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Wednesday 6 May 2020

ℚ Dragon Head: Aleksandr Talanov Thrillers [4] - James Houston Turner

Today we have the pleasure of meeting up with author to talk about Dragon Head (, Regis Books, 417 pages), an Action Thriller, book four in the Aleksandr Talanov Thrillers series.

"Turner barely pauses for breath in this exciting thrill ride." - Publisher's Weekly

"Dragon Head is an explosive story packed with plenty of action and excitement. Like all good spy stories, it's unclear exactly what everyone is up to and who can actually be trusted. Facing threats on all sides, Talanov is a great hero to follow, tough and quick to dive into the action, but also smart and more than capable of outmaneuvering his enemies. Dragon Head is an exhilarating story that tackles contemporary issues ... a top-notch thriller." - Erin Britton, The Manhattan Book Review

|| Synopsis || Teaser: KCR Preview || The Series || Author Q&A || About the Author || Giveaway & Tour Stops ||

A very warm welcome to James Houston Turner; thank you for joining us on BooksChatter!

What was the inspiration for Dragon Head?  Do you have a music playlist that you used, or which inspired you whilst you were writing it?

"I like the energy kids bring to stories.  They bring spunk, unpredictability, and immaturity, yet with a technological skill set that is vastly different to that of the older generation, especially Talanov, who is a “dinosaur” when it comes to technology.  Dragon Head is my vehicle for introducing this fresh dynamic into the series.

A prominent theme in Dragon Head is that of family and the loyalty of family.  To me, family is much more than shared DNA.  We have no choice about who our family is in that regard.  But we do have a choice when it comes to adoption.  Parents who adopt children choose to make them part of their family.  The same holds true for adults who commit to one another in a similar fashion, as we see in Dragon Head with Talanov and his long-time friend and “brother,” Zak.

An American by birth, I’ve also had the advantage of living overseas – in Australia for twenty years – which is a similar but different culture to what we have in the United States.  Thus, I’ve lived as a stranger in a strange land, where some people disliked me purely because I was “a Yank.”  Most people grew to like me once they got to know me, but it was a valuable experience to be disliked over something beyond my control, like skin color, gender, or age.  Dragon Head, like other books in the series, has that same element: a Russian good guy who is often disliked purely because of his background as a Russian.  I like that dynamic, and Dragon Head is a vehicle for me exploring that, too.

Flora, you also mentioned music, and asked if there were any songs that played a part in the writing of this book, which there are.  On one hand, Dragon Head is a book of hellos, where we say hello to some new characters who will become fixtures in the franchise.  But it’s also a book of goodbyes, where, like many of us, Talanov is forced to say goodbye before he was ready or prepared.  That’s often the way it is in life, and that process of saying goodbye and what awaits us on the other side of that goodbye, and being appreciative of life and love here and now before we have to say goodbye, is why I listen to these songs.  There are only three, and they all have a country flavour, and all three are fragrant with a hint of sadness, yet also triumphant and hopeful."
How much of yourself is reflected in this book, and how?
"A lot.  For instance, Talanov, the fictional character, was inspired by the actual KGB agent who once leaked word out of Moscow through a network of secret contacts that I was on a KGB watch list for my smuggling activities behind the old Iron Curtain (cash, clothing, medical supplies, Bibles).  His act of heroism – he could have been executed for what he did – gave me the idea of a good-guy KGB agent who became a spy for the West during the Cold War, and who is now retired and wanting to live a quiet live, which of course never happens, especially since the CIA wants him as an advisor about which terrorists the KGB trained and where they are now.

"This is how I looked almost [29] years ago, just prior to an operation that saw a team of Aussie doctors in Adelaide surgically open my face like a book to remove an aggressive SCC tumor the size of my fist.  That operation took half of my mandible, after which doctors carved me a new jaw bone out of hip bone.  This Humpty Dumpty WAS put back together again, and against all odds, survived. This in part explains my "joie de vivre" - my "joy of life" - because each day to me is a gift." - source: Instagram
During my “smuggling years,” I crossed dozens of borders driving vehicles with secret compartments, and I have witnessed firsthand the effects of communism on nations once occupied by the Soviet Union.  I’ve stood in bread lines for hours just for a single loaf of bread.  I’ve visited hospitals with no supplies and antiquated equipment (which is why the medical supplies I transported were so vital).

I’m also a cancer survivor of more than twenty-eight years when I was not expected to live but eighteen months.  My operation, performed on my face in Australia, saw a tumour the size of my fist removed from my jaw.  The move to Australia ripped me apart from family and friends in America, and some of the fallout of that separation continues to this day.

I’ve had other brushes with death as well (a fall from a ladder that nearly decapitated me).  Not only that, my wife and I have lived through the death of a child.  I therefore draw on those emotional struggles and triumphs to create similar losses and triumphs for Talanov.  So when he is pushed beyond human limits, I’ve been there.  When he bleeds, I’ve been there.  When he’s ripped apart from loved ones, I’ve been there.  When he faces death, I’ve been there.

This is why I think Talanov resonates with people.  I make him feel what I have felt.  To me, action thrillers need more than action.  It’s the characters and their personal odysseys in the midst of the action that make us stand up and cheer, and that means some kind of love story, be it romantic or the bond between friends and family, and how those relationships are put at risk.  That is what gives a book the emotional grip that it needs."
The first thing that draws me to a book is its cover.  Can you tell us about your cover for Dragon Head - why you chose that concept and who the artist is.
"I wish I could claim credit for the cover, but I cannot.  My cover artist is the brilliant Frauke Spanuth, of Croco Designs, in Germany.  I communicate my storyline to her, add in some background and setting, after which she provides me with several cover selections, which we edit back and forth until it reflects the essence of the story.

In fact, I get Frauke to design covers for books before I have written them, which gives me an inspirational image that helps guide me in the writing of the story.  Yes, I plan that far ahead – probably three or four books ahead – and I have concept sheets already written for my next four books."
Why should we read Dragon Head and the Talanov series; what sets it apart from the rest?
"Sometimes an author chooses the story.  Sometimes, the story chooses an author.  The latter is what happened to me with Talanov, who, as mentioned above, was inspired by an actual good-guy KGB agent.  Thus, for those who like their fiction anchored in fact, Talanov is a perfect fit.

Dragon Head is likewise written for readers who want to linger in Talanov’s action-packed world, which includes his new role as a consultant in the corridors of power in Washington, DC, where he is both needed because of his KGB background, yet mistrusted for the same reason.  But I try to keep the mix a healthy blend of action, suspense, humor, and emotion, as this mini sneak-peek reveals, where there is an assassination attempt against a congresswoman, which Talanov manages to foil."
     "Thank you for saving my life," said Congresswoman Gustaves. "I shudder to think what would have happened if that second bomb had gone off.”
     “Witnesses are calling you a hero,” added Wilcox, reading from a list of social media posts. “Others are calling you a cowboy, a badass, an old dude, and I especially like this one: the Bicycle Bandit. But get this: Amy 61691 thinks you look like Hugh Jackman. Are you kidding me? You don’t look anything at all like Hugh Jackman, not that I’m jealous that people think you’re the badass even though I was the one who got people out of the restaurant while you fled the scene on a bicycle.”
     “In pursuit of the person with the detonator,” said Talanov, “who happened to have stolen a bicycle and would have gotten away had I not chased her down . . . on a bicycle!”
     “You chased her on a girl’s bike. And a pink one at that.”
     “Bill!” Gustaves broke in. “Let’s focus here, okay?”
     “It’s all right, Diane,” said Talanov. “Joking around is how we let off steam after something like this. It's our way of coping.”
     “It was still a girl’s bike,” muttered Wilcox with a smirk of satisfaction.
Can you tell us something quirky about Dragon Head, its story and characters?
"All along, my intention with Dragon Head was to introduce three kids who adopt Talanov almost against his will.  The appeal of a feisty “gender gap” really appealed to me, so this is what I did.  But who knows the personality of kids better than kids themselves, so I asked for help from a number of middle and high schools where I had spoken on my “Too Ugly Tour” - so named because at a low point in my writing career, when I was on the verge of quitting, I applied for a customer service job in a large Australian company.  I was rejected not because I lacked qualifications, but because I was too ugly.  The word used was “unpresentable,” which referred to the facial scars I still carried from my 1991 cancer operation, which had left me slightly disfigured.

So I turned that rejection into a positive speaking point for students on a tour where I talked about not being defeated by the hard knocks of life, which all of us experience to some degree.  I told the students and their teachers (and parents, for I also required parental permission) what I wanted to do, which was create three kids who become part of Talanov’s life and crime-fighting team.  I then asked the students to submit personality profiles for these three kids.  I made it a competition, called the “Team Talanov” writing competition, with a first prize gift and all finalists being noted on the acknowledgments page of the book.

The Talanov film project, however, necessitated me having to make significant changes away from the profiles these students submitted, but I still am proud to honor the contributions of this fantastic group of talented young writers."
"Too ugly"... I'd have a few carefully selected words for those people... well done for not letting them get to you.

If you could / wished to turn Dragon Head and the Aleksandr Talanov Thrillers series into a movie, who would be your dream team?

David Marconi
"Part of that dream team has already been assembled, as the Talanov thriller series (beginning with my novel, Greco’s Game) has already been optioned for film and scheduled to begin casting and production later this year (you can read the press release HERE).

The screenwriter and director will be David Marconi (Live Free or Die Hard, with Bruce Willis; Enemy of the State, with Will Smith; and The Foreigner, with Jackie Chan and Pierce Brosnan).  Financing and production will be handled by Wonderfilm Media’s Jeff Bowler and Bret Saxon.

As for who will play the role of Talanov, those discussions have not yet taken place, but I see candidates like Ryan Reynolds and Hugh Jackman topping the list."
What do you like to write and read about? Do you stick to a particular genre or do you like to explore different ones?
"I tend to stick to my genre – i.e., action thrillers – although I broke stride to write a romantic dramedy screenplay entitled Pitt Bull.  Synopsis:
“Running from her country-girl past by living in New York City, where she is on the verge of landing her ultimate dream job in television, popular food blogger, Star Saldana, has her world rocked when she learns her "other mother," Aunt Pim, is dying of cancer back home in Austin, Texas.

After flying home to spend time with Pim, Star's dream job is given to someone else, forcing her to confront the "country-girl skin" she has been trying to shed, especially when she must enter the annual "Pitt Bull" barbecue competition in order to win enough money to save Pim's beloved restaurant from being repossessed.  Trouble is, Star doesn't know the first thing about cooking barbecue.” 
I’ve been asked what would motivate an action thriller author to write a romantic dramedy, and it’s because each of my stories contain a love story at its core.  So whether in an action thriller setting or a funky BBQ setting, the heart and soul are the same."
What is your writing process?
"I liken it to a lapidary drum, where I toss in a bunch of “gravel” – i.e. various storyline ideas and components – then let the rotating drum knock off the rough edges and discard extraneous material. 

I then formulate my ending – which becomes my “north star” toward which I guide the story – then outline the entire plot with pivot points all clearly identified, then flesh out that diagram on a sheet of paper (yes, I do all of this with pencil and paper). 

I then begin my opening chapter on my laptop while following my fleshed-out diagram.  This allows me stability of direction while still allowing for spontaneity within those confines."
What is in store next?
"Aside from working on the film as both Talanov’s creator and one of the project’s producers, I will be continuing Talanov’s adventures in a series of fairly stand-alone books.  I say “fairly,” because while having read earlier books in the series helps one obtain a glimpse into Talanov’s background (November Echo, for instance, tells the story of how Talanov became a spy), I want to allow readers the pleasure of being able to jump into the series with any book and not be totally in the dark about who’s who and what’s going on.

As for my next story, it takes place in central Africa, but that’s all I can say for now.  I will, however, be sharing behind-the-scenes film news, as well as advance book news, via my private Talanov newsletter, so if you want to join in, please email me at:"
And as a final quirky thing, to get to know you a little bit better... do you have a pet or something that is special to you that you could share with us?
"Like Talanov, I have a lot of “old school” in me.  I like repairing things in my workshop, and I am very hands-on.  This is also probably why I love cooking from scratch using raw ingredients.  It, too, is very hands-on.

Full disclosure, though: my wife, who runs her own keto baked-goods business at our local farmers market, leaves me in the dust when it comes to cooking good food from scratch.  Even so, I still love to cook, and I’m her faithful sidekick in certain important tasks, like taste-testing!  (Yes, it’s a tough job, but somebody’s got to do it . . . haha!)"
Ah, yes, I had noticed just how important food is in your lives from your Instagram pictures, and from your books, which include two cookbooks (one by your wife, Wendy Turner: The Recipe Gal Cookbook: A collection of my favorite sugar-free, gluten-free recipe), and, as we are currently trialing a vegan keto diet, I had picked up a keto skew :-)

Thank you so much for sharing!  We hope you are having a great tour and look forward to the first film!
"Thanks SO much for having me, Flora.  Cheers from Texas!!!"

Impossible Is Not An Option

Dragon Head
Available NOW!

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CMash said...

WOW!!! What an interview!! I really enjoyed learning about the author and his book.

James Houston Turner said...

Thank you SO much for posting my interview. I love how you made it so interactive and alive, and your remarks always made me smile. Being here with you really has made my day, and I am really, really grateful you took the time to ask such wonderful questions. I hope your fantastic family of readers enjoyed it. Best always!

BooksChatter said...

Hello Jim, thank you for popping by! It was a pleasure. And thank you for the very comprehensive answers :-)
I am glad you liked the interview :-D

All the best to you and your family,


James Houston Turner said...

I loved it, Flora. Your warmth permeates your site. Thank you again for being so welcoming. ~Jim

BooksChatter said...

That's really sweet of you, thank you :-)