Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Meet Joe Prentis, Author of The Relic Mar 20 - 22

Congratulations to T.W Fendley!
T.W. won a copy of Abraham's Bones!

For the next few days, I welcome a multi-genre author that I became acquainted with on Twitter. Joe Prentis followed me and I visited his web site, and then immediately followed back, thinking; I want to feature him on my blog. Why? You might ask. Because his books intrigued me. 

With eleven books under his belt, Joe writes humor, suspense, thrillers and historical fiction. Here's a bit about Joe before we begin.

Joe Prentis attended Union University and then worked for the FBI in Washington D.C. After he returned to his native state, he was the pastor of one church and the interim pastor of three others. He worked for Tenneco until his recent retirement. He is an avid runner and bicycle rider, but admits to having settled into a more leisure pace after retirement. 

He has written eleven novels, over seventy short stories and articles, and a musical production to commemorate the National Bicentennial. His play, Freedom 76, had a total attendance of almost 70,000 persons. He is now working on a sequel to Innocent and the third book in the Abraham’s Bones series.

Louise: Joe, welcome to my blog! I’m so excited you could join me for a chat. When did you first decide to submit your work to be published? Tell us what or who encouraged you to take this big step.

Joe: I can’t tell you how pleased I am to introduce myself to your readers. I started submitting my work to publishers when I was still in high school. Our school librarian was a published author and she read everything I wrote and encouraged me along the way. Each summer Mrs. Curry went to a writer’s retreat in North Carolina where she asked some of her fellow writers to read some of my work. I received some encouraging notes from several of them. From that moment I was committed. My first published work was in Reader’s Digest in 1980.

Louise: Please tell us a little about your new release of The Relic without giving too much of a spoiler away.

Joe: The Relic is the second book in a three book series about the religious and political conflict in the Middle East. It is set against the background of the archeological excavation at Ashkelon, Israel. It is a book with many twist and turns, plot wise, involving government leaders in Washington, Rome, and the Middle East. 

When John Christopher accepted his assignment as the Vatican's ambassador-at-large to the Middle East, he expected a routine negotiation session, much like the ones he had experienced in the past. He was soon to discover a secret agenda and a mystery that cast its shadow across even the simplest things.

The powerful Cardinals of the curia find themselves in a power struggle with the leaders of the Middle East, as they try to gain political advantage. They quickly discover that the authority of the Throne of St. Peter has met a formidable opponent in an ancient faith bound up in a modern political movement.

The Relic is a story of human emotions; a highly provocative mixture of irony, suspense, and the clash of armies, pagan rituals, passion, pain and enormous faith, all of it set against an apocalyptic atmosphere that will change the world.

Louise: Do you plan all your characters out before you start a story or do they develop as you write? 

Joe: My stories are character driven rather than plot driven. The main characters in my stories sometimes jump into my consciousness fully developed, but even if they don’t, I never have to work very hard to round them out. I think the mistake some writers make is to concentrate too hard on the plot. If you know the characters in your story, then you only have to place them into a situation and most of the plotting will emerge on its own. I worked in Washington many years ago and I came into contact with people in government service, in the FBI, the CIA, and in the Department of State. 

When I decided to do a book on the Middle East, it was easy to imagine the type of person I needed for my story. John Christopher, my main character, is an archeologist who was lured away from his job because he spoke the languages of the Middle East fluently. Once I had an idea of where the story was going, the other characters stepped on the literary stage as they were needed.

Louise: How much research do you do for your books? Have you found any cool tidbits in your research? 

Joe: The research depends entirely on the type of book I am writing. Abraham’s Bones and the sequel, The Relic, took a lot of research to complete the story. Innocent, a police procedural novel did not require any research. I wrote Innocent in 28 days, but spent two years on the other two books. I have a large table in my home office and it was piled high with books, notes, and computer disk where I recorded everything. I also went to the experts when I was uncertain about the finer details. I have a friend, who spent over half of her life in the Middle East. She is a Muslim. Another friend, who is Jewish, was able to give me his input on religious and secular matters. I guess the short answer would be that I do whatever is required to make the story authentic.

Louise: What is your writing process? Do you outline, write by the seat of your pants (Pantser) or a combination of both?

Joe: The more I write, the less I outline. People who write character driven fiction report the same strange phenomena that I have experienced. The characters tend to take control of the story and writers have to wrestle it away from them from time to time. Imagine the person you know best in some dramatic situation. If it is a minor accident, and they are transported to the hospital, you know exactly what you are going to see, hear, and experience before you get there. It is the same with literary characters you know well. I know where my stories are going shortly after I began plotting my book, but like a proud parent on a playground, I know when to stand back and let them do their thing.

Louise: Do you write full time? What did you do before you became a writer or still do?

Joe: I worked for the FBI and then for Tenneco for many years. Tenneco is a large cooperation that involves manufacturing as well as being a holding company for several other enterprises. I now write full time and have just completed my eleventh novel.

Louise: Do you have a ritual when it comes to writing? Example….get coffee, blanket, paper, pen, laptop and a comfy place.

Joe: I always write at my computer. I have a home office with bookshelves from floor to ceiling on one wall that contains many hundreds of reference books. I have a set of storage cabinets where I keep supplies, so my office is somewhat self-contained. I keep the blinds closed, the stereo off, and I don’t answer the phone when I am writing. I usually write in long sessions, stopping only for meals. If I get tired of sitting, then I put my manuscript on a flash drive and cross the room to another computer where I can write standing up. If that still doesn’t get the kinks out of my legs, then I step on my treadmill or rowing machine until everything is back to normal. I usually keep a glass of water handy and some small items of food, like almonds or a cracker or two. 

Louise: Describe a typical writing day for you.

Joe: Some writers complain of writers block, but I have never been bothered with that problem. When I start a writing session, I always back up a chapter or two in the manuscript to where I left off the previous day. I read carefully through the passage, making corrections and some other minor editing. By the time I get to my starting place, I can go on seamlessly without any problem. I do my best work when I write in long sessions, but sometimes I quit and do the things people normally do -- visit with friends, take care of family matters, or do something for recreation.

Louise: Please give us a sneak peek at your future books. What’s on the horizon?

Joe: For some unknown reason, I work best when I am working on different stories at the same time. I have about half of the third book in the Abraham’s Bones series finished. I am working on the second book in my Daniel Barrett series, and have done some work on some other stories. While this might sound like a disorganized process, it really isn’t. I like creating characters, plotting, researching, and all of the other things involved in the writing process. My works in progress are in various stages of completion, so I don’t have to just be in one stage at any given time. I am writing for the sheer pleasure of it. This is the way I normally work and enjoy it immensely. I will have the second book in my western series finished in a month or two, and the others will be completed before the end of the year.

Louise: What is your favorite genre to read and who is your favorite author?

Joe: I like suspense best, but I also like stories about the American frontier. I guess I should say that I like anything that explores the human condition. I like many authors, and I am awed by the talent of many others. I like James Michener, John Jakes, Michael Connelly, and James Patterson, but if I had to pick a single author it would probably be LaVyrle Spencer. Her stories have the right combination of suspense, romance, and the human condition. When you finish one of her books, you feel as if you have made some new friends and that you are involved in their lives. Spencer is about as good as it gets.

Louise: Is there anything else you would like to tell the readers we have not touched on?

Joe: Someone once said that if a writer is writing for any other reason except money, then he is a fool. Money is nice, but I write for the pleasure it gives me in creating a story, and I hope I can bring a little pleasure to my readers. I write to entertain, and I hope people will feel they have received something worthwhile from reading one of my novels.

Louise: Where can the readers learn more about you and find your books on the web? 

Joe: Information about what I have written in recent years can be found on my website or at most online booksellers. Check the following links:

Amazon author’s page
Joe's Blog 

Louise: Joe, thank you again for visiting my blog!

Readers, Joe is giving away a copy of the first book in the Abraham's Bones series, in Kindle format, to one lucky commenter! Please include your email address in the comment so we can easily contact the winner. Drawing will be held Mar 23.

The Relic - Excerpt 

    The windows exploded inward, sending an avalanche of glass and jagged metal across the room, while the steady blat-blat of a high-powered weapon shattered the early morning stillness. Christopher rolled off the bed and covered his eyes with his hands. A fraction of a second later, two vases setting on a trestle table exploded, sending fist-sized chunks of fire-glazed pottery ricocheting from the walls and ceiling.
    “Get down!” Christopher shouted when he heard Julia’s high pitched scream from across the hallway. In the sudden lull, he heard Daniella’s voice, faint and indistinct, from the opposite end of the house.
      The row of floodlights along the top of the walls snapped on, illuminating the carpet in the reflected glow. Fragments of glass glittered like hoarfrost at the far end of the room. Christopher turned in the opposite direction and crawled around the foot of the bed. He stayed low, to keep his body below the level of the windows, as he moved rapidly through the doorway. The tall windows at the opposite end of the hallway extended almost to the floor. He hoped the next attack would not come from that direction.
      Julia had evidently heeded his warning, for she remained silent, but in the eerie stillness Christopher could hear the sound of bare feet running in his direction. He came up on one knee and caught Daniella around the waist, then swung her to the floor and covered her body with his own.
      The shooter had evidently switched clips during the brief lull, for the sporadic firing commenced again. Chips of plaster exploded from the walls in the hallway as bullets whined away in the darkness like angry hornets. If Daniella had been a second or two later, she would have been cut down. Another weapon commenced firing from the direction of the gatehouse, a deep-throated thumping that drowned out the sound of the smaller weapon.
      The firing stopped abruptly. A few seconds later the lights in the hallway snapped on. He heard the pounding of hard-soled boots as someone raced up the stairway from below. Was it possible that someone had breached the outer perimeter?
      “Ambassador Christopher!” a familiar voice called from the landing. Lance Corporal Donavan ran effortlessly up the remaining flight of stairs carrying a M9 Beretta in his oversized hand.
      Christopher attempted to roll away from Daniella, but her arms were locked securely around his neck. He realized she was trying to shield her scantily clad body from the guard’s inquisitive gaze. Donavan stepped past them and went cautiously into the wreckage of the bedroom. Broken glass and pottery crunched underneath the soles of his combat boots. Someone shouted a question from the lower terrace, and Donavan called back to assure him that everything was secure. Julia’s tousled head appeared in the doorway of her bedroom for a second, and then she darted back inside. A second or two later she was back with a robe that she tossed in her sister’s direction. Daniella caught it and wrapped it around her body as Donovan emerged from Christopher’s bedroom. The radio attached to his belt suddenly came to life. Christopher could hear the rapid-fire questions and Donavan’s terse replies. After a moment, Donavan came slowly back, frowning down at the radio.
     “This was apparently a mistake,” Donavan said in an odd tone as if he couldn’t take it all in.
      “A mistake?” Christopher echoed as he examined the young soldier’s expression.
      “Yes, sir. The shooter thought this was Eli Cohen’s house.”
     “Cohen’s house is the next one down,” Christopher offered, then realized Donavan was already aware of that. In the three days since the transfer of the Marine Security Detachment from Company ‘B’ Headquarters in Nicosia, they had reconnoitered the neighborhood with the same precision they would have used to plan an armed assault.
      “Did the attackers give an explanation?” Christopher asked.
      “There was only one of them, sir, and they didn’t get much out of him before he died. If you’re sure everything is okay, I’ll report to Post One.”
      Post One was the way the Marine Security Guards referred to the guard posts they maintained near the front entrance of all American embassies. Dr. Siedman’s sprawling villa was not an embassy, but as special envoys to the upcoming negotiations they were qualified to receive the protection normally offered to embassy personnel.
      “I’ll be down in a minute,” Christopher said as Donavan turned toward the head of the stairs.
      Christopher walked to the door of his bedroom and looked at the wreckage. They were lucky the shooter hadn’t used a grenade launcher. Julia made a little sound of dismay as she surveyed the room. When he turned in her direction, she leaned her forehead against his shoulder. He thought at first that she was crying and then realized it was laughter bubbling up out of control.
      “A mistake?” Julia said. “This is too weird for words.”
      “I don’t think weird covers it,” he said.
      Daniella remained motionless, looking down the hallway in the direction Donovan had taken. “Is he going to come rushing up here at every little thing?” she complained.
      Christopher would have been amused if the situation had not been so serious. Donovan had seemed unaware of Daniella’s presence as he checked the hallway and the bedroom. At her age, being ignored was almost as bad as the advances of a stalker.
    “The house is secure,” he said as he encircled her with his other arm and pulled her against his shoulder. When Julia made a small sound of surprise, he realized Daniella was trying to elbow her out of the way.
      “Go and check on your grandmother,” he said. “I’m sure the noise awakened her.”
      Daniella moved back a few inches while her gaze darted from one of them to the other.
     “What’s going on that you don’t want me to know about?” she accused. “I’m not a kid anymore and I resent you guys trying to hide everything from me.”
      “We’re not hiding anything from you,” Julia said.
      The frown line deepened between her eyebrows. “Yeah, right, like I’d believe that.”
      It seemed for a moment that she was going to continue to argue, but she pulled resentfully away and went down the hallway without looking back. Christopher wondered if the situation had become too serious to allow her to remain in Israel for the summer. It would probably be a good idea to send her back to Harvard or to her mother in Washington. He decided he would wait until later to broach the subject with Julia. Some decisions would also have to be made concerning the other students. There would be over eighty of them arriving from colleges and universities around the world to spend their summer working at the archeological site. Hundreds of student workers in northern Israel were sent home the previous summer when rockets rained down on their area. After three days of relative peace, dangerous events were closing in on them again.
      Julia continued to stand with her arms around his waist, her forehead leaned against his shoulder. When he kissed her forehead, she made a small sound of surprise but did not lift her eyes to meet his.
      “Everything is secure,” Christopher said. “As soon as I’m dressed, I’ll go down and see what the guards discovered.” Julia pulled away with a show of reluctance and turned toward the door of her bedroom.
      During the previous weeks, the excitement over the kidnapping of Congressman Danville had moved from the front page of the newspaper to the bottom of page five. Christopher wondered where Keith Maitland was at that moment, and what kind of spin he would put on this.


  1. Excellent interview Joe. I enjoyed reading about your writing routines. Very helpful.

  2. Wonderful interview, Joe. What an interesting life! The FBi? Wow! Congrats on the Relic. It sounds fascinating. Thanks for sharing a peek into your life...and many happy sales!

  3. Lots of insight into the author and his books. I appreciate the thorough interview and book info. www.dkchristi.com author of Ghost Orchid and more - dkchristi at yahoo dot com

  4. Thanks, John. Exploring the world of writing can be as exciting as the actual process of writing a book

  5. Laura,

    Second only to writing is the way that writers relate to each other. I appreciate your kind words. Thanks for the visit.

  6. D.K.,

    Getting to know the author can be very interesting. I always go to the websites of the ones I like and read about them. I appreciate Louise giving me the opportunity to connect with each of you.

  7. Hi, Joe,

    Really nice to learn more about you and your novels. It's great that you have a background of working for the FBI. So interesting!

  8. Thanks, Jacqueline. Now that I am writing full time, I am able to spend quite a bit of time both reading and writing. There is nothing like a good book.

  9. A most interesting interview and your books sound so fun! Congrats and good luck!
    (pauline at paulinebjones dot com)

  10. I think you have hit correctly on a universal truth. The purpose of a book should be to bring the reader a few hours of intense pleasure. That is just about as good as it gets. Great to hear from you. :)

  11. Wow, I finally get to pop in (unexpected trip to town) and I see you have a crowd here Joe! Love it.
    Thank you everyone for stopping by and showing Joe support!
    I must add these are excellent comments. I hope you all will stop by often to meet new authors or maybe find your favorite author is being featured here. I love doing the author interviews.
    Joe, with your background on the FBI, I may have a few questions to ask here and there for my WIP. I promise not to bombard or bug you too much. :) But I would appreciate input from you.
    Good luck everyone in the drawing for a copy of Abraham's Bones.

  12. Louise,

    I would be more than glad to help you with your research in any way I can. I am deeply indebted to the ones who have helped me along the way to make everything authentic. Helping someone bring a touch or realism to a novel is a reward in itself.

  13. Louise and Joe - What an awesome interview! The realism and intensity of just the beginning is enough for me to want to read more. You've done a great job with pulling the reader into an action-packed scene! Who could possibly put down a book with this kind of starting hook? Well done! I look forward to learning more about you, Joe. Thanks for commenting back and allowing us to chat with you.

    deanna.jewel at yahoo dot com

  14. Joe, I enjoyed learning about your background and your writing process.
    Great excerpt!

  15. Deanna,

    There is nothing on earth as enjoyable as discussing books with authors or avid readers. The Internet and the blogs and forums it contains are a delight to those of us who write. I enjoyed the conversation and I hope you will continue to visit my blog and website. Thanks to all of you for you visit and allowing me to connect with you.

  16. Anita,

    Glad you enjoyed the excerpt. It took a few moments of pondering to decide on the passage I would share with each of you. The two books in this series were a labor of love. If people enjoy reading them just half as much as I enjoyed writing them, I will be pleased.

  17. Hi, Joe -- It was fun learning more about you and your books. It's amazing that you wrote Innocent in 28 days!
    Congrats on The Relic!

  18. T.W. Fendley,

    I was discussing the yearly NaNoWriMo contest with a friend and we wondered if we could actually write a book in the month they allow. Rather than enter the program, we decided to try it on our own. Innocent didn’t require any research because I am familiar with law enforcement procedures as they exist in a small town sheriff’s office. It was a challenge, however. It was the dead of winter and I worked twelve hours most days. When I write in short sessions, it is hard for me to make much progress. The book is about 60 thousand words in length, so a couple of thousand words each day isn’t all that hard to do. I loved every minute of it, and will probably try the same thing again.

    Thanks for you visit and again for leaving your comment.