South African Suspense Thriller writer Jesse Smith spends most of his days as a ship’s captain, sailing all over the world. Jesse has been to over 100 countries! But in his free time, Jesse’s also a writer–his book THE MEGIDDO REVENGE was published here on Book Country in September. We chatted with him about his writing while he was on his holidays before going back out to sea.
LS: You must be so excited to see your book, THE MEGIDDO REVENGE, for sale online. Tell us all about it: writing it, revising it, and publishing it. What was your process for all three?
JS: Seeing the book in eBook and paperback format was awesome. Since I was a child I had this hankering to ‘write a book’ and this was a dream come true. The writing of MEGIDDO took roughly five years from the Prologue to the Epilogue. That being said, over the last fifteen years or so before the manuscript was formally started, I had written several random pages and unnumbered chapters as I had ideas about characters and events for what I hoped would be a complete novel. These random notes eventually gelled into the final book.
In a book such as MEGIDDO which is based very much on ‘real time’ international events, revision of some aspects of the plot was almost continuous but eventually I had to freeze time and type The End. For instance, I regularly sail in the Gulf of Aden pirate area and have had several close encounters with pirates. The modus operandi of the pirate groups evolved and changed since the book was started in 2008 so the early chapters had to be suitably revised and adjusted before I decided to finally finish. Regarding revision, during the writing process I always knew where I was coming from and where I was going to. The plot I thought was okay but I had a lot of work to do one characterization and here my #1 editor and advisor, my wife Fran, was able to help a great deal. I went to sea when I was 17 so consequently missed out on a formal literary education. Fran, on the other hand, was educated in England at several rather grand well-known girls schools where English Literature was the most important subject and without her input, the manuscript would have been gibberish.
When I could see that MEGIDDO was almost done, I dispatched the usual letters to a few literary agents and received the standard depressing replies. It was at about this time a number of self-published novels hit the best seller lists so I decided this was the route I should take. After a little research and Googling I found Book Country and making contact was certainly the best decision of my writing career.
LS: MEGIDDO is such a contemporary book: thrilling, realistic, and often rather frightening! For you, as a writer, what do you think are the best ways to keep that narrative drive going forward?
JS: As mentioned previously, I always knew where I was going. Many of the events and incidents described are based on personal experiences and in the fascinating environment I work in, there are so many noteworthy characters that can easily be adjusted to fit into the plot and narrative. As far as possible, I tried to make the characters act and talk like people I know. In this I was very fortunate as the narrative never really stalled because I never had to concoct an scene or incident to move to the next important aspect of the plot. I’m sure many readers know of those dull inevitable restaurant meetings that have to be used to clarify what’s going to happen in the next chapter. Of course I had writer’s block on several occasions but usually it didn’t last long.
LS: How did you draw on your real life knowledge as you wrote?
JS: I have had a wonderful life and hopefully this is reflected in the details in the plot . I learned to sail a boat at the age of four (before I could ride a bike) and apart from being a ship captain for the last twenty years on “big ships,” my wife and I have sailed yachts (sailboats) off the African Coast and the Mediterranean. I have also sailed a 30ft sailboat from Cape Town across the South Atlantic to Rio de Janiero. For over ten years I worked ashore in many different locations as an international shipping consultant. As I matter of principle, I decided not to write about places I had never visited or stayed in although I do concede that I never visited the Somali pirate stronghold of Eyl which features in the book. So all the descriptions of places, oceans, and weather phenomena are drawn from first-hand experience.
LS: How did you know that you were ready to publish the book?
JS: That is a tricky one. I guess it was the time when after five years I figured I couldn’t do anything to improve MEGIDDO. Also from a marketing point of view, the Tom Hanks movie Captain Phillips was due to be released early in October and as this has a similar theme to Megiddo. I managed to piggy back on several Captain Phillips discussions online and I believe this definitely helped sales, especially with the Createspace paperback edition. It seems pretty certain Captain Phillips will be nominated for an Academy Award early this year, and again I will use this opportunity to plug MEGIDDO.
Know your market so you aren’t disappointed at the apparent lack of reaction to your book! Look at the New York Times bestseller lists and after a couple of months you will see what people out there are reading. Also go to you favorite bookstore during lunch hour and see where the browsers are gathering. Several years ago I briefly met an agent who warned me that if I didn’t write “fangbangers” I was never going to make the NYT lists by writing adventure thrillers. So although I would love to be #1 on any list, I am more than happy just to see the book out there and occasionally receive a favorable comment.
LS: What’s next for you and your writing? Any big literary plans for 2014?
JS: Now that the holidays are over, writing novel #2 will soon be underway. Obviously a lot depends on my work commitments and I am considering several alternatives for the future. On January 9th forty-five years ago I stepped aboard my first ship as a navigating cadet. Lots of water has passed under the keel since then and maybe it’s time to ‘swallow the anchor’ and be a stay-at-home husband, father and grandfather and WRITER, rather than drifting around the oceans. I should add for those who are dubious about this lifestyle – my wife frequently travels with me on the ships! It will also mean a lot more time for writing. The ideas are there by the dozen but where is the time?!
Jesse Smith has been at sea for most of his life and a ship captain for the last twenty years, traveling to numerous destinations around the globe and regularly transiting the Gulf of Aden piracy zone. For several years he worked ashore as a marine consultant during which time he gained considerable insight into various aspects of international trade and sanctions busting. When not away at sea, he spends most of his time at home with his wife in Durban, South Africa. Connect with Jesse on Book Country and Twitter, check out his website, read and review an excerpt of THE MEGIDDO REVENGE. and download the whole eBook from the Book Country Bookstore.
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