Today, I'd like to welcome author Jon F. Merz to the blog! Jon's new book, The Kensei: A Lawson Vampire Novel, comes out today through St. Martin's Press. It's one of the most unusual and interesting vampire books I've read in a long time. Think James Bond with fangs, mad martial arts skills, a setting in Japan...it's a great ride. And, of course, I'll be giving away a copy of The Kensei--details below.
Q. Welcome, Jon! Your vampire, Lawson, is a Fixer—he helps the vampires keep their existence a secret and “fixes” problems. He’s also a black belt—and so are you. Plus you have a background in military and government. If I looked at your resume, I’d expect you to write thrillers. What drove you to the “paranormal thriller” twist with vampires?
I actually started out writing thrillers--my first two unpublished novels, Terminal Objectives and Shadow Chaser, are straight espionage. I actually dusted off Shadow Chaser and put it up for sale on Amazon's Kindle program just for chuckles. It sells a few copies each month. Parallax is another espionage thriller, and it's actually one of my best novels, but it also mixes in a little psychic and SF elements. New York editors loved it, but never bought it because they couldn't figure out how to sell it. The response to it has been spectacular and since I started selling it on Amazon, it has sold thousands of copies.
But I think the real "problem" is that I like mixing things up. I love combining genres and having fun with it. I like taking the usual and the expected and flipping them upside down. So, yes, while I could probably be writing straight thrillers, I have more fun mixing things up.
I loved that The Kensei is set in Japan, and it’s clear you know your setting. How much time have you spent in Japan? Have you, like Lawson, gone there for advanced martial arts training?
The Kensei is special to me because the test that Lawson undergoes during the course of the book is the exact test I took during a trip there in February 2003. My training and Lawson's training tend to mirror each other. It's one of the ways I work out what I'm learning in the dojo. And after 20 years, there's still plenty to learn and try to comprehend. I've been to Japan numerous times during my life and each time back is always fun. It's amazing how much you absorb and don't realize until you're writing a scene and then something snaps back into your mind. It's always fun flavoring a scene with something you know is actually there, like the giant video monitor in Kashiwa Plaza that had an enormous video dinosaur on it when I arrived last time. Seriously, the thing was life-sized almost! It's fun to get a chance to convey that to readers and help them visualize things.
Two things: first off, the discipline to actually write. I know plenty of would-be writers that spend all their time attending conferences, traveling here and there and everywhere but never actually sit their butts down and hit the keyboard. There's no way around it. You want to be a writer, you gotta write. And you need self-discipline to do that. The study of martial arts definitely helps you develop that. It's that whole 'When it's time to work, you work' attitude that has helped me a lot.
What in your martial arts training helps with your writing (or vice-versa)?
The other thing that I think helps tremendously is the martial art style I study is one that emphasizes a flexible approach to self-protection. There's no ONE technique, no ONE way to do something. That's combat, after all. Every possible variable comes into play and if you've got a stagnant or inflexible mind, you'll lose - and worst case, you'll die. So the same holds true for writing, in some respects - both in the creation of plot and characters and later in the marketing and promotion of your work. In the 21st century, it's simply not enough to be *just* a writer. This is a business and if you're too stubborn or cling to only ideal of what the writing life is, then you'll be sunk. Having a flexible attitude toward this life and the business behind it is one reason I've been able to resurrect what was, in fact, a dead series and move it to a new publishing house. That doesn't happen very often.
I found The Kensei a great read even without having read the first books in the Lawson series--it works beautifully as a standalone. Are the others in print and available?
The simplest answer is this: they will be if we sell enough copies of The Kinsei! St. Martin's wants to see strong sales figures for this book and if that happens, I fully expect we will see a complete reissue of the first four books along with other installments.
You’re a native Bostonian and I saw on your website that a Lawson TV series set in Boston could be in the works. What’s the status of that?
We have a fantastic trailer that we're dying to release and will once we get the paperwork squared away with the SAG/AFTRA unions. The show is officially in pre-production and we're looking at shooting the pilot in the first quarter of 2011. This has been a monumental challenge since we're operating completely outside of the Hollywood system by doing this independently. ...We've pooled the money we've been able to raise, bought the best equipment, assembled a fantastic cast & crew, and now we're just trying to get a few more investors to round our pool of folks who have gotten behind the project.
As far as shooting the entire thing in Boston, I have always wanted to make this a truly Boston series. Our cast and crew are all from the New England area and they're insanely talented people. Why go to Hollywood when you can do it in the city where the books actually take place? Boston's my home and I want to showcase it, not to mention put a lot of very amazing people to work.
What’s next for Lawson? What’s next for Jon Merz?
For Lawson, the task right now is selling The Kensei like there's no tomorrow. Beyond that, the sixth book has been sketched out and I'm looking forward to writing it. I get to explore the backstory of another character, an old grizzled ex-Fixer named Arthur from England and the skeletons in his past that come back to modern times. Lots of fun just waiting to be created there. I've got the next several books mapped out and ready to go. Additionally, we need to get the first season - 13 episodes - of "The Fixer" done and in the can. I've also got a YA series my agent is busily trying to sell, so I'm hopeful that takes off soon. But as always, very busy and loving every minute of it!
Thanks for joining us, Jon! Here's a little more info on The Kensei, and the giveaway details:
ABOUT THE BOOK: Meet Lawson. A cynical, wise-cracking vampire charged with protecting the Balance between vampires and humans, he is part cop, part spy, and part commando -- James Bond with fangs. Lawson mixes shrewd cunning with unmatched lethality to get his job done. He tries his best to dismantle conspiracies, dispatch bad guys, and live long enough to get home. In The Kensei, a battle-weary Lawson heads to Japan for a little rest and some advanced ninja training. But he no sooner steps off the plane than lands in the midst of a Yakuza turf war orchestrated by a shadowy figure known as the Kensei. With the help of Talya, a former KGB-assassin, Lawson must put a stop to the Kensei’s organ trafficking networks, prevent the creation of an army of vampire-human hybrids, and save his own skin in the process.
THE GIVEAWAY: Leave a comment for a chance to win a copy of The Kensei. Same as usual: +1 for comment, +1 for blog follow, +1 for Twitter follow @Suzanne_Johnson, and +1 for a Tweet or RT.