Jack Allen, author of “Change of Heart”, “An Innocent Among them”


Contact Info: Burping Frog Publishing, (734) 525-1643, jallen@burpingfrog.com

Current Publisher: Burping Frog Publishing, Detroit, Michigan

Published Works:

  • “Change of Heart”, ISBN: 0-9703053-0-3, Published: June, 2001, Trade paperback, 314 pages, $14.00. Genre: Spy Thriller/Mystery.Available From: Burping Frog Publishing (734-525-1643), Greenleaf Book Group

    (1-800-932-5420), Ingram Book Company (1-800-937-8000), and Baker & Taylor

    (1-800-775-1100)

  • “An Innocent Among Them”, ISBN: 0-9703053-1-1, to be released Spring, 2003.Genre: Spy Thriller/Mystery

How did you get started writing professionally? About what subject? What interested you about that subject? Did/does the subject tie into something in your personal or professional (pre-writing) life? And, have you always written, as while you were growing up and long before trying to get published that first time?

I’ve been writing since I was a kid, emulating the comic books I read, mainly Spiderman, and creating superheroes of my own. As I got older I outgrew comic books and discovered spy novels, especially Ken Follett’s books, such as “Triple”, “Eye of the Needle”, “Key To Rebecca”, and “Lie Down With Lions”. His writing had a huge influence on my own writing. Just as I did with the comic books, I emulated his style until I developed a style of my own. The characters I created are a little more complex, but Josh McGowan, the hero of my first book, has a lot of qualities of those superheroes I admired as a kid.

What type of worker are you when you write, i.e., do you write at certain times, or for a certain amount of hours daily, in long stretches straight through, as the spirit moves you, or???

Putting the words on paper is not as easy as it was a couple of years ago. I used to try to write at least a page a day, maybe 500-1000 words, and I was able to crank out the first books. Now I have been so busy promoting my first book, and editing the second book that it’s difficult to find time to add pages to the next book. Writing a book used to take about a year. Now it takes two years or more. It can be frustrating, but I try to be diligent and just put words on paper, even if I can only manage a paragraph or two. I start at page one, chapter one and keep going without looking back until I have a book. No one sees it until it’s finished. If I stop to revise what I’ve already written then the flow will stop and it will never get finished.

Did you ever take any school or adult education courses in writing? If so, what, and did they help you? If you are a technical writer, have you taken courses in that area?

Writing courses were a part of my curriculum throughout high school and college. I even took a couple of screenwriting courses at Wayne State University in Detroit when I wanted to go into filmmaking. Writing a screenplay was a challenge, but the end result was rather unsatisfying. There are far too many things that can’t be put in a screenplay, whereas writing a book gives the author time and space to explore the characters and settings. I had a teacher in high school who was a tremendous influence on me as a writer. He pushed his students and encouraged us to let out the stories that were held within us. I owe him a great deal.

Do you conceive of an entire story or subject line to be covered in your head before starting to write, or do you get just an idea and sit down, outline it and flesh it out, or???

A story might come from a vague idea, or even be adapted from an event I read about in the news. I write the idea down, whether it’s a few pages of notes or just a few lines, and store it with all the other story concepts. As I come up with more ideas, like maybe a scene or a line of dialogue, I add it to my notes. All of the characters and all of the scenes for my next fifteen or so books live in my head at the same time. Every now and then a new idea for one of those stories comes up. For example, a solution for a scene I¹ve had trouble figuring out might bubble to the surface and I have to write it down before I forget it, even if it wakes me up at three in the morning. Most of the time it’s just legwork, brainstorming to figure out how a scene is going to work or what the characters are going to do.

Tell us how you first got published, and whether it was difficult that first time. Did you have an agent for that first published piece? Was it a book, an article, a paper, or what?

My first published piece was a short story for a magazine. A friend of mine gave me a copy of the magazine just to read and I thought it might be suitable for one or two short stories I had lying around. I changed it around a little bit to make it first person and sent it in, and they bought it. I was surprised, and very pleased to be paid. I have sent stories to other publications, but only collected a folder full of rejections. Since I’ve been promoting my book and trying to get the next book ready for release, I’ve had to put off writing short stories.

How do you feel about editors?? Does it disturb you or comfort you to have someone checking your work pre-publication?

Editors can be very helpful. However, opinions are negotiable. There are no hard and fast rules in writing, although there are many techniques that can make a written piece more enjoyable and easier to read. A lot of these techniques can be learned by practice, by experience, through instruction, and by observing how others write. Of course, a good editor can help make an author’s work better and more professional, but just because someone sets themselves up in business and calls themselves an editor, what really makes them more qualified to suggest changes to a person’s work than anyone else? I guess it bothers me to have someone looking over my shoulder when they might not completely understand where the writing comes from or where I’m trying to make it go.

How are you (or your publisher or agent) publicizing your current work?

It has been a tremendous challenge to publicize my book with a very limited budget. A lot of what we’ve been doing has been a lot of fun, and a lot of work. We have some very sharp fliers that we mail to bookstores and reviewers and others in the book business. As a small, first time author with a small publisher in the Detroit area, sometimes the only way we can spread the word about my book is one person at a time. We’ve received over twenty great reviews, and I’m still waiting for that really bad one. The response from readers and reviewers has been overwhelming. They all tell me they can’t wait for the next book to come out.

Have you ever been on a tour with one of your books? If so, what is that like? Did you find that it helped increase sales of your book?

Most of the touring to promote my first book has consisted of trips to book stores around Detroit and in northern Michigan throughout the year. We’ve also made trips to Georgia and Sarnia in Canada, with a couple of tradeshows coming up this fall. I looked at the way a rock band promotes itself. They make their living by playing in nightclubs and bars, where they can show off what they do and hopefully sell a few CDs. I try to take the same approach with bookstores. The more appearances I can make, the more exposure I gain. Sometimes it comes down to selling one book at a time, making one fan at a time. The bookstore owners I have met have gone out of their way to support me, and I am happy to make a long drive in order to support them. What is really special is when you find a bookstore owner who loves your book; then you have made a good friend.

Can you tell us a bit about a book that you might be working on now or plan to start soon? If you do have another in the works, are you writing a series, on the same subject as your last work, or on something totally different?

I’m getting ready to release “An Innocent Among Them”, which is a follow up to my first book, “Change of Heart”. Both are about Josh McGowan, a Navy Intelligence operative. The first three books of the series are finished and I’m in the middle of writing the fourth. So many people have told me they can’t wait to read my next book that I’m very anxious to put it out and see what happens.

Could you please give us a synopsis of your current book and, if a series, what the whole series is about?

The books I’m working on are parts of a series about Josh McGowan. He’s with Navy Intelligence and chases bad guys to different parts of the world. Josh has a strong sense of honor and wants to make things right, sometimes against his orders. In a recent review, Bob Spear of the Heartland Reviews (www.heartlandreviews.com) put it this way:

‘ … a protagonist who is constantly trying to examine what makes himself tick, while committing the actions that will accomplish the mission, usually in a loud and messy manner.’

In “Change of Heart”, Josh disobeys orders to reunite a former KGB agent with her Russian mafia lover. He must decide whether he will kill her or return her to the man she truly loves, before he is killed himself. In “An Innocent Among Them” Josh works with Caroline Haffenberg, an Israeli Intelligence Agent to hunt down Ismail Rafjani before he can commit the one act of terror designed to bring about a New Persian Empire.

Tell us a bit about how you go about doing research for your work?

A lot of my research work is done the old fashioned way, from reference books. For a guy who doesn’t have the budget to travel to Moscow or Tokyo or Tel Aviv, I have to rely on information from atlases and guidebooks to tell me what I need to know to bring a setting to life. My information about the changes in Moscow since the fall of the Soviet Union came from an article in National Geographic magazine. A lot of my ideas for stories come from magazines like Newsweek or Time. And programs on cable television provide a wealth of information for anyone who can use it.

Any advice to aspiring writers on finding an agent or contacting publishers?

I think the important thing to remember is not to take rejection personally. A lot of times a rejection may not have anything to do with the quality of the writing. It may be nothing more than the agent already has too many submissions, or it is not the kind of material they are suited to represent. There are a lot of agents in the world, and the hardest part is finding that one person who will fall in love with your book and work to get it published. As for contacting publishers, most won’t consider a manuscript that is not represented by an agent, so that’s just one more step that someone’s book has to go through. There are, though, some small publishers who will accept submissions without an agent. These agents and publishers can be found in several publications in book stores, libraries and online. Once someone gets started in this process, they might quickly discover that writing the book was the easy part.

Are you a reader? If so, what types of things do you enjoy reading? Do you ever buy your own reading material online (had to ask that one!)?

Spy novels are still my favorite books to read, and I recently finished one of Ken Follett’s new books, “Code To Zero”. I still love to read science fiction once in a while, especially anything by Larry Niven, and I’ve read a lot of Ed McBain’s hard-boiled detective books. For a long time I’ve wanted to build my dream car, something like a Mustang with a strong motor that can also handle like a race car, so I’ve been reading books on building high performance engines. As for buying my own books or any other books online, I haven’t done that yet. I believing in supporting the small business owner rather than the big chains, and there are a lot of online bookstore owners, like Laura Eszes of TwinWorlds.com, who has been very helpful to me.

What other types of things do you enjoy doing, besides writing? Any hobbies? Pets? Sports? Traveling? Gardening? Music or art, etc.?

I recently got married and I enjoy spending time with my wife, like sitting on the porch, listening to the rain. I also love fast cars and would like to spend more time working on projects, like my sports car, or a hot rod. That would also take more money.

Please tell us anything else about yourself you’d like us to know, either personal or professional, and thank you very much for allowing us to interview you!

Thank you for granting me the interview. I guess one thing I’d like to pass along is that I am a student of the martial arts, in particular Kung Fu San Soo. It’s not as widely known as some of the other martial arts, but those out there who practice it are very loyal to its roots with Jimmy H. Woo.

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