OVER THE YEARS Austin Camacho and I have attended many of the same conferences but, unfortunately, it hasn’t been until now that I’ve really had a chance to get to know him. Austin is the author of five novels in the Hannibal Jones Mystery Series, and two in the Stark and O'Brien adventure series. His short stories have been featured in several anthologies and he is featured in the Edgar nominated African American Mystery Writers: A Historical and Thematic Study by Frankie Y. Bailey.
He is a public affairs specialist for the Department of Defense. Born in New York City, he grew up in Saratoga Springs, New York and majored in psychology at Union College in Schenectady, New York. A veteran, today he handles media relations and writes articles for military newspapers and magazines. He also teaches writing classes at Anne Arundel Community College. Austin makes his home in Springfield, Virginia, as he puts it: “uncomfortably close to our nation's capital.”
Mike: Welcome to my blog, Austin, I’m happy that you can join us this week. Let’s start with your main character, Hannibal Jones. Who is he, where does he come from and is he based on anyone you know?
Austin: Hannibal Jones is an African American private eye based In Washington DC. He was born in Germany to an American soldier and his German national wife. When Hannibal's father was killed in combat at the end of Vietnam, Hannibal's mother raised him in Germany. After time as a police officer in NYC he joined the Secret Service but was asked to resign after refusing to cover up the bad behavior of the leader he was assigned to protect.
Hannibal's literary ancestors include Travis McGee, Simon Templar and Lew Archer, but I think his mixed heritage makes him unique.
M: A great heritage! I count five books in the Hannibal Jones series, can you give me brief two or three sentence description of each.
A: The Troubleshooter - In this prequel to Blood and Bone, Hannibal Jones is hired to free a Washington crack house from the drug addicts and winos that hold it. A powerful drug lord nearly drives him off, until he realizes that his success or failure will determine the fate of a neighborhood, and the future of one small boy.
Blood And Bone - Eighteen-year-old Kyle needs a bone marrow transplant, and his only hope lies in finding his father, a man who disappeared before Kyle was born. Hannibal Jones has two weeks to find the missing man, but his search turns up much more: A woman who might be Kyle's illegitimate sister, the woman who could be her mother, and the man who may have killed Kyle's father. Hannibal follows a twisting, winding path of deception, conspiracy and greed, from Washington to Mexico, pursuing the truth.
Collateral Damage - Bea's fiancé Dean has disappeared. Hannibal Jones finds Dean just before the man is accused of murder. All the evidence points to Dean, who can't remember what happened. Police believe that Dean might be following in the footsteps of his mother, who was convicted of killing Dean's father. Or was Dean covering for his mother, now out of prison and considered a possible serial killer? The trail leads from Washington DC to Germany, where Hannibal stumbles upon a third murder which seems linked to Dean's life. Hannibal must solve all three cases in order to clear Dean's name.
Damaged Goods - Anita Cooper was three times a victim. Her father's death crushed her dreams of college and success. Then her purity was drowned in powerless anxiety, and her virtue crushed by unspeakable humiliation. Rod Mantooth stole both her innocence and her father's priceless legacy, a secret treasure that could have rebuilt her life. Anita was lost until fate brought her together with Hannibal. Like a rolling mass of icy fury, Hannibal followed a twisted trail that led to Mantooth, the stolen treasure, and a final showdown in the icy waters of the Atlantic.
Russian Roulette - Hannibal Jones is forced to take a case for a Russian assassin. He must investigate Gana, the wealthy Algerian who has stolen Viktoriya, the woman his new client loves. Evidence connects Gana to Russian mob money and the apparent suicide of Viktoriya's father. Then more deaths follow, closing in on Viktoriya. To save the Russian beauty, Hannibal must unravel a complex tangle of clues and survive a dramatic shootout on Roosevelt Island, side-by-side with his murderous client.
M: I also count two standalones, again can you give me a brief description of each?
A: Not standalones, but the start of a separate adventure/thriller series:
The Payback Assignment - While fighting for their lives, mercenary soldier Morgan Stark and jewel thief Felicity O'Brien learn they share a psychic link that warns them of danger. They then combine their skills to get revenge on the man who double-crossed them both and left them to die in South America.
The Orion Assignment - Morgan Stark follows Felicity O'Brian to her native Ireland to defend her uncle's Catholic parish from Ian O'Ryan, an IRA terrorist. Trying to separate patriotic mercenaries from heartless terrorists leads them to a sniper mission on the rocky Irish coast, a deadly high speed motorcycle race in Belgium, and a final confrontation on an island off the coast of France where Morgan could die by slow torture if Felicity doesn't find him in time.
M: Which is easier to write, the mysteries or the adventure/thriller? Which is easier to sell to a publisher? And have you ever written a standalone novel?
A: I’ve never written a stand-alone because I tend to fall in love with my characters and can’t stand for them to languish in limbo. Besides, it’s so much easier to deal with story when you already know your characters and how they will react to whatever you subject them to. As far as my novels are concerned, the action thrillers are easier to write than the complex puzzles I write for Hannibal Jones to figure out - but the mysteries are more fun. Right now, nothing is easier to sell to a publisher. I do think a series is easier to market if the publisher thinks you can draw a readership.
M: What started you writing?
A: I’ve been a big reader since I can remember, and I read the kind of stuff I write. I’ve always loved stories of great heroes. After reading thru all 24 Tarzan novels, all the James Bond and Travis McGee books, and I think all of the Destroyer books I wanted to do it myself. After getting hooked on the Nero Wolfe series and the Lew Archer books I wanted to learn to do that too. For years I wrote for my own amusement but eventually we all want to share our vision with the world, right?
M: What are your writing habits? In other words, do you write each day, morning, evening, etc.?
A: Until a few months ago I worked on a novel every day. I still write every day, but now more of that is blog or social media content, and I write reviews for the International Thriller Writers and the American Independent Writers. I tend to do most of my work during my lunch hour (like right now working on this interview piece) and early weekend mornings.
M: Anything upcoming?
A: The third Stark & O’Brien thriller, The Piranha Assignment, should be on bookstore shelves in October. Meanwhile I’m working on the next Hannibal Jones novel and a Hannibal Jones stage play for a local production company.
M: A stage play! How difficult is that to write? It seems to me that adapting a novel as a play would be a rather difficult undertaking.
A: Actually, I'm adapting a short story. It's challenging because you can't just change locations whenever you feel like it - can't have a dozen scenes. And of course, you can't let action carry the story, it's all about dialog.
M: How did you happen to get involved in the playwriting business?
A: I went to see a play at a local theater. I got into conversation with the woman sitting in front of me, who turned out to be the director. I told her I was a mystery author and she asked if I'd like to try to write a play for them.
M: When and where is the play to be produced? And will you have a part in it?
A: I'm afraid it's way premature to discuss when or where the play may be produced but I'll sure let you know as soon as I can. And no, I will NOT be appearing on stage. I want people to actually watch the play when the time comes.
M: Do you have any hobbies, etc. for your spare time?
A: Spare time? What’s that? Actually, reading and writing are just about what I do for fun, except for hitting the range to poke 9mm holes in paper targets.
M: Where can we purchase your books? Are any available as ebooks?
A: All of my books are available in all book stores, but you probally won’t find them on the shelves except in VA, MD and DC. They’re all on Amazon.com of course, and are all available as ebooks.
M: How can readers contact you?
A: Readers can go to my website and hit the “contact Austin” button to send me an email. Or they can go to my Facebook fan page and send me a message. If they go there they can also get in on the discussions. Or they can always email me at email@example.com . I really love to hear from readers and I answer every message and email, but not always on the same day.
M: Thank you for joining us, and good luck with The Piranha Assignment and the play!