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.