Today my guest is author Peter Clement, who is going to tell us about his latest book, "The Darkness Drops."
First a little about Peter -
I’ve always been fascinated by story telling, especially when my imagination is free to provide the visual narrative. Novels, radio plays, audio books—these have played a role in my life since I was a boy. Ours was a home without TV, and I spent summers with extended family in a small town where the aural tradition was strong, and weaving a good yarn was an art form. As I grew older, the books ranged from science fiction to thrillers to classics to contemporary literature. Anything good that took me away to an exciting new reality could capture me for days, and I’ve never lost that love. In my case, much later in life, it morphed into a love of telling my own stories. One of the truisms I often hear quoted is you can’t be a writer without having been a reader. The ironic reality of becoming a writer is that, while creating my own stories, I must refrain from reading other novels, or I start imitating the author’s style. Editors can tell. Out would come their red pen and they’d not only slash away the offending pieces, but identify the source. “Reading Chandler again!” “Leave Nabakov to Nabakov!” “Too much Lehane!”
Besides writing, I practice medicine. I spent over two decades working as an emergency physician and family doctor in an urban hospital at a major teaching center. I now divide my time between writing and private practice. While I always guard patient confidentiality, those ER years infuse my novels with an insider’s take on the world of medicine.
The Darkness Drops has been described as a “taught, richly-plotted thriller.” How does it differ from your previous Earl Garnet and Richard Steele series for which you have also received very high praise, and without giving too much away, might you give us a taste of what’s in store for the reader?
The Darkness Drops takes the reader outside the hospital into the murky world of bio terror prevention and secret laboratories where doctors are already venturing well beyond the cutting edge of known science.
The story begins in the morgue at an isolated Siberian hospital during the last days of the Soviet Union two decades ago. A clandestine autopsy is underway, and a young physician, Anna Katasova, keeps watch for intruders while her husband, Yuri Raskin, does the cutting. We jump twenty years ahead to present times, and through the eyes of Terry Ryder, the President’s Chief Advisor On Bio terror Preparedness, experience the emergence of a mystery illness that sweeps the globe in a matter of days. His instincts—what he calls his Eureka circuits-- make an intuitive leap. “It’s an attack, stupid!” Health organizations from around the planet scramble to mount a coordinated effort that they hope will penetrate the secrets of this disease entity and determine its source, but traditional scientific method, even if it moves with the speed of light, won’t provide answers fast enough to stop this outbreak. Already attempts to treat ever-increasing numbers of victims have overwhelmed existing medical resources. The only timely solution rests in finding who is responsible, then making them reveal the causative agent and how to destroy it. But where to start? Terry’s desperate race to find answers reaches into the realm of rogue scientists, arms merchants, and events of his own past, including a former love affair with Anna Katasova, until he must question even his own innocence.
How did this story come to you?
My inspiration for The Darkness Drops arose from two separate conversations.
The initial one involved two physicians from Russia who had witnessed, and survived, the first and only known leak of anthrax from a bio weapons facility in the former USSR. Their account fascinated me, and set the back-story for Anna and Yuri.
The second developed from a restaurant dinner I attended with a group of doctors who were experts in bio terror preparedness. It soon became evident that they did exactly what a writer of thrillers must do--namely, put themselves inside the mind of a fiend, and dream. I don’t remember what we ate, but all the other diners within earshot began to talk in hushed tones and study us most warily. I came away wondering how any of us would sleep that night. Yet what fascinated me more than the plots they hatched were the people themselves, all of them veterans of drops into hot-zones and level-four virology lab work with the most deadly organisms on earth. How do you walk home and kiss your kids goodnight knowing that one slip-up in a protective protocol might expose them to hemorrhagic fevers or fatal toxins? Worse, after listening to some of the scenarios they cooked up involving bio engineered organisms, I began to wonder how I’d respond in ER if confronted by a mystery outbreak for which known treatments do not exist. Once started down that path, I had the beginnings of a story I couldn’t get out of my head, and Terry Ryder was born.
What compelled you to write The Darkness Drops?
I had to. Once the story began to present itself, Terry, Anna, and Yuri were so compelling I had no choice but to let them come alive. Part of the allure had to do with the opportunity to take these characters through the complexity and subtlety of transformation that can occur over the better part of a lifetime. As a writer, I found this challenge irresistible.
Who is your favorite character?
Many of the people involved in the development of emergency countermeasures to a biological attack are emergency physicians. Terry Ryder is one such man. What makes him exceptional is his ability to think visually and actually see disease patterns the way a master chess player can read a board twelve steps ahead of his opponent. This allows him to foretell possible risks way ahead of anyone else. In ER this ability is a gift that makes him a miracle worker. In the world of bio terror, it is a curse that summons up nightmares. The cost to his personal life and the women he’s loved is particularly heavy. Nevertheless, it also affords him an advantage over those who would weaponize microbes, an edge that is indispensable in a world where arms merchants peddle such means of mass murder to any group with a VISA card, and he remains a reluctantly ruthless warrior against such unthinkable horrors.
What was your favorite scene to write?
I loved creating a pivotal moment where Terry’s special imagination lets him, and readers, peer into the visually stunning works of our cells on a molecular level never before accessible. There I let my own very visual imagination rip.
How long did it take you to write the story?
I knew going in that it would be my most complex novel to date and would require more time than anything I’d attempted previously. It took me three years before I had a draft that was at all presentable, and then another year of editing, cutting and shading until it was finished in its final polished state.
When was it released?
June 2010 as an e-book exclusive in all formats at belgravehouse.com and fictionwise.com. It was released on Amazon Kindle in August of 2010, and will soon be available at the Apple store.
How is it available?
It is available in multiple formats for all electronic readers:
1. At Belgravehouse.com: PDF-MSReader-Mobipocket-ePub-Palm-HTML-Word-RTF-Rocket-Hiebook
2. At Amazon.com: Kindle
3. At Fictionwise.com: eReader [-er.PDB]
Palm Doc [.PDB]
Sony Reader [.LRF]
OEBFF Full VGA [.IMP]
OEBFF Half VGA [.IMP]
4. And in the very near future, perhaps even by the time of this posting, the Apple Store for users of the iPad and iPhone.
Publishing experience- you are a best selling author with eight novels to your credit, and have been highly praised for your work by many reviewers and other well-known authors. Yet the Darkness Drops is an e-book exclusive. Tell us about this experience, and any words of wisdom you might have for writers.
I hesitate to offer any words of wisdom, as the publishing world is changing so fast, as is my relationship to it, through the advent of electronic books. In my case it is too soon to draw any worthwhile conclusions. However, a few weeks ago I was asked a similar question, and had a few thoughts that some writers found helpful.
Back when I wrote my first novel it was as difficult to find an agent as to get published. These days, what with the fall-off in sales of traditional publishing, the task is even harder. And with these new realities, as writers, published and unpublished, I think we are all struggling to make our stories available to readers. I think growth for the industry lies in e-books, and, with the emergence of reputable and discriminating e-book publishers who deal directly with authors, thereby bypassing the need for an agent, new writers and established writers alike have another route to follow. If a book does well, the agents, and traditional publishers will find you, though for an unknown writer that is still a thousand to one long shot. Still, even with limited exposure, this venue offers a chance to be read, and that, for some, may be preferable to not being read at all. Please note this is not the same thing as self-publishing, as it still necessitates winning a publisher’s approval, and involves a contract in which the publisher agrees to do the work of formatting the book, placing it with the various on-line distribution outlets at no up-front cost to the author and paying the author a royalty based on sales. However there are some drawbacks compared to conventional houses. For example we all need editors, and as far as I know, most e-book publishers don’t provide this service. That was the case at Belgrave House with The Darkness Drops, but I still work with my former editor at Ballantine, and we’d gotten the book into its best possible shape before I submitted it, so for me that was not a problem. Nor need it be with other writers. With all the cutbacks at the big houses, there are excellent experienced editors who now work freelance, and some authors may find that an option. E-book publishers also do not provide publicity in the way traditional publishers might. There again, I had a bit of an advantage having already published seven novels, so hopefully The Darkness Drops will attract existing fans as well as new readers. However, all writers, novices and pros alike, are turning to social networking as an efficient way to increase exposure. Social-networking mavens tell me that current research indicates more people trust online reviews and recommendations than they would commercial advertising. Of course I wouldn’t knock the power of TV adds on Larry King and CNN or radio adds on NPR, all of which I’ve been fortunate enough to benefit from in my early years with Ballantine, but that doesn’t happen today unless you are already a mega seller. Instead, even the big houses are directing their authors toward the potential to attract readers through blogging and Twitter as tools with an as-of-yet untested upside. Obvious advantages to e-book publishing include such factors as a far better royalty and a lower priced, more competitive product to generate higher sales. But what most lured me to this route for The Darkness Drops was that the process granted me the absolute freedom to write the book I wanted and liberated me from all deadlines but my own. I knew going in that The Darkness Drops would be my most ambitious work to date and was on a scale in terms of multiple characters and points of view that I had not yet attempted. It was definitely going to take longer to get it right than any of my other novels, and I was hungry for the challenge. I set to it with no one but myself keeping me at the keyboard. As a physician, I’m used to disciplining my time, and this story had its own urgency to be told. The resulting process was a wonderfully creative three years. Then came the far more efficient turnaround time from my handing in a completed manuscript to the release date, namely two weeks compared to the two years that I was told I’d be in the cue waiting for a paper copy to hit the stands through a traditional publisher. As one editor at a major house warned me, “It’s a buyer’s market. We can pick and choose the authors we wish to publish, and our list is set for the next twenty-four months.” But in the end, what’s most important to me as an author is to be read. If the initial e-book route succeeds, hopefully The Darkness Drops will also be released in paper, the form many readers still prefer. I would also predict that this will be a trend for most traditional houses, putting a book out first as an electronic edition, then following it up with the paper version if initial sales and responses indicate there is sufficient interest. This approach ought to help more struggling writers get in the door. So my final advice to other authors would be, keep your options open. An advantage with a publisher like Belgrade House is that they don’t lock an author in, and after six months all rights revert to the writer. In other words, after six months of sales, I’m free to invite any publishers interested in acquiring all digital and print rights for The Darkness Drops to make contact with me through my webpage. Though such generous terms may not be the norm elsewhere, and most of us would sign away our own mothers to get our first book in print, I strongly caution novice writers to check out any contract with a lawyer. Overall, one publisher likened the e-book phenomenon to that of pioneers setting out for the west back in wagon train times, loaded with their hopes and dreams, their futures uncertain. For myself the process is still an experiment and it remains to be seen how this all works out. I can say sales of The Darkness Drops are keeping abreast of the e-book versions of my previous books published through Ballantine and, in some cases, exceed them. That means the story is bopping around in the top 10% of rankings at Amazon, and for at least a few minutes from time to time, tests its top 1% tier. And though it’s early days, month over month the numbers are improving. At Amazon UK, it is doing about the same. I also note that sales for every one of my electronic books formerly published by Ballantine are beginning to grow year over year. This increase is probably a reflection of how the many new types of electronic readers are becoming ever more popular and creating a demand for fiction of all sorts. My conclusions? In the digital world, at this moment in time, the future looks modestly positive for new and former works. One thing is certain for all writers. Whether our stories thrive or fall into obscurity, be they in paper or e-book formats, it’s the readers who will decide.
Where we can we find you online?
Peterclementbooks.com This site links with all my books, where they can be found, my Twitter page, an e-mail contact where I welcome your comments plus offer replies, and much more. Please feel free to visit, and I hope you will enjoy my stories.
Thank you Peter for stopping by Page Readers and sharing your book with us!