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Interview: James Houston Turner, Author of Greco’s Game

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James Houston Turner has an interesting past–a past that has helped him write. He grew up in Kansas, but turned to writing fiction as a result of smuggling goods behind the old Iron Curtain. He has been on a KGB watchlist, organized secret meetings with informants, and helped investigate forgotten tunnels buried amongst some of Central Europe’s cathedrals. Department Thirteen, his debut thriller featuring former KGB informant, Colonel Aleksandr Talanov, was inspired by those experiences. It won 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).

James holds both a Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree, and in 2011 he toured across America promoting his book on a tour he called the “Too Ugly Tour,” so named due to a bout with cancer that resulted in facial scars.  He used this to let students know that you can’t let life defeat you, but you keep fighting for what you believe in.

He currently resides in Adelaide, South Australia, with his wife Wendy.

What was the hardest part of writing your book?

I knew I was writing a controversial book with Greco’s Game (click link to read synopsis). In its predecessor, Department Thirteen, my signature hero—former KGB colonel, Aleksandr Talanov—now retired and living in Australia—finds himself happily married to a woman he does not love. But when a group of assassins from his past narrowly miss killing him and his wife, he 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 in order to save her.

Judging by the amount of mail I’ve received, Talanov and his wife resonated with a lot of readers. So the surprise of his wife’s death in the opening chapter of Greco’s Game was a risk that made me nervous. How would people respond?

One complaint I hear a lot is how thrillers become too formulaic. Too predictable. That you know right away what is going to happen because it pretty much happened last time. Many readers prefer this. A lot don’t. So the hard question for me became what kind of a series was I going to write?

On one hand, it seemed an easy question to answer. “Formula” books are safe books. They are popular books. You know right up front what to expect, and if the author is worth his or her salt, you get just what you’re expecting to get.

But was that me? I had to admit it was not. Why? Because my own life has been anything but predictable. It’s been a rollercoaster of highs and lows, of anguish and exhilaration. And “thematic” in that I have faced one challenge after another, against odds that seemed at times impossible. In my case, that includes surviving cancer for over twenty-one years when I was originally given eighteen months to live. It includes being so poor I once had to live on jars of peanut butter given to me by a church. It includes being turned down for a customer service job because I was too ugly—a reference to the facial scars I still carry from that battle against cancer. Life has not been easy.

But it definitely has been triumphant.

So that is what I decided to put Talanov through. I did not want his predicaments to be predictable. I wanted Talanov to tackle overwhelming odds. I wanted him to stand up and fight for those who couldn’t stand up for themselves, which in Greco’s Game were the victims of a black market human trafficking ring being run by some of his old KGB buddies. Talanov will get it wrong sometimes, just as I’ve gotten it wrong. But in the end, he will get it right. And that means taking risks. So that is what I did with Greco’s Game.

When did you first start writing and when did you finish your first book?

When I was ten, and that first book was a collection of short stories. My first professional writing assignment, however, was for the Dr Pepper soft drink company in Dallas, Texas. It was a booklet entitled, “Ecology and You.” I then self-published The Earth of Your Soul, a book of free-verse poetry about growing up in eastern Kansas. It was overly sentimental in parts, but some of those poems can still be heard on late-night radio in some parts of the state. This was followed by The Spud Book (St Martins Press, New York), where I found myself cooking potatoes for television hosts and their audiences across America, including Regis Philbin and Pat Boone.

About Tracee Gleichner