My latest interview is with author R.E. McDermott who grew up on the Gulf Coast of Texas, and he's been around the sea and ships all his life. He has been happily married for over 35 years now to his lovely wife and they have two fine sons. He graduated from maritime academy and sailed several years as a ships' officer before coming ashore to a management position. Since then he has worked in various shore side positions at shipping companies, at first as an employee, and later as an independent surveyor/consultant. He started writing in 2006, but still does some marine consulting work on occasion, though much less now that his first book Deadly Straits is enjoying some success. His hobbies include growing old gracelessly, looking for his reading glasses, and researching various medical symptoms on the internet.
Books & Writing: What got you interested in writing?
R.E. McDermott: I always did a lot of technical and report writing in my work, and never had any problem expressing myself clearly. In fact, I usually express myself better in writing than in verbal communication. I always wanted to give fiction a try but never got around to it. Then a few years ago my wife and I were living in Singapore after a very grueling 6 months on a project in China. The China project presented a lot of challenges, and I spent long hours in the shipyard every single day, usually arguing. When it was over, I was really burned out and when we moved back to Singapore, I decided to take several months off. I started writing then and haven't looked back.
Books & Writing: Do you remember the first story you wrote?
R.E. McDermott: Very clearly, since it's the only story I've written. That would be my debut novel Deadly Straits. Of course, when people ask me how many books I've written, I say 13, because that's how many times I re-wrote Deadly Straits. I started it in 2006, finished the first draft in 2009, and then re-wrote it 12 times between 2009 and 2011. When I finished the first draft, I was really quite proud of it. Now I re-read it and get embarrassed to think that I showed it to anyone. It has been quite a learning process. (And I'm hard at work on Book 2)
Books & Writing: Can you tell us what your published book “Deadly Straits” is about?
R.E. McDermott: Deadly Straits is the story of Tom Dugan, a marine consultant and very much part-time CIA asset that gets drawn into a situation way over his head. Falsely implicated in a gunboat hijacking, he's offered a chance to clear himself by helping the CIA snare their real prey, his best friend, London ship owner Alex Kairouz. Reluctantly, Dugan agrees to go undercover in Alex's company, despite doubts about Alex's guilt. But once undercover, Dugan's steadfast refusal to accept Alex's guilt gets him in hot water not only with his CIA handlers, but also with Anna Walsh, a beautiful British agent with whom Dugan becomes romantically involved. Dugan has to resist terrific pressure to betray his friend, at the same time he struggles to prove not only Alex's innocence but his own.
Books & Writing: Where did you get the inspiration from to write the book?
R.E. McDermott: I was in Singapore when the twin towers fell, and traveled quite a bit in the aftermath of 9/11. The greatly increased airport security was a constant reminder of the threat we all faced. A guess I was developing a "writer’s perspective" even back then, because as I traveled between ships and shipyards, I began to speculate on what form a tanker-based terrorist plot might take. When I decided to start writing a few years later, it seemed a natural starting point.
Books & Writing: Are the characters in the book based on people you know or knew?
R.E. McDermott: Partially. There is no single character that would be recognizable as someone I know, but I think every writer stitches characters together using traits of people they've encountered or perhaps read about in real life, often exaggerating certain traits for effect. I've been fortunate enough to have had a long career in an interesting industry, and I've encountered no small number of 'characters.' I actually did a blog post on this subject some while back.
Books & Writing: How does it feel to have your book rated number one in Men’s Adventure Fiction at Amazon?
R.E. McDermott: Pretty damn good, actually.
Books & Writing: What does your family think about your writing?
R.E. McDermott: My family has been very supportive. I would single out my wife especially, who read every word of every revision (all 13 of them). She offered encouragement even after the terrible first efforts. Our sons and daughter-in-law were also encouraging. Our eldest son is an artist and one of his friends is a writer so I've actually ended up as a bit of a long distance email colleague to my son's friend, which is kind of cool. And our youngest son followed my footsteps to sea, so it is nice when he reports that shipmates have bought the book and said nice things about the realism of the shipboard settings.
Books & Writing: Which writer(s) inspires you?
R.E. McDermott: I read widely and across all genres, so a lot of writers have influenced me. But as far as 'inspiration' goes, it's Richard McKenna, a guy many people have forgotten. McKenna wrote The Sand Pebbles. It was his only novel, but it won the Harper Prize and spent 28 weeks on the NY Times Best Seller List before being turned into a movie with Steve McQueen. (I guess I’m dating myself here). McKenna died of a heart attack in 1964, a year after his book came out. Some of his shorter work was published posthumously, and he won the Nebula Award for Science Fiction. McKenna spent years in the US Navy, and retired as a Chief Machinist Mate, to die just as he realized his dream.
Books & Writing: Do you have any tips for aspiring writers?
R.E. McDermott: Make sure your book is as good as you can possibly make it, including editing (and by that I mean professional editing), proofreading, etc. Invest the money in a professional cover artist, then let it go.
Books & Writing: Where can people go and read your work?
R.E. McDermott: Deadly Straits is available on Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, iTunes, The Sony Reader Store, The Kobo Store, & The Diesel eBook Store. And if you find me at the local pub, I also keep a few copies in the boot of my car which I may give you at a discount (depending on how long I've been at the pub).
Or buy them now at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk!
Books & Writing: Where can people find you on internet?
R.E. McDermott: Many places, thank you for asking:
My website --> http://www.remcdermott.com
My Facebook Page --> R.E. McDermott
Follow me on Twitter --> http://twitter.com/#!/RobtMcD
Be my friend on --> GoodReads
Below is an excerpt from the book Deadly Straits!
Offices of Phoenix Shipping Ltd.
Local Time: 1900 Hours 10 May
GMT: 1800 Hours 10 May
Alex Kairouz turned from the screen and swiveled in his chair to bend over his wastebasket, barely in time. He vomited as his nausea crested, then slumped head down and sobbing over the basket. A hand appeared, holding a tissue.
“Wipe your bloody face, Kairouz,” Braun said.
Alex did as ordered.
“Mr. Farley, please be good enough to refocus our pupil on the task at hand.”
Alex tensed against the pain as he was jerked upright by his thick hair and spun around to once again face the computer screen. He closed his eyes to blot out the horrific sight and tried to put his hands to his ears to escape the tortured screams from the speakers, but Farley was quicker, grabbing his wrists from behind and forcing them down.
“Open your bloody eyes and cooperate, Kairouz,” said Braun, “unless you want a ringside seat at a live performance.”
Alex looked not at the screen but at Braun.
“Why are you doing this? What do you want? If it’s money— ”
Braun moved his face inches from Alex’s.
“In due time, Kairouz, all in due time.” Braun lowered his voice to a whisper. “But for now, you need to finish our little lesson. I assure you, it gets much, much more amusing.”
M/T Western Star
Eastern Holding Anchorage, Republic of Singapore
Local Time: 1520 Hours 15 May
GMT: 0720 Hours 15 May
Dugan moved through the humid darkness of the ship’s ballast tank, avoiding pockets of mud. At the ladder he wiped his face on a damp sleeve and turned at muttered Russian curses to shine his flashlight on the corpulent chief mate struggling through an access hole. The man’s coveralls, like Dugan’s own, were sweat soaked and rust streaked. The Russian pulled through the access hole with a grunt and joined Dugan at the ladder. Sweat rolled down his stubbled cheeks as he fixed Dugan with a hopeful look.
“We go up?” he asked.
Dugan nodded and the Russian started up the long ladder, intent on escaping the tank before Dugan had a change of heart. Dugan played his flashlight over wasted steel one last time, grimacing at the predictable result of poor maintenance, then followed the Russian up the ladder.
He emerged on the main deck at the tail end of a tropical thundershower so common to Singapore. His coveralls were already plastered to his skin by sweat, and the cool rain felt good. But the relief wouldn’t last. The rain was slackening, and steam from the deck showed the negligible effect of the brief shower on the hot steel. Two Filipino seamen stood nearby in yellow slickers, looking like small boys dressed in their fathers’ clothing. One handed Dugan a wad of rags as the second held open a garbage bag. Dugan wiped his boots and tossed the rags in the bag, then started aft for the deckhouse.
He showered and changed before heading for the gangway, stopping along the way to slip the steward a few dollars for cleaning his room. The grateful Filipino tried to carry his bag, and, when waved away, ran in front, holding doors as an embarrassed Dugan made his way to the main deck. Overtipped again, thought Dugan, making his way down the sloping accommodation ladder to the launch.
He ducked into the launch’s cabin and settled in for the ride ashore. Three dogs in six weeks. He didn’t look forward to telling Alex Kairouz he’d wasted his money inspecting another rust bucket.