ABOUT JAMES HOUSTON TURNER
A native of Kansas, James turned to writing fiction as a result of his years as a smuggler behind the old Iron Curtain. He has been on a KGB watchlist, organized secret midnight meetings with informants, located hidden mountain bunkers, and investigated legends of forgotten tunnels buried beneath the cobblestones and bricks of some of Central Europe’s most venerated cathedrals. Department Thirteen, his debut thriller featuring former KGB informant, Colonel Aleksandr Talanov, was inspired by those experiences and went on to win the USA Book News “Best Thriller of 2011″ award, a gold medal in the 2012 Independent Publisher “IPPY” Book Awards (thriller/suspense), and a gold medal in the 2012 Indie Book Awards (action/adventure).
A former journalist in Los Angeles, James holds a Bachelor’s Degree from Baker University and a Master’s Degree from the University of Houston (Clear Lake). His 2011 “Too Ugly Tour” saw him drive 4500 miles across America promoting his books and speaking to thousands of students about not letting the hard knocks of life defeat you, which in his case included years of rejection, surviving cancer, and once being turned down for a customer service job because he was “too ugly” — a reference to the facial scars he still carries from his successful 1991 battle against cancer. He and his wife, Wendy, a former triathlon winner, live in Adelaide, South Australia.
You may visit him at www.jameshoustonturner.com.
James loves hearing from readers and bloggers. To contact him directly, click here:http://www.jameshoustonturner.com/contact.htm
Follow James on Twitter: https://twitter.com/jhoustonturner
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To order a copy of Greco’s Game on Amazon, click here: http://www.amazon.com/Grecos-Game-ebook/dp/B008PFCRTY
To order a copy of Department Thirteen on Amazon, click here:http://www.amazon.com/Department-Thirteen-ebook/dp/B005QSSMYM/
To order a copy of The Identity Factor on Amazon, click here: http://www.amazon.com/The-Identity-Factor-ebook/dp/B004TO5JLI/
Follow Greco’s Game on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/GrecosGame
Follow Talanov on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/aleksandr.talanov
Did writing this book teach you anything, and if so, what was it?
The synopsis of Greco’s Game is simple: when a former KGB agent’s wife is murdered in front of his eyes, his vendetta to track down and kill the assassin becomes a journey of redemption with the help of two young prostitutes being held captive by human traffickers.
At its heart, Greco’s Game is an impossible love story … a story of one man against the odds. This theme is important to me because of my own battle against cancer, where I was once given eighteen months to live after a team of surgeons opened my face up like a book and removed a tumor the size of an orange from my jaw. But I fought those odds and won, although the fight has not been easy.
So I identify strongly with people in the midst of struggle, where the odds look impossible and you feel alone and without a lot of hope. And that’s how I fashioned this story, with our hero getting drawn into the fight against a black market human trafficking ring being operated by the Russian mafia. Why? Because some things — some people — are worth fighting for, no matter what the cost. How many of us have someone who would fight for us? Someone who would go to hell and back? Talanov is that kind of guy.
But the full impact of that doesn’t leap off the page until you grasp what the victims of human trafficking are up against. So I painted a backdrop of those conditions, and to help me do that, I recalled some interviews I once conducted at a women’s shelter in Los Angeles, where I met some trafficking victims and listened to their stories. I then updated my research by contacting a Ukrainian journalist who writes regularly on this subject and was kind enough to help me construct the character of Larisa, the book’s Ukrainian heroine.
But Larisa was just one part of this, for I had then had to paint the deeper backdrop of organized crime and how it scams innocent young women. And while I don’t make a point of citing statistics — this is a thriller, not a documentary — I did need to keep certain facts in mind.
(1) there are nearly 30 million people working today as trafficked slaves;
(2) the United States of America remains as the biggest destination of such slaves;
(3) human traffickers make 9 billion dollars off of human trafficking, making it more profitable than trafficking weapons;
(4) about 80% of the victims are women and children.
I then had to assemble this background material into a portrait of what life would be like for Larisa, living and working as she did on the streets of Los Angeles. So the learning curve for me was how to package this in such a manner as to communicate those grim realities without sacrificing the book’s upbeat personality as an action thriller.
What is your favorite quote, by whom, and why?
Almost any endeavor demands not only education and skill, but perseverance. And I’d like to underpin this with one of my favorite quotes, from the 30th President of the United States, Calvin Coolidge, who once said, “Nothing in the world can take the place of Persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.”
I’ve found this to be one of the most profound statements I’ve ever read, and it has inspired me onward more than once. I would not have been able to endure the rejection and rudeness of agents and publishers — and life in general — if it weren’t for persistence and conviction. Let me give you an example.
A few years back, my writing career seemed to be going nowhere fast, and I was on the verge of quitting. I was discouraged, we needed money, and so I applied for a customer service job with a large company. I was refused, not because I lacked skills, but because I was too ugly (a reference to the facial scars I still carry from my successful 1991 battle against cancer). At the time, this was a real kick in the guts. But sometimes the hard knocks of life are blessings in disguise, for if I had been hired, I may well not have persevered with my writing to become the published author I am today.
Perseverance. That is probably the #1 lesson I have learned.
What are you most proud of accomplishing thus far in your life?
Growing up, I was never great at anything. I was average but never great. I wasn’t a great athlete. I wasn’t a brain. I wasn’t Homecoming King. I didn’t hang out with the popular kids. I was more of a geek. In one of my blogs — Three Women Who Changed The World (referring to Princess Diana, Mother Teresa, and my mom, Vera Turner, all of whom died within weeks of one another) — I wrote that “whereas Diana was a passionate champion for the rights of the disadvantaged and people with AIDS, my mom was a passionate champion for a little fat kid with a wild imagination.”
That was me. The little fat kid with a wild imagination and an excitement for life. A kid who loved writing stories. And as I grew to love writing — I grew fairly adept at weaseling out of exams by offering to write a term paper instead — I realized I didn’t just want to be average. I had had my fill of that. I wanted to be good. Really good.
However, being a “really good” writer is a subjective label at best. One reader may love my work while the next guy thinks it stinks. No one can please everyone, least of all me. I will have my fans and I will have people who prefer a quick, painless death over the slow, agonizing one they claimed I put them through.
So, given the varied nature of tastes out there, what hope did I have of ever knowing (aside from what my mom and wife told me)? Obviously, if you make it onto the A-team with Lee Child, John Grisham, James Patterson, Dan Brown, John Locke, et al, you’re a “really good” writer. But what about the rest of us mere mortals? Well, here is what happened to me.
My publisher entered Talanov’s debut thriller, Department Thirteen, in some U.S. book competitions. And what happened still blows my mind. Department Thirteen was voted the “Best Thriller of 2011″ by USA Book News, after which it won a gold medal in the 2012 Independent Publisher (“IPPY”) Book Awards (thriller/suspense), as well as a gold medal in the 2012 Next Generation Indie Book Awards (action/adventure). That’s, like, three gold medals! For me, the kid who had never won a gold medal for anything his entire life!
That’s not to say the rest of my books will achieve that kind of recognition. I certainly hope they do, but they may not. But for one brief, shining moment, I was a “really good” writer. I had achieved my dream. And I am proud of that.
What inspires you to write and why?
My triple-shot morning cup of “bulletproof” coffee, whipped to a creamy froth with butter and coconut oil. Wow! Talk about inspiration. It snaps open my eyelids like Holland blinds.
But if pushed for a serious answer, I guess I would say I’m inspired by my readers, and by that I mean I’m inspired to produce a book worthy of their devotion. I was privileged to have Talanov’s debut thriller, Department Thirteen, achieve bestseller status. Who was responsible for that? Not me. Okay, yes, I did my part. I wrote the thing. And I did the best I could. But the reason it hit bestseller status was because of my readers. They put it there. They took a chance on an unknown fictional good-guy bad-boy — Talanov — and they took a chance on an author many had never heard of — me — James Houston Turner. So each time I sit down to write, I’m inspired to craft a story worthy of that faith. I would not be doing what I’m doing were it not for my readers. They inspire me, and I love and appreciate every one of them.
What made you want to be a writer?
I really didn’t have a lot of choice in the matter, and all of my colleagues out there who are writers know what I’m talking about. Writing takes hold of you, like an obsession, and what begins as a flirtation turns into a full-blown marriage. Some will not be able to go the distance. They’re infatuated with the idea of writing a book and quit when they run headlong into reality. The yearning may remain, but excuses and “practicalities” win out. As for the rest of us? Well, we really are the crazy ones. And I guess that’s what I love about it: the pure exhilarating, demanding, frustrating, rewarding insanity of it all. Life without parole.
What is your greatest strength as a writer?
That I’m tougher, more pigheaded, persistent and scrappy than any editor or agent alive.
Colonel Aleksandr Talanov — the “ice man” — is married to a woman he wishes he could love. But he can’t, and it’s an ugly consequence of his training with the KGB. Even so, no one should have to experience what Talanov experiences: the brutal murder of his wife in front of his eyes.
Wracked with guilt and suspected of plotting her death, Talanov spirals downward on a path of self-destruction. He should have been killed, not her. He was the one whose violent past would not leave them alone. Months tick by and Talanov hits rock bottom on the mean streets of Los Angeles, where he meets a hooker named Larisa, who drugs and robs him.
But in the seedy world of prostitution and human trafficking ruled by the Russian mafia, this hooker made the big mistake of stealing the ice man’s wallet. In it was Talanov’s sole possession of value: his wedding photo. Talanov tracks Larisa down to get that photo because it reminds him of everything that should have been but never was, and never would be because an assassin’s bullet had mistakenly killed his wife. Or was it a mistake?
The answer lies in Greco’s Game, a chess match played in 1619 that is famous for its Queen sacrifice and checkmate in only eight moves. In an unusual alliance, Talanov and Larisa team up to begin unraveling the mystery of what Talanov’s old KGB chess instructor regarded as the most brilliant example of how to trap and kill an opponent. The question is: who was the target?