Joining me today is Norm Clark, author of the spy thriller The Saladin Strategy. While reading his book, hints of who he is as a person seeped from the undertone of his writing style, and much of it I could identify with. For good reason as I learned after communicating with him.
We were both born in the midwest and our careers have taken us to many colorful places both in the U.S. and abroad. We were both military brats, him as a youth, me as an adult (long story). We’ve both done gigs in Yokosuka, Japan, though not at the same time. And we both wrote our first novels in ‘later years.’
I was so taken with The Saladin Strategy that I wanted to get to know more about what makes Norm Clark tick and share it with you on my RectorWriter’s Blog. To read my review, click here.
RECTORWRITER: Norm, thank you for participating in my version of ’21.’ We’ve corresponded over the past year or so through various social media venues and have established a rapport as writers. In my review of your novel The Saladin Strategy I described it as “a slam-bang adventure story that moves at the speed of a Hellfire missile.” What’s the genesis of this fine book?
NORM: The storyline was born from an actual incident of a missing nuclear warhead six years ago and the resulting cover-up. I did take literary liberties with the end result for the benefit of the story. A major underlying premise for the book series is the importance of re-election to incumbents as opposed to our national security, which is a major component of the story.
RECTORWRITER: After reading Saladin, I assumed you must have had some experience in intelligence work because the labyrinth twists and turns woven into the plot and characters have a distinct ring of truth. How did you go about researching the inner workings of the spy world?
NORM: Growing up a Navy brat in San Diego created a military mindset that allowed me to become friends with several special-ops people in my adult life—Navy Seals, a Force-Recon Marine, and a Viet Nam era pilot for the CIA’s Air America. Their anecdotes and mission stories shared over many sessions of liquid refreshment provided untold hours of entertainment. Years later, at the onset of my writing career, the details from those conversations surfaced and became solid input for my books. The research came from a variety of sources: the headlines, Internet, local library, and television documentaries.
RECTORWRITER: Tell us a little about how you created the main character Jack McDuff.
NORM: The protagonist needs to be the focal point of the necessary conflict in fiction. Therefore, when I created Jack’s bio at the start of the series, it set the stage to force Jack into unsanctioned, rogue missions, which carries an underlying conflict theme throughout the stories.
RECTORWRITER: Tell us a little about how you formulate your plots.
NORM: For me, a factual event or scenario provides the most realistic seed to build a story around. Once decided, I create a minimal outline—start, turning points, and end. All are subject to change throughout the manuscript construction. When writing, I tend to outline one to three chapters ahead to stay in touch with my characters, their interaction, and the plot directions.
RECTORWRITER: Talk to us a little about writing good dialogue.
NORM: We’ve all heard the ‘Show don’t tell’ advice a thousand times. While a small amount of tell can be needed at times, I try to keep it to a minimum. Proper dialogue is a key element in fiction. It moves the story along to keep it from bogging down, introduces new information, escalates conflict and tension, and can give the reader a ‘cliffhanger’ to turn the page to the next chapter.
RECTORWRITER: What did you enjoy most about writing The Saladin Strategy?
NORM: The entire creative process was fun, but the times the story seemed to write itself was the most interesting for me. When I read what I input at those times, it was new to me, which seems crazy. It still needed editing however.
RECTORWRITER: Yes, when you reach the point where auto-writing occurs, that’s the best. What did you enjoy least?
NORM: The tedium of self-editing shared by many writers, and I am certain your name belongs on that list Bob, can be a painful process. For example, all writers can relate to that once perfect sentence in the draft that no longer works due to a rewrite and must be deleted for the quality of the finished product. Ouch!
RECTORWRITER: In film editing it’s called the face on the cutting room floor. In writing I guess it’s the words on the cutting floor. What attracted you to writing?
NORM: L. Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz turned me into a voracious reader at about the age of eight, but the writing bug surfaced in my mid-twenties when Eye of the Needle by Ken Follett planted the writing seed and prompted me to buy my first ‘How to Write Fiction’ book.
RECTORWRITER: I was inspired by Follett too. What other writers have inspired or influenced you most and why?
NORM: My early-adult reading was consumed by Mickey Spillane and Raymond Chandler who planted my head squarely in the mystery genre. The epic phase followed with Leon Uris’s Exodus and The Godfather by Mario Puzo, which thrust me into a lost weekend and prompted the purchase of another ‘How to Write Fiction’ book. More recent authors include Lee Child, Daniel Silva, and Brad Thor, who write in a similar genre to mine and serve as successful examples for me. I would be remiss if I did not mention your great book Bob, Unthinkable Consequences, which is a great example of an outstanding indie publication.
RECTORWRITER: Describe Norm Clark to us when he is writing.
NORM: His world is arm’s length when in the writing zone. Distractions are a death knell to the creative process.
RECTORWRITER: I hear you. What person has influenced your life most and why?
NORM: Unquestionably, my wife Pamela has impacted my life more than anyone else. She supports and understands my need to write, and prods me forward when I get lazy. So, hats off to the great lady in my life.
RECTORWRITER: Are your characters drawn from life, fabricated from the needs of the story, or developed in some other manner?
NORM: Fiction characters are created from a writer’s total experience with people in their lives. We draw on past friends and associates, family members, and total strangers encountered and observed for our character’s appearance, personality, and demeanor. There are times, however, we just make them up to fit the plot situation—whatever it takes.
RECTORWRITER: Well said. What other fields or professions did you work in before becoming a writer?
NORM: Most of my working career was spent in the ceramic installation field, with a notable exception. I spent three-and-a-half years doing wine and liquor promotion for a topnotch importer in New York, which was great fun and allowed much desired travel.
RECTORWRITER: How do you feel about the world of indie writing/publishing in its current state?
NORM: The indie business has realized exceptional progress from the growth of the electronic age with no end in sight. Major publishers denigrate the quality control of indie products on one hand and have jumped on the digital bandwagon on the other. They cite their expertise as necessary to improve the industry, but, in my opinion, their overall print output through the years disproves that claim. I’m convinced their interest in the ebook market is purely from a profit perspective with the price to be paid by indie-writers and the reading public. There may be a battle, but we have some big guns on our side too.
RECTORWRITER: How do you think it can be improved?
NORM: To my thinking, the 80/20 rule applies, where eighty percent of the sales are generated by twenty percent of the available product. Perhaps, the creation of truly, independent and unbiased reviewing companies to rate the indie products could be of benefit.
RECTORWRITER: Many indie writers share your sentiments. If money was no object, what would you do with your life other than write?
NORM: This is a no-brainer for me. I would resume my traveling days. There is however, a caveat here—the new sights, people observed, and cultures learned, would stir my writing blood and drive me back to the keyboard.
RECTORWRITER: What has been your most disappointing experience as a writer?
NORM: My first publication received a review with the header ‘Could be better’ and drove a dagger in my heart. However, when I read it, I realized it was a positive three-star review with great constructive criticism, and I derived much benefit from the input. No author, regardless their last name (ie: King, Grisham, Patterson, etc.) will publish a book loved by every reader. They receive their share of negative reviews. The most frustrating thing for all authors are the cruel, mean-spirited reviews received for no apparent reason, but they are part of the life we choose to live.
RECTORWRITER: What has been your most satisfying experience?
NORM: The host of unsolicited, unbiased reviews received from readers (many of them peers) that validate my choice to be an author. Quality reviews are the lifeblood of all authors.
RECTORWRITER: What do you think are the biggest pitfalls for aspiring writers?
NORM: Fledgling writers have no concept of the commitment required for even a modicum of success for their masterpiece. The learning curve is steep and infinite, but it is a reachable goal if they remain dedicated to their dream. Most do not realize they need to write a good book, properly edited, with a great cover for any chance at a successful publication. It is a long, hard road to a rewarding conclusion. If any would-be writers are reading this, do not be discouraged, it is a wonderful trip with many good friends made on the journey. Make up your mind to commit to your dream and start writing.
RECTORWRITER: How do you define success as an indie-writer?
NORM: Your peers and readers judge your validity as an author in many ways. The aforementioned review process with continued and growing sales issues the verdict on your success in the marketplace. My peer’s acceptance is of equal importance for me. Their interaction demonstrates acceptance in the writing community. This interview invitation from you Bob is a perfect example of the support rendered, and I thank you very much.
RECTORWRITER: My pleasure, Norm. Any other books in the works?
NORM: Book three of The Jack McDuff series, though untitled as of yet, is officially a work in progress. I hope to start writing very soon.
RECTORWRITER: In that case, I’ll let you get back to your keyboard. I’ve really enjoyed getting to know you better. Thanks Norm.