Does a Book Cover Play an Important Role in the Selling Process & Other Q's with Thriller Author Michael Houtz @michaelhoutz #interview

Today's guest is Michael Houtz, author of the new thriller, Dark Spiral Down. Mike is here to talk about his new book, writing and what surprised him about getting published. 


Welcome to The Writer's Life!  Now that your book has been published, we’d love to find out more about the process.  Can we begin by having you take us at the beginning?  When did you come up with the idea to write your book?


First of all, I’m thrilled to be here! A few years ago, I’d just taken an early retirement from a career in medicine to spend more time with my two young sons and pursue my love of writing fiction. 

Predictably, I was working on a medical thriller when I came across the story of a man living in the U.S. whose son was unlawfully whisked away to South America by his ex-wife. If I recall correctly, they shared joint custody. I read about his struggles against the foreign court system and her effort to remain hidden so that he had zero contact with his child. By all accounts I found, the father was a good man and there were no reports of abuse in the relationship. Years passed, and he continued this Don Quixote-like struggle to be in his son’s life. I never met the man, but I felt this deep, raw pain for the guy. How selfish could someone be to put a child through such a traumatic experience? I wanted someone to go get the boy, bring him home, and let the chips fall after-the-fact. I did some digging and discovered this sort of scenario plays out hundreds of times a year in this country. How was this even possible? I grew angrier with every new account I read. The side of righteousness needed a hero for these children and their rightful guardians. I put the medical thriller in the drawer. The manuscript for Dark Spiral Down shot out of my imagination like water from a fire hose. While researching these horrendous stories, I’ll admit I shed more than a few tears.



Who is your publisher and how did you find them, or did you self-publish?


I signed with Wild Rose Press, a New York-based publisher. After I finished the manuscript, I entered a writing contest for the feedback from the judges. I harbored no illusion I knew a single thing about writing. I just wanted experienced eyes to tell me what I needed to work on. I forgot all about the submission. Months later, I receive a call one evening with news I’d won the Zebulon award for my manuscript. This is a bad joke, right? Nope—the real deal. A few months later, I attended a conference and pitched my book to the CEO of Wild Rose Press, Rhonda Penders. She requested a small change and a full submission (of course she was right about the chapter adjustment). Within a few days, I received a note from a senior editor that she loved the story and planned a presentation of my work to the acquiring committee. A promised three-week turnaround on an answer morphed into a forty-eight hour return of a contract offer.




Is there anything that surprised you about getting your first book published?


As a debut author, everything is a surprise! What amazed me the most was the before and after of landing my contract. I’d received early praise from contest judges and the editor reviewing my submission. Glowing mentions from total strangers instilled a new level of confidence in my effort. I returned the signed contract and felt I was on my way to stardom. Three days into the start of my assigned editor’s review, I received an email with the manuscript change request. She made one hundred corrections or comments and requested I review them before moving forward. She ended that first pass on page nine. Let that sink in for a second. I won an award and impressed a publishing house enough to invest in me. How in the world did I ever impress anyone? I still don’t have an answer. Those pages looked like well-used butcher’s paper.



Do you believe a book cover plays an important role in the selling process?


I freely admit I’ve purchased many books in the past based solely on the cover. If the cover isn’t impressive in its quality and conveys an entire story—its theme—based on a single image, it doesn’t matter if the writing is the finest ever produced. First impressions are very difficult to change, good or bad. If the cover is of poor quality, people naturally assume the contents share its attributes. The day my cover came out, I sat in a coffee shop with my laptop open. A total stranger glanced over my shoulder and asked if I was looking at a new book. Seeking an unadulterated opinion, I said I was thinking about buying it and asked him what he thought. “Yeah, I’d buy it. Looks like a good book,” he offered. I knew we had a winner.



How hard was it to write a book like this and do you have any tips that you could pass on which would make the journey easier for other writers?


I harbored all the motivation but lacked any semblance of organized workflow. Coming from a background in medicine where decision-making requires precision and orderly processes, I found myself completely scattered. I’m a very visual person and snippets of scenes flashed in my mind on a constant basis. Rather than place those random thoughts into a linear sequence before writing, I wrote what I “saw” as they came to me. Moving on from chapter 3 straight to chapter 27 is not an ideal situation. My inexperience caused many frustrating days at the keyboard.

My advice is discovering what works for you and stick with it. Despite all the books available on the process of writing, and the myriad opinions on when and where you should ply your talent, those are still just opinions. The best time of day for me might not be yours. Some need complete silence and others find blaring music puts them in the right frame of mind. Steven King can’t tell you when you’re most productive. Only you can discover that for yourself.



What other books are you working on and when will they be published?


I’m coming along nicely with the follow-up to Dark Spiral Down. Now that readers know the story of the protagonist, Cole Haufner, we see his transformation into a man completely dedicated and obsessed with recovering children unlawfully removed by a parent to a country that doesn’t recognize the de facto legal guardianship by U.S. laws.
           
I also have the honor of working with Ryan Steck, the creator of The Real Book Spy Reviews, and a leading figure in the thriller industry. Under Ryan’s guidance, I’m fully immersed in finishing my original writing effort, a medical thriller. This one could be big so stay tuned.



What’s one fact about your book that would surprise people?


Recently, I met an older man who once lived in the same area of southeast China where the book’s story takes place. I shared a few chapters with him, and he became animated with descriptions of the book’s locations compared with his memory of them. Finally, he asked what I remembered from my time visiting there. I had to break it to him I’d never stepped foot in that part of the world. He thought I was kidding. I guess years of medical research practices actually amounted to something useful.


Finally, what message are you trying to get across with your book?


First and foremost, I hope the book can be a springboard for the general public’s awareness of these kidnapping crimes committed every year in this country. With the help of fans, I hope we collectively become a bigger, more vocal supporting force for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
           
I do have one message from the book protagonist’s experience. You don’t have to have specific knowledge to become successful at your chosen endeavor—you just have to want it bad enough. I’m living proof.

           
Thank you again for this interview!  Do you have any final words?


Just a message of gratitude to everyone who has brought me closer to my dream. It’s a lonely business sitting at a keyboard every day. Getting down to brass tacks, you realize all the things, big and small, people added to your cumulative experience. Even negative feedback and the hundreds of times you hear ‘no’ are beneficial if you allow the information to propel you forward. The secret is never quit!


About the Author


After a career in medicine, Mike Houtz succumbed to the call to hang up his stethoscope and pursue his other passion as a writer of fast-paced thrillers. A rabid fan of authors such as Clancy, Mark Greaney, Vince Flynn, and Brad Thor, Mike loves series writing with strong characters, fast pacing and international locations, all of which explode into action in his debut novel, a 2017 Zebulon Award winner. When not at the keyboard, he can be found on the firing range, traveling for research across the globe, or trying out the latest dry-fly pattern on a Gold Medal trout stream.

He lives at the foothills of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado.

His latest book is the thriller/international/action novel, Dark Spiral Down.



                          https://www.facebook.com/mike.houtz.77


About the Book:

Title: DARK SPIRAL DOWN
Author: Michael Houtz
Publisher: The Wild Rose Press
Pages: 377
Genre: Thriller/International/Action

BOOK BLURB:
COLE HAUFNER is a reluctant superstar in the professional mixed martial arts world. After his latest fight, his wife and child perish in a car crash. His grief deepens when his brother, BUTCH, a Delta Force operator, is absent from the funeral and reported missing by two furtive strangers who show up unannounced at the burial. Despairing, and acting on a tip, Cole travels to his childhood home in southeast China, looking for his brother.

Butch and his teammate, HAMMER, are the sole American survivors of a gun battle between their unit and North Korean commandos, both sides fighting over possession of a stolen suitcase containing a miniaturized fusion device that could either provide unlimited clean energy or be converted to an undetectable bomb seven times more powerful than a nuclear explosion. Leading the North Koreans is the sociopath, Commander PARK. Pressed into helping the Koreans is a disgraced former CIA operative, BARRETT JENNINGS.

Cole meets with the uncle who raised him, MASTER LI, and is warned to stop his search for Butch. Barrett discovers Cole’s identity (with the help of a genius computer hacker, LILLY), which opens a twenty-year-old wound when Barrett was blamed for the disappearance of Cole’s father, along with the man’s invention. Barrett enlists the 14K organized crime syndicate to help capture Cole. Hammer, separated from Butch during the fight for the device, thwarts the gang’s attempt to kidnap Cole, and the two then set off to find Butch and the device. All parties converge on the city library where Butch, now disguised as a monk, is attempting to communicate with the Pentagon. Barrett and Park capture Butch, while the 14K gang nabs Cole.

Danger mounts as Chinese authorities begin investigating foul play within their borders. Cole fights his way free of the gang and reunites with Hammer.  Both men find Barrett’s apartment and discover Lilly (the man’s stepdaughter), who divulges Barrett’s identity and plan. Cole clashes with Hammer, who is willing to sacrifice Butch in order to recover the fusion device. Lilly offers her help in exchange for her and Barrett’s rescue from Park’s grip. Meanwhile, Barrett discovers the true nature of the case the North Koreans are pursuing and, sensing he and Lilly are to be assassinated by Park once he has the device, frees Butch. Butch, trusting Barrett was sent to rescue him, leads the turncoat to the site where he hid the device. Barrett, hoping to make a quick fortune selling it, shoots Butch before escaping with the case.

Cole, along with Hammer and Lilly, arrives at the location of Butch and finds him gravely wounded. Butch fingers Barrett for shooting him and for stealing the case. Cole wants only to save his brother but Butch makes him promise to kill Barrett and recover their dad’s invention. The revelation that the device is his father’s scientific discovery propels Cole forward to fulfill his brother’s mission. Cole is forced to abandon Butch at a hospital. Cole pursues Barrett to a remote dock where the ex-CIA man is planning to escape China by boat. With the Chinese military now actively looking for Cole, Cole confronts Barrett and Park sparking a gunfight. Barrett kills Park. As Barrett turns the gun on Cole, Hammer kills Barrett. Cole, Hammer and Lilly escape via the boat, and the fusion device is safely returned.


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