Today I'm welcoming Chris Malburg to the blog. Author of 19 non-fiction books, Chris has now branched out into fiction, and his new novel is already a top 20 Amazon bestseller. Chris kindly shares his inspirations, writing process and ambitions for the future with us.
KB: What inspired you to write your latest book?
CM: I’ve had a life-long interest in the Vatican Bank. It’s the longest standing, most secretive institution of its kind. I wanted to explore how one group of corrupt zealots might use it to create a global conspiracy that unseats the entire Roman Catholic Church. As for the Pope—he was a natural character since he’s the target institution’s Chairman. Author, Dan Brown, has led the way in using the mysterious church as a backstory, creating a dark undercurrent of all-powerful and deadly corruption. I just kicked it up a notch with God’s Banker.
KB: How did you come up with the title?
CM: The title, God’s Banker, was a natural. Vatican Bank’s CEO reports to the Pope. Since the Bank does the charitable work for the church, the bank’s CEO must be God’s Banker. Truth is, I never considered any other title as I have with my 21 other books.
KB: What was the hardest part of writing your book?
CM: Finding the moment of inertia—the very bleeding edge of where the story begins—is always the toughest part. Once my story is rolling, then I can build on the momentum and the story takes off. I believe I wrote over 50 pages of manuscript before the actual beginning of God’s Banker clicked in for me.
KB: Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
CM: I’m well known for my research and attention to detail. I’ve had a life long interest in the Catholic Church—not the religious aspect, but the institutional. This is one of history’s most secretive and corrupt, yet hugely influential institutions. I wanted an excuse to learn about it, so I wrote God’s Banker. My intent in doing such rigorous research is not to inundate the reader with extraneous facts that stop the action. Instead, I sprinkle a few of these detailed nuggets in a scene to add a rich sense of depth and credibility. Readers come away feeling that the scene works and the characters acted as would someone with their background.
What I’m learning constantly right now is the marketing aspect of my job—this blog interview, for sure. The literary world is a crowded place. Everyone is clamoring for attention. Getting noticed is difficult. I Tweet, I Facebook, I blog, God’s Banker has its own website. It has a book trailer. I’ve done two video blogs about the book and my life as a writer. I have a hard copy ad card. I take a bundle with me wherever I go. You’d be surprised how often I’m asked, “Where can I pick up God’s Banker?” With the ad card I just offer them a copy and they’re happy. I participate in book roundtables like Book Viral. Whenever a reader contacts me—and I make it very easy to contact me—I’m always thrilled. I always reply back.
KB: Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
CM: God’s Banker is a great story. I wrote with just one purpose—to entertain. If people wish to draw a deeper meaning and take away a message that resonates with them, I am thrilled. The funny thing is though, lately several readers have sent me religious books. God’s Banker is definitely not religious in nature. There’s no Godly message that I know of. I guess after reading the book they must think I could use a little religion.
KB: How much of the book is realistic?
CM: The best lies begin with a grain of truth. That’s what I started with in creating the background of the Vatican Bank. Most everything in God’s Banker about the bank carries that grain of truth. However, I seriously doubt such an institution could or would ever survive the rigors of a public stock offering. There’s a lot of information out there about both the Vatican Bank and the Roman Catholic Church. However, I imagine much of it has taken huge liberties with the truth over the centuries. That didn’t hamper my research—after all, God’s Banker is a work of fiction.
As far as using my financial professional’s background—absolutely that helped in writing the book. In fact, I don’t see how someone without that experience could have created such a credible scenario of taking over Vatican Bank. Still, keep in mind, it is definitely a work of fiction—highly credible in places, but at the end of the day, still untrue.
KB: Are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
CM: Without a doubt, Jackson Schilling in God’s Banker is me—or at least a person whom I admire and deeply respect. He’s got it all—brilliant financial intellect, a deadly command of advanced military weaponry and tactics. He’s a former Navy SEAL, after all. And he’s a great manager of people—respectful, respected by his people and has the back of all who work for him. Without a doubt Jack Schilling is my kind of guy.
KB: What’s your writing process like? Are you a plotter or a pantser?
CM: I have a definite writing process. All of my nonfiction books were sold with substantial advances paid before I wrote them. So I had a deadline and production schedule written into a publishing contract where money was involved. I would calendar out where my production would be for each day of the contract. If I fell behind, I’d work overtime to catch up. If I was ahead of schedule—as I always am—I would press on to turn in the manuscript early. I carry this same discipline to my fiction. It takes about 3 months for me to produce a 90,000-word novel—a little longer in the case of God’s Banker, which is 130,000 words.
Yes, I work from an outline of my plot. It used be a very detailed outline. Lately, as I’m gaining a better command of the craft, my outlines are becoming less detailed. Eventually, I imagine I’ll just chuck the outline altogether and see where the characters themselves take the story. I wouldn’t mind just sitting there, telling their story as they relate it to me.
KB: What were the challenges (research, literary, and logistical) in bringing this book to life?
CM: Maintaining credibility with my readers is the biggest challenge for me as a writer. I work really hard at establishing my credibility as a writer from the beginning of the story. I do this by incorporating as many real facts as possible, then allow the fictional aspects to revolve around them. Remember that grain of truth? Once I have the reader’s trust, I try never to lose it by making a silly mistake.
There’s a scene where Schilling is shot and his partner, Smitty, needs to perform emergency surgery. I researched the medical journals and emergency combat surgery manuals. I wrote the scene as best I could and had it reviewed by ER doctor. Still, I received an email from a real physician complaining about the count of bandages Smitty used. However, he did go on to say that my error did not diminish his appreciation of the book.
KB: Give us an insight into your main character.
CM: My readers have developed a relationship with Jackson Schilling over the two books in the Enforcement Division series--Deadly Acceleration and most recently, God’s Banker. Schilling is consistent throughout and true to the values of patriotism, justice, faith in himself and his teammates as well as his profession. He is extraordinarily competent, from the training of his early days as a Navy SEAL and later in the SEC’s Enforcement Division. Jackson carries none of the swagger and self-righteousness that some authors give their lead characters. Instead he is humble and focused on his people and his objective. In my interviews with those having such a background in real life, every one of them is that way—me included. I have had the privilege of spending time with men having Schilling’s background—they are the best of the best. Knowing them is quite an experience and earning their trust is a true privilege—one that I do not take lightly.
KB: If this book is part of a series, tell us a little about the sequels
CM: God’s Banker is the second novel in my SEC Enforcement Division series. The first installment was Deadly Acceleration, a novel about industrial terrorism where the weapon of mass destruction was an automotive manufacturer. It is in this first installment where my readers get to meet Jack Schilling, Helen Taiko, Smitty and the rest of the cast. They all carry through to Deadly Acceleration, plus two new additions—Sister Mary Pat and the Pope.
Perhaps it’s my background as an investment banker and financial professional that gave me the twisted ability to create a hugely effective (on paper at least) weapon of mass destruction out of a legitimate corporation. But I’ve done it with both installments.
KB: How long did it take you to write this book?
CM: It took me five months to complete and publish God’s Banker. I was slow because I spent three weeks in the hospital and a month recuperating during that time.
KB: Which actor/actress would you like to see playing the lead character from your book?
That’s a wonderful question on which I try not to dwell. However, it seems my characters in God’s Banker now think of little else. I did a short video where I’m on the phone with these two characters—the Pope and Sister Mary Pat. They’re complaining about the airtime both received in God’s Banker. Then they get into who should play them in the movie. It’s hysterical and has gotten many reviews. See the video clip at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S7vy3UNAQJQ
KB: What are you working on now?
CM: I have two more book projects currently in development. And no, I am not yet finished with Jackson Schilling. If he’s up for a few more adventures, so am I. Actually, I’m getting some teens and young adults as readers. I don’t have any kids so this is new to me. These young readers are extraordinarily intelligent and savvy. So the next Enforcement Division book features two teens and is written to also entertain the young adults in our midst.
Additionally, I’ve recently seen a microcosm of uber-wealthy society that keeps women—for sex at first, for companionship occasionally but for ego and appearances most definitely. This book will explore that society from the woman’s point of view. It will be fun, entertaining and offers a glimpse into an aspect of society few ever get to see.
KB: What book are you reading now?
CM: I usually have several books going at once using different mediums. I am seldom without some form of book in my hand. I’m going back to writers school so my hard copy book is The Best American Mystery Stories of the Century—it’s our first assignment in prep for the first day of class which begins on September 22. Then the audio book on my iPhone is Scott McEwen’s Target America. The eBook on my iPad—again in prep for opening day of writers class is Stephen King’s On Writing.
When I’m not in school, the masters of action/adventure and suspense have shown me the way. Each provides a unique perspective that I’ve managed to incorporate into my own style. There’s Clive Cussler for a swaggering, cliché hero. There’s Lee Child for the incredibly resourceful Jack Reacher. There’s the late Vince Flynn for the disciplined, but outrageously irreverent Mitch Rapp. All have affected the way I’ve crafted my characters.
KB: Do you ever experience writer's block?
CM: I’ve never had the luxury of being allowed to have writers block. With the exception of my two novels, each of the 21 books I’ve written all had contractual deadlines looming on the not-too-distant horizon. Missing deadlines is the fastest way I know of to be blacklisted in this business.
KB: What is your favorite theme/genre to write about?
CM: Right now the genre that I’m writing about is all action/adventure, suspense and mystery. I love it.
KB: For your own reading, do you prefer ebooks or traditional paper/hard back books?
CM: I vastly prefer eBooks as a reader. They’re so convenient. The devices now allow multi-tasking. I can read while listening to my musical playlist.
KB: What are your ambitions for your writing career?
CM: God’s Banker made it to #20 on Amazon’s mystery list. I believe I can do better. I won’t be satisfied until I’m #1 on the NYT Bestseller List with a movie deal in post production. That’s why I’m heading back to writers school—to turn that dream into a reality.
KB: Do you have a special time and place to write?
CM: Yes, I write in my lovely home office overlooking the Santa Monica bay. There is some sort of music playing. Depending on what I’m writing the music can be anything from classical piano to the Navy SEALs running cadence to the Warrior’s Song. You’re welcome to see my office on my book promo on YouTube at God’s Banker Eavesdropping or by copying this link into your browser: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S7vy3UNAQJQ
KB: Where can we find you online?
KB: Thanks so much for stopping by, Chris. It's been a pleasure to host you.
Are you an author (or aspiring author) who would love to make some real headway with writing your novel? Consider signing up for National Novel Writing Month this November. And if a novel in a month sounds too ambitious, consider giving yourself a head start with this 30 day writing challenge. It starts October 1st and aims to help you get ready to write that novel in November. Make 2014 the year you finish your novel.
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