Early on Ethan Cross knew he wanted to be a writer. With a partially finished screenplay in high school, he contemplated a move to California to pursue a career in the film industry, and then threw it over for a more promising profession—music. A parent’s nightmare! And, yet, he succeeded. Opening for national recording artists as a lead singer and guitar player, recording a few CDs—but the stories just wouldn’t leave him alone.
His dream came to fruition on a grand scale with the release of his first book, THE SHEPHERD. An international bestseller, he followed it up with four more great titles. Now, his latest book, the third installment of The Shepherd series, FATHER OF FEAR has hit the bookshelves.
To give you a snapshot, in FATHER OF FEAR a father returns home to find his family has been kidnapped and the only way to save their lives is for him to kill another innocent person.
So begins a journey that will force Special Agent Marcus Williams of the Shepherd Organization to question all that he believes, unearth his family`s dark legacy, and sacrifice everything to save those he loves. In order to stop the serial murderer whom the media has dubbed the Coercion Killer, Williams must enlist the help of one of the world`s most infamous and wanted men: the serial killer Francis Ackerman Jr.
The praise for the Shepherd series comes from greats such as #1 New York Times bestselling author Andrew Gross, who said about The Shepherd, “A fast paced, all too real thriller with a villain right out of James Patterson and Criminal Minds.” THE BIG THRILL was lucky enough to catch up with Ethan Cross to ask a few questions.
I read in your long bio that you grew up as the youngest in your family, so far behind your older siblings that you were in many ways raised as an only child. An only child myself, I know how you have to learn to entertain yourself. Was making up stories part of that entertainment?
It definitely was. When I played with toys, I was really like the director of my own films. In fact, I wouldn’t just “play.” Every play session had a plot and a name to the story, and I would then act it out with all the different characters (whether they be GI Joes, Star Wars figures, or Legos). This nurtured in me a strong imagination and internal landscape that I worry kids today are lacking with the onset of “digital” toys like video game systems and iPads.
I also read, and here I’ll quote you, that you love stories because “the only time that my brain truly shuts off is during a great movie or book,” and “[another reason] I think many others share with me: stories allow us to escape.” Can you tell us how books and film influenced your writing?
A. I’ve been an enormous fan of movies since I was very young. How many ten-year-olds do you know that had a calendar hanging on their wall marking the release dates of every major Hollywood production? I would force my parents to take me to sometimes two or three movies in a single weekend. We would often hit the 4:30 matinee at the theater, walk out, and drive straight over to get a good spot at the drive-in or turn around and walk back into a 7:00 o’clock showing at the same theater. In high school, I would rent a couple of movies every night from our local video store, although I did still find time to date, sing, and play guitar in a rock band, play sports, and serve as our senior class president and valedictorian. Not much has changed since then; my wife and I still take in a movie every weekend. Shortly after college, I also discovered a great love for reading, sometimes consuming three to four books a week. For me, movies and books have always been and always will be magical experiences.
The stories that you watch and read become part of you and your “writer’s education.” If you take the time to analyze them, you can learn from those stories what draws you in, what works, what doesn’t, what makes you care about those characters. I think Stephen King said it best. “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.” I completely agree with him. The first step in succeeding as a writer is having a deep love of stories (whether those stories come in the form of a movie or book) and then learning how to write. You can do that in many ways including reading (and doing it a lot), taking classes, attending conferences, etc.
What book and/or film do you think has had the greatest impact on you and your work?
I would have to say that “24” has probably had the greatest impact on me. Not because of the subject matter or the type of story, but because of the intensity always presented in the show. I try to write books that I would want to read, and I like stories that are fast-paced with a lot of action. That’s what “24” was. It was a thrill-ride filled with twists and turns. My books are obviously very different from “24,” but I hope that they have that same kind of intensity.
In your description of The Shepherd, the first in the series, you state: Marcus Williams and Francis Ackerman Jr. both have a talent for hurting people. Through all of The Shepherd books, these two men, seemingly opposites—Marcus is a special agent who hunts down men like Ackerman, one of America’s most prolific serial killers—also have things in common and share a sort of symbiotic relationship. How do you see this in terms of good and evil?
When thinking about the dark deeds of any serial killer, there are certain religious and philosophical issues to consider. Is there an evil or negative force at work in the universe beyond what we can see and easily quantify? These factors are often dismissed by the psychiatric community, but since most of us believe in some sort of higher power, we can’t help but wonder at the existence of evil. Although this is an area that is even more difficult to study and classify, I believe it’s where the true key to deviant behavior may be found. I believe that all serial killers, regardless of varying circumstance and genetics, share one common trait. They all harbor a darkness inside themselves, a darkness that shines through in their terrible deeds. But the truly scary thing is that I believe we all carry this darkness or capacity for evil to some degree, and this is where genetics, knowledge, and the events of our pasts come into play. These factors contribute to our ability to hold the darkness at bay. We’ve all learned from a very young age how to manage our impulses. Otherwise, we would allow that sudden animal instinct of anger or lust to elevate into rape or murder and our society would quickly crumble.
I’ve always found this concept of darkness and the questions that go along with it to be fascinating. Can the worst killer overcome the darkness and find some form of redemption? Can they learn to control the darkness despite the barriers working against them? What happens to a good man who embraces the darkness with the best of intentions and under a banner of righteousness? It’s these concepts, along with others, that I explore within the pages of my books.
You have also written several stand-alone novels. What draws you back to The Shepherd characters, and do you see any of your other books turning into series?
My book BLIND JUSTICE is the first in what will hopefully be a new series revolving around a blind investigator with the Defense Criminal Investigative Service. It will actually be my first hardcover release and will be coming out in the U.S. in 2015 (it’s already out in the U.K.).
As to why I keep revisiting the Shepherd series, I think there are a couple of reasons. First of all, people are still interested and enjoying the characters and their stories. And second, I think there are still stories and new directions to take those characters. I definitely don’t want to keep writing the same book over and over or let the characters become stagnant. So as long as Marcus and Ackerman and the rest of the Shepherd crew are still real and fresh in my mind and have stories to tell, I want to let those stories out into the world.
What’s the future hold for your readers? Are there any more books in The Shepherd series on the horizon, or should we watch for another standalone?
I’m currently working on the fourth installment of the Shepherd series. This new book will be sort of a new beginning for the series (I’m sure any of you who have finished FATHER OF FEAR will understand why I say that). It will hopefully take things in a new and interesting direction for the characters. And the setting will also be quite different, since the majority of the book will be set within the walls of a prison.
One thing’s for certain—Ethan Cross always delivers. For more information on his other great books, his signing schedule, or to read his blog and/or post on his Facebook or Twitter pages, please visit his website. More importantly, go out and get your copy of FATHER OF FEAR today. This is a thriller not to be missed!
Ethan Cross is the international bestselling and award-winning author of THE SHEPHERD, THE CAGE, CALLSIGN: KNIGHT, BLIND JUSTICE, and THE PROPHET—a novel described by bestselling author Jon Land as “The best book of its kind since Thomas Harris retired Hannibal Lecter,” while #1 New York Times bestselling author Lisa Gardner said, “The surprises are fast and furious and will leave you breathless to read more.” His latest book in the Shepherd series, FATHER OF FEAR, is in the stores.