Marcus Williams and Francis Ackerman Jr. both have a talent for hurting people. Marcus, a former New York City homicide detective, uses his abilities to protect others, while Ackerman uses his gifts to inflict pain and suffering. When both men become unwilling pawns in a conspiracy that reaches to the highest levels of our government, Marcus finds himself in a deadly game of cat and mouse trapped between a twisted psychopath and a vigilante with seemingly unlimited resources. Aided by a rogue FBI agent and the vigilante’s beautiful daughter–a woman with whom he’s quickly falling in love–Marcus must expose the deadly political conspiracy and confront his past while hunting down one of the most cunning and ruthless killers in the world.
One of the main characters in your novel is an intelligent and relentless serial killer. What sets you’re book apart from the standard serial killer novel? Why should we pick it up?
Without quoting another blurb or running through the standard book description, I would say that my goal with The Shepherd was to write a book that I would want to read. And I love books that are fast-paced with a lot of action. I tried to take the serial killer genre but put a slightly different spin on it (and the book also revolves around a larger conspiracy in which the killer plays a part). There are a lot of books out there that feature the hunt for serial killers; after all, these men are like aliens among us. They think and act in ways that most of us cannot begin to comprehend, which in turn makes them fascinating. But while most novels of this type take the police procedural approach and the following of clues to find the killer (and my book does have some of this), The Shepherd is designed to get the reader into the killer’s head and wonder how the other characters are going to escape. In other words, it’s not a “follow the clues to unmask the killer” type of book. It’s more a “oh my God, he’s in the next room…and he’s got a shotgun” type of book.
I was intrigued by the note in your bio: “Ethan Cross is the pen name of a thriller author living and writing in Illinois with his wife, two daughters, and two Shih Tzus.” Why the dual identities? And what’s different about style and creative process between the two?
Why use a pen name? Well, the easiest answer is that my agent told me to. But in truth, I always knew that I would have to use pen names. This is because the publishing industry wants authors to be established as a brand just like any other product. They want people to be able to pick up any Ethan Cross novel and know what to expect. It’s a sound business principle. It’s kind of like the concept of Pepsi versus Mountain Dew. If you opened up a Pepsi and it tasted like Mountain Dew, you would probably be shocked and disappointed. You may even like Mountain Dew, but you sat down expecting a Pepsi since that’s what you bought. It’s the same idea with an author. I want readers to pick up an Ethan Cross novel and be able to count on a breathless, fast-paced suspense thriller. I do plan, however, on writing books in several different genres including action/adventure, science fiction, literary fiction, horror, fantasy, or whatever good idea comes along. I love all types of books and stories and have ideas that don’t fit into one type of box. But those ideas will fit into a box because they will be under different names. So nobody will buy an Ethan Cross book and get a bad taste in their mouth expecting Pepsi but receiving Mountain Dew instead.
Is The Shepherd your first novel? Can you share a little about your writing background before The Shepherd?
The Shepherd is my first novel, but writing and telling stories has always been a passion of mine. When I was young, I would force my parents to take me to sometimes two to three movies in a single weekend. Now that I’ve grown up, I try to do the same thing to my wife (but she usually restrains me to one). In High School, I wrote a screenplay, and I had aspirations of breaking into writing for the film industry. I had already outlined several movie ideas in my head (something that I had been doing since I was a little boy). However, I knew that was an uphill battle, and most of my time was being taken up by another passion of mine: music. With a few different bands that I played with as lead singer and guitar player, I was able to record a few albums and open for some national recording artists. After my last band broke up, I rekindled my love for stories with books. And it wasn’t long before one night at about two o’clock in the morning, I decided to start writing a novel. I had no idea at the time what I was getting myself into.
How did you come up with the idea for The Shepherd?
The original idea for The Shepherd started out years ago as a short 40 page story for a college English class. I was watching a movie called Frailty (great movie, by the way), and it got me interested in the idea of turning the tables on who we saw as the villain and the “good guy”. The short story asked the question, “Do the ends justify the means?” and dealt with the abuse of power. The serial killer in the short story (the character that later evolved into Ackerman) was actually not a character at all, since the story centered upon the finding of the killer’s dead body. I originally intended to use the short story as a starting point for the novel, but the book took me in such different directions that there is basically nothing recognizable left from the short story. The class was a senior level English course, and the story came on one of the last days before graduation. The day after I turned in the story the teacher asked me to stay after class and urged me not to stop writing. Her words meant a lot and really stuck with me.
Tell me about the research that went into writing The Shepherd. How long have you been working on it?
The total time from beginning the novel to the date of publication has been about five years, but that’s a little deceptive since not all of that was spent writing and the whole finding an agent and publishing process accounted for a great deal of that time. In regard to research, I did a good deal into police procedures and the minds of serial killers as well as general research. I’m lucky enough to have been aided by several law enforcement officers including ATF Agents and the Colorado State Patrol. I also have a brother-in-law that was a part-time cop and am friends with a man who was the chief of police of our town. So I got to spend as much time as I wanted in the back of a cop car (not something most people hope for).
Although it’s a standalone novel, you’ve also said The Shepherd is the first in a series of books. Have you started on the next one yet? What are you currently working on?
The Shepherd is set up to be a series, and the next book is going to be called The Cleansing. Beyond that book, I have several more books in the series outlined. Hopefully, people will enjoy taking a journey with these characters, and I’ll be able to get those stories out of my head and onto paper. But The Cleansing probably isn’t going to be my next project. I’ve done quite a bit of work on the first book in a new action/adventure series and also on a new standalone thriller called The Darkness Never Sleeps. It deals with a repentant serial killer that must fall into his old habits in order to save his daughter from a group of drug runners being financed by the CIA.
The Shepherd was published by Lou Aronica’s new publishing imprint, The Fiction Studio. How has that experience been for you?
Working with Lou has been an incredible experience. If I have any success with this book or others to come, it will be due in large part to the efforts of Lou Aronica. I was truly honored when Lou asked me to be published under his new imprint (which was by invitation only). The truly ironic (or serendipitous) thing about it is that I was first truly introduced to a love of reading by the first Star Wars novels by Timothy Zahn. I had of course read books before then, but I wasn’t a truly avid reader. Those books showed me the joy of reading, and it wasn’t long before I was reading everything I could get my hands on (sometimes 3 to 4 books a week). The funny thing is that Lou Aronica was the guy that came up with the idea to have Star Wars books and published the books that made me fall in love with novels. And now he’s also publishing my first book.
What types of books do you enjoy reading? Do you generally stick to thrillers or do you branch out to other genres? What are you reading now?
I pretty much enjoy any book that’s fast-paced and action-packed, regardless of genre. There are also those rare books that are a slow burn but are still completely enthralling for a variety of reasons, but those are few and far between. I love David Morrell, James Rollins, F. Paul Wilson, Dean Koontz, Jeffery Deaver, James Patterson, Douglas Preston, Steve Berry, Clive Cussler, and many more. Currently, I’m reading The Fall by Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan (on audiobook) and The Dragon Factory by Jonathan Maberry. But I just finished reading First Blood by David Morrell (the book that the first Rambo film was based upon) and Hostage Zero by John Gilstrap.
What do you enjoy doing when you’re not writing?
I enjoy spending time with my wife, my two daughters (4 and 12), and my two Shih Tzus. I also spend a great deal of time at church where I am a deacon, worship leader, and leader in the youth group. My favorite pastime is most definitely watching movies and reading books. I’m the kind of person that gets completely immersed in a good movie or book, and I love that feeling.
“A fast paced, all too real thriller with a villain right out of James Patterson and Criminal Minds.” – Andrew Gross, #1 NYT Bestselling Author of Reckless and Don’t Look Twice
“Silence of the Lambs meets The Bourne Identity” – Brian S. Wheeler, Author of Mr. Hancock’s Signature
“THE SHEPHERD is an intense novel that will have you locking your windows and doors, installing a safe room and taking Ambien so you can sleep through the night after finishing. Ethan Cross opens up the mind of a serial killer, exposes you to it, and leaves you with years of therapy bills. But this thrill-ride is worth every penny.” – Jeremy Robinson, author of PULSE and INSTINCT
“The Shepherd is a superbly crafted thriller skillfully delving into the twisted mind of a psychopath and the tormented soul of the man destined to bring him down. Ethan Cross weaves a tale so chilling, I was afraid to turn out the lights. Highly recommended!” – D.B. Henson, Amazon bestselling author of Deed to Death
“The Shepherd is a nonstop suspense novel with great twists, great drama, and an ending that will knock you on the floor.” – New York Times bestselling author Lou Aronica
Ethan Cross is the author of The Shepherd–a book that has been described as “Silence of the Lambs meets The Bourne Identity” and “A fast paced, all too real thriller with a villain right out of James Patterson and Criminal Minds”–and the pen name of a thriller author living and writing in Illinois with his wife, two daughters, and two Shih Tzus.