“You need great, rich characters that people will care about, and want to learn more about, and want to see changed in some way by what they experience in the stories.” ~~Jerome Preisler
FEATURE INTERVIEW WITH BESTSELLING AUTHOR, JEROME PREISLER
Jerome Preisler: On Keeping Legend Tom Clancy’s Work New-Reader Relevant Through Re-Imagination, And Keeping A Thriller Series Momentum Going
Jerome Preisler is the New York Times bestselling author of over forty books of fiction and nonfiction, including all eight novels in the chart-topping Tom Clancy’s Power Plays series, and the relaunch of the New York Times bestselling NET FORCE series co-created by Tom Clancy and Steve Pieczenik. Preisler’s latest novel is the forthcoming NET FORCE: MOVING TARGET (pub. 2/21/23 Hanover Square Press). He has also written two novellas spotlighting different characters from the NET FORCE novels, EYE OF THE DRONE and KILL CHAIN.
In this latest chapter, as the new threat escalates, the US president calls on the members of NET FORCE to prevent global chaos. In Paris, the leader of the new political movement has gone into hiding, pursued by a relentless group of bio-enhanced assassins. Seeking to rescue him, NET FORCE’s own, Kali Alcazar, becomes a hunted fugitive herself. Meanwhile halfway across Europe, her friends are about to strike the heavily armed fortress of the world’s most dangerous hacker … and he’s prepared a deadly trap for them.
Q: When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
A: I never really thought about a writing career—or any occupation, for that matter—in those terms. I wrote very early on in life. I started my first novel when I was eleven and finished it about a year later. It was 138 single-spaced, mostly typewritten pages long … and I say “mostly” typewritten because I began it in longhand but taught myself how to type on Royal manual typewriter ten or fifteen pages into the book.
But I never really knew if I was any good or thought about doing it professionally. It was a means of escape and diversion from the real world, a way out for however long I could immerse myself in the story and characters each day.
What I did grasp as I got a little older was that I wanted out of Brooklyn, and that at some point in my life I would need to earn a living, and that I really didn’t know how to do much of anything but play musical keyboards and write stories.
So, I figured maybe I could be a rock musician or a writer. Mr. Pragmatic. But I was realistic enough, so I understood the odds of becoming either were miniscule. So, I drifted from minimum-wage job to minimum-wage job, and with some interruptions kept playing and writing without real hope of it leading anywhere. Then eventually I sold a few stories and felt a smidgeon of hope and direction and steered toward writing.
Q: What served as the gateway to your professional writing career?
A: Writing for men’s magazines. It was a market that had openings for an outsider like me to make fifty or a hundred bucks selling a story, or “letters” chronicling my fictional racy exploits. I could knock several of those letters out in a day and earn a few bucks. And then one day I met someone, an art director, who did some work for legitimate book publishers, and told me that a particular editor he knew was acquiring manuscripts. I was told this fellow—the editor—had edited schlocky biker and men’s and music magazines in the past and wouldn’t turn his nose up at me. In fact, his experience had made him aware that even writing the men’s magazine stuff on a professional level takes a certain level of talent, skill, and craftmanship. So, I got an appointment to see him, and left his office with an offer for a book deal. A lousy deal, but a deal, nonetheless.
Q: How did you first become acquainted with the late Tom Clancy?
A: It’s a long story, but a major collaborative project attached to Tom’s franchise was late being delivered—I’m talking around a year late—and the publisher needed a fireman to help save the thing. My name came up because I’d worked with the project’s editor on several books, and with the editor in the neighboring office on several more, and in desperately trying to figure out what to do to get the book on track, one of them said, “What about Jerome? You think he could help?”
So, the first editor called me, and it all rolled from there. I can’t share any more details because of certain contractual agreements. But I worked like a demon over the Christmas-New Year’s break to get the job done, and everyone was pleased … including Tom, of course.
Q: What was your experience working with Tom?
A: It was great. I always felt trusted and was given tremendous creative freedom. He would read my very brief outline for a book, and either okay it or make some notes, and I would get them and run with it. Tom never micromanaged. There was only one instance when I had to make a somewhat significant change to a story, and it involved using—or not using—a particular locale, and that was because Tom didn’t like the city in which I’d set an action sequence. No, I will not reveal which city it was. Nor did I ever ask why he didn’t like the place. I think it’s a fine city! But anyway, the change was fairly easy, because the action was mostly set in a park—there’s your clue if you read the Power Plays series—so I just found a similar park in a different city and tweaked the geography and choreography a bit and voila, it was done! Everybody was happy.
Q: What might readers of Tom Clancy books be surprised to learn about him?
A: That’s a tough one because ours was always a professional rather than a personal relationship, and I spent most of it holed up in my office trying to make my deadline.
I think the most surprising thing for me happened years after he passed away, when I was already writing the NET FORCE relaunch. I’d wanted to incorporate some arguably science fictional, cyberpunk-ish elements into the series but had shied away from it, thinking Tom might not be into that if he were alive, and wanting very much to stay true to his legacy.
And then I was having lunch in New York with someone who’d been part of the team that worked on creating the original NET FORCE series with Tom, and during our conversation, he said, “You know, if it had been up to Tom, the series would have really been closer to science-fiction—he even thought about futuristic costumes and action figures. But there were concerns that the tone would be too different from what’s normally associated with the Clancy brand, and he ultimately modified his ideas.
That really freed me up to be more experimental with my NET FORCE books. I’d already started on that path, even in NET FORCE: DARK WEB, the first book, and again with the second ATTACK PROTOCAL. But that chat took the shackles off as I realized I was moving closer to Tom’s early vision. And thankfully my publisher loved it.
Q: How did the series NET FORCE come to be?
A: The short version is that there had been a very successful NET FORCE series in the late 1990s and early 2000s that ran for ten or so books, with a bundle of Young Adult spinoffs. Then Tom’s death and other factors led to its cancellation. I’d written the TOM CLANCY’S POWER PLAYS books for a decade—I’m fortunate to be one of only a handful of writers to have collaborated with Tom in his lifetime—and was aware of NET FORCE all along, and thought it was the best and most relevant, conceptually, of all his co-created series.
Around 2017 or 2018—I lose track of time—I approached the powers-that-be with the idea of relaunching the series, and somewhat to my surprise was given their immediate blessing. So, I once again rolled up my sleeves over the Christmas holiday break–there’s a theme here, I guess—and developed a lengthy proposal for the series with character breakdowns and so forth, which was eventually sold to our publisher, Hanover Square Press. Because so much time had passed since the final book of the previous series—fifteen, seventeen years, something like that—I opted to reimagine, or reboot, the NET FORCE universe with new characters, situations, and technologies that felt more in synch with our modern world, while staying true to the pillars of what makes a NET FORCE novel a NET FORCE novel, and a Tom Clancy book a Tom Clancy book. That’s where all my years of working with him were so vital.
Q: Your latest work, NET FORCE: MOVING TARGET, book 4 of your bestselling series co-created by Tom Clancy is releasing February 21st. As a writer, what do you think is the key to keeping a thriller series’ momentum going with readers?
A: Readers expect some degree of resolution at the end of a book, whether a standalone or series novel. They want closure. And they should. You want certain things wrapped up. One trick in series writing, however, is to have enough good secondary plotlines running through a book to leave some of them wholly or partially unresolved and draw readers toward the next novel. But it all starts with your characters. You need great, rich characters that people will care about, and want to learn more about, and want to see changed in some way by what they experience in the stories. Otherwise, it’s over before it gets started.
Q: What do you hope readers will get from this latest book in the NET FORCE thriller series?
A: I poured my heart and soul into NET FORCE: MOVING TARGET. At its core it’s about staying true to one’s ideals of love, honor, courage, and responsibility—responsibility to friends, loved ones, and the wider world around us—even in the darkest of places. In the case of this book, that place is an ancient subterranean labyrinth under Paris. The city’s underworld is the setting for at least two-thirds of the novel and largely exists as I describe it. On a deeply personal level, my father died while I was writing the book, and I was alone with him in his final hours, and the circumstances were very bad. I needed to find a certain internal strength in order to care for him and make his passing less difficult. And then I had to return to writing in heightened isolation during the
COVID-Omicron wave of the pandemic. That, in a real sense, was my personal labyrinth to navigate even as Kali Alcazar, the character who’s largely the focus of this book, navigated hers. Our journeys became intertwined, and it made the book very heartfelt and emotional for me. I hope that comes through.
Q: If you could share one piece of advice with other writers, what would it be?
A: Be as regimented as possible, to whatever extent possible. If you can only write ten minutes a day, or every other day, then stick to it. Do the reps like an athlete. That’s how you get better and how stories get finished. Also, be honest with yourself. Be humble. Be humble. Be humble. Did I say to be humble?
“It takes years to find one’s footing as a writer.” ~~Francine Witte
The Dark Part Engages Us
An interview with Francine Witte
In a recent interview Francine Witte, the author of Just Outside the Tunnel of Love said, “I love to write about failed romantic relationships and family dynamics. I think there is so much quiet desperation that leads to good stories.” In her latest book Just Outside the Tunnel of Love she lives up to the premise introduced in the title. The characters here don’t try to make themselves look good. Instead they respond honestly to their losses even when their thoughts and feelings are slightly off center.
Her poetry and fiction have appeared in Smokelong Quarterly, Wigleaf, Mid-American Review, and Passages North plus anthologies including Flash Fiction Funny (Blue Light Press, ) New Micro: Exceptionally Short Fiction (W.W. Norton, ) and Flash Fiction America (W.W. Norton.) as well as Best Microfiction and Best Small Fictions. She is the author of three flash fiction chapbooks, Cold June, (Ropewalk Press) winner of the 2010 Thomas Wilhelmus Award, The Wind Twirls Everything (Musclehead Press, ) and The Cake, The Smoke, The Moon, (ELJ Editions.) Her novella-in-flash The Way of The Wind (Ad Hoc Press, ) was cited as a highly recommended selection in the Bath Flash Fiction Award.
She is editor of Flash Boulevard, published by George Wallace. She is the flash fiction editor of South Florida Poetry Journal. She is a former high school teacher who lives in Manhattan with her husband, Mark Larsen.
BLG: Why have you chosen to write flash?
FW: I have always been drawn to shorter forms of writing — poems, one-act plays, micro and flash fiction. I love the “unsaid” that can best be achieved by the compression that is necessary to the short form. By compression, I mean to say something in as few words as possible, but those words must be evocative and ask the reader to fill in the rest. This marriage between the writer and reader makes for an active experience that can be very satisfying. People like to participate in making the story come to life.
Yes, this happens in longer forms, certainly. All writers must collaborate with a reader. but a longer form can have periods where the reader is being “told” something — long descriptions of characters and what they are thinking, for example. In flash, you have maybe three words to describe something, if that.
BLG: Are you a poet as well as a flash fiction writer? If so, how do the two intersect?
FW: I started as a poet and my MFA is in poetry. I still write poetry but not as often as I write flash. Flash is just more fun to write. I have also moved into prose poetry. A prose poem can look just like a micro. For me, the distinction is that a micro has a plot, a prose poem doesn’t. That’s my definition. Others may vary.
Flash and poetry can share a level of language and poetic device (metaphor, simile, etc.) But there are stories (as in a lined narrative poem) that require the line and stanza breaks that only a poem can provide. There needs to be a physical white space.
While there are many intersections in the two genres, for me, they are quite distinct. When I sit down to write, I always know if something is going to be a poem or a story and I get into that genre’s mode. I never have had the occasion where I was midway through a flash fiction story and thought, oh this is a poem.
Poems do meditation in a way that flash or any story cannot. You can have a character musing on their environment, their life situation, etc. and have no dramatic movement at all. Nothing needs to happen in a poem. In a story, something must happen, or point towards something happening. Also, there is a sense of rhythm that is exclusive to a poem. Yes, micros can have a poetic rhythm, but it’s not a requirement.
And while flash pieces can use many of the techniques of poetry and can be quite poetic in feel, at their heart they are stories. A story that needs characters, conflict, resolution, setting, etc.
BLG: In Just Outside the Tunnel of Love, which came first, the stories or the theme?
FW: The stories were all written before I knew they were going to be in a collection. When I started choosing stories, I didn’t think so much in terms of theme, but I wanted stories that were among my strongest. I did notice as I was going along that I seem to only have one theme: loss. Loss of love, loss of family, etc. I think when you come down to it, that’s what many stories are about, not just mine. A character has lost something, and they try to get it back. Or they feel a loss of something in themselves and the thing they want will fill them. Maybe that’s not as true as I’d like to think it is.
BLG: I loved the pieces where inanimate objects are characters. Where did you get the idea for this and how do you find the voice for an inanimate object?
FW: In flash you can do this kind of thing. Things can observe a situation in a specific way. 🍸A martini glass come to life is different than a man who has stumbled into the bar. It sees everything without any life experience to cloud it up. I don’t know if there is a specific voice to the object, and I don’t know where I got the idea. I think many people do it. But it can be a useful tool in a story to get an objective viewpoint. Maybe that’s what the word objective means.
BLG: What can an author do better in flash than in a 3000-5000 story?
FW: In flash you can have the reader suspend disbelief much longer. A longer story will not support the weight of the surreal or imagined as well. Again, not to say it can’t be done, but it’s the exception.
You can also play with story form in flash in a way that would be difficult, or even annoying, in a longer piece. Stories that are in the form of other things (hermit crabs) such as menus, crossword puzzles, quizzes, etc. can be quite stunning in 300 words. But once you “get” where the writer is going, it might not sustain the surprise effect in a longer piece.
BLG: Many of these stories have a dark side. Why do dark stories work so well in flash?
FW: A reader may enjoy an uplifting story. We all like everything to end well, don’t we? However, it’s the dark part that really engages us, makes us feel less alone.
BLG: What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced as a writer?
FW: It takes years to find one’s footing as a writer. This includes their voice, their ideal genre, etc. Since one has to work, there is often not the mental space to allow for this. I often find myself wishing that I were where I am now as a writer, but twenty years ago, though that would be impossible.
BLG: Where can readers get a copy of this book and where can they learn more about you?
FW: I have a new website, francinewitte.com, that will tell you everything. I have links to publications, book links, videos, interviews, and contact information.