If you could be any character in fiction, who would you be, and why?
Interesting question. My initial answer would be Mitch Rapp. He’s an absolute bad ass. I’d also say Harry Potter, because he gets the red head in the end…

11. Your author profile is on the front page of the local paper. What would the headline say?
Well, since I write sports for them… “Local author keeps on selling digital books”

12. Do you have any advice for struggling writers out there, other than "keep at it?"

Without a doubt, read every day. Learn the craft and put words on the page. I don’t think there is any advice I can give other than plant your ass in the chair and get the words on the page. Talk to other authors – they’re all on Facebook or Twitter. You just need to find them.

Or you can email Steve and broker a 50/50 deal with him.

Sunday, 19 June 2011


A few years back I was diagnosed with Interstitial Cystitis, also known as Painful Bladder Syndrome.  With a name that perfectly describes the disease, I suffered years of tests (as it's diagnosed through exclusion), worrying if I had an STD ( how would I ever have guilt free sex again), or even worse...cancer.  As they're're still suffering.  When I was finally diagnosed I felt a rush of relief.  And when surgery was suggested, I thought great, let's do it and move on with life.  But no, the surgery is exploratory and there is no cure for this disease.  The only thing you can do is change your diet, to avoid flare-ups, and go on meds to alleviate the symptoms when you do have flare-ups.  OK, not so bad.  But wait, there's a catch.  The number one side effect of the most useful and proven drug... hair loss.

For the last couple years I was doing pretty good, learning what I could and couldn't eat (don'ts; ice cream, chocolate, citrus, coffee, soda), going on meds for a week or so to curb the flare-ups when I hit a food that didn't mesh with the disease.  But last winter I got the Alien Death Plague from hell. I was out of commission for nearly a month (kinda of wonder if it wasn't The Swine Flu), not able to cook properly and inhaling vitamins (which I learned I can't take either) like it was my job.  Of course, I had to go on my meds since my bladder was acting up with the worse flare-up since I'd been diagnosed.  I couldn't pee without crying.  So, I started double dosing (with doctor's permission).  I was able to pee but ...I lost a lot of hair. 

Don't get me wrong, I didn't lose it to the extent that I had to wear a wig, or even a hat (which I've heard that some people do on this medication), but my hair thinned out significantly and I had bald spots all over, mostly round my temples.  My signature hair style (The Pouf, to those who know me) was out the window, and I was depressed.  Not only was I losing hair, but I had to keep taking my meds because my flare-up just wouldn't let go.

After months of feeling like shit, wearing my hair down and wondering when I would get a break, a little light bulb went off in my head.  'Who cares?' it said.  'Why are you so fixated on your looks?'  Well...good question.  I spend everyday meditating, working on my spiritual self and here I was letting a little hair loss rule my feelings and my life.  How was it that I became this egotistical person who only cared what people would think?
Society that's how. 

Every single moment of every single day we are all bombarded by images and messages of what's hot and what's not.  You should look like this and then you can achieve anything.  You can be rich, famous and loved by all.  There's something wrong with you if you don't have beautiful hair, or male/female patterned baldness.  God forbid your hair is not full or shiny or styled like the movie stars.  We have shampoo, that promises to make your strands just the way you want, (even though we all know it's just soap), products to make it straight or curly, this color or that, we have clinics to replace it if it's gone and therapy to help you deal, if we can't. Because the way you look is more important than the who you are. 

Who can keep up?  I know I can't.  So after a very brief moment considering a visit to a dermatologist...I let it go.  My hair is not Rachelle.  My sense of self is not rooted in my looks, it's rooted in my personality, my spirit that shines through regardless.  You are what you think.  So I stopped thinking about it, obsessing about it, spending hours in the mirror for weeks on end wishing and hoping for a sign that it was growing back.  (I thought of cancer patients who lose all their hair.  Not only are they dealing with a deadly disease that is sucking, literally, the life out of them, but they have to deal with people...being now what I mean) And low and behold, it started growing back.

My wish with this journey is only that society stop taking advantage of people's insecurities (and the fact that most of us just don't know any better) to make a buck.  Wouldn't we all be better people, living in a more tolerant world, being nicer to each other and reaping what our spirits are meant to learn?  And I do hope you take away a clarity from my journey that you didn't have yesterday.

Monday, 6 June 2011

We All Bleed Red.

The other day I was at work talking to a customer about the weather (this was the day where it was reported that a tornado had touched down in my parents town, and I was slightly worried about them), and I said to her that this year seemed particularly erratic, my exact words being, 'Yeah the weather is being really gay.' A saying that over the last few years I've adopted into my repertoire, same as when we used to say 'as if,' 'far-out' and 'dude.' I'd never really thought about it much before, until on this day, another client over heard me and was offended. She asked one of my associates for Head Office's phone number (insinuating a complaint), refusing to approach me in person, as my associate suggested. "She's really friendly and didn't mean anything by won't turn ugly," my associate said.
Once my associate made me aware that I'd offended her, I was deeply sorry and wanted to apologize, but she'd already left the store.
So I took it upon myself to track her down in another store, walked up to her and apologized in person. I explained to her that I meant nothing by it, that is was simply a saying that unfortunately I'd adopted from hearing it so often. "It's in the air, part of pop-culture, I meant no offense and I'm so sorry it offended you. Please when you're done here come back to the store and I'll be more than happy to give you a gift card." At this point the customer bursts into tears.
Not sure what else to do I return to the store, knowing she wouldn't come back, got her a gift card and returned to give it to her, apologizing again.

With that being said, I have to say that for the last couple days I was upset that I'd upset her. But I was also upset that she thought it appropriate to call in a complaint against me, as I'd never even talked to her during her visit (I'd just return from break when she was leaving) and the remark was not directed at her or anyone else. It wasn't even in reference to another person, but the weather. (Now, be patient, I am going somewhere with this.) I felt that even though deep down I know that this is a derogatory term, meaning to degrade a person's sexuality as well as who they are, and I'm aware that even though the comment was not in reference to anyone, the fact that it was said at all was inflaming. It is something I'm working on to nix from my vocabulary, just as some people try not to swear in front of children. But sometimes you slip. I honestly felt that a complaint to make me look bad in front of my staff, my supervisor and head office was way out of line considering the circumstances. I kept saying to myself over and over, that something must of happened in her past to make her oversensitive to the statement.

Now, a couple days later, And (through the universe speaking to me) it dawned on me. Something in her past DID happen to make her react this way. She was born!

In my morning meditation today (yes, I meditate) the phrase, "Your words and thoughts have physical power," appeared. (This is where I pictured her crying.) Then on Twitter I read the @deepakchopra tweet, " To see the world from others' perspective is to take on their emotional footprint. To comprehend the world through them #spiritualsuperheroes," and in that moment it REALLY dawned on me. She wasn't being oversensitive. She was simply asking for the respect that I NEVER have to ask for. It's automatically given. I'm never judged or ridiculed for being straight. I'm not stalked or beaten or killed for being straight. And I don't have derogatory sayings made up in order to belittle me and my sexuality, and make me feel like nothing. And now...I get it.

Respect and understanding, compassion towards another should never have to be explained or demanded. It should simply be!

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Darkness Too Visible?

I woke this morning as I do most Sunday's, slowly, with coffee and hand, checking Facebook to see if I can add my sarcastic wit to any of my friend's status updates.

Instead I found Laurie Halse Anderson's status directing all of us to a Wall Street Journal article, regarding the state of YA Lit on book shelves.

Titled; Darkness Too Visible, where the writer goes on at length on the state of YA Books and how everything seems to revolve around vampires, incest, self-mutilating and brutal beatings. It points the finger at how everything seems to gravitate to depravity and well, as the title suggests, darkness. It explains that YA seems to have moved into a realm that wasn't there 40 years ago...20 years ago. Well duh...we don't live 40 years ago, we live now.

As a book reviewer I have read some of these books, for review and for my own pleasure. I have to say that I quite enjoy them (except the ones about vampires, I'm kinda sick of vampires right now). I think they are well thought out books that reflect the state of society TODAY, not 40 years ago, and gives teens a place a refuge and solace, where they can escape the bullies and the beatings. I think society as a whole as become The Mothership of Censorship, brainwashing today's youth into becoming non-thinking oversensitive beings who cry at the drop of a hat and wouldn't know what a backbone is if it was inserted for them by an alien race.

When did we decide it was okay to decide everything for everyone else? When do we say, "ok, you don't get to think for yourself, I'll do all your thinking for you?"

Granted as someone who's not a parent, I can't really say how it feels to have to protect a child from the darkness creeping in from everywhere, (which is why I say I don't want kids). I give a high five to parents who can create good little people today. But we also must remember to give them the freedom of choice. If you don't think what their reading is appropriate, read it first, then sit with them and TALK about it. Opening the door to conversation is the key to helping your kids with what they are struggling with. Yes parents, parenting is hard, it takes time out of your day, but how else are they going to learn and know you support them no matter what they are going through? Censorship is not the answer. Don't you think that if they are sneaking around to read a certain book, that you are contributing to their belief that who they are is wrong according to society?

As a young girl I had it hard in school. I wasn't popular and the only place where I could be myself and learn about life was in books. I read VC Andrews (which has incest in it, but shockingly it didn't make me want to sleep with my uncles, ew!), RL Stine's Fear Street, Christopher Pike, and Francine Pascal's Sweet Valley High. All were books that veered away from the cutesy "Judy Blume-esque" coming of age stories, and I ate them up....sometimes 4 a week. In them was something I could identify with, kids that were going through trauma of their own, and I found out that I wasn't alone. Yes, books about incest and brutal beatings are disheartening, but they are on the shelves so they can help kids realize that they aren't alone. Other kids are going through the same thing and there's help out there for them.

Forty years ago, the gay community in high schools didn't exist. Therefore, there were no books to talk about what it's like to be a young gay person in society, not only struggling with normal teen things like hormones and who to take to prom, but a gay person who IS getting beat up (and in some instances, killed) for being who they ARE.

Let's also remember that most of these books are works of...dare I say it, FICTION. Don't underestimate your kids. They are smarter than you think. Most can differentiate between real and not real. If a sexy vampire is sucking on some poor girl's neck draining her of her life force, don't you think they know that's not going to happen in the parking lot next to the Seven/Eleven they frequent after school?

Let's get real here people. Don't label a genre in a negative light if you haven't done your research. What this article lacks is just that. Where are the interviews with teens about how they feel? Or other parents, such as gay parents raising straight kids or vice versa, or people who have lived through self-mutilation, and any and all the forms of abuse out there? They might shed some light on the atrocities that actually exist in reality.

Life is moving fast, too fast. Let's make sure we aren't taking away the one place where people can get explanations and heal. Cause really, what's next burning parties?

There's a community of teens on Twitter that have already come out against the article, #YASAVES, in hopes that their voices can be heard.