By Derek Gunn
Not content with having our intrepid hero’s wife killed, Douglas Wynne turns up the terror for recently widowed Desmond Carmichael. In short order his son is abducted, the investigator into his wife’s death still harbours a suspicion that Desmond might be his wife’s killer, his wife’s parents feel he is unfit to raise his son, and someone has broken into his apartment. And all within the first few chapters. Talk about a lot to take in. At first I thought I had missed a previous book – so much had happened.
However, as it turns out I hadn’t missed anything after all. The story unfolds beautifully as Desmond has to try and piece together a story of revenge born in the searing terror of the past.
This was my first time reading Douglas Wynne’s work. His previous novel was THE DEVIL OF ECHO LAKE, and it has garnered a lot of positive reviews. His debut novel was billed as a horror/thriller and I like this sub-genre immensely, however STEEL BREEZE is firmly rooted in the thriller genre. The characters are very believable and you find yourself reading just one more page as each chapter ends with just enough tension to make you turn the page.
Most of the action centres on Desmond Carmichael. Our hero is a novelist whose wife was killed in her home, decapitated by a Japanese Katana that Desmond kept on the wall above his desk. Although a homeless man is serving time for her murder, there is still a question about whether Desmond might have actually killed her, at least the investigating officer and his wife’s parents harbour suspicions. When things spiral out of control and more murders take place using a similar edged weapon, Carmichael is arrested and his son taken from him.
That’s all the plot I’m going to talk about but there is plenty more; the FBI are searching for an Interstate serial killer, all is not well in the killer’s camp either and it all pulls together nicely in a carefully crafted climax. The novel isn’t long, 252 pages according to Amazon and it’s hard to tell when reading the Kindle version as I did, but this is not a bad thing. Many doorstop novels have a tendency to leave you feeling jaded by the time you finish, but this one just leaves you wanting more.
The action sequences scream assurance. Each move, pivot and twist portrays the author’s obvious knowledge in this area. I know anyone can do research, but the action scenes just have that authenticity that speaks volumes of the author’s knowledge and interests.
The prose is fluid and assured. There are no wasted sentences here, each one is honed to deliver the impact that the author intended and this story rattles along at pace.
Douglas took time from his busy schedule–and right in the middle of a book tour as well so sit up and pay attention–to answer some questions about his writing;
Your central character, Desmond, certainly has a lot to deal with in life. Have you always been this hard on your characters?
I was pretty hard on Billy Moon in THE DEVIL OF ECHO LAKE, but poor Desmond really gets it from all sides. And while Billy kind of went looking for trouble, Desmond is up against things that feel random at first, and then keep getting worse. Someone said that people read to worry, and I definitely had that in mind while writing STEEL BREEZE. Certainly, when reading a suspense novel, you want to stress out for the hero. It sounds like a weird way to relax, but there’s something oddly entertaining about feeling empathy for an imaginary person’s suffering. I guess it puts your own problems into perspective.
And putting characters through hell forces them to reveal what matters most to them, and what they’re capable of under pressure. If I’m spending 300 pages with someone, I want to see that.
It would appear that your knowledge of swords and martial arts is more in-depth than the usual research. Can you tell us how this interest began and what it entails?
About eight years ago my wife and I joined a Tae Kwon Do school to get some exercise, and I immediately got hooked on how martial arts training shuts down my chattering mind while I’m getting a workout. After my second degree black belt, I shifted focus and started training in Iaido (the samurai sword art), mostly because swords are just, you know…effin’ cool, but also because Iaido is meditative and philosophical, which appealed to me. At some point I realized I’d done all of this first-hand research into Japanese sword culture and technique, and that’s when the thriller writer in me started asking, “What if?” What if a modern day serial killer had perfected this skill set and level of perception? What would it feel like to be hunted by someone like that? Scary as hell, right? And I knew I’d found my next book.
Can you give us an understanding of how your writing process works?
I make a lot of notes about the characters, and gather some research, partly to bolster my confidence, but also to find inspiration in a few key details. Then I improvise the first draft. I make some forecast notes at about the 1/3 mark, and then again before tackling the ending. The first draft is me telling the story to myself. Later drafts are for telling the story to the reader in a more concise way based on what I’ve learned in the first pass. A lot gets cut, some of which continues to influence what remains. Mostly I cut, but I also expand a little in late drafts, based on what my trusted early readers want more of. At some point I retype almost every line to tighten it up, and then I read the entire book aloud to make sure it flows. And polish, polish, polish. THE DEVIL OF ECHO LAKE went through at least nine drafts. STEEL BREEZE took only five or six, so I hope I’m learning as I go.
The funny thing is, no matter how much I polish, I’ll be reading a passage at a bookstore six months later and finding that I still want to tweak it. I’m a stickler for efficiency and the right rhythms.
Do you often write in playgrounds?
Haha! No way, man. Eyes on the kid. I only write the occasional email or tweet at the playground.
The writing evokes a great sense of dread which builds steadily – were you mindful of this or did the story just carry you along?
Thanks. That was definitely the goal. I don’t plot or outline much, but I kept asking myself: What would make this more intense? How can this get worse? How can the next revelation elevate the tension?
Do you have a ritual, do you plan out every detail or do you see where the story leads?
No ritual. I write in some scrappy ways whenever I can, and I like to discover the story as I write. All of my notes are questions about why and what if this happened instead of that? If I plan too much I feel like the story is already told. I want it to retain freshness for me as I explore it through writing, and I want to be surprised occasionally. My feeling is if I know enough about what motivates my characters (both heroes and villains) then the story will take a course that feels true and uncontrived. A writer doesn’t need to write everything he knows about the characters, but I believe story comes from character and situation rather than plot.
If you were given one paragraph to convince people to buy your novel what would it say?
I kinda suck at that, which is why I struggle with back cover copy and usually have to get someone else to write it. I guess I’d cop out and refer folks to the great reviews STEEL BREEZE is getting on Amazon and Goodreads where other folks are doing a much better job than me with a paragraph, but here’s the synopsis:
It’s been a year since novelist Desmond Carmichael’s wife Sandy was brutally murdered. Now, with someone stalking him and his four-year-old son, he fears that the wrong man has been imprisoned for the crime. Sandy’s parents and Detective Chuck Fournier have a different fear: that Desmond, despondent over Sandy’s death, has become too unstable to raise his own son. To prove them wrong, Desmond must work outside the law to defeat a threat born in the dust of an American wasteland, baptized by fire, and hellbent on riding the winds of karma.
In between work and writing do you have any time to read? Who do you enjoy most?
Not nearly as much time as I’d like, and less since I started publishing, but there’s never enough time for all the great books out there. I’m a die hard Stephen King fan. Just read JOYLAND and loved it. Before writing STEEL BREEZE I read a lot of good suspense by Dennis Lehane, Harlan Coben, and Peter Abrahams. But I also love contemporary fantasy with mythic elements. Neil Gaiman and Clive Barker are two of my all-time favorites in that area. I also love Joe Hill, and on his recommendation I’ve become a huge fan of David Mitchell, who blows my mind but also makes me want to throw my laptop out the window in despair at his blinding genius.
I’m in the early stages of a cosmic horror novel set in present day Boston. We’ll see where it goes.
For those of you who like them there is a brand new book trailer. STEEL BREEZE will be out by the time you read this from Journalstone in paperback and e-bookso fire up your e-reader or jog down to the bookstore and prepare yourself for a tense, and yet relaxing, read.
Douglas Wynne’s debut horror novel, THE DEVIL OF ECHO LAKE, was inspired by his background in the music business. His second outing, STEEL BREEZE, draws on his interest in martial arts. He lives in Massachusetts with his wife and son, and spends most of his time hanging out with a pack of dogs when he isn’t writing, playing guitar, or swinging a sword.
To learn more about Douglas, please visit his website.