Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Paul Franco Award

Paul Franco is one of my Facebook friends...a Los Angeles-based photographer who recently told me he was traveling across Europe by train when he saw a young woman reading one of my novels. He approached her with his usual flair and swagger and said, "I know the author." Paul never made it clear whether he approached the woman because she was tall and gorgeous or because she was reading my book. Nevertheless, I decided to create an award dedicated to that moment.

Unlike the mind of its namesake, The Paul Franco Award is simple: I will give an autographed copy of my next thriller to the very first random person I meet in public who is reading one of my novels. Plane, train, rickshaw, bicycle, hover craft, skateboard -- it doesn't matter. To win a free copy of my next book, all I need to do is see you reading one of my other novels. Yes, digital eBooks count. (Please, no reading while driving your car or big-rig, although passengers are certainly encouraged to partake!)

Which brings up an important point.

With the proliferation of high-speed hand-held internet devices today, if you see me coming, you can quickly go to Amazon and order a copy of Department Thirteen clicking HERE or The Identity Factor by clicking HERE, or if you're a Nook fan, go to Barnes & Noble and purchase a copy of Department Thirteen by clicking HERE, or The Identity Factor by clicking HERE, and that simple strategic purchase could win you FREE autographed copy of my next book! Easy!

What are you in for if you do? Well, Department Thirteen chronicles a week in the life of former KGB informant Aleksandr Talanov, who discovers he has broken the first rule of survival by unwittingly falling in love with the woman he must now fall out of love with if he is to save her from a mysterious group of assassins from his past. Released in 2011 by Comfort Publishing and set in Los Angeles, Australia, Vanuatu, and Switzerland, the novel was inspired by my years as a smuggler behind the old Iron Curtain, where it was recently awarded the Best Thriller of 2011 by USA Book News. You can read the official press release by clicking HERE, or watch the two-minute trailer by clicking HERE.

The Identity Factor is a completely different story altogether. Also published by Comfort Publishing and set in Austin, Cairo, Jerusalem, Washington DC, and San Francisco, The Identity Factor is attraction versus antagonism when a headstrong, mouthy rookie profiler with the CIA competes with a charming Texas journalist to identify a phantom terrorist. The book scooped finalist awards in four US book competitions, including the National Best Books Awards and the Eric Hoffer Award.

And what is my next book, you ask? I can't tell you that right now other than to say it is the second in my Talanov thriller series. "Book X," as I am presently calling it, will be announced officially by its actual title in June at the giant Book Expo America convention in New York. Naturally, some quotes and teasers will be leaked before that time, but if you like the likes of Aleksandr Talanov, you're in for a real treat.

So, in conclusion, I wish you happy reading, and on behalf of The Paul Franco Award, I hope to see one of you soon!

Friday, August 5, 2011

Department Thirteen

Moscow: 1983. Colonel Aleksandr Talanov of the KGB was trained to keep other people safe. It was his job. He was good at it. Unfortunately, the people he was protecting tonight were not the targets. He was. And not in a way he could ever have imagined. ~Department Thirteen. Opening lines.

James Houston Turner's latest novel, Department Thirteen, is a modern-day thriller about retired KGB informant Aleksandr Talanov, who is happily married to a woman he does not love. But when a mysterious group of assassins from his past narrowly miss killing him and his wife, Talanov discovers he has broken the first rule of survival by unwittingly falling in love with the woman he must now fall out of love with if he is to save her.

Want a taste of the adventure? View the exciting new Department Thirteen book trailer by clicking HERE.

Want to order a copy?

Go to Barnes & Noble by clicking HERE.
Go to Amazon.com by clicking HERE.

# # #

Wednesday, June 8, 2011


"It all starts with the writer: film, TV, book -- it doesn't matter -- it all starts with the writer." Sam Worthington

James announces his upcoming Department 13 book tour on the glamorous online entertainment magazine, Artist Interviews, and explains why he calls it his "Too Ugly Tour."


AI: You're an award-winning author of suspense thrillers. Your two novels -- Department Thirteen and The Identity Factor -- are about to be launched in the United States with tremendous fanfare and a nationwide media blitz. You have Hollywood celebrities supporting and congratulating you. Why call your promotional tour the "Too Ugly Tour"?

JHT: As many people know, my face is disfigured from an operation I had back in 1991. It was a low point in my life as a writer, where I felt my career was going nowhere and we needed money. So I applied for a customer service job with a large company here in Adelaide, Australia, where we live. I was refused, not because I lacked skills, but because I was too ugly. At the time, it was a kick in the guts. But it was also a blessing in disguise, because if I had been hired, I may well not have persevered with my writing to become the published author I am today. So I decided to call my tour the "Too Ugly Tour" as both a reminder of and dedication to the hard knocks of life that are actually blessings in disguise. So while I will be appearing in bookstores and doing media interviews about my novels, I will also be sharing my story in schools with the hope of encouraging students not to give up when those kind of things happen. Kids today get hit with lots of those same kinds of judgments: you're too fat, too dumb, too poor, too...whatever. If we believe those lies, we become our own worst enemy and are defeated in life much more easily. Don't fall into that trap!

AI: The highs and lows you have experienced! What enabled you to keep going through so many heartaches and disappointments?

JHT: Belief in myself and in my writing. I've worked at all sorts of jobs to support my passion to write. I've shoveled concrete, washed windows, mowed lawns, worked construction and cleaned houses. I cannot tell you how many nails I've hammered or toilets I've scrubbed. I did it because I was willing to do whatever it took to support my family while pursuing my writing. That's because I felt a sense of purpose in what I was doing...that I had beaten the odds and been spared from cancer for a reason...that my books were not just "donut novels" -- all fluff and air -- but stories with a difference...the result not just of my imagination, but my life: the emotions and pain that I've felt, as well as the triumph. Each book contains glimpses into the extraordinary people I've met -- many of them heroes, many of them victims -- and the experiences I've lived, and the places I've traveled. That having been said, my books really aren't about me; they're about my readers. It's about each of them -- each of you -- being able to count on me using every available tool in my writer's toolbox to pack each and every story full of meaty characters, provocative storylines, interesting settings and a satisfying conclusion. I know I won't please everyone all of the time. But I try hard to achieve that high standard...to give my readers something worth reading.

AI: Your international thriller, The Identity Factor, has already been adapted for film and scooped finalist awards in four international book competitions, including the National Best Books Awards and the Eric Hoffer Award. LA's the Place magazine called it "One killer of a thriller...a Jason Bourne meets The DaVinci Code kind-of mystery inside a puzzle." UK book and film critic, Daniel Cann, who loved your new headstrong action hero, Zoe Gustaves, wrote one of the most stunning reviews I've ever read. He said, "Comparisons have already been made with Dan Brown and Robert Ludlum. After reading this novel, I can see why. Turner is a master at creating tension and suspense. Ludlum, Grisham, Patterson, Child...you can now add James Houston Turner to that esteemed list." Accomplished actor, Adoni Maropis, who played the master villain, Abu Fayed, in the hit television series, 24, had this to say: "I love a great villain. Great villains demand great heroes and The Identity Factor has both. This book is full of twists and turns that will keep you guessing until the very end."  Adoni was brilliant in his role as Abu Fayed, and if anyone knows heroes and villains and how essential they are to a story, it is he. How does all this incredible praise make you feel?

JHT: To be compared with such A-list authors as Robert Ludlum, Dan Brown, John Grisham, James Patterson, and Lee Child is an honor I find hard to articulate. It is very, very humbling. But this amazing praise came ten years after I wrote that book. That's right, ten years. Let me set the stage for you. I finished writing The Identity Factor, which plunges into the heart of Arab/Israeli issues in the Middle East, back in 2001. Hollywood had even expressed interest in it as a film. Then came the attack on the Twin Towers, and virtually overnight, no publisher wanted anything that was Middle Eastern. And virtually overnight, my book was a pariah. Another rug yanked from beneath me. But I refused to give up on the story, and in 2008, decided to publish it myself here in Australia, where it won those awards (which I felt exonerated me for not discarding it like people said I should do). Now, of course, the Middle East is a hot topic of interest and there are all kinds of TV programs, films, and books set there, which is what attracted Adoni's praise as well as the interest of Comfort Publishing, who will be launching The Identity Factor in the United States when it launches Department Thirteen (my retitled 1999 novel) at the University of Houston Clear Lake, followed by a nationwide tour to promote the books. Aussie Sam Worthington, star of the blockbuster films, Avatar and Clash of the Titans, had this to say to me at the G'day USA black tie gala in Hollywood last January, when I told him the good news about my publishing contracts: "It all starts with the writer, mate: film, TV, book -- it doesn't matter -- it all starts with the writer. Congratulations on scoring your deal. You deserve it."

Sam Worthington at G'day USA
Artist Interviews magazine is one of America's first online celebrity magazines and the winner of numerous awards. You may read the entire emotionally-moving interview with James by clicking HERE.

Keep up with all the latest info on James's Too Ugly Tour by visiting www.toouglytour.com, or by following James on Twitter or Facebook.

Additional information on James, including all the latest news and reviews, may be found on his website: www.jameshoustonturner.com.

See for yourself why people are talking! Order an eBook edition of The Identity Factor from Amazon by clicking HERE.

For all of Comfort Publishing's titles, visit www.comfortpublishing.com

Friday, February 18, 2011

James Houston Turner's Book Cover Photo. Which One???

Friends, Romans, Countrymen...lend me your eyes. I need help choosing an author photo for the cover of my upcoming suspense thriller, Department Thirteen.

As many of you know, I'm pretty self-conscious -- at times terrified -- when it comes to the camera. Especially the flash. Which seems to highlight the facial distortions of my 1991 cancer operation at the Royal Adelaide Hospital. But I'm alive and married to the girl of my dreams. And my publisher, Comfort Publishing, is about to bring you a series of thrillers inspired by my experiences as a smuggler behind the old Iron Curtain. So I'm not one to complain.

Nevertheless, when Comfort's Director of Author Relations, Kristy Huddle, told me I needed a photo for the book cover, I got nervous. So I mentioned this to my good mate -- veteran photographer, Bill Rich -- who has worked with many of Hollywood's A-list. Bill is an absolute genius when it comes to the camera, so we spent an afternoon together in Los Angeles doing a photo shoot. Bill knows how to provoke, coach, guide and goad subjects into giving him just the right look. And believe me, I took some goading.

Bill took over 200 images that afternoon, and together we went through them. We tossed out the lousy ones and kept eighty or so good ones, which I've edited into a shortlist, which I've posted below.

So I'd like you to vote on which photo (or photos) you think best represents me as an author. None of the ones below are vastly different from the others. The differences are subtle. I discarded some otherwise good shots because I didn't feel they were "author" shots. I know author photos are supposed to have some kind of "X" factor -- whatever that is -- and maybe one of these photos does. Maybe not. Regardless, I'd like you to help me decide which one is best. Simply click the "Like" button at the bottom of your favorite image here on the blog site. For my Facebook friends, please cast your votes here so that I can forward the stats to my publisher. Feel free to leave comments as well, as I welcome all input into this decision.

I'd also like you to share this page with your Facebook friends, to get their votes. As you can tell, I'm a little nervous about all of this. But the book -- and one of these photos -- will be going international, so I'd really like to know what people think. There's a bar of icons at the bottom for Facebook and other social networking sites. Just click the icon and post a link to your friends with a request for their assistance in helping me select which photo is best for a book cover. Thank you!!! Here is the selection:

Friday, February 11, 2011

In the Beginning...

I was asked recently what influenced me to become an author of suspense thrillers. I had been asked that question before, so I was ready with my standard answer about how I began writing at the age of ten. 

But then I thought: why did I begin writing at the age of ten? The question stumped me.

So I began at the beginning and thought back to those halcyon days of childhood. For me, it was a time of curiosity about the complexity and diversity of the world. A time of wonder, pranks, invention, country roads, and old deserted houses. Imagination ran wild. I scouted ravines for arrowheads. I took apart clocks to see what made them tick. I had a chemistry lab in our basement. A photo lab in my closet. I dug tunnels and built tree houses and blazed trails through the forested hills outside that small university town in Eastern Kansas, where I was born. I made rafts and swam in lakes. I restored an old multi-band radio and listened to strange languages from all over the world. I had wonderful parents, inspirational teachers, and a foundation of unconditional love.

But as I thought about all that, I realized it was my grandfather, Fred Florance -- "Pop" -- who inspired me to become a storyteller. That's because he was one of the originals himself.

James Houston Turner's grandfather, Fred Florance
Fred Florance (front, left) and his brothers.
Pop was born near Dallas, Texas, in 1879. He was one of eight children born to Civil War veteran, George Alvis Florance, and his young wife, Charlotte Johnson Florance. Pop loved swimming, and as a boy living in Arkansas, used to swim a mile every day in the White River. He loved working among the Native Americans of Oklahoma, and he spoke fluent Osage. He was a gambler who won and lost large sums of money. He eventually owned a tavern near Kansas City, where he played cards and shot craps with Harry Truman, Tom Pendergast, and Frank James, older brother of the notorious outlaw, Jesse James. So I grew up on Pop's stories about his life, his travels, and his adventures.

One such story involved moving in a covered wagon from Waverly, Kansas, in 1904, to Indian Territory, Oklahoma, when my mom was an infant. After swimming a swollen river with my mom wrapped in a blanket, Pop laid my mom on the other bank and swam back to lead the team of horses and wagon across. In the wagon was Pop's young wife, Aria, my grandmother. Once they were across, they set up camp on the bank of the river.

In those days, it was customary to give strangers who rode into camp a cup of coffee and food, which was usually salt pork and beans. Picture a starlit night on the banks of a river with a small fire crackling. The horses were grazing quietly and Aria was in the wagon nursing my mother. And suddenly, out of the darkness rode a tall stranger wearing a six-gun.

Actor Alfred Molina
When I recall this story I think of the actor, Alfred Molina, from the film, Maverick. A rough and tough character. Intense dark eyes. A scowl -- almost a snarl -- on his face. Dirty. Stinky. And packing a huge Colt .45. You know the kind I'm talking about. I have no idea if the stranger actually looked like Alfred Molina in that film. Pop never described him in much detail other than to say he was a big, rough-looking guy.

The stranger asked if he could have a cup of coffee. Now, Pop stood six-foot-one, and said he was afraid of no one. And if he actually was afraid, he would never let on. So he offered the stranger some beans and coffee. No fancy French plunger coffee, either, but the kind that had been boiled for an hour in a tin pot at the edge of a campfire.

To set the stage for you here: Pop and Aria had just sold the farm in Kansas and had a substantial amount of money with them in the wagon. But Pop was concerned the rough-looking stranger might rob them if he let on. So he made up a story about how broke they were, how he had a sick wife and baby in the wagon, and how they were heading down into Indian Territory to try and make a go of it. On and on Pop went, detailing their troubles. Finally, the stranger said, "That is the saddest story I've ever heard. I only have one dollar to my name, but I want you to have it." The stranger dug in his pocket, took out a silver dollar, and gave it to Pop before thanking him for the beans and coffee and riding off into the night.

Pop said he never hated to take a man's last dollar so much in his life. But he was afraid to tell him the truth -- that he had made up the entire story -- for fear the stranger really would rob them.

So if you wonder where I get my propensity for spinning wild yarns and telling tall tales, I got it from Pop. And like Pop, I get a lot of my story ideas from the life I've lived. From what I've experienced.

Incidentally, Pop gave me that silver dollar -- an 1884 Morgan -- and I still have it. It's worn and not worth much apart from its priceless contribution to my beginning as a writer.

Q4U: Was there a defining moment in your life that inspired you in a particular direction?

Monday, January 24, 2011

A Cool Dude Writer Goes To G'day USA. The Photos

Okay, so I had a little run-in with the law while I was here.

You see, I have this Facebook friend named Beth who dared me to dress differently when I attended the black tie gala. To wear something distinctive, such as lime green cufflinks. So I thought: I'll really go green. After all, going green is "in," so I decided to wear a spiffy green shirt. A little green is good, which means a lot more green is better. Right? Wrong! It was a close call, let me tell you. And I almost got cited for numerous fashion offenses. Good thing I'm a fast talker. They let me off with a warning if I promised to never wear green again. Yes, officer. Of course, officer.

Little did they know who I really was and that I tell lies for a living...

The media awaits my arrival in something other than green. Or they may be waiting for John Travolta. I'm not sure...

John Travolta and his gorgeous wife, Kelly Preston.

The great Hollywood actor, Jon Voigt, arrives on the red carpet. (Not the green carpet, mind you, which should have been a clue for me earlier.)

"Excellence in Film" award recipient, Abbie Cornish (I loved her as American wine brat, Christie Roberts, in the film, A Good Year, with Russell Crowe), talks to the media. Beside her is Olivia Newton-John, and her husband, John Easterling.

Olivia is truly one of the most radiant, warm individuals on the planet. She and I had met at another G'day USA, but when I told her 2011 was my 20th anniversary of beating the odds against cancer, and that I was kicking off my celebration year tonight, she gave me a high-five and said, "Put it there, brother." Olivia, as most of you know, is a breast cancer survivor and has just broken ground on the Olivia Newton-John Cancer and Wellness Centre in Melbourne, Australia.

Wally Mariani, with actor Simon Baker, John Easterling, and Olivia Newton-John.

James and Wally Mariani, AM, Chairman of the Australia Week Committee.

"Excellence in Music" award recipient, Barry Gibb (who with brothers Robin and Maurice formed the iconic pop group, the Bee Gees), with Kelly Preston and John Travolta. Clips from the Bee Gees were played on giant screens, including video clips showing a young Travolta demonstrating his disco dance moves to the Bee Gees legendary hit song, "Stayin' Alive". The song also sets a perfect beat for administering emergency CPR

I absolutely love the hit TV military crime show, NCIS LA, so how cool was it to meet LL Cool J, who plays lead agent Sam Hanna, and Daniela Ruah, who plays special agent Kensi Blye, the kickass American/Portugese beauty who adds spark to the already great chemistry between lead agents Chris O'Donnell (who plays G. Callen) and LL Cool J? I think Daniela would make a terrific Zoe Gustaves and LL Cool J would make an awesome Jackson Teague in a film version of The Identity Factor (yes, a script has been written and is being represented in Hollywood as we speak). Don't know who Zoe and Teague are? Don't worry, The Identity Factor will soon be available as an eBook. Keep watching this space for more news.

The Hollywood Palladium, on Sunset Boulevard, where G'day USA 2011 was held.

The "Excellence in Sport" award was given to tennis legend, Roy Emerson, shown here with his lovely wife, Joy. Roy was introduced by fellow tennis legend, Andre Agassi.

Andre Agassi with his wife, Steffi Graf.

The menu (prawns and grapefruit salad, succulent, melt-in-your-mouth roast lamb and beef) was prepared by celebrity chef, Curtis Stone.

An outstanding Myer department store fashion show began with swimsuits, then showcased the latest trends in men's and women's fashion.

International pop singer and the first Australian Idol winner, Guy Sebastian (from Adelaide), performed a medley of Bee Gee songs as a tribute to Barry Gibb. He also raised the roof with a brilliant performance of his latest hit, "Who's That Girl?"

Guy Sebastian and I.

With some of the Australian Girls Choir.

I would like to thank veteran Hollywood photographer, Bill Rich (http://www.therichimage.com/) for most of the photos in this collection. Bill is not only a good friend and close mate, but one of the finest photographers I know. And I have worked with a lot. Large job or small -- if you want the best, contact Bill.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

A Cool Dude Writer Goes To G'day USA

G'day USA is one of the highest profile international promotional events in America. Hosted in eight cities by the Australian Government, G'day USA endeavors to strengthen bilateral collaboration between the two countries and promote new business opportunities.

G'day USA Black Tie Gala

The prestigious black tie gala in Hollywood is the glamorous centerpiece of the fourteen-day event, which honors the contributions of Australians in their respective fields. Previous honorees include Cate Blanchett, Baz Luhrmann, Anthony LaPaglia, Mel Gibson, Nicole Kidman, Keith Urban, Olivia Newton John, Hugh Jackman, INXS, Naomi Watts, Russell Crowe, Kylie Minogue, Phillip Noyce, Eric Bana, Rachel Griffiths, Rod Laver, Simon Baker, Toni Collette, and Greg Norman.

Fashion is a big part of the G'day USA black tie gala. Actors, producers, directors, supermodels, rock stars, athletes -- they all scrub up and dress up and strut the red carpet lookin' good. Without airbrushing, too. Cool Dude Writers, of course, have the same highly-developed sense of fashion. I tell my wife that all the time although, as some of you may remember, we Cool Dude Writers sometimes get caught off guard.

The occasion was an interview that had been scheduled early one morning in connection with my previous thriller, The Identity Factor. And I do mean early -- 12:05am Adelaide time, which was 7:35am in Los Angeles. In my defense, I did not know the interview had been scheduled. It was a breakfast radio talk show for the captive audience on the LA freeways. A publicist in Los Angeles had arranged things with 1590 KKZZ but neglected to confirm it with me. Surprise. Surprise.

Dark-thirty. The phone rings. I bolt out of bed wondering what's wrong (as we often think when the phone rings in the middle of the night). A cheery voice greets me: "One moment, please, for the Maria Sanchez show."

So there I am, shivering, in the dark, in the winter, in a brick cottage in Adelaide without central heat, with not a stitch of clothing on, conducting an interview on an abrasive rattan chair. An abrasive cold rattan chair. "How did you end up in Australia?" asked Maria. "What kinds of things did you smuggle behind the old Iron Curtain? How did you do all that amazing research for your book?"

Cool Dude Writer James Houston Turner goes to G'day USA in Los AngelesWas I coherent? Did Maria Sanchez wonder, "who is this clown with the chattering teeth?" I have no idea. Maria was one of those easy-to-talk-to radio hosts who makes you feel like you're having a friendly chat over coffee. My wife heard me answering questions and thought: do I help him out here? With a chuckle, she got up and brought me her fluffy pink bath robe. "Here you are, Mr.Cool Dude Writer," she whispered before going back to bed.

So you can bet your bottom dollar I won't be getting caught off guard at G'day USA. No way! I'm going to scrub up, dress up, and show everybody how I've got this black tie tuxedo fashion thing licked.

Let's see, do I wear the Converse or the Cowboy boots???

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Defining Moments

James A. Michener, in his excellent memoir, The World Is My Home, tells a wonderful story from his childhood. Reading that vignette was a defining moment for me, for it expressed exactly why I write.

Wrote Michener: "The farmer living at the end of our lane had an aging apple tree that had once been abundantly productive but had now lost its energy and ability to bear any fruit at all. The farmer, on an early spring day, hammered eight nails, long and rusty, into the trunk of the tree. Four were knocked in close to the ground on four different sides of the trunk, four higher up and well spaced about the circumference. That autumn a miracle happened. The tired old tree, having been goaded back to life, produced a bumper crop of juicy red apples, bigger and better than we had seen before. When I asked how this had happened, the farmer explained: 'Hammerin' in the rusty nails...reminded it that its job is to produce apples.' " Michener went on to say how a number of health issues were the "rusty nails" that goaded him into writing his memoir.

My "nails," as many of you know, was cancer. Until that time, I lacked the discipline and skill required to be a successful writer. I had been blessed with a great education, an active imagination, a wide variety of life experiences, and I possessed an ability to collect ideas and boil them down into a story. But when the going got tough -- as it inevitably does for an artist -- I would move on to something else. I was a quitter.

My fight against cancer, however, was a defining moment for me like the apple tree was for Michener. A line in the sand. A moment when I couldn't be a quitter. But it had its roots in an experience that had occurred many years before.

During my freshman year at Baker University, I studied shorin-ryu martial arts in the basement of the old Baker gymnasium. I learned eagerly, excelled quickly, and I remember taking my first test in Kansas City, at Bushidokan. The legendary Jim Harrison was Bushidokan's founder and master, and I will never forget him. Bruce Lee once called Jim Harrison "one of the most dangerous men in the world." Harrison was truly a modern Samurai warrior.

Another student and I were called to the mat for our test. Harrison played with us for a while, allowing us to attack him with everything we had learned. He blocked and parried and deflected our blows, then suddenly turned on us with a vengeance. What happened next is still a vivid memory -- if you count blurs as vivid memories. After a flurry of fists and kicks, I found myself flat on my back. Both eyes were cut and swollen. My nose was bleeding. My body was aching.

Screamed Harrison: "Get up or I'll kill you!" But I couldn't get up. I was exhausted. I could hardly see. Harrison ordered us again to get up -- and I wasn't about to lie there and discover whether he was screaming metaphorically or otherwise -- so I staggered to my feet only to be pummeled back down. That process was repeated several times, and each time Harrison would not let us quit. Finally, at the proverbial "brink of exhaustion" -- and it was more than a "brink," I can assure you -- we were invited to stand before him. The test was over.

"Was that the worst beating you've ever experienced?" he asked.
"Yes, sinsei," we answered, gasping for air and struggling to stand.
"I didn't allow you to quit, did I?"
"No, sinsei."
"Okay, I want you to listen to what I'm about to tell you. If you ever find yourself in a fight, don't ever quit. I don't care how weary you are, how beaten, how bloody, how frightened -- don't ever quit."

He then looked at me and smiled. "Good job," he said, inspecting my black and swollen eyes (one eye was completely swollen shut). "The cuts will heal," he added, "but the scars will remain to remind you of this day. To remind you of this lesson."

Don't ever quit.

What we're made of -- our character -- emerges when the odds against us seem insurmountable. And sometimes it takes precisely such a fight -- a fight like cancer -- for us to recall the lessons we've been taught in order to achieve what we're meant to achieve. Without the challenge, we never truly rise. It's why I wear Jim Harrison's scar above my eye with a degree of pride. It's a reminder, along with my other scars, of the lessons I've had to learn the hard way, and what I am today: scarred but not defeated.

This year -- 2011 -- marks my twentieth anniversary of being alive. Back in 1991, I was given eighteen months. And while these twenty years have been exhilarating, especially being married to the love of my life, on other fronts they have not been easy.

Much of it was self-inflicted because of the path I've chosen: writing. And not just any writing, but fiction. As many of you know, the road to becoming a published novelist (same with actors and other artists) is one of the most difficult roads there is. It's no place for quitters. You've got to have "thick skin," strength, and stamina. "Sticktoitiveness," as I've heard it described.

I started writing when I was ten, and my first professional writing job, for which I was actually paid, was in 1972, for the Dr Pepper soft drink company, in Dallas, Texas. Since then, when paid writing jobs weren't available, I've had to work at every kind of job imaginable to support my passion to write. I cannot tell you how many windows I've washed, how many nails I've hammered, how much concrete I've shoveled, how many toilets I've cleaned or floors I've vacuumed. And I didn't quit. Here I am!

Robert Werden, a veteran Hollywood film publicist, once told me this: "the longer and harder the road, the sweeter it is at the top." And after having come through what I've come through, I can say this: the tougher the road, the more difficulties you encounter -- the greater the joy, inner strength and capability you will develop.

An easy life produces shallow roots; a hard life produces deep roots. It's true for trees. It's true for us.

So when my intrepid fictional hero, Aleksandr Talanov, gets the stuffing beat out of him in one of my books and later turns it to his benefit, remember: I've been there myself, just as many of you have. The world is full of hardship and triumph. My experiences help define who I am. Such experiences also make Talanov who he is: a character whose victorious battles against the odds always come at a cost, but produce solid character and lasting reward.

I look forward to your partnership and comments in this exciting literary journey.