Last January I read and then wrote a review of the thriller “Black Camel”. After the review I was able to contact the author, Ed Mitchell. He graciously agreed to an interview.
Myself: When did you first realize that you wanted to become a writer?
Mitchell: My mother fueled my drive to tell stories when she taught me to read while sitting at her side. She instilled in me the love of reading, of being transported into different lands with exotic people doing incredible deeds. Over the years, like many people, I came to appreciate the magic authors use to create stories that touch souls and stay with people for decades. Reading was the footpath that led me to the point where I decided to attempt to create the magic that I enjoyed so much.
However, my birth mother was mentally ill, slipping in and out of mental hospitals most of my life. I wondered as I grew up if that insanity had been passed on to me, simmering to emerge some day in my life. When I was thirty, I concluded that sanity exists in a person when they are creative in positive ways— not in destructive ways. So, I started writing my first mystery/thriller. Being a published author keeps a lid on my simmering pot.
Myself: That is an exceptional story of how you became an author. What is the first piece that you remember writing?
Mitchell: I always remember the first day I started writing fiction at Fort Ord, California overlooking Monterey Bay. After I finished typing the first page, I yanked it out of the typewriter and threw it away because I knew it sucked. Why the hell was I thinking I could write? That began the long journey to get good at hooking people into a story they never expected and could not figure out where it was going or how it would end. Later my first mystery/thriller won best new fiction in the USA from a small press. Yippie!
Myself: That is quite the accomplishment for your first book. What is your academic and work background?
Mitchell: Here’s the short answer: I was a foster kid who later graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. I went on to be an Airborne Infantry Ranger in Alaska and South Korea, a RAND Corporation Fellow, an aerospace systems engineer working on the National Missile Defense, and a community activist fighting to protect water sources in California. Along the way, I earned two masters degrees, with one in space systems management. Additionally, for years I’ve hunted out vulnerabilities to terrorism within our borders.
Myself: That is quite the background. I can see how it impacted your writing. Your stories are very contemporary and seem to be autobiographic. Are they?
Mitchell: Just the 216 love scenes.
Seriously, the majority of what you read in my stories is not a one-for-one lifting out of my life. Instead, it’s an extension or adjustment of my experiences with people I’ve met or places I’ve seen. The craft is molding them into the plot, scenes, emotions, and characters that I bring on stage for readers to enjoy.
One rule of writing that I’ve heard is “write what you know.” I express that rule a bit differently. Leverage what you know. What I’ve leverage into my stories includes being a battered child, serving 25 years in the Army, traveling to desolate places around the world; as well as observing, like you have, current political, economic, and terrorist events. Additional spice comes from marrying, divorcing, being in car crashes, burying pets, having mentally ill family members, and losing people I love to cancer and heart problems. And one of those was my second wife, who on our 30th wedding anniversary died in my arms.
I believe my thrillers are realistic and believable because I make it easy for the reader to connect with events in the story similar to those in their life. Often, I’ve been told: “Your stories are scary because they could happen.”
Myself: You seem to have led a full life. I have only read one of your novels, but it is a believable story. What part of the world do you currently live in?
Mitchell: I’m a west coast farm boy who left the cold rainy northwest to join the army then returned to live in sunny California near Big Sur and Monterey Bay.
Myself: Do you think that living there has affected your writing?
Mitchell: Yes, my first two thrillers are set in California. Then the characters transition farther into the world of counterterrorism. But more important than setting is that I met my second wife here. She was my best critic and helped me craft realistic, intelligent, creative, and dangerous female characters.
Myself: How do you relax? What are your hobbies?
Mitchell: I’m like many career military types, I’ve never stopped leaning forward in the foxhole. John, you read Black Camel and in it I’ve laid out how terrorism can grow like a cancer into a terrible battle within our borders. So, no hobbies. But I do relax by fixing the next thing that breaks on the ranch.
Myself: Did you read much growing up?
Mitchell: Yes, and kept it up until I started writing fiction. Then I transitioned into research-reading of material for my stories. It’s harder than it looks weaving into a plot cutting off electricity to millions of people, air-gap computer hacking, ballistic missile launches against the U.S., and using ground-penetrating satellites.
Myself: Very state-of-the-art tech you are weaving into your thrillers. I can see why you have had to indulge in so much research. What book that you read as a child stands out in your memory?
Mitchell: I was three years old sitting next to my mom. It was a children’s book that she encouraged me to read to her.
Myself: What is your favorite genre? book? character? author?
Mitchell: Thrillers are hands down better than a mystery. I love to kid mystery authors by saying that, thrillers are what mystery writers wish they could write. It’s because thrillers are more complex than mysteries. The thriller author usually is found entwining events and characters spread around the globe along with a large splash of technical, scientific, or historic data. The skill of the author is in how well he or she weaves the disparate threads into a recognizable, believable pattern so by the time the reader finishes the last chapter he or she is satisfied with the ending.
My publisher doesn’t like me to say this, but it’s true. My Gold series of thrillers is a saga of a family. It has a strong romance genre component and female protagonists. Also, soldiers or FBI agents in my stories are not portrayed just in action. They also deal with parents, spouses, children, and pets (just like you and me) that enhance and complicate their lives.
Myself: That is an exceptionally good description of a thriller. Where is your favorite place to read?
Mitchell: In bed with my girlfriend while reading her the exciting and surprising chapter I wrote during the last week. If she falls asleep, I know it’s not that brilliant and needs a rewrite.
Myself: Do you prefer paper or eBooks? Do you listen to audiobooks?
Mitchell: I began writing before ebooks existed. And many readers love the physical book and while others prefer the digital version. We sell physical books direct to the reader from my website, while globally selling the ebook online in 7 ebookstore chains. Bottom line: I prefer books that sell.
Myself: What books do you recommend to others? Give as gifts?
Mitchell: People who give gift books that John Purvis rates highly are some of the best people in the world. And readers ALWAYS appreciate receiving gift books that are a good read. So go to my webpage or to your favorite ebook store and buy and send your family member or friend a great book.
By the way you gave Black Camel 5 stars. You’re brilliant. People should take your advice. Sample chapter-1 of each of my thrillers at my website. The saga begins with Gold Lust, then Gold Raid, Gold Fire (nuclear terrorism), The Destiny Relic (Middle East terrorism), Black Camel (terrorism with our borders).
Myself: Thanks for your praise Ed. What makes you sit down and want to share your stories?
Mitchell: Two reasons. First, humans are storytellers. In some of us the drive is almost maternal in strength. We’re driven to give our story a life by getting it out of our minds and onto paper or onto the computer screen. That drive has been strong enough to keep me writing for years.
Second, my inspiration to write my first fiction story and see it published began on the beach in Monterey, California. I was a young captain attending the Naval Postgraduate School. On that day I was trying to figure out how Muslim terrorists could talk teenage fighters into committing suicide by blowing themselves up. I concluded that if America ever faced a Muslim commander trained as American soldiers are, like myself, then that would be a very bad day for our country.
I went on to lay out a storyline for a series of thrillers leading up to such an event. That led to releasing my original hardback as Gold Rush 2000. (Released later as a paperback under the title Gold Lust.) While I was writing the third book in the series, where a mastermind would attack a strategic objective in America to drive our forces out of the Middle East — reality struck. On September 11th, 2001 the Trade Towers in New York City were destroyed.
After the FBI began warning the public to watch out for other attacks, one of which I had in my draft thriller, I realized that I knew too many national vulnerabilities. So, I tossed that draft and started a different story, Gold Fire.
However, after my wife passed, I took a sabbatical from writing for a few years. But I’ve returned to helping enlighten people to threats to America.
Myself: I think I need to go back and read the first four books in your Gold series. What are your ambitions for your writing career?
Mitchell: Keep writing, stay sane, help people become security aware.
Myself: Is there anyone who has influenced your writing?
Mitchell: Author-wise its: Frederick Forsyth’s Day of the Jackal, Clancy’s The Hunt for Red October, Baldacci’s Absolute Power, Evan’s The Horse Whisperer, as well as Grisham’s Time to Kill.
Myself: I too have read and enjoyed most of the books of Forsyth and Clancy. How did you pick the genres for your stories?
Mitchell: I write what I like to read which are thrillers with a romance element. That fits for writing about modern terrorism.
Myself: Where did the idea for the plot for Black Camel come from?
Mitchell: I was studying Middle East terrorism decades before the Department of Homeland Security appeared. That led me to worry that someday America could be attacked by terrorists. That stimulated me to conceive of a series of books to identify an emerging threat. Black Camel has been maturing in my head for years, while I worked out what I should and should not include in the story.
Myself: Where do your story ideas come from?
Mitchell: Typically, it starts with a What-if question popping in my brain. Followed by a What-would-that-cause question. I’ll use my fourth thriller, The Destiny Relic, as an example. While watching a TV documentary about fake relics, it popped into my head: What if a religious relic actually passed all scientific tests proving it was authentic? How would that shake up the world for good or bad? What if terrorists used it to achieve their political goals?
If I can’t conceive of a satisfying and believable ending I don’t write that story. And I won’t ask a reader to go on a long journey with me if I know there’s a shabby ending. But with an intriguing beginning and satisfying ending, I know I have the foundation for a story.
Myself: I really like how you come up with story ideas. How do you write your thrillers?
Mitchell: Ah … fully clothed.
Given that I know the beginning and ending, I next outline the up and down scenes for the male and female heroes. Once I have that rollercoaster outline clumped into chapters, I start technical and setting research.
Only after I have the factual data to support the outline, do I start writing.
Myself: You seem to approach writing more analytically than most of the authors I have interviewed. What is your schedule like when you are writing?
Mitchell: It takes me a long time to write a book and get it to readers and editors. Throughout every day I think about the book I’m writing. I like to write in the morning in my office with light music on. When not writing, I’m supposed to be marketing which I do periodically but not enough recently. Before the pandemic I was giving author talks around the state. I like that because I get new buyers and discuss safety issue that people are interested in.
Myself: About how long does it take you to complete a first draft? How long do your revisions take?
Mitchell: Finishing a rough draft takes a year. Finishing an edited book takes six more months. In the last four years I’ve issued two new books in my series and released five ebooks (All of the saga so far). The two new books were The Destiny Relic and Black Camel.
On the shelf in two years has been my recent pace.
Myself: How much research do you put into a novel?
Mitchell: Five hundred to a thousand hours.
Myself: That is a a lot of research. I don’t think that very many fiction authors make that kind of an investment. Of course having that level of detail sets your books apart. What tools (software?) do you use in your writing?
Mitchell: Microsoft Word and Grammarly editing software.
Myself: I like Grammarly too. What are the hardest and easiest things about writing?
Mitchell: One of the hardest lessons to learn is that you are not just an author writing — you also are a professional marketer. Second, hardest is waiting years to get feedback on your writing.
The best and easiest thing is when someone who has read your book tells you they loved your story, and they mean it. Knowing you delivered the magic is golden.
Myself: I certainly found Black Camel very enjoyable. What advice would you give to an aspiring author?
Mitchell: Marry someone rich who will support your writing career.
More important is enjoying the journey whether you ever get published or not, whether you sell one book or millions. And while you’re on that journey appreciate your spouse or significant other. Be kind to them and thank them for all the support they give you, especially when you receive rejection letters. Or after your car’s engine stops running in the fast lane with a big diesel truck behind you while you are on the way to an important event and you almost get killed. (True story!) Mainly though, enjoy them because they may disappear some day and leave you behind.
Myself: Very wise advice. What novels/works have you published?
Mitchell: Ed Mitchell’s thriller series includes Gold Rush 2000, Gold Raid, Gold Fire, The Destiny Relic, and Black Camel. Each thriller is also available in eBook form. Note that ebook-1 is retitled Gold Lust.
Read reviews & sample each chapter at my website.
Myself: What are you currently working on?
Mitchell: Centurion Gold is a Ben-Hur type story, outside of my thriller series. I promised my wife I would write this story. It is scheduled to be released in late 2021.
Myself: I will be looking for it. How should your fans follow you or get in touch?
I want to thank Ed again for the opportunity to have a great interview. He was humorous, has an incredible set of life experiences, and is full of insight. Just the kind of author you would want to be seated next to at a dinner party.
If you want a little more detail of Ed’s career, check out the Biography page on his website.