Everyone, please welcome author Terry Irving to the blog today. He’s here to chat about his book Courier, Hurricane David, Lee Child, Tolkien, The Great Escape, Saint Crispian’s Day, and plenty of other, eclectic bits.
As a published author, what non-writing/reading activities would you recommend to aspiring authors?
First, I appreciate the chance to be here and chat with you. It is a real honor. As for inspirational activities, I’ve always found being fired a tremendous way to get those creative juices flowing. Lee Child worked as a television director in New York and it took a prolonged period of unemployment to inspire the creation of one of the great adventure heroes in modern fiction. In fact, one day, while food shopping with his wife, he reached up to get a food item that she couldn’t quite grasp and she said, “Maybe that’s the job you can do. You can be a reacher.” and that’s where the name Jack Reacher came from. Now, I’d appreciate a show of hands on the question of whether anyone thinks that Tom Cruise is the right actor to portray this quintessential tough guy and broad-shouldered brawler. I personally think this was as bad a casting error as having Nick Nolte portray Scarlett O’Hara in the upcoming remake of “Gone with the Wind.”
Semi-seriously, I would say that writing is the best preparation for writing. My first complete professional script came in 1975 or so when I was sent to Miami to cover their first serious hurricane in a decade. After heading to the Hurricane Center with a camera crew from the local station and their reporter, this guy named Steve Kroft (I sometimes wonder what happened to him), my first intimation of approaching disaster was when I told the crew to shoot lots of pictures while we chatted up the director and they returned in less than five minutes, having taken a single sweeping pan of the room. I ended up walking them around and giving them encouragement with comments like, “Shoot this guy’s face as he watches the screen,” “zoom into the radar picture,” and the immortal “Yes, I realize that you’ve taken a wide shot of this but I could really use a tight shot as well.” Anyway, we were on the way back to the station and Steve turned to me and said those magic words, “You’re going to have to write this because I have to do the intro to my own package.” As my throat instantly snapped shut—depriving me of all oxygen—I was able to look at my watch and see that it was 5:15pm and I had 45 minutes to write, edit, record, and lay video onto the package before the 6 o’clock feed.
We got back to the TV station and I put paper and a sheet of carbon paper in the typewriter (I’m not even going to try and explain what all this involved.) Then I sat for a second, contemplating my imminent death and the odds of hiding out in the Florida Keys for the rest of my life. I finally decided to write something, on the page. Not only would it then not look at me which such an accusatory blank glare but I could edit what I had written. I did understand how to edit after dealing with cuddly bunnies like Sam Donaldson and Cassie Mackin for a couple of years. So I put my fingers on the keys and began to write:
The only editing I really did on this before we took it to air, was to answer a question that the executive producers in New York kept repeating. “Didn’t he tell you where Hurricane David was going to go?”
The fact is, then as now, forecasters never tell you where a hurricane is going to go because…well, liability is definitely a factor but the primary reason is that they really don’t have a clue. My last line was hailed by New York as a perfect answer to this problem. If you read it with conviction, it sure sounded like we knew the options for the hurricane’s path but what I was really saying was that it could “slam into the coast of South Florida” or wander off to take a short vacation in Portland, Washington—who knew? This taught me the invaluable use of words to make it appear as if you’re saying something intelligent when you’re really just tap-dancing across the ice-floes.
What is your favorite fictional holiday (from books, movies, or tv)?
I suppose I’d have to go with Saint Crispian’s day. I don’t mind telling you that I was there at Agincourt and now that I’ve reached a respectable age, will yearly invite the neighbors over for a feast, say “Tomorrow is Saint Crispian,” and then I roll up my sleeves and show off the scars. If nothing else, it keeps them from bothering me for another year.
Anyway, I remember it like it was yesterday. Prince Hal on his charger calling on us to throw ourselves against impregnable castle walls in the face of certain death: It was as if he was speaking directly to me—after all, I was definitely the most vile man in the company, and in hot competition for the All-English Title.
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered-
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now-a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.
This sort of battlefield encouragement was only equaled by the call of innumerable US Marine Corps sergeants during the Pacific campaign who, as the front of the LST would drop, would shout out. “Come on, you bastards. Who wants to live forever?”
What does your Writer’s Den look like? Neat and tidy or creative mess? Can you write anywhere or do you need to be holed up in your author cave?
Well, I’d say that this picture speaks for itself. Clearly, I fall among the group that requires neatness and “tiditude” before I can even consider setting pen to paper, ink to foolscap, or digits to flash memory, as the case may be.
How did you celebrate that first time experience of having a piece accepted for publication?
Well, it couldn’t rank up there with Saint Crispian’s—what can?—but it was a bit of a celebration. I was seconds from punching the keys that would put my first novel “Courier” up online as a self-published book on Amazon when the email came in from my agent saying that this insane and undoubtedly drunken Brit named Emlyn Rees had said he loved my book and was begging to publish it.
I was working the midnight to 10am shift at Bloomberg News at the time and I can remember coming out of my cubicle and telling the happy news to Ronald, the night security guard and the only other person in the entire building. We exchanged a hearty handshake and then he pulled his hat over his eyes and went back to sleep and I returned to my little terminal (it only had two screens and not four like the real hot shots at Bloomberg had,) where I continued to pound out what could only be described as complete fiction since all I understood about international finance came from the immortal Rudyard Kipling:
…deep in the veins of Earth,
And, fed by a thousand springs
That comfort the market-place,
Or sap the power of King,
The Fifth Great River had birth,
Even as it was foretold–
The Secret River of Gold!
It was truly a moment to remember.
What were you like as a kid? Did your kid-self see you being a writer?
I think that I haven’t changed all that much. I was a sort of pretentious and sarcastic kid back then and several of my most recent ex-employers have told me that it was just those characteristics that led them to become ex-employers. In fact, I had no idea that I would become a journalist and, later, a writer, despite the fact that I was Editor-in-Chief of the school newspapers in Fourth, Sixth, Seventh, Ninth and Twelfth grades.
I was a bright kid but not terribly perceptive.
At the time, I thought I would never become an author because I didn’t want to compete with my father, the noted Beowulf scholar Ted Irving, who had written at least three books that were widely acclaimed as “brilliant.” Of course, now I have some suspicions about those reviews since the bloody things were mostly written in Old English and are still completely impenetrable to me all these years later despite the fact that my brother and I both had hand-me-down typewriters with special keys so we could compose poems like this:
I’m sure that I don’t need to translate these famous stanzas to your educated audience (Thank Goodness, because I still can’t read them!) and, yes, that’s where Tolkien got the Elvish language. In 1951 when my dad brought The Hobbit in to read to my older brother, he said, “Here’s this book from a guy who teaches Old English over in England. Let’s see if it’s any good.”
What is the oddest or craziest thing you have ever done to get rid of writer’s block?
What is writer’s block?
Cover art can be so important for a book, making or breaking sales. What cover art has caught your eye, that you found stood above other books?
I agree completely that cover art makes all the difference. As an example, it was this proof of concept by my friend and illustrator Tom Joyce that has literally compelled me to complete my urban paranormal thriller, “Day of the Dragon King: Book One in the Last American Wizard Saga”.
I finished the first draft just yesterday to the complete horror of my agent who is convinced that it will not only destroy my career but his as well.
Finally, what upcoming events and works would you like to share with the readers?
Well, “Courier,” a thriller set in the strange world of 1972, where women didn’t work, everyone smoked, and television news was shot on film, will be released on May 1st. The story involves a completely corrupt American President (a fictional character who just happened to have a long nose, jowls, and a tendency to wave his hands in a “V” sign at inappropriate moments) and his cabal of brutal lackeys so it’s being marketed as a fantasy. However, it also has a lot of extremely fast motorcycle riding so I would recommend to anyone who enjoyed The Great Escape or Six Days of the Condor. Since I’ll bet that most of your readers have not watched either movie—even though they both are in color and do have sound—I’d recommend renting them from Netflix.
The instant that sucker hits the market, I will be everywhere that will have me. In fact, you can expect me to show up in your living room or by your bed and encourage you to buy a copy. Don’t be afraid, I’m way too old to be interested in anything but money. You can avoid my bad imitation of Mr. Dickens’ Ghosts of Christmas by simply going to Amazon and pre-buying a copy of “Courier” which is currently on pre-sale so I can presumably make some pre-profits.
Thank you for inviting me and I wish the best to all your readers.
In the nation’s capital, Irving started out riding a classic BMW R60/2 for ABC News during Watergate. Carrying that news film was the beginning of a 40-year career that has included producing Emmy Award-winning television news, writing everything from magazine articles to standup comedy and developing early forms of online media. He has traveled and worked in all 50 states plus parts of Europe, Africa and Asia.
Irving is the winner of four National Emmy Awards, multiple Peabody, DuPont and Telly awards, plus an honor at the Columbus Film Festival. He has produced stories around the world from the fall of the Berlin Wall to Tiananmen Square. He worked as a senior live control room producer at CNN, Fox, ABC and MSNBC. He wrote and edited copy for some of the top anchors and journalists in television news including Ted Koppel, Diane Sawyer, Wolf Blitzer, and Aaron Brown.
Irving is an active member of the International Thriller Writers and the Mystery Writers of America, and serves as a board member of the Foundation for Moral Courage.
Irving is the author of the on-going memoir “On the Road” and the self-help book “The Unemployed Guy’s Guide to Unemployment,” both published in 2012 by Rock Creek Consulting LLC. His debut novel “Courier” releases May 1, 2014 from Exhibit A Books, the crime fiction imprint of Angry Robot Books. It’s the first of several books planned for The Freelancer Series.
Irving and his wife live just outside Washington D.C. because their dog simply refuses to live anywhere else.
About the book, Courier
In his daily rounds as a Washington motorcycle courier, Vietnam veteran Rick Putnam has found that the only way to blast the demons from his soul is with the sheer speed of his beloved BMW. However, the race turns very real when he suddenly becomes the target in a lethal pursuit and Rick must find out just who is trying to kill him – and why. “Courier” is the high-velocity thriller by long-time Washington journalist Terry Irving that slashes through the darkness at the heart of our nation’s capital. It’s a fast-paced, finely crafted foray into high-level intrigue, political corruption, and the invisible wounds of war that will keep readers hanging on as the danger threatens to spin out of control.
The year is 1972 in Washington, D.C., a hotbed of government secrets and fractured souls, with the Watergate Scandal heating up and the Vietnam War slowing down. One day during his courier gig, Rick unknowingly picks up a roll of news film that proves the President is guilty of a transgression that would mean not only impeachment and conviction but lifelong disgrace. A rogue CIA agent backed by a Korean assassin and two Saigon cowboys is sent to recover the film and silence Rick – permanently. Rick fights back with the assistance of some of the world’s first computer hackers, two brave congressional staffers, and a motorcycle gang leader who fought by his side in Vietnam’s toughest battle. In the middle of it all, Rick falls in love with a Native American law student who may just be able to bring some peace to his tortured soul.
With its white-knuckle pace and absorbing intrigue, “Courier” is a heart-pumping, riveting read full of high menace, hot motorcycles, and Washington’s own brand of mayhem – the kind you never read about on the front page. It’s a must for anyone who likes their thrillers real and their motorcycles very, very fast.